§ [FOURTH 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 he 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,)—instead thereof.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words 'when it shall appear to Mr. Speaker,' stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.36
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
said, that he hoped the House would allow him to recall to them the exact question which was before it. Some hon. Members approached—conspicuously the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian)—the question under debate as if it was a question of getting rid of those persons who wantonly placed impediments in the way of the discharge of Public Business. That, however, was not the question. The question under debate was whether a mere majority of the House should have the power to put an end to debate which was neither obstructive nor unduly repeated. If they wanted an illustration of the importance of keeping that distinction in view, they could not do better than to refer to the speech of the Prime Minister. It was idle to suppose that hon. Members on that side of the House were not heartily in accord with the Prime Minister in wishing to get rid of Obstruction. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed out the increase which had taken place in Public Business, and the necessity of devising some scheme for preventing wanton waste of time caused by repeatedly moving the adjournment and other obstructive tactics. But all these things were provided for by special Resolutions; and, therefore, do not let it be suggested and put before the country that the House was now discussing the question of whether or not the Forms of the Procedure of the House should or should not be altered, or whether they should prevent the adjournment of the House before the beginning of Public Business, or of continual Motions for the adjournment of the debate and of the House. The particular Resolution they were now engaged in discussing did not touch any of these things. Neither did it touch the question of a particular Member disregarding the authority of the Chair, or the question of a Member wantonly consuming time by tedious repetitions. All these things were specially provided for, as well as the question of Motions upon going into Committee of Supply. He had remarked, having the Paper in his hand as the Home Secretary spoke on Thursday night, that every one of the suggested cases which he gave the House as a possible course which might be pursued, and which this Rule was intended to prevent, were provided for in the 37 other Rules which the House would hereafter have to discuss, and were not touched by this Rule. The question, therefore, which the House was now discussing, and the question which alone, it ought to be understood, was to be raised upon this debate and by this division, was that in a debate which was not obstructive, and which had not called for the intervention of the Chair, or in which no Member had continued speaking irrelevant matter, a single vote might put an end to debate, however orderly conducted. All this was to be done by the vote of a single Member. On reading through this Code of Procedure he confessed he was somewhat puzzled to know how the 1st Resolution got into its place, or how it got into the Code at all. It seemed to him as if some person had, with great care and skill, considered every form of Obstruction with which the House was familiar, and had carefully—and it might be wisely—provided for each one of them, and then that some stronger and different hand had come and placed this 1st Resolution in front of them all. He wished to say one word upon the safeguard which was supposed to be involved in the intervention of the Chair. In touching on the subject he was somewhat in a difficulty; for while what he said might be no more than justice, yet, addressed to the Chair itself, it might seem to amount to adulation. Yet for himself, and, he believed, many others, he believed that as long as the present Speaker occupied the Chair it would be very much better, in the view of great many Members of the House, that the Speaker should have the absolute decision of the question rather than leave it to that mixture of incongruous authorities by whom the suggested Resolution would be put in force. A great Party might recognize its responsibility; a single man might do so, but this system seemed ingeniously contrived to leave responsibility on neither one nor the other. No doubt anomalies might exist in any system without that system being bad. Whenever the Legislature determined to bestow the franchise, a line more or less arbitrary was drawn. But there was always a principle which dictated the point at which the division was made. What principle, however, could have suggested that 201 persons should have the power to close a debate which 200 38 desired to continue? But, to return to the Resolution itself, the hon. and learned Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had relied on the safeguard to be derived from the Speaker's authority, which was only to be exercised after the evident sense of the House had been shown. But how would that evident sense be apparent? Would it not be by cries from one side of the House or the other? An evident sense, it had been argued, would clearly not be that of a bare majority. But was that majority to be a majority of Members present, or what? What discretion, also, was to be allowed to the Speaker in putting the question? Upon the true construction of the Resolution he held that he had none. The words were that "Mr. Speaker may," and so on. His hon. and learned Friend, as a member of the Legal Profession, would know that the word "may," when so used in Acts of Parliament, was equivalent to the word "must," and the Speaker's discretion, therefore, amounted to nothing; otherwise, when invested with the power of closing debate Mr. Speaker deliberately refused to do so, Mr. Speaker would be acting in defiance of the evident sense of the House. He would suppose that in a particular case the Speaker, in the exercise of his discretion, came to the conclusion that it was the evident sense of the House that the debate should close. In the division, 201 voted for the closing of the debate, and 200 for its continuance. In that case the Speaker would have intervened in a mistake; because, in such a closely-balanced state of opinion, it was evidently not the sense of the House that the debate should close. The Speaker had intervened on one hypothesis, and the debate had closed on another. They would have attempted to ascertain whether the Speaker was right; they would find out that he was wrong; and then they would confirm his decision. The Home Secretary had told the House the other night that everything was decided by a majority; and the Prime Minister had said that a Government might be turned out, or a Bill passed, by a majority of 1. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. George Russell) went further, and declared that you could prevent even the introduction of a Bill by a majority. True; but not without debate. In this case the majority 39 prevented the minority from exercising their right of discussion—a principle absolutely unconstitutional. The Home Secretary had also said this must necessarily become a Party question, and the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India also admitted it must become a Party question; but that was not what the House had been told by the Prime Minister, and was absolutely inaccurate in one view of the Rule. The Prime Minister had described the Rule to be for the purpose of regulating debate, and maintaining order, and decency, and decorum. He (Sir Hardinge Giffard) knew of no reason why, with regard to such a question as that, any political Party should refuse their acquiescence. The Government had a right to call upon the Members on that side to aid and assist in framing a system which was intended for the common benefit of all; but if they admitted it was for the purpose of aiding and assisting in carrying Party measures, they could not call upon Members on that side to help them in doing that which they believed to be injurious to the best interests of the country. Whatever might be the views of the Prime Minister, there were, he thought he might say, three other Gentlemen in the Government who, at any rate, regarded this Rule as a useful instrument in their hands for the purpose of forwarding their own particular Party views—he meant their views in favour of particular measures which were adopted by their Party and not by this—[Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: The views of the majority.] Well, but what was a majority? The views of the majority were the will of the people.The will of the people practically means the will of the most numerous, or the most active, part of the people—the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority. The people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number, and precautions are as much needed against this as against any other abuse of power.That was the sentiment of that champion of bigoted Toryism, Mr. John Stuart Mill. In the minds of a great many, the significance of the Rules, and particularly of the 1st Rule, was very plainly interpreted by the utterances of Ministers themselves. A right hon. Gentleman said, not long ago—I do not think intelligent people can deny that we are on the eve of fresh political changes, which, I believe, might be accomplished without 40 violence, and without danger to the foundations of our national greatness and prosperity.He also spoke of—Carrying out the beneficial work of harmonizing existing institutions with modern necessities and the spirit of the times.That language in the mouth of the President of the Board of Trade had its significance; and it seemed to him that if the changes he hinted at were so imminent, they ought to preserve the safeguards they had in the interests of both the great political Parties, and not surrender them into the hands of Ministers who were capable of using such language. He would only say one word after what fell from his hon. and learned Friend behind him the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Stuart-Wortley), about the example of foreign countries. In some of those countries, although the House should vote for the close of a debate, yet a Minister might, if he thought fit, reopen the debate, only with the consequence that it should, be concluded in the ordinary form. And that was the sort of institution which was recommended by a Minister in the English House of Commons. The value of Parliamentary debates had probably never had a more eloquent exponent than the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself; and it was one, and not the least significant, of the signs of the times, that what the right hon. Gentleman wrote in 1879 he had not retracted himself in 1882; but it was absolutely inconsistent with the statement of many of his followers. It might well be that if the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly equipped with this weapon he would use it only for the purpose he had described; but how would he answer for those whose objects had been declared in the country, and which had not been disclaimed by them here? One valuable quality of Parliamentary debates, which it seemed to him most important that they should bear in mind, was the fact that when everybody had been heard, as in the analogous case of proceedings in Courts of Law, when a man was beaten he would say—" Well, after all, I was right; but still I had a fair trial," the minority, as long as they believed they had fair play, and were enabled to express what their views were, were contented. But when they allowed the Party which was in the majority for the moment to intervene and say—"No, 41 you have been sufficiently heard," would that contentment continue? It went somewhat farther than that, he thought; because if they caused discontent to Parties who were in a minority for the time, and made them believe that a measure had been passed notwithstanding their protest, and without giving them a proper hearing, the stability of those things which they had enacted was in peril. The right hon. Gentleman himself pointed that out in 1874, in speaking on the Endowed Schools Act. He would read one observation of the right hon. Gentleman, and let it not be supposed that he was reading it for the purpose of establishing any supposed inconsistency between the Prime Minister's observations then and his attitude now. He read it now because it was a valuable expression of opinion by the Prime Minister, which had not been answered, nor, as he understood, disavowed by the Prime Minister. What the Prime Minister then said was this—If you consult any one of those great political writers who adorn the literature of their own countries, you will find their language respecting us uniform. When they look at our political Constitution they are struck by the multitude of obstructions which, for the defence of minorities, we allow to be placed in the way of legislation. They are struck by observing that the immediate result is great slowness in the steps we take; but when they refer to the consequences of this slowness, they find one great and powerful compensation, and it is that in England all progress is sure."—[3 Hansard, ccxx. 1709.]It seemed to him (Sir Hardinge Giffard), therefore, that they were in great peril of interfering with that course of things if they adopted this Rule. Was it not a fact admitted almost by every Member of the House that the House was better governed than it could be governed under this Rule by an understanding of Gentlemen on both sides of the House? The Prime Minister could not point to a single instance in which there had been any departure from the understanding of the great body of the House that the debate upon a particular question should close upon such and such a night when the Government had expressed a desire that it should close. Of course, it was all very well for hon. Members opposite to suppose they only meant to do what was right. He was surprised to hear so moderate, so candid, and, he would add, so wise a Member of the House as the 42 hon. Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) say he would have no objection to this Rule, provided the power of enforcing it was always placed in the hands of his own Friends. That was, of course, what they would all say; but if they were to forge an instrument of this character it might get into what would be regarded as wrong hands; and the question was, whether it should be forged? He thought there was another danger connected with this question, and that was the effect which the adoption of this Rule would have upon the public mind out-of-doors. He believed that if there was one thing which was more firmly rooted in the mind of every Englishman than another it was this—that they had a House of Commons in which they could air their grievances, and that the House would make it impossible for any Minister, however powerful, to refuse to answer if a plausible case was made out. If this popular idea were interfered with, they would be interfering with what Mr. Roebuck—not the Mr. Roebuck of later years, hon. Gentlemen opposite might not accept his authority, but the Mr. Roebuck of an earlier time—had called the "safety valve." The Prime Minister had used the same metaphor. He said—It has been providentially allotted to this favoured Isle,—in those days a proud appeal to our favoured position was not a Jingo sentiment—that it should show to all the world how freedom and authority, in their due and wise developments, not only may co-exist in the same body, but may, instead of impairing, sustain and strengthen one another. Among Britons it is the extent and security of freedom which renders it safe to intrust large powers to Government; and it is the very largeness of those powers, and the vigour of their exercise, which constitute to each individual of the community the great practical safeguard of his liberties in return. The free expression of opinion, as our experience has taught us, is the safety-valve of passion. That noise, when the steam escapes, alarms the timid; but it is the sign that we are safe… …it is a great and noble secret, that of Constitutional freedom, which has given to us the largest liberties, with the steadiest Throne, and the most vigorous Executive in Christendom. I confess to my strong faith in the virtue of this principle. I have lived now for many years in the midst of the hottest and noisiest of its workshops—the language was figurative; but he understood that to be this House— 43and have seen that amidst the clatter and the din a ceaseless labour is going on, stubborn matter is reduced to obedience, and the brute powers of society, like the fire, air, water, and mineral of nature are, with clamour, indeed, but also with might, educated and shaped into the most refined and regular forms of usefulness for man.He had sought to translate some of the metaphors; but he would not strive to render into words what were the "brute powers of society;" but he was satisfied that if the "safety-valve" was taken away the danger that metaphor suggested would surely come. There would be a great number throughout the country who would look upon this as a gagging Resolution. He hoped this instrument would retain its French name. It seemed to him to reflect a French spirit, that spirit which, as surely as night followed day, carried with it reprisals; that spirit which, ever since 1789, had made each successive Government in France impossible, because each successive Government strove to avenge itself upon its predecessor. He had heard from moderate men like the hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian) that the power of closing a debate would be very rarely used. That was a strange excuse for the alteration of the Constitutional principles of the House of Commons. But was it clear that the Rule would be put on the shelf? Some people seemed to think that when engaged in political discussion they would always be reasonable and willing to recognize the rights of their adversaries who formed an opinion differing from theirs. Was that view in accordance with the experience of political life of right hon. Gentlemen opposite?
§ MR. HUSSEY VIVIAN,
interposing, explained that all he had said was that the clôture would be a powerful instrument to use when it should be required.
§ SIR HARDINGE GIFFARD
said, he had understood the hon. Member to say that it was an instrument which would be put on the shelf. If, however, it was to be used when required, where was the moderating effect of the hon. Member's argument? If it was to be used when the majority thought that it was required, and when they thought that the minority were perverse, unreasonable, and even stupid, as they had sometimes been called, he feared that it would be found to be a convenient instrument by the aid of which hon. Members opposite would 44 be able to fulfil their desires. The fact that some of them had suggested that it would not be used, or used but rarely, showed that they distrusted their own convictions. The Home Secretary had predicted that the Government proposal would be carried by a majority. He would like to ask hon. Members opposite whether, if this were not a Party question, recommended by the Ministry of the day, they thought a majority would be obtained for such a proposal as the present one? If it had come from his own side of the House, how many hon. Members on the Ministerial side would vote for it? They had heard a good deal lately about the Parties that existed in the House and in the country; it was apparent that the old Party lines had undergone some change, and that differences existed among the constituencies represented by hon. Gentlemen opposite. Were the Moderate Liberals, who had inherited the traditions of the great Liberal Party, sure that in the time to come this fetter which they would have helped to forge would not be applied to them, when the differences to which he had alluded should have broken up Parties and brought about a crossing of Party lines? The question they were discussing was whether or not the whole tradition of the Liberal Party was to be reversed, and without the pretenee of misconduct in debate, but simply from a desire to make things "more quick and satisfying," to quote the language of a Cabinet Minister, and, for the sake of assisting particular Party measures, they were to abandon the tradition of centuries, which had made the House of Commons the home of free speech? If the Moderate Liberals should think it right to aid in the forging of the proposed fetter, they would, he believed, find at no distant date that they had acted with fatal imprudence, and not more injuriously to the interests of the country than in defiance of the traditions of their own Party.
§ MR. DODSON
said, that though the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down had not actually sounded such extravagant notes of alarm as had emanated from many hon. Members opposite, the hypothesis underlying the whole of his speech was yet that of the extreme alarmists. They had heard from him that the effect of the Resolution would be the suppression of free speech, and 45 that the proposed Rule was not intended to defeat Obstruction, but to put down opposition. There was, he thought, a confusion of ideas in the minds of hon. Members opposite. The freedom of speech, which their ancestors asserted, the freedom of speech which had been inherited from them, the freedom of speech which the Speaker claimed at the beginning of a new Parliament, was the privilege and the right of the House to discuss any particular subjects it saw fit; and the right of Members in discussing these subjects, to express opinions freely, without fear of consequences. But this freedom of speech was not unrestricted loquacity. The Tudors and the Stuarts would not have objected to any amount of prolixity of debate, provided the House would have abstained from discussing subjects that were inconvenient, and expressing opinions that were unpalatable to the Crown. That was not freedom of speech which left the House, not under the moral influence of its most able and trusted Members, but placed it physically at the mercy of the most persistent and the most pertinacious—at the mercy of those who were most callous to the sense of what was due to themselves and to their brother Representatives. It was pointed out by the Secretary of State for India that no Member had a right to unlimited speech. The right of speech was exercised, and always had been exercised, subject to Rules, conditions, and limitations imposed by the House itself and varied from time to time. There were Rules which prevented a Member from bringing forward a subject at all under certain conditions. The Rules as to Adjournment and the Half—past 12 Rule had that effect. They were not shocked at such Rules as those; but the House was shocked at a minor proposition to close a debate on a subject after it had been fully and exhaustively discussed. In every practical Assembly—in every Assembly which pretended to be more than a debating club—there must be a time when discussion must cease, and the judgment of the House be ascertained with certainty, and expressed with authority. That was the object of this Rule—to secure that power to the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that the question before them was whether a bare majority should have power to stop a debate 46 which was neither a repetition nor Obstruction. That was a pure assumption. It was never suggested by anyone on that side that they should stop a debate which was neither repetition nor Obstruction. Then it was said that the subsequent proposals of the Government were sufficient to meet the case of Obstruction. What about the case of last year; what would have happened had the Speaker not intervened? But, apart from that, let them take the case of a Bill which must be passed by a certain date. Suppose the Mutiny Bill was met with Obstruction, would the subsequent Rules secure the passage of that Bill by the necessary day? The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the power of the initiative placed in the hands of the Speaker could not be over-estimated. But the late Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir R. Assheton Cross) made light of the initiative of the Speaker. The Speaker, he said, was only to declare the temper of the House. He (Mr. Dodson) ventured to point out that the temper of the House was not the sense of the House, any more than the temper of an individual was the sense of the individual. With all respect for the legal interpretation placed on the word by the hon. and learned Gentleman, "may" in the Resolution would not be construed to mean "shall." Hon. Gentlemen opposite assumed that this Rule was devised for Party purposes, for the suppression of discussion, for the injury of the Conservative, and the benefit of the Liberal Party. He ventured to say that if the effect of the Rule was to be as described by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken, the Liberal Party had most to suffer by its exercise. Rightly or wrongly, the Liberal Party believed their views gained by discussion; that their measures were, in the long run, advanced by the fullest discussion; and they believed, as it had been in the past, so it would be in the future. Therefore, entertaining that belief, surely they would be a most benighted set of personages if they proposed a Rule that was to have such an effect. Then, as to its being aimed at the Opposition, did hon. Gentlemen suppose the Liberals were so blind as not to know that the time must come when they would be in Opposition, and consequently, if that were the case, it 47 might be very damaging to themselves? The hypothesis that an unworthy manœuvre could be successfully resorted to under the circumstances assumed by hon. Gentlemen to close a debate proceeded upon a series of improbabilities amounting together to an impossibility. It was assumed that the Leader of the House would signal to the Speaker to declare the sense of the House. Let them consider the position. What sort of a Speaker must they have to accept the signal? What sort of a Prime Minister must they have to give it? The Leader of the House acted under the highest responsibility; his character, position, and career were at stake. The Speaker was not less responsible than the Leader of the House. He was placed by the House in a post of judicial trust. Then the suggestion was that, at a signal from the Leader of the House, he was to betray his trust—to rise from the Chair with a lie in his mouth, and declare that it was the evident sense of the House that the Question should be now put. But that was not all; they must have men so reckless of consequences to themselves as to support such a manœuvre. Let them calculate the depth to which a Party must have sunk—[Mr. WARTON: It has sunk.]—before it lent itself to such a proceeding. What a cry it would give to the Opposition if it could only plausibly represent to the country that legitimate discussion had been burked. For behind the majority would be the public out-of-doors. For the success, therefore, of this unworthy manœuvre they must have an infatuated Minister, a dishonest Speaker, an absolutely blind and reckless majority, and torpid, or utterly unintelligent constituencies. If ever they had such a combination as that, it would not much matter whether this or any other particular Resolution was standing upon the Order Book of that House or not. The Leader of the Opposition felt the absurdity of the hypothesis upon which his allies proceeded, and took different ground. He assumed that pressure from outside would be put upon Members to enforce the closing of a debate. But if the clôture was only to be put in operation when a debate had been so protracted that the public out-of-doors rose in sickness and indignation, reasonable liberty of speech could not be in any appreciable danger. Again, consider the position of a Speaker who, 48 having rashly averred that it was the evident sense of the House that a debate should close, found, on a division, that only a minority was in favour of this step. He would look foolish. If it turned out that a narrow majority was in its favour his position would be even worse. He would have committed a mistake he could not retrieve, and exposed himself to imputations of partiality. The House might depend upon it that no Speaker would act in the matter, unless he were satisfied that a preponderating majority would support him when he took upon himself the responsibility of closing a debate. He saw no reason to suppose that future Speakers would be partizans, or that they would cease to be men of honour and independence. The Chair was, to a great extent, removed from Party strifes. But, even if the Speaker remained a politician and took part in the debates, there was no reason to suppose that he would exercise the power in trusted to him unfairly. The Lord Chancellor was the Speaker of the House of Lords, and remained a foremost Member of the Government of the day; yet no one would suppose that an Earl Cairns or a Lord Selborne would, even after making the most telling Party speech on the floor of the House, use his judicial power improperly for Party purposes. If he were to criticize the Amendment with the closeness with which the Resolution had been criticized, he should say that it proposed that no majority should have power to close a debate. The hon. and learned Member said he hoped the French name of clôture would be retained. If they were to quarrel with a thing because it had a French name, they would have to quarrel with several good things which were not altogether inappropriate to an hour which was not far distant; and were they to object to "Parliament," which was a French word? The hon. and learned Gentleman said the institution was French; but it would be more correct to say that the power of closing a debate was European and American, and that it had been adopted in almost every one of those Parliamentary Assemblies which had been based on the model of our own. But if they wanted an English name, closure was an English word. The word could be found in Johnson's Dictionary, and he supposed hon. Members would allow that Shak- 49 speare and Pope knew something of English, and they were authorities for the word closure. But he neither accepted nor rejected the Resolution because it had a French name or was a French institution, or because it had an English name or had been an English institution. He supported the Resolution because he thought it was suited to the circumstances of the case. As a matter of fact, not only had they the word closure, but they had the thing, to a certain extent, in that House. What was a "count out" but the closing of a debate? and what did the hands of the clock do at a quarter to 6 o'clock on "Wednesday but close a debate? It was perfectly true they did not provide for the coming to a decision on a question; but that used to be effected by an understanding between opposing Parties in the House, when they all felt that a subject had been sufficiently discussed; and when that was the case, it was the practice always for the minority, although unconvinced by the arguments of their opponents, to allow the debate to be stopped, and to accept the decision of the House. For reasons which were apparent to all, it was now considered that an explicit Resolution of this kind had become necessary to secure to the House the just and reasonable power of bringing a debate to a conclusion, when the matter had been fully discussed, and was ripe for determination. It had been urged that this subject should not have been made a Party question; but who was to blame for having made it a Party question? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon and the late Home Secretary had, early in the autumn, announced their intention of opposing any proposal of this kind to the utmost, and their cry had been followed by their Party. The truth was that this Resolution was necessary to enable the House to get through the multiplicity of its own Business, and to become master of its own time. It had been said that though Foreign Assemblies had the clôture we did not want it, and the reason given was that we had more Business. It was just because of that that it was necessary to have some Rule, in order that the House might be master of its own time. There never was an Empire which was so extended and diversified as this; and yet, while their possessions abroad were extending, their 50 foreign relations increasing, and their commercial interests multiplying, Parliament was so far from showing a disposition, to relax its hold on domestic matters, over which it had heretofore exercised control, that it seemed rather disposed to take more of those affairs into its keeping. On the whole, he believed that the Resolution would prove beneficial in its working; and he hoped, therefore, that it would be accepted by the House.
§ SIR JOHN MOWBRAY
said, that hon. Members on the Opposition Benches had been charged with holding extravagant views on the Rule under discussion; but he was not inclined to be classed among that number. The loudest note of alarm had been sounded by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. In the early part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the clôture as the minor proposition; and if that Resolution for gagging the House were the minor, proposition, one would like to know what were the major propositions that were to follow when that had been forced upon the House? Speaking in no Party sense, he (Sir John Mowbray) deeply deplored the position into which this question had drifted. He lamented the paralysis of Business in the House, and thought the Prime Minister had a right to complain, as Leader of a large majority, that he had lost the credit of being able to carry three or four good legislative measures in one Session. He also thought the Prime Minister was right in not relegating this question to a Committee. The conclusions of Committees had generally been impotent and their results inconsiderable; but he had fully expected that the right hon. Gentleman would have consulted the Leader of the Opposition before taking action, so as to have insured the carrying of the necessary proposals by a large majority. It was also to be regretted that, contrary to the assurances given by the Prime Minister during the Recess, this had been made a Party question. If it had not become a Party question, what was the meaning of those threats of a Dissolution which had been spread so largely about the House to terrify young and weak Members on the Liberal Benches? The Opposition were not terrified by those threats, because they knew that the result of a Dissolution would be to add to 51 their numbers. Then there was a talk about resignation. In that he (Sir John Mowbray) did not believe; if he did, he candidly confessed he should deeply deplore it. Members were asked to consider this as a question of credit and of supporting the Government, and were not allowed to deal with it on its merits. ["No!"] Of that there could be no doubt after the speeches of the Secretary of State for India and the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Head of the Government had admitted the loyal support which was given to the Government during several trying weeks of last year, and they were now ready to give similar support to any reasonable proposition submitted to them. But what they had mainly to complain of was that the Resolution, as presented them, looked very much as if it were brought forward by one Party in order to diminish the strength of the other. After what had occurred, he admitted that the House was bound to do something this Session; and he felt grateful to the Speaker for vindicating the credit of the Assembly on a recent unparalleled occasion, and recognized that it was its duty to do something to restore its order and dignity; but what was the way in which these Resolutions had been brought forward? Following the clôture Resolution, there were others which he was decidedly inclined to support; but Members were not allowed to consider one of those. The Prime Minister had put in the forefront of all these a single Resolution most obnoxious and repugnant to the feelings of old and experienced Members of the House, and so objectionable to some Members around him that they had to be coerced in order to obtain their votes. That Resolution was put forward as a thing which admitted of no modification, concession, or compromise—the Government must have the Resolution, the whole Resolution, and nothing but the Resolution. For his own part, although it would be the last step he should wish to see the House take, he was prepared, if the necessity should arise, to see adopted a proposal for closing debates in certain circumstances by a proportional majority. He was not prepared to oppose clôture under all circumstances; but clôture of a bare majority should have his irreconcilable resistance so long as he had a vote in the House. He did not admit the neces- 52 sity for such a violent step as the passing of the 1st Resolution. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary had stated that the Resolution was necessary in order to vindicate the ancient fame of the House of Commons. For his own part, he not believe that that ancient fame would be vindicated by any such step as that proposed. It would best be vindicated by walking in the old paths. He recollected a memorable speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister nine years ago. The Liberal Government had been defeated in 1873 on the Irish University Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman resigned Office. His resignation, however, was not accepted, and in announcing his return to Office the right hon. Gentleman could only find expression for his feelings by quoting the words of the Roman General in the noble ode of Horace—Neque amissos coloresLana refert, medicata fuco:Nee vera virtus, cùm semel excidit,Curat reponi deterioribus.Those words would now be a sufficient answer to the right hon. Gentleman. If the ancient tone and high character of the House of Commons had departed, they would not be brought back by any device imported from our Colonies, or from foreign countries, or by any electroplate wash of Birmingham manufacture. If the true virtue and ancient fame of the House had gone from it they would not be restored by the mechanical aid of a gagging clôture. Under the clôture a deteriorated House of Commons would cease to be the illustrious Assembly that for six centuries had enjoyed the confidence and esteem of the English people, commanded the respect of foreign countries, and built up the fabric of England's greatness.
§ MR. WODEHOUSE
said, that he would not further pursue the controversy by whose fault the subject under discussion had become a Party question; rightly or wrongly, avoidably or unavoidably, it had become a Party question, and there was no hope now of its ceasing to be so; but nothing was more remote from his own desire than to approach it in the spirit of Party. It had been said that the proposal contained in the Resolution was the device of an imperious Minister, whose impatient spirit would brook no opposition; but it was 53 notorious, and they had heard it from the Prime Minister's own lips, that he had been one of the slowest and most reluctant to be convinced of the necessity for such a change. It had also been said that the closure was wanted by the Government as an engine to enable them to fulfil a Party programme of Liberal legislation. But under a system of Party Government every Government would have a Party programme. It was no reproach to them to endeavour to fulfil it; indeed, if they acted otherwise they would culpably betray the hopes of those whose confidence placed them in power. It was contended by the Party opposite that the Government should abandon the 1st Resolution, and rely exclusively on the other proposed Rules respecting Procedure. The answer to that contention could best be given in the words of a high authority—the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote). In February, 1880, the right hon. Gentleman made a speech in which, while expressing a strong repugnance to restrictions on freedom of debate and the rights of minorities, he said—I do not know that we have arrived at a perfect set of Rules; and I have no doubt that there are matters upon which we may have new Rules; and we may, from time to time, propose new Rules, and consider and discuss them. But if we think that by such Rules we are to prevent Obstruction altogether, we are reckoning in the dark. There is only one alteration of our Rules which would be of a character that really could prevent Obstruction, and that is one for which we have no English Dame, but which is known to us all under the name of the clôture.Here was a distinct admission from the right hon. Gentleman that the closure was the only thoroughly effective check upon Obstruction. Again, at Manchester, in June last, the right hon. Gentleman said—We have had, this Session, to deal with a state of things which I fully admit is unprecedented in the history of Parliament, and which I also admit, if it should be proved to be permanent, will be a great blow and a great injury to the House of Commons, and will render necessary the adoption of measures which, if we possibly could, we would avoid introducing into our By stem.That was just the question. Could they longer postpone the adoption of those measures? Every right-minded man must deeply lament the loss of that excellent closure which the House once 54 possessed, given to it as a freewill offering by the spontaneous discipline and loyalty of all its Members. But that was gone; and what hope was there that it would ever return? Unless remedies were promptly applied, things would grow worse rather than better. There were innocent agents of Obstruction, and other agents the reverse of innocent. The pressure of both kinds would increase rather than diminish. The magnitude and growth of national affairs, and the general operation of democratic influences, would make increasing contributions to the block of Business. And there was a Party in the House avowedly ready, in the very words of their own Leader, utterly to disorganize and interfere with every Business. This policy was not a mere rejoinder to the Coercion Acts; it was proclaimed at a time when the Government were trying to govern Ireland without a Coercion Act; and the policy would survive if the Coercion Acts were repealed tomorrow. They were told that at the next Election the followers of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) would be largely reinforced. If that boast were well founded, it was the strongest argument for setting their House in order before the new comers arrived. Penal Rules directed against individual offenders were effective only against the coarser modes of Obstruction. To show how inoperative mere Penal Rules would be against subtle and scientific Obstruction, the following extract from The Nation would be instructive—The present legislative arrangements between England and Ireland cannot stand. They are unsuited to the requirements of the two countries; they are behind the age. If additional proof on that point is wanted, the Irish Members can supply it in any single Session. It is not putting the case too strongly to say the British Legislature is very much at their mercy. Against their will Business cannot go on. Without having recourse to open, gross, palpable Obstruction, they can so clog the wheels of the machine that it will do next to nothing; can bring great numbers of Irish Bills into the House of Commons—good, desirable, and useful Bills—and proceed to their discussion; they can interest themselves in English Bills of all sorts, Imperial and local, public and private, and debate them in the most painstaking and conscientious manner. A very proper course of action this, open to no Constitutional objection, quite legitimate, and perfectly in order; but the result of its adoption would be that little or nothing would be done.No penal laws could touch this kind of 55 Obstruction. They had heard much about the degradation which would be inflicted on the House by the closure; but was there no degradation in the thought that the British Legislature could be truly said to lie at the mercy of its worst enemies? The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) was reported to have said last year that for every arrest under the Coercion Act the Irish Members would fine the Government a night of the time of the House of Commons; in other words, that because the Government exercised certain powers with which they had been armed, by Parliament for the public good, the time of the House of Commons was to be deliberately wasted. Could any hon. Member opposite be insensible to the degradation of such a state of things as that'? Looking at the question from a mere Party point of view, would not the closure operate in the long run more to the advantage of the Party opposite than to the Liberal Party? There was "another place," even in this world, which many Liberals believed to be paved for the most part with bad intentions; and would the permanent Conservative majority in that "other place" ever hesitate to throw its shield over a Conservative minority in the House of Commons, if they thought that time and reflection would bring the country round to their side? When the Liberals were in a minority they had no powerful auxiliaries elsewhere. They had been warned of "stone walling," "filibustering," and other Foreign and Colonial practices which would be introduced if the closure were adopted; but no attempt had been made to trace the origin of those practices to the closure. He believed that they proceeded from other more general causes, and that, where they and the closure existed side by side, the closure was valued as a check upon them. They were also told that the closure would convert every Member of a gagged minority into an Obstructive, and even the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) had threatened to turn Obstructive under such provocation. He did not think that the hon. Member would ever fulfil that threat; he believed rather that the hon. Member would do what he always did at the critical moment—he would run into the nearest cave he could find. The objections of hon. Members opposite to the 56 closure would soon vanish after they had once had an opportunity of applying it to a Liberal minority, and a few years hence neither Party would be willing to abandon it. For his own part, he should prefer a simpler form of closure to that now proposed—a closure, for instance, subject only to two limitations—first, that it should not be carried except in a House of a certain size; and, secondly, that the Chair should have the same discretion in putting the Question to the vote as was given to the Chair under the Rules of Urgency as to putting Motions for Adjournment to the vote. In his opinion, the growing sensitiveness of the House to the breath of public opinion was the best safeguard against the abuse of the closure. The abuse of the power of closing a debate would inevitably recoil on those who practised it. As far as right of speech in that House was concerned, a most complete gag had been put on one of the Members for Northampton; but was he silenced, and had they heard the last of him? or was he less conspicuous than when he sat and spoke there? Nothing of the kind. If Mr. Bradlaugh had spent an enormous sum annually in advertising his Atheistical publications and his treatises on domestic philosophy, he could not have done as much to extend their notoriety as the House had done, free of charge. Though the Opposition had renounced Mr. Bradlaugh and all his works, they had invested him with a European and Transatlantic fame, and he now filled a space in the public gaze second only to that other friend of the people so rudely expelled from their shores—second only to "Jumbo." The surest way in this country to swell the number of a man's adherents, or even of a beast's adherents, was to give him the chance of posing as a martyr; and any minority which had been unjustifiably gagged in that House, would have its ovations out-of-doors. Freedom of speech, it was said, was the ancient glory of the House of Commons. He did not deny it; but he would rather say that the true glory lay in the sober, temperate exercise of that freedom, and in the uses to which it was turned. Every Member was free to speak at any length on any question; but if they all exercised that glorious freedom not many weeks would elapse before a hurricane of national indignation would 57 awake, and this famous old ship would go down with all hands on board in the wild waves of its glory. Let them be wise in time. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) justly observed the other night that this House was becoming more and more the practical Executive Government of the country. But, surely, the first duty of an Executive authority was not to talk, but to act. An Assembly like this House, arrogating to itself Executive functions, and extending its long arm to the farthest bounds of a world-wide Empire, could not live by freedom of speech alone. If such a Body surrendered itself to unlimited talk it would not only evoke the indignant scorn of mankind, but it would also become a fountain of confusion and calamity as wide as the range of its interference. It was whispered abroad that the House was no longer what it once was; that the tide of its renown had begun to ebb; and if that allegation were true its causes were not far to seek. They all knew where they lay. It was not yet too late to redeem the name and fame of the House of Commons; but the opportunity might soon pass away, never to return. The issue was whether this illustrious Assembly, where freedom and order should be worshipped with an equal devotion, should slowly but surely sink into a degraded arena of adventurers and demagogues, or whether it should now, by a strong effort, renew the vigour and the splendour of its prime? With such an issue before them could they hesitate—could they pause? And persuaded, as he was, that nothing less than the proposals of the Government would be adequate to the end in view, he earnestly asked the House to sanction those proposals by decisive votes.
§ MR. GRANTHAM
said, he thought the hon. Member who had just sat down had spoken with great moderation; but, at the same time, he had not, in his opinion, contributed anything in favour of the Motion before the House, as his arguments had practically answered each other. The hon. Gentleman seemed to argue, when he referred to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Brad-laugh), that that House ought to open its portals to any individual, however objectionable he might be, because otherwise his principles and writings would 58 become more widely known than before. The hon. Member ridiculed the position which the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) had taken up, saying that whenever there was any fear of a storm that hon. Member ran into the first cave. In point of fact, however, the hon. Member for Berkshire was doing exactly that which the hon. Member for Bath had shown was the wisest thing for Liberal Members to do at the present time, for the hon. Member for Bath said that a hurricane was brewing in this country, and that unpopular Members ran a risk of going down in it. He thought there was a very strong feeling among the Liberal Party that this Rule was not necessary at the present time. The Prime Minister contended that both the overwork of the House and the Obstruction to which it was subject rendered the clôture necessary; while the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India avowed that he wished for it in order to put down certain hon. Members whom he regarded as bores; and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary spoke of it as an efficient weapon against the existing powers of Obstruction hitherto lying dormant and unused, but which he unfolded with evident relish, as they reminded him of his days in Opposition, and in reference to which he would no doubt, soon find the Irish Members very apt pupils; so that there was, apparently, no complete agreement between these three Ministers, all of whom supported the Resolution for such very different reasons. The speech of the Prime Minister was, of course, interesting, not only for its own intrinsic merit, but as the work of a man whose great experience of the House added weight and value to his arguments. Their experience of the past 20 years had, however, shown them that the right hon. Gentleman constantly changed his views, and was from time to time led, by the pressure of circumstances, to discredit opinions that he had recently believed to be infallible. With regard to the question of overwork, it was to he noticed that the number of hours during which the House sat each Session was not a fair test of the amount of work to be done. It was true that in 1832 the House sat for 1,150 hours, and at a later period for 930 hours only, while last year the numbers went up to as many as 1,400; but that was no proof 59 of the House rebelling against overwork. After the Reform Bill, as was natural and desirable, came a period of considerable energy, followed by a time during which the inaction of the House only reflected the lethargic manner in which the country regarded political questions; and even now, but for the Irish difficulty, the House would pursue the even tenour of its way. The country did not desire, as had been said, the passing of so many new measures. Obstruction of the kind adopted by certain of the Irish Members, and not overwork, was the only excuse for the Resolution. There could be no question, however, that the House might, if it chose, grapple with that difficulty without adopting the clôture, and that much might be done by such minor reforms of Procedure as were judiciously and successfully introduced by Melbourne and Peel, men who were as worthy of respect in their day as the present eminent Leader of the House. The excessive numbers of Questions asked might, for instance, be much reduced, and much time might be saved by merely printing the Ministerial answers; for the pleasure of questioning seemed to depend very much on the publicity of the Question and the reply. The Prime Minister had reminded the House that 58 nights of last Session were devoted to the Land Bill, and had argued from that fact that the clôture would have been found useful. Now, it was admitted that the Land Act was so imperfect as to be urgently in need of amendment; but how would it have been improved or rendered more durable by curtailing the time and attention that were actually spent upon it? The truth was that an act of such importance, an act which so altered the existing relations of the bulk of the population of a country, ought not to be passed in one Session. The effect of the various propositions contained in the many sections of such an Act could not be ascertained without being sifted through many minds and months of consideration. How was the Ballot Act of 1877 passed? It was practically passed by means of the clôture, for a meeting of the Liberal Party was held, and it was agreed that all Liberal Members should take their Amendments off the Paper and allow the other side to carry on the discussion alone, so as to get the Bill through the Commons. By that 60 means the Bill was passed in time to be sent to the House of Lords, not a single Conservative Amendment having been accepted by the Government. It was, however, thrown out in "another place." The consequence of that was that the Government had time to consider the objections which had been raised to it, and to considerably modify their own opinions in regard to it; and thus they were enabled in the following Session to introduce a Bill essentially superior to it, and that passed into law. In the same way he thought it would have been better if the Irish Land Bill had been thrown out last year, so as to give the Government time and opportunity to prepare a measure more perfect and just. He would, however, ask this—Supposing the clôture had been in force last Session, and applied so as to put a stop to the objections of the Irish Members sitting below the Gangway, what would those Gentlemen have said of the measure? They would have had just ground for saying that they had not been treated with fair play; and no one would have been surprised if they had endeavoured not only to do all in their power to prevent its becoming law, but also in frustrating its working after it had become law. Then as to the operation of the Rule, if the Government succeeded in carrying it. Was it only to be applied to the second and third readings of Bills and great debates? In that case it would have little effect in saving the time of the House. But if it were to be a constant weapon in the hands of the Government, and was to be used in the manner indicated in the speech of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India, then there would at once be an end of that freedom of debate which had been their boast for so many years. If the evident sense of the House was only to be declared by the Chair, when it was clear that there was a great majority in favour of the debate being closed, then he wanted to know why the Government had wasted their time and insisted on forcing on an unwilling House a Resolution which would never be put in force, when a Resolution of sufficient power to effect such an object would have passed almost sub silentio. Was it likely that any Speaker would ever take upon himself to state that it was the evident sense of the House that 61 a debate should be closed without relying on the strict letter of the Resolution, as it might turn out that he was wrong? He maintained that there must be some meaning in the words of the Resolution with reference to the evident sense of the House, and that its meaning was that the evident sense of the House was to be determined by a vote of, perhaps, 201 against 200. If the clôture were to be used in that manner, then, to use the language of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that which was a hateful incident, and would be a hateful incident, of the Gladstone-Chamberlain Administration, would become the daily life of the Radical Government of the future. The Prime Minister had founded the proposal, in a great measure, on the number of pressing measures requiring to be dealt with. He had told the House that in 1878 he wrote in a certain periodical stating that there were 22 important measures requiring immediate attention. Then, in 1879, he says he discovered 31, and in his celebrated Mid Lothian campaign he stated the number he found was something like 40. If so, why did the right hon. Gentleman not introduce those measures when he was last in Office? There was no Obstruction then, for he had himself admitted that it did not show itself till 1878–9, when the Conservative Government was in power. But the country had not asked for those measures, and, therefore, they had not been passed. The right hon. Gentleman had also made a strong argument with reference to the Select Committees that were appointed to consider this question. Those Committees were composed, not of partizans, but of men supposed to be eminent in their knowledge of the Rules and practice of the House, and of what changes it was desirable the House should make in its Procedure. Yet the Government now wanted to do what none of those Committees thought desirable. It was strange that they should have gone on for so many centuries without requiring the change now proposed. The whole feeling which animated the House enabled the two rival Parties to arrange when the debate should be closed; and, for his part, he did not believe that the old traditional feeling of respect for the House, which used to exist in the House, had yet died away. It might be that there was a break in their traditions; but when 62 the difficulty with regard to Ireland was settled, he believed they would find that the old feeling still existed, and that they would be able to go on for many years before any such Rule as this was necessary. Some reference had been made by a preceding speaker to Jumbo. In his opinion, the clôture much resembled Jumbo. They were afraid that, like Jumbo, it might become mischievous in the future, and they would rather not put such a power in the hands of the Government. The Prime Minister was very much in the position of a host who, having provided an ample supply for his guests, insisted when they had sat down to the entertainment that they should make their dinner entirely from the first article in the ménu, which he might call clôture de bouche à la radicale. He believed that in the Resolutions which were to follow the one under discussion they might obtain everything that was necessary for amending the Procedure of the House; and, therefore, he thought they ought not to rush headlong on that which was so objectionable as the Rule now proposed. He felt very strongly that they were not being dealt with fairly in having that Resolution forced upon them when, apparently, there was no difference between them as to the way in which they thought the Business of the House should be conducted. He therefore regretted that the Leader of the Opposition had not been consulted on that question; because he felt sure that that right hon. Gentleman would have done all he could to sink mere Party differences and to assist the Government in arriving at some common conclusion which would have been satisfactory to both Parties. The responsibility of making that a Party question really belonged to the Government; because in their autumn speeches it was announced by leading Members of the Ministry that they intended to have the clôture, or something like it. The Government might now obtain a small majority, and their victory, however slight, might be cheered by hon. Gentlemen opposite; but the echo of those cheers would be but as the clank of the chains that would enslave freedom of debate in that House. [A laugh.] The hon. Member for South-wark (Mr. Thorold Rogers), who laughed, should remember that half the benefits of modern legislation had been conferred by minorities who had refused to be put 63 down, and who persevered until they were ultimately successful. The men by whom Catholic Emancipation, the repeal of the Corn Laws, and many other great measures had been persistently advocated might have been treated as "bores" and Obstructives under a system of clôlure enforced by a bare majority. The course of the present discussion showed that a different form of the clôlure from that now proposed would be sufficient. The speeches of the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) and other hon. Gentlemen opposite indicated that they were favourable to a two-thirds majority, or some other more moderate mode of discovering the sense of the House than the vote of a bare majority. In conclusion, he hoped that, if not in the first division, at least in some of the divisons that would follow, they would still find that there was enough freedom among the Liberal Party to secure the passing of a Resolution which would carry with it the evident sense of the House.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
said, he would not have intruded on the debate had it not appeared to him that he might perhaps be able to say something that had not been said before, and so avoid those useless repetitions against which these Resolutions were aimed. It might be inferred from some of the Opposition speeches that the Resolution gave the Prime Minister power, for his own purposes, to interpose between the House and a debate, and summarily to close the latter; but on looking at the Resolution he was entirely re-assured, for all that it did was to make the Speaker or the Chairman the judge of the evident sense of the House, and neither could take the initiative without derogation to his high Office if he had failed to perceive or to find out what the evident sense of the House really was. He therefore concluded that it would be impossible for the action spoken about in the Resolution to be taken unless the evidence of the sense of the House was unmistakable and overwhelming. It had never been the practice of the House for a Speaker to take part with the majorities against the minorities. Throughout all the annals of the House of Commons, only one Speaker had failed in his duty to the House, and his consideration for those who spoke in 64 it. The solitary exception occurred in 1629, when Speaker Finch refused to put a Question to the House, because he had received the King's commands, and he got impeached for his pains afterwards. The fact was that the opposition to this Rule was directed against the Chair, and the permanent traditions that had been attached to it. It had been assumed throughout that the Speaker and his successors would fail in their duty to the House; that they would forget the traditional fairness which had always been shown to minorities; that they would neglect the duties in trusted to them; and that the Speaker or his successors would lend themselves, for mere Party purposes, to the worst and most fatal Party purposes. For his own part, he did not believe that the Speakers of the future would be inferior to those of past times in impartially discharging their duties. The Speaker had the right to choose the speakers in a debate. He had never heard of that right being abused; and yet it was quite within the Speaker's power to decline to see those Members who might wish to rise and address the House. It had been assumed that what the Government proposed was a novelty. It was really a revival, in a limited form, of the power which the Speaker formerly possessed, for the Rules of 1610 laid down that the Speaker could put, without debate, the Question to the House, and ask the House whether they would hear the speaker further, or listen to further speeches. It was quite clear, from the works on Parliamentary Procedure, that this right or duty of the Speaker embodied in the ancient Rules was continued and well known until about a century ago. The Government were re-affirming that the Speaker possessed this power of asking the House to determine, without debate, whether, in their opinion, a subject had been sufficiently discussed. The work of Sir Erskine May was the first in which the Rule he had been referring to was left out. It was superseded by an understanding being entered into between the officials and past officials as to the time when a debate should terminate and who should be the speakers. They were told that the Rule now proposed was an invasion of the rights of minorities; but was there any rational person who believed that the Speaker would degrade the dig- 65 nity of his Office by lending himself to the stifling of a fair debate on any subject, however small the minority might be? It was impossible to believe that the present Speaker or any of his successors would be guilty of such a gross dereliction of duty. The old Rule to which, he had referred was still recognized in a lame and halting manner in the Rule passed in February, 1880, for the purpose of applying some remedy for an acknowledged evil. It was true that in the Legislature of the United States one-third of the House was required for the purpose of negativing a Motion that the debate be closed, but the Speaker there was chosen on distinct partizan grounds; whereas the Speaker of the House of Commons was never chosen on such grounds. They were told that the country was alive to the serious hindrance which this Rule would be to the freedom of debate. The country was much more alive to the serious hindrance to the progress of Public Business, and they knew very well the source from which these hindrances proceeded. He did not believe that the opportunity for exercising the Rule would be very frequent. There must be manifestations of prodigious impatience before the Speaker would take any step; and he must be further convinced that the time of the House was trifled with—he must, in short, feel that nothing could warrant a continuance of the debate. Though they might not often draw the sword of Justice, it was very desirable that they should have it in their power to do so; and so, though this Rule might not he often used, it was of great importance that they should have such an instrument for maintaining the character of their debates. He himself would have supported the clôture even if it had been in a stronger and more emphatic form.
§ MR. J. A. CAMPBELL
said, hon. Members on his side were all anxious that Obstruction should be prevented, and that the Forms of the House should be improved for the facilitating of Business. It had been said that the office of the House was not to speak, but to act. It was, no doubt, important that they should do legislative work; but it was equally important that that should be done in such a way as to satisfy the country that it had been deliberately and well done. It appeared to him that 66 there was a necessity for separating between the intention of this Resolution, and the probable—almost inevitable—effect of its operation. Sometimes it had been defended on the ground of the intention with which it had been brought forward. But at other times they had heard arguments for it which seemed to be based upon the effects which it was expected to produce, and which effects, he thought, were inconsistent with the intention with which it had been brought forward. One very important point was to know what was meant by "the evident sense of the House." They had an explanation of that phrase from the Prime Minister himself, who, in introducing this subject, had used the expression "the unquestioned will of the House," and this expression he had explained by adding—" not the will of one Party in the House, or of a mere majority, but what may be called, in the phrase of one of the Resolutions, the evident sense of the House. "It appeared, therefore, that this phrase—"the evident sense of the House"—meant something more than the will of one Party, or of a mere majority; and they must assume that the intention of the Government was to give effect to that general sense of the House, and to nothing less. But what they complained of was that the Resolution was not consistent with that intention. It was proposed in the Resolution that, in certain circumstances, effect might be given to the will of a mere majority. That, not to speak of other objections, was directly opposed to what they must assume to be the intention of the Government in bringing forward the Resolution. But then it was said that the case of carrying the clôture by a mere majority was not likely to happen. It was sufficient objection, however, if the Rule admitted of it happening. But let them see whether it was an impossible thing that it should happen. The Prime Minister spoke of an objection taken to the Rule in this respect as absurd, and as involving a moral impossibility. The Prime Minister thought it morally impossible that the Speaker, seeing 200 one way and 201 the other way, should take that for the evident sense of the House, and act accordingly. That would, indeed, be morally impossible, as they could not conceive of the Speaker, seeing the House so equally divided, say- 67 ing that it was the evident sense of the House that the debate should close. But it was possible, and conceivable, that the Chair might make a mistake. He spoke with all respect for the Chair. The Chair might make a mistake in interpreting the impatience of the House. He presumed the desire to stop a debate would be intimated by a manifestation of impatience. But there was the difficulty to be overcome of deciding how much of that impatience was directed against the Member who was addressing, or endeavouring to address, the House, and how much against a continuance of the debate. These were two very different things. Then there was another difficulty in interpreting the preponderance of voices in the House. Sir Erskine May, in 1871, when asked by the Select Committee whether the Speaker or Chairman might be in trusted with a power of putting a Question if, in his opinion, "a decided expression of voices" was in favour of it, replied—"No; because the giving of the voices was so very uncertain and indistinct." If this Resolution were passed, a difficulty of an opposite kind would beset the Chair. Any manifestation of impatience at present was intended to have its effect merely on the Member who was addressing the House. Clamour had no direct influence on the decision of the House; but pass this Resolution, and would not clamour and counter clamour become directly influential? They would then be in danger of having what the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) described as manifestations of prodigious impatience. They were told there was not now the same loyalty and deference to the general feeling of the House as formerly. He was afraid, if they passed this Resolution, there would be, at least, no improvement in that respect. Then, it was said, why should not a majority rule? and they had been told how many important measures had been carried by a mere majority. Well, the answer was obvious. The majority, certainly, might rule; but after debate. There was an implied condition in their proceedings that there must be full debate before there was a decision. If it was said that on this principle the House might never come to a decision at all—that a debate might be carried onad infinitum—it might be replied that the one extreme was not more absurd than 68 the other, and that on the principle of it being in the power of the majority to stop a debate when it pleased, why not dispense with debate altogether? Why not, after ascertaining that there was a majority, pass all the Bills introduced by the Government, without debate? It was said that, after all, the introduction of the clôture was not a formidable thing, for they virtually had it at present; but the clôture they had now was by consent of Parties—a very different thing from the Rule proposed by the Government. On every ground it was desirable, if there was to be clôture at all, that it should be by the act of the general body of the House, and nothing less—desirable for the influence of the Chair, desirable for the amenities of Parliamentary life, and desirable for the value of Parliamentary decisions. If a debate was brought to a close by a vote representing the general sense of the House, it would be accepted as an act of the House; but if it were closed by a vote representing less than that—a vote representing the will of one Party, or a mere majority—then it would be received as a Party move, and would be resented accordingly. Why, then, if cloture was to be introduced, was it not proposed on the lines of the Order of last Session, requiring a majority of 3 to 1? The Prime Minister objected to "an artificial majority constructed in ingenious ways." That, he said, did very well last year, the features of the occasion being peculiar; but was not the clôture intended now only for peculiar and extraordinary occasions? This, at least, might be said—that to adopt the principle of last Session's Order, and require a majority of 3 to 1, would be consistent with what they assumed was the intention of Government—with making the Rule applicable only to the occasion when there was in its favour the evident sense of the House. And yet, while the condition of requiring a certain proportionate majority was set aside as inapplicable to present circumstances, this very Resolution contained in one part of it the condemned principle. The House was already familiar with the eccentricities of the arithmetical puzzle contained in the Resolution. He would not refer to that matter further than to call the attention of the House to the curious result that, according to this Resolution, while a minority, however small, might suc- 69 Cessfully resist a majority of 100, and while a minority of 40 would successfully resist a majority of 200, a minority of 200 would be helpless against any majority, even against a majority of only 201. The Home Secretary compared the clôture to the hydrants and hose which were had ready in case of fire; but the illustration was not altogether perfect. Hydrants and hose were not likely to be used except in case of fire; there was no temptation to use them—there was every inducement not to use them—until they were absolutely necessary. But it was different with the clôture. There might be a desire to put it in force before there was necessity for it. There might be a simulation of fire for the sake of bringing the hose into play. What was to be feared was that under the operation of this Resolution, if it were carried, Parliaments might come to forget the intention with which the clôture was introduced; and, being found a convenient mode of extinguishing debates, it might be put in use whenever it suited the convenience of the Party which had the majority. But was the clôture necessary? The principal evils which obstructed Business were to be remedied, as had been shown, by the other Resolutions, on which there would not be much difficulty in bringing the House to a general understanding, and which need not be, and were not likely to be, discussed in a Party spirit. Several experienced Members had expressed the opinion that if these other Resolutions were passed, it would not be necessary to introduce the clôture in any form whatever; and certainly it would appear reasonable not to make the clôture the first step, but a last resort, and, therefore, allow it to be one of those measures which the House might adopt in future years, if the other reforms which were about to be proposed, and on which the House was pretty well agreed, should unfortunately prove to be inadequate. For these reasons, he should vote for the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott).
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he was not going to answer the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down, as he agreed with almost every word of it, although speaking from the opposite side of the House. A few hours ago he heard an eloquent speech from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Wodehouse), 70 and he had the credit of introducing, while attempting to advocate clôture, the strongest argument against it that any Member had yet propounded from that side of the House. The hon. Member said that the repugnance to the clôture evidenced on the Conservative side of the House would end the moment that Party had power to inflict the clôture on a Liberal minority. That argument, he thought, used in favour of the clôture, ought to weigh very much with Members on the Liberal side of the House against it. It was because he remembered what power the Conservative majority had between 1874–80 that he was so adverse to giving that arbitrary power to any Government whatever. In that Parliament he was himself what he supposed advocates of the clôture would call an Obstructive. He recollected very well, in the first Session of 1880, spending a whole Wednesday in speaking himself, or getting other Scotch Members to speak, against the proposal of the Tory Government to force upon the country the legalizing of the use of cabs at elections. Well, if the Tory Government had had the power of clôture they could have shut up the debate immediately. His obstruction on that occasion was perfectly successful, for he succeeded in exempting Scotland and Ireland from the iniquity of having cabs thrust upon the boroughs at election times. Another occasion was the Cattle Diseases Bill, in which he had assisted the President of the Board of Trade and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland in a very considerable amount of obstruction against that measure. They believed that the measure would have the effect of raising the price of the food of the people; and they were successful in modifying it. But if there had been the power of clôture they would not have been able to do any of those things. He admitted the position he held was an extremely painful one. He did not like to speak against the Party with whom he generally acted. The other day a youthful Member, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. George Russell), had the audacity to say that such Members were deserters of their Party. Deserters were those who changed their opinions; not those who clung to them. Every leading Member on the Front Bench was committed in opposition to the clôture. The Prime Minister, by his 71 Nineteenth Century article, was committed. [Mr. GLADSTONE: No, no!] He would withdraw that statement, as the Prime Minister was best entitled to interpret what he really meant. He could only say many understood it to be a condemnation of the clôture. Well, other Members on the Front Bench were committed against the clôture by the Committee of 1878. He himself sat on that Committee, and remembered perfectly well, when the clôture was proposed, the Gentleman who proposed it (Mr. Knatchbull-Huges-sen) was almost alone in its support. What did they see now? That Gentleman now wrote to The Times to say that if he had been permitted to express his full views on that occasion it would have been shown that the clôture he proposed was of a very much milder character than the one now under consideration. The unanimity of that Committee, drawn from all parts of the House, showed that there would have been unanimity of the House against it, if the clôture on that occasion had been proposed in the House. He thought, therefore, he was entitled to say he was not changing his opinions or deserting his Party. It was the Leaders who were deserting their old opinions, and who were forcing the Party at the point of the bayonet to do a thing distasteful to them—a thing that was not truly Liberal in principle. ["No, no!"] Hon. Members said he was wrong in that. Well, hon. Members of the Liberal Party, who thought coercion and clôture were Liberal principles, were welcome to their opinion. Well, there had been a great many fallacies imported into the debate. On the last night of the debate they had the Home Secretary, whose argument was most fallacious. The Home Secretary insisted there was nothing before the House but the original Resolution of the Prime Minister and the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott). He said some hon. Members wanted a two-thirds or a three-fourths majority; but it was no use to discuss that, as it was not before the House and could not be brought forward, because the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton was a mere negation; and if they rejected the Resolution they could do nothing else than accept the negation. That he could show was a complete fallacy, although 72 the Prime Minister seemed to approve of the sentiments of the Home Secretary. The Speaker had ruled that when the Question was about to be put, he would put it in such a way that, even if accepted, it would still be in the power of the House to introduce a two-thirds or three-fourths Amendment afterwards. Supposing, however, even the Resolution was negatived, then the Amendment would become the substantive Resolution, and might be amended by putting in a two-thirds or three-fourths provision, or in any way they pleased. Therefore, whether the first Question put to the House was affirmed or rejected, the House could still amend the proposal, and was not shut up to the negation. He quoted the Rule from Sir Erskine May, page 301, to prove the fallacy used by the Home Secretary. He had said that he felt himself in a painful position. He had listened with much attention to the speech of the Prime Minister, earnestly hoping that he would be able to provide him with some argument to his conscience that would enable him to vote for this Resolution. But he had been unfortunate. He failed to find any. He recognized, as the Prime Minister did, the difficulty in which the House was placed, partly from having too much to do, and partly from Obstruction. There was a necessity, he recognized, for great changes in the Rules, and he recognized that many of the Rules proposed were exceedingly good, and would, directly and indirectly, deal both with Obstruction and with the difficulty of having too much to do. But what he failed to recognize was that the clôture was in any sense necessary. The clôture seemed to him to deal not so much with Obstruction as with that wholesome opposition which was the life and soul of government by Party. By that means the minority of this year became the majority of future years, and expressed itself at last as the will of the nation. It was not desirable that that should be done away with. The Prime Minister's arguments were unanswerable as regarded the necessity for some change in the Rules. But not only he, but most of those who had followed in the same direction since, had supported the clôture simply because some change was necessary. Hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House agreed that great changes were necessary; but 73 that did not at all prove that the clôture was the right remedy. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington) said that the question before the House was whether the existing limitations of debate were sufficient for the purposes in view. Well, that was not, he maintained, the question before the House at present. The question that was before the House was whether the clôture was the right remedy. That, and that alone, was the point they ought to keep to in arguing this matter. He had been at a loss to know what the strong desire for the clôture really meant. Did it mean that as soon as they got the 1st Rule it was to be used to rush through the House all the rest of the Rules? Or did it mean that when they got the 1st Rule all the other Rules were to be dropped as useless? The Prime Minister had failed even to show any good reason for placing this clôture Rule first. He had not justified that. He had failed to show that, even if he had had the clôture from the beginning of the Session, he would have saved one hour from the many that had been wasted. If he could show that he would have saved time he would regard that as the strongest argument that could be used against the clôture, because it would prove that they were disposed to use it improperly. At no time during this Session could it have been used without hardship and oppress scion. If, however, some of the other Rules of the Prime Minister had been passed at the beginning of the Session, particularly Rules 2 and 12, which could have been done with comparative ease, the House would have been relieved of a great deal of that Obstruction and loss of time from which it had since suffered. That would have enabled them immediately to enter upon a position of comparative relief. They would have removed a good deal of Obstruction, and that loss of time from which the House had suffered so much. He saw no other ground the Government could have in asking the clôture than to pass a new Coercion Act for Ireland. Unless that was their object he failed to see any other. It would have been well for them to have tried some beneficent legislation before confessing that they could do nothing without the clôture. They did very well without it in 1880 and in 1881, and with the assistance of the Prime 74 Minister's other Rules, leaving out the clôture, they would have sufficient control of the time of the House. They were told that the clôture worked well in other Parliaments, and a number of hon. Members had cited America, for instance; but even if it did well in other Parliaments, he did not think it was any proof to take an isolated Rule and bring it away from all its surroundings, and say that because it worked well under certain conditions elsewhere it would work well here. The curse of their Procedure was not the number of speeches, but the length of the speeches. It was what the President of the Local Government Board called that night "unrestricted loquacity," the loquacity of such Members say, as the Attorney General for Ireland, who spoke for three hours, and would not consent that a single sentence of his speech should be delivered during the dinner hour. He did not wish to say a single disrespectful word of the Attorney General for Ireland. His speeches had a great deal in them, and they sparkled with "bulls;" but no amount of brilliancy would redeem a speech of three hours from the charge of taking up too much time. He should like to see that checked in some way. He should like to see restriction that was not suppression. The clôture that was now proposed was a suppression. The constituencies were constantly sending up to the House a great number of Members who were not only capable of addressing the House intelligently, but whom their constituents desired to do that; and as they could not add to the time at their disposal they were bound to apportion it with some kind of equality, so that a greater number of speakers might have some small slice of it. He had mentioned America. Hon. Members were not aware, probably, that there were means in America for reducing this unrestricted loquacity. In America a speaker was allowed to read a few words of a large manuscript speech, and thereupon to move that the speech be held as spoken. Thus time was saved. The next day in the Public Record the speech appeared as if spoken at full length. When hon. Members advocated the clôture here they had better take this accompaniment of it and see how they would like it then. No doubt this cutting down of long speeches saved so much time that it was not necessary so often to apply the clôture, and so it 75 was said to work well in America. It seemed to him, if they were to give an arrogant majority this power of clôture, they would need to have shorter Parliaments than they had now—[Opposition cheers]—to make sure that the arrogant majority was really interpreting the will of the people. He saw that the Leader of the Opposition cheered that sentiment; but when he was Leader of the House during the Tory Government, from 1874 to 1880, those on the Liberal side of the House thought that during that term of six years the right hon. Gentleman and his Party did not represent the feelings of the people. It was because that happened then, and might happen again, that he thought that if the majority was to have this power of clôture, they ought to have along with it shorter Parliaments, in order that the will of the people should be better known. They might also be obliged to ballot for who was to have the honour of addressing the House, because the natural tendency of the clôture would be not to shorten speeches, but to lengthen them. As a smaller number of speeches were to be heard, the result would be that the chance of catching the Speaker's eye would be rarer than ever, and those who were lucky enough to catch it would trespass more upon the time. There was another objection he had to the clôture, and that was that it would tend more to the practice of arranged debates—mere tournaments between the two Front Benches—in which private Members would be absolutely nowhere. The other night the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. George Russell), in a clever and eloquent speech, but sadly wanting in knowledge of the ways of the House, drew a beautiful but illusive picture of what the clôture would do for private Members. He said he had been writhing under the dark chain of silence that had been inflicted upon private Members, and that the clôture would relieve them from this. He (Mr. Anderson) should like to know what it was to do for private Members except obliterate them altogether. It was never intended to do anything for private Members. Even without the knowledge of the ways of the House, which longer experience of it would have given him, the hon. Member might have learned sufficient from the speech of the Secretary of State for India, who not only told them what he 76 wanted to do for private Members, but even gave them a proscribed list. To be sure, the name of the hon. Member for Aylesbury did not appear in that list; but he could assure the hon. Member that if at any future time he should venture to have sufficient courage to act an independent part, and not go always slavishly with his Party, he might very soon find his name on the proscribed list. The clôture never was intended to do anything for private Members, and it never would do anything for them. Another thing he had to complain of was that they were not allowed to consider the Rule upon its own merits. He thought he had shown what the feeling of the House was in old time against it. If they were allowed now to vote for it on its own merits it would be sent almost unanimously out of the House. They were told they must consider it on something totally alien to its own merits—namely, the merits of the Ministry that supported it. That was the point of view from which he was bound now to consider it. He admitted that he considered it from that point of view with very great pain. He saw the Government which he had always admired more than any other, and which he believed could more than any other do good service to the country. He saw them deserting old principles, and aiming at arbitrary power, and must vote, he was told, with them on pain of losing his seat, of having a Dissolution, or of what was of infinitely more consequence, the country losing the services of a great and wise Government. That put him in a great difficulty indeed, and it put a great many other Members in a great difficulty. He was told the other day that not less than 100 Members of the Liberal Party disliked this clôture very much, and that if only it was to be decided on its own merits they would vote against it; but what they had to consider was this—that they saw the Tory Party, whom they did not usually look upon as defenders of popular right of any kind, posing on this occasion as champions of freedom of speech. He might think they were quite right in doing so, and yet have some little suspicion of their motives. He might fancy, indeed, that their zeal was quickened into this action by the belief that they had found a weak place in the armour of the Government, and that they thought 77 it right to press the weapon home. They had, indeed, found a weak place; but he did not feel able to assist them in pressing the weapon home, and join in a vote which was to turn out the Government. At the same time, he could not but say he thought it was insane folly on the part of the Government to have staked their existence on a question of mere Procedure, and especially on such a question as this. He had no doubt they would win; they would equally have won had he voted against them—but he did not, on the other hand, think he could vote for a usurpation of power which no Government ought to have. They had placed him, therefore, in the very uncomfortable and unusual position of going out of the House on the division. The Government would gain the division; but when they gained it they would have nothing to rejoice over, for they would know they had gained it by putting an unfair restriction upon their followers. These things did not do much good for the Party. He believed that if the Government got the clôture by these means it would not do them much good.
§ MR. H. S. NORTHCOTE
regretted that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Anderson) had not the manliness to record his vote according to his convictions. He (Mr. Northcote) had no intention of expressing an opinion whether the clôture should be applied to the House or not. But he should like to point out two facts which had struck him as being important. The first was that the Resolution, if carried, would not affect small minorities, and possibly the factious minorities of the House, but rather the regular bulk of the Opposition, against whom no serious charge was brought by the Government. The second was that the Resolution would take away from the Leader of the Opposition the only effectual means of control he possessed over his supporters, which was that, hitherto, from his position in the House, he had been able to hold over them the ægis of protection against tyrannical majorities. He would no longer have that power if this Resolution was passed, and the effect of it would be to reduce the Front Opposition Bench to very much the same position as that occupied by individual Members sitting in any portion of the House. Another and an even more serious objection to the adoption of the Resolution in its present form was that it disre- 78 garded the fact that the Business of the House was still conducted with considerable regard for the old Forms; that there was a desire that opposition should not be carried beyond certain limits, which, although not well defined, were well understood. But if the New Rules were accepted, everything that was not forbidden by that Code would be admissible. He thought that the Government had so far departed from the old custom of the House as to inflict on Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition side the unmerited humiliation of entirely disregarding not only the loyal attitude they had assumed during the whole time since they had been in Opposition, but of their respect for the unwritten Rules for the conduct of Parliamentary Business. With respect to the course of public opinion, it was contended by the supporters of the Resolution that it was brought forward and would be adopted in deference to public opinion out-of-doors. He contended that the Opposition for the time being were, or rather should be, more directly influenced by public opinion than the Government of the day; and for the very natural and obvious reason that the minority of the day was seeking by all means to convert itself into a majority, and he did not see how that could be done except by following and adapting itself to the course of public feeling. He hoped they should hear no more of the suggestion made by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India about closing the mouths of individual Members; otherwise it was quite conceivable that should a change of circumstances place the Conservatives on the Treasury Bench a similar Rule might be applied, he would not say to the noble Marquess, but to some Members of his Party. At all events, that was a dangerous doctrine for a Minister of the Crown to give utterance to—that private Members were to be silenced, because they annoyed the Government of the day. As regarded the power of the Speaker, he felt perfectly satisfied that there would be nothing to complain of while the present right hon. Gentleman occupied the 0hair4 But if, say, the noble Lord the Member for Flint shire (Lord Richard Grosvenor), who now held the same Office which the present Speaker formerly held, were elected to the Chair, many Members of the Opposition would 79 seriously object to arm him with the great powers which this Resolution would place in his hands. Under these circumstances, while fully recognizing the necessity for materially reforming the Procedure in Public Business, he (Mr. H. S. Northcote) had no hesitation in giving his support to the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott).
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, as to the suggestion that the debate had taken a Party turn, those who had much experience in the House found that questions did, sooner or later, become Party questions. He had no complaint to make of the manner in which the Opposition had met the proposal of the Government. He had expected the Opposition to contest such a proposal. What he did think was, that the fears which they entertained, and which they had expressed, were exaggerated, and that the estimate which they had formed of the real evil with which the House had to contend was totally inadequate. They had been told that the Prime Minister ought to have consulted the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote), and that some mutual agreement ought to have been arrived at by means of a Committee upon the alteration in the Forms of Procedure. But what had they been doing for the last 20 years but to attempt by this means to arrive at an understanding between the two sides of the House; and how far had they got? Anyone who had been a student of the Reports of the Committees on this subject would have seen that there had been one continual effort to try and arrive at some compromise; and then the weak, and almost miserable, outcome of the Committees' deliberations was further watered down before any Government ventured to propose measures to the House. He was very much struck with some of the speeches which had fallen from hon. Members opposite. What drafts on the imagination had been made, and what a total disregard there had been of the real safeguards which surrounded the Resolution! Had not the proceedings of that House become a reproach to it? Of late years all-night Sittings had become a necessity if the majority desired to carry into effect those measures for the advocacy of which they had been returned to Parliament. 80 But could anybody conceive the amount of disgust with which reasonable and intelligent men outside those walls looked upon the methods employed in that House for carrying on the Business of the nation? Did anybody deny that the most severe blow was struck at Parliamentary institutions when that which should be a contest of reason was brought down to be a contest of bare physical endurance? They had had abundant experience within the last two or three years that those who were friendly to a measure were absolutely compelled to restrain themselves, and not criticize any of its details; because the only way by which they could hope to see a measure, in the main principles of which they agreed, pass into law was by keeping an unbroken silence. If they had been able freely to criticize the great Irish Act of last year, there were many blots which had been found since which might have been avoided; but that they were compelled, if they wished to see that great Act pass into law at all, to keep silence, and let those minor points go by. If a debate was to be brought to a conclusion by some power, he failed to see that there could be any process more favourable to a minority for bringing it to a close than that now before it. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) talked about the power being in the hands of the Government; but where did he find in the Resolution that the power was placed in the hands of the Government? On the other hand, many hon. Members had seen danger in placing the initiative in the hands of the Speaker or the Chairman. Those Gentlemen thought it would have been better to place it in some other Member of the House, so that when he interposed the interposition should be on behalf of the minority. But the form of the Resolution had been chosen advisedly. If some other person were chosen for that purpose, in a doubtful case the Speaker might refer the matter to the decision of the House. But when the Speaker undertook the full responsibility of taking the initiative, when he had no Motion behind which to shelter himself, he would feel bound to act with caution. The Resolution was a permissive one. The Speaker was not bound to put the Question. The hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard) had said that the word "may" in the Reso- 81 lution was the same as "must" But no Speaker or Chairman would so interpret it. Having that responsibility, the Speaker would decline to act unless he were satisfied that the question had really been sufficiently debated, and would not proceed merely on the "evident sense of the House." Another safeguard lay in the position and duties of the Leader of the House. Before the Rule could be abused to Party or improper ends, the Leader of the House would have to combine with the Speaker to abuse it. The hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) had said that in the discussion of Party questions fair play vanished. He thought, on the contrary, that the spirit of fair play was, above all things, eminently characteristic of the proceedings of that House. Any Ministry who ventured to misuse such an instrument as the first of these Resolutions would soon find its followers deserting it. The immediate result would be that the Government adopting such a course would find all its own measures blocked. The Opposition would place Amendment after Amendment on the Paper, so that if the clôture were applied to one debate, debates would be indefinitely raised on numerous Amendments, so as to put the Government so misusing its power in a worse position than if it had never applied the Rule. But, it was asked, why place the power in the hands of a simple majority; why not require a two-thirds or three-fourths majority? The first reason against this proposition was that it was opposed to the invariable rule and practice of Parliament in all other matters. There was danger in departing from a long-established and Constitutional usage. His second reason was that in such a case the minority might find itself hopelessly crushed. He had much greater dislike to the suppression of small minorities than to the silencing of a powerful and numerous minority. It might very conceivably be the wish of 19–20ths of the House that the debate should close when the question had by no means been sufficiently discussed. His third reason was that such an arrangement would really put the power in the hands of the Opposition. It would be for the Opposition to allow or refuse the clôture, and the inevitable result would be a system of bargaining between the Opposition and the Ministry. He did not mean that the right hon. 82 Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) would openly across the Table make propositions to the Leader of the House, or that he would employ such opportunities improperly. But unquestionably bargains, or tacit arrangements of a mischievous character, would, from time to time, he entered into. He would state frankly that he did not expect too much from that Rule. The Rule must be considered as a part of their Procedure, and not as an isolated Rule. They purposed to take away from the Obstructives some of the weapons with which their hands were most familiar, and to prevent the House from drifting into aimless discussions accidentally, which were usually a mere waste of time. It was proposed that when the House, after much long-suffering, pronounced its censure upon some offending Member, that censure should be felt. Oppressive Rules were part of the necessity of the case, though they must not look to such Rules for the dispatch of Business. For the more speedy and the better dispatch of Business they must look to two things—one the spirit of industry in the House, and the other the expansion of the powers of the House. For his part, he looked to the two Rules which stood at the end of all with the most hope, if the Government would consent to share the work among the whole of the House, and not to give it to a section. If Obstruction were to be really put down, it must be as much by the general co-operation of the House as by any Rule. There was some danger of a feeling springing up of a friendly neutrality to Obstruction; there was some danger of hon. Members thinking that if they did not openly connive at Obstruction, and did not openly engage in it, they could remain in a merely passive state. In his opinion, no neutrality was possible in this matter. No one really anxious for the economy of public time could be neutral with regard to the waste of it. They might fairly say in this case that those who were not with them in the saving of public time were against them. What remedies were proposed by the other side? The right hon. Baronet the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), in a very temperate speech, had admitted that some power must be found for closing debates which were unduly prolonged; and the remedy he suggested was con- 83 tained in the Rules which followed this. No doubt there were, to some extent, remedies against Obstruction; but they were mainly remedies against the offender. The speech of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India had been somewhat misinterpreted. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Northcote) imagined that the noble Marquess had advocated closing the mouths of hon. Members for the purpose of putting an end to a debate. That was what the noble Marquess expressed himself as anxious to avoid. He said he thought it better for them to put an end to a long debate by the adoption of this Rule rather than by closing the lips of hon. Members. It should be remembered that Obstruction had a tendency to spread. It was perfectly possible for 20 or 30 hon. Members to prolong a debate unduly without personally offending against the Rules of the House. If 20 or 30 hon. Members agreed to prolong the debate simply by repeating the same idea, so long as the speeches were in accordance with the Rules of the House it would be impossible for them individually to be stopped by the Chair. There had been no attempt on the other side to grapple with the real difficulty. Much had been said as to the suspension of liberty of debate; but no real attempt had been made to meet the difficulty of an unduly prolonged debate. He would remind the House of what took place last year, when, after an excessively long discussion, the Speaker interposed on his own authority, and took the very grave responsibility of closing the debate. Then the Speaker appealed to the House for directions, and that appeal was now responded to on the other side by the refusal to give him directions for his guidance in the future. Hon. Members on the other side simply asked the House to shrink from taking upon itself the responsibility, and to leave it upon its officers. He would ask whether it was a generous way of dealing with the appeal of the Chair? Had hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite reflected upon the advice they were giving the House when they proposed to leave the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means in the same position in which they were placed last year when they appealed to the House for Rules for their guidance? He did not find in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the 84 Member for South-West Lancashire any proposal on this point.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that his argument was that the adoption of the Rule for adjournment would have entirely put an end to unduly protracted Sittings.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, that it was perfectly possible for 20 hon. Members to be engaged in Obstruction, and to keep the House sitting for 24 hours by repeating the same arguments, without being guilty of any transgression of the Rules.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
observed, that he had also contended that that would be met by the other Rule, by which repetition was not to be allowed.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
said, that that was idle repetition. That Rule would not meet the case, because it could not be said that it was repetition for one hon. Member to use the same argument as had been used by another hon. Member. Was the course recommended by hon. Gentlemen opposite a proper answer to the appeal by the Chair for directions for future guidance? All that was proposed was, practically, to leave the Speaker in the same position as before, and to permit him again to take the responsibility of acting when the occasion should arise. It was with the utmost pain that he had come to the conclusion that their Rules were no longer sufficient to meet the case; but it was the sincerity of their convictions on that side of the House as to the necessity for change which induced them to support this proposal. He had clung almost desperately to the hope that they might be able to get on without change; but the events of the last two or three years had driven him slowly and reluctantly to the conclusion that the time had come when an alteration was absolutely necessary. After the 41 hours' Sitting, he was convinced of the necessity of some such change as was now proposed. The Rules under which the House was governed were good, no doubt, but were not perfect. They were the outcome of the experience and the wisdom of those who preceded them in that House; and, in his opinion, they should be sorry successors of those men if, in their day, when the necessity for change had been proved, they set up those Rules as idols to be blindly worshipped, and refused to change them. He should support 85 these Resolutions in the hope that more, perhaps, by their insertion amongst the Standing Orders than by their frequent application, they might gradually bring back to the House some measure of that self-restraint which, if it had not lost, it was in danger of losing; in the hope that they might give them some of their old aptitude for the discharge of Business; and in the hope that they might enable them once again to take a firm grasp of the affairs of this great nation.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
remarked, that the hon. Member for Bedford, who had just addressed the House, was always regarded as an authority on such a subject; and he (Mr. M'Carthy), in common with many others, listened to his speech with attention and respect. But that speech lost much of its value as a contribution to the present debate, inasmuch as it was given up wholly to the consideration of the general necessity for some change in the Rules of Procedure, or in the system of conducting the Business of the House. The hon. Member did not apply himself to prove a necessity for this Rule of clôture. The hon. Member had said that on the Opposition side of the House Members had no adequate idea of the difficulty of getting through the Business, while they had a very extravagant notion of the danger of this Rule of clôture. He (Mr. M'Carthy) replied that he had an adequate idea of the difficulty of getting through their Business. He would even go further, and admit that it was impossible adequately to discharge the Business which that House ought to do under the present system of arrangement. If the time were fitting, he could state his idea of the proper and the only means by which the House might relieve itself of its present great burden. What he did not hear from the hon. Member for Bedford was any suggestion as to how this Rule of clôture would enable the House to get through the Business better. He gave an illustration in support of his arguments which certainly seemed unlucky. He spoke of the Irish Land Bill of last Session, and remarked that many Members who might have made important contributions to the debates upon it, and might even have re-moulded much of the Bill, could not speak, because they knew that if they did someone else must be prevented from speaking, or possibly be in- 86 duced to reply. If ever there was a debate of great and varied interest, in which there was no Obstruction, it was the debate on the Land Bill; and for the Party to which he belonged he said—though he supposed they were considered responsible for every delay of Business—that they kept silent during that debate except when it was absolutely necessary to speak. They purposely left the speaking to two or three Members who fully understood the measure; while he and many others took little or no part in the debate. How could the clôture, suppose it then existed, have assisted that Bill or the House of Commons? On that point the hon. Gentleman who last spoke failed to give them any information whatever. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board addressed himself almost altogether to the task of re-assuring hon. Members on the Conservative side of the House against the dread that they might be suppressed or put down by this clôture Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman was considering the case of a minority approaching near in numerical strength to the Government majority; and, while he evidently considered he was bound to reassure that strong minority, he did not seem to care how sharply or how suddenly the ruling power might deal with a small minority. That small uninfluential minority, he (Mr. M'Carthy) thought, was the Party, which it was the business of the great and powerful Party to protect. The men who came into Office when the present occupants went out, the Party which carried on a regular oscillation from Opposition to Ministerial Benches, needed no protection, for under no circumstances could they be effectually silenced; but a small and weak minority, consisting of men who were without influence or power in the House, and which could be crushed by a bare majority as well as by a union of the strength of both Parties, did not seem to be at all considered by the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Bedford had complained that no hon. Members from that side of the House had offered any suggestion for an improvement in the conduct of debate. It did not seem that much encouragement was extended to them for such a purpose by the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary.The 87 right hon. and learned Gentleman, in the boldest, plainest, bluntest style, and in that imperious way which was his peculiarity and so well became him, informed the House that the Government had made up their minds to put their foot down, and would listen to no suggestion. If the Government wanted to make progress with Business, putting their feet down was not the way to do so, unless they took their feet up again very quickly and got into movement. His words were—The Government have put forward a plan. They have given considerable attention to that plan, and, having done so, we do not intend to produce any other.Such was the Government's announcement to the House. The Government on this question had said their last word. In vain might other Members talk and argue. Their arguments would be useless. The Government had made up their minds, and the House must have their proposal or nothing. So far, therefore, as the Government was concerned hon. Members might avoid all this waste of time and save themselves the trouble of hearing or making speeches, and go at once to a division on this question. If that were so, it illustrated forcibly the spirit and temper in which the Government might be induced to use this clôture if they got it. As their minds were made up and unchangeable regarding the form and substance of this Rule, so their minds might be made up as to the peremptory manner in which it would be convenient to crush a small minority. He was inclined to compare the attitude of the Government with that of the hero of Marryatt's Pasha of Many Tales. The Pasha, who was the hero of that story, had a great deal of eloquence himself, but was impatient of unrestricted loquacity in others—perhaps there were great personages with similar qualities in other places as well as in Turkey. When a suitor came to this Pasha and began to plead his cause, behind him stood an executioner, and the moment the Pasha had heard enough, or the suitor went into any needless repetition, the Pasha gave a signal, down came the executioner's axe, and the unhappy suitor was cut off in the flower of his youth and the middle of his sentence. It seemed to him that the minority in that House was invited to occupy the position 88 of the suitor. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary, towards the close of his speech, devoted some attention to the Irish Party—the Party which was supposed to stand with the executioner behind it—and criticized, among other things connected with that Party, the manifesto it recently issued. He found fault with its form and its substance, and said he never before saw any document like it. He was not going to follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman's criticism of that manifesto. The right hon. and learned Gentleman understood better than he (Mr. M'Carthy) the etiquette of political documents; but he was very much mistaken when he endeavoured to point out that the Irish Party stated, in that manifesto, they were opposing this Closure Rule because they believed that if they turned out the present Government they would never again be subjected to interference with their speech in that House. Those who drew up the Circular condemned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman never thought of making any statement so absurd. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said the Whip had not been sent to him, and that, therefore, he could not be supposed to know all about it. True, the Whip was not sent to the right hon. and learned Gentleman; but when Gentlemen undertook to speak in that House of any document, they were supposed to have first read it carefully, and to be able to speak accurately of its contents. The right hon. and learned Gentleman thought that in that Whip he had discovered a great conspiracy. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was always discovering great conspiracies. He had a sort of divining power, which enabled him to perceive conspiracies not visible to anyone else. In the middle of the 17th century there was a remarkable character named Matthew Hopkins, who was notorious as a witch-finder. He could discover witchcraft when everyone else failed to detect it; he could detect a witch under the most subtle disguises. Well, as regarded political conspiracies and combinations, he thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a modern Matthew Hopkins. But as Matthew Hopkins was not always right in his instinct, and sometimes mistook a chance and harmless gathering of persons for an assembly of witches, so the right hon. 89 and learned Gentleman was not always right in his detection of political conspiracies. He could relieve the right hon. and learned Gentleman's mind by informing him that there was no conspiracy, coalition, or even arrangement between the Conservatives and the Irish Party on this question. The Irish Members had their own reasons for opposing this measure, and the Conservatives had theirs, and both were endeavouring to accomplish the same end. If the result of this division should be to turn out the Government, and if the Tory Party came into power, they would be under no obligation whatever to the Irish Party; and if within a fortnight of their accession to Office they should propose a Coercion Bill twice as severe as the one at present in force, they could say to the Members from Ireland that they had not given the slightest pledge that they would take any other course. So much, therefore, for the grand discovery of a conspiracy between the two Opposition Parties. He would turn now to the most important speech in the debate, that of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister had divided his remarks into two parts—those which dealt with Procedure, and those which referred to the "devolution or delegation" of the powers of the House. In the first part of his speech he dealt specially with Obstruction. How was the plan he proposed to the House justified by that part of his speech? In the first place, it justified some change in the Rules by referring to the great growth of Public Business in recent years. He admitted that in that respect the right hon. Gentleman thoroughly established his case. Nothing could be clearer than the fact that Public Business had grown enormously during the past few years; and, under existing circumstances, it must continue to grow, until it choked up the entire avenue of Procedure, and made some alteration inevitable. But the right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with Obstruction, and upon that he rested his main argument in favour of the peculiar change proposed in the Resolution. He (Mr. M'Carthy) was anxious to deal with the subject of Obstruction in the fairest spirit. He did not admit that Obstruction in this Parliament had been worse than Obstruction in the last. He even thought the late Government had Obstruction of a more difficult and per- 90 plexing kind to deal with than that which had come before the present Parliament. One reason which made it more difficult and more complicated was that those who were supposed to be obstructing then had the valuable assistance of some of the ablest and most eminent Members of the English Liberal Party. In some of the most protracted efforts against certain obnoxious measures which were then before the House, those who were now charged with Obstruction had the wise counsel, the close sympathy, and the constant support of two or three Members of Her Majesty's present Administration. He did not find fault with those Gentlemen for having acted in that manner. They acted on high principles, and with a perfect sense of justice, in opposing measures, some of which had since been proved to be dangerous to the country, and some of which had been abandoned. But while they were perfectly justified in the course they took then, he thought they were hardly justified in the course they were taking now. In considering Obstruction in the last Parliament, it should be remembered, too, that no measure was ever introduced with reference to Ireland so arbitrary, so obnoxious in its character, as the present Coercion Act, nor was the local administration of Ireland anything like so bad as it was under the present Government. Under the circumstances he could well understand how, to the official mind, there might appear to be less excuse for Obstruction in the last Parliament than in the present. But the Prime Minister distinctly narrowed his case, as far as Obstruction was concerned, to the proceedings of the present Parliament. He said that until that Parliament came into existence his mind was not made up. The right hon. Gentleman, referring to the obstruction of the South African Bill and the Army Discipline Bill in the last Parliament, said that—The two great subjects on which Obstruction was experienced in that Parliament were the subjects of the South African Bill and Army Flogging. But in both of them the great length of the debates which occurred was mixed with circumstances which make it not easy to form a perfectly accurate and impartial estimate of the obstructive forces that were put in action (ironical cheers and counter cheers), because—I believe I am right in regard to the South African Bill, and I know I am right in regard to the Army Discipline Bill, in saying that very important changes were introduced into these measures, and were the fruit and progress of 91 long debates, and where that is so, it is not fair to drive home without a great deal of hesitation the charge of Obstruction.The present Parliament, therefore, was the one to which the Prime Minister's remarks about Obstruction were particularly addressed. And here he would say a word about the manner in which the Urgency Rules were obtained. The Prime Minister declared that they were passed by the help of an extraordinary error in tactics on the part of a certain number of Members of the House. He said—They contrived to place themselves in such a position that we were able to deal with them in a single division; otherwise we might have been occupied with divisions throughout the night, and at the close of them would have been totally out of condition for dealing with the question of Urgency."—[3 Hansard, cclxvi. 1144.]The occasion to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was that upon which a number of Irish Members were suspended in a cluster, and not one after another. He might tell the right hon. Gentleman, as a matter of some little historical interest, that they committed no error in tactics at all. They were perfectly well aware that they could have occupied the whole night if they chose to take a division upon every suspension; but they were not concerned in occupying any more time in that demonstration than was occupied in the actual act of their expulsion. They desired to make a protest in the most dignified way possible against an intolerable and arbitrary Act, and they thought that could be done with more emphasis, with more dignity, and in a manner more worthy of a national cause by adopting the course they did than if they went through a number of tedious and unmeaning divisions. What was the cause of the exceptional Obstruction to which the Prime Minister referred in the present Parliament? There was one cause, and one only, and that was the introduction of the Coercion Bill. It would have been impossible for Irish Members who cared for their country, or who had any of the spirit of an Irishman in them, not to resist the introduction of that Bill by every means at their disposal. But that was an exceptional case—it was a crisis which did not often occur in the history of the country, and against which it would be absurd to provide by exceptional legislation in the shape of a proposal like that now before 92 the House. He supposed English statesmen did not propose always to govern Ireland by coercion. The hour would some time come when the Prime Minister of England would have to acknowledge that he could not govern Ireland by coercion, and that some other means should be tried. When that time came, whether by a separation of Parliaments or by the reconciliation of the Irish people, if that were possible, to the English Parliament, they would need no clôture to put down Obstruction. But at present the Government said in so many words that they wanted this power of clôture in order that they might more effectively pass a Coercion Bill for Ireland. They wanted to gag the Irish Members in order that they might have less trouble in fettering them. That reminded him of the case of the highwayman told of by Sydney Smith, who not merely knocked down and began to rifle the pockets of his victims, but complained of their pestering him with their groans and obstructing him by their struggles. By maladministration they produced discontent and disaffection in Ireland; that disaffection was met by coercion; the coercion in turn provoked what was called Obstruction; and thus they were ever tracing a vicious circle. Until they tried some better system there was no satisfactory way out of their difficulty that he could discover. He trusted that they would some time or other enter upon a better path; but, in the meantime, why should they destroy their own Parliamentary system because of an exceptional and, he hoped, a transient condition of things? Again, Obstruction of some kind had been a not uncommon phenomenon in Parliamentary annals. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) spoke the other night of the happy days when the Business of the House was over in a few hours. He (Mr. M'Carthy) did not remember of having read of those happy days. He failed to find any account of the halcyon time when the Business of the House was disposed of in such an expeditious manner. He did not remember reading of those happy days in the biographies of Chatham and Pitt and Canning. There might have been a few such halcyon days a short time before the Reform Bill; although before the Reform Bill they had their bouts of Obstruction as vigorous as ever they had had 93 since. Let him take the debates on the Reform Bill itself in 1831. Mr. Moles-worth, in his History, said that—In order to to promote delay the Leaders of the Opposition stood up again and again every night repeating the same stale statements and arguments, and often in almost the same words.Among those Leaders were Mr. Wilson Croker and Sir Robert Peel. In one short fortnight—eight Government days—Sir Robert Peel made 48 speeches—not hasty remarks on clauses in Committee, but 48 speeches; and he was not the worst. Mr. Wilson Croker favoured the House with 57 speeches; Sir Charles Wetherell made 58. The hon. Member quoted the following extract from the Records of the House concerning the debate of July 13, 1831:—Debate on the Question, 'That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.'Motion made and Question put, 'That the Debate be now adjourned till this day;' Ayes 102, Noes 328.Question again proposed, 'That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.'Motion made and Question put, "That the House do now adjourn;' Ayes 90, Noes 286.Question again proposed; Motion made, 'That the Debate be adjourned till Thursday;' Ayes 63, Noes 235.Question again proposed; Motion made, 'That the House do now adjourn;' long Debate, and Motion withdrawn.Question again put; Motion made, 'That the Debate be adjourned to this day;' Ayes 44, Noes 214.Question again put; Motion made, 'That the House do now adjourn;' Ayes 37, Noes 203.Question again put; Motion made, 'That the Debate be adjourned to Friday;' Aves 25, Noes 187.Question again put; Motion made,'That the House do now adjourn;' Ayes 24, Noes 187.At last it was agreed to go into Committee pro formâ, and the House adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock in the morning to meet at Three next day. Sir C. Wetherell said, with an oath, if he had known it was raining they should have had a few more divisions.He said there were several such instances on record long before the present Irish Party was in existence, and long before any such thing as Irish Obstruction was known. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) himself had distinguished himself as the most brilliant and pertinacious Obstructionist in the history of Parliament. He (Mr. M'Carthy) did not find fault with him for what he did at the time when he was resisting be Divorce Bill, but for what he pro- 94 posed to do now. It was said that the Government did not object to liberty of speech, but to licence. He was afraid that what was called liberty of speech by a man out of Office was apt to be called licence by the same man when he got into Office. They had the examples of other States given them. They were told that England was the only country that had not yet grasped the great idea that the true way to be free was to have a clôture Resolution. They were told to look to the Imperial Parliament of Germany; but he did not think that was a very happy example. They were told of Imperial France under the Second Empire, and they had their attention pointed to France under M. Guizot. Now, M. Guizot was a great writer and a great statesman; but as a political Leader he was a mere pedant. He mismanaged France. He mismanaged her Parliamentary institutions, and brought France to the level of a catastrophe. He was just the kind of man to rejoice in such a device as this côture, which put as much power as possible in the hands of the official classes; while a kind of sham Parliament was maintained to delude the people. It was by these means that he brought about the Revolution of 1848. When the news of that Revolution was conveyed to Sir Robert Peel, that statesman said—" That is the result of trying to govern a country with too narrow a representation." The case of America had also been quoted; but the right hon. Gentleman admitted that it did not exist there in the Senate. If, therefore, the clôture was, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman, confined to Representative Chambers, he supposed the Senate was not considered by the right hon. Gentleman to be representative. But the American Senate was a Representative Institution. It was an elected Body, chosen by the State Legislatures, and elected only for short periods; and if its Members did not please their constituents they would be as certain to be dismissed by those who had chosen them as some hon. Members of that House were sure to be at the next General Election. The Senate often sat long, and had even all-night Sittings. They sat sometimes in private. They had vastly more power than the House of Commons; they could overrule the Government in its foreign policy and its Treaties; and 95 yet they had no clôture. He would now advert to that very unlucky part of the speech of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India, in which he stated what he would do if he only had the power which it was proposed to confer upon the majority by this Resolution—that part of his speech in which he singled out four Members of that House of whose tiresome eloquence he would relieve the House. He (Mr. M'Carthy) was connected by Party with only one of those hon. Members; and he would say of that hon. Member that he was a man—however he might, at times, take a course unwelcome to the House—of remarkable ability., remarkable knowledge, of wide resource; a man of that force of character that he must always be heard in any assembly of reasonable men, despite of any clôture. The noble Lord had been very metaphysical, and had drawn a supersubtle distinction between the House and the Members of the House. The time taken in the proceedings of the House was the property of the House, and was not, the noble Lord said, the property of any Members of the House, the House being something essentially different from its Members. He thought the noble Lord would have been more straightforward if he had said the majority of the House instead of the House; if he had said that the time was the time of the majority—that was the Government. But it was not a question of the right of individual Members to take up the time of the House by speaking; it was a question of the right of constituents. The constituents of Members had an absolute right to have their opinions publicly expressed by those whom they had sent to Parliament, whether the Government wished it or not. He asked whether this plan would really prevent Obstruction if there were a body of men in the House who were determined, for the mere sake of Obstruction, to oppose the Business? Suppose there were 40 of them—which was not an impossible number—and each of those Members exercised his right to speak for a quarter of an hour every night, to speak strictly relevantly and straight to the point, they would consume 10 hours. And what was the House to do? They could not say that such an hon. Member was sure to be tedious, and sure to speak irrelevantly. They could not pass a Resolution stating 96 that a certain body of hon. Members were always tedious and should not be heard. They could not do that. But what were they to do? The Speaker might fail to see some of those hon. Members, and might take other Members instead. Yes; but the time would be gone all the same; and in the end, when no English Member rose to address the House, then one of these malignant creatures was sure to rise, and they would have to listen to his speech. Then another illustration struck him as he stood that day behind the Speaker's Chair. Several Private Bills had been before them that afternoon. Suppose a number of Members chose to speak on those Private Bills. They might have taken special pains to make themselves acquainted with the questions involved, and be able to speak with authority on those questions. How could the Rule be applied if those Members spoke pertinently on each point? Yet the time of the House might in that way be very effectually wasted. If Local Business were taken out of the hands of Parliament altogether, Parliament would be left to deal with Imperial affairs, and the temptation to Obstruction would be destroyed. If they were to vote by ballot on the question of closure, in all probability it would not be carried. Certainly, if it was carried, it would only be by the dark shadow of a Dissolution which was kept floating over the heads of hon. Members on the other side. He did not think himself, at any time, that there was much fear of a Dissolution just now. He should say that with his Party it was not a question of fear, but a question of hope. He confessed that he, for one, had always admired the English Parliament as an English Representative Body; and he once had hoped that if they came in Ireland to have an Irish National Chamber, it would be modelled on the English Parliament. Now, he should not say "if," but "when" they had an Irish National Parliament, he trusted it would be modelled on what that Parliament had hitherto been, and not on what the right hon. Gentleman proposed to make it in the future. He trusted they would always avoid in an Irish Parliament that sham system—that quack system—which dealt with symptoms and thought it was dealing with disease; which paltered with consequences and thought it was 97 removing causes; and which, if it might sometimes, on some odd occasions, be strong enough to strike down and silence some individual Member, would be found much more strong in impairing the value and lowering the dignity of the Parliamentary institution itself.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
said, that, in common with many other Members, he found it very difficult to give an altogether silent vote upon the Resolution now before the House; and also, in common with many Members of the House, he felt inclined to join in the general chorus of regret that the two sides of the House should find themselves engaged, one against the other, in opposing phalanxes on such a question as this. But he thought that the Conservative Members might say with some justice, as far as they were concerned, that they were in no wise responsible for such a state of things. He thought, also, that the irony of the situation had reached its very extreme limit when the Conservative Party found themselves there in a minority, pleading, as it were, to a Liberal Government, backed by a large Liberal majority, to treat the minority according to the true principles of liberality, and according to the instincts of freedom. And even now he might almost hazard a hope that it was not too late for Her Majesty's Government to be satisfied to take this scheme as a whole; and certainly it was not too late for the Conservative Party to ask this very pertinent question—How and why it was that this 1st Resolution was to be dragged out from among its fellows to be put in the forefront of the battle, and that at the very commencement of the discussion they were to be told that on this 1st Resolution, at all events, if any disaster were to happen to it, and if it were not carried, the Government would resign, and a terrible crisis would follow? He thought that was very hard upon the Opposition, and equally hard upon the Supporters of the Ministry, and doubly hard, if he might say so, upon the whole Assembly at large, because he believed that nearly all of them, in spite of the Party feeling which the question must engender, were equally anxious that it should be brought to a fair and just settlement. He asked why it was that they were threatened with this Party crisis? And he wished to ask, fur- 98 ther, one or two questions in reference to the actual position of Public Business in that House. It would seem to him, looking at the present state of Business, that Her Majesty's Government were anxious to seize that as a fresh argument for pressing forward this harsh Resolution. They had been reminded that they were now within one week of the Easter Recess, and that little or no Business had yet been done. That was true; but he maintained that if the Resolution had been in force at the commencement of the Session, not one single additional hour would have been saved, and many hon. Members were desirous of knowing what all this meant. They wished to know why it was that the Resolution was to be made of such first-rate importance as to decide the fate or fall of the Government? Upon this point it was desirable that he should comment upon one or two facts in connection with the speeches which had been made in support of the Resolution. It was a curious fact, which had come under his notice, that most of the Members opposite who had supported the Resolution were now serving in Parliament for the first time. It was also a curious fact, that from the opposite Benches, out of four hon. Members who had spoken—the hon. Members for Berkshire (Mr. Walter), Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian), Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), and Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), all of whom possessed considerable experience of Parliamentary life—two of them, the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) and the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson), had condemned the Resolution very decisively. His hon. Friend the Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. Hussey Vivian) made a statement which was somewhat of a curious character. His hon. Friend said that the Resolution as it now stood had the support of the majority of the people of this country. His (Sir William Hart Dyke's) reply to that was a very simple one. It was only necessary to read certain letters which had been distributed among various political organizations throughout the country during the past few weeks to show that the support of the Resolution came solely from the borough of Birmingham. He had happened to be in the House during the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the 99 Home Department (Sir William Harcourt), and, listening attentively to the arguments adduced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he was struck by the fact that if that speech indicated anything, it was that in the belief of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Resolution was the chief and the only cure that could be applied to the unfortunate state of things which now existed in the House. The speech of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), however, contained a complete reply to that argument, because the hon. Member pointed out that the Resolution could never be used harshly or offensively against the minority, or it would recoil upon the majority and create a state of Obstruction far worse than that which now existed. That was a complete answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Well, then, what did the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington) do? He had been much struck with the discrepancy between the opening and the concluding portions of the speech of the noble Marquess. The noble Marquess, at the commencement of his speech, implored the House, and especially the Opposition, whatever happened, not to allow themselves to become frightened. He said that he was surprised at the exaggerated alarm with which the Resolution was regarded by hon. Members opposite. The noble Marquess went on to say—What is this proposal? After all, it is but a modification of the existing Rules and restrictions in regard to debate.And he proceeded to urge that it was in itself a proposal of a far milder character than one which was passed in 1842, whereby Members were restricted in their right of speaking on presenting Petitions to the House. He (Sir William Hart Dyke) found that that proposal, as far as any record of it was to be found in their Parliamentary Proceedings, only occupied a few pages of Hansard, and there was very little difficulty in inducing the House to accede to it. But if they would compare the commencement of the speech of the noble Marquess with the closing part of it, it would be found that the two were in direct opposition to each other. In the last part, the noble Marquess went into interesting details as to what the minority would have to go through if the 100 Resolution was passed. What surprised him (Sir William Hart Dyke) more than all at this proposal was that it should be looked upon as so much milder a proposition than that which was carried in 1842, when the noble Marquess concluded his speech by informing the House that on the acceptance of the Rule would depend the fate of Her Majesty's Government. At the risk of detaining the House he wished to discuss the merits of the Resolution itself as submitted to the House. He knew that he might be accused of going over ground which had been occupied before; but he must confess that with regard to any accusation of that kind he was perfectly reckless, because he had an important object in view—namely, to show that out-of-doors a wrong impression was fast gaining ground in reference to the Resolution; and also as to how matters stood in regard to the Public Business of the House. It was said that it was high time that something should be done, because Easter was arriving, and as yet no Public Business had been transacted. He merely quoted that assertion to show how erroneous the impression was which was gaining ground in the country in regard to the effect which the Resolution would produce; because, as he had already pointed out, if the Resolution had been in existence throughout the whole of the Session, not a single half-hour of the Session would have been saved by its application. It had been his lot for 12 years of his life—from 1868 until 1880—to be closely connected with the Business of the House. Six of those years were passed in Opposition, and the six later years in a more responsible position. He therefore wished for a moment to argue the question by the light of the experience he had gained in both positions. Looking at the Resolution in that way, he would endeavour to argue it as if he were arguing with one of his own Leaders in some of the troublous days they went through when in Office. He would rather consider the question in that way, than form any narrow-minded or partizan argument on a question affecting the future proceedings of the House. The chief complaint he had to make against the Resolution was that it would not prove effectual for the purpose for which it had 101 watched very closely the various I causes which had created the difficulties which the House had now to contend with, and he acknowledged as fully as any hon. Member sitting opposite—as fully, indeed, as the Prime Minister himself—the difficulties of the position in which Her Majesty's Government were placed. But there were many circumstances which had caused the present state of things, and the great increase in the time-consuming power of the House. In the first place, there was a difficulty which was met by one of the subsequent Resolu-tions—namely, the power enjoyed by hon. Members, and constantly exercised, of moving the adjournment before the Business of the day commenced. That was a difficulty which constantly met the late Government at every turn. He remembered on four nights in succession the late Government coming down to the House, and yet Motions for Adjournment were interposed, and therefore, practically, there was no Agenda Paper, and it was found impossible to commence the Business of the day until 7 or 8 o'clock. That was a very grave difficulty, but it was one which was struck at by one of the subsequent Resolutions, which Resolution should certainly receive his hearty support. Another and a very grievous change had occurred in the time-consuming power of that Assembly—namely, the number of Questions which were put to Ministers. He did not for a moment wish to give a hint to any hon. Member how to obstruct the Business of the House—he would not be so disloyal—but he wished to point out that the Resolution did not strike at that difficulty; and when the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whit-bread) spoke about an irritated minority, and pointed out how dangerous it would be to put the Rule in force for fear of irritating the minority, it was impossible to overlook the fact that in regard to this particular difficulty it was possible to have such a multiplicity of Questions put to Ministers that the Public Business would never commence until 7 or 8 o'clock at night. Surely there ought to be some means of curing this evil, and why did not the Government attempt it, for it was an evil which stared them in the face every day the House met? He would venture to urge another difficulty, which added far too 102 much to the time-consuming power, and that was the unfortunate state of affairs in Ireland. He should be the last person, on an occasion of that kind, to wish to enter into an Irish debate. He thought the House had had enough of them, and that was no time for discussing the condition of Ireland; but they must all admit that the consideration of Irish affairs was to a great extent absorbing the time of the House which ought to be devoted to general legislation. It was a state of things which they must all very much regret, and he fervently hoped that the cause of it might soon cease; but in the meantime there it was, and when hon. Members got up and asked questions in reference to the treatment of their friends in prison in Ireland, no one could justly or reasonably complain of the course they took. It was part of the penalty they had to suffer for the state to which Ireland had been brought. It was, however, a condition of affairs which they all trusted would not last long. But what he wished to ask, with due respect, of Her Majesty's Government was, whether the fact that one portion of the United Kingdom was in such an unfortunate condition was any solid reason why the House of Commons should part with its liberty of speech? He contended that it was nothing of the kind. There were other matters he might allude to, but he remembered that the hour was late. There was, however, one point which had been brought very much under his notice—namely, the number of Amendments which were now moved in Bills in comparison with the number of Amendments which used to be moved some eight or ten years ago, when only those Members who were actually cognizant of the questions dealt with by a particular Bill took part in the discussion of them, and very few Amendments were moved. If any hon. Member would take the trouble to search through the Journals of the House, he would be perfectly astonished at the number of Amendments that were now moved in Bills of every description compared with a very few years ago. The other day he was engaged in making a comparison, and he took occasion to compare the interest taken in the Land Bill of 1870 with that taken in the Land Bill of 1881. The subject was a cognate one, and he believed that on each occasion the Bill 103 excited an equal amount of interest in Ireland. But he found that the number of Amendments presented upon the Land Bill of 1870 in one evening was contained in 15 pages of the Notice Paper of the House; whereas the Amendments put down on one night on the Land Bill of 1881 reached 36 pages—or considerably more than double. The number of Amendments now moved was the cause of the consumption of a great deal of the time of the House; but, in reference to these Amendments, he wished to ask Her Majesty's Government how the application of this Rule would put a stop to the difficulty? They were told that if it was in the opinion of the Chairman of Committees the evident sense of the Committee that a discussion should be stopped, then the Chairman could interfere and put the Question; but he wanted to know how this could apply to Amendments proposed in a Bill? If it did not, the "irritating minority" already spoken of would be left perfectly free to obstruct the progress of Business by continuing to move needless and endless Amendments. What would be the effect of the Resolution if the House consented to pass it? The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in moving it, told the House to be cautious how they adopted any measure that would tend to aggravate the evil. He (Sir William Hart Dyke) thought he had shown that this proposal, if it were passed, would be ineffective, and that it would tend largely to aggravate the evil; and, in regard to the future, he believed that if it were adopted it would do more to demoralize the inner life of that Assembly than anything that had been attempted in regard to its Procedure before. Of course, they were bound to consider the future in regard to this proposal. It was all very well for hon. Members to say that what they wished to cure was what was happening in the present day. It was due to those who were asked to make so large a change in their Procedure that it was nothing more nor less than a revolution, and especially for the younger Members of the House, to consider what would be the future effect of the Resolution if it were once adopted by the House. They were told that no Speaker dare make use of it in the future, unless it was very certain that it was the evident wish of the House. It had been frequently said by hon. Gentlemen 104 opposite that they did not like it, but, at the same time, that it was perfectly safe to support it, because it would seldom, if ever, be put into operation. If that were really so, why should the House be called upon to pass an obnoxious Resolution that would seldom, or never, be used? He admitted the difficult position in which the House was placed in reference to the progress of Public Business; but why, in the name of common sense, were they to make so vast a revolution in their Procedure for so miserable an object? Then, with regard to the application of the Rule, he thought the present Session offered a case in point. Supposing, in the future, that a Government should be as unfortunate in the management and control of its Business as the present Government had been, would they tell him that the Leader of the Government would not be tempted to make use of this Rule, in order to enable him to make up for lost time? Any assertion to the contrary was rather too much for any person who had any knowledge whatever of human nature to believe. There was this further question he wished to ask in reference to the application of the Rule in regard to the Chairman of Committees. He thought the Rule as regarded the Chairman of Committees would be most unfair and unjust to the occupant of that Office. The Chairman of Committees in these days was never considered, when in the Chair, in the light of a partizan; but this Rule would, undoubtedly, make him one. Of course, the Chairman of Committees would belong to the political Party coming into power, and would be appointed by the Government of the day. He would, therefore, in the future, be placed in a most unfair and undignified position. Look at the relationship between a Minister in charge of a Bill and the Chairman of Committees. His experience of a Minister in charge of a Bill was that there was no more dangerous a creature to meet towards the end of July. Each Minister, of course, believed in this effort of his creation—perhaps it was the embodiment of some crotchet of his earlier years, or some dream of his early life. Accordingly, he believed that nothing could save him, that nothing could save his Department, and that nothing could save his Party, or the country, except that his Bill should become law. On 105 that one point he became dangerous to approach. Well, what would happen under the New Rule? Towards the end of July the Bill would get into Committee, and some clause of it would get into one of those difficult tangles from which it was so difficult to extricate it, and which only too often happened to a Bill in Committee. Time would be waning, and the last days of the Session rapidly approaching. What an enormous temptation there would be, in such a state of circumstances, for the Minister to go to the Chairman of Committees and say—"To-night is the last chance for the passing of my Bill. If this clause is not passed to-night, the pressure the Government Business is such, that of I shall be compelled to drop it, and, therefore, I insist upon your making an endeavour to close the debate to-night." This was not only possible, but the House would very probably find that it would happen in case of the clôture being adopted. He said this with some knowledge of the pressure put on by Conservative Ministers, and it was very easy for the House to judge what might happen if such a Rule existed, and right hon. Gentlemen opposite ceased their present method of conducting the Business of the House, and really endeavoured to press their measures through. It was said that the Conservative Party did not care for this Resolution, because they were all in favour of Obstruction, and did not wish to advance legislation. He wished to enter an emphatic protest against such an assertion. What he and his hon. Friends objected to was, that out of a scheme which the Government put forward, containing 12 proposals, this particular one should be singled out in this prominent manner; that they should be told not to consider the scheme as a whole, but only one proposal, and then that the Government would resign if they failed to obtain the support of the House in carrying it. In point of fact, the House was told that if it did not support Her Majesty's Government upon one-twelfth of their proposal, Ministers were prepared to resign Office. He, for one, was prepared to give his support to the remaining Resolutions, and he would do so because they struck a blow at obvious blots in the Procedure and conduct of the Business of the House. Therefore, he asked that, in 106 common fairness and justice, the House should be asked to discuss these remedies first, and that the proposals which did meet acknowledged difficulties should be considered, before they were asked to make the revolutionary change in their Procedure which was involved in the 1st Resolution. In regard to the practice of foreign countries, he did not think it was quite fair for hon. Gentlemen opposite to be continually quoting the use of the clôture in Legislative Assemblies abroad, and in ignoring the language used, and the scenes produced, in such foreign Assemblies on account of the introduction of the system. Then, in reply to the taunt that those who opposed, the Resolution had no practical remedy of their own to suggest, he would point out that there were very good practical remedies to be found in the Resolutions which followed. He would not detain the House longer. He should not have risen at all at so late an hour if the subject had not been one on which he naturally felt very strongly. He also felt most strongly that Her Majesty's Government were asking too much from the House in calling upon them to accept this proposal. He believed that it was one which involved great danger to the future of the House of Commons; and that it, further, called upon the House to make enormous sacrifices without any corresponding advantage or gain to the country. He believed that it would not strike at the root of the difficulties from which the House was suffering; he believed, also, that it was a proposal which could never be popular in the House or the country. It was a proposal which involved grave difficulties in the future, because it would always insure in the House the existence of an irritated minority. It was only those who had been connected with the inner working of that Assembly who knew how difficult it was to guide its delicate and intricate machinery; how dangerous it was to disturb it; and how easy it was by to heavy a pressure to break it up altogether. They had heard many speeches in reference to the proposal, most of which treated it from a different point of view; but he believed that the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India very much indicated the policy they were likely to expect if the proposal were adopted. In regard to the 107 future of the debate—as to what was to happen to this Resolution—he knew nothing. They had been told that great pressure was being put upon hon. Gentlemen opposite to carry the Resolution. They had had the old bogey of a Dissolution trotted out to frighten hon. Members opposite; but he himself believed in nothing of the kind. He was quite certain of this, that if the Resolution were carried it would not be carried by a mechanical majority—that was, if a mechanical majority meant something that moved smoothly and easily and without undue pressure. Nor did he believe that the Resolution, if carried, would be of much assistance to hon. Gentlemen opposite, either as regarded the present conduct of Public Business or as to the future. He believed honestly that it would place the House in very serious difficulties. It might be that Her Majesty's Government would press the Resolution to the bitter end; and, if they did, he was sure of this—that if, against the wishes of a considerable minority, they brought it into operation, if there was one shred of meaning in the name, never again could the Party opposite be called the "Liberal Party." Wishing as well of the future of that Assembly as any hon. Member opposite, as fond of the Assembly and of its good guidance as any of them, yet he still thought their pathway lay clear and distinct before them, and that it was to resist to the very utmost the dangers of the Resolution, in spite of this false and conjured-up crisis. He was one of those who believed that if Her Majesty's Government carried the Resolution, the only effect would be to inflict a grievous injury upon the Liberal Party, and entail something like disaster upon the best and freest Institution of the country.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. John Bright.)
§ MR. SEXTON
wished to say a few words on the Question of the Adjournment of the Debate. It appeared that an announcement had been made to the effect that an understanding had been arrived at by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition that the division on the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) to the Resolu- 108 tion of the Government should be taken on Thursday next. Now, he had just received a telegram which, with the permission of the House, he would read. It was addressed to him by the imprisoned Members for Cork, Tipperary, and Roscommon, and was as follows:—Parnell, Dillon, and O'Kelly to Sexton. Kilmainham—We have written to the Chief Secretary asking to be permitted to take part in the division on Mr. Marriott's Amendment, and undertaking to refrain from any action in any other political matter during our absence from prison, and after the division to return to Ireland and surrender ourselves to the Lord Lieutenant.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The question raised by the hon. Member has no relevancy whatever to the Question before the House.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he was not proceeding with the debate, but only wished to point out that, in his opinion, it was undesirable that the Motion for the adjournment should be carried until it was known whether those Members of the House who were now in prison would be present at the division on Thursday next.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out to the hon. Member that it is not competent to him to bring a matter of that kind before the House on a Question of Adjournment.
§ MR. CALLAN
asked if it would not be within the right of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) to inquire of Her Majesty's Government whether they, in conjunction with the occupants of the Front Opposition Bench, intended to force on the division on the 1st Resolution next Thursday night? If that were the case, Irish Members might be drawn into the agreement, provided the "suspects" who were Members of Parliament were permitted to attend.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have already informed the hon. Member for Sligo that the question is one which cannot now be discussed.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he wished, in that case, to know what question could be discussed? If he remembered rightly, MR. SPEAKER: had, in reply to a Question on a previous occasion, informed the House that he was wholly at a loss to say what might not be discussed upon a Motion for Adjournment.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now referring to a substantive Motion for Adjournment. This is a Motion for 109 the adjournment of a debate upon a Question before the House, and any discussion upon that Motion should be relevant to the Main Question before the House.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, in the course of the few remarks he had to make, he should confine himself entirely to the Question of the Adjournment of the Debate. It occurred to him, first, to inquire of what use it was to adjourn the debate? As far as he could judge, there was no possible object to be gained by continuing the discussion after the present Sitting. It was well known that the clôture was already practically in force, and that many measures which might have been brought forward had been obstructed by the Government themselves. Moreover, they had behind them a mechanical majority which would enable them to carry their Resolution on division next Thursday. But the character of that division was, at the present moment, a matter of interesting speculation. It might depend upon a small number of votes, and he and his hon. Friends believed it would depend very much on the presence of the three Members of that House who were under detention at Kilmainham.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have already informed an hon. Member that that question is not relevant to the Main Question before the House.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, he had no intention of discussing the detention of the hon. Members in Kilmainham. He was pointing out that the division on Thursday next was likely to be a very close one, and that the absence of the three Members might have a material effect upon it. He thought he should be in Order in making the observation that at present the House was not complete, and, as matters now stood, was not likely to be complete on Thursday night.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, he had not the least intention of disregarding the ruling of the Chair. He said if the House was not to be more complete on Thursday next than it was at present, he saw no reason whatever why the debate should be adjourned. On the contrary, it seemed to him that it would be just as well to continue the discussion 110 now, however long the House might have to sit, in order to allow all those Members to do so who wished to lay their views upon the question of the clôture before the House. The views of a large number of hon. Members having been already propounded, it occurred to him that there was not much more remaining to be said on the subject, and why they should be asked to adjourn the debate at an hour which, compared with the time until which they were accustomed to sit was comparatively early, he could not understand. If the debate could be finished on Thursday, it could, with equal ease, be brought to an end on the present occasion, without the House having to sit any longer than they were obliged to do last Friday, when the Government were desirous of obtaining a Vote in Supply. If, therefore, by sitting until 4 o'clock that morning, the discussion could be finished, he could see no reasonable ground on which the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster could be acceded to. Again, although the advantages to be gained by adjourning the debate were not patent, the disadvantages were very clear. They were approaching the Easter Recess, and the arrears of work were accumulating. Therefore, he said, if the discussion could be brought to an end on the present occasion, Thursday night could be devoted to some useful purpose. For instance, there were some very important Estimates to be dealt with; and if his suggestion were adopted, an opportunity might be afforded of discussing some of the many Votes which, in consequence of the action of the Government during the present Session, the House had already been asked to pass as a matter of course and without any discussion whatever. The Prime Minister himself had over and over again expressed his sense of the inadequate amount of criticism to which the Estimates had of late years been subjected. Under the circumstances, he thought the debate should be continued, and that Thursday night should be devoted to some of the immense arrears of work which had accumulated in consequence of the action of Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, if the Irish Party were not to be treated with fair play by Her Majesty's Government, he 111 certainly thought it would be just as well to take the division on the clôture question that night as at any other time. It did not seem to be part of the policy of the Government to allow the views of the whole House to be consulted; but if there was to be a continuation of the debate, he thought they were entitled to an assurance that more space than a single Sitting should be devoted to it. It was quite patent to all the Members of the Irish Party that the whole of the discussion upon the present Motion, from the speech of the Prime Minister down to the last speech that had been delivered, had turned upon the alleged misconduct of the Irish Party, who had been made targets for every kind of observation proceeding from both sides of the House. Notwithstanding this, the best hours of the day, and, indeed, every moment which could be regarded as a fair opportunity for explaining the Irish case, tad been most ungenerously occupied by English Members. There did not appear to have been the slightest disposition on the part of the House to give the Irish Party fair play in this matter. He repeated, that every hour of the debate most suitable for the exposition of the Irish case had been monopolized by the Leaders of the English Parties. And now the debate next Thursday, the closing day, as they were told it would be, of the discussion was to be opened with all the force and power which they were entitled to expect from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and who would, doubtless, regale the House with a further brilliant exposition of the defects of the Irish Party. He did not know what other great guns of Liberalism would follow the Chancellor of the Duchy; but it was evident that an agreement had been entered into between the two political Parties to deny a fair hearing to those who were bearing the brunt of this matter, and that the House was about to be hurried into a vote with reference to the alleged transgressions of the Irish Party without their being afforded any fair opportunity of replying to the monstrous misconceptions of their conduct and policy which had been ventilated in the course of this discussion. If this treatment was an earnest of what was in store for the Irish Members it would certainly be resisted, although, in the end, they might be over- 112 borne by numbers. But it seemed to him that the parties in this confederacy would not gain by the manner in which they were dealing with the Irish nation; and unless Irish Members received an assurance that a fair opportunity would be given to the Irish Party, before this most important discussion came to an end, of meeting the extraordinary misrepresentations and misconceptions which had been floated with regard to them, they would feel it their duty not only to divide the House on the present Motion, but when the subject next came forward they would make use of all the Forms of the House in order to obtain an opportunity for fair discussion. In conclusion, he begged to assure Members sitting on both sides of the House that the Irish Party could afford to regard the clôture with vastly more indifference than any other Party.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he thought that some of the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) were not quite warranted. He believed that the Party really interested in this case was the Conservative, and not the Irish Party. He would endeavour to make this clear without going into the subject at any great length. He ventured to say that his hon. Friend, if he would consider the matter dispassionately, would find that this question was not one in which the Irish Party were interested, except in the abstract, and it was only because they were not immediately interested in it, that he addressed the House at all on the Question of Adjournment. If the Rule were intended—as it purported to be—for putting an end to the Obstruction which had obtained in that House, nothing could be more imbecile and inefficient for that purpose. Because, whilst it would be utterly ineffectual unless there were 200 Members to put down 40 Members, 201 Members could put down 200 Members. He challenged the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when ho rose on Thursday next to continue this debate, to produce a single parallel for such legislation as was contemplated by the 1st Resolution. Again, the insincerity of the Rule was apparent from the fact that, while Mr. Speaker was to decide that the sense of the House was against the continuance of debate, he would be sustained in that if 201 Mem- 113 bers voted for the Motion against 200 Members. It was impossible, therefore, to reconcile the Rule with any intention of applying it to the Irish Party; and its obvious intention was to stop the mouths of the Tory Party when some great measures were being carried through the House.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he considered the debate ought now to be adjourned. It was desirable that the Government should now be told that it was very unlikely that they would be able to come to a decision on Thursday. The Government could not expect that they would be allowed to go to a division on a matter which so vitally interested Members from Ireland, until a reasonable proportion of those Members had had an opportunity of speaking. He did not think there was any desire on the part of the Irish Members to prolong the debate unduly; but he would suggest to Her Majesty's Government that it would be unreasonable in them to bring down their Supporters on Thursday night for the division, unless it was seen that there was such an absence of desire to speak on the part of other Members as to give the Irish Members a fair share in the matter. It had been said, in the course of the debate, that it would be a good thing if the discussion went on until the Government had considered the arguments in favour of releasing the imprisoned Irish Members—in fact, until the Irish Members were let out.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I would remind the hon. Member that the Question before the House is "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ MR. HEALY
said, he was not in the House when the observations to which he had referred were made, and when some decision was given upon them. He only understood from hearsay what had taken place. As he was not in Order, he regretted that he had been betrayed into mentioning the subject. All he would say was, that until the Irish Party were able to bring before Her Majesty's Government the arguments they desired to offer on the very important subjects which had engaged the attention of the House, it would be undesirable to attempt to come to a decision.
I assent to the adjournment, in the full expectation that 114 we shall come to a decision on Thursday. I do not say I expect the division to be taken on Thursday because of any compact between the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote) and myself, for we have no actual power to arrange for the closing of the debate; but I say it for the reason that, as far as we can gather, it appears to be the general impression on all sides that the discussion should terminate on that day.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Thursday.