§ [FIRST NIGHT.]
, in rising to move the following Resolution:—That when it shall appear to Mr. Speaker, or to the Chairman of a Committee of the whole House, during any Debate, to be the evident sense of the House, or of the Committee, that the Question be now put, he may so inform the House, or the Committee; and, if a Motion be made 'That the Question be now put,' Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman, shall forthwith put such Question; and, if the same be decided in the affirmative, the Question under discussion shall be put forthwith: Provided that the Question shall not be decided in the affirmative, if a Division be taken, unless it shall appear to have been supported by more than two hundred Members, or to have been opposed by less than forty Members,said: Sir, in approaching the discussion of this profoundly important and very comprehensive and rather complicated subject, I think it my first duty to try to efface from my recollection, at any rate, the occurences of the last hour, or hour and a-half. When I came to this House to day, Sir, I was aware that it would be my duty to make an announcement that would excite strong feeling possibly on both sides of the House; but I was also aware that the Business of the evening would be a Business which, so far as I was able to form a judgment of it would be the duty and the desire of both sides of the House to approach, as far as possible, both with a wish and an anticipation of agreement. I have recently heard a casual expression dropped that we were approaching the great struggle on Procedure. I believe that, Sir, to be a most unfortunate and most inaccurate description of the matter. There may be, no doubt, subjects proposed by Her Majesty's Government on which there may be considerable or strong differ- 1125 ences of opinion; but yet, in reference to the whole matter, I am convinced that even this subject will not excite such a feeling as to alter that general temper and desire to make progress in this important question, which I believe to possess the minds of the great bulk of this House. I, at least, have this consolation, that I do not think it will be necessary for me in whatever remarks I may have to address to the House tonight to make use of even a single expression which will in the ordinary sense, and as regards at any rate the two great Parties of this House, necessarily or naturally head to an excitement of sentiments of displeasure or animosity. Now, let us endeavour to approach this question in a temper which I have striven to describe, and which, I may venture to say, has presided over the whole actions of Her Majesty's Government in regard to it. While we have felt that having approached this question it would be absurd and improper for us to make an inadequate proposal, we have, on the other hand, endeavoured to maintain what in our view was a spirit of studious moderation, and in no point to go beyond the necessity of the case, rather trusting to the wisdom of the House upon future occasions than attempting now to go beyond that necessity by making a certain and full provision for all possible emergencies that may arise. There was another desire which we might well have entertained, and which I can truly say we did entertain. It would have been far more acceptable to us—far more acceptable, especially to myself, as charged with some special amount of responsibility and duty in the matter—if, instead of dealing with this question by the agency of the Government, it had been dealt with simply by the agency of the House itself. It would have been better for us all if we could have found within the precincts of this House a sufficient deliberative and a sufficient propelling power to allow of our looking to the action of the House as in itself adequate to meet the emergency. The House will well understand what I mean. It is quite necessary that in a matter of this kind there should be some strong propelling power. The House has sought that propelling power over and over again, and wisely sought it within its own limits. "We have, as I will presently point out, 1126 against [...] appointed Committees upon the act; but those Committees, never [...] to adequate results, have now for many years past taken effect in what I may, for practical purposes, accurately call total failure. Their—I will not say impotence—but their insufficiency of power to deal with a matter of this kind has been demonstrated, I think, to the satisfaction of all. Therefore it is, Sir, that the Government, who could alone supply, I think, from any other quarter, the necessary motive force, have charged themselves with the duty which they would gladly have avoided, or delegated to other hands. And they have felt it to be, on their part, a very serious resolution, because, undoubtedly, if the case is so grave as we believe it to be, and as I shall endeavour to show it to be, and if the organization of the House itself and its means of action do not provide it with the means of meeting that case effectually, if the Government in this extreme necessity, as it may be called, charges itself with a function which is not primarily theirs, it is quite evident that the assumption of that function involves the Government in very great responsibility, and in its endeavour to provide the motive force for carrying forward a plan such as experience has shown is absolutely required, it is their duty whatever their influence is, acting as a Government, whatever their means of persuading and acting upon the House, unreservedly to employ those means to the best of their ability in order to relieve the House from a position painful and dangerous to its credit and the performance of its duty. Such, therefore, Sir, is the state of things in which the Government approach the consideration of this question; and having put its hand, if I may so say, to the plough, it will unquestionably employ whatever credit or influence it may possess with this House for the purpose of attaining the end in view. It is not, Sir, that I intend to lay down any manner of action so absurd as that all the members of a detailed and elaborate scheme are to be considered as written in letters of iron. I have no view of that kind; but, so far as regards that which, in the conviction of the Government, is essential to the attainment of the end in view, we must endeavour to deal with the matter as we would, in the ordinary course of Busi- 1127 ness, deal with any question [...] we deemed to be of vital importance of the State. Now, Sir, our first duty, of course, in a matter of this kind, was that, although we could not look to the House for the solution of the problem before it, although we could not look to the initiative of the House for the solution of the problem, yet that we should obtain all the aid we could from its living and recognized authorities. That we have endeavoured to do, Sir; and I violate no confidence in stating that, as it was our duty, so we have endeavoured to communicate freely with the authorities of the House on all the particulars of our plan, and especially, as necessity required, to communicate with you, Sir, who so worthily fill the Chair of the House. But while I state that we have not failed in that duty which was incumbent upon us, and which would have been discharged in like manner by any Committee of the House through the medium of its witness-box, it must not be supposed for a moment that I intend, Sir, to bring you, directly or indirectly, into the slightest responsibility for any of the recommendations made. For none of these principles is anyone responsible but Her Majesty's Government. If we exercise the influence—whatever influence we possess—of an Executive Government, we must place ourselves in the true and normal position of an Executive Government—that is, the assumption of a responsibility which is undivided and exclusive. I only, Sir, may refer to the opinions which you have expressed so far as they are common to the world with ourselves, and as they have found vent from your own lips, either in declarations to this House made in the Office which you hold, or in the discharge of your duty as a Member of this House in meeting your constituents. Sir, it will be my duty to address myself principally to the consideration of the 1st Resolution. With regard to that Resolution, again I shall address myself chiefly, as it involves many particulars, to that which we think to be its life and its essence. The figures which come in the 1st clause of the Resolutions, although we have weighed them carefully, seem to be absolutely of the essence of the Resolution. But we propose to make a change which is not in the nature of an addition. I will not now enter into an argument 1128 upon this change and the reasons which, led us to propose this change. But I will state what the change is, and in a form which will enable hon. Gentlemen exactly to perceive the effect of the Resolution. The Resolution now ends with the Proviso—Provided that the Question shall not be decided in the affirmative, if a Division he taken, unless it shall appear to have been supported by more than two hundred Members.We do not propose any change in that part of the Resolution. Then, as we purpose, the following words will come:—"Or to have been opposed by forty Members and supported by more than one hundred Members." I think the effect will be perceived in a considerable degree. But I do not enter into a detailed consideration of it at the present moment. Technically, the alteration is this—after the word "or," near the close of the Resolution, insert "unless it shall appear," and then at the end of the Resolution add these words, "and supported by more than one hundred Members." Well, Sir, that is the modification which we think we can safely introduce, and which we hope will render the Resolution more acceptable to some of the Members of this House. Now, Sir, looking at the question at large, I am not satisfied to place it upon any lower ground than this—that the adoption of some measure—to adopt an ineffective measure would be to aggravate the evil—sufficient for the occasion which has arisen is a matter of the highest necessity to secure the efficiency and the honour of this House. Such is the view upon which I shall endeavour to argue the case. Now, Sir, it will be necessary to enter into some review of the history of the question, which is truly remarkable. The two great features of it which I shall endeavour to impress upon the House, so far as my feeble powers will enable me to do so, are these. In the first place, the constantly increasing labours of the House; in the second, its constantly decreasing power—the power, I mean, to despatch the duties committed to our hands. Now, I take the first, the increasing labours of the House, and I ask this House briefly to look back upon the past, which, except to an hon. Friend whom I see opposite, and to myself, has become matter of history to be learned from the analysis, but which to him, as to myself, is 1129 matter of personal recollection. Before the Reform Act, the position of a Member of this House was one of perfect ease and convenience, I may say, with regard to the physical and mental possibility of meeting the grave calls upon him. It was a laborious function even then which the Member of Parliament undertook on obtaining a sent in this House. But so far as human strength is concerned, and the time placed at the disposal of an active and intelligent man, the duties of the House lay completely within its powers. I can well remember in my boyhood, when sitting in the Gallery of the House which was burnt down, that the same thing used to take place as now takes place in the other House of Parliament—name by, that between 6 and 7 o'clock, the House, as a matter of course, had disposed of its Business, and was permitted to adjourn. There were, of course, exceptions—important exceptions—but that was more the rule than the exception in the then condition of the House of Commons. The fundamental change which has occurred is owing to the passing of the first great Reform Bill. From that moment forward the position of the House was fundamentally altered. At once, from 1833, the pressure and calls upon the House were felt to be painful and almost intolerable. Considerable efforts were made to meet these calls; but, in spite of these efforts, they have grown more and more upon us, and I will instance the last 12 years, the last six years, and the last two years. During these years, from causes which it will be my duty to point out, these calls have grown until they have become, indeed, intolerable—intolerable to those who think that they are Members of this House, not for the purpose merely of spending a certain number of hours more or less agreeably or disagreeably within its walls, but to regulate the changes of the Empire, to preserve the liberties of these countries, and to deal with necessary legislation. The growth of these labours is extraordinary. I will not attempt to give an exhaustive catalogue of the causes. But some of the causes of increase it may be right in two or three words to mention. We have had since 1833 various and considerable enlargements, of our Empire. Our Empire has been doubled—sometimes by 1130 the acquisition of new territory, sometimes by carrying the principles and methods of civilization common to the whole structure into territories which have heretofore been a barren waste. It is not alone territorial extension which has increased our duties, it has likewise increased by our relations established through our trade and commerce with the whole of the countries of the world. Our points of contact with the fortunes and interests of other nations have been so multiplied that now there is hardly any serious event which can occur in any portion of the globe which does not vibrate through the whole of this country, and which may not—and probably for the most part may—legitimately form the subject of discussion in this House. Over and above these important changes and enlargements of duty, there have been changes in the ideas and views of men respecting the sphere of legislation and of government which have added enormously to the burdens of this House. In the epoch of my youth the vast congeries of what may for the moment be rudely but adequately described as social questions were never regarded as altogether within the view of Parliament, and were never—perhaps the word "never" implies some exaggeration, but I am describing what was the general rule—brought under its notice. On the contrary, now they are growing and multiplying upon us from year to year, and they form a very large and definite portion of the demand upon our time. There is no likelihood that this difficulty will diminish. It is not as if there wore a number of subjects which required to be dealt with, and after that the chapter was closed. It may be said with regard to one subject—that of preliminary education, for instance—that we have in a great degree, as we hope, done with the subject of preliminary education in England and Scotland, so far, at least, as regards the solution of the greatest and more important of the problems presented in that great question. But it is the continual fresh emergency of the calls upon us which has proved oppressive from year to year, and I believe will prove still more oppressive and more intolerable. Well, Sir, let us see how we stand in consequence. I am not going to quote myself as a witness; but, still, as a witness who, I think, spoke without prejudice, cer- 1131 tainly who spoke entirely without reference to Party, it was my duty to point out in August, 1878, in a popular periodical, that 22 great subjects of legislation might be regarded beyond all question as pressing. Again, in August, 1879, I re-considered the list, and instead of 22 subjects I found 31. It is not necessary to go over the list, but very few indeed of those subjects have been disposed of; and I believe what we have to anticipate, as matters stand, is undoubtedly that we shall not overtake our arrears unless we take measures for the purpose, and that our arrears will continue to grow upon us and add to our labour, embarrassment, and discredit. What has the House been about? In a very few words I will endeavour to point out. Has the House shunned, or attempted to shun, its duties? Is it that the House feels its labours to be intolerable, and, consequently, finds it necessary to contract them? Here is a most interesting fact I should like to bring to the notice of hon. Members. At the time of the Reform Act, as I have shown, there was a sudden and vast expansion of Parliamentary duty. That expansion was found intolerable, and Parliament receded from it and did not maintain it. If hon. Gentlemen will turn to the Report lately placed in their hands, they will find a very convenient statement: showing the number of hours during which the House sat from year to year, the time that it sat after midnight, and the average length of each Sitting. They will observe, and it is not unworthy of their remark, that for the first quinquennial period after the Reform Act the number of hours stood at 1,144. That was found intolerable by the age, and from that they went back to 1,056, 957, 943, and so on. Therefore, the House positively retired from the labour put before it. Such has not been our case. On the contrary, we stand thus. I do not hesitate to inflict the figures upon the House, because I put them in rough but still sufficiently accurate form, which I think will convey to the House my meaning. The annual hours have been raised in 1881—this I take as my standard, and it is in the main the basis of the proposal we are now making—from a rough average of 1,000 to a sum total of 1,400. The hours after midnight—and permit me to say that the hours after midnight are the most 1132 grievous—have been raised from 100 to the sum in 1881 of 238. The length of the Session which surpasses by far, I believe, every other Legislative Assembly in the world on its old standard—namely, the standard of six months—instead of lasting six months, has gone to nearly eight months. I have stated these things rather particularly, that the country should understand with reference to this Parliament—and I am bound to say with reference to the last Parliament also, though the case was not then so bad—that there has been no flinching on the part of any House of Commons from its duties, but that they have carried them up to a point at which, while it was impossible for them to meet the demands of the country, they have nevertheless become oppressive and threatening in a very high degree to human, health and strength and life. So much for the question, so far as it recalls the recognition of the mischief with which we have to deal. But first let me put aside from the consideration of the case certain points which, so far as respect the discussion of to-night, are collateral ones. The plan we propose divides itself roughly into two parts, one of which relates to Procedure, and the other relates to devolution or delegation—a division of labour; an attempt to economize the labour of Parliament as it has been economized everywhere else. I do not know whether it will surprise the House; but I venture to hold strongly the opinion, that although certain measures of Procedure are vitally essential, yet that a device for the delegation of our labours is the more important. I consider that it will not be possible for the House to raise itself to the level where it can discharge its duties properly to the country, unless it can devise some considerable kind of scheme of delegation. That, I hope, is a matter upon which there would be no difference of opinion between one side of the House and the other. When we deal afterwards with the regulation of our Procedure, which necessarily will be in a considerable degree restrictive, then I can conceive that there may be disturbing circumstances to interrupt, more or less, the harmony of the House. In devising a plan to diminish the labour of the House as far as possible I believe we may be of one mind; but I am strongly of opinion that no merely re- 1133 strictive regulation, even if the House were to go as far as we ask, would have the desired effect. One word with regard to the question of Urgency with which we had to deal last year. It may be observed that we leave that subject entirely alone. It belongs to a different order of consideration. It was intended only to meet an extreme case. When that extreme case occurs again the plan of Urgency may be adopted; but the House will understand our motive when I say that we did not attempt to ask the House to apply to its ordinary Procedure the Rules of last year applicable to the case of Urgency. We have trespassed here and there for the purpose of adopting this or that particular proposal or Rule so wisely framed by you, Sir, last year; but Urgency, as a whole, we leave to be dealt with by the House and ask nothing on that subject. One point with regard to the penal Rule proposed by my right hon. Friend opposite. It was proposed by him in an excellent spirit, and in the framing of it great moderation and experience are shown. But it is so moderate that it inflicts upon the House a great deal more than it inflicts upon those who offend against the Rules. I am not saying this as a matter of censure. I appreciated at the time the spirit in which it was proposed, and I appreciate it still. My meaning is this. The usual effect after your not scanty stock of patience is exhausted, Sir, and after you have sent forth the word which puts this Rule in operation is that a Motion is at once made and a division takes place. The division, as from the nature of the case it is sure to be, is in support of your authority; but its only effect is a suspension of about six hours on the average. But in order to inflict six hours' suspension upon one Member of the House, 200 or 300 Members have to spend 20 minutes or half-an-hour in going through Division Lobbies. The disproportion in the case is quite evident, and the loss of time inflicted on the House is so great that the Rule requires serious consideration. There is one other point, and that is with regard to the question whether these Resolutions, when they may be adopted—if they be adopted—by the House shall become Standing Orders upon that subject. We have not thought it right to lay down, at this moment, any proposal in definite terms; but, of course, they 1134 must be made Standing Orders if they should be found to work usefully. Perhaps they may bear the test of experience so well that we shall ask the House to make them Standing Orders. But we feel we shall have more light and better means of judging of our course in that particular when we have made more progress with the discussion than we have at this moment; it will be open for us either to ask that they be made Standing Orders at once—so much of them as I have already pointed out would ipso facto become Standing Orders—or that some delay should interpose before that proposal is made to the House. Well, Sir, now let us see what is our next step after making provision to meet the first mischief with which, as I have said, we have to contend. I have said it has been a glaring mischief; and I will state what steps have been taken in the past by the House to meet it, although ineffectually. In the first place, I may say that there have been more Committees of this House upon this subject than upon any other matter. There have been 14 Committees since the Reform Act, or one Committee in every three Sessions and a-half. There have been seven more Committees upon Private Procedure, which is practically part of the subject, making 21 Committees in all, or an average of a new Committee in every two and a-half years. These Committees, never finding themselves able to attain the object they had in view, their action has of late years become little more than a formal and ineffectual protest against the existing state of things. Besides these Committees, important measures have been adopted, in part through the action of Committees; but I am bound to say that what measure of success there has been in dealing with the mischief is rather due to the judicious, resolute, and, at the same time, conciliatory action of successive Speakers of this House. But what I desire to call attention to is this, that there have already been in past years important invasions of the Privileges of individual Members of this House. In 1833, the first year in which I had the honour of a seat in Parliament, it was not only a recognized principle that every Member in presenting Petitions to the House delivered his own remarks and judgment upon them, but it was an established practice; and Morning Sittings in the 1135 House were actually held—and that, I think, in a rather early period of the Session—for the purpose of enabling those Members who had Petitions to present to urge in support of those Petitions whatever they thought fit. There is not a more elementary or obvious duty involving upon a Member than that of enforcing by speech the Petitions of his constituents. But that is now a forgotten truth. And why? Because an absolute necessity led to the invasion of private liberty in a matter where it was, in my judgment, far from being desirable, but where it had become absolutely indispensable; and that is the question which I beg hon. Members to keep in view through the whole of this discussion, because if you were to be turned aside from this or that proposal by the mere allegation that the thing is not in itself desirable, depend upon it, the time, even in the consideration of our or any other proposals, will be wasted and lost time. Since the year 1833, and between that year and the year 1842, the practice was established, gradually hardening into a Rule, which is entirely dropped as a Rule, of speaking upon Petitions, and the point used to be made of raising questions of time, of propriety, of consistency with regard to every Bill and every Order of the Day, by a separate Motion for reading the Order of the Day. That has now gone by; and the consequence of its having gone by is, that sometimes, when there is very good reason to raise the question of time upon the reading of the Order of the Day, it cannot be done. Therefore, Members of the House have lost an opportunity which had real value; but they have lost it because it had become absolutely necessary that they should lose it if they were to attempt to carry into effect the mandate which they had received from their constituents. Then, thirdly, comes another very important limitation of private liberty, for which, I admit, private liberty had not much to say for itself—the old Rule by which Members had the opportunity of raising a fresh discussion upon every occasion when Motion is made that the Speaker do leave the Chair for the House to go into Committee upon any Bill. There was, moreover, the Monday Rule with regard to Supply, which had been adopted for several years, not always exactly in the 1136 same form; but it was dropped last year in the mass of greater considerations that came before us; and that Monday Rule is the fourth change which has been adopted in recognition of this great necessity that is lying upon us. But while this great necessity has lain upon us, and while these measures have been adopted, the evil has progressively increased. The labour is harder, the arrears are greater, the dissatisfaction, with the stagnant state of practical legislation is getting more and more lively; and, more than that, the suffering of the House has rather increased than diminished. It is important that we should bear in mind whence the pressure for a change of this kind has come. Has it come from young and inexperienced Members of this House, raw in Public Business and impatient of labour, or has it even been the official Members of the House, who might, I quite grant, have something like a personal or sinister interest in greatly restricting its labours? Have these been the persons to urge on the necessity of more restraint? Nothing of the kind. It has come from those who are the most competent and the most responsible, it has come from the most experienced, the most honoured Members, and the highest authorities of this House. I will here refer to words used by yourself, Sir, upon the subject. On the 2nd of February, 1881, you used these words:—Future measures for ensuring orderly Debate I must leave to the judgment of the House. But I may add that it will be necessary either for the House itself to assume more effectual control over its Debates, or to entrust greater authority to the Chair."—[3 Hansard cclvii. 2033.]I will add a reference to one other authority, not because we have adopted it literally and virtually in what we now propose, but because it shows that a most shrewd, practical, and sensible man of the highest character and the most impartial mind, occupying the highest position in this House—I mean Lord Eversley—recognized the necessity for laying the hand of the House upon the duration of debates as long ago as in the year 1848, when the evils were in mere miniature that have now swelled into gigantic dimensions. Lord Eversley, in 1848, recommended this Rule to the Select Committee of that year— 1137That before the Order of the Day for resuming an adjourned debate is made, it shall he competent for any Member, who shall have given due notice of his intention, to move that such debate shall not be further adjourned, and such question shall be decided without debate, and no Amendment shall be made thereto; and if the same shall have been resolved in the affirmative, and the debate shall not be closed before 2 o'clock in the morning, no Member shall rise to speak after that hour, but Mr. Speaker shall put the question.It is significant that this was recommended upwards of 30 years ago by a man who had acquired the confidence of this House to an extent not exceeded even by yourself, Sir, and who felt that Obstruction must be arrested, and that the House must make machinery by which it might be arrested. After the reference I have made to such authorities and such measures, I do not expect that equal weight will be attached to what I am going to mention; and yet, in considering the question of liberty of action and liberty of speech, I think it not unwise that we should not wholly cast aside the example of what is being done in other countries. It is difficult, I believe, to find a single instance of a great Legislative Assembly which has not found it necessary to adopt some Rule for the purpose of placing in the hands of the Assembly itself the power of restricting the duration of debate. Take France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, or the United States.
I am told it is as I have said; but I will not attempt to enter into a controversy now. The right hon. Gentleman's protest stands upon record; but I think I can afford to part with Hungary. I speak now only of the Representative Assemblies of other countries. Where the Assemblies are not representative, I have never heard of any power at all to close debate. The only considerable country, as far as I have seen, where it is doubtful whether there is a real power of this kind is Spain. The same rule has not been confined to foreign Assemblies, and cannot be stigmatized as a mere foreign invention, although foreigners have the start of us in devising a word which I hope we shall never be compelled to adopt. The Colonies, in which the British character is reflected, and which value British freedom not less 1138 than we value it, have felt it necessary to go into the system to some considerable extent. I believe it exists in Canada, in Tasmania, in New Zealand, at the Cape, in South Australia, and in Victoria. These are all Colonies greatly similar as to their political ideas, and certainly they are not behind us in the value they set upon liberty of speech. And what is more remarkable, I am bound to say, is that, on this occasion we shall, perhaps, be intimidated, I will not say terrified—for that I hope we shall not be—by vague anticipations of mischief and alarm. Well, Sir, these anticipations, if a power of this kind in the hands of a Deliberative Assembly were a new thing, might be very formidable. But I have recited all these cases, and I have never heard of a single instance in which it has been found that this power, varying, perhaps, in the form it takes, but running through, the whole of them, has worked badly. ["Oh, oh!"] The hon. Member expresses his astonishment at this statement. I did not say there never has been a single case in which he did not think it has worked badly. That is a different proposition from the one I advanced; but if he will point out to mo that there is a case where this control has been introduced, and where, after experience, it has been abandoned, then I shall give due weight to it. Well, I think it is hardly necessary for me to say more than that, as far as the increase of labour is concerned, all that we have to record is augmentation of toil and effort with progressive diminution of result. And I must observe this, which is very remarkable, that while almost every other Assembly of a popular character which exists in the world has moved in this direction, we, who have by far the greatest necessity incumbent on us, have not moved. I do not at all complain of that; I myself have been one of the most reluctant and slowest to be convinced of the necessity of such a movement. You may tolerate excess from love of liberty of speech, even when it descends into frivolity or into licence, for fear of making some mistake dangerous to that liberty. But although on that account I do not grudge the enormous patience which the House has exhibited, the enormous suffering which it has been content to undergo—nay, the disparagement of its usefulness which 1139 it has witnessed without an effort to apply an effective remedy, yet I feel, on the other hand, that there is a point beyond which you cannot allow things to go, and I wish to urge upon the House that that limit has been reached. I think, Sir, it would be possible to indicate my meaning in that respect without seriously tress passing on the time of the House. I stated that there were two great evils that formed the salient features of the picture before us; the one was the increase of labour, and the other was the diminution of power to perform it. By the diminution of power to perform it, I mean the diminution of the power of this Assembly itself over its own Members individually. This, Sir, is partly a matter of fixed rule. It is not altogether a matter of fixed rule, because the rules have been on the whole strengthened; but I have in view on this point what is matter of opinion. I cannot but record, although I do it with regret, as an unquestionable fact, that the degree of deference which 30, 40, 50 years ago was paid by all the Members of this House to the general wishes of the House in relation to the prolongation of debate is not now uniformly so paid. I am not now, Sir, using this merely as an argument—I am stating it as a fact. It rests in my own clear recollection. It is now a very common thing to see debates which have already been lengthened prolonged by speeches which the House does not wish to hear; and that, too, when in the general judgment of the House the whole case has been opened and is mature for decision, and when further debate not only does not assist but weakens the power of decision which the House has already attained. Not only threats of moving the adjournment, but many other obvious modes, well known to those who hear me, of resistance to the unquestioned will of the House—not to the will of one Party in the House, or of a mere majority, but to what may be called in the phrase of one of the Resolutions "the evident sense of the House" have now become matters of common occurrence. That is a very important fact; for I do not hesitate to say that in all my early years the House was virtually possessed of a closing power, because it was possessed of a means of sufficiently making known its inclinations; and to those inclinations, unless my memory 1140 monstrously deceives me, uniform deference was paid by Members. Well, that is a great change; and that great change forms an important part of the basis on which our case rests. Now I come to the least acceptable part of this question—the part which is least agreeable to me to discuss, because I cannot avoid saying some things that may not be wholly pleasing to everyone who hears me; but I will do the best I can; and certainly I have no charge to make against any Member which is a reproach to his character or his honour. I shall state some facts that appear to me extremely grave; but I shall state them, giving to any persons whom I may be thought to have in view the fullest credit for acting in the manner which their conscience dictates, and their sense of patriotism leads them to think is binding upon them. I do not question that for a moment; but I would only point out the effect of certain modes of thinking and of opinion on the general character of the House, and on its power of performing such duties as it is charged with. And here I come to consider what is commonly called Obstruction. It is not a very easy matter to define Obstruction; and I will not attempt to define it for anyone but myself. I will only give my description of it. To me it appears to be the disposition either of the minority of the House, or of individuals, to resist the prevailing will of the House otherwise than by argument. I use these words carefully, because I have contended myself, and I am still ready to contend, that what may appear to the majority of the House to be the persistent and even reiterated pressure of argument, is not always obstructive. There are cases in which novel subjects raise great questions of principle in connection with the basis of society, which have to be brought into view, perhaps from a distance, and to which the House is little accustomed; those are cases in which, in my opinion, the House ought always to be tolerant, up to a certain point, even to a development and an iteration of argument that may appear to be wearisome. But these are special cases which do not affect the general rule; and it will be for the House to say whether or not we propose to make due provision for them. Generally, then, I think Obstruction, as it has been spoken so much of in late years, may be 1141 considered the disposition of the minority or of individuals to resist the will of the House otherwise than by argument. I will just point to three stages in that unfortunate and ill-omened progression to which I have had occasion to advert. Undoubtedly it was the opinion either of the House, or of the majority of the House, that in the Parliament of 1868 Obstruction was sufficiently manifested. But the Obstruction which was then manifested, even in the opinion of the majority, did not present the gravest features which Obstruction has since gradually developed. I take that Parliament as having exhibited Obstruction in its first stages. Those who were the majority of the House thought it was tolerably pronounced. But they, nevertheless, advisedly abstained from proposing any method whatever of a penal or restrictive kind for the purpose of checking it, showing, I hope, a due respect for liberty of speech, even while they smarted and while the House was most seriously impeded by proceedings which, though pursued no doubt honourably and conscientiously, it yet thought were mischievous. I come next to the Parliament of 1874. It was in that Parliament, I think it unquestionable, that there was a power developed, and that Obstruction began to manifest, ambiguously, perhaps, but yet to many intelligibly, certain features which had not before presented themselves. The two great subjects on which Obstruction was experienced in that Parliament were the subjects of the South Africa Bill and Army Flogging. But in both of them the great length of the debates which occurred was mixed with circumstances which make it not easy to form a perfectly accurate and impartial estimate of the obstructive forces that were put in action, because—I believe I am right in regard to the South African Bill, and I know I am right in regard to the Army Discipline Bill, in saying that very important changes were introduced into these measures, and were the fruit and progress of long debates; and where that is so, it is not fair to drive home without a great deal of hesitation the charge of Obstruction. However, in the opinion of the House, some measure was called for, and with great moderation the right hon. Gentleman who was then Leader of the House devised and 1142 proposed to the House a Standing Order, which was accepted with very general approval. Now we come to the Parliament of 1880, and if the Parliament of 1874 exhibited a development in comparison with the Parliament of 1868, there is no doubt whatever that the Parliament of 1880 exhibited a most grave development in comparison with the Parliament of 1874. ["No, no!"] I perceive that one or two hon. Gentlemen hold the negative of that proposition. It is due to them, if not to the rest of the House, that I should briefly state what I mean. I mean that it became evident—I do not question the patriotism or the uprightness of the views they entertained—that a limited portion of the Members of this House were disposed not only to show that the House was incapable of discharging all its legislative functions, but to make it incapable of doing so. Those who look back over the history of that remarkable Session will not doubt the substantial truth of what I say. [Mr. O'DONNELL: Coercion.] The hon. Member usually calls out something or other, and perhaps he will permit me to pass by that to which I am so much accustomed. Last year we arrived at a climax in which you, Sir, found yourself compelled to adopt what you termed at the time an exceptional measure—to take into your own hands the exercise of a power not committed to you either by the Orders of the House or by the Usages of the House. You did so in circumstances which, I believe—at least in the opinion of nine-tenths, I may say of nineteen-twentieths of the House—earned for you an additional measure of their respect and gratitude. But, Sir, that is a very grave state of facts. The circumstances were these. The Government sought to introduce to the House measures which they represented as of immediate and vital necessity for the security of life and property in Ireland. They were met, in the first place, by 11 days' debate on the Address, and when a Motion was made for leave to introduce the Bill the House was compelled on one occasion to sit for 22½ hours in a continuous debate, and subsequently to sit for 41½ hours in another continuous debate, which might have gone on for a second 41½ hours for all that we knew to the contrary, had not you, Sir, as our deliverer, rescued us from the predicament in which we were 1143 situated. I ask the House, Sir, to consider the gravity of these facts, and I affirm that if one occasion has occurred in which it has been necessary for the Speaker to assume an exceptional power, we must remember that the Speaker in assuming it disabled himself from assuming it again, because he said, and wisely and justly said, that now he had assumed it in the exceptional circumstances, the House must take the matter in hand and provide a remedy. Therefore, Sir, we have not now in reserve that which we had in reserve before the 2nd of February, 1881—namely, the possibility that the Speaker might prove to be our guardian angel, and might by his own courage and prudence relieve us from a great difficulty. He has thrown upon us the responsibility of dealing with the case, and I have to ask you whether you intend, in the circumstances, when he has been compelled to assume exceptional power, when he has earned our gratitude for assuming that power, and when he has told you at the moment of assuming it that after his assuming it for once he must leave it to you to provide for something in the future—I ask whether, in all these circumstances, the time has not come when we ought to endeavour to provide by law for that which was on a single occasion provided for by option, and to establish ourselves in the dignified position of an Assembly which is governed by its own Rules, and not by interventions optional in their character, however dignified their source, and however indisputable the ground of reason and justice on which they are based? I am sorry to introduce a point which I cannot altogether pass by, and it is in connection with these lengthened Sittings. They are not merely most powerful means of Obstruction; they are not merely most powerful means of inflicting suffering on the Members of this House. They are totally incompatible with the dignity and credit of this House. Grievous as they are, they are almost as ludicrous in the eyes of the community as they are grievous. The whole idea of the conversion of night into day, the disruption of the common order—already hard pressed by our ordinary proceedings—in which time and business are distributed, and the exhibition of a great and powerful Assembly in such an attitude before the com- 1144 munity, almost amounts to a degradation and depth of insult offered to the House such as, I must say, we ought to endeavour to wipe out. These discredits are grave indeed, but they are not all. Look back over the course of eight months of the last Session. I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman opposite thinks the Government was very happy in the arrangement of its Business. I have been here nearly 50 years, and I never recollect an Opposition who thought that the Government of the day was happy in the arrangement of its Business. But let the most unfavourable commentary be made upon our capacity, and there will remain a gravity in the mass of fact which no one can disguise, and no one, I think, can undervalue. The Government asked for measures of immediate and urgent necessity. They obtained the Rules of Urgency, which enabled them to press forward those measures in a manner which would otherwise have been impossible. How did they obtain those Rules? Why, Sir, they obtained those Rules owing to a most extraordinary error in tact on the part of a certain number of Members of this House which I over saw committed, under which they contrived most kindly to place themselves in such a position that we were able to deal with them in a single division. Otherwise we might have been occupied with divisions throughout the night, and at the close of them would have been totally out of condition for dealing with the question of Urgency. We got that by good fortune, and after getting it, 29 days was the time the House occupied in dealing with those subjects of urgency and necessity to life and property in Ireland. I admit there ought to be full discussion of all these questions. The invasion of personal liberty is a grave and important subject, and whenever it is proposed there should be great liberty of speech; but I do not think the House will be disposed to admit that more than 20 days were required in the case. After that came the Land Act, which occupied 58 nights of the time of the House. Undoubtedly, it was a great and complex measure, and ought to have occupied a long time; but I am sure I am moderate when I say that had there been no indirect purpose connected with the prolongation of this 1145 debate, less than half those 58 nights would have worked out the whole scheme, and would have enabled us to send that measure to the House of Lords under circumstances more favourable to discussion, and permitted us to do some part of the legislative duty crying out for attention. As we know, there was a total sacrifice of the whole interest, first of all of the whole functions, of private and independent Members in consequence of these proceedings last year. They were almost shut out from the exercise of their own legitimate functions of pressing subjects on the attention of the House. Besides that, there was an almost entire suspension of legislative work for England and Scotland, while even in Ireland there were subjects of the greatest importance, particularly the question of local government, with which we were most anxious to deal, but with which the state of things I have described rendered it absolutely impossible for us to deal. In such circumstances it is that we ask you to place in the hands of the House itself the power, when there is sufficient cause, of shortening its debates—the power, without making any accusation or reproach against anyone, of deciding when a debate has sufficiently continued and ought to be closed. We ask you to do that now, in the year 1882, which Speaker Lord Eversley endeavoured to impress on you in a different form, but on the same principle, in 1848. We propose that this decision shall be taken on what we think the only sound principle, and under what we think the best and most adequate safeguards. There is but one sound principle in this House, and that is that the majority of the House should prevail. The whole of our proceedings are founded upon it, and what consequences have followed? I will name a few of them—consequences following from the prevalence of the majority in the most extreme circumstances of approximation between its numerical force and the numerical force of the minority. A majority of 5 threw out the Melbourne Government in 1839. A majority of 5 threw out Lord John Russell's Government in 1866. A majority of 3 threw out the Government of which I had the honour to be the head in 1873. A majority of 2 introduced public education under the Privy Council—than 1146 which no more important innovation, though that innovation was afterwards improved upon, was ever established in this country. A majority of I threw out the Government of Lord Melbourne, or at least caused a Dissolution, in 1841; and a majority of I read the Reform Bill in 1832. No doubt, had that majority of I not been found, some measure would have been brought in; but it would have been a measure of a very different kind. Lastly, a majority of I enabled Mr. Pitt to go forward with the Act of Union, for when he proposed it, in January, 1799, an Amendment differing from the principle of his measure was proposed, and, on a division, 105 voted for that Amendment and 106 against it. A majority of I accordingly carried forward the measure, which, undoubtedly, was one of the most important and remarkable changes ever obtained by the vote of a Legislative Body. These things were done by a bare majority; but when I am speaking of a bare majority——
I am not aware that there were three votes in Kilmainham at the time the Act of Union was passed. When I speak of a bare majority as the only sound principle upon which we can go in this matter, let me be understood. I do not mean a majority without safeguards. That is another matter to which I will come directly. I mean a bare majority as opposed to an artificial majority constructed in ingenious ways—whether it be 2 to 1, or 3 to 2, or 3 to 1, or anything else of the kind. These are measures which do very well for an occasion like that of last year, the features of which are altogether peculiar. But God forbid that we should see so vast an innovation introduced into the practice of this House, applicable to our ordinary procedure, as would be a Rule of the House under which the voice of the majority was not to prevail over that of the minority. I have said that we do not object to safeguards, and the safeguards we propose are, I think, full and large. The first of them is the 1147 intervention of the Speaker. Now, what does that mean? I have seen an objection taken which is sufficiently indiscreet even from an outside person, but which from an inside person would be in the highest degree absurd—namely, that the Speaker, being by the Resolution of the House bound to act according to the evident sense of the House, will often or always—I do not know which—or from time to time, seeing 199 one way and 200 the other way, or 200 one way and 201 the other way, take that for a condition of things in which he sees the evident sense of the House. Well, I believe that a greater reproach—I will not say to you, Mr. Speaker, but to any man of the most narrow and contracted understanding—could not be conceived. In point of fact, it shows a total ignorance of the modes of proceeding by which opinions are perceived and appreciated, and by which the state of the House is generally known. No such ease, I will venture to say, will arise. I will venture to say it is morally impossible that such a case should arise. Well, there is no doubt that the proposal of the intervention of the Speaker is open to one objection, and that is that it makes a serious addition to the Speaker's duties, the weight of which is increasing from year to year—duties which thus far have been admirably performed, but which might be raised to a point at which they would go beyond human strength. It is with grief and reluctance that we should ask you, Sir, to undertake any new duty whatever; but we know that, so long as those duties can be performed, your readiness to undertake them will never for a moment be questioned, and that the only subject, therefore, we have to consider is whether that is the best arrangement for the House. Now, what has the Speaker to do? The Speaker is not made an absolute judge. The majority even is not made absolute. The hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) has, I think, misread the Resolutions. His Amendment is drawn as if it were proposed simply to commit to the majority of the House the decision of this matter in the manner in which the decision of other matters is committed to it. No, Sir, we require the intervention of the Speaker, and the intervention of the Speaker requires, in the first place, that he shall be satisfied that he per- 1148 ceives the evident sense of the House. It is not for me to give an authoritative construction to these words—[Mr. WAR-TON: Hear, hear!]—but I may venture to give my own opinion of what they do not mean, in which I hope I shall be supported by the high authority of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. These words certainly do not mean a state of things in which a majority, as commonly understood in this House, is loudly clamouring one way, and a minority, as commonly understood, is loudly clamouring another. The Speaker must not only be satisfied of the sense of the House. It is not said that when the Speaker perceives the state of the House he shall do so and so—but that he may do so and so, and his own judgment, together with his perception of the sense of the House, is the double condition under which, and under which alone, a majority of the House can exercise its authority to close a debate. I confidently say that those who think it is within the power of the Speaker, oven if it were within his will, to invade the Privileges of the House of Commons under such a Resolution as this little observe what is the function of the Speaker in the House of Commons—by what tenure he holds his influence and authority, how impossible it is for him to stretch his authority beyond certain bounds, and how, if, unhappily, he were to stretch it beyond certain bounds, He would at once find the withdrawal from himself of the confidence of the House, or the diminution of the confidence of the House in his judgment. These interventions under the Rule, as we propose it, must, I do not hesitate to say, be rare interventions, and interventions made for just and proper cause. We have striven to go far in the way of making the abuses of this power impossible, and having done what we can to make it impossible in the manner that I have described, we think that it may be fair that in the case that is before us something beyond vague anticipation, and something beyond odious language and mere slang, should influence us in our deliberations. But that is not the only limitation we have put. We have put another limitation—the limitation that a large number of Members should be present for the exercise of the new powers. That, let me say, is a very important condition. In the case of most 1149 popular Assemblies, I believe, there can be no quorum until a majority of its Members are present. At any rate, a large number of Members is required to make a quorum. Now, we have only a small number of persons to make a quorum. I believe no Assembly in the world of anything like our numbers has so small a quorum. What we do is this. We enormously raise the quorum of the House in order to the discharge of those peculiar duties—200 as a general rule, and certainly 200 in regard to all the ordinary operations of authority in this House. That will imply, generally speaking, an attendance of from 300 to 400, or a majority of the Members of the House, for I need not point out that the 200 we require are not 200 present and voting on this question, but 200 who will vote in the affirmative. That is what I may call our general rule, a rule involving a very large, I might almost say an enormous, increase in the quorum of the House, the effect of which will be to insure that these functions, which we admit to be grave, and for us novel functions, shall not be lightly or inconsiderately exercised. But even that is not all. There is also the case—perhaps not a very uncommon one—when at certain hours of the night, or on certain days of the Session, peculiar groups and combinations are formed, not of interest to the great body of the House, but connected with some local matter of peculiar importance, and that minorities would be exceedingly small—minorities less than an ordinary quorum of the House. The House will perhaps observe the connection between these two things—that we are not willing to give a minority, when it is less than the ordinary quorum of the House, the same power of requiring the attendance of so large a quorum as 200 that is possessed when the minority is of itself an ordinary quorum of the House. Therefore, in these circumstances we are quite willing that it should be stipulated that a majority of 100 should be present, and that will make it plain in such circumstances that the vote expressed will be the vote of an enormous majority of those who are in actual attendance. This is the plan which we have to submit to the House, and in submitting it to the House I have dwelt chiefly, almost exclusively, upon one great point, which is regarded by many as a point of diffi- 1150 culty, because it is with regard to that point that probably the greatest amount of difference of opinion may be found to exist. I beg respectfully to reiterate to the House my assurance that, while we propose to make adequate provision to meet the necessities of a most grave emergency, we have been not less anxious to avoid going beyond the necessities of the case. Perhaps I may be allowed to say a word with regard to my own personal position on this occasion. There is hardly a man in this House who hears me whose Parliamentary tenure—to use a term with which we have recently become familiar—can be frailer than my own. My life is in the past, and not in the future; but I should be sorry if at its close, at a moment when we see the House of Commons in great part paralyzed in the discharge of its noble duties, and almost in the condition of some noble animal upon whom artificial restraints are imposed, so that it is unable freely to move its limbs, I did not do my best to restore it to its free power of action. Sir, I feel that there is upon me a great obligation to offer what services I can render—although I have but little share in the interests in which it will operate upon the future of the House—towards relieving the House from its dilemma, and it is in the discharge of that duty that I appear here to-night. The service I can render may be small; but that is why it should be the more freely rendered. However small the service may be, the dilemma I have endeavoured to describe is a great calamity, and all the mental force and energy of this House—all its wisdom and deliberation, freedom from vain fears and apprehensions of Party prejudice, is required in order to enable it to confront the necessities of so great a crisis. I trust that the House will always continue to appreciate—I would almost say worship—liberty of speech, and that it will continue to tolerate, for the sake of liberty of speech, the license of speech which mocks and counterfeits that liberty of speech. But, however large its fund of patience, and however wise that patience may be, I hope it will not carry that tolerance to such a point that it shall of itself become the grossest of all the vices of a Legislative Body, and that it shall reach a point where it will inflict upon the House of Commons an incapacity for the discharge 1151 of its duties. I may say it will be my fault, in setting forth this case, and not the fault of those who hear me, if I do not leave upon the mind of the House a firm determination to grasp the case resolutely, to continue to hold it firmly, and to carry it through until we have made adequate provision against the difficulties which beset it, against the oblique evils by which it is assailed and impeded in its work, and have placed it in a condition to enable it adequately to discharge the great and noble duty which this nation has intrusted it to perform. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the 1st Resolution.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That when it shall appear to Mr. Speaker, or to the Chairman of a Committee of the whole House, during any Debate, to be the evident sense of the House, or of the Committee, that the Question be now put, he may so inform the House, or the Committee; and, if a Motion he made, 'That the Question be now put,' Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman, shall forthwith put such Question; and, if the same he decided in the affirmative, the Question under discussion shall he put forthwith: Provided that the Question shall not be decided in the affirmative, if a Division be taken, unless it shall appear to have been supported by more than two hundred Members, or unless it shall appear to have been opposed by less than forty Members and supported by more than one hundred Members."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
Sir, I am aware that I am taking a great liberty in again rising; but I desire to state that I do not wish to adhere closely to my statement as to the closing powers of the Colonial Assemblies. I know there are many cases; but I would rather make a further examination, which I have not yet had time to make, before insisting upon details.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I feel that I owe some apology to the House for rising at this hour; but I think it is important that I should take the earliest opportunity of speaking after the Prime Minister; and I do so very much for the purpose of saying how far I agree with the objects which the Prime Minister has in view, although, unfortunately, I am bound to differ very materially from him on one point. I hope that in the debate which will necessarily take place upon these Resolutions we shall be able to preserve our good temper and our sense of the great importance of the subject with which we have to deal, and not only our sense of 1152 its importance, but also of its extreme difficulty. Even after the speech to which we have just listened, noble as are many of its passages, and fine as were many of the sentiments it contained, I could not but see that there were many points omitted and passed over which ought to be considered fairly by the House. It is not my intention, at this particular time, to raise a discussion in reference to these particular points. I rise just now rather to give my general view of the nature of the proposals of the Government; and I hope that in the course of the debate that will follow Amendments will be submitted to the House which we shall have an opportunity of considering in detail, and which will raise the points to which I have referred. I would venture to say a few words, in the first instance, with regard to the Amendments which are upon the Paper. I must explain that my own Amendment stands almost last upon the list as regards this Resolution, because the Notice I have given is that when the Resolution is put to the House as a whole I shall be prepared to vote against it as a whole, unless it is materially altered, on the ground that I object to the principle upon which it is based. That principle is that the majority of the House shall have the power, at the suggestion, or on the invitation, of the Speaker, of summarily closing the debate. Although it is proposed that that power shall be accompanied by safeguards, I must express in the beginning my own opinion that safeguards are comparatively of little use. Of course, if the principle of the Resolution be affirmed, I shall be anxious to make the safeguards as strong as they can be made. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), which stands first on the list, though worthy of discussion, would, I think, be more in place if brought forward on another Resolution. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) proposes that we should postpone the consideration of the 1st Resolution until we have disposed of the other Resolutions. That is a plan of proceeding which I myself at first thought would be very appropriate and useful. That is to say, that, regarding as I do the introduction of the clôture as an evil—although I can conceive the 1153 possibility of its being presented to us in the light of a necessary evil—I should be anxious to see whether we can make the subsequent propositions sufficient for the purpose without resorting to this objectionable system. But, on the other hand, a little reflection convinced me that that would not be the best mode of proceeding, for this reason—the Resolution involving the clôture is really intended to limit or restrict debate, and the other Resolutions are Resolutions intended to limit the number of opportunities for debate. I am entirely in favour of limiting the number of opportunities for debate; but if I am to understand that the freedom of debate itself is to be limited, then I have to reconsider my opinion as to the wisdom of restricting the opportunities for debate. If we are to have free discussion, then limit the number of opportunities for debate; but if we are not to have free discussion, then give us as many opportunities for debate as you fairly can. We have to deal with a state of things which has been described to us by the Prime Minister; and it has been described to us by one possessing not only the experience which we all enjoy in common with him, but possessing an experience reaching far beyond that of almost any other Member of this House. We must all recognize that there is a very great amount of truth in the criticisms which he passed upon the changes which have taken place in this House in the quantity of Business and to the means and manner of discharging it. You want relief from two things—first, from wilful Obstruction; and, second, from the kind of Obstruction which cannot be described by any single adjective, which varies from what is called by my right hon. Friend "the most laboured forms of persevering opposition to measures which are supported by the majority" to the most frivolous and trivial Obstruction for the purpose of preventing the passing of measures. The point put by the Prime Minister just now is this—that ever since 1833 steps have been recommended, and have from time to time been taken, to limit the privileges of Members. Such steps were taken with reluctance; but it was found absolutely necessary that Members should sacrifice some of their privileges for the sake of Public Business. But that is not the ground upon which I object to 1154 the Resolution of the clôture. It is not because that Resolution calls upon individual Members to sacrifice some of their privileges, but because it embodies—at any rate, to my mind—serious dangers to the efficiency of the Business of the House itself. I admit that it is a most valuable instrument if it is adopted for curbing private individuals; but if it is to destroy freedom of discussion—and I hope to be able to show presently that it will destroy freedom of voting also—we shall be doing a great evil, and we shall gain comparatively little good. With regard to the punishment of Obstruction, that is a matter on which. I may say very little. We all recognize wilful Obstruction as an offence against the House; we all recognize the right and the duty of restraining those who are guilty of it. When I had the honour of loading this House I attempted to deal with that by a Resolution to which reference has been made, and which was not quite so inefficient, perhaps, as has been supposed. I admit that it may be very proper to strengthen that Resolution in order to give it more perfect effect. It was adopted, to a certain extent, as an experiment, and it is by no means so feeble a weapon as some have described it. Although, in the first instance, you could only stop a Member for a few hours, on the second occasion such Member could be stopped for a much longer time, and on the third occasion during such time as the House should order. The matter was treated as one of discipline. Everything that can be done to support the authority of the Chair ought to be done; and I look upon it as being much more important to vindicate the authority of the Chair than to waste the time of the House. What I think was important in this Resolution was that the orders of the Speaker should not be disregarded, but that he should be able at once, without waste of time, to bring the offender to judgment. That is sufficiently provided for also in the Standing Orders. But I do not think that has much to do with the clôture. I think, on the contrary, that it deals rather with those who sympathize with him who desires that the debate should go on. As regards the diminution of opportunities for discussion, I would point out that last year, when the House agreed to the Motion of the Government to grant "Urgency" 1155 for a particular Bill, power was placed in the hands of the Speaker to make such regulations as were necessary for the conduct of our Business. I observe, on comparing the Resolutions on this Paper—except the 1st—with those which you, Sir, submitted in the first instance, that they are as nearly as possible alike. You, Sir, were able to judge from your experience where were the points as to which it was desirable that some limitation should be put on our proceedings; and you proposed to the House as Rules, temporarily to be observed, almost all the points which are here included. But there were subsequently to those Resolutions other regulations which were drawn up having reference to the closing of the debate. They touched a difficult point, on which my right hon. Friend said not a single word, as regards proceedings in Committee. I think that when we come to work the matter out, great as are the difficulties and grave as are the objections—at all events to my mind—to the clôture when applied to the House in a full Sitting, the objections and difficulties to the clôture in Committee will be tenfold greater. I see that the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) intends to raise that question, and we shall then have an opportunity to discuss it. I am of opinion that the regulations which are contained in these Resolutions, with the exception of the 1st, will be, I do not Bay absolutely sufficient to prevent any waste of time or loss of temper, but quite as powerful as we can reasonably expect, and will produce an enormous change for the better in the proceedings of this House. We have had an experience, I think, of great abuses. Our forms have been much abused in many particulars, such as raising questions to a large extent, moving the adjournment at Question time, repeating the Motions for adjournment, and so on. These are some of the evils that we have practically to deal with. When the Prime Minister gives us an account of the long Sittings of last year, and tells us that but for the action of the Speaker they could not have been stopped, and that the present Rule is the only way in which such Sittings can be stopped, I ask him, would not the Rule, for instance, preventing repeated Motions for adjournment being made by the same person, and the Rule requiring the per- 1156 son moving the adjournment to confine himself to the subject of the Motion, if strictly applied, have met the difficulties which we experienced last year? Those were difficulties of the gravest possible character, and of an exceptional character, because they related to a measure which was naturally one that would provoke and challenge a large amount of opposition. But as regards the clôture, do let us consider what we are doing if we introduce it. In the first place, do not forget that there may be an abuse, even of the clôture. It must be remembered that an abuse of the Forms of the House is that from which we are suffering; and do you suppose that when we have the clôture there will be no abuse of that? Would it not be extremely inconvenient and dangerous to have the principle admitted if it were abused in the way in which I believe it will be? The clôture is dangerous in more ways than one. My right hon. Friend spoke of the difference in the Business this House has to do, and of the increase of Business since the time—nearly 50 years ago—when he first became a Member of it. But that difference may be divided into more than one class. If there is a much greater amount of legislation, there is also a much larger amount of Supply, and this House now takes a much larger share in the direct control of the Executive of this country. And when talking about the clôture, for Heaven's sake do not forget the important change in the position of the House, because you will see that there is a point on which you will have to make very careful provision. Now, let me take a case of the action of the House with regard to the Executive in the clôture. I imagine a case with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway on the other side. Supposing, for instance, that a Conservative Government is in Office, and that you are desirous of challenging a part of the policy of the Government. I assume that the Government in Office is in a majority. I assume—and I beg pardon of the Chair for the assumption—that the time has come when you, Sir, have ceased to be the Speaker, and when some other person less eminent in impartiality is in the Chair. I assume that the Speaker is inclined towards the Government rather than otherwise. What will happen? A Motion is made to censure the conduct of the Government. A powerful speech 1157 is delivered against the Government, and a reply is made on behalf of the Government. Then comes the hour during which the Irish Law Officers do not speak, but when sometimes prominent Members of the Opposition have to do so. It is a time when the House is comparatively empty, and when the Ministerial Party are in a considerable majority. At this time there would naturally be a temptation to close the debate, for the debate has languished. Supposing the clôture to be applied in such a case as that, you would not only shut out a number of powerful speeches, but you would shut out a number of votes also, because many hon. Members wishing to vote might not be in the House at the time. I have known instances in which that might possibly have happened. In one case within my own recollection, an Indian grievance was brought forward by a Gentleman who took a great interest in the case of some person who felt himself aggrieved. The House generally did not take particular interest in the matter, and having heard the story told, they went away under the impression that the debate would go on for some considerable time, and that the division would not be taken until a late hour in the evening. That happened when Mr. Grant Duff was Under Secretary of State for India. He came over to me and said—"By some means or other help us to keep this debate going, because we are in a decided minority, and no one present understands the case. All the Gentlemen who remain on my side of the House are here in support of the claim that has been put forward, and those who are on your side are sure to oppose the Government. If the debate could be carried on till 10 or 11, our Friends would come down, and we should be all right. But if a division takes place in half-an-hour we shall be beaten." For these reasons, Mr. Grant Duff came to me and asked me to speak. Now, things of this kind will take place if the clôture is agreed to. Supposing, now, that a Speaker were to resist the pressure put upon him by those who might desire that a debate should be closed, what would be his position afterwards? He might be the object of disagreeable remarks, and after the division it would be said that the result would have been different had he not refused to put the Question of the clôture 1158 to the House at an earlier period in the debate. If we were only dealing with our own House it would be all very well; but remember the pressure and influence to which Members are subjected from the outside. Never leave out of sight the mode in which this very question is being pressed upon us at this moment by people who know really very little about our debates or proceedings, but who are very anxious to press forward certain measures, and who are exerting great pressure on Members for the purpose of inducing them to assent to these proposals. If these people succeed in overbearing their Members and making them vote for the clôture, do you think they will not bring pressure to bear afterwards in order to make their Members use it? Of course they will, and you will subject yourselves to this great danger—the majority will be worked from some centre outside, and we shall feel that we are no longer free agents. The right hon. Gentleman says the majority ought to rule in the House. Yes; but who will rule the majority? I will now draw attention to another ease in which great danger and inconvenience would be the consequences of the success of the clôture proposal. It does not concern the executive functions of the House, but its legislative action when passing a Bill. The great difficulty will be in Committee. How in the world are we to have questions put and forced upon us in Committee? You will have such cases as the following occurring. Suppose a clause of a Bill to be under discussion, and suppose a Member of the Government or a private Member should get up and produce as an Amendment a clause which nobody has seen, if a desire should be prevalent to press on the Business, you might stifle all discussion on this unexpected and ill-understood Amendment. Should such cases often occur, what will be the case? Why, your measures will go through the House without being properly or sufficiently discussed. Too much discussion, I admit, does produce mischief; but the provisions made in the subsequent Resolutions will very much diminish that evil. Everything, however, that restrains freedom of debate here will naturally give a great power to the Upper House of dealing freely with measures in connection with which they will say that all fair and full discussion was pro- 1159 hibited by a tyrannical majority. Well, we are told that the clôture will be very valuable. I have, however, great doubts whether in all respects it will be found to work in the way that is anticipated. I do not think the Government themselves are very confident about it, because they do not propose it as a Standing Order, nor yet exactly as an experiment. They put it as a feeler; they do not say whether they would like it to be a Standing Order or not; but they say its nature must depend upon the course of the debate. Well, that is not a very strong way of making a recommendation, and when we consider what we have been told to-night, that for 50 years Committees of this House, Speakers, and other distinguished persons, have been inquiring into this question, and have produced numbers of recommendations, we cannot but feel that the Government are approaching a very difficult subject when they come forward with proposals for so large a change in our Procedure. I hope that the discussions that will take place will be carried on in a calm and temperate spirit. I have myself endeavoured to-night to abstain from anything of a controversial character, while expressing my strong opinion as to the danger of the course which we are invited to take. But I cannot sit down without making one appeal to the House generally. We are, as a House, on our trial. Nothing that can be done in the way of restriction or regulation will meet this evil properly. There is only one way in which to meet it, and that is by our own resolution to perform our duties in a sensible, in a workmanlike, and, at the same time, in a reasonable and gentlemanly manner. The character of the House is very much at stake. The very fact that such proposals as these have had to be made is in itself a very severe reflection upon the character of the House. Let us show, if possible, that we do not require these restrictions and gags. We had an instance last year of what the House could do. When the Government asked the House to vote Urgency for Supply, I, on behalf of my hon. Friends, took upon myself the responsibility of objecting to that proposal, and what was the result? Why, that the Government did perfectly well without Urgency, and that the House, not being too tightly reined, was more willing to do what was necessary than it would be 1160 under the strictest curb. If the Government will do their own part in arranging the Business; if they will throw themselves to a great extent upon the good feeling of the House, and, at the same time, adopt those measures which are valuable as diminishing the opportunities that exist for the waste of time, the true way out of these difficulties will be found. The House has a character to maintain; to a certain extent a character to regain. It would be a most fatal thing for the country if the House were to lose the respect of the people. I fear that if we adopt such a measure as this, as many of us may do with great doubt and uncertainty, merely in deference to the authority of the Prime Minister or to the action of persons and bodies out-of-doors, we may have cause to repent it. The right hon. Gentleman said that there is no other country in the world which boasts a Legislative Assembly which has not adopted something in the nature of the clôture. Well, it may be so. I do not intend to go into that question; but I think the position of the House of Commons is such that it is not for us to consider what others do, but what is suitable for ourselves to do. And when we are told that this rule prevails in other Assemblies, and that they have seen no cause to alter it, I remember that there are many cases, as has been pointed out to us in a very striking manner, in which the rule works badly for the cause of freedom. Many of you must have read a very interesting communication that appeared in The Times a few days ago, showing how, in the French Assembly, the eloquent and statesmanlike few were continually suppressed and overborne by the majority through the instrumentality of the clôture.. God forbid that we should think that in such a House as this similar use would ever be made of the clôture.! But you are asked to introduce a principle which would apply in any House and with any Speaker in the Chair, and which, therefore, might well have in future times the very effects which we dread. The very fact that the Speaker is to be intrusted with these powers will make each Party more anxious to have a Speaker of its own opinions to give effect to its views. These are considerations which we do not now allow to enter our minds when electing a Speaker; but it will be so, and if once the Speaker can 1161 be reduced to the level of anything like a partizan the authority and influence of the Speaker are gone, and the House suffers. I will venture to make an appeal on behalf of the Speaker. You, Sir, are courageous. You showed it last year on the important occasion when you came forward and took a step which redeemed us from a difficulty out of which we might not otherwise have got. But I do not think it fair to place upon you the responsibility which is involved in the Resolution now before us. The difficulties that you would have to contend with would, I think, be very serious. It is all very well on paper. It looks as if everybody sat quietly, and that a certain number of speeches had been delivered, and that it appeared to you that the House was getting tired, that it was languid, and, in short, that the House was in that state in which the noble Lord described it the other night—that it had had enough of it. But those are not the occasions when this Resolution would be put in force. It is not when the House is languid and tired, but when it is somewhat excited, and there is a desire to keep up the debate, and every sort of excuse for continuing it is advanced. It is then that the time comes for the exercise of your discretion. I appeal to the House now, on behalf of you, Mr. Speaker, and on behalf of the whole country, who are interested in the maintenance of our liberties, and who regard this House as the great guardian of our liberties, to pause and think well before it adopts the Resolution now before you. If you have cases of urgency, do what was done last year—meet them by exceptional regulations. If you have occasions when it is necessary to maintain discipline, the House will be ready to grant what disciplinary power may be thought necessary. If you wish to consider how the Business of the House may be brought within more reasonable limits, we are ready to go into that matter with you; but I earnestly hope that the House will pause, and pause very seriously indeed, before they adopt the principle of the 1st Resolution.
§ SIR CHARLES FORSTER
said, that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone), in proposing the New Rules for Procedure, had only followed the irresistible current of public opinion. In fact, so strong was the feeling, both in and out of the House, on this subject, that it could be 1162 no longer neglected with safety. The House had for some time had to contend with a double difficulty. On the one hand, their duties had largely increased with their wealth and population, while, on the other, the desire to take an active part in the debates had largely extended also. Hence the ordinary length of the Session was wholly insufficient for its allotted work; and such important measures as Bankruptcy Reform, Codification of the Law, and County Government Boards, came down as remanets from a former Session, and were now awaiting a solution. When they looked at the vast increase of Business, he thought no one on the Liberal side of the House could offer any opposition to the proposals of the Prime Minister. Therefore, he deeply regretted when his right hon. Friend made an appeal to his supporters, on a question where he was specially entitled to their confidence, inasmuch as it related to the conduct of Public Business, for which, as Leader of the House, he was chiefly responsible, that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), or, indeed, any Member sitting on that side of the House, should feel himself called upon to create difficulties by interposing Amendments. At the last Election, they were sent to this House to do certain work and to carry certain measures. How, then, could they justify themselves to their constituents if, owing to this Parliamentary deadlock, they returned to them empty-handed with their work undone? This Resolution, going on the lines of the French system, furnished one essential guarantee against the capricious exercise of this power by giving the initiative to the Speaker; but, of course, it was one tiling to have the power and another thing to use it. Then, too, the position of the Speaker, as contrasted with the Presidents of other Assemblies, afforded an additional guarantee for the impartial exercise of this power. In other Parliaments the Office was essentially political, the election of the President being invariably regarded as the first direct manifestation of the opinion of the Members; but with us, if, in the first instance, the election of the Speaker was carried by a Party vote, from the moment he ascended the Chair he knew Party no longer, but became the property of the whole House. In other 1163 countries the position of Speaker was a precarious one; but with us, the almost invariable rule had been semel electus semper eligatur, the only exception to it for nearly half-a-century being the election of Mr. Abercromby in place of Mr. Manners Sutton in 1834. That neutrality of position and security of tenure gave to the Chair of that House a prestige and force such as did not exist in other Representative Assemblies. He (Sir Charles Forster) spent a portion of the Recess in frequently visiting the French Chamber, and attentively examining the working of Parliamentary Procedure in that country; and he was bound to admit that, whether as regarded the despatch of Business or the comfort and convenience of Members, their system compared favourably with ours. They met at 2 o'clock in the day, and seldom sat after 6 o'clock; and the Business was done as well, if not better, than in this House. One of the advantages of the Resolution now under discussion would be a modification of the arrangements for the dinner hour, during which the Speaker was not unfrequently addressed by a House of less than five Members, thus affording a spectacle of unreality which it was most desirable to avoid. All would remember how vividly that wasted interval was described by Lord Beaconsfield in his novel of Sybil—"'Wishy' is down, 'Washy' is up—no division, a regular covey ready on both sides;" and that description of the inner life of the House of Commons in 1839 was just as applicable now as at the time when it was written. He hoped, however, that the effect of this New Rule would be to diminish the number of the wishy-washy orators, by causing the Leaders on both sides to rise earlier in the debate, and that the House would thus not only save time, but insure greater continuity and conciseness in the debates themselves. It was sometimes said in favour of protracted discussions that Members were thus enabled to explain to their constituents the votes they gave. Surely, if the votes of Members required explanation, that could be rendered at those extra-Parliamentary utterances that had now become an established institution. Besides, it was scarcely a Parliamentary argument that speeches should be addressed to the outside public from the floor of that House. It had been said 1164 that this Rule might be used to cut short a debate; but he was sure the House would not cut short a debate so long as there remained speakers with whose opinions the House desired to be acquainted, or who had useful information to impart. It was also said by some that time should be allowed to hon. Members to explain the New Rules to their constituents; but while that was unnecessary, in his opinion, the constituencies were beginning to see that they had to pay a very heavy price for that Parliamentary eloquence which only impeded useful legislation. Hon. Members on the opposite side of that House were coming out on this occasion as defenders of popular rights; and they would doubtless hear from them frequent complaints that the supporters of the New Rule were interfering with the right of free speech, and were endeavouring to crush a minority by a tyrant majority. Now, no one could respect the right of speech more than he did; but free speech could not be allowed to degenerate into licence, and if a tyrant majority was bad one thing was still worse—namely, that the House should be at the mercy of an unreasoning and unreasonable minority. But nobody could now pretend that the rights of free speech were imperiled. The danger now lay in an opposite direction; and the fear was that the House, in the plenitude of its power, might, for want of proper self-control, enter on a period of decrepitude, and prove unequal to discharge its increasing duties. It was because he believed that the New Rules of Procedure would arrest this downward step in our Parliamentary system, and restore to the House its real freedom and pristine vigour, of which they were so proud, that he gave to them his cordial support.
§ MR. WATNEY
said, he would admit that neither the Rules nor the practice of the House were perfect; but he held that the proposals of the Prime Minister would place too much power in the bauds of the Minister of the day. He could not deny the necessity of some means of shortening the debates, and there was often much waste of time caused by hon. Members asking unnecessary Questions, and then moving the adjournment of the House if answers to their Questions were not satisfactory. That was an abuse of the Privileges of Members 1165 which would properly be stopped by the New Rules. But the question then before the House was the clôture.; and, from some very curious statistics he had read, it was interesting to note that while last Session the speeches of Conservative Members filled 5,000 pages of Hansard, and those of the Home Rulers another 5,000, the Liberal speeches occupied 10,000 pages, showing that they had taken up half the time of the House by their garrulity. It was quite true that the Motion for the clôture. could only be made at the instance of the Speaker, and in the present Speaker both Parties, he need not say, felt the fullest confidence; but who could say that, on a future occasion, the post might not be the subject of a Party election, and that some future occupant of the Chair would not be too much influenced by a Minister, and too often inclined to use his power for Party purposes? And, again, it was to be feared that Ministers themselves, who could not be too patient of criticism, might, tinder the New Rules, make an unfair use of their opportunities in order to pass their measures through the House. What, for instance, would have happened if it had been possible to apply the clôture. during the discussion on Mr. Lowe's proposal with regard to the Match Tax? He might ask, too, how the New Rules would work if the Minister were arbitrary and unscrupulous? In such a case the instructions which were said to have been issued by the Birmingham Caucus to the voters at the last General Election, to ask no questions, but to vote according to orders, would be obeyed with disastrous effects by, at any rate, one Party in the House of Commons. An instance occurred the other day in which a debate collapsed unexpectedly during the dinner hour; and it ought not to be in the power of the Ministry to avail themselves of this Rule at such a time, or in the closing days of a Session, when the Whips had great difficulty in keeping a House. He could conceive of a Ministry pledged to carry certain Bills deferring them till the end of the Session, and then carrying them by resorting to the clôture. The power of closing a debate ought only to be used in exceptional circumstances; and he hoped it would be granted only on condition that it was to be used when the House was 1166 full, or else there would be danger of the House being taken by surprise. The House must remember that it would be bound by the words of the Motion as it was passed, whatever might be the intentions entertained in passing it, just as it was bound by the 7th clause of the Land Act, under which unexpected reductions of rent were being made. These Rules had not been brought forward in the way one could have wished. In such a momentous change the Leaders of the Conservative Party, and also the Irish Party, ought to have been consulted before the Rules were submitted to the House. This was not a Party question, and it ought not to be made one. In order to guard against surprises, he should like to see the clôture. proposed only in a full House, 300 Members, instead of 200, being present. The minority clôture. he would abolish altogether, because it might be used in August, when it was difficult to secure a full attendance of Members, by a Minister anxious to pass a certain number of Bills. With such a large attendance as 300 Members the Rule would work well for the House and the country.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, that if anything could have induced him to vote for the Resolution, it would have been the eloquent peroration of the Prime Minister; but it did not shake the conviction to which he was forced by experience. It was that, until the half-past 12 Rule was abolished, there was no other measure which ought to be tried to muzzle the House of Commons. In Lord Palmerston's days none of this degeneracy was apparent, for important Business was transacted after midnight; and he had often gone home between 5 and 6 o'clock in the morning, walking behind Lord Palmeriston and Lord Mount Temple. At that time Obstruction was resorted to on the Wednesday, because the House rose at 6 o'clock. Mr. Vincent Scully once rose at half-past 12 o'clock in the afternoon, and spoke till a quarter to 6, when he said he had only reached the fringe of his subject. After he had done the proceedings continued without reference to the time thus occupied. On the other four days of the week, by enforcing the half-past 12 o'clock Rule, they now lost eight or ten hours a week that might be devoted to Public Business. 1167 The public ought to know that the deadlock was owing to the laziness of the modern House of Commons—so different from that in which he (Sir John Hay) first sat—which refused to go on with Public Business after half-past 12 o'clock because there was a train to take some Members to bed, or because the exigencies of the daily papers compelled them to stop the reporting of the debate soon after midnight. Of course, if the half-past 12 Rule were abolished, and Business were carried on in the small hours of the morning, arrangements would have to be made for the relief of the Speaker and of the officers of the House; but if that were done the ton. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) could be allowed to exhaust himself as Mr. Vincent Scully was allowed to do. If it had not been for that Rule, and if the country had insisted on those it sent to Parliament doing their duty, and not being in such a hurry to get to their beds, he confessed they would have had no necessity whatever for persuading the House to muzzle itself by adopting this proposal. For these reasons he opposed the clôture. He was not satisfied that there was any necessity for this Resolution.
MR. HINDE PALMER
said, the matter was one that struck at the very root of the proceedings of the House. The question was, whether the time had not arrived when such a change as that proposed by the Government was absolutely called for. He thought some alteration was required as to the half-past 12 o'clock Rule, in order that the legislation of the country might not be retarded by the debates being uselessly prolonged; but he could not quite adopt the views of the last speaker (Sir John Hay). He believed there was much unnecessary apprehension as to the manner in which the clôture. would be applied. He did not believe that it would be used to oppress a minority, for it would be a reflection upon the Chair to suppose that its occupant would be a party to such oppression. Considering all the protections that were introduced, it was monstrous to suppose that the Rule would be perverted for merely Party purposes. He believed that it would work with satisfaction to the House, and would be no disadvantage in any sense whatever. It was said that an enormous power would be conferred on a bare majority 1168 if they were enabled to silence a debate. ["Hear, hear!"] The effect of putting the question in that way was, doubtless, striking; but in point of fact there would be, in most cases, much more than a "bare majority." The system of clôture. was in force in many Continental countries; and in every one of them, except Switzerland, an actual majority was sufficient to carry the clôture. He believed there was no real foundation for the alarm about a so-called "bare majority," which he should prefer to term an actual majority, having the power to close a debate. M. Guizot, on being examined by the Committee of that House, in 1848, was asked this question—Is is your opinion that clôture. is a very useful power, and that it is a power which has not been abused; and which has not been complained of by the minority?His reply was—I think that in our Chambers it was an indispensable power, and I think it has not been used unjustly or improperly. Calling to mind what has passed of late years, I do not recollect any serious or honest complaint of the clôture.The same question was also put to an eminent Member of the House of Representatives in the United States, and a similar answer was given. In fact, the whole of the evidence tended to show that the fear of the power being abused for Party purposes was a chimera. Last year he (Mr. Hinde Palmer) ventured to hint that the Speaker should make suggestions to the House as to what, in his opinion, ought to be done. The Prime Minister said, however, it was absolutely necessary that the Government of the day should take up the question. He foresaw the result; and he regretted that in consequence of this course being adopted, the debate had, of necessity, assumed, to a considerable extent, a Party character. He should decidedly vote for the adoption of the Prime Minister's Resolutions, with the firm belief that they would work most advantageously, and would tend to raise the character of the Assembly in which they sat.
§ COLONEL ALEXANDER
said, he considered this was a subject upon which every Member of the House was interested, and for that reason he wished to say a few words upon it. He would remind the House that a Committee on this subject, of which the noble Marquess 1169 the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington) was a Member, sat in 1878 to consider the expediency of adopting some method by which debates could be closed; and the Committee came to the unanimous conclusion that they were not prepared to offer any recommendation for adoption by the House, and Sir Erskine May, the Clerk at the Table, said he understood the Committee was not prepared to adopt any such proposal. More than that, when, two years ago, a discussion took place upon the subject in a debate in the House, who was it that rose in his place to propose the adoption of the clôture.? No one at all; and, so far from that being the case, he remembered that the right hon. Gentleman the present Postmaster General (Mr. Fawcett) was against any alteration of the old Forms of the House, lest any of the Privileges and rights of Members should be interfered with. That being so, he asked the right hon. Gentleman what had occurred since that time to make him change his opinions. Everyone knew that Obstruction occurred previous to the year 1880. It occurred in 1877 upon the discussion of the South African Bill. It occurred in 1878 upon the Mutiny Bill, and in 1879 upon the Army Discipline and Regulation Bill. It was the late Government who bore the whole brunt of that Obstruction; yet they never heard the late Government asking for the stringent powers which the present Government were asking for. The late Government had only asked the imposition of penalties on individual offenders. The present Government asked all that, and a great deal more. Why did the present Government—with whom, according to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, coercion was only a hateful incident—ask for it? Because they found great difficulty in passing one of the most stringent Coercion Bills ever passed by the House of Commons. He defied the Government to say that after the early part of the Session of 1881, they had one-tenth part of the Obstruction which the late Government experienced. As to the discussion of the Irish Land Bill lasting so long, he maintained that not a day or an hour too much was given; and, with the exception of the Obstruction caused by Motions for adjournment at Question time, the present Government had not met with any Obstruction 1170 at all. The Resolutions were nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to gag and muzzle the House, and they name with a bad grace from the Treasury Bench, upon which sat some distinguished Obstructionists, and notably the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who might be considered the "high priest of Obstruction," although he had charged the Conservative Party as dealing with Obstruction. He (Colonel Alexander) remembered sitting opposite to the right hon. Gentleman in Committee upon the Army Regulation and Discipline Bill on the 17th June, 1879, when he was protesting against a system which, in his opinion, justified the most determined opposition, remarking—It might be said that such opposition as that amounted to Obstruction. He thought that there was only one thing which justified such persistent opposition as was now offered—namely, the persistent obstinacy on the part of Her Majesty's Government to give way to the views expressed on that side of the House."—[3 Hansard, ccxlvii. 46.]A few days later the same right hon. Gentleman said—They could get nothing from the Ministry, except by what was commonly called Obstruction."—[Ibid. 207.]He (Colonel Alexander) singled out the right hon. Gentleman because, with characteristic audacity, he had charged the Conservative Party with dealing in Obstruction. It was not only such questions as the abolition of flogging in the Army, in which some might think that the end justified the means, that Obstruction had been employed. He found that in August, 1879, on the Public Works Loan (No. 2) Bill, on the simple question that the Preamble of the Bill be postponed, dilatory Motions wore supported by the President of the Board of Trade, the First Commissioner of Works, and the Under Secretary of State for Foreign. Affairs. But even those three right hon. and hon. Gentlemen were not the greatest sinners in what—to use an Americanism—he might call that high-toned Administration. The noble Viscount the senior Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) would doubtless remember the discussion on his Elementary Education Bill in 1876, when no fewer than 10 successive divisions were taken on obstructive Motions for adjournment, in which almost every Member of the present Administration joined, including 1171 such high-toned Members as the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for India. Mr. A. M. Sullivan, whose absence from the House they all regretted, had given a graphic account of the discussion. The example of France and other countries was invoked in favour of this change; but he (Colonel Alexander) had recently read in The Times that in Hungary the debate on the Address had been continued for 43 days, and would probably last another month, while in France every important matter was thoroughly considered in the Bureaux before being discussed in the Chamber itself. It was quite true, as the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Hinde Palmer) had stated, that M. Guizot had given evidence in favour of the clôture. before the Select Committee in 1848; but the hon. and learned Gentleman had omitted to state that the Committee of 1848 had reported that—The clôture, as used in France, could not be applied in our debates without causing unjust surprises and other inconveniences.It must not be forgotten that the French Chamber sat for only four hours instead of the 10 or 12 during which that House was occupied. During that time the French Deputy was chained to his desk, whereas here a Member of the House of Commons might be in the Smoking Room, the Dining Room, or the Lobby during part of a debate; and if he were suddenly called into the House, how could he be in a position to say whether the subject under discussion had been sufficiently debated? The Prime Minister, though now a convert to the clôture, two years ago, in one of his speeches, actually encouraged Obstruction by saying that by this means only could "a minority with strong views draw adequate attention to them." Had the proposals of the Government emanated from the Opposition side of the House, a new campaign in Mid Lothian would have been organized and planned, and a wild shriek of liberty would have burst forth from the carriage window of the train at every station along the Great Northern line. If the Government must borrow something from France, why did they not propose secret voting by Members, in order to shield hon. Gentlemen opposite from the tyranny of the Birmingham Caucus, which, with characteristic insolence, presumed to dictate to that House the way 1172 in which it should regulate and improve its proceedings? There was not much analogy, perhaps, between the British Legislature and that of France; but there was a considerable analogy between the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the late Prime Minister of France. Both Ministers were animated with a desire to force a particular measure upon an unwilling and reluctant Chamber, and would not recoil from any sacrifice in order to carry out the object they had in view. They were threatened with an immediate Dissolution if they did not carry out the Prime Minister's behests. He (Colonel Alexander) hoped the House would not allow itself to be influenced by any such threat. They on those Benches would welcome Dissolution. They would welcome Dissolution as sounding the knell of an effete Administration, and as heralding the downfall of an imperious and arbitrary Minister.
§ MR. MARRIOTT
, in rising to move, as an Amendment—That no Rules of Procedure will be satisfactory to this House which confer the power of closing a Debate upon a majority of Members,said: Sir, I think some apology is due from so young a Member as myself for moving an Amendment so evidently fraught with considerable importance. It will be suggested—and I can quite see the reason for such a suggestion—that any matter affecting the Business of this House and its Rules of Procedure is of such importance that the longer a Member has been in the House the more is he entitled to speak on it. With this I agree, and with regard to mere technical Rules I allow experience is of the greatest advantage; but of the principle embodied in the Resolution the Prime Minister has brought forward to-night, not only young Members of the House, but thousands, and tens of thousands, outside the House understand it as well as the oldest Member, for in our opinion, and in their opinion, it is no mere altering of some Rule to facilitate Business, but it is a Resolution containing a principle that strikes at the root of Parliamentary government as it has been understood in this country for the past 200 years. I confess I feel extreme regret that a matter of such enormous importance has become a Party question. This House is the arena where the great 1173 battles of England are fought. We do not now settle our disputes by force and by the sword; but our constituents elect their Members and send them here to fight the battle of their different interests, views, and opinions, and for the sake of fair discussion it is necessary to have Rules; but these should not be forced upon one Party by the other. On the contrary, they should be Rules agreed to by us all, that we may all lend them a loyal and hearty obedience. What can be expected from an Opposition, where Rules are made that must necessarily press heavily on them, Rules which it is now admitted are not formed to put down Obstruction, but Rules which are made to influence and put down opposition. The Government have some candid friends, who, no doubt, make their influence felt in the Cabinet itself. I refer to an organization that has already been mentioned—namely, the Birmingham Caucus. They are curious gentlemen who act on that body. I do not know who they are. There is a Mr. Schnadhorst—they generally get a Dutchman or a German as Secretary. Well, he and the Kenricks and the rest form a programme, and send it round to every Member and every constituency. ["No, no!"] Well, nearly every one; one hon. Member has escaped. However, I received one of these Circulars, and it has been sent among my constituency. In the Circular they state that the reason for the bringing in of the Resolution of the Prime Minister is not to put down Obstruction. No; there are numbers of Bills that the men of Birmingham want carried, the County Government Bill, the Corrupt Practices Bill—they have a long list taken probably from The Nineteenth Century—for these Caucus men do not display much originality. They are copyists. They say of this list—"We want these Bills passed, whether the Opposition like them or not; therefore the Government must invent an instrument by which they may be forced down the throat of the Opposition." That is the meaning of this Circular, if it means anything. Prom whom does it emanate? It emanates from a body which was founded by one who, to my mind, is the strongest Member of the Cabinet—one whose views seem to influence the Government more than those of anyone else—one whom I consider a dangerous man. I refer to the right 1174 hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain). Anyone who knows the discipline of Birmingham knows that this Circular could not be issued without his authority. He started the Caucus; he took up the burden of its defence; he wrote to The Times, and said that the whole of the Liberal Party were indebted to his Caucus; he is personally responsible. I can only say tills—if the Members of the Opposition are human beings—if a measure is brought into this House which they consider it is right to criticize, and yet the Government say—"We must pass this measure, not with your consent, but by placing this like a pistol at your head," they will be justified in obstructing as much as they can. There will no longer be that good feeling of "give and take" which, up to now, always influenced both sides of the House. No longer do the Government recognize any feeling, but they fling down the gauntlet and cry—"Swallow the Rule, and when we have it, we will hold it over your head and by means of it pass all measures you dislike." There is a point I must mention, and that is, that the Prime Minister has no precedent for this in the Journals of the House. It may be we now disregard precedents, but, if so, it is a very new doctrine. Time was when everything was founded on precedent, and every difficulty was met with the question, has it arisen before, and how was it treated then. We find all our difficulties and the receipts for getting over them in the Reports of the House. There is an anecdote told in a little book by an able official of this House, published in 1870—only 12 years ago. Mr. Denison was then Speaker, and he was on the occasion referred to showing the House to a distinguished Frenchman, and explaining the method of conducting its Business. "But where," asked the visitor, "are your Rules of Procedure as we have them in Prance?" Then Mr. Speaker pointed to some hundreds of Journals of the House, and said—"These are our Rules; our Rules are embodied in precedents." This, then, is no longer to be the case, and yet this was only 12 years ago! England is called the Mother of Parliaments; and from her every foreign nation has copied its legislative institutions. And this our England is to give up her respect for precedent, and accept something such as might be prepared 1175 for an Assembly of France or Belgium. Not only is there no precedent, but the very Reports of this House are against the introduction of this measure. The Prime Minister has referred to the different Reports which have been made during the last 40 or 50 years. I am perfectly aware the matter was referred to Select Committees in 1837, 1848, 1854, 1857, 1861, 1869, 1871, and 1878; but out of all those Committees not one of them recommended it. One especially was referred to—namely, that of 1848. On that Committee the evidence was taken of two very eminent men, M. Guizot and Mr. E. Curtis, an eminent Member of the American Congress. Mr. Curtis gave evidence in favour of the clôture.. M. Guizot said it would work well. The Committee, having the evidence of M. Guizot and Mr. Curtis before it, weighed it well, and came to the conclusion that the clôture. would not do for the English Parliament. The Prime Minister referred to all those Committees; but I say, with great respect, that in one or two instances he was wrong in his facts. In regard to what he said about the Colonies, he admitted he was wrong. What is humiliating is, that the English House of Commons shall have to go to foreign Assemblies for Rules of Procedure. I was almost astonished the Prime Minister did not refer to the excellent Parliament now sitting at Berlin, in which the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Empire, comes down and tells its Members, with the real air of an autocrat, what he thinks of them. No doubt there is clôture. there. But is our Parliament to copy Assemblies abroad? The more Parliament studies its own. history, of which we are all so proud, the better we shall be guided in making fresh Rules instead of going to foreign Assemblies. The Prime Minister said he never knew an instance of the abuse of the clôture, and that where it was adopted it was never rescinded. The instances are numberless, but it is easy to understand why the Rule, once adopted, is never rescinded. Everybody in a minority objects to the clôture; but the moment a minority becomes a majority, they naturally say—"Oh, you used the clôture against us, and we shall now use it against you." I have not the slightest doubt, if this clôture is adopted by the present majority, it will be found very useful to 1176 another majority by-and-bye, and hon. Members who are about to vote for it will be sorry for it. We have known from experience that, in Germany, the bitterness of Parliamentary feeling is stronger than here. They have not the power of free debate, their mouths are practically shut, and the safety valve of free speech is not left open. I have heard it stated that in America, if there had been full power of debate in Congress, the Civil War might have been avoided. When the North got a majority, the mouths of the Southern Members were closed. The Prime Minister referred to some Obstruction on the part of the Irish Members. I should like to remind him of some words which he addressed to the Leader of the Party (Mr. Parnell), who is not here, against whom he brought the charge of using different language at meetings in Ireland to what he was using in the House. Imagine, for one moment, if the Leader of the Irish Party should have turned (the clôture having been adopted) and said—"Of course, I don't use the language in the House that I use in Ireland, for this reason—in Ireland my tongue is free; but in the House it is not free, for you have power if you choose to stop it. I don't express my real feelings. Free speech can be had only in the open air." The Prime Minister had said that the clôture is necessary, because of the increase of labour. I think he will find that the majority will assist him in diminishing that labour. There are amongst the Rules that follow, the one proposing the clôture many that must tend to diminish the labour of Parliament. There is a Bill to be brought into the House which I wish to see pass, but not thrust down the throats of my opponents—namely, the County Government Bill, which, I believe, will much decrease the labour of this House. But the suspicion is not that the Prime Minister wants to decrease the labour, but to increase the power—not of the House, but of the majority, and so of the Ministry. Three years ago, in 1879, nearly every Member of the present Ministry spoke about the Rules of this House; and, unless I have misread every one of their speeches, they were one and all opposed to every measure that might be used against the rights of minorities. I will not inflict on the House many quotations; but, with their 1177 indulgence, I may call their attention to the remarks of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State fur the Home Department. The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke very strongly for the rights of minorities, and actually expressed his agreement with a statesman with whom he did not often agree—namely, Lord Beaconsfield—who said—It was frequently objected out-of-doors that Parliament talked too much; but Parliament meant an Assembly that was engaged in talk.And it was that talk which the Government on that occasion proposed seriously to limit—an act which the right hon. and learned Gentleman strongly denounced. Yet the Resolution to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman then referred was one of the very mildest Resolutions introduced by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Stafford Northcote)—a mole-hill to a mountain when compared with that of the Prime Minister. Another right hon. Gentleman who also spoke on the subject wag Chairman of Committees, and is held in great repute in my own constituency. There has been a considerable divergence of opinion outside as to what to call this word. They say—"Oh, use the English word; don't say clôture." But I will call your attention to a speech of the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Dodson), who said—As to the prolixity of debate, he hoped they would never be reduced to the necessity of a gagging law or clôture."This is the term of the right hon. Gentleman—the "gagging law." The Prime Minister referred to a certain article which he wrote in August, 187i), in a valuable publication, The Nineteenth Century, and in which he said—There are abundant contingencies in which Obstruction of this kind has led to the removal of a perilous or an objectionable measure, and it is precisely in regard to cases where a Party is small and the conviction strong that the best defence of warrantable Obstruction may be found. The House of Commons is, and I hope it ever will be, above all things, a free Assembly. If so, it must be content to pay the price of freedom.I could quote numerous other instances of similar declarations on the part of other Members of the present Ministry, and even of a private Member like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands). All spoke against the 1178 limitation of the Privileges of Members. What I say is, what has taken place since 1879, so as to convert the Ministry from the strong views they held then? Are they going to say that the present Government passed fewer measures than the last one? It was our boast that we passed more beneficial measures in one Session than the late Government in six Sessions. Was that a true boast or a false one? I hope that this year we are not going to have all those questions that stirred a certain number of Her Majesty's subjects to the very depths last year. I gave a constant support to Her Majesty's Government in coercion; but, though I did that, I fully recognize the right of every Representative of Ireland to oppose it to the very utmost. It was known to be against that Party whom the Irish Members represented, and, according to their views, their object of being in the House was to prevent coercion; and if, as the Prime Minister said, there are many times when Obstruction is justifiable, I can imagine none where it is more so than when you are holding the iron hand over a portion of our Dominions. I hope we are not going to abandon our right to criticize the measure because the measure has been introduced to the House by the First Lord of the Treasury. Why has the measure been brought in now, and why should it have fallen to the present Government to bring in the Bill? There is an old proverb which says—"Set a thief to catch a thief," and that "An old poacher makes the best gamekeeper," and that seems to be the reason why the Government have been prompted and persuaded to bring in their proposals. There sit at present more Obstructionists on the Treasury Bench than ever sat upon that Bench before. ["No, no!"] I should be sorry to speak of them as Obstructionists simply, because I am glad to see them on that Bench; and I hope that many of them may rise to higher and higher places. I am glad to see them there; but how have they got there? Many of them have got their places and their reputation through Obstruction, and it strikes me as odd that they are among the people who are asking strongly for this measure, although on the Government Bench itself sits the chief priest of Obstruction, the President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman, in 1179 a speech which he recently made, said much of the speechmaking in this House was owing to the unreasonable vanity and excessive loquacity of certain Members. I find, however, that no person has so often presented himself to the House as the right hon. Gentleman, and that no one obstructed so often up to 1880. Therefore, I think hon. Members are justified in asking this question—When you get this weapon, what are you likely to do with it? It is a dangerous weapon. I would not mind intrusting an innocent girl with a "jemmy; "but in the hands of a burglar it would be a different thing, and I should not be inclined to give it to him; and when I know that the chief person who wants the clôture, this political "jemmy," is the President of the Board of Trade, I ask naturally for what purpose is he inclined to use it? The Government say—"You give us the weapon; you have an excellent Speaker, who will never touch it." Well, Sir, with regard to the impartiality with which you control the debate, it is admirable; but even you, Sir, are mortal, and Heaven only knows who your successors may be. One argument in the papers is that the clôture, is required because Members now are socially inferior to what they used to be; and this view seems to have been adopted by that great authority upon social questions, the President of the Board of Trade. They say that the status of the House is getting worse, and they say the legislation of 1868 has introduced a lower class of Members. They go further, and say that if you get the County Franchise you will get a still lower class of Members of this House. If this be so, you may depend upon this—that you will also have a lower class of Ministers and a lower class of Speakers than at present. It is impossible to say what may be the result. But remember this—we are not fighting for to-day, but for the future. There are two names that have been used which I thought ought never to have been introduced into our debate, and these are the names of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen and Mr. Speaker. But, as they have been introduced, I may say, Sir, that because you perform your duties with impartiality as a Speaker, and because the Queen is a Monarch who would not abuse despotic 1180 power—is that any reason why we should place despotic power in the hands of a Speaker and a Monarch that might in the future be prepared to use it? Sir, we have to legislate for the future, not for the present. We know perfectly well what the views of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade are. He has always been candid. He managed to get an article into The Fortnightly Review when he first came under public notice, and in that article he gave a liberal programme for the future. He was not like the Irish Party, who would have been satisfied with "three F's;" he wanted "four F's." He wanted "Free Land, Free Church, Free Schools, and Free Trade." But there was another "F" he forgot altogether, and that was "Free Speech." It is no part of his programme now. He was then the great enemy of the Liberal Government; and, having got into The Fortnightly Review again, in an article he showed how the Ministry of the day were entirely at fault. He it is who wants this instrument, and he it is who will use it. At the time I refer to he was delighted at the upset of the present Government; and I am not ashamed to say that at the time I blushed at the remarks he made with reference to the Prime Minister. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh; but I can say this, that nobody in this world holds in higher respect the Prime Minister than I do. It is no new opinion of mine. I have studied his words for 30 years; but, at the same time, because he has done great things and great good to his country, is that any reason that I should fall down and worship him? The President of the Board of Trade spoke at that time of the Prime Minister as having made "a mean appeal to the sordid feelings of the middle classes;" and, although he derided the present Leader of the House, he was taken in as a Cabinet Minister through fear when the present Government was formed; and he it is who wants this weapon, and he has been very candid in his views with reference to it. He is the enemy of the Church of this country, he is an enemy of the House of Lords; and he has been an enemy of the Crown. If he is a sincere man—and I believe him to be a sincere man—he will carry out his views; and if he had this weapon of the clôture, it would enable him to do 1181 so. In conclusion, I have to apologize to the House for the time I have detained it. I may say that I move this Amendment with profound regret. ["Oh, oh!"] It is very well for hon. Gentlemen to say "Oh!" but I ask them to say if they wish to be at the mercy of the majority that may at any time be in this House? I say that if this measure had been proposed some time ago by the late Prime Minister (Mr. Disraeli) the whole of this country would have been up in arms. Every class would have been aroused in England, and Mr. Disraeli would have been denounced as a tyrant, and the present Prime Minister declared the champion of our liberties. I am sorry to see that the Prime Minister has taken up his present position. I feel as much as anyone the touching words that he has addressed to us in introducing the measure; but I say that considering the 50 years of most honourable and useful service that he has given to this country, one does feel a sense of shame that at the present time he should be led to introduce this very measure, which, in my mind, will for ever disgrace and degrade this Assembly. I therefore beg to move, Sir, the Resolution of which I have given Notice.
To leave out from the first word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no Rules of Procedure will be satisfactory to this House which confer the power of closing a Debate upon a majority of Members,"—(Mr. Marriott,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'when it shall appear to Mr. Speaker,' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) had commenced his singular speech by apologizing that so young a Member should have ventured to introduce an Amendment of such importance. The hon. and learned Member was fully in his right in taking that course; but the House would also be in its right if it contrasted the attitude of the hon. and learned Member, who had been for two years in the House, with that of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, who, with his experience of nearly 50 years, had stood forth that night anxious for the dignity of the House of Commons, and, with a 1182 zeal which no Member opposite who had known the right hon. Gentleman for the last 30 years would venture to dispute, had pleaded in the most touching terms for the change which he had now proposed. For his own part, he would not attempt to treat that question in the spirit in which the hon. and learned Member for Brighton had treated it. That was not the spirit in which the Leader of the Opposition had dealt with it, because, as might have been heard by many hon. Gentlemen who cheered the hon. and learned Member for Brighton, but who wore not present earlier in the debate, that right hon. Gentleman had appealed to the House to discuss this matter in a calm spirit, and in a tone worthy of the occasion and of the House itself. Both the Leaders of the House had deprecated the introduction of personal topics into that debate. ["Oh, oh!"] Did hon. Gentlemen really wish that a discussion of such grave importance should be turned into a personal wrangle? Hon. Members might disagree with the proposals of the Leader of the House; but they could not disagree with the tone in which they had been introduced; and he trusted that the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton would stand alone in that respect. ["No!"] Surely hon. Gentlemen opposite must be anxious, as their Leader was, for the dignity of the House and the efficiency of its debates, and must desire that the issue should be argued on true and permanent grounds. Those who had sat in the last Parliament towards its close might possibly have felt more keenly than a Member who had lately entered the House the reproaches that had been levelled against Parliament on account of the inefficiency to which the public alleged they had been reduced. He saw that continual efforts were made by the Press—he frankly admitted that they were not made by the Leader of the Opposition—to represent that the measure brought forward by the Government was not introduced with a view of meeting the difficulties which the House had experienced, but was proposed with some dark design, to gag the House of Commons, to muzzle debates, to stifle discussion, and to enable a despotic Minister to carry out a tempestuous policy. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite appeared to indorse that view. They believed that that was a 1183 serious attempt on the part of the Government to put down opposition. The hon. and learned Member for Brighton said it had been admitted that that measure was brought forward, not only to put down Obstruction, but also to stifle opposition. He believed that there were many Members of the House who imagined that the object of the Government was to stifle discussion. A more preposterous idea never entered into the head of any mortal. Whose opposition would the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues desire to stifle? Was it the opposition of the Front Opposition Bench, or the opposition of the new Fourth Party? What arguments, or what power was it that the right hon. Gentleman was anxious to suppress? He (Mr. Goschen) also read that morning that certain newspapers alleged that they wished to suppress "pungent" criticism and "competent" criticism. That was a wholly false assumption, and he was surprised that the hon. and learned Member for Brighton should have shared in it. Any man who held that opinion must have forgotten the events of the last three years, when the Leader of the Opposition frankly admitted the evils against which they had to struggle; and unless all that had been forgotten, it could not be supposed that without drastic remedies they could heal the difficulties which had arisen. The hon. and learned Member indorsed that absurd assumption; but he (Mr. Goschen), at any rate, wished to dispel the illusion that Ministers were forcing this measure on a reluctant minority. He ventured to assert, as far as the voice of one single and humble individual could go, that the Government were not forcing this upon a reluctant Opposition; and his own opinion was that the sad events of the last three years showed that drastic measures were required in order to put down the evils that existed, and that the present measures were not too strong. The hon. Member opposite had argued that a bare majority ought not to decide such a question, but the hon. Member's argument went too far; it would apply to any majority. Now, what was the objection to a bare majority? It was assumed that there ought to be a majority of two-thirds in order that both sides of the House might be enabled to take part in any discussion if they so desired But he would venture to point out 1184 to the House that the argument in favour of a two-thirds majority was based upon the assumption that there was a desire on the part of a tyrannical majority on that side of the House to close a debate, and that the Party opposite would be so public spirited and virtuous as to lend their aid to the Government the moment there was any real need for pressure. He denied both assertions. He was prepared to admit either that both or that neither Parties were likely to be actuated by a public spirit; but it was absurd to assume that the one side was always to be despotic and the other side always patriotic. He hoped and trusted that in practice the new proposal would never be applied, and he believed that it never would be applied, without the wish of both sides of the House. It was not a fact that the new weapon was about to be used in the manner described by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton, nor did he believe in the progressive degeneracy of the House, or that in every successive year they were going to have worse Parliaments and more degenerate Speakers, nor yet that the Speaker would be amenable to Party influences, and join in a desire on the part of the majority to oppress the minority. He ventured to think that such was not the character of Englishmen, and that the hon. and learned Member for Brighton and his Friends were wrong in thinking that there would be any absence of inclination to hear discussion—indeed, he thought that if the clôture, were to be enforced in that manner numbers of Members of the Liberal Party below the Gangway would vote against its unjust application. This Procedure was not new in foreign countries; but then, the Parliaments of other countries had been described as wretched Assemblies. That House was the mother of Parliaments, from which most other Assemblies had derived their Rules of Procedure; but surely there were few hon. Members who would wish to speak of the representative institutions of our Colonies and our neighbours in the tone that had been used by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton. If, as was probable, there were Representatives of foreign nations present within the precincts of that House, listening to that debate, he regretted that they should have heard the 1185 great Conservative Party indorsing the reproaches which the hon. and learned Member for Brighton had uttered against foreign Legislatures. ["Oh, oh!"] He wished he could retract that statement; but it was impossible for him to do so while the cheers which greeted the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton were still ringing in his ears. On the side of the House on which he sat, at all events, there was a warm sympathy with the Representative Institutions of other countries. The example they, as one of the most ancient Assemblies in the world, would set to those other and younger Assemblies abroad, should be kept in view in reforming their Procedure and adapting it to the wants of the age. It had been said that the clôture, had not succeeded in foreign Representative Assemblies. But even if that weapon had been unsuccessful elsewhere, he believed that the people of this country possessed a quality which would make its use safe in that House. The English people, to a pre-eminent degree, were distinguished by a love of fair play. It began in their boyhood; it was the pride of their public schools; it prevailed in their pastimes; and no Party in that House, however numerically strong it might be, would dare so to misapply the powers which were asked for by the Government as to bring disgrace on their reputation for fair play. It was too violent a supposition that the moment these powers were conferred, the House would change its nature, and that the majority would attempt to gag their opponents. ["Oh, oh!"] non. Members might cry "Oh!" but they could not deny that fair play was the characteristic of the English people. If the Government were to misapply and to abuse their power in this matter, they would forfeit the confidence of the English people. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in the course of his most moderate and temperate speech, had put one or two cases to them. He had asked whether it might not happen that not from any malevolent desire to suppress discussion, but through some temporary inspiration, a division enforcing the clôture, might not be snatched, say, during the dinner-hour. He (Mr. Goschen) did not think that such a thing was likely to happen; and if it did, it would only happen once, because hon. 1186 Members on that side of the House would be quite as watchful to see that these new powers were not abused as hon. Members opposite could be. And they would certainly not support any Party that endeavoured to abuse the powers asked for. In conclusion, he begged to say that it was from internal conviction, and not from any outside pressure that had been brought to bear upon him, that he intended to support Her Majesty's Government on this occasion, when they were doing their best to restore the efficiency and the dignity of the House of Commons. It had been sought to prejudice the question by constant allusion to the Birmingham Federation. For himself, he would permit no organization of any kind to come between himself and his constituents, or between himself and his conscience; and possibly the Birmingham organization had done the Government ill-service in the step they had taken. Of that, however, he could give no opinion, as he was no authority at all on the art of political wire-pulling. But he would venture to doubt the wisdom of such pressure. He fancied that when one was driving a team of eager and high-mettled steeds, one would be somewhat inclined to utter an imprecation against a bystander who cracked a cart-horse whip in their ears. But, however that might be, he supported the Government, not because of the action of the Birmingham organization, but because he wished to see the business-like character of that Assembly restored; but he should be best satisfied if the great powers asked for were seldom used, but were only kept in reserve to restrain those who required restraining. He should rejoice if the revival of the good fellowship, the good temper, and the good sense of the House enabled all Members, on whatever side they sat, to unite in the common desire to make the best of their time and opportunities for the honour and credit of the House and the benefit of the country. He believed that it might be so, and that the New Rules might, in course of time, become obsolete. Until then he should support the proposal, which he believed, from the experience of the past few Sessions, to be indispensable, if they were to retain dignity and due proportion in their debates, and efficiency and reality in their work.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that they were asked by each speaker on the Ministerial side of the House to treat this question in no Party spirit; but he must say that the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Goschen), and who was no exception to that rule, had, nevertheless, exhibited in his speech no small amount of Party animus. He (Mr. E. Stanhope) should have rejoiced had they been able to discuss the question without Party feeling; but, as a matter of fact, the question was going to be decided, as they all knew, by a Party majority, egged on by an external Caucus, stimulated by appeals to the Radical Party to pass this Rule in order to carry certain democratic legislation. Nothing could be plainer in the speech of his right hon. Friend (Sir Stafford Northcote) than the strong desire, which he expressed on behalf of those who sat on that side of the House, to improve the Procedure of the House of Commons. He (Mr. E. Stanhope) himself would have gone a little further than his right hon. Friend, for he thought that on one point they might all agree, that the Rules governing the Procedure of the House—many of which were antiquated, and others unnecessary—required to be completely overhauled. If a general revision had been proposed, every man in the House would have been anxious to give the proposal due support. But there was no such proposal before them. They had simply before them certain limited suggestions for alterations in their Rules, but principally in the 1st Resolution, a new and a foreign weapon which, it was said, in the Recess, was to be the sabre to be kept hanging over their heads; but not to be used. Many of the evils felt to exist in the working of the Parliament machine were not touched by the Government proposal at all—such, for instance, as the great length of the speeches, and the great length of Ministerial answers to Questions; or the suggested evil that speakers who were affected with modesty had little chance of catching the Speaker's eye against those who were more ready to force their claims on the House. Then there was the great pressure of Public Business, the growth of which had been very gradual, but distinct. In 1871 the growth of Public Business was inquired into by a Select Committee, and Sir Erskine May, on that 1188 occasion, gave some noteworthy evidence. He was asked—Do you think our present system of non-compulsion can be maintained by arrangements for getting through the Business of the House more easily?His answer was—Yes. It is my opinion that, by judicious regulations, it would be quite possible to get through the Business without any interference with the rights of Members.Now, what real change of principle as regarded Public Business had taken place since then? Obstruction, no doubt, had arisen; but Obstruction was not to be met by the proposed Rule, but by a modification of existing Rules, which enabled individuals to be dealt with who offended. The object of the proposed Rule was to stop lengthened, although legitimate, discussion; and it seemed to him to be cunningly designed, to meet the case in which the Government would have the whole of the Opposition against them. Without going into the arithmetical puzzle it contained, which was not made any clearer by the speech of the Prime Minister, anyone could see that the effect of the Rule would be on all important occasions to enable the Government, if necessary, to silence the House by a majority of 1. They were told that unless the Speaker took the initiative the clóture, could not be put in force. It was, therefore, interesting and necessary to inquire what was likely to be the effect of the change on the Speaker. Did they wish to strengthen the position of the Speaker, or to make him more of a partizan? If they wanted to strengthen his position, they were taking a very odd way of doing it, because if the vote for the clôture, was put and not carried, the Speaker was declared to be mistaken, and he had made the gravest error a Speaker possibly could make; while, if it was carried by only a small majority, it would be proved that it was not the evident sense of the House. If, on the other hand, they wished to make the Speaker a partizan, they were taking a very excellent way of doing it. The Speaker would naturally take the only means of being certainly in the right, and that would be not to ask whether it was the evident sense of the House, but whether the majority would support him. Or if the 1189 Speaker was earnest in his desire to impartially use the clôture, gradually pressure would be put on him both inside and outside the House. In fact, they had been told by a high authority, in an excellent letter which was written to The Times, that the effect would probably be that one side would desire to show the Speaker that the evident sense of the House was for closing the debate, and the other side would desire to show him that the reverse was the case. What was the Speaker to do in such a case? He would be much in the position of the distinguished person who took part in the election at Eatanswill—Mr. Pickwick—who was told to shout with the mob, and when he asked—"But suppose there are two mobs?" was told that he must shout with the largest. He should like to ask—How was the Speaker to determine what really was the evident sense of the House? It would be very well, perhaps, while the right hon. Gentleman then in the Chair occupied that position; but how would it be in the case of a less impartial Speaker? They had heard in past times of Speakers being creatures of the Crown. Might they not hear hereafter of their being creatures of the Ministry? And if that was the case with the Speaker, how much more would it be so with the Chairman of Committees, who was necessarily much less independent than the Speaker, was more frequently changed, and, being still engaged in public life, more liable to Party influences? He was afraid that the effect of the proposal would be demoralizing, not only on the majority, but also on the minority of the House. Was it likely that the majority would not use the power when they had it in their hands? The right hon. Gentleman himself (the Prime Minister) said that there were 31 measures which it was absolutely essential should be passed as soon as possible. He seemed to desire the power to be used over and over again. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I said that the cases must be very rare and clear.] At any rate, there were other Ministers who thought differently, and the desire of the majority to pass measures would give real effect to the clôture. He was quite sure that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon said he had full confidence that the Prime Minister would not abuse the 1190 power, he would be supported in that opinion by the majority of the House; but the Prime Minister would not last for ever, and they might have Speakers loss efficient than the present. They had all heard of the Nasmyth steam-hammer. It was such a marvellous instrument that it would crack a nut. But did anyone suppose it was made for that purpose? They might be certain that if a steam-hammer was going to be erected, it was intended to be used for some other purpose than that. It would be the same with the clôture. When they were told they might trust the Government, he felt inclined to say that he preferred to keep the freedom they now enjoyed. No less an authority than Lord John Russell had said, in one of his best essays—The true coin of our freedom may be clipt and worn; but it is better than any paper security that can be offered us.If a majority was invested with this power, sooner or later, they would undoubtedly use it, and, what was more, a great many of them intended to use it, if they could get it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) hardly disguised the fact when he said that there were a number of measures for which the country was ripe. But, supposing that the power were not applied for the passing of such Acts, pressure would then be brought to bear from outside; and Members would be sent up pledged to support particular measures, and to force through the proposals which the electorate desired to see become law. The supporters of the Ministry would brook no delay, knowing that means existed by which their wishes might be carried out at once. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said that the clôture had long been in force in other countries, and that we had never heard of its being abused. Nevertheless, we had heard often enough of the abuse of power by an imperious majority in foreign countries. Speaking of France, Jeremy Bentham had said—The terrible decrees of Urgency, the decrees for closing the discussion, may well be remembered with dread. They were formed for the subjugation of the minority; for the purpose of stifling arguments that were dreaded.In De Tocqueville's works, also, most powerful arguments would be found 1191 against the tyranny of a majority, and the consequent danger to the country. Sir Robert Peel, in 1837, had expressed his entire adherence with De Tocqueville, and his own grave fears of such a result. One grave danger to be feared from the clôture was that the continuity of our policy would be jeopardized. Stability of policy would be little regarded by a majority possessing absolute power and able at once to carry out the decrees of its masters outside the House of Commons. Jefferson, of all democrats the most undoubted democrat, speaking of America, had said—The instability of our laws is really a very serious inconvenience. I think that we ought to have obviated it by deciding that a whole year should always be allowed to pass between the bringing in of a Bill and the final passing of it.He went on to say—If the circumstances of the case required a more speedy decision, the question should not be decided by a simple majority, but by a majority of, at least, two-thirds of both Houses.Well, then, what would be the effect of the clôture upon the minority? At present the minority felt bound to support the Government of the day to a certain extent. If it should refuse to do so, the Parliamentary machine would hardly work at all. The Leaders of the Opposition supported the Government in settling when a debate should be closed, and in upholding the authority of the Chair. They sometimes even supported the authority of the Chair directly. That was when the Leader of the House abdicated his functions. But if absolute power were given to a majority, the responsibility of the minority would be altogether gone. Its Members would agitate out-of-doors, being unable to obtain a hearing within the House itself; so that for discussion in the House of Commons constant agitation in the country would be substituted. They were told that if a majority could be trusted to decide a question, it ought also to be trusted with the power of deciding when a debate should come to a conclusion. But if that was true, why not trust a majority with the power of stopping debate altogether? That would only be going one step further, and could not be distinguished in principle from the proposal now made. Some people said that all public questions were now so the roughly discussed in the Press, that the only proper duty 1192 left for Parliament to perform was to carry out the decisions arrived at outside its portals. He protested against such a doctrine. It involved a departure from all the principles hitherto supposed to be bound up in our Parliamentary Institutions; and he, for one, refused to substitute for free and open discussions face to face with your opponents, the loose language of the platform, or the irresponsible tyranny of the Press. It should be remembered that beyond mere legislative and executive duties Parliament had other great duties to perform. It was difficult to say what would be the result of this new departure. If the Rule was carried in its present form it might fail, and then they might have the proposal in a new and stronger form. But it might succeed, and success would be worse than failure. But there was one contingency which he declined to think possible; and that was that the Rule would not be acted upon. The temptation would be too great, the pressure would be too strong, the machine you had created would be too uncontrollable, to allow of that. Therefore, he assumed, and he was justified in assuming, that the legitimate result must be to curtail the liberty of speech on the part of the minority. It reminded one very much of a passage in a play written by the late Lord Lytton. Stout, a politician, says—"Turn any man out of the House who votes against enlightenment and Popkins;" and Evelyn answers—"Right; down with these who take the liberty to admire any liberty except our liberty." The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, after having been so many years in that House, and after having contributed so much to adorn debate, must feel some regret, towards the close of his career, that he should be one of the agents in curtailing debate. If the right hon. Gentleman would forgive him for using a word which earlier in the day he had designated as "slang," but for which good authority could be found, he should like to say that in future days the lines might be applied to him once applied to another great statesman—Prompt to supply whate'er his country lacks,Skilful to gag, and knowing how to tax.The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright), in one of his eloquent speeches, described in glowing terms one of the great privileges of an Englishman 1193 —how he was free to think, free to speak, and free to write. It would be a curious commentary upon that speech that when a second edition was called for it might be necessary for the commentator to add that the right hon. Gentleman, towards the end of his career, was one of the main agents in bringing about a different state of things—that a man was free to think, if he was not a Member of the Liberal Party under the tyranny of the Caucus; that he was free to write, if not in Ireland; and that he was free to speak, if not a Member of the House of Commons.
§ MR. RATHBONE
said, he had no intention of rivalling the eloquence of the hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. E. Stanhope), and he would only detain the House for a very few minutes. He simply wished to call attention to the importance of the Resolutions in the interests of minorities. He had always been an advocate for maintaining the rights of minorities, and an opponent of anything in the shape of tyranny by the majority over the rights of minorities. But, while maintaining the right of free speech, he was fully aware of the fact that of recent years that right had been much abused, and that, under the name of liberty of speech, a small minority of the House had done much to degrade the character of the House and impair its usefulness in the eyes of the country and of the whole world. What he wished particularly to point out was this—that if the rights of minorities were retained, the right of tyrannizing over majorities must not be retained among them. They were now in a position of very great difficulty. The House found itself incompetent to carry the work it was intended to perform. It had been suggested that in some future time they might have a violent House of Commons, presided over by a Speaker who failed to possess sound judgment or determination. If ever such a time came, all the safeguards they derived from having a set of Rules to which they were accustomed would be swept away; and at a single Sitting, by a simple Motion, at once the Rule of Urgency and the power of terminating a debate by the simple clôture could and would be adopted. There would be this advantage in altering the Rules now, and making them efficient for the carrying on of the Business of the House—that if ever the time 1194 should come, which hon. Members on the other side of the House were always anticipating, when there would be a large and arrogant Democratic majority in the House, it would be of immense advantage to have in existence a set of Rules which had borne the test of experience, and to which the House was accustomed, and not then for the first time to have to set about framing new Rules, so as to render them useful and practicable in the conduct of Public Business. There was another matter to which he also desired to call attention—namely, the great alteration which had taken place in the Constitution of the House—an alteration which hon. Members opposite ought not to regret, and which certainly he did not. The House now, under a Household Franchise Constitution, was changed much more rapidly than it used to be formerly, except on a very exceptional occasion. They had witnessed in 1868, 1874, and 1880, a large and increasing number of new Members returned to serve in the new Parliament. They were, most of them, unaccustomed to the old Rules and Practices of the House; and under such circumstances, with a repeated change of the personnel of the House, they could not rely upon old precedents, but must rely upon Rules adapted to the new state of things. He thought it was very much to the interest of minorities that the Rules should now be made sufficiently stringent to be workable under the new state of things. The ease of America had been referred to. He ventured to point out that in America they adopted the system of the Previous Question. They adopted it originally from this country; as, indeed, they had adopted many other precedents from us. It had been in existence since 1790, and no individual American he had conversed with was disposed to give up that power of closing a debate. On the contrary, every American would tell them that, with the power of closing the debate which was now possessed, the power of free debate was carried on in the House of Representatives almost to the very verge of licence. Surely, then, in this country, where Party spirit did not run half so high as in America, that love of justice, which was characteristic of all Englishmen, would have its due effect, and there would be no need to fear any of the extreme abuses which 1195 had been predicted from the exercise of the power of closing a debate. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down quoted a suggestion which he seemed to approve, that before desiring to effect any radical change they should, at least, allow a year to elapse. He (Mr. Rathbone) wished that that view were shared by the Party to which hon. Gentlemen belonged in "another place."
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Raikes,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.