§ [THIRD NIGHT.]
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. BERESFORD HOPE
We have now reached a stage in the debate when we can consider the proposals of the Government as presented in different lights by the two leading Members of the Government—the Prime Minister and the noble Marquess the Member for North-East Lancashire (the Marquess of Hartington). We have also the advantage of the independent judgment of one who, though not on the Treasury Bench, is looked upon as one of the Leaders of the Liberal Party—my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen). In reference to the Prime Minister's speech, I shall 1705 chiefly deal with two points, which I may call external arguments, offered by him in favour of the proposed change. The first of these is the argument derived from the practice—not the uniform practice, but the frequent one—of certain foreign Parliaments. I confess I set little value on such precedents. I refuse to accept as guide for this Imperial Assembly the action of those miscellaneous Bodies whose Members sit down to play at law making at 2 o'clock and rise to eat and to drink at 5. Very likely they have the clôture in the Servian Parliament; but they have something else in the Servian Parliament. We have lately read that in the Servian Parliament they have made a great discovery in the art of obstruction, which I admire very much. It was made by the Radical Members there, and I respectfully recommend it to the Radicals of this House for their imitation. The Radicals of Servian have thrown up their seats in a body, and so stopped the work of the Session. Seriously speaking, I am sorry and indignant that England, the "Mother of Parliaments," the country from which all others have derived their lessons of Parliamentary Procedure—all except the ancient, Constitutional countries of Sweden and Hungary, where the clôture does not exist—should condescend to borrow this undesirable system from such mushroom imitators. I have been in the House many years, and during that time have heard many things that have surprised me, and some which have pleased me, but have been seldom more surprised than on hearing the strange passage at the latter end of the speech of the Secretary of State for India, in which he condescended to personalities; and I asked myself, Is it dignified for a Leader, and within the laws of fair Parliamentary fighting that, unprovoked, and without rhyme or reason, but simply to furnish an epigrammatic argument, and to raise the feelings of the House ad invidiam, hon. Members who had not uttered a word, but who cared for particular questions, should be picked out and held up—they and their favourite subjects—to ridicule by the Indian Secretary, with the implied argument—"Give me the clôture and I will put down these four bores." The Minister invoked the House to give him the clôture so that he might 1706 crush and suspend the four Members whom he thought unpopular on his side of the House. That was unfair and ungenerous, and, what was worse, it was very unwise, for it revealed his hand. Even more unwise was that threat of a resignation with which the noble Lord shotted his ridicule. The noble Lord ought to have seen he was recommending a proposal that we certainly do not love on this side of the House, and which, I believe, is very little loved on the other side. If he had shown judgment as well as vigour; if he had not given way to that "unruly member" of his; if he had not loosed rein to that steeplechase helter-skelter, he would not have taken the House into the confidence of the scorpions that are being prepared in the Government menagerie to scourge us with. With regard to the clôture, since that speech all the rose-coloured anticipations of the right hon. Member for Ripon are passed and gone. There is, as the noble Lord told us, a budget of promises upon which the present Government came into power after the last General Election still unredeemed, and these can not be carried out except by the clôture; so he brandished it before our eyes, that if we do not accept the Resolution in all its details we are to have the unfortunate calamity of a Ministerial resignation. What consistency is there in that? How can Government partizans say that this measure is raised above the range of Party politics, when they are told they must accept it under such a menace as that uttered by the noble Lord? He has said, in effect, that if they do not give him the power of crushing any Member who might fall under his displeasure, they must expect to see the resignation of the Treasury Bench. But, forewarned forearmed. We have been told that obstruction, delay, and all that sort of thing, have become so intolerable that something drastic must be done. The truth is, however, that the solid debates on successive stages of large Bills are not those which waste and extend a Session. They may seem tedious to the casual reader, for he finds his paper for four or five days crammed with columns of close printed-speeches, when he was looking out for the last murder at Wimbledon, or the newest swindling conspiracy at Birmingham. It is, as I shall show, the miscellaneous Business, and the intermediate stages, 1707 which are chiefly responsible for delay. Even for these lengthy debates, much blame lies at the door of the loose habit which Ministers have fallen into of speaking at any time in a debate, and of jumping up when they are least expected. If a little more attention was paid to the time-honoured etiquette of the two Leaders always closing the debates, it would be far more manageable. That was the true clôture; and I myself am for this old-fashioned clôture of the English Parliament—the clôture of a close understanding and friendly communication between the two Parties. No doubt, when the Leaders had sat down, we should, from time to time, see some irrepressible orator trespass on the course, like the dog on the Derby day; but the House, if true to its old traditions, could easily deal with that obstruction. I must now turn to the second of the external arguments of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister against what he termed "artificial majorities," when he insisted that grave historical events had been shaped in this House by the narrowest majorities. This argument breaks down at the very point at which, to have any value, it ought to be particularly strong. Of such divisions two things can always be predicated. They are the ultimate result of a series of events which have worked up to the final stage, and they are reached at the moment when some conclusion has become inevitable. Also the result of any division is a result proportioned to the largeness or the narrowness of the majority. Both these conditions are distinctly reversed in the use of the clôture. It is intended to be like a night ambush in some Irish lane sprung upon the wayfarer when he least expects it. The clôture, moreover, is simply the question of "Divide," or "Not divide;" and, therefore, necessarily devoid of any variety and gradation of results, such as the variety and gradation attaching, as I have shown, to the results of a division on the subject-matter of a question, according to the relative proportions of the two sides. What is the case—to quote from my right hon. Friend's instances—when a Ministry goes out, from being beaten by a narrow majority, and then comes in again? The very narrow majority was strong enough to turn out the Government, but it was not strong enough to keep it out. When my right hon. Friend resigned for 1708 a few days after the division on the matter of University education in Ireland, there the narrow majority led to his temporary resignation, but it did not lead to the destruction of the Government. In the clôture there is no gradation and no difference; so the analogy breaks down at a point where it ought to be most strong and most reliable. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with the matter with great zeal, and no doubt with the utmost sincerity, in his desire to remove it from the arena of Party politics. He went so far as to express his desire that the clôture might not be regarded as one of the triumphs of his own Government; and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon was fairly captivated and carried away by the statements of the Prime Minister. I always like to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon, for he is a man who has held high Office, and yet remains ingenuous. But he need not have been so superfluously indignant with the hon. Member for Brighton; and if he had delayed one more night, and spoken after the Secretary of State for India, his indignation might have even to himself seemed groundless. The speech of the Secretary of State for India was pitched in a very different key from that of the Prime Minister or the right hon. Member for Ripon. The Prime Minister had brought out the heroine of the hour and conducted her to the stage lights tricked out in the allurements of an artificial beauty. The Secretary for India has shown her to us as she is on the conclusion of the performance, the rouge washed from her wrinkled cheeks, the Royal mantle exchanged for the well-used dressing-gown, the curls remanded to the wig-box. We have been pelted with statements of the length to which modern debates have ran—58 days, I think, for the Irish Land Act of last Session. There is a great deal of mystification about these figures. A particular subject may have lasted for so many days; but it is a subject made up of many debates, and for each of these debates, if the argument is worth anything, a separate clôture would be needed, while each clôture would assuredly produce debates at future stages which would otherwise never have been thought of. By cutting off six or eight speeches at any stage of a discussion we may bring 1709 the end of a debate nearer, but we shall not bring the Prorogation nearer. We shall simply turn into the wilderness disappointed orators, dumb and desperate. Then, considering that, as in the case of worms, zoophytes, and other humble types of animal life, obstruction propagates itself by section, these six or eight stifled speeches will merely be transmuted, and they will come up on Amendments in Committee. Each will, again, have its satellites—the one or two speeches which must be listened to on each Amendment in Committee before even the most ruthless application of the clôturs. One Member of the present Government commenced his political life with the programme of the "three F's"—not the new Irish imitation, but the real old "three F's"—Free Church, Free Land, Free Education. G follows F, and it seems as if the President of the Board of Trade has added a fourth item to his programme—"Gagged Parliaments." Now, I turn to the words of the Resolution, and to the manner in which it proposes to deal with Mr. Speaker. On this branch of the subject we all feel how easy it is to speak our minds, from the impossibility of anyone confounding you, Sir, with that Speaker of the future whom the Resolution tends to set up. Our only apprehension, Sir, is lest you should be the last of that glorious line of Speakers of our old Free Parliament. The object of the clôture is to make us all feel that we are walking with the headsman behind us. I appeal to you, Sir, whether a House of Commons pervaded with this dread can be what the House of Commons once was? The Resolution proposes—That when it shall appear to Mr. Speaker, or to the Chairman of a Committee of the whole House, during any debate, that the evident sense of the House is "—And so on. But how is the evident sense to be ascertained? When the Prime Minister proposed the Resolution he assured us it was not to be noise or the absence of noise that was to show what the sense of the House was. It must then be, I suppose, some interior sense—one of those strange, mysterious qualities, which Theologians and Scotch Philosophers assert exists in the human mind—that is to guide Mr. Speaker in his conclusion. But who has ever heard of the interior, super-material sense existing in the Speaker- 1710 ship? I do not think any Speaker would ever confess to being guided in that way. He might rise from his Chair, and call on the House to vote the clôture, with the declaration—"Divinare etenim magnus donavit Apollo." But a profane House would ask itself—"Who is the Speaker's Apollo?" And, with or without an Apollo, what will the Speaker have to declare? He will have to declare that the evident sense of the House is that the debate should be terminated; and if, on the consequent division, 301 vote for, and 300 against, the termination, the evident sense of the House will be the quotient of the subtraction sum—300 from 301. Clearly, the Speaker will have to act by some process of reasoning; and would it not be possible to presume that a future Speaker might say to himself—"I know the House is evenly balanced. The senior Member for Canterbury, I am sure, is for closing the debate, and the junior Member for Canterbury for going on. I will watch the two; and if the senior Member walks out, I shall get up and declare the evident sense to be for a division." So, then, the evident sense will resolve itself into the chance of which Member for Canterbury may sit out longest. Surely no Speaker would commit himself to such a hazard. It is impossible to suppose he would rely on his unassisted sagacity. Those who remember their "Gulliver" will recollect that the men in authority at Laputa entertained as prominent members of their official staff gentlemen called "Flappers," whose duties were to find their Chiefs in memory and in thoughts. No doubt, Mr. Speaker of Laputa had his "Flapper;" and our Speaker of the future must equally have his. I have thought of an Amendment, which would, I believe, make this Resolution run much more ship-shape, according to its Inventor's intentions; but I fear that if I propose it I shall be called an "Obstructionist;" and I live in terror of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India—for I am sure that he will rush out and collar me, and gibbet me. But it may help the Prime Minister, if I read what I suggest—That when it shall appear to Mr. Speaker, or to the Chairman of a Committee of the whole House, during any debate, upon information privately conveyed to him by one of the Secretaries to the Treasury, to be the evident sense of the House"—1711 And so forth. The mode of procedure shadowed forth in these words will surely come. You, Sir, would shut your ears to any such suggestion from a Secretary to the Treasury; but I cannot have that confidence in your Successors elected under the conditions created by this New Rule. Personally, they may wish to be thoroughly fair; but no man can be greater in action than the conditions of his Office allow him to be. The Speaker of the future will be the nominee of the man who makes the Ministry, so will also the Whip be; and, with this Resolution existing to shape the Speaker's relations both to House and to Minister, it is impossible not to assume that the Minister will select Speaker and Whip at the same time and in relation to each other, so as to work the clôture for the benefit of the Administration. I must conclude by repeating a question. The clôture may advance some divisions; but will it advance the Prorogation? I do not believe it, for its inevitable tendency is to multiply these wrangles, which go much further to protract the Session than any solid serious debate, however lengthy. It will—slowly, it may be, but surely—emasculate Parliament; it will destroy the high quality of the debates, and make the House the facile engine of administrative chicane. And even for the objects which it is intended to meet it will prove itself worse than useless, for it will produce phases of Obstruction more extravagant than any which have yet taken root among us. We have heard of the clôture in America; but we have also heard there of "filibustering." What is meant by "filibustering?" Why, Obstruction brought up to its most scientific form. I shall give to the Motion my most decided opposition; for I believe that it will lower the character of Parliament, vulgarize the tone of our debates, and imperil our independence, without conducing one whit to the better performance of the duties of the House.
§ MR. WALTER
said, he felt that, after the quaint and humorous speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Beresford Hope), he rose to address the House at some disadvantage. He had neither the ability nor the inclination at that moment to take the amusing and comical view of the matter which his right hon. Friend had taken. He intended to treat the question gravely; but he admitted 1712 that, perhaps, it was not a disadvantage in a debate such as the present to have the grave as well as the humorous aspect of the subject presented to the House. He rose to address the House because he thought that the issue involved in the debate, although a very narrow one, when closely examined was of a supremely important character, involving as it did the rights and privileges of Members as they had hitherto been understood. The question, as it presented itself to his mind, was this—whether, admitting the principle of the clôture in some form to be necessary, the power of closing a debate ought to be lodged in the hands of the House, viewed as a collective Assembly, or to be intrusted, as he contended it was capable of being intrusted according to the terms of the Resolution, to the dominant majority of a Party? He hoped hon. Members would not bring a charge of egotism against him if for a moment he referred to his past career. He had sat in the House, with a short interval, since the year 1847. There were just 12 Members left of those who entered the House when he did, or who were in it before that time—just a sufficient number to constitute a common jury; and he would venture to say that he felt confident that if he were tried by that jury on any general charge of obstructiveness, he would be honourably acquitted. He did not scruple, however, to say that, should he find himself at any future time the victim of the clôture under circumstances which he believed to be perfectly possible if the present Resolution were carried, he would not be surprised to find himself turning Obstructive at the fag-end of his Parliamentary life. He had in great measure been led to make that remark in consequence of the observations of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India in the very remarkable speech delivered the other night. The noble Marquess then made a statement which, he said, would startle new Members of that House. The noble Marquess was more remarkable for uttering very sensible opinions than for uttering startling ones; but on the occasion to which he had referred the noble Lord gave utterance to a doctrine to which he attached extreme weight, because he said it involved a principle the importance of which it was impossible to exaggerate— 1713 namely, not only that the time of the House was the property of the House, and not of individual Members—a principle in which he (Mr. Walter) entirely concurred—but that no Member of the House had any personal right to speak in that House. That seemed to him to be a doctrine involving a question which was, perhaps, better fitted for discussion in a Chamber of philosophers than in one composed of practical men—namely, "What natural rights belonged to men in a state of social life?" He did not propose to enter minutely into that question; but the noble Marquess having challenged any difference of opinion on the subject, he felt disposed to ask in what sense he contended that a private Member who was sent to Parliament because he was supposed to be capable of taking part in their deliberations, by speech as well as by vote, had no personal right to open his mouth? No doubt, if the noble Marquess merely contended that no one could put forward his own personal or natural rights in opposition to those which every society and body of men prescribed for their own convenience and the general welfare, he was uttering a truism. If, however, the noble Marquess contended that it was only by the favour of the House that any Member had a right to speak, he challenged his doctrine. The true position was that a Member who entered the House had a natural right of speech, limited only by such Rules as the House had laid down, not arbitrarily or capriciously, but equitably and justly. If that was what the noble Marquess meant, well and good; but if he went beyond that, he (Mr. Walter) could not agree with him. Now, there was one thing connected with the Resolution under the consideration of hon. Members which he could not help referring to—namely, the singular place which the Motion occupied in the list of the Resolutions which had been presented to the House for consideration. Why it should have been placed first instead of last, as it ought to have been if the logical sequence of things had been adhered to, he failed to understand. It was a Resolution for putting a stop to discussion, for bringing about the division which would be the termination of a particular stage of a measure already introduced; and therefore he should have thought that the other Resolutions—all 1714 of which were more or less connected with the removal of obstructions in the way of the introduction of measures—ought to have been disposed of first. The Poet Laureate, whose muse he could not help thinking must have been inspired by the achievements of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, had lately sung as follows:—May Freedom's oak for ever live,With larger life from day to day;That man's the true ConservativeWho lops the mouldered branch away.Why, he asked, had not the Prime Minister addressed himself to the task of lopping away those mouldering branches which everybody knew to be the real cause of the difficulty with which the House had now to deal, instead of adopting, in his woodman's character, the dangerous course of laying the axe to the root of the tree? Now, he should like very briefly indeed to state his own particular misgivings, and where he thought the real solution was to be found in dealing with this very difficult subject. He thought there had been some confusion of terms in the language employed. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Beresford Hope) had mentioned one—namely, the difficulty of determining what was the "evident sense" of the House. He thought there was another difficulty in determining in what sense the word "House" itself was used, because "House" might mean, and did mean, two different things. It might mean the collective assembly of English Gentlemen met together and discussing matters according to Rules contrived for mutual convenience; or it might mean the House regarded as two hostile camps drawn up in battle array, and ready to dispute a question at the sword's point. And let him make this remark—it had been forced upon him by the observation of many years. If he had to regard the House in a sense of a large assembly of English Gentlemen, he knew that in the honour and the spirit of fair play of the House he could have perfect confidence. If, however, he regarded the House as two Parties bent upon their own objects, and with a view to dislodging each other from those opposite Benches, the case was totally different. No man who understood human nature could place confidence in the fairness of the House regarded in that light. Those who thought 1715 with him on this subject were often asked why, when they admitted the right of a bare majority to pass such measures as the Habeas Corpus Act, which was carried by a majority of I, or the Reform Bill; to turn out Governments, and perform other achievements of that kind; to decide questions of peace and war, finance and taxation—why the same principle should not be applied to the clôture? He would answer that question. He thought he could give a satisfactory answer. The answer was this. In those great Party fights to which they were accustomed, when the two sides were drawn up in battle array—when the object was victory—when the prize was Office—when some important political question was at stake—the element of fair play did not enter at all. It could not enter. It had no business there. It was said that in war and love everything was fair. So it was in political fights in that House. There was no idea of fair play. The idea would be an absurdity; men fought for victory. But when they came to deal with questions affecting the personal convenience, the rights and interests, not of one Party, but of the whole House collectively, the case was totally different. They must be guided by principles of equity; they must be guided by justice; they must not attempt to shut men's mouths, to choke them off from the right to join in debates. The whole thing depended upon this—were they to recognize the element of fair play in dealing with this subject? The Prime Minister had recognized it indirectly when he used such language as this—"Can you conceive that Mr. Speaker or any Party in this House would be so rash and unreasonable as not to give fair play to people who wished to speak?" That language was not held with regard to divisions on questions of reform, of confidence in Ministers, on questions of peace or war, because, as he had said, the question of fair play did not enter into the subject. Therefore, he contended that it was absolutely necessary for the protection of the rights of Members of the House—for the protection of freedom of debate—that the question of fair play should be recognized, not only indirectly in the speeches of Ministers, but either expressly by the use of such language as was intended to carry it out, or by the adoption of such proportional 1716 majorities as would put the matter beyond all doubt. What he was afraid of in this matter was this. The tendency of majorities on the question of the clôture would be to grow smaller by degrees and beautifully less. Take the case of a House of 500 Members when the question of the clôture was raised. They might at first have a majority of 100. He dared say the Speaker of the day would be very cautious not to try it until he could reckon on a majority of 100. The next majority might be 90, then 80, 60, 50, and so on. Where were they to stop? Where were they to draw the line in determining what was "the evident sense of the House?" There was an old Latin proverb which warned people to beware of giving up rights and privileges—"Cave de resignationibus." And they all remembered how in the case of the foolish old King, who when he gave away his dominion to his daughters, reserved for himself a retinue of 100 knights, he was addressed by one of them—Goneril—who said—What need you five-and-twenty, ten, or five,To follow in a house where twice so manyHave a command to tend you?Well, that was the sort of language which the Speaker might use. Suppose the case came to a tie. Suppose there was a tie in a House of 500—on which side was Mr. Speaker to give the casting vote? Might he not say, in the words of the daughter of King Lear, "What need one?" The point upon which he was most anxious was the one to which his right hon. Friend referred—namely, the importance of maintaining the absolute freedom of discussion in that House in great debates. Personally, he cared very little about this subject when the question had passed the second reading. Everybody who knew that House knew that the second reading was the great pièce de résistance in the Parliamentary banquet. The second reading ought to be discussed slowly, deliberately, and with grave consideration. The debate ought to be discussed at leisure, not bolted hastily like a supper at York by passengers by the limited mail. If, as he had heard some people say, the clôture was to be applied at the end of a three or four nights' debate, what would be the feeling of Members who considered that they had a perfect right to speak, but had not been allowed to do so? They need not be well-known Obstruc- 1717 tives. How would they feel if they were precluded from taking a fair share in the debate because it pleased the Ministry of the day to carry their measure? There was nothing in that Resolution to prevent this from happening. That was what he complained of. It was all very well to say that was not the intention. They must judge of measures not by the intentions of their Movers, but by their words. They must not place too much reliance on good intentions. He recollected a passage in one of Mr. Grattan's speeches on the Irish Union in 1799, in which he used these words—When the liberty and security of one country depend upon the honour of another, the one may have much honour, but the other will have no liberty.He would not trust the liberty of that House to the honour of any dominant section in it. He would have made an appeal to the Prime Minister had he been present; but, in his absence, he would make the appeal to those of his Colleagues whom he had the pleasure to see near him. Why could not the Government see its way to some compromise? Gentlemen on both sides would give the Prime Minister all the help they could to remove the obstructions under which they had so long suffered. He would go further than his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and say he should be prepared to accept all the subsequent Resolutions without discussion—and they were by far the most important for the general Business of the House—if he could see his way to a fair and reasonable compromise being arrived at on the 1st Rule—a compromise something like that put down on the Paper by the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock). He would recommend clôture by a majority of two-thirds, with this proviso, that the quorum of the House should consist of 60 instead of 40 whenever it was applied. How did it come to pass that in referring to the various States on the Continent in which the clôture was in force the case of Switzerland was wholly omitted? Now, it happened that in Switzerland a majority of two-thirds prevailed. Switzerland was a small country; but, as was well known, it was the cradle of liberty. This was the account given by Mr. Carew— 1718The clôture exists, and is frequently put into practice—it was no sham in Switzerland—in the Conseil National, especially in the course of the more important debates. The text of Article 49 (modified)—which relates to the clôture—of the Règlement for the Conseil National is as follows:—'The Assembly can decide the clôture of debates if the two-thirds of the Members present demand it. However, the clôture cannot be pronounced so long as a Member of the Assembly who has not yet spoken desires to formulate a proposal and moves it.' After the clôture of a debate has been pronounced by the President of the Chamber, no one has the right to ask permission to speak.The working of the clôture in both Chambers was described as highly satisfactory. But he need not go as far as Switzerland. Authority was to be found in their own country testifying to the reasonableness and justice of the two-thirds majority system. The hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had left the House. Had he been present he would have liked to call him as a witness. The hon. Member advocated Local Option. His clôture, indeed, was to be applied to public-houses. It might, perhaps, be an indignity to call that House a public House, although it certainly was not a private one. The hon. Member for Carlisle proposed to apply the clôture to public-houses; but before that could be done a majority of two-thirds of the parish must be obtained. If, however, the Prime Minister did not approve the principle of a two-thirds majority, let him adopt any other plan that would be acceptable to reasonable and moderate men on the other side of the House—and there were many of them—whose personal rights and convenience were just as much involved in this question as their own. But if the Prime Minister would not do this, he would appeal to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), and those who thought with him, to stand by their opinions, and to agree with him that the Resolution as it stood was a most objectionable one. For himself, unless the Prime Minister accepted some such modification, he would not be deterred by any Parliamentary terror whatever from doing justice to his own convictions and voting against the Resolution.
§ MR. J. HOLLOND
said, that in those quarters with which he was acquainted the majority which supported Liberal principles in 1880 was as staunch to 1719 those principles as ever it was, and the charge of manufacturing public opinion on this subject was, therefore unfounded as far as his knowledge went. He found it difficult to understand what hon. Gentlemen opposite would recommend as the mode of dealing with the present condition of affairs. They had two favourite methods—the one was to deal with the evil of Obstruction by silencing individual Members, and the other the adoption of the clôture by a two-thirds or three-fourths majority. In his opinion, either of these methods, if adopted, would be open to still graver objections than the proposal of the Government. The difficulty of solving the problem lay in this, that they could not define where Obstruction began and simply excessive talking ended. If they attempted to deal with Obstruction as an individual offence, the occupant of the Chair would come into very unpleasant contact with certain individual Members of the House, and a feeling might arise that his impartiality was no longer what it should be. Then, as to the clôture by a two-thirds or three-fourths majority. He was surprised the other night to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes), speaking of the effect the clôture would have on the Irish Party, ask, would it not be a grave objection that it should be said that Irish Members were sent back to their constituents with their mouths closed? But if there was any system more objectionable on that ground than another, it was that the Irish Members should be silenced by a special clôture designed to meet their case. One argument in favour of a two-thirds or three-fourths majority went on the supposition that it represented the tacit understanding about closing the debates which was assumed to exist between different sides of the House. But when they passed from an unwritten to a written law, then an Opposition might be expected to use its rights to the utmost; or else Government would be tempted to make bargains with the Opposition in order to insure the proper closing of a debate. In that case they weakened the authority of the Government, which ought to do what it thought right on its responsibility to the public; and they weakened the responsibility of the Opposition, because it would make bargains to carry out measures of which it did not ap- 1720 prove. They had heard in the course of the debate how the clôture was abused in France under the late Emperor Napoleon. But the clôture then was simply a part of the despotic machinery of the Empire, and as soon as Parliamentary Government became a reality in France, there was no complaint as to the manner in which the clôture worked. He heard the debate in the French Chambers on Tunis in November, and though the clôture was put to the vote twice, it was rejected, and the debate came to a natural conclusion. As far as France was concerned, the clôture was scarcely ever abused, and no serious attempt to alter it was made by the Party in the minority. The extent of the Government proposition was that due deliberation should be followed by a conclusion, and there was nothing that was very monstrous in such a proposition as that. He could not see how this proposal could affect the debates beyond rendering the dispatch of Business more certain and effectual. The real guarantee against any abuse of the use of the clôture would be found in the love of fair play and of free discussion which was inherent on both sides of the House. Hon. Members opposite declaimed against any interference with the ancient Forms of that House; but the ancient spirit that had actuated it in former times could not be preserved by merely adhering to the ancient Forms. In his opinion, free Parliamentary discussion would gain rather than lose by the adoption of the proposal, because the House of Commons could only act in sympathy with the feelings and the wishes of the country. He thought, therefore, that they could not do better than to accept the Government proposal as offering the best solution of the great difficulty they were endeavouring to meet.
§ MR. DALRYMPLE
said, he thought that it was evident that the hon. Member who had just sat down admired the principle of the clôture for its own sake. The illustration which the hon. Member had drawn from the experience of the French Chamber was not likely to recommend the adoption of the clôture to the Speaker, because if the same circumstances arose here there would be this unfortunate result—that, having en-deavoured to recognize the evident sense of the House in a similar case to that referred to by the hon. Member, the House 1721 would not endorse the decision. It had been sought to justify the Government proposal on two grounds—first, on that of the great increase of Business; and, second, on that of the prevalence of Obstruction. No one denied the existence of the great increase of Business in the House, and the presence of prevalent Obstruction; but it was of the greatest importance that these two factors should not become inextricably confused, so that, while seeking to free themselves from the evils which they suffered under, they should adopt the wrong remedy. There was not one word in the speech, either of the Prime Minister or of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India, which in any degree led up to the conclusion that the clôture was the right remedy. There was no natural affinity between congestion of Business and Obstruction. True, they came very near to one another, in one respect, for, of course, when there was great congestion of Business, Obstruction found most easily its opportunity, and had the most fatal effects. But the House was not responsible for the congestion of Business. The House, he might almost say, was not responsible for Obstruction, but only a small section of it; and could it be maintained with any degree of justice that the remedy proposed by Her Majesty's Government—a remedy of a penal character directed against Obstruction, which was only the fault of a small section—ought to affect the whole House? If, putting out of consideration the proposal now made by the Government, they were looking only at the question of the congestion of Business, would it not appear that a reasonable remedy for congestion would be found in simple and more effective weapons than that of the clôture? Would it not be desirable that, to take the case of an ordinary evening, before the Business of the House was reached, discussion should not arise upon questions to Ministers, and that when the Business of the evening was reached, preliminary matters of a foreign character should not be introduced, and that, when the House had once embarked in the discussion of a particular measure, the opportunities for discussing it should be abridged? If Her Majesty's Government had dealt with these points, he asked whether there might 1722 not already in the present Session have been a large amount of time saved? No one would allege that there had been Obstruction in the old sense during the present Session; but the Business had often been interrupted by discussions raised out of questions to Ministers, and delayed by questions of a foreign character introduced on going into Committee of Supply. But whose fault was it that the House was not protected against those obvious evils? It was the fault of the Government, who had not at the outset proposed a renewal of the Monday Rule, nor taken steps to deliver them from the most detestable delays of Business which often took place at Question time. As regarded Obstruction, what would seem to be the natural method of dealing with it would be to punish the offender, and not the many. There never had been an adequate punishment for Obstructives, and certainly the innocent many ought not to suffer for their offences. The reason why simple and more effective remedies had not been tried was that they were not after the heart of the present Government. This was no ordinary Government. It was nowhere if it was not acting on heroic and histrionic lines. It was a Government which greatly delighted in producing effects; but he went further, and said that the Government was not only turning aside from simple and effective remedies, and recommending a remedy which was extreme and offensive to many, but he contended that the remedy proposed to meet the twofold dilemma in which the House was placed—namely, congestion and Obstruction—was especially inexpedient and unjustifiable. He would put it to fair-minded men—and the House was full of fair-minded men—whether, if Obstruction was the only thing which the Government desired to put down, the Government could not count upon the help of the Opposition? He asked hon. Gentlemen to remember the experience of last Session. They would recollect that when a case for Urgency was made out, the Government was supported by the Opposition. He felt sure that if Obstruction were the only difficulty, the clôture would not be needed. But, unfortunately, that was not the whole object of the Government. They intended not only to put down Obstruction, but in many cases to put down op- 1723 position. The speech of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India bore out that statement. He (the Marquess of Hartington) admitted that the measures which the Government proposed to deal with would be greatly aided by the clôture. The noble Lord went further, for he said that it would not only advance the measures of the Government, but also silence private Members. If there were unnecessary prolixity or pertinacity, the silencing of those Members might be justifiable; but he begged leave to remind the House that Members such as the noble Lord singled out for remark brought forward subjects that were not agreeable to the Government, and if that powerful weapon which the Government asked for were placed in their hands, there could be no doubt as to the purpose for which it would be employed. The noble Lord referred to the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton), and he thought he was particularly unfortunate in that allusion. The hon. and learned Member for Bridport never detained the House for any length of time; and, moreover, when that hon. and learned Member desired to address the House on the subject of Patent Medicines, he placed himself entirely in the hands of the Leader of the Opposition, and having asked that right hon. Gentleman to prescribe for him, immediately swallowed the prescription. Such a course as that was as far as possible removed from Obstruction, and he should have thought that it would have rendered the hon. and learned Member safe from the reflections of the noble Lord. The peculiarity of the present Government was that two of its Members never made the same statement about the same thing. It would be remembered that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said that the occasions on which the clôture would be used were rare. But the Secretary of State for India evidently contemplated a much more frequent use of that weapon. There was one line of argument which had been used in order to rally the supporters of the Government. It had been said to them that when they were before the country they promised that certain measures should be passed through Parliament, and that as these could not be passed without the clôture, therefore they must vote for the clôture. But there was also another line 1724 of argument used with hon. Members opposite. The supporters of the Government had been told that the Government had nailed its colours to the mast, and that it would be placed in difficulties if the clôture were not adopted. A good deal had been said about the caucus. For his own part, he did not wish to say anything that would hurt the feelings of hon. Gentlemen opposite; but what was the meaning of the perpetual interpretation of Motions as questions of confidence? The Government seemed to say—"If you really love me, seat the Member for Northampton; if you really love me, tell the House of Lords—though the telling can do no good—that we will not have the Land Act meddled with; and, again, if you really love me, give me the clôture." He thought the House disliked the present proposal of the Government as a whole, and that many of of the other Rules would have been readily accepted, which would have gone far to meet the evils from which they suffered. He would venture to cite to the House some criticisms passed by the late Lord Beaconsfield (at that time Mr. Disraeli) on the policy of a former Liberal Government. Those criticisms were directed to the foreign policy of the Government, but, mutatis mutandis, they were equally applicable now. Speaking in 1864, Mr. Disraeli said it was for the Government to frame a policy which would commend itself to the House. If it was a wise policy, the House would unanimously support them; but the House ought to assure itself of its wisdom. If in the difficulties which had arisen the policy were a necessary and just one, the House ought to consider whether those difficulties might not have been avoided by more skilful management, and whether the Government had shown a capacity adequate to the occasion; whether it had displayed that prudence and dexterity, that quickness of perception, that knowledge of human nature, the kind of science most necessary to those who would successfully lead the Parliament of the country, which might be reasonably expected of them. Those words of the late Earl of Beaconsfield were now particularly applicable to the Government, which was bringing forward that particular form of clôture. The House was told there was no fear of 1725 that power being abused. But he could not be absolutely sure of that; he had to look to the antecedents of the men who proposed it. He could not forget the allusions made to other Assemblies when it was said a Bill might be carried through in a single Sitting—a process which would enable a Government to snap its fingers at the Opposition. Still less could he forget the allusion made shortly before Parliament met to the powers which Government would be obliged to obtain and which it was desirable they should obtain as they were approaching subjects which might affect the privileged classes, whatever they might be. Language of that kind made men look carefully to the proposals of the Government before accepting them. He referred to the noble Lord the Secretary for India, who held high doctrine on the time of the House. But was not the time of the House the property of the House itself? The noble Lord considered that the House was responsible for the use it made of its time; but he would carry that doctrine one step further. Not only the House, but different sections of the House; not only the Government, but the Opposition, were similarly responsible. If, therefore, the Government had taken the Opposition along with them in their proposals to the House, instead of making them an article of a falling or rising Ministry, they would have been rightly able to claim the support of the Opposition in regard to this and the following proposals; but how ludicrous in view of these general theories about the time and responsibility of the House was the proposal that the clôture should pass by a bare majority. He believed that a careful and guarded clôture—say, of a two-thirds majority—would not have been unacceptable, if it was necessary to have a clôture at all. But he should have been disposed to say, "Try your other Rules first, and if they do not succeed, try the clôture, and then you may rely on the Opposition." The clôture by a two-thirds majority would amply meet the case. The noble Lord had referred to public opinion. But the Opposition was as responsible to public opinion as the Government itself. The effect of the Rule, if passed, would be to produce a general irritation in the House. He was afraid that the "evident sense of the House" might too often be 1726 the evident uproar—the evident chaos—and the House would be turned into a bear garden. But, more than that; he was afraid that the name and credit of the House, which were as dear to the humblest private Member as to the Government itself, or even to the occupant of the Chair, would not be vindicated or enhanced by the proposal of the Government in its present form.
MR. GEORGE RUSSELL
said, he was sorry that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) was not in the House, as he felt bound to make some personal reference to him. His hon. and learned Friend's opinions seemed to him to be of extreme antiquity—his political character would have suited better with the year 1688 than with 1882. It was only by this antiquity of political view that he could account for the vigour of his hon. and learned Friend's attack upon the President of the Board of Trade. His right hon. Friend was perfectly able to take care of himself, and he was not going to defend him. But the frequent attacks which were made on the right hon. Gentleman could only be accounted for by personal jealousy. It was natural that when the right hon. Gentleman had attained so high a position after a comparatively brief Parliamentary career, men of greater age and experience, but less ability, should feel a pang of envy. He did not for a moment impute such motives to his hon. and learned Friend. Indeed, he could not but condole with him for having at a critical moment felt himself constrained to desert his Party. His hon. and learned Friend had extended to the Leader of his Party a genial tolerance, which he denied to the President of the Board of Trade. His hon. and learned Friend had declaimed against the tyranny of the Caucus. But why had he said nothing of the Conservative Caucus, which had its abode in one of the palaces of Pall Mall, and about whose doings his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) had recently made some entertaining disclosures? No doubt, the Caucus had its ramifications spread all over the country; but was it incredible that there should be such a tiling as spontaneous Liberal organization? It was said that circulars from the Party Caucuses had been sent through the Liberal camp like the fiery 1727 cross. For himself, he would say he had never been influenced by them, and had always consigned them to the waste-paper basket. The action of the Liberal Party had, in fact, been wholly unprompted. They had either not received these circulars, or, if they had received them, they had been disregarded. It was said it was necessary to conciliate the goodwill of the Caucuses. All he could say was that the electors of Aylesbury placed unqualified confidence in their junior Representative. He condoled with the hon. and learned Member for Brighton for the acquaintance he was about to make, not with the Birmingham organization, but with the Brighton organization, whose feelings had been quickened into indignation at their Representative's—he would not say treacherous—but untimely desertion. He must find himself now condemned to act with the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) and the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Joseph Cowen), who lived in the torrid zone of politics. Let him distinctly understand that the great bulk of the Liberal Party was united in support of this measure. He was not, going to blink disagreeable facts, and he could not but be aware that the unanimity of the Liberal Party was not so absolute as it had been on previous occasions. But those who were loyal were not actuated by a constrained loyalty, though he would admit that the loyalty of many of the Party was subjected to a considerable strain a year ago, when repressive measures were introduced for the government of Ireland. The fact that they, nevertheless, supported the measure showed their faith in their recognized Leaders. Then their loyalty had suffered another strain in respect of the Bradlaugh controversy. But in the present instance their loyalty was hearty and unforced. They were loyal, in the first place, to the principle of the measure. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Stanhope) had said that if the majority were to have the right to terminate a debate, why should not it have power to prohibit debate altogether? That was exactly what the House was in the habit of doing when it refused leave to bring in a Bill, which showed that Parliament had the right to refuse to allow debate at all in some instances. Then, in the second place, they were loyal to the details of the 1728 measure. He should have no objection whatever to the adoption of the fancy proportion of 3 to 1, or, if that were insufficient, of any combination that would be effectual in arresting the decay of Parliamentary discipline. Again, they were not only loyal to this measure, they were not only tolerant of this Rule, but it was exactly what they wanted. Some of them had not only a personal, but an hereditary interest in the House of Commons. To many of them the acquisition of a seat in that House had been a subject of anxious thought and high ambition—but, having obtained seats in it, they found themselves condemned to a silence as severe as any that ever weighed on a Trappist monk, because of the extraordinary length of the useless and often insolent discourses to which the House was so frequently treated. They might bear this enforced silence with some degree of willingness if it were necessary for the passing of great measures in the public interest; but they were not disposed to submit to it in order that hon. Members might "heckle" the Prime Minister, or that the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) might spread his subtle but ineffectual snares for the feet of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, or that Irish Members might denounce the Chief Secretary for Ireland in language which, as Mr. Goldwin Smith had said, would be exaggerated if applied to Nero. It was singular to hear the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes) talking of the turpitude of partizanship. Why, they were all partizans. There were measures of private interest to many hon. Members upon which they were absolutely debarred from speaking at all. For that reason it was that they felt there was a genuine urgent necessity for some such measure as that which had been proposed by Her Majesty's Ministers—a measure which would enable hon. Members to take an intelligent and orderly part in debate. They would welcome a release from the present condition of bondage, and not less welcome would be the opportunity of supporting by their voices, and not merely by their votes, those Ministers who were entitled to their gratitude for proceeding on their course in spite of the embarrassment caused by the defection of half-hearted friends and of the hostility of avowed 1729 but not very chivalrous foes, and who would yet win a victorious battle on behalf of the order and freedom of Parliamentary debate.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
said, that while he apologized for occupying the time of the House at an early part of his Parliamentary career, he would not be doing right to those whom he represented were he to come forward in any attitude of undue humility to plead the cause of those who found themselves bound to oppose the Government. He represented large bodies of working men, who believed that the proposal before the House was not justified by existing circumstances. If it were really the fact that there was such a congestion of Public Business as could not be remedied in any other way, that would be a different matter. But there was no evidence of the need of the measure, and even if there were, it ought not to be adopted unless the House had unsuccessfully tried every other course. This proposal came almost isolated at a time considerably removed from any previous occasion when any attempt was made to reform the Procedure of the House, and it stood at the head of a long list of proposals. This fact made them ask whether or not, when the present proposal was disposed of the Government would ever ask the House to consider the others? He would not be in Order in discussing the others; but he would have the concurrence of many hon. Members when he said he entertained the belief that much of the difficulty of the present situation was due to such things as the waste of time during Question time, and by Motions of Adjournment on irrelevant subjects. Further, the occasions on which the House had been kept sitting for 24 hours and upwards had been entirely due to the right which existed of making successive Motions for Adjournment, each of them reviving the right of speech in every Member who chose to follow up that dilatory course of proceeding. By dealing effectually with that practice, much might be done towards facilitating the due progress of Business. There were Members on his (the Opposition) side of the House who would be ready to accept some reasonable modification of the 1st New Rule proposed by the Government. What they objected to was, not that a debate should be closed 1730 by a general concurrence of Parties in the House, but that it should be closed by what could be best described as a Party vote. There was one occasion for which the power of peremptorily closing a debate by a Party majority made no provision, and that was when the minority in the House—as sometimes happened—were in harmony with the majority in the country. They had heard something of spontaneous expression of local opinion; but spontaneous local opinion in favour of this proposal was, "conspicuous by its absence." Almost exactly 100 years ago a great Minister governed the country with a minority in the House of Commons, and rapidly succeeding elections so far justified him that he was placed in a large majority. It might, however, have happened that he had not the power to appeal to the country, and it must have put an end to his power had it been possible then for the majority of the day to silence him. They were told that the proposal to closing a debate by a bare majority should be accepted, because it was never to be put in force. That was surely a bad reason for adopting it. If it never was to be enforced except on behalf of a much larger majority, why should not that be expressed in the Rule? He would now allude to the very curious argument that had been used by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). The argument of the hon. Gentleman was to the effect that a bare majority of this House would be less inclined to be tyrannical than a majority of two-thirds or three-quarters. We'll, they were going to give to majorities of all kinds that power of being tyrannical. If a bare majority could close a debate, they put it in the power of a majority of any number to be as tyrannical as they pleased. Another great objection to the Rule, as now proposed—and one that could not be dwelt on too strongly—was that it made the Speaker the sole arbiter as to whether it should be put in force. If it were possible that the day—which he hoped was far distant—when it would become necessary to appoint a successor to the present Speaker, could be indefinitely postponed, it might not be requisite to consider whether it was well that the occupant of the Chair should have to put the Rule in operation. But they must contemplate the next and sub- 1731 sequent occasions upon which, under the proposed Rule, a new Speaker would have to he elected. Should that Rule pass, the Speaker would be chosen under circumstances, and from considerations and motives altogether different from those which had hitherto governed the choice for that Office. The practice of foreign countries had been quoted in that discussion. There was one country where the power of closing a debate by a bare majority existed in unabated rigour—namely, Denmark. Among the various countries which were supposed to possess that power, very few possessed it to the full extent proposed by Her Majesty's Government; but in Denmark, which was one of those few, it was the custom of the House of Assembly absolutely to elect its Speaker once every four weeks. The House would hardly desire to arrive at a state of things analogous to that. No one would deny that to close a debate by a bare majority was an evil which could only be justified by the fact that a greater evil would be avoided by its adoption. They did not, however, hear that any other country in Europe had anything approaching to such a congestion of legislative Business as was alleged as the ground for the present proposal. Every one of the countries which had adopted it, therefore, stood convicted of adopting it before the period had arrived which Her Majesty's Government considered would alone justify a resort to it. In Hungary there was no such power. In Austria it was rendered much less operative than if it existed as now proposed here by the fact that a certain number of speeches were allowed on the question of closing. In France and Belgium the case was similar. In the Chamber of Deputies in Holland no debate was allowed. In Portugal there was no clôture at all. In Spain the state of things was curious. The power existed, but in a very peculiarly modified form; it was an engine in the hands of the Government, and was entirely employed to stop the mouths of private Members, and it had for its effect, not the immediate determination of the question at issue, but only its postponement. In Sweden and Norway there was nothing of the kind; and, therefore, it was only in Germany, Holland, and Italy that anything fully resembling the present proposal existed. He doubted whe- 1732 ther those countries had got beyond the most benighted doctrines as to Government interference in elections. In Switzerland, he should not omit to state, a majority of two-thirds was required to close a debate. So much, then, for foreign countries; and the last consideration he would urge upon the House was this—if they were going to adopt this proposal, let them first consider whether it was likely to be permanent. What was the reason for the much-admired stability of the results of British legislation? Was it not owing to the fact that the legislation of the Imperial Parliament was due, in a large measure, to compromise, and to the circumstance that the majority were bound to reckon, to a certain extent, with the opinion of their opponents? By adopting a Rule of this kind they imperiled that invaluable element of stability and compromise. Evidence, too, was not wanting that there would be a lack of permanence in results if this doctrine was adopted. To prove that he need only allude to the manifestations they had had in the speeches of the Prime Minister himself. Two years ago it was proposed to do no more than deal with urgent cases, in which the authority of the Chair had been disregarded and the Rules of the House abused by wilfully obstructing Business. That reform was attempted in an expiring Parliament, yet the right hon. Gentleman then deliberately proposed to the House that the Rule decided upon should not be made a Standing Order, but should cease with the close of the Session. Further, the right hon. Gentleman made an important reservation in his speech in introducing this measure. He said, in the course of that speech, debates might arise on subjects involving great questions of principle which would have to be brought into view from a distance, and to which they had not been accustomed. Seeing that the Prime Minister in 1880 suggested to the House that it should hesitate about making permanent so small a thing as the Standing Order relating to Members who obstructed the Business of the House, and that, in the present year, he was careful to make a reservation of opinion as to possible future occasions when the reiterated expression of arguments might not be Obstruction, he could not help but think that on some, possibly, not distant occasion, when the Party led by the righ 1733 hon. Gentleman was in a minority, his opinions on this matter might undergo very considerable qualification. There were those who now sat on the Opposition side of the House who had a sincere, though unostentatious, desire for the progress of Public Business, yet they hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not, while making to the world an unduly humiliating confession that the House of Commons was unable to con-duct the Business of the country, present also the spectacle of an unedifying infirmity of purpose.
§ MR. HUSSEY VIVIAN
said, he thought that the effect of the proposed Rule had been greatly exaggerated. If the clôture became the Rule of the House, it would have no operation such as hon. Members opposite, and some on his side, appeared to fear. Whatever it might do, it would not stop fair and reasonable debate. That was not its result even in America and other countries where it was rigidly enforced, and where it existed without any of the safeguards now proposed. Nor would any Speaker, however partial, do what the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) apprehended, and interfere to prevent a private Member from bringing forward a Motion. If that was the chief fear of the hon. Member, he might ask whether, as things were, the private Members had reason to be satisfied with the facilities afforded them by the practice of the House? At the beginning of a Session they had a fair number of opportunities; but the pressure of Business soon obliged the Government to take nearly the whole time of the House, and thus to stop private Member's Motions in the most effectual manner. In the present Session, if it might be regarded as typical, he supposed that Morning Sittings would begin in a few weeks, and that as the year advanced every day would have to be appropriated by the Government; that being so, private Members had much more to gain than to lose by the adoption of the New Rules. But, it was argued, the clôture would crush minorities. He did not think it would do so, and was confident that his right hon. Friend the late Home Secretary entertained fears that were by no means warranted. It seemed to be thought by him that the Prime Minister was to nod to the Speaker, and that the latter would 1734 then and there stop the debate; but there was nothing in the Rule to warrant that supposition. To stifle the discussion of grievances by the application of the clôture three very unlikely conditions would have to be present at the same time—first, a tyrannical Minister; secondly, a partizan Speaker; and lastly, a tyrannical majority. Was there any probability that such things could coexist? A Minister who attempted to use the clôture tyrannically in order to force his measures unfairly through the House would have but a short tenure of power; and from the moment that a Speaker departed from that impartiality which the Speakers of the House of Commons had hitherto invariably displayed, and became a partizan, his power and authority in that House would cease. There was an equal improbability of the existence of a tyrannical majority. If any attempt were made by a despotic Minister to force his measures through the House before they had been fully discussed, the moderate men of his Party would soon let it be known that such a proceeding would not obtain their sanction. Supposing for a moment that a Party was so suicidal as to back up the Minister in stopping debate, how long would the constituencies stand such conduct? There was nothing Englishmen valued more than fair play; and any Party inclined to refuse fair play to their opponents, and to deprive them of their right to free discussion, would soon hear a voice from the country commanding them to cease from anything of the kind. How far a tyrannical Party was expected to be created or suspected to exist already might be gathered from the apparently universal belief of hon. Members opposite that all Liberals were influenced by the dreadful institutions called Caucuses. He could only say, speaking for himself, that he had no knowledge of any Caucus, and had never received any Circular pressing him to vote for the Resolutions. If any Central Committee sent him a Circular he should certainly return it without a stamp, and mulct the senders in the sum of 2d. One objection very often urged against the Prime Minister's proposal was that the clôture might be carried by a simple majority. He held, however, that the whole theory of fancy majorities was full of absurdities, and that all 1735 questions, many of them involving far graver issues, were decided by simple majorities. Some doubt had been expressed as to the meaning of the words "evident sense of the House." He had no doubt on that subject. As a matter of fact, until the last few years, a very effective clôture had always existed for all practical purposes. The custom was that when a question had been thoroughly debated the Government and the Opposition agreed that the time had come for taking a division. The Minister who had charge of the measure used invariably to wind up the debate, and if anybody rose after he had spoken he was howled down. That was the clôture in another form, and he believed that the operation of this Rule would be precisely the same. Now that times were changed, and debates were adjourned and protracted in spite of the evident sense of the House, the clôture seemed absolutely necessary. The present position of the House was unendurable. It was being dragged down, and deliberately dragged down, so that the people were beginning to feel that the great institution of Parliament was no longer to be relied on for getting through the work of the country. Hon. Members opposite said that public opinion was not in favour of this Rule. He entirely differed from them on that point, and thought there was no question in which the Liberal Party could appeal to the country with more confidence than on this. The country looked with dread to the condition of Parliament, which was strongly illustrated by the occurrences of last week. The Minister who had charge of the Army Estimates, involving £15,000,000, was kept waiting from 4 o'clock until a quarter to 1 before he could make his Statement, while matters of the most trivial character were being discussed. The same thing occurred with the Navy Estimates; and he believed it to be the general opinion of the country that decisive measures should be adopted to put an end to so great a scandal. Members were sent there to scrutinize the Estimates, and at present it was impossible they could fulfil that duty. Some hon. Members seemed ambitious to talk upon a question of the £10,000 a-year proposed to be voted as a settlement on the son of our gracious Queen; but when it came to 1736 millions questions of the most trivial nature were brought forward, and the main Business was put off for eight or nine hours. They were not doing their duty in allowing trifling matters to interfere between them and the most paramount service they had to render. They were also anxious to come to the discussion of several important measures, such as the Bankruptcy Bill; and it was necessary that their Procedure should be so changed that they could give due consideration to these measures. He hoped that, in the true interests of Parliamentary government, hon. Members would take a more calm and judicial view of the proposal before the House. He did not understand why it should be a Party question. It was not a Party question; it was one affecting the House only. There was a suspicion that it was to be used for improperly passing measures; but there was no risk of anything of the kind. Let them dismiss these miserable Party suspicions, and let them, in the interest of this great institution, pass the Rules which he hoped would place the House in the position it formerly occupied.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH
Sir, I quite agree with the hon. Member that this, above all others, is a matter which should be calmly considered and not dealt with as a Party question. It must be generally admitted that any question relating to the Procedure of this House ought to be left to the independent judgment of the House, and can be better decided by the experience and knowledge which hon. Members have acquired in this House than by their constituents, or even by federations of their constituents, however national or however liberal. And, above everything, a proposal of this kind ought to be adopted, if it is to be adopted, by the general consent of the House, and not by a Party vote; and in its consideration we should not be biased either by allegiance to the Government of the day or by want of confidence in the Government. Therefore I cannot help thinking the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian) will much regret that the precedent which was set by the late Government in this matter—dealing, as they had to deal, with no less difficulties than those which beset the present Government—has not been followed on the 1737 present occasion. I deeply regret that the opinions which the Prime Minister appeared to me to express at the commencement of this debate were not adhered to by the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India; and that the noble Lord should have told the House that the existence of the Government was inevitably bound up, not with the whole of these proposals, but with that particular portion of them which has in its favour the least authority, and which, unquestionably, is the most unpopular in the country. I very much regret that that course has been taken by the Government, because it seems to me to render it extremely difficult for us to discuss this proposal with the calmness which it requires, and almost impossible to secure that if this proposal should eventually take the form of a Standing Order it should be worked with the success we should all desire. What is the feeling with which this Resolution is regarded by almost every Member, probably by every Member sitting on this side of the House, and also, I suspect, by not a few of those sitting on the other side? There is a feeling amounting to a dread that what it is intended to do is, not to stop Obstruction, but to put an end to legitimate opposition. There is a feeling that a minority in this House, however large, is to be debarred from its Constitutional right of full criticism of the measures of the Government, from delaying those measures, if it should appear to be necessary, for their fuller consideration by the country, and this although it is certainly the duty of each and every Member of the minority to oppose measures which his constituents disapprove, exactly as much as it is the duty of Members of the majority to support measures which have the support of their constituents. I think the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India ridiculed such an idea, as the hon. Member for Glamorganshire has done this evening. We were told, and we have been told again, that it is a moral impossibility that fair criticism should be stopped in such a manner, and that any Government which attempted to do it would, in fact, be committing suicide. So long as we have a majority of Members of the independence and honour of my hon. Friend the Member for Glamorganshire, and so long as political conflicts in England are conducted under our present system, I think 1738 there is great force in the argument of the noble Lord. I am bound to say that, in my opinion, if Her Majesty's present Government, having carried the Resolution and registered it as a standing Order, were to attempt to act upon it during the rest of the Session in preventing us from legitimate criticism of important measures, the critics would have a much pleasanter time in the ensuing autumn than they would; and their tenure of Office would be even more precarious at the commencement of next Session than it is at present. But we cannot feel sure that Members of this House will always regard with such justifiable contempt the action of national federations on either side as does the hon. Member for Glamorganshire; and if the Resolution be passed as a Standing Order, it seems to me not only possible, but probable, that a time may come when, supported by such federations, the Government of the day might use it with impunity to crush all political independence in this House, and perhaps even to destroy anything like a continuous or fixed policy in our legislation, by repealing, in one or two Sessions, measures, however wise or beneficent, passed by a previous Parliament, however enlightened, before the country could shake off the fetters by which it would have been bound. That is what I fear, not in the present, but in the future, from the operation of this Resolution, coupled with the system of political organization to which we are tending more rapidly every day. But this is not the argument I wish now to impress on the Government; it is rather this—that, whether legitimate or not, whether foolish or wise, the fears to which I have alluded do undoubtedly exist; and that, for the sake of obtaining something like the consent and goodwill of this House to their proposals, it would be most politic on their part to still those fears and show that they are not justified. I think it will be felt that, after all, the possibility of transacting the Business of the House rests not upon any Rules we have made or may make so much as upon the mutual forbearance of hon. Members in this House, and on the deference which is paid to the general convenience of this House. I recognize the truth of the statement of the Prime Minister that there have been frequent and increasing instances of late when 1739 that forbearance has been no longer shown and that deference no longer paid; but I think we should remember that these, after all, have been individual instances, and I think they ought to be dealt with, not by general Rules, but by individual discipline. The feelings to which I have referred still characterize and govern the conduct of the vast majority of this House; and I do not think it is fair or reasonable to take away from the whole House the privilege of freedom of debate because that privilege has been abused by a few. Act as you will against those individuals; but let your New Rules be directed against them, and not against the House at large. I am convinced that, if this Rule be passed by a Party vote, those fears and suspicions to which I have alluded will be strengthened, and that you will lose more time by thus weakening that forbearance and deference upon which our institutions rest than you can possibly gain from the working of the Rule. As it is, your proposal may be carried. But its adoption will be accompanied with a feeling of irritation and injustice, with the open hostility of a large proportion of this House, and the dislike of many hon. Members opposite, not the less bitter because their Party loyalty will not allow them to express their feelings. I fear that the effect will be that our debates will not be curtailed in any way, but rather that they will be lengthened to a greater extent than at present, and that we shall be subjected to "filibustering," "stone-walling," and other objectionable practices which disgrace the Assemblies of other countries, and which, if once they take root here, will do more to destroy the honour and dignity of this House than any of the evils complained of. I have carefully considered the speeches of the Government; but I have been unable to ascertain for what particular evil this Rule is to provide a remedy. I want to deal with the matter without exaggeration; and it seems to me that it is ridiculous to say, as was recently said by a supporter of the Government, that the Government have to deal with unparalleled Obstruction. They have to deal with a difficulty; but I have noticed nothing—at any rate during the present Session—equal to the difficulties which the late Government had to encounter. I do not apprehend, as my hon. Friend 1740 the Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian) appears to suppose, that this Resolution would obviate anything like that which happened on Monday last. We know the difficulty now experienced by Ministers in obtaining an opportunity for making important statements on the Army and Navy Estimates; but this is dealt with by another Resolution. This Rule could do nothing to prevent any delay that has occurred in the present Session. I do not believe that it, or any other Rule, could put an end to the evil of too much talk. That has been recognized as a grave impediment to legislation in this House for more than a generation past. Anyone who cares to refer to the chronicles of any year during that time may see as strong complaints of the evil of too much talk as can be made in the present day. If you want to mitigate this evil, you ought to diminish the number of occasions on which debates may legitimately take place, rather than attempt to stop the flow of waters when once they have been let loose. But if this Rule cannot be intended for this purpose, neither is it adapted to the case of hon. Members who desire by their action to discredit or damage the efficiency of this House; for that, as I have already stated, appears to me to be a matter of discipline which would be properly dealt with, if occasion required, by a severe penalty. The practical point, as I gather from the speech of the Prime Minister, which this Rule is to secure, is that, when in the general judgment of the House a question is mature for decision, no want of deference to the general wish of the House shall be permitted to prevent that decision being taken. Well, that appears to me, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glamorganshire remarked, an attempt to put into a Rule what has long been the recognized custom of this House. The custom has been that, when by mutual consent of the great majority on both sides the time for a division has arrived, that division should be taken. Why is it necessary to go beyond that point, and provide for the closing of a debate, not by a majority of both sides of the House, but by a bare majority? As to the provision in this Rule about the evident sense of the House, of course our old custom did provide for the closing of a debate by the evident sense of the House. The Rules 1741 that were adopted on a great exceptional emergency last Session provided also for the closing of debates in accordance with the evident sense of the House; for I think it cannot be repeated too often that you, Sir, the great authority in this House, then interpreted the evident sense of the House to mean a vote by a majority of three-fourths—an interpretation which, so far as I can see, would not be open to the Speaker under this Rule. Yet is there any reason why the Rule shall not be so limited? Of course, there have been instances during past years in which debates have been prolonged by individuals against the general sense of the House; but what I maintain is that no one can with any justice argue—no one, I believe, can produce one single instance in which the great body of the Opposition of the day did not give a most loyal support to the Government of the day in putting an end to resistance to the prevailing will of the House otherwise than by argument. And the words used by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech give colour to this view. He said that the Rule did not mean a state of things in which a majority, as commonly understood, is clamouring one way, and a minority, as commonly understood, is clamouring another way. Well, if it does not mean that, what, I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government, does it mean? I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister told us that he had endeavoured in no point to go beyond the necessity of the case. Well, if it is the fact that the Opposition has been as loyal to the Government in a difficulty of this nature as I have stated, and if it is the fact that this Rule would close a debate by a bare majority, and not only with the consent of a majority of both sides of the House, surely this Rule, in its terms, does not carry out that undertaking of the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman said there is but one sound principle in this House, and that is that the majority of this House shall prevail; and he gave to us instances in which most important decisions have been come to by this House involving even the fate of a Government by very small majorities. But he forgot, when quoting those instances, that the House is not fettered in arriving at such decisions by any safeguard while he has 1742 found it necessary to impose certain safeguards on his own Rule. He has done this, I presume, because voting to give effect to our opinions is obviously not quite the same thing as voting to prevent other people from expressing theirs, in spite of their protest that they have not sufficiently done so. But as he has proposed certain safeguards, the question to be decided is not whether any should be provided, but merely what the nature of the safeguards should be; and I am utterly unable to understand why the right hon. Gentleman has expressed so very strong an objection to a proportionate majority of the House. He has referred us to the Colonies for examples. I will follow him there; and will take an example, not from Colonial action, but from a suggestion made by a Member of his own Government not longer ago than February 2. A very important despatch was on that date addressed by Lord Kimberley to a Colony which has recently, perhaps, occupied more of the attention of Her Majesty's Government than almost any other—I mean the Colony of Natal. The inhabitants of Natal had apparently desired that a system of responsible government, with only a single Legislative Chamber, should be granted to them. Lord Kimberley replies—There is at present no instance of a single Chamber with full Parliamentary powers in a British colony under responsible government. In Natal it will be especially desirable, having regard to the gravity of native questions … that there should be some protection against hasty and ill-considered legislation and action, such as it is elsewhere the object of a second Chamber to supply. The point is one of serious importance, and will require careful consideration when the details of the proposed constitutional changes are being determined. I will only at present suggest that a possible mode of providing the requisite safeguards might be to enact that in certain cases the concurrence of more than a bare majority of the whole Council should be requisite for the passing of a Bill.Therefore, as a safeguard against" hasty and inconsiderate action" on the part of the Legislative Assembly of Natal, Her Majesty's Government themselves suggest" that the concurrence of more than a bare majority of the whole Council should be requisite." Is there no risk of" hasty and inconsiderate action" by this House in deciding on a matter with which the House of Lords have nothing to do, and which is to be decided here 1743 by a single division without debate? And if there be, why should the Prime Minister, desirous as he is to assimilate the Procedure of our Imperial and Colonial Parliaments, stigmatize here on the 20th of February as a "vast innovation," and as "contrary to the one only sound principle in this House," the very proposal which, on February 2, he had himself suggested as a leading feature in the brand-new form of responsible government which he contemplates conferring on the important Colony of Natal? Supposing, however, that the feeling of the majority of the House be in favour of a proportionate majority, and that the Government should go so far as to adopt either the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) or that of the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock), or in some other way to concede the principle of a proportionate majority, there would still remain objections of no small moment against the adoption of the clôture by a majority. Some hon. Members seem to think this power could not be applied to prevent private Members from bringing on Motions. But what did the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India say the other night? He was referring to cases in which the power now asked for would be required; and he said that this power would enable the House to prevent the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) from bringing on the question of Central Asia, and the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton) from bringing on the question of patent medicines.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
explained that he had said that there should be some mode by which discussions such as that on patent medicines should be limited in duration. He had never said that the hon. and learned Member for Bridport should be prevented from bringing the question forward.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
In saying even that much the noble Marquess was singularly ungrateful to the hon. and learned Member for Bridport, who had twice resigned his opportunities of bringing the matter forward in order to enable the Government to proceed with their Business. But what might certainly be inferred from the speech of the noble Lord is that he had in contempla- 1744 tion the application of this Rule against private Members who may wish to bring grievances before the House. That means that Members who may happen not to be looked on favourably by the majority in this House will be debarred, if not from bringing forward questions which the majority may consider to be crotchets, at all events, from having them discussed at any reasonable length. That would soon amount to a very material interference with one of the most important functions of this House—namely, that of considering the grievances of Her Majesty's subjects. It is all very well for Members of the Government to say that the occasions for the application of the Rule would be rare. We were told last year that the reductions of rent under the Land Act would be rare, and we think ourselves fairly entitled to look with some doubt on similar prophecies. I fear that the clôture, whether by a proportionate or by a bare majority, would prevent the advocates of unpopular subjects from being fairly heard in this House. Let it be remembered that some of the very best among us have, at one time or another, been the advocates of unpopular subjects. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster might, for example, be numbered among such advocates. The great eloquence of those right hon. Gentlemen might, under any circumstances, enable them to obtain a hearing either in the House or in the country; but I question very much if less eminent men would be in an equally favourable position under this Rule, for it would be difficult indeed for advocates of an unpopular cause, unless of very exceptional ability, to obtain that hearing in the country which certainly would not be denied to a powerful minority, or to any individual who happened to have a great wave of popular feeling at his back. But there is another class to which the Prime Minister has himself referred. What of those Members of this House who have, at one time or another, been guilty of apparent Obstruction, which has been justified by the result where important changes have by their action—to quote the words of the Prime Minister—been introduced into measures as the fruit and product of long debates? This action would, at the moment, appear to be Obstruction. It would be met by a Government by no means anxious 1745 for the alteration of its proposals, and by a majority impatient of delay; and can anybody suppose that the clôture would not be pretty readily applied, and, if applied, would it always be to the advantage of the country? But there is still one instance more. I have spoken of the advocates of unpopular causes, and of unpopular Members. There are also unpopular sections of this House. For more than a generation past there has been an Advanced Irish Party in this House, which has never been popular with either the majority of Members of this House or with the majority of constituencies in the United Kingdom. I quite admit that on one or two occasions in the past few years it has been necessary, in one way or another, to put an end to debates which have been raised by these Members; but I contend that this object might be achieved equally well by the operation of the other Rules, to which I have already alluded. I fear, if this power of the clôture existed, it would be applied to an unpopular section of this kind far too frequently to be consistent with justice and fairness to them or their constituents, and a safety valve which at present exists would be closed in a manner calculated to add materially to the serious difficulty of governing Ireland. I quite agree with what fell at the commencement of this debate from the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Opposition; that, considering the number and importance of the other proposals which Her Majesty's Government have placed on the Paper, it would have been, above all things, desirable that we should have considered and decided those other proposals before we arrived at this. I feel that there is much in those proposals which would form a very valuable addition to our power of conducting Business in this House; but, for the reasons I have ventured to state to the House, I cannot look upon this Resolution in the same light. It seems to me that it is not for the interest of any Member, or any section of Members of this House, that measures, as to the necessity of which the majority may have made up their minds, should pass, perhaps not with insufficient discussion, but with an amount of discussion, which the minority will believe and say has been insufficient. I cannot feel that, if there be any amongst us who desire to discredit and destroy 1746 the honour and usefulness of this House, their operations will in any way be impeded by the passing of such a Resolution as this. I think there must be some reasons for the course which the Government have pursued beyond those which hitherto have been mentioned to this House. I think the Government must have in their minds, not merely the merits of this particular proposal, but other difficulties which they see before them. A few days ago the Prime Minister told us how Pope Pius IX., with a temper too sanguine, and with very deficient calculation of the impediments in his way, promised to the population reforms of every description—a course which, for the moment, brought him much popular favour; and how he then found it very difficult to live on promises instead of performances. I do not know how far that is a correct history of Pope Pius IX.; but it seems to me not entirely inapplicable to the history and present position of the Prime Minister himself. A terrible catastrophe may be awaiting the right hon. Gentleman, as he told us fell on the Pope; but I trust there is sufficient independence still left in this House, in spite of so great a danger, to decline to abandon that freedom of speech which is as the breath of life to this ancient Assembly; and to oppose a proposal which, if we had brought it forward while we were in Office, would have been by no one more jealously resisted than by the right hon. Gentlemen who now occupy the Treasury Bench.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, I am sure the House will appreciate the moderate and cautious spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman has addressed himself to this Motion; and in the remarks for which I shall ask the indulgence of the House I shall endeavour to follow his example. On this, the third night of this discussion, I think it may be useful to ask exactly what is the Parliamentary situation? I know that, although the right hon. Gentleman has left us rather in doubt as to whether he is altogether against the proposal of a power of closing a debate, or whether he would be favourable to a limited proposal of that kind, there are Gentlemen opposite who are of opinion that two-thirds or three-fourths would be a proper limitation on the clôture, if we have the clôture at all. But I do desire to point 1747 out that there is no proposal of such a nature before us, and, for the reasons which I shall adduce, no such proposal is possible. You have before you the Resolution of the Prime Minister, and you have the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott). I will not enter into the merits of the question whether "bare majority" is, or is not, a violation of Parliamentary decorum; but if the English language means anything at all, the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton is a statement that no majority shall be allowed to close a debate. ["No, no!"] Well, I have arrived at an age when I imagined that I understood the English language. I will read the Amendment. It says—No Rules of Procedure will be satisfactory to this House which confer the power of closing a Debate upon a majority of Members.That is a statement that a majority shall not close a debate. However, I do not wish to go into that verbal discussion, for I have stronger reasons to give for the assertion I have made. Assume the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton to be carried, what will be the situation of this House? The operative proposal which the Prime Minister has brought forward, which might have been amended, will be gone, and in its place will be inserted a negative proposition—because the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton is a simple negation. It does not propose to do anything; it cannot do anything, and it cannot be amended. Therefore, the carrying of the Motion, which you are invited from various quarters of the House to approve, is an absolute condemnation and destruction of the proposal for closing a debate at all. ["No, no!"] It is quite useless to say "No!" because it is a proposition which is absolutely self-evident. ["No, no!"] Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to make my statement. They are beginning to make an evident sense of the House against my doing so. I assert that if the House adopts the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton, they will then 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.I assert that that is a negative proposition; it is not a positive pro- 1748 position, and it is no use saying "No!" because it is self-evident. That being the case, of course you may say that the Government, not accepting that Amendment of the hon. and learned Member, might produce another plan. But Her Majesty's Government have already, I think, sufficiently intimated that, having maturely considered this matter, they do not think any other plan would be satisfactory, and therefore they will produce no other plan. Then, who is going to produce any other plan? It is not contained in the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton. Is it going to be produced by the responsible Opposition? I do not speak of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton, because, from the tone in which he addressed these Benches, I should call the Amendment a personal rather than a responsible opposition; but what is the view of the responsible Opposition on this matter? Are the responsible Opposition prepared to propose a modified clôture? I have attended carefully to their speeches, and I cannot make out that they propose any form of clôture at all. [Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE assented.] The right hon. Gentleman accepts that proposition. That is quite clear. They are not in favour of two-thirds; therefore they are not going to propose two-thirds. The Government have said they are not going to propose two-thirds. How, then, is two-thirds ever to become a practical proposition before the House? It is perfectly obvious that there is no such proposal now, and there can be no such proposal. The ardent Members below the Gangway who are allies of the responsible Opposition, but not the responsible Opposition, are they in favour of two-thirds? Certainly they are not. We know they are as much opposed to two-thirds as to the proposal which is now under the consideration of the House. Therefore it is perfectly clear two-thirds is a proposition, which is not, and cannot be, under the consideration of the House. As the right hon. Gentleman opposite assents to my statement that he is against the clôture in every form, the question we have really to discuss is, whether there is or is not to be in this House any power of closing a debate when it has proceeded to an unreasonable length? I think it may be necessary, and it may be indispensable, as 1749 was shown last year, that some such power should exist. It was shown to be necessary last year by your action, Sir—action which was approved by the immense majority of this House—action which was called, and properly called—because the word may be used in a good sense or a bad sense—a revolutionary proceeding—a proceeding like that on which the Constitution of this country is framed. What follows on a revolution? A settlement on the principles of the revolution. You do not want a temporary revolution. You want some regular recognized law of the House. Well, Sir, the action you took last year cannot be repeated. The House must consider the character, and the necessity, and the nature of that action, and either legalize or condemn it; but if they condemn the principle of that Act, then, if that necessity should again arise, I venture to think that you could not repeat the action you took last year. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross), who spoke on the last night of this debate, in his very reasonable speech, argued the matter from this point of view. He said—"We must regard your supposed Rule as it is likely to be worked, perhaps, at first; we must look at all the evils of which it is capable, because it would not be safe to establish such a system, and assume that the evils it might involve would not occur." That was the line of argument he pursued. The right hon. Gentleman said this proposal of a clôture was one which no Committee had actually proposed. That is perfectly true, but he referred to the last Committee upon this subject; and it was apparent then that though no Committee previously had entertained this question, it was very seriously entertained by that Committee; and that that Committee would not pronounce positively against the clôture, but said it was not desirable at that time, and the majority of the Committee said they would not at present recommend it. Therefore, it is quite plain that they had seen that there might arise—and, indeed, it was quite possible there might arise—a state of things in which a remedy of this kind might be and would be necessary. But a great authority has been mentioned in this discussion. We are told that, to old Parliamentarian minds, nothing could be so dreadful as the French system of 1750 clôture. I suppose there is no finer old Parliamentarian than Lord Eversley, who was formerly Speaker of this House. He was examined in 1854, and was asked—Has it ever occurred to you that it would be well to adopt some mode similar in principle to what is called in France 'La clôture,' to enable the House summarily to shorten a discussion which did not excite much interest in the House?His reply was—My belief is that the House will, some day or other, be obliged to adopt a summary mode of putting an end to useless debate.Thirty years ago the growing necessities of the House of Commons had caused a man so imbued with the ancient traditions of Parliament as Mr. Shaw Lefevere to appreciate that one of these days the clôture would become a necessity. In the year 1878, a majority of the Committee then considering the subject said that at present they would not recommend the clôture. But we have learned a good deal since 1878. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: That is not in the Report.] No; in the Report subsequent experience naturally does not appear. But we have advanced rapidly since 1878. The late Government said that, because things were not in the Report of the Committee, it was not necessary to propose this in 1880; but hon. Gentlemen opposite approved and supported the clôture exercised by the Speaker last year. That shows that step by step you have found the existing measures insufficient, and you have had to take stronger and stronger measures against the evil with which you have to deal. I wish we could really rely upon that fine old spirit of the House of Commons to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) has referred, and of which he is himself an excellent Representative; but we know perfectly well we cannot any longer confidently rely upon that. The right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State (Sir R. Assheton Cross) said the other night—and I think the phrase was a good one—"What we have and what we suffer from is a want of loyalty to the House in some of its Members." That is the evil against which you have to contend; that is the evil which you have not been able to overcome. I referred just now to the argument of the 1751 late Secretary of State—that you must look at the scheme we propose by the light of all the possible evils which it may involve, because you must be guarded against possible as well as probable evils. I accept that line of argument; but he has applied it to the remedy; allow me to apply it to the disease. Let us examine what are the possible evils of the present system, and see whether they are tolerable, or whether it is not absolutely necessary that you should seek for some efficient remedy against them. The possible evils in the House of Commons, under the present system, are that the House of Commons may find itself absolutely helpless in the hands of an unpatriotic and unscrupulous minority. The right hon. Gentleman considered the other aspect of the case from the point of view of what might happen if you had a tyrannical and reckless majority. I ask you to consider what would be the position of the House of Commons if ever you should see in the House of Commons an unpatriotic and unscrupulous minority, who used all the powers they possessed. I will ask you to consider what the Business of the House of Commons is, and how it can be dealt with by such a minority. In the transaction of the Business of the House you have the part which is taken by private Members; you have the part of the Business which is transacted by the Government. I will not say much about the part which is transacted by the private Members, except this—that nothing is more true than what the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. G. Russell), in his able and interesting speech, pointed out—namely, that private Members are equally the victims of this system of Obstruction by a reckless minority as are the Government themselves. But I want you to consider what could be the operation of such a minority as this upon the Business of the nation, as transacted by the Government. We know very well here, but it is not very well known outside, that although the Government is held responsible for the whole time of Parliament, which really is only nominally two-fifths of the time, out of five days of the week, until you come to the end of the Session, private Members have three days of the week, and the Government two. I say the Government have nominally two, because they may have none at all; 1752 and last week they hardly had any at all. The Business of the Government consists of two classes. It is talked of generally as if it was only legislative Business; but the Government have also great administrative Business, the passing of Votes of Supply, carrying the Estimates through, and passing what, from habit, I will call the Mutiny Bill. The legislative Business of the Government is, no doubt, important in a very high degree; but the administrative Business of the Government in this House is absolutely indispensable. The machinery of the State cannot go on without it. For transacting the whole of the Business during the early part of the Session, the Government have eight days in the month at its disposal. In that period they have to transact all the varied Business of the complicated society of this vast Empire. Now, if there be such a minority as that of which I have spoken—a minority reckless of consequences, careless of the opinion of this House, utterly indifferent to the opinion of the country, resolved, if it can, to disorganize the whole fabric of Parliament and destroy the operation of the machinery by which the Business of the country is transacted—I have a right to make this hypothesis to-night, as right hon. Gentlemen opposite have a right to make theirs on the other side. Let me ask the attention of the House while I endeavour to point out what such a minority can do. In the first place, the Government have to propose the Address to the Crown. In the name of freedom of debate, every Member has a right to speak, and to speak at any length he chooses, either on the Address, or on any other topic, foreign or domestic, and he can do what he pleases. In the old days, on great occasions, you had two or three days' debates on the Address; recently you have had a great many more. You may have a great many more; and, without such a power as this inherent in the House, there is no reason why such a minority might not occupy the greater part of February in the debate on the Address. You then come to March, when the Government have the Supplementary Estimates and the Army and Navy Estimates, which they must carry before the end of March. Look at their situation in the presence of a minority of that description. I will suppose the Government have introduced no legis- 1753 lative schemes at all, but have devoted themselves from the first day to Votes of Supply, and taken the first Monday in March for Supply. The minority can cover that day's Paper with any number of Motions which will prevent the Government getting into Supply at all. The minority may discuss each of these Motions separately, and at any length they like, and the Government can get no Supply on that Monday. They may do a little more than they did on Monday week last. The Government get no Supply, and the House is helpless. The Government then have Thursday, and they put down Supply again; but the Paper is again covered with Motions, and the Government again get no Supply. That may be done through every week in March on each Government day; and the minority, if they choose, have the power to stop Supplies. The power of stopping Supplies was in old days a power which even a great majority in great crises shrank from exercising. It is impossible to conceive that there may be a minority who may desire, and who certainly have the power, to stop Supplies in the month of March, until the financial year has expired. If they choose, there is no man in the House who would not find that they have ample power to do that by covering the Paper with Motions on each Government day. It is useless to speak, as the right hon. Baronet did, of personal action against these men. You can take no personal action. Their proceedings would be perfectly legitimate.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
The point I took on the question to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has alluded was that there is a Resolution on the Paper which will enable the Government to get into Supply, notwithstanding these Motions.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I am bound to state the things as they actually exist; and I say, as matters now exist, the minority have perfect power to stop Supply. I come now to the next point. When the month of March is gone we come to the month of April. When you come to the month of April, even if you had no Vacation at all, the Mutiny Bill has to be passed. There are numerous stages of the Mutiny Bill, every one of which can be opposed; and tonight I see by the Paper that the Mutiny Bill is blocked by the hon. Mem- 1754 ber for Limerick. You may oppose and debate every stage of the Mutiny Bill. You may propose any number of Amendments in Committee on the Bill, and it will be perfectly easy for such an opposition as that which I have sketched out to prevent the passing of the Bill before the period for passing it expires; and, if so, the whole fabric of your military position would be destroyed, and the Army would be disbanded. Is the House of Commons to be helpless in such a situation as that? Is it to have no power of saying it will take measures to prevent the Opposition being allowed to disintegrate the whole of our political system by stopping Supply, and even to disband our Army? I venture to say nobody in this House can disprove that, without some protection of this character, it is perfectly possible for a position such as I have described to occur. Then, after you have dealt in the month of April with the Mutiny Bill, you come to the ordinary Estimates. In the face of a minority like this you have to deal with the ordinary Estimates; and the same thing that I have pointed to in regard to Supply before Easter may be done after Easter, and still more effectually, without any possibility of operating against the individual. You may have every item discussed, and the whole time of Parliament occupied; and you may reach August without the Government being able to command a single day for the consideration of any measure. Nobody can say those are not possibilities actually within your existing Rules. Now, I want to know whether there is any Legislative Assembly that is without some means of protecting itself against things of that description? Then consider the position with reference to legislative measures themselves. The Government of the day has some considerable measures—it is generally expected that the Government shall submit two or three considerable measures. If the Opposition desire to block and destroy the measures which are to follow, it is not necessary to operate on these measures. Scientific Obstruction has gone much too far for that. It is like the game of curling; a stone is placed not to win, but to prevent others from getting in. The thing has been brought to scientific perfection, and all you have to do to destroy all the measures proposed by the Government is to extend 1755 the discussion on the first measure until you waste the whole time of the House; and, what with that and the discussions on Supply and the ordinary Estimates, you may take care that only one measure, or not even one, shall be passed by the Government. Is that a state of things—I will not say with which the Government can be satisfied; but with which the country which has placed the Government here is going to be content? My opinion is that it certainly is not. All this is to be done in the name of freedom of debate and freedom of discussion. I do not think respectable terms were ever so badly abused as when these were employed to justify such a state of things as this. Freedom of debate and freedom of discussion for whom? Why, for a reckless minority; there is no freedom of debate and freedom of discussion for the majority. As the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. G. Russell) has said, over and over again the majority are silenced; they are obliged to be silent because they want to see something done. They hold their peace simply because a small minority have occupied the whole of the time for discussion; and, therefore, it is a proceeding not in favour of freedom of debate and freedom of discussion, but adverse to freedom of debate, when you allow a minority to exercise such a power as that. Hon. Gentlemen opposite object to the clôture, but they have a clôture of their own. I remember the other night that an hon. Member opposite spoke—I had not the patience to count, but a Friend counted that the hon. Gentleman spoke 15 times three or four nights ago. ["Name!"] No; I will not give his name; he might speak 16 times to-night. But he spoke 15 times, and that was a practical clôture against 14 other Gentlemen who might have occupied the time in useful discussion. The truth is that the minority shut the mouths of the majority by occupying all the time the majority might occupy in the useful discussion of important questions. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman opposite said we ought not to punish the many for the offences of the few, I agree in that; but what we are doing is that we are punishing the many by the offences of the few, by depriving the majority of the time they might usefully occupy in the transaction of Public Business.
SIR E. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he had stated that the restraint placed on the licence of the few ought not to be the standard for restraining the liberty of the many.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, I say that the offences now committed by the few practically punish the many. All that is necessary in order to produce the evils which I have indicated is, that you should some day or other see an organized body constituting the minority with no respect for the traditions of the House, no regard for its influence, and no sympathies with its functions. And then, I say, such a body can use its powers, with the effect I have described. You may say—"Oh, but this does not exist, and we do not believe that it will ever exist." We may not believe that this House will be set on fire to-night; but that does not prevent our having in readiness in every part of it the hydrants and hose necessary to extinguish a fire in case it should break out. Therefore I oppose my picture of the possibility under the existing state of things to the possibility under the proposal made on the other side. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that the majority, if they misused their power, would be exposed to retribution. That is perfectly true, and I am glad that it is so. But that is your safeguard. The majority would know very well that in such a case they would be exposed to the retribution of public opinion. They will be restrained by their sense of fairness, by their sense of honour, and by their knowledge of retribution, because otherwise they would lose the power which belongs to the majority. But you have not that safeguard in the case of a minority; it has not the same responsibility, and it is not exposed to the same retribution. Whatever it does it will be a minority still, and therefore there are circumstances which exist in connection with the powers of a minority which do not exist in the case of a majority. Well, Sir, these are the reasons, or some of the reasons, which have convinced Her Majesty's Government that it is absolutely necessary that this House should have within itself the power of protecting itself against the reckless and improper use of the rights of the minority. Nobody can have listened in this House for the last three or four years without 1757 feeling that, so to speak, it has been afflicted with something in the nature of a creeping palsy, and that unless we take some measures to defend ourselves from the paralysis which is gaining upon the House, and preventing the transaction of the Business of the nation, I believe there will follow some great public catastrophe. Did any hon. Member deny that? The right hon. Gentleman opposite, in a speech which he made the other day, said that the House of Commons, which we have always looked up to in former times as the glory and honour of the country, has now become a bye-word and a sham. Are we, then, to do nothing to cure this evil, or shall we take measures which will make it unnecessary for the right hon. Gentleman to repeat that observation? If so, Her Majesty's Government are bound to recommend to the House a measure, which, in their opinion, will alone be efficacious for that purpose. Gentlemen opposite say—" Take action against the individual; "but I am quite certain that anybody who considers this matter, and has observed the way in which Obstruction has worked, will see that the plan of action against individuals is utterly useless, because they have become adepts by careful practice, and can easily avoid such action. It is only an occasional outburst of bad temper or unbecoming language that can ever expose the individual to action on the part of the House. Sir, it is not at all necessary that the minority should employ violent means. They can kill the unfortunate patient secundum artem—they can kill the House of Commons by means of its own Rules, and that is an operation which is being gradually and certainly performed. This is my answer to the contention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite as I understand it. It is admitted now by the Leader of the Opposition that they will assent to no form of the clôture whatever, and that they will give the House no power in the form of clôture to defend itself from this system which is destroying its vitality; which will defend the House of Commons from that which it is partially Buffering from, and from which, in my judgment, it is destined, unless our proposal is adopted, still more to suffer in the future. There are Gentlemen who do not agree with that opinion, who feel 1758 the nature of the evil we are exposed to, and who say they will assent to a majority of two-thirds or three-fourths for the purpose we have in view. It is not necessary that I should detain the House by arguing that point at any length, because, as I ventured in the early part of my remarks to point out, that is not in the proposition with which we have to deal, nor can it be made under any conceivable circumstances the question before the House. I say the Government did not propose it, the Leader of the Opposition does not propose it, Members below the Gangway do not support it, and the hon. Member opposite, who appears to approve it, says that somebody on the other side of the House approves it. I say, therefore, that it is not a practical proposition which there is any chance of dealing with in the House of Commons. No doubt it is on the Paper; but no one, I think, will deny that if the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton be carried it cannot be put. I should like to state in a few words why it is that Her Majesty's Government did not propose a two-thirds majority. There is one very good reason given, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and those who sit near him—namely, that if it had been proposed, it would not have been accepted by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The whole question relates to the disposal of the time of the House, and the time of the House is its most valuable commodity. It is quite as valuable as the Estimates of which the House disposes, because it belongs to the nation, and in that time the national Business has to be done. All other questions of the time of the House are decided by a bare majority. If it be a question whether the House shall sit on a Saturday; whether there shall be Morning Sittings, or whether the Government shall occupy the time allotted to private Members—all these matters are decided by a bare majority. In short, wherever the time of the House is involved, the question is always decided by a bare majority. Further, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, the gravest measures are disposed of in the same way. As a consequence of that, you may turn out one Government and introduce another by a majority of 1; you may support a declaration of war by a small majority; but 1759 then you say that after you have installed a Government by a small majority, and after you have made war by a small majority, you must have a majority of two-thirds in order to carry out the measures of that Government, or the measures which may be necessary to carry on the war. What can be more ridiculous than such a proposition? To state it is to show how preposterous is its character. The basis of your whole Parliamentary system is that the will of the majority shall prevail; and, therefore, you say that the will of the majority shall prevail whenever a question is put. But the preceding question, whether that question shall be put, is to be in the hands of the minority; and a small minority may practically decide that neither question shall ever be put at all. If that be so, then the power is absolutely in the hands of the minority, which can prevent the question being put to the House. Why, this is giving to the minority what used to be called in a foreign country the minority veto; you give them the opportunity of vetoing the proceedings of the whole House. At the end of the Session the country had a right to ask the Government, which was the representative of the majority, the question—"What have you done with the time of the nation; what has become of the time which belonged to the House of Commons, in which our Business was to be transacted?" And the answer must be—"Oh, the minority of one-third would not let us have it." The responsible majority gives this answer to the nation—" We did our best to prevail with the minority of one-third, which said we should not employ that time as you and we thought we ought to employ it; but we were not successful." Sir, I ask, could any position be more absurd than that? How can you make that one-third minority responsible to the country for the employment of the time of the House of Commons? It is impossible to do so; and, therefore, if you are going to embody the principle of a two-third's majority in a Rule, I say you will, in my opinion, consecrate the operation of Obstruction, because you declare that the minority of one-third has the right to obstruct. You would declare that this minority were in their right in using all the powers which the Forms of the House gave them for preventing the majority carrying out the measures which 1760 they desired to carry out. Then, Sir, there are objections made to the Rule which we propose upon arithmetical grounds. Some Gentlemen have thought it worth their while to construct a series of what I may call arithmetical puzzles in connection with it; but this can always be done with regard to any question into which numbers enter. During the passage of the Reform Bill it used to be said—"What an absurdity it is that a place of under 5,000 inhabitants should lose its Member, while another with one more than 5,000 inhabitants keeps its Member." But the principle of our Rule is not a question of proportionate majority with reference to numbers. It is, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained, altogether a question of quorum. We have thought that this power would not be exercised in a thin or empty House, but in a full House—one capable of properly considering the question, and able to deal with it according to its importance. I will now pass from the subject of the Rule itself; but, before sitting down, I should like to say a few words upon the statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite with reference to this being a Party question. Well, Sir, I believe it is desirable that no question should be made a Party question. That, however, is one of those hopes which people confidently express, but which are seldom fulfilled. If I desired to recriminate, which I do not—and I wish to say nothing that may give offence to hon. Gentlemen opposite—I should say it was not we who first made this a Party question. On every Conservative platform throughout the country our plan has been denounced, and that, too, even before it was born. Therefore, I say we do not take to ourselves the whole of the responsibility in that matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes) has brought a charge against the Prime Minister of want of courtesy, for not having communicated with the Leader of the Opposition candidly and frankly upon this subject. But surely, if that right hon. Gentleman had thought that any modification of the Government proposal would have rendered it more agreeable to those whom he represented, he could have made a suggestion to that effect. But the right hon. Gentleman did not think fit to do so, although it was for him to make any 1761 suggestion of the kind; and it is quite plain now that no such suggestion could have been made by him, because the attitude of the Opposition is resistance to the proposal in every shape. In my opinion, it was inevitable that this should become a Party question, nut in a bad sense of the word, but because it symbolizes and defines the principles which distinguish the two Parties in this House. The Liberal Party is a Party which desires activity and progress in legislation; while, without wishing to say anything at all offensive to hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Conservative Party, I should say, represent a principle rather antagonistic to that activity and progress. A noble Lord, addressing his supporters the other day in Lancashire, said they wanted the House of Commons to perform the great work of legislation; and, in order to do that, they must make it—what it was not at present—capable of doing its work. That seems a very natural and sound proposition; but it shocks the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes). Why? Because he does not want to see that work done; and nothing would shock or disgust him more than that the House of Commons should be made capable of doing that work. He says the cat is let out of the bag. No, Sir; that cat has always been out of our bag. We have never concealed that there were great measures we wanted to carry; and that we want the House of Commons to be capable of doing great work for the good of the nation. But, according to the contention of some Gentlemen, it is not for the majority of the country, or for the majority in this House, which represents the majority of the country, to determine whether that great work shall be done. It is to be a minority of two-thirds that is to have a veto as to whether that work is to be done or not. That is a very ingenious plan, and, I have no doubt, is perfectly satisfactory to hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is—" Heads, I win; tails, you lose." When they are in a majority they have the initiative; and when they have got the initiative, they do just as much or as little as they please, and generally rather the latter than the former. Well, nobody has a right to complain of that. The country has put that in power; and if the country wishes that nothing shall be 1762 done it keeps them in power. But then the time comes when the country wishes a great deal to be done, and it puts the other Party in power, with a majority; and then the Conservatives, who, when they were in Office, had the initiative, think, when they are in Opposition, they ought to have the veto; so that, when the Conservative Government are in power, and when the Liberal Government are in power, nothing will be done; because when the Conservatives have the initiative they do nothing, and when they have got the veto they prevent the Liberals doing anything. And that is the meaning of the veto of the minority, and of the rights of the Opposition; and, therefore, qui cunque via, nothing is to be done at all. That is the question. It is necessarily a Party question, and one upon which the contending and rival Parties in the country will probably, some day or other, have to decide. I cannot look at it otherwise than as a Party matter. I believe the Government of this country can only be conducted by Party. If you have not organized Party, what have you got? You have got the caprices and fancies of individuals in a chaos, and the public good perishes in the midst of it. The organization of Parties is nothing less than the predominance of the counsels of those who are chosen by the Party to advise them, because they think they are the fittest advisers. That is what is the meaning of Party Government. I am bound to say that hon. Gentlemen opposite act loyally and cordially upon those principles themselves; but they have great objection to our acting upon them. Disloyalty to the natural Leaders of the Tory Party is an offence unheard of, and not to be forgiven; but if there is Party loyalty on this side of the House, it is slavish submission and coercion. The Party which expects to hold power, or accomplish anything, always must accept the advice of those whom they have placed in the position they hold for the express purpose of advising them; they have made them their leaders for that purpose. To talk of coercion seems to me the most absurd thing in the world. Why, a Leader of a Party—and especially the Leader of the Government—is there by the free choice of those with whom he acts. At any time their breath can unmake him, as their breath has made him. He is their champion, it is 1763 true; but he is also their creature. You say to him—"We have made you our Leader because we have confidence that you will advise us properly;" but it is open to them any day to say—"We have no longer confidence in you as Leader, and we will no longer take your advice." He ceases to be their Leader, and the Government ceases to be a Government. It is the most reasonable and natural thing in the world that it should be in the power of any Party to give to those whom they have chosen as Leaders notice to quit at any moment they please. At this moment there are two pieces of advice upon this Paper between which the Liberal Party have to choose. There is the advice of the Prime Minister in the Resolution before the House—the advice of a statesman who has a Parliamentary experience of 50 years as to the only manner in which it is possible to conduct the Business of the House—and there is the other advice, the advice of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), a Gentleman with 18 months' experience of Parliamentary life, as to the best way of conducting the Business of the nation. It is perfectly free for the Liberal Party to choose between these two pieces of advice. No one can talk of coercion; it is the freest thing in the world for anyone to choose their advisers and select the advice they will follow. But, talking of Parties, I think if this issue were to be decided solely between the Conservative and Liberal Parties there would be very little doubt as to the issue of it. But there is another Party, a Party which does not profess to follow the advice of the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. Yes; within the last day or two we have seen the sentiments of that Party expressed in a more definite way than the opinions of Parties are generally expressed. Talk of Caucus, coercion, and Birmingham manifestoes! I have never seen anything equal to the published Whip of the Party represented by Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite. I have never before seen a Whip printed and published in the newspapers, signed by the Leader of the Party, countersigned by the Whips, and again countersigned by the Secretaries. That Party is a very important contingent. Yes; they are the allies of the Conservative 1764 Party on this question. ["No!"] They say so in their political arithmetic, for in this very Whip they say—" How many are the Conservative Party? We are so many, and if we can only get a few more, then we shall turn out the Government." It is a very natural calculation, and I perfectly understand it. I understand perfectly the principles of the combination which we have to face. Sir, they avow their object to turn out the Government. I do not complain of that. They avow another object, and it is that, if they can only defeat this proposition, they will never be again exposed to such action as that which you, Sir, took last year; but they will be enabled to renew the character of the opposition with which we had to deal. ["No, no!" and "Read!"] I am sorry to say the Whip was not sent to me. I am sorry if I misrepresent hon. Gentlemen opposite; but that was what I road to be the second object. At all events, they will not deny that they oppose the clôture because they think it will interfere with that character of opposition which they consider legitimate. [An hon. MEMBER: Coercion!] Ah, it applies to a good deal else. ["No!"] Well, I must be allowed to reserve my opinion on that subject. There is one thing in this manifesto which is clear, and that is that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite claim the power of determining what is to be administration in this country. They make their calculations, and if those calculations are correct they have that power, and they will overthrow the present Government. Yes; but have the Government which is to succeed us considered what is to be their situation? Have they thought that their allies to-night will be their masters to-morrow? Sir, in my opinion, the principles stated in that manifesto, and the combination which exists to defeat, if possible, the Government on this Motion, form one of the gravest dangers that this country has over known. I am not speaking of the fate of the present Government. I do not hold that so dear as some hon. Gentlemen opposite may think; but, Sir, it is not a question of the fate of the present Government, but it is a question of the fate of all future Governments, if hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, acting upon the principles 1765 which they profess, and by the means which they pursue, are to determine the fate of the Administration in this country. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for the Colonies (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) expressed the confident opinion that this Resolution would not be carried. I suppose he knows it is not going to be defeated by the strength of the Conservative Party. I suppose he, like the Whips of the Party below the Gangway, has confidence in the power of that combination. Sir, it is because I know that the Liberal Party has, if it chooses, the power to defeat that combination, that I believe the right hon. Gentleman is wrong in his prediction. I believe, Sir, that when you announce the decision upon this Resolution, you will announce to this House and to the country that the majority of the House of Commons has placed in your hands the power and the right to vindicate the ancient fame of the House of Commons.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Hardinge Giffard.)
said, he thought that, in assenting to the adjournment, he might express the hope that, after this adjournment, the House would begin to think seriously of the expediency of bringing the debate to a close.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
hoped that the Irish Members would not be practically excluded from participation in the debate. It unfortunately happened that none of them had as yet succeeded in catching the Speaker's eye; but the advantage of following the speech of the Home Secretary was one which would be availed of by Irish Representatives. There was no advocate of the Government whose speech would give them so large facilities for an Irish reply as the speech of the Home Secretary. For many reasons, the Irish Party, in a special sense of the coercionist policy of the Government in this and other matters, had a complete right to examine the conduct of the Government, and to examine the allegations by which it was attempted to justify that conduct. It must be remembered that they had 1766 peculiar reasons for examining the conduct of the Government, considering that they were now in the position of the discarded associates of the Obstructionists on the Ministerial Benches. There was one historical parallel for the conduct of the Premier towards the Irish Party in this matter, and it was that famous scene in Roman history where Cæsar recognized his champion, his friend, and his devoted admirer amongst the foremost of those who conspired against Cæsar's life. The Irish Party, like Cæesar, were entitled to exclaim "Et tu Brute!" He did not wish to delay the House at this time; but he must say that the Irish Party would consider it incumbent upon them to examine the extraordinary series of mis-statements which had fallen from Ministerial lips in the course of the present debate. It might cause them some natural pain to speak, as they would have to do, with severity of those who stood by them in many an ardent struggle against the majority. The fault was not theirs; it was the Government—the Premier—who had severed the sacred ties of old, and he could no longer hope for respect from those he had discarded.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he could not now encourage the hope of the early termination of the debate. Such termination was much more likely before the Home Secretary addressed the House than it was at the present moment. So long as Ministerial orators confined themselves to the probable effect of the measure of clôture on the House, Irish Members were content to remain silent or to interfere but slightly; but as the Home Secretary had chosen to represent both the Conservative and Irish Parties in the House in a manner likely to lead to unjust and inconsiderate opinions in the country with regard to both those Parties, it would be their duty, as Members of the Irish Party, to expose the fact that if they happened to be, on the present occasion, fortuitous allies of the Conservative Party, it was because each Party, acting upon its separate interests, had been led to a common fusion.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, the Irish Members owed a deep debt of gratitude to the Home Secretary. The Irish people would read with great interest and in- 1767 struction the report of his speech which would appear to-morrow in the Irish newspapers. For the first time since the clôture Resolution was introduced, the Irish people would know what the real intentions of the Government were. They would now know that a more iniquitous Coercion Bill was intended for Ireland—and intended to be passed when the gag could be applied to the Irish Members. And they thanked the Premier also for his description of the "baker's dozen" who sat below the Gangway on the Ministerial side—for his designation of them, which would stick and stink in the nostrils of the Irish people, "the nominal Home Rulers." Within the next week, even though they might in consequence be cast into Kilmainham as persons "reasonably suspected" under the Coercion Bill, the Bishops and priests of Ireland would be able to declare what the fate of the nominal Home Rulers below the Gangway would be if, after the speech of the Home Secretary, they sacrificed the interests of their country to the interests of their Party. To-day, as he was entering the House, he had met one of the renowned Party, who, for the present, should be nameless—["Oh!"]—well, the clique—and he had asked him how he was going to vote? He had said to him—"Are you going to vote for the clôture?" And the reply was—" Well, if I vote against it, I might turn out the Government." "But," he (Mr. Callan) said, "do you think the fate of the Government worse than the renewal of a Coercion Bill for Ireland?" And this Gentleman answered—"Oh! I never thought of that." Well, it was to be hoped that the priests of this Gentleman's borough and the Bishop of his diocese, and the people of Ireland would teach him before that day week to think of his country as much as he did of the interests of his Party. He (Mr. Callan) again thanked the Home Secretary for his plain exposition of his principles and of the intention of the Government, under cover of the clôture, to inflict upon the Irish people a more iniquitous Coercion Bill than that which disgraced Parliament last year.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Monday next.