HC Deb 20 July 1882 vol 272 cc1160-7

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will, upon Saturday next, resolve itself into the said Committee."—(Lord Richard Grosvenor.)


said, he wished to make just one observation upon this Saturday Sitting—he wished to call the special attention of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) and the House to the state of Supply at the present moment. Though he was clearly of opinion that it might be necessary at this time of the Session to sit on Saturdays for express purposes, on the other hand he was also of opinion that now that they had practically disposed of the important Irish measures, they ought not to take any Business of any sort or description until they had made substantial progress with Supply. He did not suppose there ever was a Session in which Supply was so backward as at present. There were 190 Votes this year, and of these they had only voted 13, which loft 177 still to be considered and agreed to. Little or no opportunity had been given to hon. Members to bring forward those Motions they wished to bring forward on going into Committee of Supply; and, more than that, if, as seemed likely to be the case, Supply were put off until the beginning of August there would be no time to discuss it. Last year, in the middle of June, they had only 150 Votes to pass; but this year they were worse than ever, having 177 to dispose of. In 1877, 1878, and 1879, very grievous complaints were made by hon. Members now on the Ministerial side of the House with regard to the backwardness of Supply. In those years he had heard the strongest speeches from those hon. Members about the neglect of Supply, and the absolute necessity of bringing it on at earlier periods of the Session, and in denunciation of the manner in which it was put off from time to time, and the manner in which Bills were pressed forward at the expense of Supply. He should like to compare the state of Supply in those years he had mentioned with its condition now. In 1877, on the 18th July, out of all the Votes—[A laugh]—the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Courtney) might laugh, but this was no laughing matter, and least of all for the hon. Member who was the person who ought to be specially interested in the subject. If the hon. Member considered it a laughing matter, he was probably the only person in the House who did. In 1877, in the middle of July, though great complaints were made, there were only 12 Votes to get. In 1878, by the end of June, there were about 70 Votes to get, and great complaints were made at that time; and in 1879, at about the same period, there were 84 Votes to get, and the complaints then grew louder and louder still. But, taking the last two Sessions, the condition of affairs was that though at the end of June last year, there were 150 Votes to get, there were now, on the 20th of July, no less than 177 to get out of 190. Surely, if Supply was to be brought forward at all, this was making a poor mockery of the thing; and he was surprised that the present Government should have so grievously erred in this particular matter, when they had, no doubt by the exercise of their proper discretion, brought the late Government to task so often for neglecting Supply. If a Saturday Sitting was held it ought to be for the purpose of making progress with Supply. No doubt, it was extremely convenient for the Government to be able to pass two or three Bills that were promised in the Queen's Speech; and, no doubt, one particular object the Government had in view was the satisfaction of the Scotch Members, who had great cause of complaint. The Government wished to pass some Scotch Bills for the purpose of saving their credit should a General Election, unfortunately, take place; but he ventured to say that the interests of the Empire were still greater than the interests of the Government, and this question of Supply ought not to be neglected. If the Government were ready to take Supply on Saturday, he, for one, should be willing to sit in the House for a whole week and discuss it; but he was not willing that the House should hold Sittings on Saturday for the purpose of passing one or two Bills to save their own credit, and not for the purpose of advancing the general interests of the country.


said, he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that he did not intend to treat the subject he had raised in that spirit of levity which the right hon. Gentleman seemed so strongly to object to. He was perfectly aware that the Business of the House, particularly Supply, was in a condition which, reflected no credit on those responsible for it. It would not, however, be perfectly just now to go back into a review of the circumstances that had been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman; and he thought the House would admit that, at all events during the greater part of the last three months, the House had been engaged in the discussion of most urgent measures, and which the right hon. Gentleman himself would admit could not have been postponed for the purpose of making progress with Supply; and at that period of the Session the right hon. Gentleman should not ask them to go back more than three months. If a Saturday Sitting were taken the question was whether it should be devoted to a Scotch Bill or to Committee of Supply. Though hon. Members who sat near the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) cheered him while he was describing the state of Supply, and what had happened in previous years, he (the Marquess of Hartington) did not think the right hon. Gentleman had received a single cheer when he had said that a Saturday Sitting would be devoted to Supply, and he had no doubt that if a Saturday Sitting for such a purpose had been proposed by the Government, it would have been received with an almost universal storm of condemnation. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to assume that the only object the Prime Minister had in endeavouring to proceed with the Scotch Educational Endowments Bill and some other measures was in order that they might make a figure in the Queen's Speech, and produce some effect in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman altogether set aside the fact that these measures were promised by the Government, and that a considerable number of Members looked upon them as of great importance. He (the Marquess of Hartington) understood that a great number of Scotch Members were extremely anxious to make progress with the Scotch Educational Endowments Bill—so anxious, in fact, that they were willing that a Saturday Sitting should be devoted to its consideration. This measure, and the Entail (Scotland) Bill, were not Bills which the general body of the House took a very strong interest in; and, therefore, the arrangement was one which the general run of Members would be able to assent to without inconvenience. He believed that a Saturday Sitting was, about the greatest infliction that could be imposed upon the House; and when it was the painful duty of the Government to have to propose such a Sitting, it was incumbent on them to endeavour to make the infliction as little objectionable as possible. He believed, as he had said, that the great majority of Scotch Members were willing to make a sacrifice; but he doubted whether a great number of Gentlemen who were desirous, and very properly desirous, of taking part in a discussion of Supply would care about the Government taking it, and having a comparatively large number of Votes debated in a comparatively empty House. Though they were well aware of the discreditable condition of Supply, the Government could not help thinking that the arrangement they had proposed was really the best that could be adopted.


said, that, as an Amendment to the Motion before the House, he would move that the Bill be committed on Monday instead of Saturday, and he proposed to say a few words—he proposed to state, as briefly and succinctly as he could, why, in his humble judgment, the House ought not to be asked on Saturday to discuss this Scotch or any other Bill It would be in the recollection of the House that on Saturday last Members were brought down at 12 o'clock to keep a House for the Electric Lighting Bill. Some hon. Members were brought down under false pretences and kept there five hours, until 5 o'clock in the afternoon, when the Scotch Bill came on. Hon. Members from Scotland had grumbled a little at that; but their grumbling had been of no avail, for they were only offered "Hobson's choice." They were told that they might either sit that day or the following Saturday; and they naturally, therefore, elected to sit last Saturday. Now, forsooth, they were to have the pleasure of sitting on another Saturday. The fact of the matter was that the grumbles of the Scotch Members had, on the last occasion, been silenced by a little judicious flattery that was administered to them by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council (Mr. Mundella). The right hon. Gentleman had on that occasion appealed to what he was pleased to term the characteristic good sense of Scotch Members. If they desired to get round a Scotchman, they should always appeal to his characteristic good sense. He did not know whether an appeal of this kind would have the same effect on Irish Members sitting below the Gangway on the Conservative side of the House; but, whether or not, it seemed to him that hon. Members would be displaying real good sense by refusing to sit on the sixth day to transact Scotch Business, after they had been sitting five days to transact English and Irish Business. The result of last Saturday's Sitting was anything but satisfactory, for though Scotch Members protested their readiness to sit until midnight, if necessary, as the dinner hour approached they became very impatient, and a lot of hon. Gentlemen from Scotland collected on that occasion behind Mr. Speaker's Chair, and interrupted every Member who attempted to speak with what the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) would call "unearthly noises." Even the hon. and learned Member for Bridport himself on that occasion forsook them and fled. What he (Colonel Alexander) objected to was the bad precedent which this Saturday Sitting would cause. If it were allowed, the Government would put any number of Bills in future into the Queen's Speech, knowing they would only have to get Saturday Sittings at the fag-end of the Session for their discussion. More than that, it was necessary for the House to consider whether, except on very rare occasions, they should consent to sit on Saturdays at all. It appeared to him, with all due respect for Mr. Speaker, that some consideration was due to that right hon. Gentleman's comfort, and also to the comfort of the officers of the House, and those who reported the speeches, and that those who were kept during the whole of the Sittings five days in the week were fairly entitled to rest on the sixth day. There was just one other point on which he wished to speak, and it was this. He desired to remind the noble Marquess that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government was a Scotch Member. He (Colonel Alexander) did not at all complain that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had not attended in his place on Saturday last in his capacity as a Scotch Member, because he thought, looking at the nature of the right hon. Gentleman's labours, that he was entitled to rest on that day. But it certainly did seem anomalous that a most important Scotch Bill should be discussed without the most important of all the Scotch Members being present.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "Saturday," in order to insert the word"Monday,"—(Colonel Alexander,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the word 'Saturday' stand part of the Question."


said, he did not think that the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Alexander) had altogether correctly described the arrangement come to with regard to last Saturday. As he (Mr. Anderson) understood it, they were told that if they kept a House and assisted in the passing of the Electric Lighting Bill, they would get the remainder of that Saturday and also the first place on the coming Saturday for their Education Bill. The consequence was that last Saturday the Scotch Members had gone through the ordeal of keeping a House for the Electric Lighting Bill; and, although they got a very small portion of that Saturday for their own Bill, they were sustained in their efforts by the consciousness that they were to be rewarded by getting the first place on the following Saturday. Scotch Members did not like Saturday Sittings any more than anyone else; but they felt that this Education Bill was a measure of very great importance, and they were, therefore, willing to make some sacrifice to have it carried. But they earnestly hoped that what had occurred would not be considered a precedent for Scotch Business in future Sessions.


said, he should vote against the proposal of the Government to come down for a Saturday Sitting.


said, he must say that the noble. Marquess had exercised a very wise discretion in not going back further than three months, because the real root of the difficulty they were now under was the obstinacy of the Premier in insisting upon his attack upon the House of Lords, and upon bringing forward his ClMture Resolution. Neither the noble Lord nor the Prime Minister could any more restore the time lost at that period of the Session than could the spendthrift restore the money which he had thrown away in the days of his extravagance. The present condition of Public Business was owing to the action of the Prime Minister, and the Government ought to suffer for it. He (Mr. Warton) desired to get a definite pledge from the noble Marquess as to what Bills would be taken on Saturday.


said, that if there was to be a Saturday Sitting, would it be quite certain, and understood beyond all possibility of a doubt, that the Scotch Educational Endowments Bill would be the first Order of the Day?


Yes; the Bills to be taken on Saturday were mentioned at the beginning of the Sitting.


What are they?

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 130; Noes 36: Majority 94.—(Div. List, No. 283.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Committee upon Saturday next.