Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [20th February],
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 unless it shall appear to have been opposed by less than forty Members and supported by more than one hundred Members."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
And which Amendment was,
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 again proposed, "That the words 'when it shall appear to Mr. Speaker,' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, that the House would remember that various remonstrances had been addressed to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury in order that the discussion of the question might proceed in unbroken continuity. Those remonstrances had failed altogether. He (Mr. Raikes) should not have referred to it, had it not been that since the debate had been adjourned, they had been made familiar with a process which had been extensively practised out-of-doors, and which was commonly called "the manufacture of public opinion." An eminent professor of that black art sat very near the Prime Minister; and he therefore thought it was just as well to place upon record, at the moment of resuming this debate, the peculiar circumstances which had caused its continued adjournment. He wished to point out that the seven days which had been subtracted from the debate on these Rules of Procedure had been taken, not in consequence of any action on the part of those sitting on that side of the House, nor on the part of any independent Members of the House, but that this interval had been occupied with other Business solely on the invitation of the Leader of the House, and that he, and he alone, was responsible for all this consumption of time. It was necessary to remind the House that even had the Rules been already passed that Session, they could not have been brought to bear so as to accelerate the course of Public Business. As it had been his (Mr. Raikes's) lot to deal with Parliamentary Obstruction, the House would pardon him if he stated some of the reasons which led him to regret not only that the Government had brought forward this particular proposal, but had put it in the front of their proposals, so as to make it appear to the country as if this were the end-all and be-all of their scheme; and that their other Resolutions, however admirable—and he thought some of them very ad- 1303 mirable—were dwarfed to comparative insignificance by the paramount importance attached to the first. The proposal contained in this Resolution was recommended on four distinct and various grounds: One was that it would be in conformity with the practice prevailing in contemporary institutions; another, that it could be justified by Constitutional precedent; a third—though this was not put by the right hon. Gentleman himself—that it was rendered necessary by Party exigencies; and, finally, that it was a fitting demonstration of the patriotic indignation aroused by the obstructive proceedings in that House. He would deal first with contemporary institutions. It appeared from the replies given by our Representatives abroad to a Circular of Earl Granville that the clôture existed as a recognized institution in the Legislative Assemblies of France, Germany, Austria, the United States, and several other minor countries. But it was not universal. The exceptions were all of them noteworthy, and especially that of a country whose case seemed to the Prime Minister so unimportant that, of course by inadvertence, he quoted it as an example of the clôture—he referred to Hungary. Now the clôture did not exist in the Representative Assemblies of Hungary, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden and Norway; and anyone who for a moment compared those countries, politically, perhaps, of less consequence, with those in which the Rule obtained, would at once perceive an important point of difference. They were countries in which Parliamentary government was of ancient growth, where freedom, through whatever vicissitudes it might have passed, was an immemorial tradition, and where the Assemblies were much more worthy of being styled a Parliament, and not merely a Legislative Body such as those Assemblies in which the provision of the clôture existed. In the countries where the clôture existed representative institutions had either been the outcome of revolutionary outbreaks or of the indulgent whim of some benevolent despot; and particularly in Germany and Austria a combination of these two causes; and, like the ugly child of ugly parents, they carried in their unlovely features reminders of both the sources from which they were derived—on the one hand, the licence of democracy; and, on the other, the hard 1304 hand of despotism. The clôture, if it were desirable to exhibit its most unpleasing aspect to those who took an interest in Constitutional history and Parliamentary practice, could hardly be better presented to them than by indicating the fact that it obtained almost exclusively in novel Bodies, unaccustomed to liberty, and devoted to special purposes, which formed only a part of what Englishmen understood to be the duties of Parliament. But that was not the only lesson to be drawn from the Papers presented to the House. There were also other Papers purporting to give an account of the Procedure in the different Colonial Assemblies, from which it appeared that the clôture had been established and worked well—it always worked well—in Tasmania, South Australia, the Cape of Good Hope, and New Zealand. It had been tried, but not renewed, in the great Colony of Victoria, and, as far as he knew, it did not exist in the greater Dominion of Canada, or in the large and valuable Colony of New South Wales; and with all respect to the Legislatures of Adelaide and Hobart Town, he submitted that their example was not more important to the House of Commons than would be a bye-law of the Corporation of Nottingham, or of the Local Board of Oswaldtwistle. A much more significant fact was the date of the Circular. It was a point to which he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. A great deal had been said of Obstruction, and it had often been urged that the Obstruction, particularly during last Session, of hon. Members below the Gangway on that side of the House made some sort of clôture necessary. It was singular, then, to find that the Circular of Lord Granville, respecting the clôture in other countries, was dated August 25, 1880. The prescient eye of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—he sometimes wished the noble Earl was a Member of the House of Commons—had foreseen the coming trouble; and the noble Earl, either with or without consultation with his Colleagues, and when he had not been more than three months in Office, addressed this Circular to Her Majesty's Representatives abroad, imploring them to obtain for him information with respect to the establishment of the clôture in other countries. That Circular had a certain reference, by a curious accident, to a 1305 publication of some importance which appeared also in August; but in the year 1879, exactly one year before Lord Granville in his Circular invited materials for the establishment of the clôture in the House, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was writing on the subject in The Nineteenth Century. He (Mr. Raikes) was sorry to find that the right hon. Gentleman had shown, by his leaving the House, that he did not wish to hear him (Mr. Raikes) quote that article; but at that time, no doubt, circumstances were wholly different from what they were in the previous year. He would not read the best of his extracts from the article to which he referred, because they had been already used earlier in the debate by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott); but he should like to communicate one or two of them to the House. In that article the Prime Minister said—To prolong debate even by persistent reiteration on legislative measures is not necessarily an outrage, an offence, or even an indiscretion. For in some cases it is only by the use of this instrument that a small minority with strong views can draw adequate attention to those views. By adequate attention I mean attention proportioned to their real value or to the public impressions connected with them, and the inconveniences which may follow from their being disregarded. There are abundant instances in which obstruction of this kind has led to the removal of perilous or objectionable matters from legislative measures, and thus to the avoidance of great public evils.They knew that "nothing succeeds like success;" and it appeared that the test of legitimate Obstruction, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, was only that it should be in some measure successful. He wished also to quote another passage from the right hon. Gentleman's article—It is precisely in the class of cases where the Party is small and the convictions strong that the best instances of warrantable Obstruction may be found.If he might interpolate a remark, he fancied that the right hon. Gentleman, in writing those words, might have had in his mind the occasion on which he formed a minority of 1, with a signal and brilliant success, and spoke, as he (Mr. Raikes) believed, 15 columns of The Times newspaper—surely a notable instance of the Party being small and the convictions strong. [Mr. GLADSTONE: 1306 What was the date of that?] In 1857. He was speaking of the Divorce Bill. However, the quotation went on—The offence [that is, Obstruction] hardly can be so dealt with in a case where the subject in debate is wide and of real public moment; still less in a case where it is one on which the public has lively susceptibilities marshalled on. the side of the obstructor, least of all where he can show that by his tenacity he has been able to modify the action of the Government and the provisions of the law. When we apply these tests to the case commonly known as that of a few Irish Members in connection with the flogging clauses of the Army and Navy Bill, the keenest advocate of penal measures against them may, perhaps, be led to pause.It appeared, however, that the right hon. Gentleman had not paused very long. While dealing with the point, inasmuch as he (Mr. Raikes) had had to sit through 21 nights of the discussion on the Army and Navy Bill, he would quote what another eminent Liberal authority, who was not now a Member of the House, had said on the subject; and, bearing in mind the reference of the Prime Minister to the Irish Members, he would compare his views with those of the right hon. Gentleman. In The Nineteenth Century Review, October, 1880, Lord Sherbrooke wrote—I am very sorry to have to admit that in the discussions on the Mutiny Bill and on the question of flogging especially, the evil and discreditable practice of deliberately wasting the public time was largely resorted to in quarters from which better things might have been expected.He (Mr. Raikes) thought the noble Lord might have added, if he had the article of the right hon. Gentleman before him, that that practice had been countenanced in quarters from which better things might have been expected. There was only one other extract from the article of the right hon. Gentleman with which he would trouble the House; but it might be taken as having a special interest in connection with the Business of this Session. At page 209 he found these words of the right hon. Gentleman—The lessons read and to be read to the country on the subject of Obstruction ought not to have for their main text the conduct of the Irish Members. At worst, they are but accessories. The Executive Government now is the principal offender. The statement thus made ought not, however, to be taken for granted. Our Irish friends have been the main agents in procuring the expenditure of 20 or 21 days of the Session upon the consideration of a new code of military law.1307 The House would excuse him (Mr. Raikes) for having read these extracts, because he had a very vivid recollection of the proceedings referred to, when five or six weeks of the Session were spent in the consideration of that new code of military law, and could not but remember that the right hon. Gentleman, who now asked for powers greatly in excess of any that had ever before been demanded to put down Obstruction, was then a Member of the House, and sat on the Opposition Benches. He would now give a few words to the question of Constitutional and Parliamentary precedent for the course they were invited to adopt; and, with respect to it, the Government, he was bound to say, had not put that particularly forward in their position. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman, although he indulged in a very lengthy narrative of the various steps taken at various times to modify or curtail the length of debate in that House, was clearly unwilling, or perhaps unable, to point to anything he could regard as a good precedent in the history of this country for the change proposed. But where the right hon. Gentleman had feared to tread, other hon. Members of the House had ventured to rush in. In a letter which appeared in The Times rather more than a year ago, a storehouse of great archaeological interest was opened to the gaze of England by the noble Lord the Member for Calne (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice), and the hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. Rogers). They had discovered that in the early part of the 17th century Resolutions were passed and an Order adopted by the House, which pointed to some means of arresting and checking the progress of a debate. But it would be found that these precedents referred entirely to the personal action of the Speaker on individual Members; and he would remind the House that the most important instance to which the noble Lord and the hon. and learned Member had called attention had reference to the proceedings connected with the judicial murder of the unfortunate Earl of Strafford, and that the Order on which they relied was introduced by the House apparently with a view to accelerate the debate upon the question of impeachment, or it might have been—for on this point there was some doubt—to hasten the Bill of Attainder. That 1308 was rather an ugly association, and he ventured to think that the right hon. Gentleman might well say—"Defend me from my friends," since the remarkable acumen of the noble Lord and the forensic experience of the hon. and learned Gentleman could furnish him with no more pertinent examples than those unlucky instances of the occasional intolerance of the House in the early period of the 17th century afforded. There was, however, a more recent precedent in the course taken by the House last year—a course practically wrung from it by an almost, if not altogether, unprecedented combination of circumstances. The House had been compelled to sit during a length of time that was absolutely intolerable, and under circumstances of themselves absolutely insupportable. It was engaged in passing a measure which, by the consent of the enormous majority of the House, and on the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government, was declared to be absolutely necessary for the preservation of peace and order, such as they were, in Ireland. The Speaker had found it necessary to interpose, and at last to terminate a debate which appeared to him to have ran to scandalous lengths. And, at the same time, the Speaker said, what the right hon. Gentleman had well reminded the House of—that he did so because he felt that he ought on that occasion to take that course; but that it was a course which, in his opinion, should not be repeated; and he cast upon the House the responsibility of dealing with the evil another year. The great feature of the Urgency Resolution was that in order to declare a state of Urgency for a particular Bill, which was vouched for by a Minister of the Crown as being of the highest importance, it was necessary to obtain a majority of 3 to 1 after that declaration had been read. And the Speaker took that as an indication of the feeling of the House in the Rule which he shaped that wherever a clôture was to be effected in any debate, it was only to be done by a majority of 8 to 1. Now, he (Mr. Raikes) wished to point out that the Resolution did not apply to the ordinary transaction of the Business of the House, but to measures of exceptional and paramount urgency; that it required a Cabinet Minister to make a solemn declaration to the House; that 300 Members, at least, should be 1309 present; and that a majority of three-fourths should agree to a state of Urgency. And the Speaker, invested with his exceptional powers, considered it to be his duty to lay down, further, that no debate should be closed except by a majority of three-fourths of the Members voting. If ever there was a precedent fitting to the case in which it was adduced, it was that. But was the ordinary Business of the House to be conducted in accordance with doctrines and Rules infinitely more stringent than those adopted in one particular case of extreme Urgency, and in the absence of the Irish Members, when it was thought necessary to prescribe for the further conduct of a particular debate? The right hon. Gentleman did very well in not quoting it in the course of the debate, but only referring to it in the most incidental manner, because anyone who was familiar with the circumstances under which Urgency became a Parliamentary institution, or with the form in which it was brought to bear upon the House, would see that the proposal now before it was not merely a very great step in advance, but an attempt to make universal and general that which in that particular case was only excused on the ground of being particular and limited. He wished, now, in the third branch of his speech, to refer to an argument in support of this proposal which had been used, not by the First Lord of the Treasury, but by a Member of the Government, second only in importance to that right hon. Gentleman—one who was not so frequent a speaker; but the country, perhaps, took all the more interest in the occasional speeches which he made. The argument to which he (Mr. Raikes) referred was derived from Party expediency, and it had been made use of by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) in addressing his constituents at Nelson, in North-East Lancashire, on the 17th of December, 1881. He would make all excuses for the noble Marquess, considering the circumstances in which he found himself. Having to address persons of whom, presumably, he did not know very much, and with whom he had not at least been in frequent contact, the noble Marquess had to form an idea of his audience by selecting some salient type of the sort of mind he would wish to influence. In North-East Lancashire 1310 there was a borough of some political importance, or, at least, political interest, because it sent to the House a very conspicuous Member—he (Mr. Raikes) referred to the borough of Burnley. He was not aware whether his hon. Friend (Mr. Rylands) was an elector of North-East Lancashire; but, at all events, he was a prominent personage in that district. The noble Marquess, when he addressed the people of Nelson, must have had in his mind's eye some particular type of politician whom he wished to influence—one not presumably fond of curtailing debate. He (Mr. Raikes) did not know whether his hon. Friend (Mr. Rylands) was present at the meeting; but he was sufficiently present in spirit to affect the mind of the noble Marquess. The noble Marquess had refrained from addressing the hon. Member for Burnley in the language which Lord Sherbrooke had used in his article in The Nineteenth Century of October, 1880, which was to this effect—Everyone who addresses the House is in posse, if not in esse, the enemy of the transaction of Business. He has what Bentham would call an anti-social interest.If the noble Marquess had wished to persuade the hon. Member for Burnley, he would scarcely have told him that he was impaled upon the horns of an ugly classical dilemma, and that he was either "in posse, if not in esse, the enemy of the transaction of business," or dwelt upon his "anti-social interest." The noble Marquess had been much too ingenious for that. This was what the noble Marquess said, speaking at Nelson on December 17, 1881—Before I conclude, I should like to say two or three words upon the condition—the present condition—of Business in the House of Commons, and on the necessity for some reform of the procedure of Parliament. I may be asked why I should speak upon this subject in the country? It may seem to be a matter for the consideration of the House of Commons itself, and of the House of Commons only; but it is, in my opinion, a subject in which the country, as well as the House of Commons, has the deepest interest. And I will tell you what I think that interest is.It was not reform of the Procedure of that House, or the reconstruction of the Legislative machine, but—It is, simply, whether the country cares to have any of those great legislative reforms, for which it voted at the last Election, carried into execution during the duration of the existing 1311 Parliament or not. There is the question of local government, and, connected with it, the difficult question of local taxation.The noble Marquess went on to say—But to go to other measures. Do you care still, as you cared two years ago, about a thorough reform of the Land Laws—a reform of our land system which will make the land less a monopoly in the hands of a few than it is now? ["Hear, hear!"] And again, do you care, as you cared two years ago, that the county franchise should he assimilated to the borough franchise—["Hear, hear!"]—and that that measure should be accompanied by a redistribution of seats?["Hear!"] He observed that the latter proposal was not so loudly cheered by hon. Members opposite.Do you care, as some of you cared two years ago, that the question as to the restriction of intemperance and the reform of the Licensing Laws should be dealt with or not? If you want any of those things done, I have no hesitation in saying that the first thing to do is to reform the existing procedure in Parliament. Every one of these subjects offers itself, especially the question of Parliamentary Reform, to an immense extent to the proceedings of Parliamentary Obstruction. There is not one of them which does not present a variety of sides open to attack, and which the opponents of every kind will be able to avail themselves of under our existing system, and which, under the obstructive proceedings which have recently been brought to so great a perfection, may not be successfully obstructed. In speaking my own opinion as a Member of Parliament, and not as a Member of the Government, whoso decision upon this subject I do not yet know, I may say I am of opinion that no remedy will be found adequate which does not give to the House, and to a majority of the House, far greater powers than it now possesses for the purpose of disposing of its own time, and of deciding what subjects it will discuss, and at what length it shall discuss them.He did not know whether the noble Marquess had consulted his Colleagues before he went down to Nelson; but certainly he had let the biggest political cat ever seen out of the flimsiest of bags on that occasion. That was the way in which the noble Marquess approached the question of the reform of Parliamentary Procedure, and his remarks certainly had the merit of frankness; and it would be the fault of that House and of the country if they believed that, in forcing upon them these particular proposals for the reform of their Procedure, the noble Marquess, one of the leading Members of Her Majesty's Government, was actuated by any motive higher than that of endeavouring to carry out a particular Party programme. He now came to the fourth 1312 branch of the arguments put forward by the Government, and that was the one derived from patriotic indignation. The only connection which the Government had established between the indignation of the country at the obstructive proceedings in the House and the proposed New Rules was supplied by the fact that the Reform Bill of 1832 had been carried, in the first instance, by a majority of 1. He certainly felt that, having regard to the last Parliament, he had good cause for yielding to no one in indignation at the unwarrantable protraction of debate by means of the misuse and abuse of their Forms of Procedure. He was tempted to speak of that abuse in terms which he (Mr. Raikes) could hardly make sufficiently moderate for use in that House. He was sure that the right hon. Gentleman had spoken the sentiments of all in that House, and, indeed, of the whole of his countrymen, when he denounced the scandalous abuse of the Forms of that House as a means of avoiding a decision. To denounce that abuse, however, was one thing, to devise a particular remedy for the evil was another. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he was not throwing away a golden opportunity, when the feeling was so strong and so unanimous throughout the country in favour of some action being taken by the House? When he flung upon the Table a proposal which must necessarily develop into an apple of discord, even if it had not been fostered and tended by the noble Marquess, he would ask the Prime Minister whether it was even yet too late for him to turn his attention to some other method of dealing with the evil in a manner which might command general assent? There was another Resolution on the Paper which he (Mr. Raikes) was sure would be acceptable to both sides of the House, and which, at least, deserved a trial by the Government—a Resolution which proposed to develop and extend the provisions of the Standing Order of February, 1880. He would only say in that connection that a good deal of demonstration had been sought for, and a little had been created in favour of the Government proposals in the country by an Association at Birmingham with which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was or had been connected——
§ MR. RAIKES
Well, the Association with which the right hon. Gentleman had been connected, but with which he was no longer connected.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
explained, that he was no longer officially connected with the Association in question, though he was still connected with it politically.
§ MR. RAIKES
The Association with which the right hon. Gentleman was no longer officially connected, but with which he was still politically connected—he was glad to hear that qualification—had sent round the "fiery cross" and whipped up a certain number of Resolutions on the Government lines. They did not seem to have made much stir in the newspapers in which they appeared; but he (Mr. Raikes) imagined from something said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), in the course of his speech on the first night, that the pressure brought to bear on this matter had not been, in this instance, so much public as private pressure; and it was quite possible, although the House had not seen so many Resolutions as might have been anticipated from what took place when the wires answered so well to the pull, that certain hon. Members might have received communications from a good many of their constituents whose opinions they respected and deemed important. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon made use of a simile in his remarks, the meaning of which he (Mr. Raikes) did not quite catch. The right hon. Gentleman compared his Party to a noble animal which, when it heard the crack of a whip from an outrider, contented itself with muttering an imprecation.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The right hon. Gentleman is putting not only the cart before the horse, but the driver before the horse. I spoke of the driver, not of the animal.
§ MR. RAIKES
accepted the right hon. Gentleman's correction, but thought that it only made the confusion of the simile worse confounded—unless the driver was in the habit of cracking his own whip in order to get an excuse for muttering an imprecation. At any rate, when the Liberal Party were putting forward these proposals on the sound of the crack of the whip, they could hardly be said 1314 to be brought forward with the same authority as would have been the case had they been supported by the spontaneous enthusiasm of the Party now in Office. He could not but think that it was somewhat unreasonable that this proposal should come from the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman had told them in the close of his speech, and in one or two other speeches, that he had sat in the House of Commons for 50 years. In the course of that time he (Mr. Raikes) felt sure that the right hon. Gentleman had consumed a very much larger amount of the time at the disposal of Parliament than any other Member, or any half-dozen Members, that had sat in that House since the days of King John. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members would bear in mind that he did not for a moment say that that time had not been well occupied; but he did assert the fact that if the time were to be measured with a sand-glass—the time consumed by one Member and another—they would find it was as he had stated. ["Oh, oh!"] He was sorry hon. Gentlemen should dislike that statement, for he was stating it merely as a fact. They knew that the right hon. Gentleman was a great orator—one of the greatest the world had ever produced—that he had sat in the House a very long time; and when they took those two circumstances into consideration, it must be evident that he had occupied far more time than any other Member there. That being so, was it not a curious irony of fate that it should fall to the lot of the Prime Minister to propose this Resolution? Was it not a singular thing that that should be so? When the Prime Minister was inspired to bring forward this proposal, what should have been the sensible and natural course for him to take? The proposition, it was to be assumed, was intended for the benefit of both Parties. The system was to be used by both Parties as they came into Office, and was not to be devoted only to carrying out the Nelson programme of the noble Marquess. It was to be a system that was to last for all time, and to be used first by one Minister and then by another. What, under the circumstances, should have been the course of the Leader of the House? He should have gone to the person who, next to himself, was most interested in the preservation of the 1315 order of Business—he should have consulted the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon as to the course which was most likely to redound to the credit of Parliament, and which was most likely to be convenient for the transaction of Business.
SIR STAFFORD NORTHOOTE
I do not wish to interrupt my right hon. Friend; but I think I ought to say that there was a communication made to me.
§ MR. RAIKES
Very likely. He did not wish to deny that a communication was made; but what he meant was that the proposal now submitted to the House was not the result of any consultation between them. [Sir STAFFORD NORTH-COTE: That is so.] It was all very well to make a communication; but if you did not act upon the advice of the person with whom you communicated, practically it might as well have not been made at all. There was another person connected with the House whom the Prime Minister had consulted—and, doubtless, the right hon. Gentleman was fully entitled to consult him; but when he did consult him, that person certainly ought not to have been quoted to the House by the Prime Minister. He was aware that the right hon. Gentleman was at considerable pains to exonerate the Speaker from any responsibility for the proposals submitted to the House; but it was one thing to take that course so far as one part of the speech was concerned, and another to fortify that proposition by quoting from the speech the Speaker had delivered to his constituents. That, though a small matter, was an indication of the relations which were in the future likely to be developed between the Leader of the House and the occupier of the Chair. ["No, no!"] He was speaking wholly impersonally; but he must say that it was an unfortunate tiling that when a proposal was made for a complete change in the system of Business in the House, the Leader of the House, in introducing it, should think proper to throw in the van of the authorities he quoted the opinions of the Speaker. He did not wish to say anything which might seem in the slightest degree to reflect on any person they had known, or were likely to know, in the exercise of their duties in the Chair. But the House would see, and it was impossible to deny, that the adoption of 1316 the Resolution before them would place the Speaker in an entirely new position. He would read to the House another brief extract from his favourite author—Lord Sherbrooke. But in citing words employed in connection with Urgency last year, he must point out that the position which the Speaker was then called upon to occupy in that House was, from the very fact of its temporary character, far less onerous. Yet, with regard to that position, Lord Sherbrooke had written—It is hardly too much to say that, instead of being the Representative of the whole House, the Speaker has become, by the recent changes, an official on the side of the Party which is in power for the moment, and that upon him henceforth the hardest and most invidious parts of public duty will fall. He may continue to bear the name of Speaker; but the essence of his position will be gone.That, in itself, was a reason why the House should pause before taking this leap in the dark. They valued many things in the House; but there was hardly anything which they valued more than the Speaker's position. There was nothing more precious in the House of Commons, except its own liberty, than the dignified position and freedom from Party suspicion which attached itself to the Chair. He would say no more on the subject, as he felt that he had already trespassed on the patience of the House. He would not attempt now to dissect the arithmetical puzzles which were proposed by the right hon. Gentleman in order to perplex Members of the House in the future, if the Rules were to become part of the institutions of the House; but he might point out that it was a peculiar thing, which he had not seen elsewhere, that while, under the 1st Rule, it would be possible for 101 to silence 39, the moment the 40th man came into the House, it required 100 more Members to counterbalance his individual vote. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman contemplated that as one of the possible results of the proposal; but he could not conceive how anyone who professed his dislike to fantastic majorities and complicated systems could have contemplated such a state of things. They were told that it was very wrong that a majority of three-fourths or of two-thirds should be required to put down a minority, and they were presented with a system which, while it 1317 varied with the condition of the House, required first a majority of 5 to 2, and then a majority of 5 to 1; yet, all of a sudden, a happy moment was reached when a mere majority dominated, and, instead of being 5 to 1, it was only 201 to 200. That might be logic; but it was a kind of logic from which those recoiled who had been brought up in a University where mathematics were appreciated above logic. It might be a problem worthy to occupy the brain of some casuist or schoolman; but it was hardly the form in which a great change in Procedure should be submitted to the House of Commons. Supposing the Government were going to use the machinery it was proposed to create to put down minorities in the House, and supposing the minorities were, as would frequently be the case, Irish minorities, did the Government think now, when their legislation was not too successful, and was opposed by a very large section of the Irish Members, what would it be when the House came actually to deny a hearing to those who, though a small minority of the House, might represent the great majority of the Irish people? This Resolution would deprive such a minority of the opportunity of even stating their grievance. In doing so the House would be putting into the hands of the agitator a new and most formidable weapon; and even if this most odious exercise of power should be avoided actually, the fact that it might be employed would hang over the heads of Members of the House, and they would not be slow to tell their countrymen what they thought of their position in the House of Commons. He (Mr. Raikes) had noticed that when the Prime Minister was speaking he was not so keen, neither had he exhibited his ordinary vigour, in supporting his proposition as he did on some occasions. He had thought a certain melancholy pervaded his speech—a sadness which was not often to be found in them, and which was not to be traced in the Nelson speech of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington), nor in the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain). It seemed as if the Prime Minister believed that the country was within measurable distance of the time spoken of by Mr. Tennyson— 1318When banded unions persecuteOpinion, and induce a timeWhen single thought is civil crimeAnd individual freedom mute.He thought that the noble Marquess believed that they were already on the threshold of such a dispensation, and that the myrmidons of the Birmingham Party were already exulting in the opinion that they had passed the border, and had entered into the promised land. He, however, did not share in that belief. The common sense of this country, in his idea, would still repel any such condition of things as that, and he trusted it might belong only to the most distant future; and, moreover, the common sense of this country would make itself felt in that House, even before the end of the discussion upon which they had entered. The privileges which hon. Members were asked to surrender were not their own, but rather those of the constituencies who sent them there. The trust which they were asked to abandon was a trust not to be exercised for their own individual benefit, but for the benefit of the people of this country. And, whatever might be the result of that particular division, of this, at least, they might rest assured—that before long there would come a day of serious reckoning to those who had neglected those privileges and proved that they were undeserving of that trust.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Sir, I am sure there is no Member of this House to whom the House would be more disposed to listen with attention than the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Raikes). The position which he filled in the last Parliament, and the experience which that position enabled him to gain in many of the questions which are now come under our discussion and deliberation, render him eminently qualified to give an opinion to the House which would be very carefully weighed by it upon the subject of the Rules of Procedure which have been submitted by the Government. But I think the House would have preferred, and that it expected, that the right hon. Gentleman would have given us something more of his own personal experience, and that he would have taken less time in favouring us with quotations from the opinions of others, a resource which is open to other Members of the right hon. Gentleman's 1319 Party, who have not the experience which belongs to him; and, Sir, I cannot refrain from saying that I regret to observe that the right hon. Gentleman does not seem to have brought back to Parliament all that impartiality and calmness of spirit which I am sure distinguished him in the position which he recently filled, and which, at any rate, ought always to distinguish Gentlemen filling that position; and I am sorry that he should have thought it necessary so far to depart from the spirit in which this proposal has been made to the House by the Prime Minister as to endeavour to lead it away by every possible channel from the calm and impartial atmosphere in which it ought to be debated into the region of Party recrimination. The right hon. Gentleman has not scrupled—and in that, I believe, he has scarcely carried with him the approval of his own Party—to point to my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government as the last man who ought to have brought forward this proposal; and he went on, and not indistinctly, to hint that my right hon. Friend had, in his generation, wasted more of the time of the House than any other Member of it.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
No, Sir; the right hon. Gentleman did not say that; but there are many ways of conveying an intention without making a direct assertion, and without employing the actual language which describes it. ["Oh, oh!"] What was the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman's allusion to the time of the House which the Prime Minister had occupied, unless the right hon. Gentleman wished to convey the impression that some of the time had been wasted? And I regret to think, Sir, that the right hon. Gentleman should also have thought it necessary to bring in the allusion which he made to the opinion of the Speaker in the Chair. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman (the Speaker), no doubt after full deliberation, knowing how much the attention of the country has been devoted to this subject, thought it right, in addressing his constituents, moderately to express certain opinions of his own upon this subject. My right hon. Friend was, I think, perfectly en- 1320 titled—not to quote, and he did not quote, that speech—but to refer to that speech in the moderate and guarded terms which he used. Sir, I think, further, that it scarcely had a tendency to improve the tone of this debate that the right hon. Gentleman should have brought so unfounded a charge against the Government, as that they were endeavouring, most improperly as would have been the case, to enlist your authority in support of the proposals for which they, and they alone, are responsible to the House. Well, Sir, I have said that I think it is to be regretted that the right hon. Gentleman should have devoted so much time to The Nineteenth Century, and given us so little of his own opinions on this matter. Sir, I do not mean to claim the right hon. Gentleman as having been at any time a supporter of the power of the clôture; but there was a time when the right hon. Gentleman did not think it necessary to denounce the clôture, or the idea of it, in terms so strong as he has employed this evening. The right hon. Gentleman was examined before a Committee of the House of Commons in, I think, the year 1878; and I find a reply to a question which was put to him by Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen, in reference to the suggestion which he had made himself. Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen asked him whether his proposal did not amount to a proposal for the clôture, tempered by the interposition of the Chair; and, in reply, the right hon. Gentleman said—"I can hardly say that it amounts to the principle of the clôture." And I admit that it did not. He went on to explain—and I will admit, further, he succeeded in doing so—in what he thought it differed from the clôture as it existed in other countries; but it does not seem to me that the right hon. Gentleman's mind was then so firmly closed against the principle of the clôture, when he did not think it necessary to repudiate the imputation that his suggestion resembled the clôture in stronger terms than these. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman quoted at some length in referring to the example of other countries, and he seemed to find a very strong argument against this proposal in the fact that there were four countries in Europe—I think Hungary, Portugal, Norway, and Sweden—in which the clôture did not prevail; and he referred to some of the Colonies 1321 also in which it had not been adopted. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman did not enter into sufficient historical detail to support his assertion that the clôture did not exist in those countries which had the tradition of Parliamentary Government; and I think he would find it rather difficult to support the assertion. But what I maintain is, that no argument against this proposal can be deduced from the example of foreign countries which have not adopted the clôture. I think, however, a very strong argument might be adduced in support of the proposal, when it is considered that, in many countries—where the work of Parliament is far lighter, far easier, far less important and overwhelming than is the work which devolves upon the House of Commons—it has, nevertheless, been found necessary to adopt a system of this kind. But that there should exist in Europe countries such as Hungary, and Norway and Sweden, and Colonies where the work is light and easy, and it has not been found necessary to adopt such a system, appears to me to prove nothing at all when the question under discussion is—"How is the Business to be transacted of a Parliament that is so overburdened as ours?" Sir, the right hon. Gentleman also referred to what he called the "paramount importance" which is attached to this proposal by the Government. I will state by-and-bye why we do indeed attach paramount importance to the proposal; and I will state why, in my opinion, the principle of that proposal adds to that importance. In my opinion, the actual effect of the proposal, as now before the House, has been immensely exaggerated on both sides of the House, and the alarm which has been evinced in regard to it has been immensely exaggerated by the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite. What, Sir, is this proposal? After all, it is only a certain modification of the existing Rules and restrictions which we have in regard to the conduct of debates. I suppose it will be admitted that every Assembly must have Rules to regulate the conduct of its debates. We have certain Rules now, although, in my opinion, they are extremely inadequate. Perfect freedom of discussion does not exist now. A Member cannot speak when he thinks fit, unless he be called upon by Mr. Speaker. He cannot speak more than 1322 once in the same debate in the House. He must speak to the question before the House, and he is not permitted to speak on what he may consider something infinitely more important—some other question which is not before the House. These are all restrictions of debate which have existed, and which exist, which are not complained of, and which are not felt, because the House is accustomed to them, and because the general sense of the House perceives that, without restrictions such as these, anything in the shape of orderly debate would be an impossibility. My right hon. Friend showed the other day, when he moved this Resolution, that the liberties of debate have, within recent times, been already greatly restricted. For some years after the passage of the great Reform Act, it was possible to raise no less than four questions upon the presentation of a Petition, and debate them all. Now, these four opportunities of debate on the presentations of Petitions have been absolutely suppressed; and, Sir, considering how much alarm and how much excitement is caused by the proposals which are now before us, I can very well imagine with what an amount of real or simulated indignation the proposal would now be received by some hon. Members if that power were still in existence, and it was proposed to abrogate the possibility of debating on the presentation of a Petition. Why, Sir, it would be said—and it might be said with justice—that that was a far greater innovation than the one which is now proposed, because it was an interference not only with the privileges of Members of the House, but also an interference with the privileges of their constituents, those whom. they represent; it was an interference with the effectiveness of the rights then possessed by the constituents. Since that time the presentation of a Petition has ceased to be the effectual mode of calling the attention of Parliament to a question which it once was, and now it really is only a mode of supporting certain proposals which may be before the House. Well, Sir, other changes have been made. The number of opportunities for the discussion of Bills by hon. Members has been considerably reduced. Formerly it was within the power of Members to discuss every question as it was put from the Chair, 1323 that the Order of the Day be read. Those opportunities have been taken away. It is undoubted, therefore, that this House has the right, and has used the right, to make Rules for the order of debate, and to restrict the opportunities of debate when necessary to do so; and the question which the House has before it is, whether the existing limitations of debate are sufficient for the due conduct of Business? Now, Sir, that question—Are the limitations of debate adequate?—admits of but one answer. Very few of the propositions which are brought forward in this House are capable of anything like a mathematical demonstration; but I believe the answer to this question approaches nearly to being-capable of a convincing mathematical demonstration. I will not, however, attempt on this occasion to enter into any such demonstration. I will only endeavour to indicate two or three of what I consider to be the points which would appear, and have to be worked out in such a demonstration. In the first place, I suppose it will not be denied that the time at the disposal of the House is a limited quantity. The health and strength of Members are now sufficiently taxed, and I do not suppose there are any Members who would be disposed to contend that the duration of the Session could be greatly protracted, certainly none to contend that the hours of sitting by the House could be at all prolonged. Well, Sir, what is the work to be done within the limited amount of time? There is an amount of work to be done, a part of which is obligatory, and a part of which, if not absolutely obligatory, is, at all events, needful and necessary. In the obligatory portion of the work of Parliament is included the consideration and discussion of the financial proposals of the Government, and of other proposals—not financial—which are made by the Government, and the discussion of the Army, Navy, and Civil Service Estimates of the year. That is work which must be performed by the House. Then there is work that is equally obligatory—namely, the discussion of the policy of the Government—its foreign policy, its Colonial policy, its Indian policy, its domestic policy. For discussion of all those, when questions are raised, opportunities must be found. The first duty of Parliament—or, at any rate, one of the first duties of Parliament—is to call in question, when 1324 it thinks it fitting to do so, the policy and conduct of the Government. Sir, there then remains legislation. There is legislation which may be roughly divided into two categories. First, there are proposals for administrative and legal reforms, as to which there are no sharp differences of opinion—proposals, for instance, for the reform of criminal procedure; for the prevention of corrupt practices at elections; measures relating to education; measures relating to the sanitary condition of the people; and hundreds of other subjects which I need not now enumerate. And then, Sir, there will also be, from time to time, different measures of a political character, which each of the great Parties in the State think it necessary to bring forward. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has devoted some attention to a speech which I made in the country during the Recess, and has attacked me for advocating this measure for the purpose of carrying a Party programme. Well, Sir, I do not scruple to say that measures of this political character are, from time to time, as essential for the consideration of Parliament, and for adoption, after discussion, by Parliament, as measures which do not possess a Party character at all. I do not believe that the political life of the country, the freedom of this country, and I do not believe that its security and welfare can be maintained unless it is in the power, from time to time, of each of the great Parties of the State to bring forward measures for great legislative changes. I do not hesitate to say that there are at the present time in contemplation measures which have long been under the consideration of the country, and in which I believe the country is deeply interested, which are impossible and incapable of being carried into law unless some change in reforming our procedure is made. And I believe that the majority of the country are in favour of those measures; and I believe also that the majority of this House is in favour of them. I do not wish them to be carried without full discussion; but what I say is that I wish, if they are proposed, and if they are discussed, that they should be decided upon their own merits, upon the opinion of the country, and in accordance with the opinion of the House; that they should not be defeated merely by the want of the necessary time to discuss 1325 them, and by the privileges which our present system gives, not for defeating them by argument, but for defeating them by Obstruction. But, Sir, however conversant the Members of this House may be with the difficulties under which we labour in the transaction of our Business, it is perfectly easy to understand that the country, which does not participate continually in our discussions, is but imperfectly acquainted with the obstacles with which we have to contend. The question of the reform of our procedure is not one which is likely to excite very warm interest in the country, therefore, unless it can be connected with measures in which the country does take an interest; and I am not in the slightest degree ashamed—and I do not retire in one single respect from what I said to my constituents—that this question of procedure was one which interests them. If the people of this country are still as interested as they were two years ago in the carrying of certain measures of political reform, the only mode in which they can arrive at that end is by assisting the Government, and the majority in this House, to reform its mode of procedure. Then, to complete the summary of the work of the House, I have only to refer further to legislation conducted by independent Members, some of which is frequently of a very valuable character; and, finally, the discussion of what may be called abstract questions, which are brought forward from time to time by independent Members, and which have often done very good service in preparing the way for a decision on questions which are not yet ripe for legislation. Well, Sir, I think it is perfectly clear that it is impossible, under any system, that the whole of the work which now devolves upon the House of Commons can be got through in any one Session, and what is still more absolutely clear is that no approach can be made to the performance of this work, with anything like care and deliberation, and even decency, unless our proceedings are conducted with some order, with some method, and upon some principle, and until the amount of time employed in discussion will bear some relation to the importance of the matter under discussion. Now, Sir, I venture to say that at present there is scarcely an approach even to an attempt to exercise any such discrimination as to the apportionment of 1326 our time. To that assertion there is only one qualification or exception. It is true the House does give to the Government—presumably acting with the support of the majority of the House, and able to act upon some more settled scheme than individual Members—the nominal arrangement of the Business for three nights in the week. I say it nominally gives this power to the Government. It is nominal only, because, as the House is aware, on Fridays, though the Order for Supply is the first to be set down, as any Amendments may be moved to Supply, Friday is, practically, an independent Members' day. The other two days are partially given to the Government. Even as to these, qualifications exist. If it be Supply which the Government considers it necessary the House should devote itself to, then, upon the question that the Speaker leave the Chair, Amendments may be moved, and every conceivable question may be raised, and the Supply might be converted, as two nights were converted last week, practically, to the Business of private Members. But suppose Supply is not the first Order of the Day. Suppose the Government ask the House to undertake the consideration of a certain measure or measures, then, no doubt, they have this power. They have power of deciding for the House what shall be the measures you shall first take up on the particular day. But when once the Order is read from the Chair, and once the debate begun, then all control either on the part of the Speaker, on the part of the Government, on the part of the House, on the part of a majority in the House, or any Member or portion of the House, vanishes, and the debate must go on as long as any Member chooses it shall go on, however long the subject may have been previously debated, however simple it may be, however clearly expressed may be the wish of the country upon the subject, however pronounced may be the opinion of the House, or however many former opportunities may have been given for the consideration of the question. The House parts absolutely with the control of its own time and places it at the disposal of any Member who chooses, for whatever purpose, to appropriate it to himself. I have said, Sir, that I think the importance of the actual operation of this rule 1327 has been very considerably exaggerated; but I also say, and I repeat, that I do not think it is possible to exaggerate the importance of the principle it contains. The principle which it contains is, in my opinion, this—it is an assertion that the time of the House belongs, not to every individual Member of the House, but to the House itself. It is an assertion of the principle that the privilege of speech is a privilege which the House permits to be exercised for its own instruction, for its own information, in order to form its own opinion, and that it is not a personal privilege to be used irrespective of the convenience and the efficiency of the House. The statement that the privilege of speech is not a personal right attaching to the position of a Member of Parliament may be an assertion that will startle some hon. Members; but I think a very little consideration will show it to be a true assertion, and I should like very much to see the contrary of that assertion formulated and defended. If it is true that the privilege of speech is a personal privilege, it belongs, I presume, equally to every Member of the House. Every Member of the House has a right to make use of it to an equal degree when he pleases, and if every Member of the House were to make but a very sparing use of that privilege, the question would very soon be brought to a redactio ad absurdum. Well, if the right can only be exercised by the few, and by the forbearance of the vast majority of the House, I should like to know on what ground it can be contended that such a right as this is a personal right at all? There is, it seems to me, an immense deal of confusion in the use of some terms, of which a great deal is heard in this debate. We hear a great deal about putting an end to freedom of speech and liberty of discussion. Now, freedom of speech and liberty of discussion exist, not only in this House, but they exist in this country to the fullest extent. Any man may speak what, where, and when he pleases, provided that he speaks within the limits of the law, and that he does not by his speech incite to any breach of the law. But, Sir, except in this House, liberty of speech does not extend to providing a man with an audience. He must find his own audience. He may say what he likes; but no one is bound to listen to 1328 him, except in this House, where those whose duty it is to attend are obliged to listen to everything, whenever a Member may please to talk, whether they desire to hear him or whether they do not. The privilege which is claimed is not the privilege of free speech. It is not the privilege of saying what he wishes to say and what others wish to hear; but it is something more than that. What is claimed is the privilege of appropriating an appreciable portion of the time—the precious and valuable time—of the House, for which, possibly, the House has very much better employment. The principle which, in my opinion, is contained in this Resolution is one of which I do not think it is possible to exaggerate the importance—the principle that the time of the House should belong to the House itself, and that the privilege of speech is one to be used for the convenience and for the advantage of the House, and not for the personal convenience or the personal advancement of the speakers. It is said that this Rule, if carried, may be abused. I admit that any rule may be abused. The possibility of its abuse, however, can only be proved by the assumption of cases of the most extreme kind; and by the assumption of extreme cases you may prove the possibility of the abuse of any condition of things that you can conceive. I do not deny that if you assume a partizan Speaker and an absolutely intolerant majority, it may lead to the undue suppression of debate in this House. ["Hear, hear!"] Well, I say that that is a supposition which is not impossible, but which, at all events, is utterly improbable. ["No, no!"] Allow me to say why I think it improbable. Some hon. Members seem to think that this is the only place in this country where discussion can take place. They forget the Press, and they forget the right of public meeting. Do you suppose for a moment that public opinion in this country is only formed by debate and discussion in this House? Do you suppose a great many questions are not much more fully, more completely, and, I venture to say, more ably discussed outside this House than in it, and that many subjects are fully debated and discussed in the country before they are ever mentioned at all in this House. Well, what will be the effect of any abuse of this Rule in a majority for the 1329 suppression of discussion in the House? Why, instantly the discussion which was forbidden in this House would take place in the country; and is it possible to conceive a more telling, a more damaging argument which could be used against any majority than to enable the minority to go to the country and say—"Our mouths have been tryannically closed by the House of Commons; we appeal to you, the country, to hear us, and let us state our opinion. Why, Sir, no majority, however powerful, could long resist the damaging effect which would be caused by an appeal to the public spirit of the country under such circumstances. Therefore, I think I am justified in saying that an undue suppression of debate, or of the freedom of speech, in this House is so utterly improbable a contingency that it is not one which need be taken into consideration at all. But I say, further, that if we are to go on arguing, not on what is probable, but what is possible, and if we are to assume the most extreme cases, then I maintain, without fear of contradiction, that for every suggestion that can be made of the possibility of abuse of these proposed Rules, it is easy, in fact it is easier, to prove the possibility of the abuse of the system which now exists. That is perfectly evident, considering the number of questions which are submitted to the House, and the number that can be raised. I have already said that if only a very small proportion of the Members of the House were to use, even to a limited extent, the privilege of perfect freedom of speech, it would be easy for a very inconsiderable minority to bring our present procedure to an absolute deadlock in a very short space of time. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Stanhope), on the last night of this debate, referred to the opinions of De Tocqueville and others on the subject of the tyranny of majorities. I only ask those who are frightened by this phrase, "the tyranny of the majority," to ask themselves, at the same time, the question, whether it is not possible also to have the tyranny of a minority? I do not think that in this country we know much about a tyranny of majorities; but I do think in this House we do know already something of the tyranny of minorities, and all I ask from any Member of this House, who is disposed to give this proposal an 1330 impartial consideration, is that when an extreme possibility is suggested by which this Rule might be abused, he will put to himself the corresponding possibility of abuse under the existing system. Now, I should like to say a word or two on the question which we know by a great authority is the one question which we have before us—that is, whether this Rule is to be set in operation at the will of a simple majority, or a majority differently constituted? Now, it would be very convenient if, before the debate proceeds further, it could be clearly understood whether the Amendment which we are now discussing is really intended to raise the question of the clôture in any form at all, or whether it is intended to raise the question of clôture by a simple majority? If the latter is intended, it certainly does not accomplish the object in view, because the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) is one which, if carried, would defeat the proposition altogether. The Amendment says—No Rules of Procedure will be satisfactory to this House which confers the power of closing a Debate upon a majority of Members.That is to say, upon any majority. The hon. and learned Member does not confine his objection to a simple majority; but his objection would extend to a majority of three-fourths or four-fifths, or any majority. I am not complaining of this. Possibly the Amendment perfectly expresses the opinion of the hon. and learned Member himself; for, as far as I understood, his speech was directed, not against the principle of clôture by a bare majority, but against the principle of clôture in any shape or form.
§ MR. MARRIOTT
The Amendment I first proposed had the word "bare" in it; but I was told the word "bare" was not a Parliamentary word, and that the word majority meant a majority of 1, and this view was, I thought, confirmed by the Clerk at the Table. Therefore the Amendment was proposed as it stands. ["Hear, hear!"]
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Well, Sir, I am very glad to hear those words. I interpret those cheers to mean that hon. Members are not opposed to the proposal altogether, but only to the proposal of a bare majority. I do not know whether "bare" is a Parlia- 1331 mentary word or not. I am extremely sorry the word is eliminated, because I think it would have made the proposal much clearer than it is. At all events, if "bare" is not a Parliamentary term, I should think "simple" is, and that that would better express the meaning of the hon. and learned Member; but if his Amendment was intended to meet the point of a bare majority, it would be rather unfortunate, for the whole of his speech was directed against the proposal in any shape or under any limitation, and so was the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. There is no doubt about the opinion of the Leader of the Opposition on this point, because he has given Notice of his intention, whatever modification may be introduced into this Rule, to move its rejection; and were one to understand, therefore, the position of the right hon. Gentleman, and those, I suppose, who sit near him, as one of absolute opposition in any shape or form, or with any limitation whatever, to the assumption by any majority of the House of the power of closing a debate, I think that it would probably be most convenient that we should discuss that question first, and that the debate should be, as far as possible, confined to the question whether we are to have the clôture in any shape or form or not, and that we should wait till the question is more completely raised whether any modification as to the composition or proportion of the majority is to be introduced. I will, therefore, only say one or two words upon this point. But, as I have already observed, we have been told that this is the only question we have discussed. I should like to make one observation upon that. I must say that I have the strongest opinion upon this subject, and I will endeavour, in one or two words, to give my reason. In the first place, I maintain that it is for those who contend that a majority for this purpose should be composed in an unusual and exceptional manner—it is upon them that the burden of proof rests. Every other question submitted to the House is decided by a bare majority, and it is for those who contend that for this special purpose the power of the House is to be exercised by a majority differently composed to say why such a reason should be given. It is true that last year, in a condition of 1332 Urgency, a majority of 3 to 1 was required; but that has been universally admitted to have been an exceptional condition of things, and not to be a precedent upon which the House could safely rest. Then, I say, further, that it is unnecessary to provide a majority composed in other than the ordinary way—I say it is unnecessary, because if there is a possibility of an abuse of this power, I maintain that it is much more likely to be applied to small minorities than large minorities. A large minority has always ample power to protect itself. There are so many opportunities for raising discussion and debate in this House—so many opportunities of moving Amendments, and the power would have to be so constantly employed in the face of large unwilling minorities—that I do not think it is possible to conceive that a majority could close the mouth of a minority but little inferior to itself. Then a large minority is largely representative of the country, and all those opportunities for discussion out-of-doors, to which I have already referred, are and must be always open to a large minority; and it is impossible to conceive anything more suicidal than would be the conduct of a bare majority in exercising its powers under this Rule to close the mouths of a very considerable minority. It is true that it is possible, in the case of a small minority, that the Rule may be more open to abuse; and I do not deny that it is possible that in its operation there may be some cases in which some reform may be postponed, or some abuse may be suffered to continue longer than it otherwise would, in consequence of the operation of this Rule. But for such minorities no proposal as to the composition of the majority which has ever been made would avail. The protection for the small minority we conceive to be in the initiatory power proposed to be given to the Speaker. It is mainly in their interest that power is to be placed in his hands. At all events, no artificial composition of a majority—three-fourths or four-fifths, whatever it may be—will be competent to protect the interests of a small minority. My further objection is that such a plan would be altogether inconsistent with the Constitutional practice of the country. When once this power is to be brought into existence, it is a power which must be used or re- 1333 fused with responsibility, like any other power; and if that power is to be used only by a majority composed in some exceptional way, I maintain that there would be no one who would be responsible for its use or its refusal. Supposing that it is the opinion of the Government that some measure should be adopted without delay, and supposing that a proposal for closing the debate is not adopted by the requisite number, who will be responsible for the consequences of the delay? The Government and the majority will not be responsible for it, because they would have done all that is in their power. The minority who have refused the power cannot be made responsible, because they are not in a position to undertake it. Let me give just one instance. Take the Vote of £6,000,000 which was proposed by the late Government to Parliament. That was a measure which, in their opinion, the House should decide upon without delay; and suppose a protracted debate should have arisen upon it, and that we were not of opinion that the measure was necessary, and supposing the Government had made a proposal to close the debate, and had not been able to obtain the requisite majority—who would have been responsible for the consequences which might have ensued from the delay which might have taken place? The majority could not be held responsible. They had done all that it was in their power to do, and we were at that time certainly not in a position to undertake the responsibility. Take, again, a case that occurred last week, when the Government said that, unless certain Votes were passed within the week, the law could not be fulfilled. Supposing Obstruction had taken place, that these Votes had been refused, and if the provisions of the law had not been fulfilled, upon whom would the responsibility for such failure have rested? It could not have rested with us, who had done all that was in our power to obsorve the law. [Mr. WARTON: No, no!] I have no doubt the hon. and learned Member for Bridport will address the House upon this subject before long; therefore, perhaps he will allow me to finish my observations. I know the hon. and learned Member thinks the delay was caused by mismanagement of Business; but that is not the question. The ques- 1334 tion is, who would have been responsible if the provisions of the law had not been complied with? We had to deal with the situation in which the House found itself last week; and if the House had refused to grant the Votes we asked for, who would have been responsible? I think a more invidious power, placed in the hands of the Leader of the Opposition, than that proposed cannot well be conceived. It is the placing in his hands of an arbitrary power—I say arbitrary power, because it is a power which must be exercised without the controlling sense of responsibility for its exercise. I have no hesitation in saying, with what small experience I have been able to obtain as Leader of the Opposition, that it is a power which I should most reluctantly see placed in my hands. I would much rather the majority of the House boldly took the power in its own hands, and be responsible for the exercise of the power, as it is responsible for every other action it takes. I will only now ask, if the Opposition are going to vote against this Resolution, and if the House is not going to grant this power, what is it that they propose in its place? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the appeal which the Speaker made to the House in the exercise of an act of authority last Session. The right hon. Gentleman told the House that, having acted, that act of his could not be one which could be indefinitely repeated, and the House must now take the matter in its own hands. What is the answer that the Opposition proposes to make to the appeal from the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair? I gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes) that he considers that some improvement, some alteration in the Rules with regard to suspension, would be adequate. I say I am of opinion that that Rule, admirable as it is, necessary as it is, entirely fails to meet the point with which we have to deal. That is a necessary Rule relating to the discipline of the House, not to its procedure. It fails to meet what, in my opinion, are the cardinal points to which I have already referred. It fails to meet the point of the relation between the length of the debate and the importance of the subject debated, and it fails to provide an assertion of the principle upon which 1335 I have already dwelt, that the time of the House is a property in the hands of the House itself. The Suspension Rule is a penal proceeding, most necessary, unfortunately, in the present state of the House, sometimes to be used with a most salutary effect; but it is not applicable in many cases in which the exercise of this power would be required. I do not know why an hon. Member should be punished by a penal proceeding for the exercise of a right which the House admits is vested in him, and he may be only exercising in a way which may not be agreeable to the prevailing sense of the House. I do not think, for instance, that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mac Iver) ought to be punished by suspension because he considers it necessary to discuss upon all occasions the operation of the French Treaty and the question of Fair Trade. I do not want to suspend the hon. Member, or deprive his constituents of his services; but, at the same time, I do not want to be bound hand and foot at his mercy to listen to his disquisitions on the subject of Fair Trade, whenever he likes to deliver them. It is a proceeding in the nature of an alteration of our procedure, and not a penal measure, which is required in his case. Again, the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) would sometimes consider there is no question so worthy of the consideration of the House as the position of Russia in Central Asia, and I have known that question interposed to the exclusion of very important and pressing Business. Yet I do not wish to see the hon. Member for Eye suspended. I only wish the House to have the power to say when the position of Russia in Central Asia has been sufficiently debated. Hon. Members from Ireland, again, are still more legitimately employed, when they consider it necessary—as I think they will admit—in season and out of season, and bring forward grievances of some of their contituents or of their countrymen. I admit it is natural and perfectly legitimate that they should consider these are questions which ought to have precedence over every other that the House can possibly entertain. I do not, however, think that hon. Members ought to be suspended because they desire that the House should debate nothing but Irish grievances. At the same time, it is 1336 absolutely necessary for the good management and the efficiency of the proceedings of the House that other subjects should from time to time be discussed; and the Rules now proposed would enable the House sometimes to escape from the discussion of Irish grievances. The hon. and learned Member for Bridport interrupted me just now. He may have an opportunity some day of calling the attention of the House to the question of patent medicines. And I do not wish to invoke the authority of the Chair to suspend him if he trespasses at unnecessary length on that important question; but still I do think that perhaps a whole night would be devoted more profitably to other matters than the discussion of the question of patent medicines; and I think, as to the hon. Member for Dungarvan(Mr. O'Donnell), whose researches and knowledge appear to extend equally to every question, that the House may sometimes be enabled to bring a debate to a conclusion without having the advantage of the hon. Member's opinion upon it. But I should like to accomplish that object without having the hon. Member named from the Chair; and I think, under the operation of this Rule, it may be found, in some exceptional and rare intervals, that a debate could be brought to a conclusion before the hon. Member for Dungarvan speaks. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston says, with perfect justice, that this matter should have been taken up by the House, and not by the Government. Sir, it is a matter for the House, and not for any Party in the House. Why was this course found to be impossible? Twenty Committees have sat and inquired into this question, without any adequate result—almost without any result at all—and the labour of 20 Committees, thrown away and wasted, proves that there does not exist in the House itself that initiatory force which is necessary for carrying the requisite reform. It is not easy to see where that necessary force can arise, except in the Government, who may presumably be supposed to possess the confidence, at all events, of a majority of the House, and who have the means of directing the deliberations of the House, and of formulating and placing before the House more definite proposals than could be laid before it in any other circumstances. The House had a right, failing these 1337 repeated attempts to which I have referred, to expect of the responsible Advisers of the Crown that they should present to the House their proposals for remedying evils which are of undoubted existence; and when the responsible Ministers of the Crown have made their proposals, it has also the right to expect of them that they will use every means in their power to carry these proposals through to a successful issue. We would willingly, if we could, persuade the House by argument of the expediency of our proposals. We do not desire to thrust them on an unwilling minority; but it is impossible that on any considerable changes, such as these which are proposed, there should be unanimity, or anything approaching unanimity; and if the Government is in earnest upon this question, it is absolutely necessary that the Government should use those means for carrying the proposals into execution—the same means which it uses in regard to any other proposal which it has to make. The Government was bound to appeal to the confidence of its supporters, and to state clearly to the House and to the country that in these proposals its existence is inevitably bound up. I have admitted it is in the main and chiefly a question of the dignity, efficiency, and decency of the proceedings of the House itself. It is a question in which, undoubtedly, the House itself is first and primarily interested; but I will not deny—I willingly admit—it is also one in which the Government have an interest which they are not ashamed to avow. The Government are responsible to the House and to the country for the conduct of Business. They come before you to tell you that under the existing Rules of Procedure in this House they cannot undertake responsibility. If they cannot conduct the Business of the country, they are not fit to remain in Office. They have laid before you proposals which, in their opinion, will enable them, and other Governments after them, to conduct with dignity and efficiency the Business of the country, and by these proposals they are prepared to stand. If there are others who think they can, without these changes, conduct the necessary affairs of the country, and if they can persuade the House of their capability to do so, we shall cheerfully resign our functions; but, Sir, so long 1338 as we are responsible for the conduct of the necessary Business of the country, we must appeal to the House to give us those powers by which alone, as we think, our work can be effectually performed.
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
Sir, with reference to the statement of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India, that the Government intend to stand or fall by their proposals, it is somewhat anomalous that a Liberal Ministry should make a Cabinet question out of what is, in plain English, nothing more than a scheme for tampering with freedom of speech in the House of Commons. It is of no use veiling it in fine language, or attempting to throw dust in the eyes of the public any longer. I can only find an explanation for it in the fact that Her Majesty's Government, conscious of their own weakness, and aware that, owing to the amount of opposition evoked on one side and the half-hearted support they receive on the other, cannot, as they wish, pass 30 measures a Session, and that they therefore desire to introduce a measure which, by silencing a large body of the Members of this House and preventing discussion, will give them the power they at present lack. The noble Marquess, believing that it is a matter for the consideration of the whole House, argues that the consideration of the question ought not to be remitted to any more Select Committees. The noble Marquess reminded the House that, although 20 Committees had considered this question, they had not been able to come to any conclusion. Is not that a powerful argument that the proposition itself is not worthy of adoption? From the tone of the noble Marquess's speech, one would almost imagine that the Parliamentary life of this country was only beginning, and that he was inaugurating it. Surely the House of Commons has existed for many centuries, has gone on with a tolerable amount of success, and reached the position of the first Representative Assembly of the world, without this obnoxious gagging Rule. It is now left to a Liberal Government, with the largest majority any Government ever had, to propose a system by which, by a bare majority, the clôture can be forced upon the House. That is clearly a proposition which I cannot support, and which we, and those who agree with us, must combat by 1339 every means in our power. Reforms in the Procedure of the House may be necessary, but not the clôture, or, at any rate, not the clôture by a bare majority. If such a Resolution as that proposed by the Prime Minister passes, then it ought only to be put in force by such a majority of the House as will insure that that majority is composed of Members of both sides of the House; but the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman will enable any Minister—Liberal or Conservative—with the greatest facility, to impose silence on his antagonists, the Opposition, at any given moment of the debate. It is to be remembered, too, that an English Opposition is an integral part of the Parliamentary machine, if not of the Constitution itself. It is, as Sheridan has said, "Her Majesty's Opposition." whereas in foreign countries it is different, and the Rules applicable to their Legislative Assemblies cannot apply in our case. In those countries where the clôture obtains the Opposition is nothing more than a body of recognized, but totally irresponsible critics—a body, not homogeneous or united, but often split up by internal divisions into several inconsiderable sections. The Government of England is unique in this respect—it is essentially a Government by Party; and the adoption of the clôture, by annihilating Party, will destroy the true principle of Parliamentary government. Party may be said to be the embodiment of public opinion. Discussion in this House is, after all, the distillation, if I may use the expression, of the public opinion of the constituencies who send us here; and if discussion is to be burked in this House, I fail to see how Party can remain what it now really is—the embodiment of public opinion. In foreign countries, where the rights of the Opposition are least recognized, free government exists only in name. A debate in the House of Commons is a species of competitive examination, at which the merits or demerits of measures emanating from the Government of the day, or from the Opposition, are openly tested. It is the discussion of the wish and will of the people who send Members there; and the whole principle of Parliamentary government will cease to exist if, by the action of a bare majority, a section of the House are not allowed to debate the very questions they are sent there to dis- 1340 cuss. In the countries where the clôture exists, Ministerial responsibility does not exist. The clôture exists in Austria and in Germany, and we know perfectly well that both in Austria and in Germany the independent action of Parliament is, so to speak, nil. At this very moment a Government is in power in Austria which has, for nearly three years, been governing by an absolute minority; while in Germany, the other day, Prince Bismarck defied the Chamber openly, and said he was not to be governed by the will of the Chamber. I do not wish to see such a state of things introduced here. The instant the clôture is adopted by this House, the Minister of the day becomes an autocrat—a singular consummation to be brought about by hon. Gentlemen on the Liberal Benches. Where is the adoption of these foreign principles to cease? I would remind hon. Members opposite that, in most countries where the clôture exists, there is also the institution know as the censorship of the Press. In Austria and Germany, for instance, it is the concomitant and corollary of the clôture. Does the Prime Minister propose to add the censorship of the Press to the c/ôture? ["Hear, hear!"] I maintain that there is an intimate connection between this clôture and this censorship, and even between the clôture and Governmental interference at elections as it exists on the Continent. When a great question is discussed in the Reichstag, a moment may arise when it is convenient that the question should be no longer debated. At that particular moment the clôture is voted and the debate ceases; but, at the same time, it may be inconvenient if the Press of the country, expressing more or less the views of the outside world, is enabled to give those criticisms and views which it thinks best suited to the course adopted. The censor of the Press, therefore, prevents that particular report from appearing in the newspapers of the day. Once this gagging system is adopted, once let the House of Commons be prevented from discussing all questions which come before it fairly and openly, then all security for liberty will be gone. The passing of a Resolution like this, which will impose silence on the whole House because of the obstruction of one individual Member, or of a few individual 1341 Members, cannot be tolerated, and must be condemned, and I venture to raise a very earnest protest against it. In foreign countries Ministers hold Office at the pleasure of the Crown; in this country, at the pleasure of the people. The whole of our Constitutional system is so utterly different from that of the Legislative Assemblies where the clôture exists, that it is simply astounding that a Minister can be found to stand up and say that the operation of this method is simply a change of Procedure rendered necessary by obstructive measures, and that it is not—what it really is—a deep and terrible blow to the liberties of our free Constitution. When the Prime Minister quoted the case of the clôture in Austria he did not quote it quite accurately, but spoke of it as the clôture pure and simple. In the Austrian Reichsrath, however, after the debate is technically closed, a speaker is chosen by each side, who has a right to address the House after the clôture is voted. I should be sorry, however, to advocate the system even with that modification, and it is only to put the subject fairly before the House that I mention it. It is, I confess, astonishing to see the agitation from all parts of the country brought to bear on the House in favour of the clôture. When there was Obstruction last year, while it was a question of passing a Coercion Act, many hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway on the Ministerial side showed that they sympathized with the opponents of the measure, even in their Obstruction. Now all that is changed, and those hon. Gentlemen are clamouring for the clôture and abandoning their old friends, perhaps, because they are more behind the scenes than the rest of the House, and know the intentions on the part of the Government, which the noble Marquess has so clearly foreshadowed in his speech this night. It is indeed a sorry spectacle to see the Radical Party asking the House to vote away its own liberty; and amongst the so-called reforms which the future historian will have to record none will be more remarkable than this. It is also a most anomalous thing to find a Liberal and reforming Government seeking to destroy that great and distinguishing characteristic of the House of Commons—freedom of debate. Everything can be done by force, and the Government have a very pliable majority ready 1342 to act at any notice and for any cause. Probably in this great fight on behalf of the preservation of the Constitution the Opposition will be beaten; they will be obliged, as minorities always have to do, to submit to the tyranny of the majority. Even if that is so, there is one resort left. I would remind the House that in the Austrian Reichsrath the Czechs and the Poles, who had been outvoted on a certain important question, left that Assembly in a body. What if the Opposition take that course, and simply walk out of the House? I should like to know what will be the condition of Her Majesty's Ministers, if they are compelled to pass every measure, not after a fair discussion, but with a certain prospect of hon. Members on this—the Opposition—side of the House, leaving and allowing the Government majority to do what they think best for the country, without discussion or protest? It would simply destroy every principle of Parliamentary government, and there are contingencies less improbable even than that. If the Government insist on adopting the clôture by a bare majority, they will find themselves often placed in a position in which they will be more or less stultified in the eyes of the nation. Sir Erskine May, in his work, says that on the 12th of March, 1771, the minority divided the House 23 times in resisting the punishment of the printers of the debates; and Mr. Burke said of those proceedings that posterity would bless the pertinacity of that day. Mr. Burke, certainly a statesman of no mean order, thought that those 23 divisions, so far from having injured the Procedure of Parliament, did a considerable amount of good. I most emphatically condemn the bringing up by the Government of the Obstruction which existed last year as the evidence of something new and of a peculiar condition of things, for I have shown that something worse existed in 1771; and the Ministers of that day did not propose that the House should give up the freedom of debate. It is not necessary to go into the question of how many votes are to close a debate; these are details which I will leave to others with more experience; but I address myself to the broad principle; and I maintain that nothing can be more regrettable than that a system which has worked so well for so many centuries 1343 should now, without any special reason, be altered, simply in order to give the Government of the day the power of doing that which they would not be able to do without. The majority naturally have their way in a division; but the Government wish that the voice of the majority should be heard and felt before and during debate, completely upsetting the very principle of our whole Parliamentary Procedure. In all these proceedings the Ministry have shown that they are ashamed of the foreign importation, and they have named their proposal the "closure," instead of the clôture, in the hope that, in that form, it will be less distasteful to the English people. Are we to copy the institutions of the National Assemblies of the Continent, which are still in their infancy, whilst the representative institutions of this country have been in operation for centuries? I protest against such an innovation. England had her Constitution and Parliament when France was under the despotic sway of Louis IX., and the états généraux did not exist; when Austria was barely a State, when Prussia was under the iron rule of the Teutonic Knights; and now, after the lapse of centuries, a Liberal Minister asks the House of Commons to copy the Rules of Procedure of these comparatively new Legislative Bodies, and to copy them, not for the benefit of our own, but to its detriment. I ask if we, who have boasted so long of our freedom of speech and our freedom of writing, should now consent to fetter ourselves—nay, to gag ourselves, and to deprive ourselves of those privileges which we have enjoyed for centuries, and which, under ordinary circumstances, we might have hoped to enjoy for generations to come. I cannot think it is possible we should willingly do any such thing; and, therefore, I protest strongly against the proposal of the Government.
§ MR. BORLASE
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Baron Henry de Worms) will forgive me if I do not begin by following the very valuable arguments which he has advanced. I wish to carry the House back a month, to that period of the debate when the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Cowen) told us that if any long period of time were to elapse between the periods of the debate, hon. Members would be 1344 apt in the interval to forget what had taken place on the previous occasion. There are two things which I think we shall not soon forget. The first was the most explicit speech in which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government introduced these Resolutions to the House, and the other the weird piece of invective which fell from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), whom I am sorry not to see in his place. The hon. and learned Member began his speech by apologizing for moving an Amendment, being so young a Member of the House. I do not think, Sir, he intended us to suppose that he was "in law an infant, or in years a boy." It must have been that he intended to carry us back to that day when he and I, and many hon. Members on these Benches, walked up the floor of this House together and together took the Oath, inspired as we were at that time by high hopes, some of which have been realized, some of which remain to be realized, and would have been realized before now, but for that cause which my hon. and learned Friend, by his Amendment, seeks to prevent us from removing. Did he mean to carry us back to those feelings of high respect and confidence with which we then regarded the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench, a respect which has doubled, a confidence which remains now unimpaired in the hearts of one and all of us, save in that of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton? Did he mean to force upon us the old proverb, which the oftener it is repeated in this House the truer it seems to become—Quantum mutatus ah illo Hectore? But, in the absence of the hon. and learned Member, I not unwillingly turn away from following any further the subject, or the manner of his speech. I wish to refer particularly to two aspects of this question—first, to call the attention of the House to the opinion which is being so freely circulated in this country, both by hon. Members who sit on the Benches opposite, and also by their agents—namely, that in taking these measures to limit debate we are opposing the great Liberal principle of freedom of speech; and, secondly, to dwell on the real effect of the bare majority, which is supposed to make this question so extremely difficult. Referring to that latter question, in the first 1345 place, I will suppose the most arbitrary-situation in which we could find ourselves in regard to the Rule. I will suppose, Sir, that your Successor, for it could not be yourself, were to be so mistaken in his estimate of the state of feeling in the House as to declare his opinion that it was the evident sense of the House that the debate should close, when, on a division, it should be found that in a House of 401 Members 201 were to vote with the Government, who would have moved the closure, and 200 against. Now, Sir, I contend that, if such a thing as this were to happen, in proportion to the narrowness of the majority which would be gained by the Government upon this first question, that "the Question be now put," would be the greatness of the minority in which they would find themselves when they came to deal with the second and Main Question. This, Sir, is very plain. They would have drawn together the whole, and more than the whole, of their supporters in order to gain that first majority, and they would have drawn them together under circumstances we can well recall from last Session. There would be almost certainly hon. Members waiting on those Benches opposite, longing to close the debate, ready at a moment's notice to vote with the Government when it proposed that the debate should close, yet waiting all the while to vote against the Government when the Main Question was put. Therefore, Sir, I contend, and I will say it again, that in proportion to the narrowness of the majority which the Government could gain upon the proposal that the "Question be now put," in proportion to that would be the largeness of the minority in which they would find themselves when they came to deal with the Main Question. Now, Sir, I come to the second part of my subject, the second objection, of which we hear more in the country in speeches of hon. Gentlemen than we do from speeches of hon. Gentlemen in this House—that is, that we Liberals are giving up our principle of Freedom of Speech. Sir, it is no such thing. It is perfectly true that freedom of speech is one of the most time-honoured, one of the most cherished principles of the Liberal Party. But that phrase, "Freedom of Speech," had and still has an historic meaning which this House knew 1346 well 250 years ago; and it does not mean freedom to choke ourselves by our own volubility here. It recalls to us the battle of immunity from external interference. It means that for which my countryman, Sir George Eliot, here contending, was imprisoned, and which by his death he gained for this House for ever. It means, Sir, that which you yourself, at the opening of every Parliament, demand at the Bar of "another place." But what, in Heaven's name, has that to do with the question before the House, that fallacy which is being bandied about by hon. Gentlemen opposite and their agents from one end of the country to the other? I do not accuse them of equivocation. It would not be Parliamentary to do it; but I must strongly contend that they are singularly forgetful of their English history. Sir, no one respects the right of minorities more than I do. No one, did he ever find himself displacing any hon. Member opposite in that place which, in my opinion, he so appropriately adorns, would revel in the legitimate use of the free blade of opposition more than I should myself. Sir, if questions were to be brought before this House such as were before it not long ago, of spending £25,000,000 in Central Asia, or of becoming tenants of Turkey for a Levantine island, or of annexing a new country in the centre of Africa, all I can say is, I should immediately take my seat at the feet of the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. Healy), and beg him to become my tutor in the art in which he surpasses all besides, an art in which he has become so proficient that in one Session he has made a speech and a-half for every one of his constituents—I mean the art of block. But I trust that I should feel and know that there was a time to stop and a time to be stopped—a limit beyond which it was wanting in courtesy and in deference to this House to proceed. Now, Sir, before I sit down, may I say one word as to Obstruction generally? I take it that Obstruction does not mean that Members of this House do not know how to behave themselves, as many superficial people have been saying. It means something else. It means that there is something lying beyond what we are at present doing which Members opposite mean to postpone as long as they possibly can. It is not so very difficult to see what that 1347 is. There is an agrarian question pending which must very soon indeed come to the fore. That is what they want to postpone. It is no new phenomenon. Why was it that 19 centuries ago that most ancient Tory, Cato, used the weapon of continuous speech in the Senate House of Rome? It was because Cæsar's Land Bill was in question, and that was the last resource by which he could fight it. I can carry you down through the history of many other Assembles where similar phenomena have presented themselves; and when I look at the present Obstruction, and see that certain hon. Members are so very anxious that it should not be done away with by the most drastic and thorough measures, then I cannot help putting two and two together, and concluding that it is the old story over again—the privileged classes using the self-same means to stave off that process of absorption which they feel and know is coming upon them. Depend upon it, we shall not reach agrarian reform until the means of successful Obstruction have been cleared away. I contend, Sir, that so far from being arbitrary, these Rules are eminently just and right; so far from being ill-planned, they are skilfully devised to meet their object, though, perhaps, the 1st Rule is not particularly well worded—that, so far from taking from us freedom of debate, they will give us that of which many of us have been deprived. Without giving offence to anyone, I may say that hon. Members who rise to speak in this House are divided into two classes—those who speak because they have something to Ray, and those who speak because they have to say something. It is rather to give fair play to those who have something to say, than to curtail the power of those who have to say something, that these Rules are laid before the House. I shall give them my undivided and uncompromising support; and so far do I differ from the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) in believing that he has the country at his back in wishing to prevent their passage, that I am fully convinced that this land of England is utterly weary of a state of things in which the Public Business of the country cannot be transacted at all.
said, as a member of that minority whose independence was threatened by the proposed New 1348 Rule, he desired to say a very few words on this subject. The first thought that must strike everyone with regard to this Resolution was what a determined resistance it would have met with, and what indignant protests it would have called forth from the Liberal Party, had it been proposed by any Conservative. It was asserted by hon. Members opposite that if this measure was carried it would in no way impair the influence and efficiency of the Opposition in the performance of that first duty which they owed to the country and their constituents—the duty of criticizing the policy of the Government of the day. But he believed it was an undisputed axiom that, next to a strong Government, the most important factor in the constitution of Parliament was a strong Opposition, and how could there be any Opposition worthy of the name which was liable to be silenced whenever its criticisms became inconvenient? Again, if the apprehensions of many Members on both sides should prove to be well-founded; if at no distant period they should find themselves confronted with a partizan Speaker and an imperious Minister, with—he would not say a servile—but a well-organized majority at his back, why, in that case, a majority even of 1 would convert the Minister of the day into an absolute Dictator, free to carry any measures through the House with just as little discussion and opposition as he felt inclined. The Prime Minister desired the Opposition to surrender their independence; he asserted at the same time that if they did so no unfair advantage would be taken of their helpless condition. That might or might not be; but the Opposition preferred to maintain their independence rather than place it at the mercy of a majority. He did not suppose anyone would seriously contend that the Conservative Party, at all events during the existence of the present Parliament, had ever been guilty of wilful or factious Obstruction. On the contrary, the Prime Minister had admitted their loyal cooperation with the Government. An advanced Radical paper, the London Echo, said that on a memorable occasion when a powerful Ministry with an overwhelming majority at their back introduced Rules which, if passed, would have sacrificed one-half the rights of private Members, not a single suggestion for 1349 improving these Rules or for limiting their operation came from the Liberal Benches, but the Tories came to the rescue of the Government and the House. The Tories showed themselves the stoutest and, as the result proved, the most reasonable guardians of public liberty. The Tories thus rendered good service to the country—good service that deserved to be remembered in future years. That unwilling evidence of a bitter political opponent, he thought, afforded strong proof of the advantage of a free and independent Opposition, and the great danger of the placing so powerful a weapon as clôture by a bare majority in the hands of a dominant Party. But perhaps there might be reasons why the Government had brought forward these Rules at the present time. Perhaps they were not very anxious for free and independent criticism upon their policy, and had become aware that in and outside the House their power and influence were on the wane. The Birmingham caucus, of which the President of the Board of Trade had told them he had been a director, had done all in its power to intimidate independent Liberal Members, in order that they should support these Rules; but the country was turning against the Government. If the Government succeeded in carrying these Rules they hoped to be able to stifle all opposition and carry whatever measures they choose; if they failed they would have found an easy and effectual mode of transferring their failures and difficulties to others. But at a time when failure and disaster overshadowed the Government in all their undertakings, could the country afford to dispense with the counsels and assistance of the Opposition? He could not believe that any true Liberals would turn their backs upon their own traditions by surrendering that freedom of debate in Parliament on which the liberties of the English people depended. He believed that every Member of the House, to whatever Party he belonged, who still appreciated the old-fashioned virtue of independence, would unite in opposing strenuously this un-English and tyrannical measure.
said, he hoped that, taking into consideration the importance of the question before the House, the indulgence of the House would be extended to one who under less 1350 grave circumstances would have given a silent vote. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) had laid great stress upon the fact that the Rules of the House had been unaltered for 200 years. Generally speaking there was, no doubt, some truth in that statement; but he would venture to remind the House that the mode of carrying on debates had changed more in the last 200 weeks than it had in the previous 200 years. Formerly Members of the House were governed by sentiment; we did not, however, live in a sentimental age, and did not require sentimental Rules. What was really needed was not Rules that could be stretched or strained, but Rules that could not be broken or even bent. For the last three or four Sessions of Parliament some hon. Members had spoken with unparalleled frequency and fluency, and in so doing had taken up an amount of time which, he believed, in the opinion of the majority of the House, was totally in excess of the exigencies of the case; but in so doing hon. Members were totally and thoroughly within their right. Now, with the permission of the House, he should like respectfully to ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, whose length of service in the House, and whose knowledge of the Forms of the House made their opinion highly valuable, whether, if a Member had the right to prolong discussions to a length which was considered unwarrantable by the majority of the House, the time had not arrived when every vestige, every remnant, and every shadow of such a right should be removed once and for ever? Some hon. Members appeared to view with disapprobation the application of the will of the majority in the present instance. Did hon. Members forget that majorities were the life and soul of our political existence. Every Member sitting in this House sat because the majority of his constituents elected him to do so. The Party that sat on the right of the Speaker's Chair—whichever Party that might be—sat there in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the House. The Speaker himself and his illustrious Predecessors had all filled the Chair because that distinction was conferred upon them by the majority of the House of Commons. There was not an Act of Parliament on the Statute Book the origin of which could not be traced to Parliamentary majorities. A 1351 majority of 1 could defeat a Ministry; a majority of 1 could prevent the voting of a single shilling in Supply; and last, but not least, a majority of 1 might enable at the next General Election the hon. Member for Brighton, the Liberal Member for Brighton, further to serve his Party by succeeding the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, whom he had so strongly denounced, as Member for Birmingham. And yet, when majorities were applicable to all these great ends, they were told they must not use them to set their own House in order. Then, again, they were told that there was grave objection to the clôture because it was un-English. There was nothing new or surprising in that statement. Railways on their introduction were held to be un-English. The Ballot was denounced as un-English at a time when that mode of voting was in force in every English Club in England. Cyprus was un-English, and yet hon. Gentlemen opposite did not object to its annexation on that ground. India was un-English, and so was Ireland; but no one in their senses would endeavour on that account to wrest them from the British Crown. He begged to thank the House for the indulgence that had been extended to him. He had been but comparatively a short time in the House; but during the 14 years he had had the honour of serving there he had always been led to believe, partly by a strong inward conviction, but mainly through many a bright example on either side of the House, that the first duty of a Member of the House of Commons, whether he were the Leader of the House, or whether he were, as he was, its humblest Member, was to be zealous in maintaining the honour and dignity of Parliament; and, recognizing the paramount importance of that duty, he should support the First Lord of the Treasury with his vote, believing that the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman would restore full dignity to their debates.
§ SIR JOHN KENNAWAY
said, he believed that there was a prevalent opinion in favour of a revision of their Rules of Procedure. Some speakers had attempted to show that the Conservative Party did not entertain that opinion; but their efforts had resulted in complete failure. How was it, he asked, that England had become what she was? When 1352 successive waves of revolution had passed over the rest of Europe, how was it that we had maintained peace and prosperity in our country? Should not the reason be sought in the fact that there had always existed a confidence in the honesty of the House of Commons and in its ability to deal with the innumerable requirements of the nation? Of late, however, the House had been losing its prestige, an impatient country having begun to lose faith in it. This was a matter in which Conservatives and Liberals were interested alike. His Party would proably, at some future time, occupy the position of the Party opposite, and be anxious to initiate legislation of a practical and useful order. Surely when that time should come they ought to be able to give effect to their legislative desires. The view of the case which he had endeavoured to present to the House being almost universally accepted, the Government now came forward with certain proposals. He held that their first step should have been to place upon the Table of the House Resolutions which practically would have been received with unanimity. If the Government had been content to put the other Rules forward first, they would have met with general approval, and reforms would have been inaugurated in a way that would have redounded to the credit of the Ministry. But so small and unambitious a scheme hardly comported with the tone which they assumed. Revolution, and not reform, had been the motto of the Prime Minister. He had placed the clôture in the front rank; and they were told by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington)—at least, so he had understood it—that the Government would stand or fall by that Resolution. They were referred to other countries for examples of the clôture. He read last week of the clôture being applied twice in a single sitting on the vital question of religious instruction. That was the sort of treatment they might expect under similar circumstances. He did not, however, consider the cloture, under all circumstances and all limitations, a measure to be resisted altogether; but on that point he wished to reserve his decision for the present. The great point they had to see to was the preservation of the right of free speech and the rights of minorities; and he maintained that for the Government to get together 200 1353 Members, and to use them for putting a stop to discussion was not to stop Obstruction, but to stifle fair and legitimate discussion. They were told that bare majorities decided great questions in that House, and that bare majorities decided questions at the polling booths. He maintained these were not at all analogous cases to the question of dealing with free speech. Questions decided in that House were questions relating to large Imperial or domestic concerns, with regard to which there had been free discussion. So again at the polling booth. It was a wholly different thing from putting the clôture in force against free speech. The Prime Minister gave various instances in support of the clôture. He said coercion took 29 days, and he thought 20 would have been enough. He said the Land Act took 58 days, and, in his opinion, that was twice too long. In his (Sir John Kennaway's) opinion, considering the principles involved, twice 58 days would not have been too much to discuss the Land Act. But the right hon. Gentleman failed to show that clôture was the only way of meeting the Obstruction to which he referred. He omitted the personal dealing with the individual Obstructive. The remainder of the New Rules would have affected the Obstruction and reduced the subjects within reasonable limits. Clôture was in force in America, and what had they witnessed about Congress during the last few weeks? They read in The Times of last Saturday that the House had been sitting for three weeks, and there was nothing whatever to show for it, and no prospect of any change. The fact was, free discussion was of the very essence of Parliamentary life. It had its disadvantages. It was not favourable to rapid legislation. But its disadvantages were compensated a thousand times over by the outlet it gave to discontent, which, if smothered, might lead to mischief. Under the clôture the honourable understanding which had prevailed between men of different opinions and different Parties in that House would be put an end to, and a feeling of suspicion and distrust would take its place. At present the conferences between the Speaker and the Members of the Government caused no comment or suspicion; but under the New Rule those conferences would be no longer possible. Every 1354 movement of the Prime Minister towards the Chair would be a movement of sinister importance. Every whisper would be supposed to be a suggestion that the Speaker should declare the evident sense of the House. He hoped it was not too late for the Government to look at this question from a somewhat broader basis, and realize that it was too wide a question to be dealt with on strict Party lines. The Prime Minister might be able, through pressure inside the House and by pressure from without—from those organizations of which they had heard so much—to carry this Rule; but the victory would be bought too dearly, if it was to be said of him, after his lifelong services to the State and the exercise of his great talents, that he degraded the character and destroyed the liberties of the British House of Commons.
§ MR. SHIELD
said, he was grateful to the hon. Baronet the Member for East Devon (Sir John Kennaway) for one thing—he had not introduced the caucus into his argument. All the other hon. Gentlemen opposite had suggested that they were going to vote for the Resolution, not because they liked it, but because they were afraid of the caucus. He had a considerable diffidence in speaking of himself personally; but, without claiming in any way to be considered a rara avis, he assured the House that his vote would be given wholly free from the influence either of Birmingham or of his own constituency. The Amendment before the House declared that no Rules would be satisfactory which placed it in the power of a bare majority to close a debate. But he thought that the Amendment, as well as the arguments founded upon it, ignored the most important part of the Resolution itself—that which referred to the action of the Speaker. It was a vice under which all their adverse criticism laboured that they paid no regard to the Speaker's initiative, whereas he ventured to regard it as ninety-nine-hundredths of the whole thing. The real effective agency would come from the Chair. It might be undesirable to place such extensive authority in the hands of the Chair, but Gentlemen opposite were content to swallow the camel of the Speaker's initiative while they strained at the gnat of the majority. Then, too, they were told that Speakers and Chairmen would be- 1355 come deteriorated by the operation of that clause. All the evils to which the imaginations of hon. Members gave rise were based upon violent assumptions. There was the assumption of the despotic Minister whom the House had never seen. But the most violent assumption of all was that of the Successor to the present Speaker, who should so forget the inheritance of great traditions he had received as to sink to the degradation of becoming a confederate with a Minister in such a scheme against the State and enable him to work out his nefarious designs. He was convinced that the youngest man in the House would never live to see the day when that would happen. But the Rule directed "that the Speaker may, at his absolute discretion," close the debate after observing the evident sense of the House. Before that power could be abused the House must imagine a Speaker devoid not only of impartiality, but also of ordinary sagacity. Would not his judgment be arrived at under keen and practised eyes ready to detect any deviation from his duty? Whenever, in the exercise of that duty, a Speaker did declare the evident sense of the House to be that the debate should be closed, he ventured to say it would always be found that at least a two-thirds majority desired it, and therefore no danger could arise from the absence of that particular stipulation. There was, morever, one weighty argument which had never been met. If a bare majority sufficed to turn out a Ministry or to pass a Reform Bill, why should it not suffice also to ratify a foregone conclusion? What hon. Members were really opposing was something which was not to be found within the four corners of that Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the debate that evening talked about the noble Marquess at Nelson having let the cat out of the bag. That was a figure of speech he intended himself to have adopted. He intended to have said that hon. Members of the Conservative Party had let the cat out of the bag by showing that in opposing the Resolution they were resisting legislation. He was not saying anything which had not been abundantly avowed. It might be traced in all their speeches; and if the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), the cause of whose absence they all regretted, were in his 1356 place, he could call attention to a speech of his made a considerable time ago, when the noble Lord let the cat out of the bag. Now, he thoroughly misconceived the people of England if they would regard it as a blot upon the Government Resolutions that they were designed, intended, and competent to revive, he might say to re-create, the legislative efficiency of the House.
§ MR. WARTON
said, that it was easy for a Minister to throw down the gaunt-lot, as the Prime Minister had done; but it was hardly fair to make this a question upon which the Government would stand or fall. He should have thought that the Government would have put the matter on a different footing, and have connected it with their Irish or foreign policy. But they were threatened by an imperious Minister, who showed a despotic temper in every way, not only to Members on the Opposition, but upon his own side of the House. ["No!"] Well, if it was an open question, why was such pressure brought to bear on hon. Members to support the Resolutions? ["Oh, oh!"] It was all very well to protest against that statement; but confidences to the same effect had been made by Member after Member to those sitting on the Opposition side of the House, though, of course, the latter were bound not to reveal them. The Prime Minister acted according to what he might call Turkish ideas. He knew the right hon. Gentleman was no friend of the Turks, and yet he was treating the House to the Turkish alternative—the sack or the bowstring. With the bowstring he would strangle them; with the sack he would send them away. When that imperious Minister was recounting the history of the clôture in other countries he did not tell the House how it had acted in the country across the Channel. There was a whole string of the most important questions that ever came before the French Parliament in the time of the late Emperor which were carried by the clôture. Whether French subjects should be sent to Cayenne without any trial was carried by the clôture after only one Opposition speaker was allowed to be heard. So it was with respect to Nice, and to the important questions which led to the Austro-Italian War and the Expedition to Mexico. How did the clôture work under M. Rouher? Directly he got impatient he gave the 1357 signal to his followers with the back of his head. They had a M. Rouher here, and directly he got impatient he would give a signal; hon. Members would howl accordingly, and one day the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair would be under the impression that that was "the evident sense of the House." He knew the Speaker would not do anything wrong in the slightest degree; but he was not sure that the right hon. Gentleman's Successors would not, for one result of the clôture would be that they should have degraded Speakers. He was only speaking the mind of many hon. Members when he asked whether the Chairman of Committees was fit to preside over the Committees of that House? If they had as Speaker such a man as the Chairman of Committees was now, or as future Speakers might be, they would not trust their discretion at all. He regretted very much that anyone should have said that "bare," as used by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), was an un-Parliamentary word. It was a good old English word, and he was afraid that in this age we were losing old English words. What he feared was that this "bare majority" would in practice be shown in a great number of howls when they wished to come to a conclusion. He seldom trespassed on the House for more than 10 or 12 minutes, never for 20; but when the clôture came into operation he would speak much longer. When the clôiure was passed the name of Parliament ought to be changed. The very etymology of the word showed that in the place where they were met it was meant they should speak their mind. But when they could no longer speak their mind, he left it to those who dealt in French phrases to say what the particular name should be, when it would be no longer a Parliament, but a place for registering the decisions of a Minister.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
Sir, the Resolution and Amendment raise two questions for our consideration—First, whether the House should in any way, or to any extent, limit the length of its debates and control the appropriation of its time; and, second, whether the method proposed by the Government for effecting such a limit is the best and wisest method that can be adopted. In asking whether it is desirable that the 1358 House should limit the duration of debate, it would, perhaps, be more accurate to ask whether every Member of the House should have the power of indefinitely prolonging debate, of delaying Public Business, and of practically paralyzing the legislative and administrative action of the House. That question, whether regarded abstractedly, or in the light of recent Parliamentary history, appears to me to admit but one reply. If, in a House of 658 Members every Member has a right to speak at any length on every question, the transaction of Business by such an Assembly becomes impossible, and free speech and free debate, in the sense in which we understand and value them, are degraded and nullified. The plea that such a right would never be exercised is an admission that there are somewhere or somehow controlling forces which regulate or prevent its exercise. In that case, the necessity for control is conceded, and the question at issue becomes one of extent and degree; but, unfortunately, the proceedings of the present Parliament negative the allegation that such an abuse is impossible. The 41½ hours' Sitting was a determined and persistent assertion of the right of individual Members to prolong debate. That debate was closed by the wise and courageous action of the Chair interposing to save the House from the impotence of its own Rules. That interposition called the attention of the House and of the country to a real necessity and a real danger, and it devolves upon the House to provide against its recurrence. The practice of the House, or rather its former practice, provided effectually for the closure of debate. The Leaders of the two Parties into which the House was formerly divided practically settled how long debates should last, and when debates should close; and Party discipline enforced a rigid observance of these arrangements. Adjournments of debates were assented to on the understanding that the debate should close at a certain time, and when that time came the debate was closed, no matter how numerous were the Members who desired to address the House. There was a conspicuous instance of that last Session. The question of the retention of Candahar was a grave question of Imperial policy, legitimately calling for the at- 1359 tention of both Houses of Parliament. The question was one on which public interest was aroused, and large numbers of Members entitled to speak, and capable of speaking with experience and authority, were anxious to oppose or support the policy of Her Majesty's Government. Now, Sir, what happened? In the interest of public convenience it was seen that two nights only could be spared for the debate; and although scores of Members were precluded from advocating their views the clôture was as distinctly applied as it would have been in the French Chamber, and the discussion terminated, and the division was taken at the close of the second night. Of course, you may call this "gagging" the House, interfering with the right of free speech, "deferring," according to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) "to the imperious will of a tyrannical Minister," or, according to the expression of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), "collaring the House all round." But, Sir, it was the common-sense action of common-sense Leaders combining to conduct the Business of this House in a common-sense way. Irrespective of these considerations and precedents, I justify the limit of debate in the interest of minorities. They are entitled to a free and full expression of their views; to a free and full expression of all shades of Parliamentary or public opinion; and in that expression a minority has its safest security and its strongest weapon. A debate to be effective must tell on this House and on public opinion. There can be no surer way of destroying its power than to allow it to degenerate into waste of public time and hostility to public good. I, Sir, for one, should be the last man to assent to or advocate any procedure which would prejudice the rights of minorities. The history of the political Party which sits on these Benches is the history of the struggles and triumphs of minorities. Those triumphs were won not by Obstruction, not by abuse of the Forms of the House, not by assailing the dignity and character of Parliament, but by fair discussion, fair argument, intelligently convincing public opinion and converting Parliamentary minorities into Parliamentary majorities. Minorities have a moral power which is weakened, if not 1360 defeated, by all unfair attempts to subvert or arrest the legitimate action of the majority, which for the time being Constitutionally represents the opinion of the country. There is, however, another interest which claims to be heard on this question—I mean the public interest. This House exists to work as well as to talk, to govern as well as to criticize, to legislate as well as to debate, to protect and extend rights and liberties and privileges of which it is the supreme guardian, and which will be seriously endangered if the House of Commons is lowered in public estimation or incapacitated for the discharge of its vast and varied powers. On these grounds, therefore, I support the limit of the length of debate; but the Main Question before the House is not so much as to the necessity for such limit, but as to the wisdom of the mode proposed by the Government. It would be foolish to ignore the difficulties which surround every mode of approaching this question, I do not disparage the character or efficiency of other Representative Assemblies when I claim for the House of Commons as the "Mother of Parliaments" characteristics so peculiarly its own as to render precedents drawn from other Assemblies inapplicable. I think we can gain their advantages in our own way, in a way that is in harmony with the history and traditions of this House. I could not assent to a proposal which would place in the hands of any majority, whether a bare majority, or a two-thirds majority, or a nine-tenths majority, the power of summarily deciding, without check or control, when a debate should close. The illustration that a majority can decide the fate of Ministries, can pass or reject laws, can control public policy, is not applicable in this case. The determination of a question after the question has been fully discussed is the function and the right of a majority; to decide such a question without consideration, or rather to decide that such a question shall be determined without consideration, is not the function of any majority. And I make no qualification as to its numerical extent. A majority of two-thirds has a greater tendency to exercise its power tyranically than a bare majority. The minorities which require protection are minorities of generally less than one-third. I very much doubt whether my right hon. Col- 1361 league (Mr. C. P. Villiers), during his long and gallant struggle on the floor of this House for the repeal of the Corn Laws—and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) will know whether I am right—ever had the support of a minority amounting to one-third. The recognition of a principle that a majority of two-third or three-fourth power could do that which a bare majority could not do would be the introduction of a principle entirely new in the practice of Parliament, and of a principle which would seriously menace the rights and privileges of what I may call ordinary minorities. Now, Sir, what the Government proposes, and what I support as being the strongest guarantee for the privileges of minorities, and the safest mode of expediting Public Business, is that the highest Officer of the House, called by a great statesman of the last century "The natural guardian and protector of the privileges of the House and all its Members" should, acting judicially, exercise a two-fold judicial function. First: He must form the opinion—and he alone must decide the tests and evidence by which he will arrive at that opinion—that it is the evident sense of the House, not of a majority of the House, as such, measured by any particular figure, but in the ordinary and well-understood expression of the words—and no man has any doubt in his own mind what these words mean—that it is the evident sense of the House that the debate should close. The suggestion that 201 Members as against 200 would constitute the evident sense of the House is a transparent absurdity which is not worth discussion. When the Speaker has formed his judicial opinion as to the evident sense of the House he is to be intrusted with another judicial discretion, to which I attach the greatest importance. He is not to be bound by the evident sense of the House—that might be in favour of a grave injustice; but he may, not he must, not he shall—he may, if, in his opinion, it is right to do so, inform the House of the opinion at which he has arrived. This, Sir, seems to me to be the true protection of a minority. The Speaker stands between the minority and the majority—and majorities become more tyrannical and more domineering as they become more powerful—but the Speaker, the protector of their 1362 privileges, guarding the rights of the minority, will not take the initiative which this Rule devolves upon him until he is judicially satisfied that it is right so to do; and then, and not till then, will the House be called upon to vote in the usual way to show that the necessary quorum is present, and to translate into a formal Order of the House what had been judicially declared from the Chair. This is a closure of debate widely different from, and vastly superior to, the clôture, which the Government are erroneously charged with endeavouring to introduce. The objection to this intervention of the Chair is that the Speaker may be a Party man, chosen on Party grounds, and disposed to employ the privileges and responsibilities of his high office for Party purposes. You, Sir, were selected to preside over this House by a unanimous vote; your Predecessor, Mr. Denison, was similarly chosen; but let me recall attention to the election of the Speaker who preceded Mr. Denison. If ever there was a Party struggle, if ever there was a Party vote in this House, it was in connection with that election. The Opposition, strong and united under the Leadership of Sir Robert Peel, proposed Mr. Goulburn; the Government proposed Mr. Shaw Lefevre. In the division there were only 22 Members absent; 620 were actually present in the House, and, including Pairs, 636 voted, and the Speaker was chosen by a narrow majority of 18. And this Speaker, selected on Party grounds, supported as a Party candidate, elected in a Party division, displayed in his occupancy of that Chair a dignity, ability, and impartiality which, according to the testimony of both sides, has rarely been equalled, and has never been surpassed. Lord Eversley's Speaker-ship is the best reply to those who, like the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), discern untold calamities and unspeakable degradation from a Party election of a Party Speaker. Party grounds, forsooth! On what grounds are the holders of our great judicial offices selected, our Lord Chancellors or Chief Justices? Is there a keener Party politician in this country than the great Lawyer and the great Judge, who, if the Conservatives returned to Power, would preside over the administration of justice? And is there anyone who will dare to say that Earl 1363 Cairns would allow his judicial character to be warped by his political opinions? Our Judges, when they leave the arena of Party strife for the serener atmosphere of the Bench, lay aside their Party politics; and so, whoever is thought worthy to occupy the post of Speaker will do the same. The insinuation that the Speaker of this House would degrade his office and himself by Party unfairness is as improbable and absurd as the insinuation that the Judges would similarly degrade their offices. But, Sir, the hon. and learned Member for Brighton constructed a climax of which the descending steps were—an enlarged constituency will result in a deteriorated House of Commons; a deteriorated House of Commons will surrender its guidance and its liberties to an arbitrary Minister; an arbitrary Minister will select an unprincipled Speaker; and thus, Sir, the extension of the franchise effected by the Conservative Reform Act of 1867 is to find its consummation in the degradation of the Chair. This very much reminds me of the schoolboy syllogism—Greece was ruled by Themistocles, he was ruled by his wife, she was ruled by her little boy—ergo, the little boy ruled Greece. I deny the fact that the enlarged constituencies have deteriorated the character of this House. On behalf of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton himself, on behalf of the large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been sent here by the suffrages of these enlarged constituencies, I deny that our conduct or our character is unworthy of those with whom we are associated. With all our blunders, we new Members are as anxious to do our duty, are as determined to uphold the dignity and traditions of this House as any hon. Member who has ever sat within its walls. But, Sir, if the strange anticipations of the hon. and learned Member were realized, does he not see that in that event this Resolution, and any Resolution affecting Procedure, would not be of the slightest importance? According to his theory, the dignity and independence of this House, the character of its Leaders and its Officers would have been utterly destroyed by outside forces; and, in the presence of that catastrophe, details of Procedure would be as worthless as they would be insignificant. As practical men we have 1364 to deal not with what is possible, but what is probable. In other spheres of life we regulate our actions by probabilities; and in passing these Rules, I ask the House to deal with what is probable, and in so doing to remember that there are two factors in the problem which not even the much-abused Birmingham Caucus can effect. This is not the occasion, and I am not the man, to defend the political life of Birmingham from the sneers which have been cast upon it. For many years past men who have attacked the Liberal Party and Liberal principles, especially when speaking from Liberal Benches, have always found in the politics, the Members, and the caricatures of Birmingham something wherewithTo point a moral or adorn a tale.The municipal, the political, and the public life of Birmingham will survive all this sort of criticism. But I would ask the hon. and learned Member for Brighton, when next he charges the enlarged constituencies with degrading the character of Parliament, and pours his scorn on Birmingham, to remember that that constituency, composed of nearly 70,000 men, the great bulk of whom earn their daily bread by their daily toil, and who cannot be bought like cattle, have returned to this House two Members who, since they have been elected for Birmingham, have been called to the foremost places in the Councils of the Crown. But, apart from that digression, I was saying that there are two political influences which not even the Birmingham Caucus can effect, and those are public opinion and a free and independent Press. There is not a Member of this House who believes in the bogey of an unprincipled and tyrannical Speaker. There is not a Member who does not know that all majorities, no matter how strong and how determined, are ever acting in the presence of a public opinion which keenly watches all their actions, and which is as ready and as powerful to destroy majorities as it was to create them. In the present condition of public life in this country, in the present condition of the public Press, no majority can trample upon the legitimate rights of any minority. I can conceive of no better cry which a defeated minority could raise, I know no surer sign of the 1365 immediate and certain downfall of any majority, however strong, than the clearly-proved allegation that it had attempted to tamper with or to destroy that freedom of speech which is the breath, the essence, and the life of free government. I cordially support this Resolution and the general scheme of the Government, because I believe it will tend to conserve and promote the freedom, the dignity, and efficiency, and therefore the well-doing of the House of Commons, which for generations past has been, and which, I believe, for generations to come, will be, the oldest, the noblest, and the best of those Representative Assemblies which are at once the foundation and the bulwarks of Constitutional freedom and national progress.
SIR E. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that with a great many of the words which had fallen from the speaker who had just sat down he felt much disposed to agree. But he was bound to say that he entirely disputed the correctness of his conclusions, for a great many of his arguments went directly in the teeth of the proposals of the Government. It was now, unhappily, long since those proposals had been first made to the House. But there was an advantage in the delay, for they had had a longer time to form their opinions. It was perfectly well known that the Society with which the President of the Board of Trade had been connected, but of which he was not now a member, had done all in its power to get up Petitions to the House in favour of the proposals. [Mr. JOHN BRIGHT dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman shook his head; but the fact was so. That action on the part of that Society had annoyed and disgusted Great Britain. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members might say "Oh, oh!" as much as they liked; but they could not alter the fact. The result of those Petitions had been absolute and utter failure. He could not help thinking that the reason why the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster shook his head was that many of the Petitions on the subject had only been presented that morning. But it was a remarkable fact that the Petitions in favour of the proposal only numbered 48, with 3,600 signatories; whereas there were 271 Petitions, signed by 22,000 persons, against it. He did not say that that 1366 went for much; but, at all events, it went to show that the action of the Birmingham Association had not produced much result. He wished to refer for one moment to the Prime Minister's speech in introducing the Resolutions. There were two notes of alarm in that speech which were quite worthy of serious consideration. First, he spoke of the dubious operation of the proposals which he was about to make, and said that he should bring them forward with studied moderation. Whether they were necessary or not was another matter; but anyone could judge whether they had been framed with studied moderation. They made the greatest change that had ever been made in the Procedure of the House; they absolutely altered the character of its debates. All he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) could say was that if they were conceived in a spirit of studious moderation, he should like to know what other proposals were before the right hon. Gentleman when these moderate measures were chosen. The second note of alarm was quite as significant. That was that there were other matters which would have to be left to the future consideration of other Parliaments. Therefore, it might be taken for granted that if the Prime Minister once got the Resolutions accepted, he would produce some new Rules and Regulations. But they were not left there. In the speech of the noble Marquess another point arose worthy of serious consideration. In the Recess the Prime Minister expressed a hope that the question would not be treated as a Party question. He said it was an Imperial question, a National question, above all Party questions. His own idea of a Party question was that it was one on which there would be a deadly contest, on which the life of the Government depended. But this was a question on which the House was to be taken into the counsels of the Government, and in which the Government was to be guided by the expression of its opinion. But they had been told that evening by the noble Marquess, who spoke with his usual frankness, that the Resolution was one upon which the Government took its stand, whether it should remain in Office or fall. He was glad that that announcement had been made. But he wished to know how the noble Marquess's speech could be recon- 1367 ciled with the statement of the Prime Minister that it was not to be treated as a Party question? How was the difference to be explained? He quite agreed that the House wanted a motive power. But he would have thought that the Prime Minister, after consultation with his Colleagues, would have brought the proposals before the House in his capacity of Leader of the House rather than of Leader of a powerful majority, in order to force them not only on his Supporters, but upon the whole House. He agreed with his hon. Friend who had spoken not long ago (Sir John Kennaway), that great reforms of Procedure were necessary. He would accept the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) that Parliamentary Procedure had become of late years something like a bye-word. He agreed with the Prime Minister that a critical stage had been reached, and that the limit of patience had been reached, and with the noble Marquess who asked how Business was to be carried on? He was perfectly willing and ready to support any reasonable and rational reform, and he hoped such a reform might be carried during the present Session. He hoped it was not even then too late for the Prime Minister to come down from the pedestal on which he had placed himself, and make some proposal for Rules which could be generally approved, and which they would all be bound to obey. What was the real cause of the mischief from which they were suffering? He would state that shortly. But, whatever the cause was, these were matters which ought to be considered very carefully, and which ought not to be forced upon an unwilling House. He had looked into the opinions formerly expressed on that subject of Members of the present Government. No one could have expressed himself more strongly in favour of his own views than the present Home Secretary. At the time he referred to they were discussing whether they should proceed with the Army and Navy Estimates without first going on with the Motions on going into Committee of Supply. That was a question which he thought might be approached with great advantage, and without departing from the ordinary Rules of the House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, speaking in February, 1879 1368 —not very long ago—used this extraordinary language. He hoped the right hon. and learned Gentleman, if he spoke in that debate, would not depart from that language. The Home Secretary then said—"It is quite impossible that a question of this kind can be settled by a bare majority." But then the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say—"They could not depart from the ancient Rules of the House, except by general consent." ["Hear, hear!"] He saw the Home Secretary acknowledged the observation, and he hoped they should get his vote on the present occasion. If the Prime Minister had only brought forward Resolutions which could have commanded the general consent of the House, they would have been passed by that time, and the House would have been getting on with its usual Business. What was the cause of the present state of things? First, there had been of late years, unfortunately, a spirit of disloyalty to the Rules of the House, and the Rules had been persistently and wilfully perverted. He would take the definition of Obstruction, as given by the Prime Minister, "as the persistent opposition to measures otherwise than by argument," or as being "the want of deference by a few to the general judgment of the House." That, he maintained, was an absolute offence against the dignity and authority of the Chair. The late Government did attempt, not long ago, to introduce a Rule in order to check that by stating that if a Member offended in that way he ought to be punished. They had considerable difficulty in passing that Rule in the beginning of the Session of 1880. The noble Lord opposite was good enough on that occasion to give them his support, as did many of his Colleagues, who, however, differed as to the details, although they were all agreed as to the principle of the proposal. It was only after a very long debate that the then Government were able to get that Rule passed; and, although it was very much laughed at at the time, he was bound to say that the present Government had used it once or twice with very considerable effect, and he thought that without it the Coercion Bill could never have been passed. This particular cause of the grievance ought not, however, to be made an excuse for going beyond the necessities of the case, 1369 because it was absolutely clear that the clôture was no remedy for that, and that it must be dealt with by punishing the individuals. He saw with pleasure that there was a Rule proposed by the Prime Minister to strengthen the Rule carried two years ago by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer; but they must take care not to make the passing of those Rules an excuse for the clôture. He could not express that feeling in stronger language than was used by the Prime Minister, who, in the debate of February, 1880, said—Let us observe and bear in mind that, whatever the clôture may be as a means of saving the time of a deliberative Assembly, it is, I think.…. inapplicable to the present discussion, because, as a penal measure, it would surely be altogether inappropriate…… To bring in the clôture for the purposes which this Resolution contemplates would be simply to enact that the House would punish itself, and the great interests with which it is charged, in consequence of the offence of a particular Member."—[3 Hansard, ccl. 1573.]What were the other causes with which they had to deal? The Prime Minister had said with great truth that there had been a great increase of Business. Prince Bismarck once said that England had too many irons in the fire, and he was not quite certain whether the House of Commons did not suffer from the same complaint. There was another cause of the grievance from which they suffered—namely, the growing assumption of power by the House. The House was gradually assuming new functions, and was becoming more and more the practical Executive Government of this country. He did not say whether that were right or wrong; but it was the undoubted fact. This circumstance was clearly pointed out in an article written by Mr. Frederic Harrison, a gentleman who had very great weight among the working classes. Again, hon. Members attended in much greater numbers, and took part more frequently in the debates than they did 25 or 30 years ago. Two or three years ago the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), in a remarkable speech, stated that the Members elected under the new Reform Act were not brought up in the same class as former Members, and were not bound by the same social ties, and that they came there without being cognizant of the position of the old House of Commons. For his own part, he rather welcomed the fact that they were 1370 there. But they would in future be there in greater numbers than ever, and they would not be bound by the old traditional Rules. All these were causes to be considered when the House came to decide what Rules should be applicable to the altered state of things. As the noble Marquess had stated, if every Member were to speak on every subject, however briefly, the Business of the House would be absolutely stopped. It was only by self-control and by bringing men by degrees to the habit of self-control that the Business could possibly be carried on. If they attempted to put in force a coercive measure of this kind they would fail. They would cause irritation, disturbance, and ill-feeling, and would render necessary in the future those further coercive measures which the Prime Minister foreshadowed. The canon which he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) would lay down for dealing with this question was that they must not make the necessary restraint of the few the measure of the liberty of the many, and they must not make the abuse of their Rules by a few an excuse for curbing the liberty of the many. If the Prime Minister were to follow the lines of the four precedents which he quoted in his opening speech the whole House would be with him, and he would carry the Rules without delay. It was because the right hon. Gentleman had sought other precedents elsewhere that hon. Members on that side of the House dissented from the Government proposals. The Prime Minister had laid stress on the fact that the clôture, although somewhat different in form, had been recommended by Lord Eversley. In point of fact, Lord Eversley stated that the precedents of America and France were not applicable to that House, and proposed—That it shall be competent to any Member, before the Order of the Day for resuming an adjourned debate is read, to move that the de-bate be not further adjourned, and that if the House should agree no Member shall be allowed to rise after 2 o'clock in the morning, at which hour the Speaker shall put the question.That was wholly different from the spirit of the present proposal, for it assumed that all questions must have a whole night's debate. This was a clôture for preventing questions ever being brought forward except in the most formal way, and he ventured to think that was entirely different from what Lord 1371 Eversley proposed. Then the Prime Minister said that there had been 14 Committees sitting on this matter. The noble Marquess that afternoon had said there had been 20. Here was a remarkable fact, that, although the question had been so often brought before Committees, not one of them ever made a Report in favour of it. The Committee of 1848 said—Your Committee, in weighing the value of this evidence, had to take into account how materially the Constitution made the transacting of business in the House of Commons differ from the two Legislative Assemblies from which we had evidence—namely, America and France.Then the question dropped out of notice until it came before the Committee of 1878, when the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Dodson) proposed an Amendment to Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen's proposition in favour of the clôture in these words—"The Committee is not prepared to recommend its present adoption by the House." For that Amendment there voted, among others, the present Secretary for India and the present Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and 11 others out of 15 who were present. Subsequently there was a Motion to leave out the word "present," when the President of the Board of Trade voted to retain the word, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs voting contra. The question now was whether this was to be a clôture by a bare majority. The right hon. Gentleman had argued the question as a purely judicial question to be left to the decision of the Speaker; but he would ask every hon. Member to read the Resolution for himself, and see whether that was so. The House would go to a division. The majority would say that it was the evident sense of the House that the debate should close. It might be there was a majority of only 1, so that the effect would be that that one Member would be entitled to say it was the evident sense of the House that the debate should be closed. No one would prevent him from believing that the latter part of the clause constituted really the active principle. The vital power remained in the enacting words, and they were that a bare majority should close the debate. It was said that this was a proper power to give; but he would state the strong objections he felt against 1372 the clôture. He objected to it because it would enormously increase the power of the Minister of the day. The Speaker could only state what he believed to be the temper of the House, and a powerful Minister would endeavour to force his views upon the House. The noble Marquess had himself shown how this power was to be used. He would say they did not want to hear the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Mc Iver) on his question of Fair Trade; they did not want to hear the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) on Russian Aggression; nor the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) on Patent Medicines. He would say the debate should close, and the judicial power of the Speaker would simply be to declare what was the sense of the House. The clôture would enormously diminish independence and the action of independent Members. No one would forget the sense of general relief that prevailed last Session the moment Urgency was taken off. If the right hon. Gentleman had then proposed any Rules of this kind they would have been scouted out of the House. It would not be at the beginning of the Session that the clôture would be enforced. It would be applied as they were approaching the end of the Session. When the Heads of Departments who had been shut out until after Easter endeavoured to introduce their Bills, then would come the demand of the Government that the Bills and Motions of private Members should be postponed in order to make way for their own measures. The result would be that at the end of the Session it would be found that a very dangerous Rule had been passed. The question of Supply was very serious. The noble Lord opposite had alluded to what had occurred last week, and to circumstances which he certainly thought very hard for the House of Commons. He had supposed that the Government, having brought forward the Army Estimates on Monday and the Navy Estimates on Thursday, and having got as many of the Votes as were necessary, might have been content; and it was the first time he had ever heard the complaint raised that on the first introduction of the Estimates Members were allowed to discuss grievances. But if the clôture had been in force last week, none of the Motions on going into Com- 1373 mittee of Supply could by any possibility have been brought forward. He might go a step further. The noble Lord had said very truly that Friday, though nominally a Government night, practically belonged to the private Members, because Supply was put down in order to enable them to bring forward their grievances. If the Resolution of the Prime Minister were passed, the Government, wanting Supply at the end of the Session, would get rid of the Motions of private Members in order at once to get into Committee of Supply. The question had been asked of the right hon. Gentleman the other day, and the only answer that could possibly be given was that the clôture would apply only to the particular question before the House. Now, the Question put by the Speaker on going into Committee of Supply was "That I do now leave the Chair." On that Question a division would be taken, and the Member who might wish to bring forward his grievance would be debarred from doing so. The Question "That I do now leave the Chair," would, after the clôture, be ordered to be put from the Chair, and no further debate would be permissible. The fact was that on Fridays the Government, if hard pressed, had only to use the clôture twice to take away the customary rights of private Members. ["No, no!"] He believed he was correct. He would take the Orders of the Day and Notices for next Friday, the 24th instant. The first Order of the Day was, as usual, Supply, which would be announced, of course, by the Clerk at the Table, and the discussion would be upon a Motion as to the Irish Magistracy, to which one of the Irish Members proposed to call attention on going into Committee of Supply. The Speaker would put the Question in this form—"The original Motion was 'That I do now leave the Chair,' since which an Amendment has been moved to leave out all the words after the word 'That,' in order to insert these words." Then followed the words of the Resolution, and the Question put from the Chair would be—"That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question." If the clôture were carried what would happen? Many other Motions might be put down on going into Supply, but the Speaker would have to put the Question "That I do now leave the Chair." That Question 1374 would then become the Main Question—the particular question then before the House; and thus, with the clôture called for a second time, no further discussion, such as was now allowed, would be possible. Hon. Members could not suppose that a Government that once carried the clôture would be ashamed to move it a second time? If they thought that, they would find themselves much mistaken as to the temper of any Prime Minister. What he had sketched was likely enough to happen; for not only might Supply be desirable, but the Motions on going into Committee might be very inconvenient to the Government. In future the Government had only to use the clôture twice, and private Members would find it always impossible to bring on their Resolutions. A passage from De Tocqueville had been quoted the other day, and he might supplement it by a few words from Bentham—In France the terrible decrees of urgency for closing the discussions may well be remembered with dread. They were formed for the subjugation of the minority, for the purpose of stifling argument which was dreaded.Those words were written long ago, but the importance of their warning still remained. He might also read a short extract as to the operation of the clôture in America, where it flourished in full vigour, from the pen of a writer who had studied American politics, Mr. Jennings, the author of Eighty Years of Republican Government—Thus the power of Congress is securely concentrated in the hands of the leaders of the dominant party of the hour, who may be actuated by personal ambition or some other unworthy motive, so as to render them altogether unsafe guides for the nation. The discussions of this conclave are carried on in secret, and the mockery of a deliberative assembly is made complete by the systematic refusal to allow of debate upon measures of the most momentous description.They are decided upon in private caucus, for reasons which the public are not allowed to know; and when they are brought forward in the Legislature, by a form of the House of Representatives known as the 'previous question,' which the adherents of the governing party are almost always numerous enough to enforce, discussion is absolutely prevented. Sometimes no one is allowed to say a word. The minority is not admitted to the caucus, and in the House a gag is placed upon their mouths. When the Civil Rights Bill was passed over the President's veto in April, 1866, several independent Members begged hard for permission to discuss it, or, at least, to explain their reasons for the vote 1375 they intended to give. It was refused, and there was a general cry in the House 'Give an hour!' But the leaders were inexorable, and the resolution was pressed to a division in less than 10 minutes after it had been sent to the Speaker.Now, he did not think the House of Commons would like to have its proceedings conducted in that way; but if they passed the 1st Resolution of the Government they would be on the highroad to that system. He would give one more extract from the same book. The writer said—But there is no redeeming circumstance in the measures which are taken by the dominant party to suppress discussion. They give rise at times to scenes which ought never to be witnessed in a legislative body. An illustration is of greater value than an argument, and I shall therefore give an account of a spectacle which I witnessed in the month of January, 1867. The occasion of this struggle was the introduction of a Bill from the Judiciary Committee, intended to do away with the effect of a decision in the Supreme Court as to the illegality of the Test Oath. The Bill provided that no person should be permitted to act as attorney or counsel in any court of the United States who had been guilty of treason or engaged in rebellion, or given aid and comfort to the participants in rebellion. In short, it was intended to prevent, by Act of Congress, any Southern man or Southern sympathizer who happened to be a lawyer from practising his profession—thus, as a Republican member afterwards said, depriving thousands of families of their bread. This measure a distinguished Republican, in behalf of the Committee, determined to force through the House the afternoon it was brought forward, without allowing a word of discussion upon it. Some of his own party, with a better sense of reason and justice, strongly condemned this course. He was implored by the Democratic members to yield one hour only for debate, but, confident in the power of his party, he declined. To two or three members he dealt out 'five minutes,' 'three minutes,' and to one gentleman 'two minutes,' and with this concession he deemed the rights of a deliberative assembly were complied with. That immense proportion of the people then represented in Congress who were opposed to this Bill were granted, through their representatives, about ten minutes to consider its provisions.Another serious danger had been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman some time ago, and also by the noble Lord that evening—namely, that Members would be driven to go outside of the House if they wished to enjoy freedom of discussion. He thought the Representatives of the people were bound to make their speeches in the House. Under such a rule as that, in times of great excitement throughout the country, 1376 they would find speeches made with great effect elsewhere by Representatives whose mouths were closed there. No one was more conscious of that than the right hon. Gentleman who proposed that Resolution, because, in his article in The Nineteenth Century, in 1879, he said—The danger of supplying factious or unruly men with a plausible ground of hostile appeal to crowds or to constituencies in critical times is a far greater and more costly danger than is at any time likely to be brought upon it (the House of Commons) by its patience in cases really or popularly doubtful.There was still one more danger to which he had to allude, and he did so with great deference—namely, the action which such a Rule might have, in the long run, on the Chair. In America they did not give that power to the Chairman of Committees of Supply at all. The proposed Rule went far beyond America in that respect. But with regard to the Speaker, he would rather not make any suggestion of his own, but he wished to read a few words to show what people outside of the House thought of the matter. They ought to know what the feeling entertained out-of-doors was on such a subject. Coming, as they did, from a representative man, Mr. Harrison's words in The Nineteenth Century were well worth reading. Mr. Harrison was much in favour of the clôture, and was perfectly prepared to face all the dangers and difficulties involved in it. In his article on The Deadlock in the Commons, he said—With our present system of throwing responsibility on the Speaker we lose all the advantages of our old judicial, passive, absolutely impartial Chairman.…. The Speakership of the future is, therefore, one of the grand political offices, second in importance only to that of the Premier, for which parties will contend, and at which statesmen (like M. Grévy and M. Gambetta) will aspire. The very next Speaker will be elected after a furious party intrigue and struggle; and he must be a politician in whom the dominant party trusts…. What will the next Speaker be? Farewell to the race of the Manners, Lefevres, and Denisons! We have passed to the era of the president militant and dominant, the strong man of a victorious party.He had stated that the Resolution practically amounted to that of a bare majority. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Shield) had made some very strong remarks as to the difference between a majority of two-thirds and a bare majo- 1377 rity, and he said that the one was more dangerous, perhaps, than the other. The noble Lord had asked some questions about the majority of two-thirds or three-quarters. One of his arguments against a two-thirds majority was that, so far as a small minority went, two-thirds were more likely to be harsh and cruel than a bare majority, or, at all events, there would be no protection as far as that was concerned. But then, the noble Lord said, it would be impossible to close a debate if a large minority objected. If that was so, why try it? If it was to be really powerless, why try it? If it was to be effective and operative it was dangerous. He did not see how that dilemma could be got out of. As to who would be responsible if a Government failed to obtain such a Vote as that of the £6,000,000 proposed by the late Government, the Prime Minister said the Government would have done what they could, and, therefore, would not be responsible, and the noble Marquess had said that the Opposition could not be made responsible; but if the noble Marquess, supposing him to be bound by what the Prime Minister had said, would look at the Resolution, he would find it was the Speaker who would be responsible, as he would be the judge of the evident sense of the House. As bearing upon the question of a large or a small minority, he would ask what would have become of some former struggles if the clôture had been in force? What would have been the fate of Mr. Berkeley with his Ballot Motions, and of Mr. Villiers with his advocacy of Free Trade? If we embarked on this dangerous course we did not know where we should stop. No statesman could foresee what the passing of the Resolution would lead to. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) had said that he thought the clôture would never be enforced except by general consent—that he trusted and believed that such would be the case. It was much better to keep safeguards and securities of which you were in possession; and in opposition to the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) he would say to the House—Reserve thy state,And in thy best consideration checkThis hideous rashness.He might be asked what course would the Opposition now pursue? The answer 1378 was clear—that the House ought to proceed with the other Resolutions. If the other Rules had been in operation the 42 hours' Sitting could not have happened; it would have been stopped on the Motions for Adjournment. As to all other matters the other Rules provide all the safeguards that were wanted. Why should the Prime Minister force this Rule, knowing how much it was disliked by so many of his own followers? [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] The Prime Minister shook his head, but the speeches of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), and the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), made so lately as 1880, would satisfy him how distasteful this particular proposal was. All the other Rules would be passed willingly; and he felt bound to remind the Government that the Committee of 1848 said that the Government of the day could themselves contribute essentially to the easy conduct of Business in four different ways, none of which had been followed this Session. They were the careful preparation of measures, their early introduction, a judicious distribution of Business between the two Houses, and the order and method with which measures were conducted. None of those ways had been followed during the present Session by the Government. The House had fought long and with success for freedom of debate against the personal influence of the Crown. It had now before it a larger struggle for freedom of debate against the personal interest of any powerful Minister of the Crown. The Speaker had claimed from the Crown on their behalf their ancient rights, and among them freedom of speech in debate, and, what was not less valuable, that the most favourable construction should be placed upon their proceedings. These claims had been granted by Her Majesty as by Her Predecessors. If they passed this Resolution they would be in great danger from the Ministry of the day that the most favourable construction would not be placed upon their proceedings. When legitimate debate was raised it would be met by the cry of Obstruction, the clôture would be applied, and discussion would be stopped. Under cover of putting an end to Parliamentary Obstruction Parliamentary Opposition would be destroyed. The Prime Minister of the day would become impatient 1379 of what former Ministers had regarded as the ordinary course of Business; and he would speak to the House in terms such as these—By day and night he wrongs me; every hourHe flashes into one gross crime or otherThat sets us all at odds; I'll not endure it.And when the Prime Minister had the power he would not endure it. The very anxiety and eagerness with which this Resolution was pressed, against the wishes, he believed, of the right hon. Gentleman's own followers, was an evil augury of the temper in which it would be used if it were once passed. But he would venture to predict that it never would be passed, certainly not in its present form. The noble Lord had been good enough to inform the House that if it were not passed the Government would go to the country. He did not know whether the Prime Minister would endorse that statement; but he should like to know how he could reconcile it with the hope he expressed that this should not be treated as a Party question, and that they would have a fair and impartial debate? All he (Sir R. Assheton Cross) could say, if this Resolution were to be pressed, and to be passed over the heads of those opposed to it, and if it were to be carried out in the way he had suggested; was this—that they would find ere long that the constituencies would not suffer their liberties to be taken away, and the Prime Minister would again learn, as he had bitterly learnt before, that England loved not the exercise of arbitrary power.
§ MR. BRYCE
said, he was one of those who agreed with hon. Members opposite that it would be well their speeches should be limited as to time; and he, therefore, did not intend to detain the House for more than a few minutes. He wished, however, to say a few words in regard to the experiences of America, which had been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Sir R. Assheton Cross). A few months ago he (Mr. Bryce) was in America, and he had made minute inquiries into this particular matter, especially in connection with the proceedings of Legislative Assemblies of America, which were institutions mainly founded upon our own, and very closely resembling it. The picture given by the right hon. Gentleman to the House as to the work- 1380 ing of the system for closing a debate in the United States Assemblies was altogether incorrect. It was not called the clôture, but "the Previous Question." The right hon. Gentleman had given the data from which he made his statements; but, speaking from experience, he (Mr. Bryce) was able to say that the conclusions drawn by the right hon. Gentleman were the very reverse of the real state of the case. When in America he (Mr. Byrce) took an opportunity, at Washington, of making very careful inquiry, and he was informed that the way in which "the Previous Question" was worked was this. He believed that it existed in the Legislative Assembly of nearly every State of the Union; but those Legislative Assemblies scarcely formed a parallel to the House of Commons. It existed also in the House of Representatives at Washington. It was within the power of any Member at any moment to move "the Previous Question," and there was no such limit or safeguard to it as was proposed to be given by the Resolution now before the House, which intrusted the initiative to the Speaker. The only restriction upon the employment of "the Previous Question" was that there must be a quorum present in the House, and that quorum must consist of one-half of the total number of Members. It must, however, be remembered that the Members of the Washington House of Representatives were much more regular in their attendance than Members of the House of Commons. He made it his duty to ascertain, from as large a number of persons as possible, how the system of "the Previous Question" worked. He made inquiries of some 20 or 30 Members of the House of Representatives of both political Parties; and every one assured him—both the Republicans who were in the majority, and the Democrats who were in a minority—that it not only worked well, but that they could not get on without it. Two gentlemen, both of whom were extremely weighty witnesses, and whose names would be known to most hon. Members who had been in the United States, spoke in high praise of the system. Mr. Macpherson, the principal Clerk of the House of Representatives, told him that his experience extended over 30 years, during 14 of which he 1381 had served as principal Clerk, and Mr. Macpherson stated that he could not recollect a single instance in which the power of moving "the Previous Question" had been abused. Mr. Macpherson would not pretend to say that it had never been abused; but he declared that he could not remember a single instance of abuse; and he added that the power was essential to the proper working of the American Representative system. Similar testimony was given by Mr. Randall, Speaker of the last House of Representatives. Mr. Macpherson was a Republican, and Mr. Randall a Democrat; and both agreed in asserting that it would be quite impossible to conduct the deliberations of the Assembly without the power of moving "the Previous Question." And it constantly happened that when the power was asked for it was rejected, notwithstanding that the Leaders of the Party applied for it. Their supporters differed from them and defeated them. In other cases, the Leaders of the Opposition had been anxious to close a debate; but the Government refused to grant them the power, in the belief that the particular question under consideration had not been sufficiently discussed. He ventured to think that the experience of America was of considerable value in a matter of this kind, because Party organization was much greater and closer than in this country, and Party discipline was a great deal stronger; and therefore, à fortiori, an argument drawn from the experience of America was an argument favourable to the adoption of the same system in the House of Commons. If the system was not abused in the United States there were strong grounds for believing that it would not be abused in the House of Commons. He had only a word or two to add in reply to one of the arguments frequently used against the Resolution of the Prime Minister—that it would seriously interfere with and diminish the advantages and opportunities of private Members. Speaking as a private Member, and as one who valued, as everyone in that House must, the rights and privileges of private Members, and especially recognizing that it was their function and duty to bring forward many measures which Her Majesty's Ministers, as a Government, were not able to deal with, he, and many other hon. Members on that 1382 side of the House, valued the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, because they believed that it would restore to private Members the rights of which they were now deprived. At the present moment the clôture really did exist against more than one-half of the Members of the House. It existed in this way. Whenever a measure was brought forward and there was a majority on one side or the other in favour of it, as soon as Obstruction set in, the opponents of the measure began to speak against time, and the mouths of those who were in favour of it were instantly closed. It became impossible for them to take any further part in the debate, because they knew that by doing so they were only playing into the hands of their antagonists by delaying a division. In this way many hon. Members were prevented from speaking who might have many valuable criticisms and arguments to make, and important information and facts to state, which might seriously influence the discussion and the course of the Government. They were, however, absolutely debarred from bringing forward the information in their possession, because they were anxious not to delay the progress of the measure for a single moment. It was for this reason, and because he believed that the passing of this Resolution would restore the freedom of speech which did not now exist in one part of the House, that he sincerely trusted the House would carry it. If he felt any regret at any part of the Resolution, it was that it had not been made somewhat stronger, and that it was surrounded by certain safeguards which he, for one, looked upon as unfortunate. He thought it would have been better—speaking with great deference to the opinion of those who had more experience than himself—if the initiative of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair had not been required, and if the matter had been left entirely and absolutely to the responsibility of the Government. The question of responsibility had been touched upon with great force by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) in the early part of the evening; and he (Mr. Bryce) was strongly of opinion that the Government should not have the power of shielding themselves under the authority of the Chair. They had much to learn from America in this respect. In 1383 that country the Office of Speaker had now become a partizan Office, and the best observers there agreed in protesting against it. They were all of opinion that the position occupied by the Speaker in this country afforded far greater security for the fair and proper conduct of the Business of the Legislature than that which was held by the Speaker in the United States. He could not help feeling that the proposal to give the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair the initiative, and to require him to call upon the House to vote upon the question as to whether a debate should be closed, was, no matter how small the extent might be, an infringement of the perfectly impartial character of the Speaker's Office; and he was afraid that to some extent it might tend to lower the dignity and impartiality which had hitherto attached to it. He therefore hoped that some means would be found whereby the Resolution could be slightly altered in the direction of giving the Speaker, not the initiative, but rather the appeal. That would be much better than throwing upon the right hon. Gentleman the responsibility of discerning the "evident sense of the House," and then requiring the opinion of the House to be expressed by a division. The proper course, in his opinion, was to leave the responsibility of moving that the sense of the House should be obtained, either to the Government or to an independent Member, and to give to the Speaker a power of interposing his veto if he thought that the time for such a course had not arrived. He believed that the Resolution would in that case be quite as effective for its purpose, and at the same time the impartiality of the Office of Speaker would be more perfectly secured. The right hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House (Sir E. Assheton Cross) said the functions of Parliament would largely be curtailed by the adoption of the Resolution, and he warned the House against the danger of increasing the power of the Executive and impairing the power of Parliament. He (Mr. Bryce) ventured to read the Constitutional history of the country in a different sense from the right hon. Gentleman. He could not say, speaking from experience of the past few years, that the House had exercised any of the functions of the Government. All that it had done had been to impede the power of the Govern- 1384 ment. They had not expedited the work of legislation, and the danger they were running was not that of increasing the power of the Executive, but of so crippling and clogging it, that all legislation would be brought to a standstill. In the end Parliament itself would become discredited, and Constitutional Government would be reduced to a state of paralysis. They were told that if they passed the Resolution the power of closing a debate might be abused. All Forms of the House were liable to abuse except the power which had been intrusted to the Chair, and which, within his knowledge, had never been abused. But they must run the risk of abuse in order that they might secure the enjoyment of greater benefits and advantages. After the experience of the last few years they must all of them feel that the time had now come for dealing with Obstruction; and the best of all safeguards that could be attached to the use of the power of closing a debate was that safeguard which consisted in a sense of fairness on the part of the House itself, and the belief that it would impair its own functions if it ever allowed a Minister of the Crown or a majority to become tyrannical. Personally, he was satisfied that the country would always be ready to visit its with displeasure any Minister or majority who sought, by the use of arbitrary and tyrannical power, to overbear the free expression of the opinion of the House.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, he was much surprised that no Gentleman had risen from the Treasury Bench to reply to the able and evidently unanswerable speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir E. Assheton Cross). Considering the high and distinguished position which the right hon. Gentleman occupied in the Cabinet of the late Government, and the considerable position which he filled in previous Parliaments, it was scarcely courteous to the right hon. Gentleman and to the great Party of which he was an honoured Member that no Minister should have risen from the Treasury Bench to reply to him. He (Mr. R. N. Fowler) was glad of the opportunity now afforded to him of making a humble but earnest protest against the proposal now made by Her Majesty's Government to gag the House of Commons. He used the word "gag" because he 1385 preferred that good old English term to the clôture. It seemed to him that the object of the Resolution was to gag debate in the House of Commons. What reason was given for it? The system which now prevailed had gone on for a long series of years, and he believed that it had generally worked well. That system he believed to be this—When a debate had gone on for a sufficient time, an arrangement was made between the two Front Benches, by which it was understood that on a given evening the debate should be brought to a close. That was a convenient arrangement to both sides of the House. He need only refer to the debate which was brought to an end last week—the debate upon the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in reference to the House of Lords. It certainly seemed to some hon. Members on that side of the House that at the time the division was taken the discussion had been by no means exhausted. On the last night of the debate four or five very able speeches were delivered—one by his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis); one by his right hon. Friend the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther); another by his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), and several others, among them being a very able speech he had not the pleasure of hearing by an Irish Member, who possessed great information upon the subject. It seemed to many hon. Members on that side of the House that these were too many good speeches to be massed together in the course of one evening's debate; but, by the advice of the right hon. Gentleman who led the Opposition, it was agreed that the debate should be brought to a close. He could not understand why the system which had so long prevailed of bringing debates to an end by the general consent of the House should not go on in the future as it had gone on in the past. The reason given for the Resolution was that the present system had been abused by a certain section of the House. It was said that certain hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Benches below the Gangway had spoken at a length and with a frequency which had become offensive to other Members of the House. He was not there to justify the course which had been taken by hon. Members below the Gangway during the protracted 1386 debates upon the Coercion Bill at the commencement of last Session. In common with his hon. Friends on that side of the House, he had followed the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in giving a steady support to Her Majesty's Government. At the same time, he certainly thought that the course taken by hon. Members below the Gangway might find strong grounds for justification in certain extracts which had been read in the course of the present debate from the writings of the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman had deliberately laid down the principle that when a measure ought to be decidedly opposed, there were occasions on which minorities were justified in using all the Forms of the House to oppose the passing of it. Hon. Members below the Gangway, no doubt, felt that the Coercion Bill was a measure which justified recourse being had to the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman. But, be that as it might, right hon. Gentlemen opposite were of opinion that the Forms of the House had been abused by the Irish Members; and they made that a reason for introducing these proposals for gagging the House of Commons, for the Resolution was not in reality directed against hon. Members below the Gangway on the Opposition side of the House. Her Majesty's Government and hon. Gentlemen opposite, although looking upon hon. Members below the Gangway as erring sheep, still regarded them as Members of the Liberal fold. ["No!"] Hon. Members might say "No, no!" He (Mr. R. N. Fowler) was not attempting to say what they thought; but when the country refused to continue its confidence in Lord Beaconsfield, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite came into Office, it was stated in the publications of the day that the right hon. Gentleman had a majority of 178, and that number certainly included the Irish Members. If hon. Members below the Gangway had no longer any confidence in the right hon. Gentleman, he (Mr. R. N. Fowler) was very glad of it; but, at the same time, he was only speaking his own view of the feeling of hon. Gentlemen opposite—namely, that they looked upon hon. Members below the Gangway as erring sheep who would before long return to the Liberal fold. The real object of the Resolution, therefore, was not to gag them, but to gag the Members of the 1387 great Conservative Party, who sat upon the Opposition Benches. But he fearlessly asserted that during the present Parliament the Forms of the House had never been abused by the Conservative Party. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would, he thought, admit that there never was a man who led the Conservative Party in a more conciliatory and generous spirit than his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Stafford Northcote). Whatever might be said of factious opposition, no one would dream of charging factious opposition to his right hon. Friend, and he claimed for the Conservative Party at large that whenever they conscientiously could they had given to Her Majesty's Government a generous support; and whenever they were opposed to the Government, as they frequently were, upon conscientious grounds, the opposition they gave to them was candid and straightforward. That being the case, he did not see why a Resolution should be introduced, the avowed object of which was to shut the mouths and gag the Party sitting on that side of the House. He knew that that object was denied by the Head of the Government; but his right hon. Friend below him (Sir R. Assheton Cross) certainly in his speech seemed to imply something of the sort, and he need only refer to the organs of the Liberal Party, such as The Spectator and The Daily News, to show that in their opinion the Government were to be supported, because the great object of the Resolution was to shut the mouths of the Conservative Party. Under these circumstances he did not think anyone could wonder that they should on the last occasion, perhaps, that might ever present itself to them—the last opportunity they might ever have of freely expressing their opinions in that House—that they should lift up their voices in protest against what they felt to be a degradation to themselves and a degradation to their constituents. There was one other point to which he wished to call the attention of the House. It was said that the debates in the House of Commons extended to an undue length. But when they compared the debates which now took place with those which took place 60 years ago it must not be forgotten that, under the present constitution of the House, it was impossible to expect that the debates would be as short as 1388 they were formerly. The Members for such constituencies as Old Sarum and Gatton were returned to the House of Commons by two or three electors, and their constituents were utterly indifferent as to whether their Representatives took part in the debates or not. That was not the case now-a-days. Every hon. Member, no matter upon what side of the House he sat, represented some great constituency; and he did not think it would be denied that the constituencies, as they had been constituted of late years, did not like to send to the House Members who would be content with simply walking into the Division Lobby and voting as he was directed by the Whip of his Party. They preferred to send Members who took an intelligent interest in public affairs, who addressed the House when necessary, and who placed both their own views and those of the constituents they represented before the House. Therefore, he did not think that, constituted as the House of Commons was, and constituted as it would be if the scheme which had been foreshadowed by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Trevelyan) and other hon. Members on the Liberal side of the House ever came to be passed, and they had an extension of the suffrage in counties, followed, no doubt, as it would be by a scheme for equal electoral districts, there was any possibility of the number of Members who would be expected by the constituencies to address the House being diminished. On the contrary, the number, increasing year by year as it was under the existing arrangements, would increase still more largely in years to come, and thus make the complaint of hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the time consumed in the debates still greater than it was at this moment. The House had been told from the Benches opposite that the Resolution provided a safeguard, because it placed the initiative in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair. Now, he should have the fullest confidence in the manner in which the power intrusted to the Chair would be exercised so long as the present Speaker occupied and adorned it. He should have the fullest confidence that there would be no abuse so long as the right hon. Gentleman continued to preside over the deliberations of the House. But the time must come, sooner or later 1389 —and he was sure that hon. Members on that side of the House, especially if this Resolution were passed, fervently hoped that the day would be far distant—when the right hon. Gentleman must retire to his well-earned repose. What would be the case then? The high position which the right hon. Gentleman now so worthily and impartially filled would become a political Office. The present Speaker would be succeeded by someone appointed by the dominant Party of the day—Someone instructed in a patriot school;The organ of a party and a party tool,placed in the Chair to serve the interests of the dominant faction. This would be a very great evil. Of late years it had been the custom to look upon the Speaker as not being identified with any political Party; and on several occasions when the reins of power had changed—for instance, in 1841 and in 1874—the new Prime Minister had very properly felt that he ought to retain the Speaker in the Chair. It was felt that that high Office was not a political one, and both Sir Robert Peel and Lord Beaconsfield acknowledged the principle, when Sir Robert Peel supported the re-election of Lord Eversley, and Lord Beaconsfield very wisely proposed the re-election of the right hon. Gentleman now in the Chair. But if they were to have the system altered in the way in which it would be altered if the present Resolution were adopted, the Speakership, instead of being an Office held by one who in that high position stood apart from politics, would become a political Office, and the inevitable result would be that at the commencement of every new Parliament there would be a contest for the Speakership. He thought that that in itself would be a very great evil. There could be no greater evil than to allow the Speakership to become a political Office; and upon that ground, if for no other, he most strongly deprecated the proposal which the Prime Minister had submitted to the House. No doubt many hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House thought that hon. Members on that side of the House could be gagged and ought to be gagged. But the Conservative Party had always endeavoured, as far as they could conscientiously, to support Her Majesty's Government upon non-contentious questions. They had supported them when- 1390 ever it was desirable that they should obtain Supply, and upon all questions that did not involve Party differences. Nevertheless, Her Majesty's Government did not propose to treat them as Gentlemen, but as a set of men who were to be gagged by every means in the power of the Ministry. If 200 Members desired to use their power to the utmost, if they insisted on speaking upon every question that came before the House, if they attempted by every means in their power to waste the time of the House, he very much doubted, although the Government might introduce this system of the clôture or of the gag—whichever they liked to call it—whether it would conduce to the dignity of the House or the progress of Public Business. On these grounds, thanking the House for the indulgence with which it had listened to him, he should, on every occasion, give an earnest and strenuous opposition to the proposal of Her Majesty's Government.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK
said, that in regard to the abstract question, if they were only to consider the actual meaning of the words proposed by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), he should find himself unable to disagree with them. But they must look further than the words of the hon. Member. The hon. Member for Brighton asked them to declare—That no Rules of Procedure will be satisfactory to this House which confer the power of closing a Debate upon a majority of Members;and he had explained that he meant on a mere majority. He thought there could be few hon. Members who would not be disposed to agree that some measure of reform in that direction was very desirable, if not altogether necessary. But he must confess that it did appear to him that, as the Resolution was proposed, it went somewhat beyond the necessities of the case. They must consider not only the meaning of the words of the hon. Member for Brighton, but the effect of adopting them; and that would be, practically, to negative altogether the 1st Resolution proposed by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government. Although it seemed to him that the clôture should only be enforced when there was a decided majority in its favour, with such a majority it would be an improvement, even if it had not 1391 become a necessity; and if the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister could hold out any hope that he was prepared to reconsider, to a certain extent, the wording of the latter part of the Resolution—if, indeed, he did not deprive them of any hope that he would do so—he should not be prepared to support the hon. Member for Brighton. They had heard in the course of the evening of many cases in which debates had been unduly prolonged, but not of one case in which the prolongation was due to the action of the Party opposite as a whole. But it was considered that the time might come when hon. Members opposite might factiously oppose the Business of the House, and when it might become absolutely necessary to adopt some such Rule as that which was now proposed—that was to say, the clôture by a bare majority, which, however, only came into play in a House of 400 Members, or thereabouts. He had looked through Hansard of last year, and, though there were many divisions in which more than 400 Members took part, he only found three cases in which, when a division of more than 400 Members took place, the discussion had lasted more than one night. One was the debate on the Address; another the debate on the second reading of the Bill for the Protection of Person and Property in Ireland; and the third was the debate on the second reading of the Land Bill. Every fair-minded person would admit that those were three cases in which the question at issue was of very great importance, and on which a protracted debate was not only justifiable, but to be expected. But even if, in the course of a Session, there might be two or three instances in which the Government would gain a little time by the power of closing a debate by a bare majority, there would be 10 times as many in which a two-thirds majority would really be more useful for them than the Rule as it now stood. Some alteration in the latter portion of the Resolution seemed, indeed, logically necessary to carry out the intention indicated in the earlier portion. The Resolution authorized the Speaker to intervene, if it should appear to be the "evident sense" of the House that the debate should be brought to a close and the Question be put. Surely everyone admitted that the evident sense of the 1392 House must mean something like a general concurrence. If they meant to say that a debate was to be closed by a bare majority, and especially a majority carried by Government pressure, such a conclusion would not represent the evident feeling of the House. They had been assured, over and over again, by supporters of the Rule that no one wished to close debates by a mere majority. Then, would it not be more satisfactory to say so? Let them know what the Rule really was to be. If they did not limit the power, they might depend upon it the time would come when bare majorities would silence discussion. What would be the position of Mr. Speaker in years to come if, on some occasion when the Government thought any discussion would tend to weaken them, he was requested to close the discussion, and assured that there was a majority, say, of 20 or 30? It would be very difficult for him to refuse to use his power. Surely the House ought distinctly to say what was meant. If a bare majority was to close a discussion, let them say so; but let them not disguise the fact that they were altogether altering the character of debates in that House. To give the power proposed, if they did not mean it to be used, was to give an unscrupulous Minister a great advantage over one more fair towards his opponents, and would make it difficult eventually for any Minister not to use the power. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister gave various cases in which important questions had been settled by small majorities; but then it was always after a free discussion. This very fact seemed to be rather an argument against the clôture, for the minority would have been much less likely to submit if any check had been placed on the discussion. Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to ridicule the assumption that a mere majority would fairly be characterized as the evident sense of the House. He denied that it was intendedSimply 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.He pointed to the fact that the Speaker must intervene, and that he must only intervene when he perceived that it was the "evident sense of the House" that he should do so. But what was the evi- 1393 dent sense? The right hon. Gentleman says—"It is not for me to give an authoritative construction to these words." But if the words were so ambiguous that the right hon. Gentleman could not say authoritatively what they meant, was it not desirable that the House itself should do so? In the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the "evident sense of the House" clearly meant something more than a bare majority. Well, then, it could scarcely mean much less than two-thirds. It would seem, then, that the Speaker was not to put the Resolution unless he thought there were about two-thirds in favour of it; and yet, if he was mistaken, and if, after all, there was only a majority of 1, still the Motion was to be regarded as carried. But while the right hon. Gentleman denied that under his Resolution it was intended that the clôture should be put in force by a bare majority, it did not appear that his views were very decided in that respect. Different parts of his speech did not appear to be very consistent with one another in this respect, for while the right hon. Gentleman dwelt on safeguards and the evident sense of the House, on the other hand he frequently spoke of his Resolution as if the question were to be determined by a bare majority. Indeed, he characterized a majority of two-thirds or three-fourths as the work of ingenious brains. But such proposals would be simplicity itself compared with those of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman did not propose a bare majority. Surely the results of the Rule as it stood would be most inconsistent. Twenty Members could only be silenced by 100, and 40 would neutralize as many as 199. Surely such results were quite indefensible and inconsistent. If the minority was 20, the right hon. Gentleman's Rule required a majority, not of two-thirds, but of 5 to 1. If it was 40, he required 2½ to 1. If the minority were either 33 or 100, then he himself proposed the majority of two-thirds. Up, therefore, to a House of 300 Members, the right hon. Gentleman suggested a Rule at least as stringent, and sometimes more stringent, than that which other Members ventured to suggest. But as soon as he arrived at the magic number of 399 he was satisfied with a bare majority. Now, he could understand being strongly in favour 1394 either of a bare majority or of a proportional majority; but he confessed he felt it difficult to understand being strongly in favour sometimes of a bare majority, sometimes of 2 to 1, sometimes of 3 to 1, sometimes of 4 to 1, and sometimes even of 5 to 1. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of artificial majorities; but he must remind the House that only last year he himself, in reference to the question of Urgency, proposed that the Motion should be carried, "if it be resolved in the affirmative by a majority of not less than 3 to 1." No one, he thought, could deny that any question affecting the Rules of the House belonged to a class on which it was pre-eminently desirable that whatever was done, should be done, as far as possible, with the general concurrence of the House. He thought that even the most extreme Home Rulers opposite would admit that some change in the Rules of Parliamentary Procedure had become absolutely necessary by the course they had adopted. ["No, no!"] And, although they cried "No!" he believed in their hearts they could not feel aggrieved at any alteration which did not go beyond the necessities of the case. He believed, also, that hon. Members opposite might be induced to concur in the 1st Rule proposed by the Prime Minister, if it required some such majority as he ventured to suggest. Now, it was surely evident that a moderate Rule, carried with the assent and support of hon. Members opposite, would be more effective than one much more stringent which was forced upon them. Moreover, Her Majesty's Government must not measure the opinion of Liberal Members by the support they might receive, if they made their Rule a question of confidence. There were many Liberals who might not choose actually to vote against the right hon. Gentleman, who yet, in reality, must prefer a more moderate proposal. But if the right hon. Gentleman consented to modify his Rule, and then carried the House heartily with him, everyone would feel bound to carry it out in a loyal spirit; whereas, if he forced his views on a reluctant House, though he might obtain his Rule, it would certainly be far less efficient. The right hon. Gentleman referred specially to the two long debates of last year; and, indeed, they were almost the only instances he did 1395 quote as examples of eases in which his 1st Rule would apply; but, as he himself said, on both those occasions the clôture would have been voted, not by a majority of two-thirds, but of 9 or even 19 to 1. Now, they were told that the clôture was in force in various foreign Assemblies. In the case of France M. Guizot's opinion had been quoted; and it was no doubt true that M. Guizot did say that, in his opinion, it had, on the whole, worked well. But his language was by no means so decided as might be inferred from the manner in which it had been quoted. He admitted that the minority complained of the manner in which the debate was closed. He was asked whether the power had not been abused, and he replied—"I think it has not been used unjustly and improperly generally." To say that a power was not abused "generally" was surely an admission that it was abused often. In his opinion, therefore, M. Guizot's evidence strengthened the opposition to the proposed Rule in its present form. But even if it had worked well in France up to the time when M. Guizot spoke subsequent experience showed that he was mistaken; and no one could deny that the Rule had in that country been used in a manner which they would greatly disapprove. But if M. Guizot's opinion, as regarded its operation in his own country, proved to be entirely erroneous, it was rather extraordinary to quote it as an authority with reference to ours. Now, he would ask, how had the clôture, by a bare majority, worked in France? Was it not the case that under the Empire Count Walewski had to resign the Presidency because he was not found sufficiently subservient to the Minister when the Government wished to close a discussion? It was not only unimportant speakers who were silenced. M. Thiers himself never could get an opportunity of discussing the Mexican Expedition. Would anyone deny that if the Opposition had been able to debate the question of the Hohenzollern candidature the Franco-German War might never have taken place? But M. Thiers and M. Gambetta were silenced, until it was too late, and the Empire was brought to ruin. The Paris Correspondent of The Times, describing the action of the clôture some days ago, said that, practically, all formalities in 1396 moving the clôture were dispensed with when there was an autocratic President in the Chair. It became a regular habit with the Government majority to shout for the clôture as soon as they understood that the Minister desired to silence the Opposition. If hon. Members were not satisfied with that evidence, he would quote from another paper—a most able and consistent, but candid supporter of the right hon. Gentleman—he meant The Daily News—the Paris Correspondent of which said—He could not call to mind many instances in which the power of majorities to gag minorities had been abused to any appreciable extent. When the Comte de Morny was Speaker, the clôture was only one of many forms of tyranny, and there was seldom occasion to resort to it under the 'Moral Order' at Versailles. M. Buffet was sometimes accused of exercising the authority of the Chair to stifle a debate. It could scarcely be denied that M. Gambetta, when impatient, would now and then 'lift' the majority, which obeyed his word with a precipitation suggestive of unfairness.This was the account of the working of the clôture as given by The Daily News. It might, no doubt, be the case that their fears as to the working of the proposed Rule were unfounded; the fairness and good feeling of English Gentlemen might prevent any tyrannical abuse; but, if so, there was nothing to be gained by not adopting a wiser and milder Rule. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India stated that this was a question of confidence; but he must remind the House that the noble Lord was practically asking for a Vote of Confidence, not only for his own, but for all future Governments. No words of his could adequately express the admiration he felt for the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, or his sense of the splendid services he had rendered to the country. The right hon. Gentleman, in his eloquent and pathetic peroration, referred to the probability that this Rule would be used by others rather than himself. His life, he said, was rather in the past than in the future. It would be a sad day for them when the right hon. Gentleman resigned his Leadership of the Liberal Party. The vigour and eloquence of his speech made them indeed hope that that day might be far distant. But the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, though a conclusive answer to those, if 1397 any such there were, who thought that in proposing these Rules he was actuated by feelings of personal ambition—the very argument, he said, of the right hon. Gentleman rendered them the more anxious to induce him to consent to a modification of the Rule. If, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman had proposed his Rules as a Sessional Order, the case would have been very different. For his own part, he was quite ready to grant the right hon. Gentleman himself all the power this Rule would give him. As long as they were so fortunate as to retain him for their Leader, he should have no fear for the result; nor, again, should he hesitate for a moment as long as the present Speaker presided over their deliberations. He trusted the present state of things might long continue; but in making a Standing Order it was incumbent upon them to look far ahead. They had been told that the right hon. Gentleman was determined to make this question one of confidence. The reason he objected to the Rule as it stood was not from any want of confidence in the present Ministry, but—they would, he was sure, forgive him for saying so—from want of confidence in right hon. Gentlemen opposite. He trusted that the Liberal Party might long retain its present majority; but it was too much to hope that they would do so for ever. He should like the supporters of this Rule to consider, in such a case, when they were, perhaps, about to be hurried into an unjustifiable war, which it might be hoped a free discussion would prevent, what their feelings would be if this Rule were turned against them and discussion were stifled. The supporters of the clôture thought of the measures the Liberal Party wished to see carried; they felt the increased power it would give to a Government which enjoyed and deserved their confidence, and they did not sufficiently reflect what a terrible engine of oppression they were preparing for themselves, when next they were in a minority. If for a moment he found himself holding an opinion shared, indeed, by many Members of the Liberal Party, though doubtless by a minority, still he could not but remember that the present opinion was quite new. He, on the contrary, held to the opinion which was that of the Liberal Party but a few months ago, and which he believed, be- 1398 fore very long, would be theirs again. Much, then, as he regretted to find himself at issue with the majority of his political friends, he could not but feel that in urging the right hon. Gentleman to consent to some modification of his 1st Rule, he was endeavouring to uphold that principle of free discussion which was the birthright of the House of Commons, and used to be the proud boast of the Liberal Party.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Beresford Hope,)—put, and agreed, to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Thursday.