§ [SIXTH NIGHT.]
Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [20th February],
That when it shall appear to Mr. Speaker, or to the Chairman of a Committee of the whole House, during any Debate, to be the evident sense of the House, or of the Committee, that the Question be now put, he may so inform the House or the Committee; and, if a Motion be made 'That the Question be now put,' Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman, shall forthwith put such Question; and, if the same be decided in the affirmative, the Question under discussion shall be put forthwith: Provided that the Question shall not be decided in the affirmative, if a Division be taken, unless it shall appear to have been supported by more than two hundred Members, or unless it shall appear to have been opposed by less than forty Members and supported by more than one hundred Members."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.1843
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, that the Amendment he intended to move had reference to one particular feature of the 1st Rule. It was proposed that when it should appear to Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman of Committees, that it was the evident sense of the House that the debate should close, the Speaker or the Chairman should put a certain Question forthwith, and on the vote of the House the debate should be closed. His Amendment was, after the words "Mr. Speaker," to insert these words—"after an appeal to his judgment by a Minister of the Crown." He had originally intended to have moved the omission of the words "Mr. Speaker," and to substitute for them the words "a Minister of the Crown;" but he found that in consequence of a previous Amendment having been negatived, the words "Mr. Speaker" had been ordered to stand part of the Question. He was, therefore, obliged to fall back upon the next best alternative. The effect of his Amendment, if adopted, would be that, instead of the proceedings for closing the debate being put in motion by the Speaker, or at the Speaker's initiative, they must openly, unmistakably, and undeniably come from a Minister of the Crown. He desired that a Motion for silencing the Opposition and for precipitating the decision of the House should be made by an authority commensurate with the responsible and grave nature of the proposal. The Speaker was not a responsible person to the House in the sense in which a Minister of the Crown was responsible both to the House and to the country. The Speaker was, practically, irresponsible—that was to say, through the choice of the House and the authority reposed in him he was quite above ordinary responsibility. As was repeatedly stated in the debate upon the Rule now upon the Standing Orders with reference to the naming of a Member, although the vote of the House was called in to ratify the decision of the Speaker, yet, in reality, the decision of the Speaker ought to be considered quite above discussion. If the Speaker's conduct were to be called in question, it must be done by a special Motion, so as to leave his authority absolutely free from challenge. The Speaker was not responsible to the country, and, therefore, he ought not to take the initiative in closing a debate which might be of interest to the country. For 1844 the same reason he objected to an Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), who proposed to throw the responsibility upon the Member in charge of the subject under discussion. There were numbers of subjects introduced by hon. Members for which they themselves were in no sense responsible to the country. A strange confusion was to be traced in the mind of the Government, for the reasons could not be the same which influenced them in proposing that the initiative should be taken by the Chairman of Committees as well as by the Speaker. While the Speaker was chosen, not by a Party, but by the Whole House, the Chairman of Committees was the choice of the Ministerial Party for the time being. It was in order to remove all obscurity, and to enable the House and the country to know on whom the responsibility rested, that he proposed that the Speaker should not exercise the functions which the Rule would devolve upon him except upon an open and undisguised appeal to his judgment by a Minister of the Crown. In any case it would be a Ministerial appeal, and it ought not to be passed off upon the country as anything else. Under the present plan, under cover of the Speaker, the Government would, in reality, however innocent their intentions might be, be parties to an attempt to hoodwink the country as to the real significance of the Motion before the House. If the Government considered a debate had been sufficiently prolonged, what reason was there in common sense, in-Constitutional Law, or in the practice of Parliament, why they should not openly ask, on their own responsibility, that the Question should be forthwith put? If the Motion were a fair one, a necessary one, and demanded in the interest of Public Business, why should the Government of the day be ashamed to put it in force, or shrink from doing their duty? He proposed that the initiative should be openly taken by a Minister of the Crown, because that was the only means of preventing the Speakership from becoming an appanage of the Ministerial Bench. Of late currency had been given to erroneous ideas concerning the relationship of the Speaker to the House. For a considerable time successive Speakers had deserved the highest credit as impartial arbiters of debate between Party 1845 and Party; but they must not close their eyes to history. The dignified, impartial, trusted position of the Speaker in that House was a plant of modern growth, and of comparatively recent development. He doubted if the impartiality, dignity, the unquestioned authority of the Speaker could be traced back for more than a century—certainly not for more than a century and a-half Down to the time of the Revolution the Speakership was an appanage much more of Royalty than of the House of Commons; under the Tudors and the Stuarts the Speaker watched the proceedings of the House in the interests of Royalty rather than as an impartial arbiter or defender of its privileges. According to Mr. Reginald Palgrave, Charles I. had placed himself far beyond excuse or palliation when the Speaker (Lenthal), on the occasion of the King's attempt to seize the five Members, had the courage and the resolution to refuse to be a Royal minion, and determined to speak as the mouthpiece of the House alone. Hitherto the Speaker had been the servant of the King against the House, and the King must have proved himself most culpable when even the Speaker turned against him. The conversion of the House into a Committee of the Whole House, was an innovation designed, among other reasons, for the purpose of getting rid of the Speaker. The authority of the Speaker had assumed its present dignity and purity very slowly and gradually in a House of Commons, which last century was notoriously corrupt, and in which it was as well known that there was a market for Members to be bought by the Treasury as it was that there was a market for fat cattle at Smithfield. He agreed with all that had been said on both sides of the House with such grave emphasis and unctuous frequency to impress Irish Members with regard to the dignity and impartiality of the Speaker in recent times. It would be hard if just when, by the confession of both political Parties, the Speakership had reached its highest point and culmination, it was by the proposal of a Liberal Government to he thrust back into a position lower than that from which it had been lifted. The Speaker had long ago ceased to be the minion of the King. But if this Resolution passed as it was at present worded, the Speaker would become the 1846 minion of the Ministry of the day, and would be as absolutely the mouthpiece of the majority as the Presidents of Continental Legislative Chambers. Nor would it be in any way derogatory for future Speakers to hold such a position, seeing that the right hon. Gentleman's Successors in the Chair could not be judged by the canons of political morality of the present day. Partizans they would undoubtedly be, just as the Whips were partizans, and in closing a debate a Speaker of the future would be merely giving effect to the Whip's instructions as to a division. He proposed, therefore, that the initiative in this matter, which must necessarily belong to the Government in reality, should proceed from them openly and avowedly. In whatever way the Speaker was to gather the evident sense of the House—whether by a discreet whisper from the Treasury Bench, or by uproarious clamour of the House—it would equally come from the Government of the day; and the only result of putting the initiative in the hands of the Speaker would be to produce confusion in the public mind, and lead the people to imagine something had been done on the pure initiative of the Speaker, which had really been planned in the office of the Government Whip. Now, a doubt existed as to the object of the clÔture. According to some, it was intended to put down a small band of desperate conspirators against the Constitution; according to others, it was to stifle legitimate opposition. In either case the Government might have the courage of their convictions and take the initiative upon themselves, whether they desired to overwhelm a regular Opposition, or to silence a clique of malcontents. There was, in truth, not a single rational argument against his Amendment; and it would have the very great merit of fixing responsibility on the right persons, and of avoiding the scandals that would some day prevail of divisions unfairly snatched at critical moments, after which the Government of the day would throw the odium on the Speaker, while the Opposition denounced equally both Speaker and Government. If ever there was a country where burning questions were likely to arise and multiply, and temptations to Party passions and Party un-scrupulousness to abound, it was this 1847 country. Here they had an ancient Constitution approaching a great crisis, and certain to undergo great transformations. They would have the grave questions of religion, of authority, of the distribution of power before them in the near future; and, if in foreign countries these questions called forth such Party passions, how could it be expected that this country should escape them. They need not wonder at the high distinction and impartiality of the Speaker of the British House of Commons hitherto. One reason for it was that he never had the power of being partial. The Speaker was the lord and arbiter of order; but, above all things, the protector of minorities and of individuals. He was, in fact, the mouthpiece and the champion of minorities. They were entitled, therefore, by a sort of reverse reasoning, to conclude that, when the whole character and nature of the Speakership was altered by this unmanly Rule of ClÔture, the impartiality of the Chair would disappear. With the view of leaving the responsibility where it ought to rest—namely, with the Ministry of the day—he begged to move his Amendment.
In line 1, after the words "Mr. Speaker," to insert the words "after an appeal to his judgment by a Minister of the Crown."—(Mr. O'Donnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he had an Amendment on the Paper, the earlier part of which was identical with that of the hon. Member (Mr. O'Donnell), and he rose to move as an Amendment to that of the hon. Member the latter part of his Amendment. If the House were to accept this, with some other Amendments further down, the Resolution would run—When it shall appear to Mr. Speaker, after an appeal to him by a Minister of the Crown, or by the Member in charge of the subject under discussion, or to the Chairman of a Committee of the whole House, after a similar appeal, that the question under discussion has been fully debated, and that it is evidently the general sense of the House, or of the Committee, that the question be now put, he may, if he thinks fit, so inform the House or the Committee.He thought there was great force in many of the arguments of the hon. Mem- 1848 ber (Mr. O'Donnell); but he thought they ought to place other Members on an equality with the Ministers in this respect, and not establish a difference between Ministers of the Crown and other Members which did not at present exist. He before asked the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair whether it would be in Order to move to omit the words "Mr. Speaker." He desired to move the omission of these words, because he thought that if there was to be this power of silencing the minority it ought to be dissociated from the functions of the Chair; but, unfortunately, the last division not only negatived the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Marriott), but practically affirmed that the Speaker was to be associated with this Rule, though this was not what they had discussed, no was, therefore, driven to move this Amendment, which, in one sense, was inadequate; but if any hon. Member should propose anything stronger he would support it. He believed it was an established principle that if any alteration in the Rules or Standing Orders of the House was proposed and the Party in power allowed such alteration to be made without protest, they were to a certain extent responsible for it. What he wished to point out was how exceedingly mischievous must be the result if they chose deliberately to take the Speaker out of his proper sphere of action and to associate him with this Resolution. The Government informed the House that they could not be responsible for the further conduct of affairs unless they had the power of imposing restraint upon Members of the House other than themselves. That power had not been asked for by any preceding Ministry; and he would go a step further, and say that if the proposal had emanated from any Ministry other than the present Government, the Members of the present Government would have opposed it tooth-and-nail. When a Government admitted their inability to carry on the affairs of the country without coercive powers, the House was ever ready to grant those powers; but only upon one condition—that the Government should be made responsible. They were now asked to assent to a Resolution which was a standing Coercion Act. There was no Coercion Act passed during the present century which could have, or was in- 1849 tended to have, such a far-reaching and abiding effect. It was a Resolution which placed the minority at the mercy of the majority. [The Marquess of HARTINGTON dissented.] The noble Marquess seemed to deny that. Could the noble Marquess deny that the Prime Minister had stated that the 1st Resolution, when it was passed, would be used for the purpose of passing the other Resolutions?
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
It is difficult always to understand the Prime Minister. When he was asked if this was intended, he declined to reply.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
This Resolution, therefore, would be used to carry or amend certain other Standing Orders that were upon the Notice Paper; and, consequently, if it was competent for the majority to alter any Standing Order, it was equally competent to revise this one when it was passed. The minority of the House would be placed absolutely at the mercy of the majority; and the only control which the minority could exercise would be regulated by the forbearance of the majority. It was a tremendous power to give to the Government of the day. And yet the Government asked them to give them this power dissociated from those safeguards which they might reasonably expect. The Government were not to be made responsible; but the Speaker and his Successors were asked to assume the odious task of silencing the minority. The Government were, therefore, attempting to deprive the House of two safeguards—namely, the responsibility of the Government and the impartiality of the Chair. He feared it would not remain as impartial in the future as it had been in the past. If a Speaker was to be impelled to put in force coercion, having for its object the silencing of a minority, the exercise which he would make of that Resolution would benefit the Government and embarrass the Opposition. Again, the action which the Speaker might take must form part of the indictment of the Government at a General Election. The Secretary of State for India had admitted that, because he had said that this would give an effectual cry with which to go to the country. Well, if it 1850 did, it gave the Opposition a cry which would not be against the Government, who was not responsible, but against the Speaker, who was responsible. [Mr. JOHN BRIGHT: No, no; against the majority.] Therefore, it was quite clear, if anyone was to be made responsible out-of-doors, it was the Speaker of the House of Commons. But if the Speaker was to be publicly attacked, he must be publicly defended. He might consider it necessary to defend himself. In such a case they would have the Speaker stumping the country in defence of his action in that House. Whether the Speaker was absorbed into the ranks of the Ministry or not, he would generally be regarded by the public as a partizan. But let them take the other side of the question. He was prepared to find that the Speaker declined to defend himself on the ground that he was a Judge. But the Government could not allow him to remain without defence. He could see the Prime Minister of the day coming down, with a countenance arranged for the occasion, and denouncing the indecency of anyone calling in question the judicial functions of the Speaker. If the Speaker was to be subject to criticisms, he must degenerate into a partizan; but if, on the other hand, he was not subjected to criticisms, there was no safeguard whatever against his rulings. It would become a little more clear when they considered the position of the Speaker now. The present Speaker had informed them that he was the servant of the House. He thought by that language that the Speaker intended to convey that the Speaker had no inherent power except what he derived from the Standing Orders and past practice of the House. Therefore, it was quite clear that whatever power in future in excess of this was derived from these Rules must be derived from the Resolution under discussion. It was necessary to inquire carefully into the effect of this Resolution. If they took the first part of this Resolution and joined it on to the latter part they would find what it meant. It was that a majority of 1 in a full House could stop the discussion of a question by the minority. But if a majority hereafter took that view, in what position would the Speaker be? The majority would say they had a right to silence the minority; but the Speaker, by declining to take the 1851 initiative, was refusing to grant them that right. Therefore, it might be said the Speaker was making a partizan use of his power. He contended that it would be a great mistake to associate the power in the manner proposed with the Speaker. The Resolution as it stood was not clear; it was scarcely intelligible. The difficulty of working it would be enormous. It had been well shown in a letter from Mr. Baden Powell to the Prime Minister. Mr. Powell said—My difficulty is that this Rule seems for a certainty to legalize such results as the following. If 201 Members vote for and 200 Members against the closing a debate the debate is closed; if 200 Members vote for and 41 against closing a debate the debate is not closed; if 100 Members vote for and 2 Members against closing a debate the debate is not closed, and there are, of course, the intermediate results in their due order. In other words—firstly, in all cases where more than 200 Members support the Motion, a bare majority of 1 suffices to stop discussion. Secondly, in all cases where some 101 to 206 Members support the Motion, discussion is not stopped, unless a majority of four-fifths is in favour of so doing. Thirdly, it is impossible to stop discussion unless more than 100 Members vote for so doing.He thought no Member would dispute that Mr. Baden Powell had accurately interpreted this Rule. He did not believe that it would be possible for the President of any Foreign Assembly to work that Resolution; and he ventured to say it was absolutely impossible for the Speaker or Chairman of Committees to work it without the assistance of the Government Whips. They sat longer in that House than any other Assembly; and, in the second place, the accommodation in the House was not sufficient for all the Members. How would the Speaker know how many Members were in the House? He held that it would be impossible to carry out the Resolution, except by the help of the Government Whips, with whom it was inexpedient that the Speaker or Chairman of Committees should come into contact, as the Whips must necessarily be partizans. The primary duty of the Speaker was to maintain order; but "the evident sense of the House" must be conveyed to him by noise and interruption, so that that high dignitary would, in a manner, be associated with the disorderly, who were exactly the people who ought not to lead the House. Rhadamanthus himself, if in the Chair, could not, under the proposed new con- 1852 ditions, conduct himself with propriety and dignity. The stronger an hon. Member's lungs the more efficient would be the aid which he would render his Party. It was all very well now, when they were talking calmly, to say that the clÔture would only be applied in exceptional cases, and with the consent of both sides of the House. But his experience was that it was just when men ought to be heard that the disposition to silence them was greatest. This struck him very much the other day, when there happened to be a painful incident. Mr. Bradlaugh had committed certain offences, and it was proposed to punish him by expulsion. Mr. Bradlaugh asked to be heard. His request was met by a stentorian "No" from both sides of the House; and if this Rule had been passed, the Speaker would have had no option but to say that this represented "the evident sense of the House." There was no doubt that at the French Revolution the Jacobins, who were numerically a small body, gained their ends by organized clamour, and Constitutional forms, &c, degenerated into the Reign of Terror. It was a curious notion to entertain that an official in a judicial position could be fitted to perform his duties more successfully by becoming a partizan. There was a singular parallel in the case of Charles Fox, who, after the death of Mr. Pitt, occupied a similar position to the present Prime Minister. Mr. Fox had assailed his opponents with an animosity nearly equal to that with which the Prime Minister, when in Opposition, assailed the late Government; and Mr. Fox had only been in Office for two months before the exigencies of his Government made him forget his previous professions, and he then suggested the monstrous proposal that the Lord Chief Justice of England should become a Member of his Cabinet. If such a proposal had been made by Mr. Pitt, it would have been denounced almost as loudly as the proposal of the clÔture, if it had emanated from Lord Beaconsfield, would have been assailed by Her Majesty's present Ministers. Mr. Fox's proposal was supported by the Liberal Party of that day, just as the clÔture was now supported by the present Liberal Party, because of the tremendous pressure brought to bear on them; but the result, as far as the reputation of that 1853 Government was concerned, was not a fortunate one. He asked anyone to consider whether it would be possible for the Speaker to have the confidence of the minority without incurring the animosity of the majority? His strong impression was that the course which was proposed would put the Speaker in an intolerable position, and that in the end he would, perhaps, forfeit the good opinion of both sides of the House. The Amendment which he proposed raised no Party question, nor did it affect the Resolution under discussion. He trusted, therefore, that an effort would be made to save out of the wreck of their Parliamentary traditions the position which the Speaker at present occupied.
Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment,
To add, at the end thereof, the words "or by the Member in charge of the subject under discussion."—(Lord George Hamilton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
I am afraid it will be my fate to speak in a much cooler tone than that which was adopted by the Mover of the Amendment or the Mover of the Amendment of the Amendment. There is, I know, an exaggeration of conjuring up fears which it is difficult to measure, and which magnifies every subject of the most moderate dimensions into a gigantic question, involving, commonly, the very life of the Constitution, or of our Parliamentary system. Now, in my opinion, this is a very limited matter, and the sentiments I shall deliver upon it will be entirely without heat. I must, however, regret that the noble Lord has not pursued, except in the last sentence of his speech, a similar course. On the hon. Member who moved the Amendment I make this observation, that though lie was undoubtedly copious in the performance of his work, yet he limited himself to the question of his Amendment, and he likewise observed a strict impartiality as between Parties. The noble Lord has not thought fit to abstain from introducing considerations of Party into what ought to have been a perfectly temperate and dispassionate discussion. The noble Lord undertakes to say that all of us who sit on these Benches would have opposed that proposal if made in any other quarter. I 1854 am not going to enter upon that subject. In my opinion, it is a strange thing for the noble Lord to make that accusation, considering that, as far as my recollection goes, when a demand was made by the late Government for some power in a penal direction, as far as I am concerned—and I believe I may say the same thing of my noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington)—I did nothing except in a few sentences to support the demand, and to commend the spirit in which it had been made. But why is it necessary to introduce these matters? Do they really assist us in the consideration of the question. Then the noble Lord goes on to speak of the immense results which, as he says, this Resolution is intended to produce. Is it wise, is it expedient, does it promote harmony or expedition in our proceedings to charge upon any Party in this House views diametrically opposed to those they had emphatically proclaimed? We had always said that none of those large results would be produced by the Resolution; and I submit, if good manners permit, that that kind of contradiction is certainly adverse to Parliamentary policy and expediency. Upon the speech of the noble Lord, I must observe that it is a speech partly against the entire Resolution, and partly against the introduction of the Speaker into the Resolution. The noble Lord entirely forgot, in the whole of his speech, the Amendment, which is the only subject of discussion. Now, I will give only one instance of how exaggerated fears distort powers of judgment naturally acute enough. The noble Lord said that the tendency of this Resolution is to encourage noise on the part of certain noisy Members in the House. [Mr. BIGGAR: Hear, hear!] Everybody knows who they are, and, as I understand the noble Lord, he implied that they are persons whose conduct is generally condemned and disapproved by the House. But then the noble Lord goes on to say these are the men whose conduct will guide the conduct of the Speaker. [Mr. BIGGAR: Hear, hear!] These noisy Members of the House—a handful of individuals, unknown and unnamed, but supposed to exist—will be mistaken by the Speaker, and interpreted by him as the arbiters of the "evident sense of the House." I do not think the remark is quite relevant to the present debate. I 1855 own I think it shows a state of mind much heated by unnecessary apprehension, when a speaker of ability thinks it necessary to hold that a certain limited number of Members of the House, whose conduct is known to be irrational, will be the people whom the Speaker in the Chair will take as representing the sense of the whole House, and accept them as his guide. Now, let us really endeavour to deal with the question before us, as between the Amendment of the noble Lord and the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan. There is, I think, a good deal to be said in favour of the Amendment of the noble Lord, because the Amendment of the noble Lord proceeds upon this basis—that if there is to be an initiative apart from the Speaker, it ought not to be exclusively in the hands of the Government. As far as that proposal goes, I certainly am not disposed to take any exception to it. I think there is a good deal of difficulty in the Amendment of the noble Lord, as it stands; because, although I understand the responsibility of a Member in charge of a Bill, yet when we speak of a Member in charge of a subject; and recollect that that subject would, I apprehend, be held to involve every description of Amendment moved in any proceeding of the House in Committee of Supply, in Committee on a Bill, or anything else—perhaps a Motion for the adjournment of the House—I think it is a question whether they would not require some limitations. But I am not going to dwell upon minute distinctions between the two Amendments, because, upon the whole, though I do not take up the subject with any warmth, I recommend that the House will do better not to adopt them. But I do so by no means upon the ground that the question of the initiative is not a question for argument and for fair consideration. I quite understand that it is a serious question whether the responsibility of initiating the sense of the House, which alone can decide a closing of the debate, should rest with the Chair, or should rest with some Member or number of Members in the House. That is not the question before us; and, further, I will say that undoubtedly the form which now stands in the Resolutions was adopted in the full belief, which they continue to entertain, that there would be a fear of the abuse of the closing 1856 power, if it were left simply in the hands of the Government, or of a certain number of their supporters, to invoke exercise of it; but that by placing it in the hands of the Speaker they were affording the very best security in their power against its possible abuse. There are those two systems—the one system that of giving the power of initiative to the Government apart from the Chair, and leaving to the Chair no duty except that of putting the Question; and the other system is to take the Resolution as it stands, and say that upon the Speaker shall be the responsibility of making the appeal to the House. The noble Lord said we must not have the Speaker put under compulsion. Upon that we are entirely at one with the noble Lord. But to guard against that, in our view, there are two things. First of all, the Speaker must be convinced of a certain state of facts as to the sense of the House. Secondly, the Speaker must be of opinion that the apparent demand, or the evident sense of the House, is in conformity with justice. But what the Amendment proposes is neither the one nor the other. The Amendment proposed to us is to clap on a responsibility of the Minister of the Crown, or of some other Member of Parliament as well as the Minister of the Crown, upon the back of the responsibility of the Speaker, to make it necessary for them to invoke his aid, but still to leave upon him the responsibility which the Resolution at present places in his hands. Upon the whole, we are of opinion that this system is less safe than the system embodied in the Resolution as it stands. The hon. Member for Dungarvan argued on the assumption that by this Resolution the power is to be placed really in the hands of the Government, and the Speaker is to act really as the organ of the majority of the House. If that were true, I would not only accept at once the Amendment, but I would refuse to admit any Resolutions in which the Speaker appeared at all, because I agree entirely that those who are to exercise the power ought to bear the responsibility. But I differ respectfully from the hon. Gentleman, and affirm that no power whatever is given by the Resolution to the majority for influencing the Speaker of the House. The special duty of the Speaker of the House 1857 is to avoid giving scope to his mere sympathy, if he has a sympathy, to the majority of the House. But, then, says the hon. Member—"Do not let us have our Speaker discredited by being forced into relations with the Government." "Do not let us have him placed," says the noble Lord, "in connection with the Government "Whips." I entirely agree with the noble Lord. But I am sorry to say that it appears to me that the Amendment has a decided tendency in that direction. If we pass a Resolution which makes it the duty of the Speaker to determine in his own mind what is the sense of the House, and whether that sense is the just sense, then I can understand that the action of the Speaker may be a spontaneous action. But if we say the Speaker is to act upon the suggestion and demand of the Minister of the Crown, what is the immediate effect? That the Minister of the Crown must, and will have to, put himself in communication with the Speaker before he makes that suggestion to the Chair; and, therefore, undoubtedly, as I apprehend, it is the duty of the Minister of the Crown to be in communication with the Government Whips. This Amendment, I am afraid, instead of relieving the Speaker from any of his difficulties in that respect, would result in establishing a channel of communication between him and the Government Whips, and thereby of exposing the Speaker to the suspicion and reproach from which the noble Lord and others are justly most anxious to shield him. Now, I shall not meet reproach by reproach, nor insinuation by insinuation, nor will I go back into any pluperfects of the potential mood for the sake of entangling this, I think, very simple argument in considerations that may be connected with temper and with feeling. I do not at all disguise that there may be fair choice between the use of the Speaker and the use of private Members or of Ministers of the Crown as wielding the initiative in this case. I believe we have made the right choice as between these two, and the Amendment before us is neither one nor the other. It proposes to double the responsibility, and it would lead to those communications I have described, which would be eminently unsatisfactory to the House, and which, let me say to the hon. Member for Dungarvan, 1858 would exactly open up that danger that he is justly desirous to avert—namely, that we should be in a condition to attempt, at least, to exercise a pressure on the Speaker, and therefore to take some benefit, or supposed benefit, from the action of the Speaker, from which, as the Resolution now stands, he is entirely free. I believe it to be a small matter. Had there been a clear and general view of the House, an evident sense of the House in favour of a change of this kind, I do not see that we could have taken upon ourselves to refuse it; but I frankly own that, in our opinion, the Resolution is better as it stands.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
quite failed to see that the Prime Minister had made out his argument that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) would lead to communication between the Speaker and the Government Whips. For his own part, he preferred the Amendment as unamended, although there was much force in some of the remarks of the noble Lord (Lord George Hamilton), especially when he said that the distinction between a Minister of the Crown and any other Member of the House was a novelty and an innovation. But they had already gone so far on the way of change that they need not stickle at one or two more innovations. The object of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan would be entirely marred by the manner in which the noble Lord proposed to amend that Amendment. If the initiative in closing the debate were taken by the Speaker, he would become the organ of the majority. The majority was, in its turn, governed by the inspiration of the Prime Minister and his Colleagues, and the Speaker would become the mouthpiece of the Prime Minister and the majority. For his own part, he would have preferred that the Prime Minister, and not the Speaker, should be the mouthpiece of the majority. The words "evident sense of the House," used in the Resolution, were misleading. It meant the sense of a majority which might be scattered in various parts of the House, and it might very often lead to enforcing a wrong conclusion. The "evident sense of the House" had been employed against many great statesmen and thinkers in the House. It had declared against many a policy which afterwards 1859 proved to be most wise and just. He supposed the "evident sense of the House" was against Burke in his great speeches against the Stamp Act, when he argued against those measures which contributed to bring about the severance of England and America. He supposed it declared against Fox in some of his wisest appeals for a policy of peace, and for a time against Cobden on the question of Free Trade. Indeed, the evident sense of the majority was more than once against the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself when, a short time ago, ho justly opposed the Foreign Policy of the late Government. Thus, with a strong majority in the House, the Speaker for the time being would, under the New Rules, become its mere instrument. Under such conditions, it was utterly impossible that a Speaker could retain his present position and high popularity, or be regarded as an impartial Officer of the House. A Speaker was impartial now because he had hardly any temptation to be otherwise. If they gave a Speaker the power of closing a debate at any time, it would be giving his impartiality a strain which no ordinary man could long endure. Before long it was certain that he would be accused in the country of partiality. It could not be satisfactory that any great Officer of the House, or any great public man, should have the power of frequently doing acts for which he could not be assailed, and for which he could not be defended. If he were not to be assailed, they were raising an official to a position of perilous immunity; and, on the other hand, if he were open to attack, they were reducing the Speaker to the level of an ordinary Minister exposed to friendly and unfriendly criticism, and who merely performed the duty of a partizan and a Party Leader. Under those circumstances, it would be impossible for the dignity of the Chair to remain as unassailed and as perfect as it now was, and the Speaker would become the mere mouthpiece of a temporary majority. The responsibility ought to rest with a Minister of the Crown. In his opinion, the proposed change was not of the unimportant nature the Prime Minister had described. It would introduce into the House an authority similar to that of the despotic President of a Continental Assembly. Such a power ought not to be placed in the hands of 1860 an official who, up to the present time, had been a person of strict impartiality; but who, if these Resolutions were passed, would be no longer regarded as impartial in the eyes of the public.
§ MR. BRYCE,
who had the following Amendment to the 1st Resolution on the Paper:—Line 6, leave out all after 'may,' to 'put,' in line 6, and insert 'upon the request of a Minister of the Crown, or of the Member in charge, either of any original Motion then under discussion, or of any amendment thereto, give leave to such Minister or Member to move 'That the Question be now put,' and if such Member shall so move,said, when it was arrived at it might possibly be ruled out of Order, on the ground of its being substantially the same as that now before the House, and he would therefore say now what he had to say upon the subject. If the two Amendments were nearly the same in principle, the terms of his Amendment were, probably—as being somewhat more precise, and more clearly throwing the initiative on the Member who desired that the discussion should close—to be preferred. He could not help feeling that it would have been much better if the Chair had not been brought into the matter at all. With regard to the argument of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), that the Resolution meant in substance that a majority of 1 was to constitute the "evident sense of the House," it went far to discredit the other arguments which accompanied it. The noble Lord had presented such an exaggerated view of the results of this Resolution as to make it much more difficult for Members on this side of the House to support his Amendment. He (Mr. Bryce) thought the present Resolution not strong enough, instead of too strong, and proposed to amend it only because he thought it better that the responsibility of ascertaining the "evident sense of the House" should be fixed upon the Government of the day, and that it should lie upon a Minister, rather than on the Speaker, to move primarily in the matter. If a Minister put the Speaker in motion, the responsibility was, to a certain extent, shared. No one who prized, as they all prized, the impartiality of the Chair, would like the Chair to incur censure. The Speaker might, if the responsibility rested with him alone, make a mistake as to what was the evident 1861 sense of the House, though, as the Resolution required the "evident" sense, this, perhaps, would not be very likely to happen; but, supposing such a mistake did happen, would not the blame rest upon the Speaker alone? And, if so, would he not, on a future occasion, be more slow to exercise his power? He thought, therefore, it would be better that the responsibility of the initiative should rest with the Minister or Member who sought to close the debate, go that the Speaker, if a mistake were made, might feel that the Minister shared the responsibility of it. He believed the effect of such an Amendment would be to strengthen the Resolution, and make it a somewhat more efficient engine against Obstruction; and it was for that reason, fearing that a clÔture which proceeded from the Speaker alone would be too rarely used, that he supported this proposal.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that the Prime Minister had made some observations on the tone of the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), and had said that such remarks were calculated to impede the course of the debate. But, at the same time, the Prime Minister himself indulged in language of exactly the same kind, and had characterized one of the arguments of the noble Lord as irrational. That argument was that the Speaker, in deciding what should be the "evident sense of the House," would be reduced to two sources of information, the one being the knowledge which he obtained from the Government Whips, and the other being the noises which were going on in the House at the time. But he contended that it was perfectly impossible for the Speaker in the latter case clearly to interpret the desire of the House; and in the former case the Speaker would necessarily be biassed by the information afforded to him by the Whips. On previous nights they had discussed the effect of the clÔture on a minority; but they had now introduced the question of the position of the Speaker if the Rules were passed. He would remind the House that the Speaker of the future could not possibly ever occupy the position which the Speaker of the past had occupied. He thought the Government were somewhat to blame in this matter. They had concluded that all future Speakers 1862 would be as impartial as the right hon. Gentleman then in the Chair. But the contention of those who sat on that side was that the Speaker of the future would be by no means so impartial. They said that the fact of putting these new powers in his hands would entirely alter his character. He felt sure that the effects of the Rule would be to make future Chairmen Government nominees. He thought that the Government honestly believed that by giving the Speaker the initiative in that matter they were protecting the right of minorities; but he wished to point out that the result of the operation of the Rule would probably be, not to protect minorities, but to give the Speaker authority whereby he might screen the action of the Government majority. The noble Lord the Secretary of State for India said no Minister would ever think of abusing the power of the clÔture, because the responsibility would be brought home to him with crushing effect. The noble Lord seemed to argue instinctively that the Speaker of the future would act as a tool of the Government. It must be remembered that by the initiative of the Speaker the Ministers of the day were entirely screened from any responsibility in the matter. He himself was strongly of opinion that no such power as that proposed to be given ought to be placed in the hands of Mr. Speaker; and he thought that if they were able to exclude his name from that Rule they would have done the best they could to smooth the way for the Government to adopt the Amendment which proposed that the clÔture should only come into force when voted by a majority of two-thirds.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, he thought that when the alarms which were now felt with regard to this subject had passed away, Members of that House would be more inclined to take an equitable view of the subject than they were now. He did not think that the proposition to give the initiative to the Government would in any way relieve the Speaker from his responsibility in the matter, for it would produce a divided responsibility, and a responsibility of a most objectionable character. Neither did he think the matter was mended by the proposition of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Bryce), that the Speaker should merely give permis- 1863 sion to take the initiative, for that would come to the same thing. The judicial decision as to what was or was not the "evident sense of the House" would have to be put from the Chair, and thus the responsibility would be divided with the Speaker. He felt, with many hon. Members who had already spoken in this and former debates, that it was most objectionable that a question of this kind should be left to the Chair, and he could not conceive how such a system could work. A Predecessor of the Speaker had said on a memorable historical occasion that he had neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak except what was suggested to him by the House, whose servant he was. He held that that principle applied with equal force at the present day. It was impossible for the Speaker to ascertain what was the sense of the House until that sense had been declared by a division. The Speaker ought not to listen to any noises that might come from the Back Benches, nor to any private suggestion that might be made by the Government or its supporters. He could only decide upon that sense as expressed in a division, and that occasion would be afforded by every debate. A Motion would be made to adjourn, the Government would oppose it, and there would be a majority. But how was the Speaker to act? If it was a bare majority, he presumed the Speaker would not accept that as the sense of the House; and if it was a large majority, there would, of course, be no difficulty. If it were a Ministerial majority, whether large or small, it would give rise to insinuations and complaints against the conduct of the Speaker, and would put the Speaker in a position which he never ought to occupy. He therefore strongly objected to the initiative resting with the Chair. He gave full credit to the Government for endeavouring to cover such a Resolution in every way, by means of protecting the Motion from any suggestion of Party Spirit whatever; but he thought when the question was further advanced the House would arrive at a better means of deciding what was the "evident sense of the House." When they had to consider the Motions of the hon. Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) and of other hon. Members who proposed that the evident sense must be a preponderating sense, that was a question which the 1864 House ought not to shirk; they ought to express their opinion decidedly as to whether the "evident sense of the House" was to be a bare majority, or one something more than even a Ministerial majority. He would not anticipate that discussion; but he thought it was a point upon which the Government might make some concession, and in that way many of the difficulties which surrounded the question would pass away. He earnestly appealed to the Government to consider that question fairly and broadly, for he deeply regretted that it should have given rise to so much Party feeling. It was a question upon which a great body of the House felt strongly that something ought to be done to prevent such scandals as had recently occurred; and he believed that if it was fairly considered they would be prepared, even though some risk might attend the question of introducing the clÔture, to sacrifice some part of their liberties for the sake of the remainder. The House was in a difficult position. They had fairly responded to the demand outside the House; and he thought they would be cordially supported in the House in some attempt to bring the matter to an issue, and that some concession on this point would lead to a satisfactory decision.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
was convinced of the necessity for taking some steps to prevent a recurrence of the scandals of last year, when they had Sittings on more than one occasion which lasted all night. These scandals reflected upon the dignity of the House, and ought certainly to be prevented from occurring again. If, however, the clÔture was to be introduced with that object, it should be made more akin to the old Forms of the House. It might have been done in some form of the Previous Question, thus keeping the initiative out of the hands of the Speaker. If, indeed, this Rule was frequently applied, a confusion would un-undoubtedly arise from its similarity to the Motion of the Previous Question. To the initiative being left with the Speaker there were grave objections. He should prefer to support the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. O'Donnell) that the initiative should rest with the Government. The Government possessed means of knowing what was the general sense of the House far beyond those which 1865 were in the power of the Speaker. It might be that a large number of Members were in the precincts of the House, and that they might take a different view of a subject under discussion than was held by a few Members in the House itself. Of this fact the Government would be aware, while it was utterly impossible for the Speaker to know it. With regard to the Amendment of his noble Friend (Lord George Hamilton) he felt in some difficulty, and he hoped that his noble Friend would not ask the House to divide upon the additional words which he had proposed. Those words were extremely ambiguous; and as they stood it seemed to him that the initiative might be taken by a Member who, by proposing a hostile Amendment, had taken the subject out of the hands of the Member who originally introduced it. He could not, even now, help expressing a hope that this Resolution might ultimately take a shape that would be less offensive than it was at present to a large number of Members of the House.
§ MR. HUGH SHIELD
said, he was surprised to find the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) and the noble Lord opposite (Lord George Hamilton) proposing to engraft upon the Resolution an expression of Ministerial initiative. He objected to that Amendment, because it struck at the safeguards which were proposed in the Rule. ClÔture pure and simple would never be defended; but the safeguards with which it was surrounded precluded the possibility of any dangerous consequences. What was the action which the Resolution called upon the occupant of the Chair to take? When the occupant of the Chair had arrived at the conclusion that the evident sense of the House was in favour of closing the debate, he might put that Motion to the House. How was he to judge of the evident sense of the House? He would avail himself of every means; he would not be excluded from attending to the noisy cries raised on this side of the House or that, though he was not to be limited to them. Access to the Speaker's Chair would not then, any more than now, be denied to hon. Members; indeed, the Speaker would be put in possession of the feelings of the House by all the means now open to him. His own fear was that the Speaker 1866 would hesitate to apply the Rule, even on occasions when it could properly be applied. That defect, however, the noble Lord was determined to cure with a vengeance, by proposing that the initiative should be absolutely in the power of the Minister. They ought not to hear any more about the despotic Minister after that; and although he was himself in favour of the proposal, he did not think public opinion was prepared for such a step, and, therefore, he objected to it per se.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, that when the Prime Minister introduced that Resolution for establishing the clÔture, he said that the Speaker was the pivot on which the whole business turned, and that on his initiative depended altogether the beneficial exercise of the Rules. Other Gentlemen had followed in the same strain, and had spoken of the impossibility of any Speaker becoming confederate with any Ministry or any Party, or taking interest in any Party manœuvres. They described him as a person who must always stand above the level of political factions and their controversies. Instead of indulging in grandiloquent language, it would have been well if hon. Gentlemen had studied the history of Parliament, which would have led them to a very different conclusion. Now, let him give the House a few historical facts. Take the first great Speaker after the Restoration, Sir Harbottle Grimston, an old Commonwealth man. No sooner had the King been brought back than Sir Harbottle Grimston went over to the other side, and on being presented to the King after his election to the Chair grovelled in the dust in such a way that Charles II.—a man not unaccustomed to flattery—said to him, "Stand up old rebel, and speak like a man." Speaker Charlton was supposed to have had a sum of money to give, up his Chair. Speaker Williams was fined and imprisoned by the Order of the House, and was succeeded by Speaker Trevor, who had a strange peculiarity in his vision—one eye looking one way, one another. He suffered the singular degradation of being obliged to put from the Chair the Question whether he had been guilty of taking bribes. That Question was instantly voted in the affirmative by the House of Commons, and Speaker Trevor was expelled from the House for corrup- 1867 tion. But he was expelled only to take his seat as Master of the Rolls; whereupon it was said "that justice was blind, but corruption only squinted." He was followed in the next Reign by the first Speaker Onslow—Sir Richard Onslow—who, according to contemporary descriptions, was a trifling, vain man, of ludicrous figure, and full of Party zeal. Speaker Sir Fletcher Norton, an organ of the Whigs, was a violent Party politician, and was at last dismissed from, his Office. He was shortly succeeded by Speaker Cornewall, who had an unfortunate habit of taking too much porter, which resulted in much inconvenience. In the next Reign two Speakers—Grenville and Addington—both left the Chair to mix in the very heat of Party politics; the one to be Prime Minister, and the other to be a Secretary of State. Almost in our own times Speaker Mitford was removed from the Chair by a new Government with an indecent haste, in no way creditable to the Whig Administration. Speaker Manners Sutton was removed from the Chair, because he had busied himself with the subversion of the previous Government, and had assisted with others in the formation of a new Ministry. The present Premier was in the House at the time (1835), and would remember these words used by Lord John Russell on that occasion—There was this fact that the political bias of the right hon. Gentleman had not remained entirely inert, but it had got the better of him, and had induced him to concur in acts, which, as Speaker of the House of Commons, he had much better have avoided.The next Speaker was removed from the Chair after a very short time, owing to the evil circumstances in which he was elected. These were some of the precedents which it was well to recall, because if they wanted to know what the Speakers of the future would be, they should take some account of what the Speakers of the past had been. The Prime Minister, knowing a little more history than his followers, took care not to allude to antecedents. The Prime Minister had asked them to accept his Resolution, because they had the assurance of the present Speaker's own character, and there, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman stood on better and stronger grounds. But the right hon. Gentleman had insisted on introducing into the de- 1868 bate the painful incident of the 2nd of February, 1881, and had called on them, on account of the action taken on that day, to intrust a large and elastic power to the hands of the Speaker. He hardly liked to trust himself to say what he thought on that occasion. He preferred to quote the words of the right hon. Gentleman himself—namely,You took into your hands the exercise of a power nut committed to you, either by the Orders of the House or the Usage of the House.In other words, the Speaker broke the law. He whose bounden duty it was to maintain inviolate the Usages and Orders of the House, violated them. [Murmurs.] He to whom the minority of the House, however small, looked for support, took a jurisdiction that was not given to him to suppress a minority. The Speaker had, in the Standing Orders of the House, Rules which were sufficient for the occasion; he had been appealed to in the debate to put in force those Rules and Orders which would have enabled him to suspend individuals; but he refused, and his Deputy in the Chair through that long debate likewise refused to do so. The Speaker was the master of every individual in the House; but he was the servant of the House. He had the right to check individuals; but he had no jurisdiction over the House that was not committed to him. ["Order!"]
§ MR. W. M. TORRENS
I rise, Sir, to Order. I have really borne this as long as I could. I hardly know how to express the sense I entertain of the repugnance with which I, in common I presume with the rest of the House, have listened to this attack on the person we most honour in this Assembly; and, even although it may be a matter personal to yourself, I hope, Sir, you will call the hon. Member to Order.
§ MR. SEXTON
On the point of Order, Sir, I only rise to say that, as the matter no doubt does relate to yourself personally, it may safely be left in your own hands.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am bound to say that, under the circumstances, I have not thought it right to interpose; but the hon. Member must be perfectly aware that the observations which he has ventured on lately are not relevant to the subject-matter now before the House. The Question is the Amendment of the 1869 noble Lord the Member for Middlesex.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, in the words of the Prime Minister, the Speaker thereby earned an additional measure of respect by the action he took on the occasion referred to, and that was now urged as a reason why still greater powers should be given to him. The Prime Minister used the words "an additional measure of respect and gratitude." These words were received with cheers; and he wished those who gave them had been a little discriminating, and that they had apportioned praise and blame to whom praise and blame were due. For he put this Question to the Government, and asked for an answer—Had the Speaker on that occasion any accessories? Had he any confederate on one side or the other of the House? ["Oh!"]
Mr. DODSON and Sir R. ASSHETON CROSS rose with the SPEAKER, to whom they gave way.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must again remind the hon. Member that the Amendment before the House is the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex, and I must call upon him to adhere to it.
§ MR. DODSON
I rise to the point of Order. I was about to rise when you, Sir, rose to point out that the hon. Member was not discussing the Question before the House, and also at the same time to express the feeling which I will take the opportunity of expressing now—that it is my belief that hon. Members on both sides of the House have heard the remarks of the hon. Member with unfeigned regret. ["Order!"]
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
On the point of Order, I also rose as you yourself rose some time ago; but, of course, your rising rendered my rising unnecessary, and. the point of Order having been disposed of, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dodson) should have made those remarks.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, he wished plainly and without offence, if he were in Order, to refer to the argument that had been used—that a certain action of the Speaker in the present Parliament was a reason why they should give to the Speaker large 1870 and elastic powers. It appeared to him that this must be relevant when the Prime Minister himself had alluded to this very incident. It appeared to him that an independent Member might also allude to and express an opinion about it without giving offence. The Prime Minister was supporting this very Resolution which he was now objecting to, and if the incident could be appealed to in support of the Resolution, he thought he might appeal to it in opposition to the Resolution. If, after this explanation, he was ruled out of Order, he would pass away from the subject. He wished to impress upon the House that he had been quoting the words of the Prime Minister, and he had followed the Prime Minister's argument almost sentence by sentence in referring to this incident. What he desired to impress upon the House was that they should not give the proposed power to the Speaker, because he might confederate with the Ministry of the day, with the majority of the day. He wished to show from this very incident that, so far as he could judge, the Speaker had confederated with the Ministry of the day, and that he had accessories in the House on that very occasion. He appealed to the Prime Minister to say whether he was not one of the accessories? An accessory was a man who knew that a breach of the law was about to take place, who did not disclose the fact, and who did not use his utmost endeavours to prevent it. He asked the Prime Minister whether he did not know beforehand that something was about to occur at 9 o'clock on that Wednesday morning? He hoped the Government would answer that question. It was a singular thing that all the Members of the Government were in their places at that unreasonable hour of the morning, when the coup d'etat took place.
I rise to Order, Sir. It appears to me that the hon. Member is not obeying the injunction received from the Chair, to speak to the Amendment which is before us. ["Oh!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member, I understand, is calling in question the conduct of the Speaker upon the occasion to which he refers. In so doing I cannot say I think the hon. Member is out of Order. At the same time, he is wandering very much from the Question, 1871 and I would seriously advise him to speak more closely to the Question before the House.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, that what he maintained was simply that, under this Rule, the Speakers of the future would be in the hands of the Ministry of the day; and he maintained that this would place the Speaker in a wholly false position. He drew attention to what happened on that occasion in order to show that, as far as he could judge, the Prime Minister was accessory to what was going to happen; for, as soon as the Speaker had stopped discussion, and had appealed to the House to give him greater powers, the Prime Minister pulled out of his pocket an elaborate Resolution of 20 lines, which exactly met the appeal of the Speaker. This was what made him think that the right hon. Gentleman knew what was going to happen. Yet the incident would have been of some advantage if it showed what surprises might be in store for us under the large and elastic discretion which this Resolution would give the Speaker. He feared that behind the Speakers of the future there would be a secret mentor and voice, invisible and inaudible to the House, telling them what they were to do. It must be remembered that the quality of the Speakers would depend upon the quality of the majority in the House which elected them; if that majority was violent, the Speakers would be violent, too. Under this Rule the Speaker would hold a somewhat judicial position. We were never able to get rid of judicial corruption until we abolished the power of the Crown to remove Judges at pleasure. Yet the Speaker would hold Office by the insecure tenure of the will of the majority; and, as we approached to democracy, did any one suppose that our political conscience, would be purer, our political methods less violent, our political partizanship less extreme? If we were to keep in the Chair Gentlemen whose characters were free from suspicion, we must dissociate their already arduous duties from the invidious exercising of a function upon which the fate of Parties and Ministries would in future depend.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
said, the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton) had assumed his favourite attitude of a poli- 1872 tical Jeremiah, warning the House and the country of the terrible plots that were being devised against liberty by the Prime Minister. His noble Friend rather reminded him of the description given by one of our comic poets of certain persons who went about asking—Who made the stocks to fall, and prices rise, And filled the butchers' shops with great blue flies?And the answer of the noble Lord always was "The Prime Minister." It was, no doubt, encouraged by his example; but the hon. Gentleman the Member for Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) had favoured the House with a quotation from Isaiah. For himself he should have been very glad to keep the ball rolling, and if only he could have found anything relevant in their works to have given the House a quotation or two from the minor prophets; but the fact was that any such attempt had been rendered wholly superfluous by the extraordinary histrionic performance of the hon. Member for Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton) to whom the House had just listened. In one of Mr. Dickens's novels there was a description of the old Court of Chancery and of an unfortunate man who rose at 4 o'clock every day, and, waiving his arms wildly at the Chancellor, said, "My lord;" whereupon the ushers ordered him either to keep his seat or to leave the Court, and this person was known as "the Man from Shropshire." Now, it was his rooted belief that, owing to the reform of the Court of Chancery, the man from Shropshire had found the place too hot for him, and had taken up his abode in the House of Commons. As for the debate on this Amendment, anyone who had listened to it without having read the Order Book would have thought that it referred solely to the question whether the initiative should be left to the Speaker or to the Government, while, in point of fact, that was neither the only nor the principle matter to be decided. Both the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex and the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) proposed to retain the words relating to the Speaker.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
Those words remained part of the Reso- 1873 lution, and yet, as he was pointing out, everyone would have imagined from the debate that that question was still unsettled, and that it was in the power of the House to strike them out. The real point at issue was more limited—whether the responsibility of the Speaker was to be sole or divided. Now, he demurred altogether to the description given by the noble Lord of the Office of Speaker. The noble Lord, following the views expressed by the hon. Member for Cork City (Mr. Parnell) in the last Parliament, had attempted to argue that the Speaker's duty was practically confined to expressing the sense of the House.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
He did not think so; but, in any case, that was the position combated at the time by his noble Friend the Secretary of State for India, who pointed out that the Speaker, as guardian of the rights of the House, of minorities, and of individual Members, had many other equally important duties to perform. He had no doubt that the Government, in proposing to invest the Speaker with new and important duties, were conscious of the fact that they were observing the Constitutional traditions of his high Office. The Speaker was always regarded as the natural protector of oppressed minorities and individual Members, and he believed that none of the right hon. Gentleman's Successors in the Chair would be likely to abuse that trust. A long catalogue had been given of the high crimes and misdemeanours of former Speakers; and men who had been supposed during the debate of the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) to have possessed all the virtues, were now declared to have been the corrupt creatures of the Crown. The hon. Member for Dungarvan contended that the clôture ought not to be put into operation except at the suggestion of a Minister of the Crown. As a private Member he protested against that most unconstitutional doctrine. It was one of the most important rights and privileges of Members of Parliament that, as Members, all were equal, with the exception that Ministers alone were privileged to propose money Votes on their own re- 1874 sponsibilities as Ministers of the Crown. The Crown, however, had nothing whatever to do with the Question before the House. The privileges of Members that were now being debated had often been asserted against the Crown, and there could not, therefore, be any more unconstitutional proceeding than to enlarge the Parliamentary powers of Ministers by the adoption of the Amendment. The noble Lord the Member for Middlesex made, indeed, a proposition to which the objection he had just made could not apply. But, then, the speech of the noble Lord, like that of the hon. Member for Dungarvan, was almost entirely confined to what should be the rights or duties of Ministers of the Crown in this matter; and, apparently, he brought in the private Member as a sort of bogey in the background, in order to meet the objection which he foresaw might be made, while it enabled him to make that great diatribe against the Prime Minister with which he favoured the House. He hoped, however, the Government would not make a greater concession to the noble Lord than to the hon. Member for Dungarvan. The private Member was not the man the noble Lord had in his eye; his object was that the Speaker should act in conjunction with a Minister of the Crown. But he would thereby incur the very risks to prevent which the noble Lord and his Friends pretended they were making this proposition. He would ask anyone acquainted with the ways of the House, whether the Speaker would be in a more independent position if he was to be looking to the right or to the left and asking either a Minister of the Crown or some hon. Member—perhaps the noble Lord himself and his Friends—whether the moment had come when he was to consult the opinion of the House, or if he was to act on his own undivided responsibility? This proposition, if carried, would make the Speaker almost necessarily the slave of faction, and he could not understand how it could have been brought forward from any wish to preserve the integrity of the Speaker's high Office and those traditions which were its glory. For these reasons he would most unhesitatingly vote against this proposition, and upon the most Conservative grounds, though he sat on the Liberal side of the House.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, that not many days ago the noble Lord who had just sat down performed with considerable effect the office of Jeremiah to his own Party; but when a political opponent ventured to make a few criticisms on the policy of the Prime Minister, the noble Lord was extremely indignant. The noble Lord found fault with his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex for having discussed the matter as if the words "Mr. Speaker" had not been already introduced into the Resolution. But the line taken by his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex was that the words "Mr. Speaker" had been unfortunately introduced, and, as it was not possible for him to strike them out, he desired to minimize the evil, and, as far as possible, take from the Speaker the initiative in this odious procedure. With regard to the two Amendments now before the House, his own opinion was rather in favour of that of the hon. Member for Dungarvan, because, while regretting that this machinery for the silencing of Members should be put in motion, he thought if it was to be done it should be done in the most solemn manner by those who would not only feel the responsibility, but who could be made responsible to the House. But, said the noble Lord who had just sat down, "who ever heard of introducing in such a case a Minister of the Crown?" Had the noble Lord ever heard of the Rules of Urgency, which were only to be applied on the initiative of a Minister? He did not find that the noble Lord had all those misgivings of unconstitutional action to which he had just given utterance when those Rules were passed.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, the whole of the argument amounted to this, thrash it backwards and forwards how they would, whether under the circumstances in which the words "Mr. Speaker" were introduced into the Resolution, the conditions upon which the Speaker was directed by the subsequent part of it to act would not oblige him to have regard to the sense of a bare majority of the House at any time. If that were not so, of course the initiative of the Speaker would be a great protection, and he would be the last person in the world to 1876 fear the oppression of an impatient majority. On the other hand, if it could be shown, as he thought it could, that the inevitable effect of the Resolution as it stood would be to tie the hands of the Speaker so that he would be obliged to consider the sense of a bare majority of the House, the case was different. That was the point upon which they were to make up their minds, and upon that point the noble Lord the Member for Calne did not meet the arguments of his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex. There was another consideration which had been glanced at by other Members. While the introduction of the Speaker's initiative was really no protection to one of the great Parties against whom the clôture might be applied, and while its necessary tendency was swiftly and effectually to degrade the Speakers of the House, it went far to deprive those who were aggrieved of that very ally which some found in public opinion out-of-doors. A great deal had been said of public opinion out-of-doors as a security against any abuse of the clôture in the House of Commons. For his own part, so far as Members had been recommended to betake themselves to the Press and to the platform when they were dissatisfied with the decisions of the House through the agency of the clôture, he must decline to accept that recommendation. As regarded the Press, it must be remembered that probably every nine people out of ten who read the newspapers only heard one side of the question; and it was only in the reports of the debates in Parliament that the whole subject was carefully presented to them. With all respect to the Press, therefore, ho could not consent to rely upon that as a protection against abuse of the clôture. Neither could he accept the protection of the platform. It was in the House itself that the protection must rest. It would be no satisfaction to a great political Party to be told, when a question was carried over their heads through the exercise of the clôture, that they might appeal to public opinion out-of-doors after the thing had become an accomplished fact. If the clôture now recommended for adoption were used in an unfair manner against a political Party in the House, they might appeal to public opinion out-of-doors, and if they did not obtain satisfaction, they might, at all events, have retaliation. The 1877 intervention and initiative of the Speaker as proposed in the Resolution practically would deprive them of the protection of public opinion out-of-doors, because when they charged the opposite Party with having acted unfairly, the answer would be that it was done by the Speaker in the discharge of his duty. It was therefore desirable, as far as possible, to withdraw the Speaker from all initiative in the position in which the Resolution now stood, because it was inevitable that the force of the language used in the latter part of it would compel the Speaker to adopt the sense of a majority of the House, and not of the whole House, as that "evident sense" on which he was to act. The words of the Resolution made this at least clear. His contention was that in the earlier part of this Resolution the Speaker was left entirely free to put what construction he pleased upon the "evident sense" of the House. He wanted to know what House? It was left open to the Speaker to take any point of the relative points of balance of opinion of the House—whether the nine-tenths, or a mere majority of 1. Whatever construction he placed on the latter words of the Resolution, Mr. Speaker was left entirely to his own discretion in the earlier part. Suppose—and it was not a violent supposition—that within two or three years another Radical Government were in power who thought it of great national importance to carry without delay some sweeping measure, the Minister of the day might consider that a Speaker of his own views would be worth a ton of argument. The minority would be placed at a great disadvantage, and Revolutionary measuress might be carried, and carried by a comparatively small and reluctant majority. It had been said more than once that the Speakers of the House of Commons held a position of impartiality which could not be found in the corresponding Officers in any other Assembly in the world. That was so. He remembered very well the incident which happened about eight years ago, when the present Speaker was elected to the chair by political opponents. He would remind the House that in 1874, when the Conservative Party came into power with a great and unexpected majority, it was in the power of the Prime Minister to name as Speaker whom he would, for any person whom Mr. Disraeli might 1878 have named would have certainly been elected; and there were men in the Party who might have justly aspired to that honour. But Mr. Disraeli had sat long in that House—and, whatever might be said against him, no one could deny that he was devoted to the interests and the honour of the House of Commons. He looked upon the position of Speaker as too high a one to be used for purposes of Party advantage. He regarded that position rather as a trust on behalf of all Parties in the House; and in the present Speaker he selected one whom all agreed was the best qualified to fulfil the duties of the chair. The Speaker had himself been a stout partizan of the Liberals; but his election was proposed by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), an equally stout partizan of the other side. The present Prime Minister, on that occasion, spoke eloquently of the Speaker of that Assembly as one whose position it was difficult for foreigners to realize. The right hon. Gentleman might have added that the scene which was enacted that day in the English House of Commons could not have been presented in any other Legislative Assembly in the world. He (Mr. Plunket) feared it might never be witnessed in that House again. On that occasion the Speaker had used memorable words to the effect that, knowing the House, faithful to its traditions, would sustain the occupant of the Chair in vindicating their rights and privileges, and in securing freedom of debate according to established usage, he would humbly place such services as he possessed at the disposal of the House. Throughout all the calamities that had fallen on the House in recent years, the Speaker's position had shone with undiminished lustre. It was because he feared that those who succeeded to that place would be elected on different principles, that he should resist the introduction of the Speaker's authority in the Resolution, as to some extent it had been introduced—that he should support the Amendment, in order to prevent those evils from arising which he foresaw in the future.
§ MR. W. M. TORRENS
said, he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken should have referred to the possible abuse, for Party purposes, of the Speaker's authority. He wished to resume the thread of the 1879 discussion as it fell on the 30th of March. It had wandered very far from the point. He desired to confine his attention to the Question before the House. On the 30th of March the House decided, not on any plan of clôture or rigid system of Rules for the future, but simply that the House was prepared to consider the recommendations of the Prime Minister as to whether any system of clôture could be adopted consistently with the ancient traditions of the House. Nothing more was decided—unless in the putting of the Question two or three words were added which were not essential to the Question. He put it confidently that the man who, of all men, had the responsibility on his shoulders—the Prime Minister—would readily and cheerfully, especially after his candid speech that evening, modify the Resolution before them if he could be convinced that it would be for the benefit of the House to do so, and it were in consonance with the feelings of the majority on the subject. It would be wholly unworthy of the great career of the right hon. Gentleman to do otherwise. He could not conceive that those who claimed to be a majority in the House would be easily induced to shut up nearly half the Members who sat there. He would not believe that the illustrious man, the last Predecessor but one of the present occupant of the Chair, whose name had been so often quoted as an authority for the Resolution—he would not believe that Lord Eversley would ever have advised a majority in that manner to shut up a minority, or that he would have desired the invidious duty of deciding, silently and without expressed reason, the sense of the House. It was not in human nature that a man should desire to exercise such a power. But what he desired was that the Prime Minister would not lay upon the Speaker such a burden as none of the Predecessors of the present Speaker ever assumed or were ever desirous to assume. All the Speakers of that House, from the Long Parliament downwards, whether good or bad, had considered themselves to be the spokesmen of the House and nothing else. The greatest poet of our language had said that the truest equality was not where all men were equal, but where all had equal liberty; and he would not consent that the House should place itself entirely in the discretion of even the present 1880 Speaker. There were some who would winnow the corn and retain the chaff. He was not one of those. He would be neither accuser, nor accessory, nor accomplice, nor adviser; but he simply claimed the right to have his future liberty protected against even the honest desire of the Minister of the day to get on with the Public Business and put down Obstruction. He was not indifferent to Order, and in the last painful Session there was no occasion on which he had not supported the authority of the Chair. He did not see what was to prevent the Whips crowding the Benches with the supporters of the Government, who might, by their conduct, overpower the judgment of the Speaker, and so influence him to call for the clôture when in reality it was not required. On the other hand, if they put upon the Speaker the odious duty of watching the House and of seizing a safe opportunity for the Government to choke an Opposition, he would never be able to disengage his mind from that day forward of the idea that it was a moral obligation on his part, a religious duty, to exercise that power. That would render him an object of fear and suspicion, and all confidence in his impartiality would disappear. At present he had no such power, and, therefore, they had no such fear of him. On the contrary, the humblest Member of the House had a free access to the Chair, and had as much right as the most influential among them to ask the Speaker for his advice and assistance. If they took that right away, and once allowed this humble man to think that he was looked upon with disfavour by the Chair, how could it be possible that he could any longer have confidence in him? The present Speaker had discharged his duty so impartially and satisfactorily as to disarm all suspicion, and to render hon. Members less wary than they ought to be with respect to what might take place in the future; but when, perhaps, one less worthy than he occupied the same position, who would venture to ask for his advice or to follow it? He therefore implored the Government not to impose upon him a weight too heavy for him to bear, and under which it was impossible he could stand upright. These proposals were not English—they were things of foreign growth, and he could not see how such exotics could grow and flourish in the 1881 fair atmosphere of England. Anyone who had been in the House an hour ago would understand from what then took place how hopeless it was to challenge the decision of the Chair. He would take a case. It was quite possible a small minority might become intolerable to the Ministers of the day. They, very naturally, looked to the passing of their Bills. The Speaker saw—he would be made to see without telegraphic messages or whispers, without nods or winks—that he would do a great service to the public if he would do what was called "shutting out the Opposition," and let the Business of the Government go on. The next time the minority might be larger, and they would be in a similar case. The Whips filled the Back Benches with steady followers; the Benches opposite were half empty, and thus they would be shut out. The next experiment might be the shuting out of a great political Party; and if ever they came to a day when they put the closure upon a Party with a doubtful resemblance in numbers to the present majority, then they might have a House of Caucus, but they would have no longer a House of Commons. He would go further. Unless they believed in the infallibility of the Chair, they must contemplate the possibility of the Speaker making a mistake. Did they believe that if the Speaker attempted to shut down the House, and failed, any man would have the same confidence in him as before? If there was a precious jewel which the House ought to preserve, it was the untainted and undoubted impartiality of the Chair. If they lost that, they were on the highway to lose the independence of the House, because they were on the highway to lose the personal individuality of the House. There was one other subject which he should not like to sit down without referring to. For months he had thought about it, and he felt that it was impossible to leave it unsaid. At an hour like the present, when there was such a strain upon the Empire, and danger was confessedly so near—when distraction was so deep, and allienation had become so widespread and so bitter, he could not shut his eyes to what seemed to him an impending danger—that when they passed the clôture, they would inflict the first great blow to the Union between England and Ireland. Let it not be sup- 1882 posed that he said this in exaggeration or in lightness. Members from Ireland were invited to enter that House in the proportion of 100 to 500. In spite of the protest of Mr. Fox, Irishmen were invited—he must say forced—into the Union in the proportion of one to five. One danger was indicated by Grattan in the memorable protest he made in favour of the national life of his stricken country. He said—You can have no security for equal freedom. There may be every disposition to treat you well; I believe in the honour of British statesmen; hut you can have no security in such proportion as you form in the House for equal freedom.To that Mr. Pitt replied that they might trust inviolably the honour and the generosity and the national self-respect of England. She asked Ireland to join her for better or for worse, and she would never put down or trample upon her because she was weaker, but would always listen and attend to her complaints. Mr. Grattan's answer to that should be remembered. He said—When I am asked on behalf of a weaker to trust irrevocably its fortunes and its liberties to the honour of the greater, the greater may have much honour, but the weaker can have no security.That day had, undoubtedly, now come within sight. For 80 years hon. Members from Ireland, however divided among themselves, however antagonistic in creed and in opinions, had found themselves at home in that great Assembly, and had never found themselves unable to obtain a hearing on account of their numerical inferiority. This he would say, that in 1801, with the bloodshed of 1798 still recent, and even with the unexampled bribery notoriously exercised at that day, if anyone had ventured to tell the Stricken, weakened, and emaciated Parliament of Ireland that they would be choked, and choked when they could not retaliate, no power on earth would have forced them to the Union. For the sake of the honour and the liberties of the House, for the sake of the legislation of the future, for the sake of their institutions, and for the honour of the Union, he implored the House to consider well before it rashly adopted a system of unqualified clôture.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he must congratulate the House upon having had from the hon. Member for Finsbury 1883 (Mr. W. M. Torrens) a speech which was worthy of the Whig-Radicals who had in former years been his contemporaries as Members of the House—men of the stamp of the late Mr. Wakley and the late Mr. Duncombe. They had heard how Whig-Radicals were wont to speak; and he hoped the younger Members of the House connected with the Liberal Party would understand that their Predecessors, who had studied the elements of freedom, were not satisfied with mere platform oratory based upon fallacies and not upon proofs. The hon. Member for Finsbury had clearly pointed out that this, which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had called a "trifling question" at the beginning of the evening, really involved the freedom of debate. [Mr. GLADSTONE: No, no.] If he understood the right hon. Gentleman, he certainly spoke of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), and the Amendment upon that of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), as involving a "small point." These, he believed, were the right hon. Gentleman's words, and he thought the hon. Member for Finsbury had shown that it was not by any means a "small point." He must say, also, that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan threw into plainer light the real meaning of leaving in the hands of the Speaker a discretionary power that was altogether unprecedented. When, on the 4th of February, 1881, the Speaker, in acknowledging the confidence which the House had placed in him by trusting him to draw up the Rules of Urgency, the right hon. Gentleman used these words—The House has intrusted to me great and unprecedented powers, and I accept them with a grave sense of the responsibility imposed upon me. I shall endeavour to carry them out in such a manner as to maintain freedom of debate, which is one of the most cherished traditions of this House, and at the same time to restrain any abuses of that freedom."—[3 Hansard, cclviii. 162.]The House adopted, at a period of emergency, what the right hon. Gentleman himself termed an unprecendented course; and on the 4th of February, 1881, when the right hon. Gentleman also presented the Rules of Urgency, he used the expression that no Speaker ought to use those powers unauthorized again. What the House was now asked 1884 to do was this—to make the measures, which the right hon. Gentleman stated to be unprecedented, the ordinary Rules hereafter in this House. On the 2nd of February, 1881, the Speaker, in acknowledging the confidence of the House in sanctioning the unprecedented power he had used in an emergency, said—Future measures for insuring orderly debate I must leave to the judgment of the House. But I may add that it will be necessary, either for the House itself to assume more effectual control over its debates, or to intrust greater authority to the Chair."—[Ibid.]The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had chosen the latter alternative without even attempting the former. He had preferred the clôture to every attempt to regulate debate, and they had before them the probability of the ctôlure in its most dangerous form. If the cloture could be made more dangerous by any manner in which it was introduced, it was by placing it first in order, and first for their consideration; so that every measure for regulating debate was postponed to the adoption of the clôture. It was evident that the Speaker considered that the House ought to have first discovered and to have adopted Rules for the regulation of debate, perhaps analogous in some degree with the Rules of Urgency, and not first to adopt the clôture, which was liable to the reasonable interpretation that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan conveyed. The hon. Member had, in that Amendment, put in plain light the course that would be pursued, if the Resolution before the House were to be adopted as it stood. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister did not like to have this glaring light thrown upon his scheme. The noble Lord the Member for Middlesex had a glimmering of the vice of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan. It would limit the clôture to the initiative of the Minister of the Crown, and the noble Lord proposed that the origination of the clôture might be exercised by any Member in charge of the subject under discussion. The effect of this Amendment was that, although in the right direction, it did not go far enough. Why limit this power to a Member who probably was in love with his own hobby? He (Mr. Newdegate) objected to both Amendments, but most to the first. Why should the House 1885 now, for the first time, increase the functions of the Minister of the Crown in that House? He saw that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister assented to that. It was a violation of the first principle of the constitution of the House, which was equality in the conditions upon which hon. Gentleman sat in the House. The Amendment proposed almost as great a violation of this fundamental principle as would be made by intrusting to the Speaker the imposition of the clôture upon the House. If any such power was intrusted to any Speaker, upon the solicitation of a Minister of the Crown, that would be fatal to the equality that had always prevailed among the Members of the House when once at the commencement of a Parliament the Speaker had been chosen, and on his demand the Crown had granted its time-honoured privileges to the House. The House then became Republic within itself. The proposal now before the House was in violation of the Republican principle of the constitution of the House; and it was for this reason that he, as an old Constitutionalist, assumed the position which was filled in former days by Mr. Duncombe or Mr. Wakley, and rejoiced to say was now ably taken by the hon. Member for Finsbury. These truths must be spoken, and it had fallen to his lot to utter them. All Members had equal privileges in that House, except that the Ministers of the Crown were intrusted solely with the right of proposing taxation. That was their sole rightful privilege. But now the hon. Member for Dungarvan had shown that Her Majesty's Ministers would arrogate to themselves another enormous privilege in addition to that which they had of right, as directly responsible; while the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex would make them share the enormous power only with the proposer of a Motion before the House—not always the most competent judge of the sense of the House with regard to concluding a discussion of his own favourite topic. He trusted, then, that the House would not invest the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair and his Successors with a power which must destroy confidence in their impartiality; for the wide discretion which it was proposed that they should continually exercise must generate at least suspicion. 1886 It was the clear duty of the Leader of the House to make the proposal regularly by Motion if the clôture was to be enforced in this House. They had known that right hon. Gentleman to abandon his functions on two or three occasions in the Bradlaugh case. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that he should leave the House in a helpless condition. But, fortunately, there was a Leader of the Opposition, who efficiently took his place. If the clôture, which he abominated, was to be enforced, by courtesy of the House, no doubt, either the Leader of the House or the Leader of the Opposition would undertake the ungrateful task of setting it in operation. It must be supposed that it was because this must be an ungrateful task that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister proposed to saddle it upon the Speaker. It was of vital interest to the House that the Speaker should not be compelled to perform invidious duties—duties that would render him or his Successors open to suspicion. It was of vital interest to the House that the Leader of the House should behave himself in a manner worthy of his position, and if he failed, that the Leader of the Opposition should take his place on every occasion when that might be necessary. He regretted to have to say it; but he ventured to do so, in the presence of both of the right hon. Gentlemen, that he had never known men in their position fail so entirely in guiding the House, in proposing such regulation of the debates as might obviate the necessity, the painful necessity, which was pretended for the ciôture. He (Mr. Newdegate) had ventured to give Notice of his intention to propose a method, which he, as an old Party organizer in the House, believed would preserve Order, and would preserve, by regulating, the freedom of debate. He had no right, however, at present to allude to that. But the House was in this position. Instead of following the order which Mr. Speaker pointed out in February, 1881, and endeavouring, first, to regulate the debates and the proceedings of the House, the Government had precipitated the proposal of the clôture. In fact, they had done and were doing nothing effectual whatever towards regulating the proceedings of the House. He supposed that they had not read that which was to be found in 1887 Mr. Hatsell's well-known and authoritative book on the precedents and proceedings in the House of Commons, or they had adopted a view exactly opposite to that of the author. As they all knew, Mr. Hatsell was a great authority on the subject of the proceedings of the House, and he wrote in his learned work to this effect, that the Ministers of the Crown always gained increased power when confusion prevailed in the House of Commons. He invited the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister to this statement of the learned authority to whom he referred, who had warned the House that the Ministers of the Crown always gained power by promoting confusion in the House. He (Mr. Newdegate), therefore, as an old Member of the House, did not take it kindly that the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had allowed the House to remain so long in disorder that it was losing the respect and confidence of the country. It rested with those right hon. Gentlemen, not with the Speaker, to renovate the means of preserving Order—it rested, in fact, with the House itself. The House had been brought to this lamentable strait by the attempt of these two right hon. Gentlemen to relieve themselves of responsibility. They were seeking, for the same purpose, to invest the Speaker with a power that was at once unprecedented and inconsistent with his Office. He (Mr. Newdegate) held that those who were the most responsible for the confusion that had reigned in the House were the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition, through not fulfilling the duties which, by the courtesy of the House, devolved upon them.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
It is not my intention to occupy the time of the House more than for a very few minutes, for, after all, the question before us may be discussed, I think, and disposed of in a few words, notwithstanding the somewhat lengthy debate that has taken place. Such Members of the House as were present when I last addressed it on this subject will recollect that I began my speech by referring to the exaggerated fears which Members opposite had somehow or other—I do not know how—become possessed of during their consideration of the question. I proceeded 1888 to show that those Members of the House—some on that side, and a few, it was said, on this—who preferred a certain other proposition—a two-thirds vote—to the proposal of the Government seemed to me entirely mistaken; that whilst they were objecting to the severity and strength of what the majority does, they themselves were in favour of what was much more severe. I think I proved that to demonstration by giving figures showing how the one course would affect a small minority, and how much more severely treated a small minority would be by the other course. Well, now we come to another point, and I have to express my astonishment at the view which hon. Members opposite have taken of the particular question submitted by the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell). The opponents of the Resolution are—I do not know why—actuated with a strange fear of what may happen to the House and to minorities, and. more especially, Sir, to you, the Speaker of the House, if the Resolution as proposed by the Government should be accepted. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens), in a very interesting speech, directed, I think, hardly at all to the Amendment, has pointed out, towards the conclusion of his speech, the tremendous pressure and injustice that may be practised upon small minorities at the end of the Session. Well, our plan, at any rate with regard to the clôture, as against the two-thirds proposition, is clearly more in favour of small minorities. But I should like to ask the House whether they think the proposition that is made in the Amendment is more favourable to small minorities than the one in the Resolution, as it is proposed by the Government? I think nothing could be more conclusive than that the Resolution, as it stands will be infinitely more favourable to small minorities than the Resolution would be if amended by the hon. Member for Dungarvan. The speech of the hon. Member for Finsbury, so far as I heard it—and I am sorry I did not hear the whole of it—was largely a warning against trusting the Speakers with the power of injuring the House, and damaging the authority and the honourable independence of the Gentleman who may occupy that Chair. That seemed to be the great object of his speech. Now, what 1889 is proposed by the Amendment—I do not know that the hon. Member for Fins-bury supported the Amendment? [Mr. W. M. TORRENS: Yes, Sir; I did.] Well, I did not gather it from what I heard of the speech; and I do not think anybody else gathered it. I know it was somewhat cheered by hon. Gentlemen opposite, perhaps in that sense; but then they are always very ready to cheer anything from this side of the House that attacks Her Majesty's Government. Now, what is it that the Amendment proposes?—because that is the real point we are to discuss. It proposes this—that, in calling into action the Resolution that is to be passed, an opinion should be expressed by some Minister of the Crown—I suppose the First Minister of the Crown necessarily, if he be present in the House—and the Ministerial majority, for he is the Representative of the Ministerial majority, and will not act contrary to the opinion of the majority by whom he is supported; and, therefore, the majority of the House, speaking through the Minister, is to call into action the opinion and the declaration of the Speaker as to when the clôture is to be brought into play. The idea that we are to keep this question free from Party seems to be entirely given up by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan, because, first of all, the most distinguished Member of the Party in the House is the Prime Minister. The most important portion of the House, as a Party in numbers, is the majority by which the Prime Minister is supported; and that majority, and that Minister, before anything can be done, has to intimate by standing up at this Table, I suppose, and calling upon the Speaker, and making an observation that he thinks the debate ought to close, declaring that the sense of the House is in favour of its being closed, and thereupon the Speaker proceeds to take his part in the transaction. Now, the hon. Member for Finsbury spoke about former Speakers being connected with great political Leaders, being on terms of friendship with them—some of them, indeed, I think he said, even taking part in debate, as is done by the President of the House of Lords. Well, we must be sensible, all of us, that if this matter is to be transacted by alliance between the Minister and the Speaker, then it is very 1890 likely, during the course of debate, that the Minister, by means known to all of us, can intimate to the Speaker that the time is approaching when he shall make a proposition that the debate shall close, and the Speaker, in all probability, if the Minister is judicious, if he has not pressed his authority too far, will take the hint; and if the Minister makes a proposition, the Speaker, in all probability, will support it, and do what the Resolution requires him to do. But by this you are introducing into a very critical matter—because we all admit, I as freely as anyone, that it is critical, and not at all, if it could be avoided, a pleasant matter—thatthere should be any limitation of the power of debate, or the prolongation of discussion in the House. But if it is to be done in any way, it seems to me of all ways the worst that the Minister of the Crown, the trusted guide of the majority, should take action, and call upon the Speaker to act. The Minister is not—I will not say an independent, but he is not an impartial person. The Minister has his majority, and he has his policy; he has his Bills and his Supplies; and all the great work of the Session, and some of it, as we know, difficult and crowded towards the end of the Session; he has every reason, for the purpose of furthering his own policy and that of his Party, to call into action this Resolution, probably far sooner, and probably far more often, than would be done if it was left entirely in the impartial hands of the Speaker. I agree entirely with the charming account which the hon. Member for Finsbury drew of the confidence which all Members of the House have in the Speaker. It has been so for the very long time I have been in the House. I have always felt there was no question in which I could not go up to the Speaker and take his advice, and I believe he would give me his advice in as friendly and free a manner as he would to any Minister of the Crown sitting on this Bench. But if a Minister whom we do not always like very well—[Mr. WARTON: Hear, hear!]—the hon. and learned Member cheers that sentiment—where, I say, we do not like him very well, sitting in Opposition, we are not very much in favour of some portion of his policy—we object to it—I should not like, certainly, if I were on that side of the House, and the late Government 1891 sitting here, that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford Northcote) should be able to get up, any time during the debates, especially towards the end of the Session, and that he should then call upon the Speaker to put in action the Resolution and to stop the debate. I believe the motives which would press upon the Minister would be ten times stronger, and come to him ten times more often, to stir him to action than would be the case if the whole power were left in the hands of the Speaker. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) surprises me very much. He says that the clôture is an abominable thing, or used some other disagreeable word. He has been the advocate for many years past of some measure of this kind, or for this object. I do not know why he objects to the proposition of the Government. At any rate, I can understand why he objects to the proposition of the Amendment. He sees, as I see, that the Amendment is the very thing that an unscrupulous Minister sitting on this Bench would ask the House to agree to, because it gives greater power to the Minister, it lessens immensely the power of the minority, it takes out of the hands of the most impartial man within these walls the decision of a very important question in which we are all, and in which minorities especially, are particularly concerned, and therefore I must say I am astonished that Members opposite should take the course they do. They took a wrong course, I think, upon the other question to which I have already referred, and I think now they are proposing what is much less moderate than that which the Government has proposed. I am not allowed to speak, of course, of the opinion of the Speaker in the Chair; but I judge and believe that any Speaker—the present one in the Chair or his successors—would prefer that he should be left to his own impartial judgment on all matters of this Kind rather than he should be subjected to the hints, the proffered alliance, the urging and stimulating of a Minister of the Crown, who might ask him, under certain circumstances, to help him out of a difficulty that might have arisen. If I were a Member of a small minority, or of any minority, I should like to take the course of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate). I 1892 would shut out the Minister from any extra power on this matter over that of any other Member of the House.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
What I said was, that I thought by courtesy the duty ought to devolve on the Leader of the House or the Leader of the Opposition.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
That is exactly what I understood the hon. Gentleman to say. The hon. Gentleman complains, and condemns the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and my right hon. Friend, because they have not done all he thinks they ought in a particular case; but surely if he leaves it entirely to the Minister of the day, and shuts out the Speaker altogether, then the question becomes a pure question of Party. Nothing, in my opinion, could be more unfair, and more unreasonable to a minority, and especially to small minorities, which, towards the end of the Session, are often the most troublesome in preventing the transaction of Business. Now, I put it to hon. Members, if this matter is to be done at all, if there is to be any mode of bringing a debate to a close by the general sense of the House, when that debate has been protracted to an unconscionable length, is it not better to adopt the proposition which the Government has offered to the House, a proposition, I say, conspicuous in its moderation, rather than, so far as we have gone, the Amendments offered—the Amendment of two-thirds, or that of handing over to the initiative of a Minister, or of shutting out the only absolute impartial authority in the House? I do not claim to be impartial at all. I am a Member of a Party anxious to do certain things, and am always very glad when we have a majority on a division. I do not complain of any man acting honestly and honourably with and for his Party; but with the feelings that we have against our opponents, and in favour of our own policy, I think the less this matter is intrusted to any Member on either side of the House, or to any handful or number of Members, the better, and that all that has been said by the hon. Member for Finsbury and others as to the character of the Speaker, and the manner in which all men in the House wish that that character should be permanently and for ever sustained, I think, wishing that done, it is our secure interest that to the Speaker 1893 should be committed this delicate power, and that all men in the House and every minority would feel that when the House has been called to decide the question whether a debate should be prolonged or not by the Speaker, and the decision was against the prolongation of the debate, I think he would feel he had been better treated, and more consistently with the character and practice of the House, than if the Leader of the majority of the House should get up and by his fiat should put a stop to the debate. Therefore, on the ground that those fears with regard to the minority, and those fears with regard to the effect of this proposition on the character of the Speaker are exaggerated, and without any sensible foundation, I think that the proposition made by Her Majesty's Government is one of as great moderation as it is possible to offer on a case of this kind; and, therefore, I hope that the Resolution as it is offered to the House will be sustained by the House.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he found himself in a somewhat difficult position, for while he disliked the hon. Member for Dungarvan's Amendment, he did not care very much for the Amendment to it moved by his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex. Yet, on the whole, he liked the original Resolution less than either of the Amendments. He had always held that it was unfair to place on the Speaker the very unenviable responsibility of taking the initiative in this matter. He thought the initiative ought to rest in the hands of the House, and that they alone ought to be responsible for whatever decision was taken. Inasmuch as the Amendment, to a certain degree, mitigated the evils of which he complained, he preferred it to the original Resolution. His objection to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan was that it raised an inequality that did not exist at present between Ministers of the Crown and other Members of the House. That, to his mind, was fatal to it. It was modified by the Amendment of the noble Lord; but he should not be satisfied with any Amendment, except one which would place the initiative in any Member of the House.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he should vote for the Amendment, because he was in favour of the clôture, and was anxious 1894 that it should be strengthened; but he could not understand how hon. Gentlemen opposite could support it. He was of opinion that you could not obtain the clôture by a majority unless some Amendment of this kind was added to the Resolution. The Speaker, when he informed the House that a debate had lasted long enough, would have to consider whether it was reasonably certain that the clôture would pass or not, because, if it did not pass, the Speaker would be in an entirely false position. He apprehended that the Speaker never would say that it was the general sense of the House that a debate should close unless he was pretty certain that there was a large majority in favour of it; and that was why he said this Amendment would render it far more probable that it would be clôture by a simple majority than was ever likely to be the case so long as the matter was left entirely in the hands of the Speaker. The effect of such an Amendment as the present would be to shift the responsibility from the Speaker to its proper place—namely, to the Ministers of the Crown. It had been said that the Speaker was the natural protector of minorities; but why, if so, did they not vote with him for the Amendment? What was the alternative proposed? The hon. Member for North Warwickshire had enunciated the very Republican doctrine that they were all equal.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he held that even in that House Ministers of the Crown were superior to ordinary Members, and they had special reasons and rights to interfere to bring a debate to a close, on account of the responsibility that lay on them alone in regard to the conduct of the Business of the House. Although he was anxious that the clôture should pass in a strong form, he would not vote for the Amendment as he proposed to do if the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House had stated that by that issue the Government would stand or fall, because, knowing, as he did, that the right hon. Gentleman had more experience in Parliamentary matters than anyone then present, he should be bound, under such circumstances, to support him. They had had two speeches from the Treasury Bench, one 1895 from the Prime Minister, and the other from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; and he must say he never heard two worse speeches from those right hon. Gentlemen in his life. The reason of that, no doubt, was because in their hearts they were not opposed to the Amendment. He felt, therefore, that he should only be supporting the policy they were in favour of by voting against them on this particular occasion.
§ MR. GRANTHAM
said, that the Resolution proposed that the responsibility should mainly devolve on the Speaker; but when they came to the latter part, and interpreted that by the speech of the Prime Minister, it was quite evident that the responsibility was to be taken away, and it was to devolve on the majority. The basis of the Prime Minister's speech was that the House had always been governed by a majority. The obvious conclusion was that this question was to be determined by the House independently of the Speaker. That being so, he agreed with the principle of the Amendment, that if the majority of the House was to determine the matter, it ought to be done on the responsibility of a Minister of the Crown. He objected to the Amendment as it stood, because if the initiative were left to a Minister that would make it a Party question. He wished to avoid that, and for that reason he would prefer that it should be left in the hands of the Speaker with some limitation. It was not desirable that it should always be a Party question. He believed in the independence of Speakers in the future, and he preferred to trust the Speaker rather than a majority or a Minister. The Resolution was inconsistent with itself; it was drawn on the principle that the Speaker was to be responsible; but towards the close it was provided that the question was not to be decided in the affirmative without the support of so many Members; and for that reason he said the power of the Speaker was taken away. If a majority was to have the power, it was far better that a Minister of the Crown should be responsible. For these reasons, he should vote for the Amendment, although he disliked it.
§ MR. HICKS
said, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had asked what the Amendment proposed. He ventured to ask the Government another question, 1896 what did the Resolution propose? Up to this time there seemed no agreement as to what it did mean. Did it mean that the initiative was to rest with the Speaker, or did it mean that it was to rest with the power behind the Prime Minister? The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had spoken of the Speaker receiving a hint from someone; if he had been earlier in the House he would have heard his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire say that the Speaker should receive hints from both sides. If that were so, how was he to be independent? The great thing was to have the Resolution made clear and simple, for, tyrannical as the Motion was, it was better that it should be passed than that they should pass something which no one could understand.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I do not propose to detain the House for any length of time; but I am anxious to say one word, especially in consequence of the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). It is perfectly true, I must say, that there is some difficulty in deciding upon the vote that we ought to give upon such a question as this, and for this reason—that we are entering into the discussion and settlement of a Resolution with the whole scope and object of which a great many of us entirely disagree. It is extremely difficult, therefore, when you come to judge the different points in the Resolution, to consider how far we ought to take one course or another with reference to the particular question raised. I confess I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) in the general view he expressed on the subject. I am not very much charmed with the Amendment proposed; but I think it a less evil than the Resolution as it stands, and I will explain in a moment why I think so. The difficulty that I feel in regard to the whole proposal is, that it is a proposal, assuming that it is to be a Resolution which is to give the power of closing a debate to a bare majority, which is essentially of a Party character. We cannot disguise that fact from ourselves. If you are prepared to say you would only give that power to a large majority, such as two-thirds, you would be obviously placing the matter on a wholly different footing, and giving the great bulk of the House, irrespective of Party, the 1897 option of saying that, at a certain time, they had enough of the discussion. But when that had been suggested, the objection was taken that you could not agree to that, because, if you did, you would be making the minority parties to a question which ought to be decided by the majority. The majority ought to rule, and that is why we insist on a simple majority deciding in this matter. But the majority means the Party of the Government of the day, unless you mean a snap majority—an accidental majority that happened to be in the House at a particular time. You can hardly mean that you are thinking of an accidental majority, but of the permanent majority of the House. If that is to be the case, and if the object in passing this Resolution is not to save time in irrelevant debates, but that you may enable the Ministry to go on and carry measures to which they attach importance, we have to consider what is the object of calling on the Speaker to originate a Motion for the closing of the debate. If the question were one which was to be decided according to the feeling of the great majority of the House—of the majority and the minority—then I could understand the Speaker, without imparting the least Party character to his action, might say—"I think the House is now desirous of closing this debate." But if that is not to be so, and the Speaker is to be called upon to ask the House whether they wish to close a debate when he perceives the evident sense of the House to be so and so, what is meant by the evident sense of the House? You have defined that by saying it is a bare majority. If it is, therefore, in the mind of the Speaker that there is a bare majority in favour of closing the debate, it may be fairly argued and defended that the Speaker is bound to put the Question. Let us take a case which may frequently occur. There is a debate of great importance, which lasts, perhaps, two days, and the question arises whether the debate should be adjourned again. The Government, or the majority, oppose it, and a large minority vote for it. The practice now would be that the majority, if they insist on continuing the debate, divided two or three times, would be sure to carry the Motion; but if the Speaker perceives that the minority were not in favour of adjourning the 1898 debate, he would feel himself bound to put the Question. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) shakes his head. I do not say that a strong Speaker, like the Gentleman who at present occupies the Chair, might not stand against such action; but it would be very difficult for an ordinary Speaker, subject to the pressure which would be put on him both in the House and out of the House, to refuse, in the circumstances, to put the Question. You, therefore, put the Speaker into an unfair position by throwing upon him the initiative; and I do not scruple to say that of the two proposals before the House, the less objectionable is that the clôture Motion should come from those who occupy a responsible position. I am, therefore, inclined to vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan. Not that I do not feel the disadvantage of putting the initiative in the hands of the Minister of the day. I can perceive cases in which the Minister would abuse the power of bringing about the close of a debate; but, of the two evils, I believe the lesser is that we should be entirely above board in what we are doing, and put the responsibility on the proper shoulders—these being the shoulders of the Minister of the Crown.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, that when he first saw the Amendment on the Paper he felt inclined to oppose it; but, considering it in connection with the original Resolution, he had reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that it was better, in the interests of the House, to vote for it—and this for two reasons. In the first place, he thought it would be a more honest way of dealing with the question. The object of the Rule, as he understood it from the description given by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington), was to enable the Government to carry out the program me which they laid before the country at the General Election in 1880. If that were so, then it was more honest that the closing of a debate should be at the instance of the Government, and it was not desirable that they should be able to shield themselves behind the Speaker. If they were allowed to do so, and the Speaker's decisions were in their favour, of course those decisions would be perfectly satisfactory to them; but if the Government made mistakes, and the 1899 decisions were against them, they could disown all participation in the matter, and say it was the Speaker's fault, and not theirs, that the sense of the House had been taken. The other reason why he objected to the original proposition, and preferred the Amendment, was because, if it were carried as it stood, it would revolutionize the Office of Speaker. Hitherto, the Speaker had only acted when called on—he had only submitted a Resolution to the House when it had been duly put and seconded. Let them take an extreme case. When there was almost an empty House—when there were only two or three Members in it—the Speaker did not, of his own motion, declare there was not a quorum; but he waited until someone had called attention to the fact. Therefore, in the future, if the sense of the House was to be taken as proposed by the Resolution, it should not be taken on the responsibility of a private individual, but on the Motion of the Leader of the House. For these reasons, he should vote—though most reluctantly—for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, that, after the discussion which had taken place, certain practical objections having been made to his Amendment to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dungarvan, he would not put the House to the trouble of a division.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 164; Noes 220: Majority 56.—(Div. List, No. 74.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir H. Drummond Wolff.)
It is certainly early to adjourn (12.5 A. M.); but, under the circumstances, I will accede to the proposal, and I will take this opportunity of stating in regard to the Notice given to-night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes), which proposes to recognize the Chairman of Ways and Means—being an Officer of the House—but to wholly ex-elude from the operation of the Resolu- 1900 tion casual Chairmen—Chairmen pro hac vice—that it is an Amendment that I think perfectly reasonable, and that we are prepared to accede to.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow, at Two of the clock.