HC Deb 24 July 1882 vol 272 cc1548-61

I rise, Sir, to move— That, for the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions on Tuesday, Government Orders have priority; and that Government Orders have priority on Wednesday. In making such a Motion as this, it is usual to state the time in past years when a similar course was proposed. In 1876 the Motion was made on the 9th of August, only seven days before the Prorogation, and in 1877 on the 23rd of July; in 1878 these days were first taken on the 16th of July, in 1879 on the 15th of July, in 1880 they were taken on the 13th and 14th of July; in 1881 not until the 2nd and 3rd of August. The usual practice of the House is that private Members' days should be taken at a late period of the Session. This year it has been observed that private Members have had no opportunity of bringing forward their Motions and pushing their Bills. That is perfectly true; but it is also equally true that the Government have had no opportunity of advancing legislation. The Bills upon which we have been engaged have merely grown out of the necessities of the moment, and, with certain small exceptions, are quite distinct from those projected and promised in the Queen's Speech. Of course, it is a question for the convenience of the House. I am aware it is a very great sacrifice that private Members are called upon to make; but still, with the prospects before us, if we are to wind up the Business of the Session within a reasonable time, I think this is a proper period according to the spirit, if not the letter, of former precedents for making this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution which stood in his name.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions on Tuesday, and that Government Orders have priority; and that Government Orders have priority on Wednesday."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


said, he was quite aware that at this period of the year it was usual to make a Motion of this kind, and it was for the convenience of the House, no doubt, that the Session should be wound up within a reasonable time. But he rose to ask one question of some importance. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that for the remainder of the Session these Orders should have precedence. What did the right hon. Gentleman mean by "the remainder of the Session?" Under ordinary circumstances they should understand that the Session would close sometime about the middle of August, and with that view they would give precedence to certain Business. But they were informed that this year it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose that the House should only adjourn to meet again later on. He wanted to know when they were to meet again, and whether the Government Orders were to have precedence? In point of fact, they were entitled, under the circumstances, before acceding to this Motion, to have some distinct intimation as to the Bills with which it was intended to proceed. He did not think the House would or ought to be satisfied with a mere general declaration that there were certain Bills to be proceeded with, and others which might be proceeded with if they had time. They ought to be told what were the Bills the Government intended to proceed with, and they ought also to have some information about Supply. The House would remember that they were extremely backward in Supply. There were between 170 and 180 Votes still to be passed, and the time was approaching when it would not be so convenient for Members to attend who might wish to bring forward questions connected with Supply. He would also like to know what was to be the course of Business that night? His right hon. Friend (Mr. Bourke) had put a Question on the Paper with regard to the manner in which the Government proposed to proceed when they came to the Vote of Credit, and drew attention to the fact that when the late Government proposed a Vote of Credit they were appealed to by the Leader of the Opposition at that time, the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington), merely to propose and explain the Vote, and then to agree to report Progress, so as to give the House time to consider what course it would take. In the present circumstances, and with their present information, he thought the House would find it very difficult to come to a decision on the Vote; but, no doubt, the difficulty might be greatly removed by the explanation that would be made by the Prime Minister in a short time. He thought what the Prime Minister had suggested was very reasonable—that they should wait until then in order to see whether they should be able to go on, or whether they should have to postpone the discussion. He was anxious in no way to impede the Public Service, and if it should be found possible to proceed at once, he should not desire to offer any impediment. But it was the duty of the House to consider the statement that would be made, and in the very grave circumstances in which they were placed, they ought not to be hurried if they had any reasonable ground to ask for a postponement. The Government, he understood, would first move the Vote of Credit, and would then ask for the number of men named. Perhaps the Government would be able to tell the House at what time they intended to move the remaining Estimates, as there might be various stages at which the conduct of the Government might, if necessary, be challenged. He would also wish to know what was the course the Government contemplated with respect to procedure on Public Business? He hoped the Government would tell the House whether they still adhered to the intention of having an Autumn Session, and whether the Resolution they were asked to adopt would apply to it.


There are three questions which have been put to me. Regarding the course of procedure tonight, I will state that distinctly when I rise to call the attention of the House to the Vote of Credit. It is quite understood, after my statement, that Gentlemen will consider for themselves whether, under the circumstances, it is or is not desirable to ask for an adjournment of the debate before proceeding to the Vote. The question remains open to both sides. The right hon. Gentleman also put to me two other Questions. He noticed—and justly noticed—that this Motion, as it stands, has been drawn in the usual form, and that it would cover the period during which we may be engaged in winding up the ordinary Business of the Session, and also cover what has been called the Autumn Sitting. The fact is, that according to our views that will make no practical difference. I thought I had explained two things—that it was our intention during this Sitting to ask that Procedure would take precedence whenever set down; and, second, that I had bound the Government—of course, setting apart cases of necessity—to put down nothing but Procedure. However, it is not necessary to raise that question now, as I will amend the Motion so as to provide that it shall only apply to the close of the month of August. With regard to the Bills which are to have precedence, I am not aware that anything remains to be discussed or explained by me. It is well understood that all our important Bills projected in the Queen's Speech have, generally speaking, been dropped. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are always a number of Bills relating partly to matters of form and partly to matters of very small consequence, which invariably make a formidable appearance towards the close of the Session. I am not aware of any question on which there is serious difference of opinion as to which the intentions of the Government have not been fully declared. [An hon. MEMBER: The Educational Endowments (Scotland) Bill.] It is understood that we mean to go on with the Corrupt Practices Bill, if we can, and the question of the Educational Endowments (Scotland) Bill is regarded as a bye question belonging to Scotland, which has been taken very much into their own hands, with the general assent of the House, by the Scottish Members. There is also the Bill relating to Scottish Entails, which, as far as I am aware, is a Bill that need not occupy many minutes of the time of the House. I believe there is a very general concurrence amongst Scottish Members with respect to the provisions of that Bill. I know not what Bill there is of a serious character. [An hon. MEMBER: The Ballot Act.] With regard to the Ballot Act, undoubtedly we cannot raise any contested question. We must be contented with putting it into the Continuance Bill in case of necessity. [An hon. MEMBER: The Disenfranchisement Bill.] I thought it had been declared that the Government felt compelled to abandon that Bill for the present Session. The regular course would be to discharge the Order. The Government do not intend to legislate nor to assent to Motions for Writs. Last year a short Bill of suspension was brought forward, and a similar Bill will be taken again this Session.


asked what were the intentions of the Government with regard to the Police Superannuation Bill and the Government Annuities and Assurance Bill?


said, that the Government did not at present propose that there should be a Saturday Sitting for the Police Bill. They would delay deciding what course should be followed with regard to that Bill until they could gauge the amount of opposition which would be shown to the measure. The Bill was looked for with great anxiety by the police throughout England, and it would be a great grievance from their point of view if it were to miscarry. He therefore trusted that Gentlemen who were opposed to the Bill would not exhibit such opposition as would prevent the discussion of the measure.


asked the First Lord of the Treasury whether he would consent to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the condition of the crofters in Skye and the Western Islands of Scotland? There was a Notice of Motion upon this subject standing in his name upon the Paper, but he was afraid it would be inevitably shelved. He, therefore, appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to grant the request which it contained.


said, that with reference to the Annuities Bill, he might remind the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) that the measure did little more than carry out the recommendations of the Friendly Societies Commission of 1875, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was Chairman and the right hon. Baronet himself was a Member. He feared, however, that it would be useless at this period of the Session to attempt to pass the Bill in its present form. The only provision to which serious objection was made was that by which the maximum limit of insurances and annuities would be raised to £200. He was now prepared to move that the maximum limit should remain at its present point, and that the limit of annuities should also be £100. In view of this concession, he hoped but little opposition would be shown to the Bill.


called the attention of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Charles W. Dilke), who had charge of the Ballot Act Continuance Bill, to the fact that the Bill contained a great deal of contentious matter, and he did not think it would be got rid of in a short time. As to the Municipal (Unreformed) Corporations Bill, there were eight Notices of opposition to it, and it contained a great deal of contentious matter. He asked whether it was proposed to drop the Bill?


said, that he must with great regret drop the Municipal Corporations (Unreformed) Bill. The vast majority of the places named in the measure were very desirous that it should become law, and the opposition to it came from a very small number of Members. The Ballot Act would be continued in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.


thought that it might be fairly urged that the Corrupt Practices Bill, which imposed great changes in Constitutional Government, ought not to be considered at the fag-end of a Session. He hoped, at any rate, that the House would be told on what day they would be likely to have a chance of proceeding with it.


, as one of those affected by the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, requested to be allowed shortly to state his grievance. For three months he had been balloting for a good place in order to bring forward a Motion respecting the condition of the Ryots of India. He had at last secured, as he thought, a certain place for to-morrow, as his name stood first on the list; but on the eve of the day on which he hoped to proceed with the Motion he had undertaken, the Prime Minister made a proposal which would, in all probability, shut him out for the rest of the Session. He ventured to think that his Motion was even of greater importance than the one the right hon. Gentleman proposed bringing forward. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might ridicule the idea; but he differed with them, and perhaps the day would come when they would agree with him. His Motion was— To call attention to the miserable condition of the peasantry of India generally, and particularly those of Oudh and Behar; and to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire and report as to the means that ought to he adopted to ameliorate their condition. The subject dealt with the condition of fully 100,000,000 of their fellow-subjects. In Oudh and Behar alone there were 30,000,000; but as he was not confining himself to these Provinces, but would refer to the grievances of the peasantry in many of the parts of the Indian Empire, he was rather below the mark when he stated that the story of wrong, oppression, and suffering which he would relate to the House, when an opportunity should be afforded him, would extend to over 100,000,000 of people. They did not, it was true, all suffer equally; but there were 50,000,000, at least, in a wretched condition, and 50,000,000 more, who endured oppression and hardship in a lesser degree.


said, that the hon. Member for the County Waterford should confine himself to the subject involved in the Motion then before the House, and not take advantage of it to make a statement concerning the condition of the people of India.


said, he did not then intend to deal with the entire Indian Question; he should select a more favourable time and place for that; but he contended that he had a right to state a small portion of it, at least by way of comparison with the one which the Premier proposed to substitute for it, in order to prove that the House ought to give a preference to a discussion on the condition of the peasantry of India. ["No, no!"] They were quite welcome to hold that opinion, mistaken even though it was. If he only got the chance, he thought he would convert them to an opposite view. He was prepared to show that there were bad laws in India, against which the people had strong reason to complain, and that many of the good laws were a dead letter. In many places, especially in Oudh and Behar, millions of the cultivators of the soil were ground under cruel exactions, and often grossly ill-treated, at the hands of their landlords, whatever their denomination might be—Talukdars or Zemindars. Notwithstanding all the boasted progress of India in commerce, railways, telegraphs; in the founding of colleges and other institutions; the building of Courts of Justice, and the appointment of a legion of officials for their administration, the condition of the great mass of the people was deplorable in every respect. Millions of them would welcome back their old Native rule to-morrow, bad as it was, in several respects. It was a terrible risk for England to allow so many of her subjects to have just causes of complaint, for if they remained unredressed they would seriously endanger the safety of their great Empire in the East. [Murmurs of dissent.]


said, he should again remind the hon. Member that he could not then raise a discussion on the affairs of India.


said, he had not the least idea of doing so. He only desired to show the Prime Minister and the House that the subject he wanted to bring forward was of sufficient importance not to be relegated to next Session. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have a very inadequate idea of the state of things calling loudly for redress and reform in India. On Thursday last, when he (Mr. Gladstone) announced his intention of absorbing, for the remainder of the Session, the private days of Members, the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) asked him whether, considering its importance, he would not allow the Motion on India to be proceeded with to-morrow? The reply was, perhaps, the most astonishing that ever came from a Prime Minister— He did not think the Motion afforded a sufficient reason for departing from a proceeding called for by the general convenience of Public Business; but his noble Friend the Secretary of State for India would be happy to give his best attention to any statements with which he might be favoured by the hon. Member (Mr. Blake) or his Friends. That seemed, indeed, a strange way to propose dealing with an important subject. What would be thought if an Irish Member proposed bringing forward some very important question relative to Ireland, and that the Prime Minister told him to have a private interview with the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, in order to settle the matter? He (Mr. Blake) believed that the Secretary of State for India was anxious to ameliorate the condition of the people there. When lately in India he had become aware of his desire to do what was right in certain directions; but, granting him this disposition, there was much he could not accomplish without having the opinion of Parliament to back him; and how could the House of Commons be expected to pronounce until it had the facts laid before it. It had been his (Mr. Blake's) intention to rest mainly for the proofs of his case on the Reports of Commissions or the statements of officials who had the courage and humanity to make public the wrongs and sufferings of the people, as they came under their notice. Although he had been over nearly the entire of India, he had not intended to intrude much of his personal experiences on the House, except so far as they went to corroborate what he would state on higher authority. He could assure the House that he had seen enough while in India to convince him that strong and speedy measures were required to set things right as regarded the relations between the landed proprietors and the cultivators. The latter, nearly everywhere, could not be in a much worse condition; whilst the former lived, for the most part, idle, worthless, luxurious, and often profligate lives, on the money mercilessly extorted from their unfortunate tenants, frequently by the most cruel means. In common with many others, he had road the eloquent and heartrending accounts which the Premier had given to the world, both by pen and tongue, of the sufferings of the Neapolitans under the Bourbons, and the Bulgarians under the Turks; and he honoured him for the sympathy he had displayed for these victims of tyranny and misgovernment. But there were other people more closely allied to England, and whose woes it was very much in the power of the Prime Minister to alleviate, who merited his efforts and appeals quite as much. There were many millions of Her Majesty's Indian subjects who had as just complaints against the way they were governed as ever Neapolitan had against a Bourbon, or Bulgarian against the Sublime Porte. In conclusion, he earnestly asked the Prime Minister, in the interests of humanity, and especially of the unfortunate people on whose behalf he felt he had but very feebly pleaded, to grant him a day before the end of the Session, if he was resolved on depriving him of the one to-morrow, which he had so hardly earned, in order that he might lay their sad case before Parliament, and ask it to grant an inquiry, either by a Select Committee or a Commission. As the right hon. Gentleman could carry anything he chose, it was, of course, quite useless to oppose the Motion then before the House, if he was resolved on persevering with it. The Prime Minister and the House might rely that there never was a case where humanity, duty, and policy more imperatively demanded a thorough inquiry, with a view of mitigating the sufferings and redressing the wrongs of the gentle, enduring race whose unhappy lot, when he was amongst them, had so filled him with compassion that he had resolved to do what lay in his humble power to make their deplorable condition known to Parliament.


said, before the Prime Minister replied he would like to make a further appeal to him with respect particularly to the two Bills he had previously mentioned—namely, the Police Bill and the Government Annuities Bill. The Home Secretary replied to him a few moments ago in a very menacing tone. The right hon. Gentleman said the Police Bill was one which was generally acceptable to the House, and he menaced him (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) for the opposition which he proposed to give to the measure. If there ever was a Bill calculated at once to diminish local control, and to increase the burdens of the ratepayers, this was that Bill, and he was confident it would receive very great opposition throughout the House. As to the Government Annuities Bill, he must disclaim the responsibility which the Postmaster General desired to place upon him; but he could show, if necessary, that the recommendations of the Royal Commission to which the right hon. Gentleman referred were quite different from, those embodied in the Bill. What he wished the Prime Minister to consider was this, that when last Session the Government were given the two days for which they now asked, they had reached the 2nd or 3rd of August, and this followed, that no Business which provoked any opposition was subsequently considered, except the Amendments to the Land Act, which came down from "another place." Last year, when this Motion was made, the House was more forward with Supply, and they had not before them a lengthened discussion on Foreign Affairs; yet it was found to be practically impossible to proceed with anything else but the business of Supply. He might fairly ask the Prime Minister whether he considered that the Corrupt Practices Bill and the two measures to which he had already referred could really receive adequate consideration if the House was to adjourn about the time stated. If these measures were pressed, they would be considered in a way which would reflect no credit upon the House.


said, he would be very sorry to oppose this Motion, which, under the circumstances, was, no doubt, more or less necessary; but, if the House did assent to it, they ought to do so on the distinct understanding that no other Business except that which was absolutely necessary would be taken. Considering the present state of Supply, and having regard to the long debate upon Egyptian Affairs, it was manifestly impossible that a measure like the Corrupt Practices Bill could receive this Session the attention it deserved.


said, he was greatly disappointed at not having been able to bring on his Motion in reference to the Income Tax, and wished to know whether the sum of money required for war purposes in Egypt would be raised by an addition to the Income Tax; and whether, if the House met in the autumn, private Members would have their usual privilege of bringing on discussions and Motions on Tuesdays and Wednesdays?


asked what course the Government propose to take with respect to the Electric Lighting Bill, which was put down for the third reading on Saturday last; but the consideration of which was postponed in favour of a small Irish Bill.


said, the hon. Member for the County Waterford (Mr. Blake) had done him the honour to say that anything he proposed was quite certain to be carried. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, he need only point to a Motion which he made with great I earnestness and seriousness three weeks ago, and which was entirely defeated. He was sorry hon. Gentlemen who had Motions on the Paper should lose the opportunity of bringing them forward; but, having regard to the general state of Business, he could not find any expedient which would enable those Gentlemen to give utterance to their views. It was impossible that he could distinguish between the varying importance of the Motions of hon. Gentlemen. With respect to Bills, the Question just put by his hon. Friend (Sir George Campbell) was an illustration of the difficulty in which the Government stood. If he were to say absolutely that no Bill which was opposed should go forward, so far as the Government were concerned, he would offer a distinct premium to any individual Member to oppose a Bill he did not wish to proceed. There was the case of the Electric Lighting Bill, which, he believed, did not receive a third reading on Saturday through a mere accident. The Bill was almost beyond the risk of serious opposition, but still it was in the Orders. The pledge he had given to the House was that the Government would press no Bill to which there was any serious or extended opposition, and if there was any exception to that, it was the Corrupt Practices Bill, because he believed it to be a very general desire of the House that the Bill should pass. It was simply with a view of winding up the Business by about the middle of August that this proposal was made to the House, and in a very short time it must become plain whether they would be able to go forward even with the Corrupt Practices Bill. In case there was developed any serious and extended opposition to that Bill the Government would not go forward with it. What they wished to do now was to close at once the matters relating to the Egyptian Question and the Tax Bill of the year, then to go steadily forward some days with Supply, and in a very short time it would be perfectly obvious whether they could or could not fulfil the wishes the House generally entertained with regard to the Corrupt Practices Bill, which was the only important Bill remaining to be dealt with. He would ask leave to withdraw his Motion, in order to re-propose it in the form suggested by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote). The Motion would then apply to the end of August only.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, until the end of August, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions on Tuesday, and that Government Orders have priority; and that Government Orders have priority on Wednesday."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


complained, that by the proposal of the Prime Minister he would lose an opportunity of bringing forward a Motion he had on the Paper with regard to the condition of the Irish agricultural labourers. He had hitherto been prevented from bringing the matter on owing to the course taken by the Government; and the condition of the labourers, in view of the coming winter, was something terrible.


(who spoke amid cries of "Divide!") said, that hon. Members opposite seemed to think that it was only necessary for the Prime Minister to express his will, and it immediately became incumbent on all to bow and accept whatever was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. There never was a Session so entirely surrendered to the Government as this Session, and there never had been a Session when such a mess of confusion had been made of the Business of the House. He thought it would be well to consider the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman before assenting to it, because there were several important questions which must come before the House before the Session closed, and for the discussion of which the Government were bound to find an opportunity. Personally, he objected to the Motion altogether, and he wished to point out how much time had been wasted at the instance of the Prime Minister himself in taking up the Procedure Resolutions and the House of Lords' Committee on the Irish Land Act. In his (Mr. Arthur O'Connor's) opinion, time ought to be given for the discussion of the Vote of Censure on the Chairman of Committees, and also for Local Option, and the Army and Navy and Civil Service Estimates whenever they came before the House; but what guarantee had they that they were to have proper discussion in the future? It was high time that the House took this matter out of the hands of the Government. In Ireland they had suspended Constitutional liberty, and in that House they had mismanaged everything. He, for one, did not believe in an Autumn Session, though it would depend entirely upon the caprice of the Prime Minister. He should feel it his duty to oppose the Motion before the House.