Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Main Question [20th February], as amended,
That when it shall appear to Mr. Speaker, or to the Chairman of Ways and Means in a Committee of the whole House, during any Debate, that the subject has been adequately discussed, and that it is 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, 'That the Question be now put,' shall not he decided in the affirmative, if a Division he 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.)
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.769
§ MR. E. W. HARCOURT,
in moving an Amendment requiring the consent of five-eighths of the Members present previous to putting the clôture in operation, said, he had no wish to make another speech that night upon the same subject as last night. He thought, however, that it was such a serious matter for the honour of the House to be made a Party question that he could not help hanging upon it a little. He had been asked what his Amendment meant. Well, in simple language, it meant that in a House of 80 Members the consent of 50 Members should be obtained before clôture could be granted, and so on. Although it might be an acknowledgment of stupidity on his part, he must confess that he could not appreciate all the refinements the right hon. Gentleman had introduced into his Resolutions. Indeed, several of the right hon. Gentleman's Friends had asked him the meaning of them. He could not think the right hon. Gentleman believed that the Opposition was the least less tender of the honour of the House or of the economy of its Business than the occupants of the Treasury Bench. He would say that if the objects of the right hon. Gentleman's Resolutions were not confined to the repression of Obstruction, then the country had been deceived. If the country were canvassed to-morrow, it would be found that it never intended to furnish new weapons for the majority to use after its arguments had been exhausted.
In line 8, after the word "taken," to insert the words "unless it shall appear to have been supported by five-eighths of those present, and."—(Mr. Harcourt.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
said, he thought the House generally would feel that this question was but infinitesimally different from that decided last night. The House had rejected an Amendment requiring a majority of 66 out of 100 for the ruling of the question of the closing power, and now it was proposed to require a majority of 62. The hon. Gentleman must himself be disposed to agree that, in the main, the House had decided the question by the vote of last night, and that all the arguments used against the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gib- 770 son's) Amendment were applicable to this proposal. The House need scarcely enter into a system of regard for minute fractions. If they did, it would be necessary before electing a Speaker to the Chair to put him through an examination in what were known as vulgar fractions.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
desired to protest against the charge of wilful and persistent Obstruction that had been made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) against that side of the House and against himself. The hon. Member had instanced the cases of the discussion on the Bill to legalize marriage with a deceased wife's sister and on the Transfer of Land Bill. Such charges were wholly unfounded. The hon. Member had also imputed to him Obstruction in connection with the Transfer of Land Bill. He had thought himself entitled to take part in the debate on that measure. Perhaps the cost of the transfer of land did not appear to be a matter of so much importance to the branch of the Profession to which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton belonged as it did to other people.
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that although the hon. and gallant Member might, by the indulgence of the House, make a personal explanation, he was now travelling from the Question before the House.
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, he had been anxious to prove how impossible it was that the odious charge of persistent Obstruction could fairly be made against him; but he would not pursue that personal matter further. Turning to the Question before the House, perhaps the division of last night might be presumed to cover, to a great extent, the ground taken by the Amendment now before them. But he would urge that the large question of a proportionate majority was not exhausted because one particular form of it had been decided upon by the House, and that that question was one not unworthy of further discussion. With respect to the clôture generally, he regarded it as being undesirable, and as likely to prove destructive, to a great extent, to the character and prestige of their debates. He could not help foreseeing that the powers sought for by the Government, if some hon. Members opposite had their way, would be used so tyrannically as to produce a feeling of 771 irritation which would not tend to smooth the course of debate or facilitate the transaction of Public Business. It could not be said with any fairness that the Conservative Party, as a Party, had ever been guilty of Obstruction; and there were frequent occasions in the last and in the present Session when the Conservative Party, if they had thought it their duty to place Party interests above the dignity of the House and the interests of the country, might have abstained from affording the Government the assistance which they had rendered them. He thought it was unfair, therefore, for the Government suddenly to seek so to alter the Rules under which Party contests in the House had been conducted for generations as that they might carry on the game more to their own advantage. He entirely separated the 1st of the proposed Resolutions from the rest of the series, and he believed that if passed in its present form the 1st Resolution would create a soreness and an exasperation which would hardly facilitate the progress of legislation. By its agency a particular debate might sometimes be cut short; but it would probably tend to multiply occasions of debates, and thus fail to save the time of the House. Another and still more serious injury to the House would be, not that the Rule would affect the impartiality of the present Speaker, but that it would produce a doubt whether the Speaker of the future would not on some occasions, in spite of himself, be involuntarily influenced by Party feeling. In conclusion, if the present Amendment was pressed to a division, he would consistently vote for it, having previously supported the Amendment in favour of a two-thirds' majority.
§ MR. MUNTZ
said, he was at a loss to understand the attitude taken up by hon. Members opposite on this question. When he looked at the Front Opposition Bench, and recollected the intolerable Obstruction to which they were subjected four or five years ago—when he remembered that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) was obliged to admit that under the use which was then made of the powers of the House the conduct of Business would become impossible—he should have thought they would gladly adopt this Resolution. In fact, he should have thought hon. Gentlemen opposite 772 would have been glad to afford all the assistance they could to Her Majesty's Government in passing the proposals they had brought forward; for the time must come when they would occupy these Benches. For his own part, he was extremely grateful to them for bringing forward these Resolutions, and would give them his support. They all knew perfectly well that Englishmen would never part with liberty, and that, therefore, no attempt would be made to prevent the free expression of opinion. If anything of the kind were done, there would be such a whirlwind of indignation that it would sweep away any Government; and, in addition to what might occur out-of-doors, the House itself would turn out the Government of the day. He was not talking of anything that would take place while Mr. Speaker was in the Chair; but there might be a Chairman of Committees who would listen to the dictation of Parties, and take a Party view. There were even occasions on which it would be impossible for him to do do otherwise. He had paid a great deal of attention to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) and his proposal of closing the debate by a two-thirds' majority. The proposal was decided in the negative on the previous evening; but it was a proposal well worth debating, and he was very much inclined to think that it was much better than the one now before the House. The proposal before the House was one which was met by the provision brought forward by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey), and consented to by the Prime Minister, which gave security that there would be full play given to a debate before it was closed. Therefore, the House had ample safeguards for anything that might be done under these New Rules. He admitted that the proposals of the Government seemed to him to be unfortunately like a large net with wide meshes to catch the large fish and let the little ones through. Yet some measures were necessary, for it could not be denied that Obstruction had been rampant of late years. In former years the House never had its Business obstructed by 30 or 40 Members, and obstructed in such a manner as to render it unendurable. That had been the case lately, and he only feared that the Rules 773 did not go far enough, and would not have the effect required. He thought the Amendment of the hon. Member in favour of a majority of five - eighths would be a failure if carried, and for that reason he felt bound to oppose it.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he could not understand the objection of the hon. Member who had sat down to the principle of a proportionate majority, because, unless he was very much mistaken, he had seen a letter signed by the hon. Gentleman in favour of clôture by a proportionate majority.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
observed, that it would be interesting to know how the hon. Member had voted last night.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that the hon. Member, with great prudence, and with something less than chivalry, was unavoidably absent, and there were other hon. Members who shared his views who had followed very much the same course. At any rate, they would have been glad of some expression of opinion; but the hon. Member had been silent until the day after the division was taken, and thon said that the matter could not now be questioned, because it was finally decided. But did it follow that it was finally decided? The Opposition were contending, to the best of their ability, against the proposition which they honestly believed would be injurious to the House of Commons and the interests of the country, and they must avail themselves of every means in their power to defeat the scheme of the Government. The hon. Member had said the Resolution would not stop Obstruction. Did he think with the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), that the real purpose of the measure was the pressing forward of some drastic legislation through the House? If he was in favour of the two-thirds' majority, why had he not the courage of his opinions to vote in favour of the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson)?
§ MR. WARTON
complained that the Prime Minister had stated that if the proposals were carried the Speaker would have to pass an examination in vulgar 774 fractions. He should like to suggest one or two other mathematical problems of the same character for the Prime Minister's consideration. What fraction of his original majority was the number 84? The Prime Minister began with a majority of 176, and now it had been reduced to about one-half. There was no principle in two-thirds any more than in five-eighths; and he believed that they would be perfectly justified if they took every fraction that they could, and resisted from point to point this proposal which was intended for the basest Party purposes. The opinion of the Prime Minister with regard to proportionate majorities appeared to be very much like that of Dogberry upon another subject—that they were "most tolerable, and not to be endured."
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, if it were the policy of the Opposition to make use of every technical right which they still possessed to compel the Government to take the view of the country and the constituencies before that loathsome Resolution was passed, he could understand the object of the hon. Member who had asked the House to consider the question of a five-eighth Amendment. He certainly thought that the Opposition would be justified in using to the very utmost technical rights which, on the present occasion, were the real rights, not only of the Opposition, but of every independent Member of the House; but he had not yet attained to that exalted idea of the resolution of the present Leaders of the Conservative Party to imagine that for a single moment they would contemplate a determination half so desperate. If there was to be no real opposition worthy of the importance of the occasion to be offered by the Conservative Party, he did not think it was worth fighting for the difference between a five-eighths' and two-thirds' majority. The previous night he could not vote in accordance with the most deplorable decision arrived at by the Irish Members. Last night the liberties of independent Members of that House were given over, without hope and without mercy, to a bare Ministerial majority. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: Hear, hear!] As far as the Irish Members were concerned, their power of expressing their opinions in the future was absolutely dependent upon the bare Ministerial majority. The pretended pro- 775 visions for the protection of minorities were mere shams as regarded their practical effect. What a slight exertion on the part of the Government Whip would be required to get together a Ministerial rump of 100 Members to silence 20 Members! Though the provisions had served their purpose of gulling a portion of Irish opinion, they were arrant shams. It would always be easier for a powerful Minister to get together 200 servile Members, than for Ireland—poor, and compelled to choose her Members from the poor—to place 40 or 45 men in the House; and he also knew that it would be within the power of both English Parties to prevent the enlightenment of the Irish constituencies to that degree by which they would increase the number of their Representatives. Apart from the Irish Members, he would still remind the Conservative Party that, after all, they had not so very much in the immediate future, at any rate, to dread from the passing of the bare majority clôture. First of all, they had the guarantee of such a Speaker as the present, who was not at all likely to behave unfairly to them; and, in the second place, they had a guarantee that, in all probability, the Speaker's immediate Successor would be a gentleman who would remember what was due to English gentlemen. Again, there were these two powerful guarantees under even the bare majority clôture for the English Opposition—the guarantee of the opinion of the English constituencies, which, in all probability, might be relied upon to resent the improper use of the clôture against English opinion. And, finally, it might be a matter of special consolation to the Conservative Party that the action of the Government in erecting a Liberal majority into a chartered tyranny over the House of Commons would bring into a prominence which it had not possessed for centuries the ancient Constitutional Privilege of the House of Lords. The House of Lords would be a small guarantee for Irish Members; but, under the New Constitution, it would be the sheet-anchor of Conservative freedom. Even Radicals and Democrats would be very careful about using this tyrannical power against English Conservatives, as it would enable the House of Lords to come forward, and, with the applause even of English Democrats, vindicate the outraged liberties of English free- 776 men. It was a painful and a dangerous matter for the contemplation of Englishmen that such restrictions as those of the constituencies and those of the House of Lords must be exercised in order to protect freedom of opinion in that House. Still, as he had said, the position of the Conservative Party was tolerably safe for a considerable time to come; and if next year, or the year after, the half-jocose, half-serious statement of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) was carried into execution, and the clôture was used in order to cut short Conservative discussion, and to suppress Conservative liberty, they would find a remedy in the House of Lords and in the English constituencies. However slight might have been the liberty of Irish opinion in that House previously, and however slight it might have been under a two-third system of clôture, it was totally destroyed on the previous night; and the only hope remaining to the Irish nation was to look elsewhere than to Ministerial minorities and the Conservative Opposition in the House of Commons.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that if the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) entertained so strong an opinion on the effect of clôture by a bare majority upon the fortunes of his Party, he ought to have voted last night for the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). He was, however, perhaps, as not having voted for the Government proposal, the only Member of the Irish Party from whom those opposed to the intended degradation of the House could accept consolation. It was necessary that the House should examine the arithmetical puzzle involved in the latter part of the Resolution, and also that the country should understand the nature of the restrictions and impediments under which hon. Members would hereafter have to perform their duties. If anyone could be safely intrusted with the great authority which attached to the Chair, it was the present Speaker. But he (Mr. Newdegate) did not look with any satisfaction upon the prospect that the Speaker was hereafter to be a kind of an officer, invested, like a schoolmaster, with the power of putting the House of Commons into the corner. He thought, therefore, that if his hon. Friends deemed it fit to protract the 777 debate, they would do a service to the country, because he was perfectly convinced that no subject was less understood out-of-doors than the internal discipline of the House of Commons; and the more that was understood, the better prospect there was for a discriminating decision at the hustings upon the measure now before the House. In anything that concerned the great Assembly of which they were Members, their first duty was to maintain its honour. It had been acknowledged that hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side had been ready to support Her Majesty's Government when they thought the public interests or those of the House, which formed a large part of the public interests, were imperilled. He had known Liberal Members support a Conservative Government; and one of the worst effects of this measure would be the exaggeration and exasperation of Party spirit, until future Houses of Commons would forget the public interests and their public duties in a spirit of faction which had never before to the same extent prevailed in the House.
§ MR. CRAIG
I think most of us understood when we met last month that we were bound to discuss and to become familiar with the general principle of the Resolutions proposed by the Government, which we thought would work for the better regulation of the proceedings of the House; and it is lamentable to see that the discussion has degenerated into a mere question of arithmetical quibbles. We have had full discussion of the question as to whether it should not be two-thirds' majority or bare majority; now a question has been raised as to whether it should not be five-eighths. I must say that the hon. Member who felt it his duty to introduce this Amendment did so with good taste, and in a manner which consulted the convenience of the House and the dignity of his Party; but the speeches which have followed from the Conservative side are by no means in harmony with the spirit which animated the hon. Member for Oxfordshire. I think it is almost impossible to say anything new on this question of clôture. It seems to have been fully thrashed out on every point; but while the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) was speaking, it did occur to me that there was a possibility of raising a new point, and 778 it is in order to lay that before hon. Members that I have risen to say a few words. We have had the point of liberty of debate well discussed; and it was well asked by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) last night that Members should first define for themselves what is meant by liberty of debate. He said that if we had done so we should have saved much discussion. We have heard also from the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) that our object in assembling in this House is to pass measures, and not discussion. But the point to which I would respectfully call the attention of the occupants of the Conservative Benches is to define for themselves the legitimate object of discussion. There has never been, in my hearing, a word said upon that point. It is generally said, and I think universally believed, that the object of discussion is to elucidate to the collective mind of the House the questions which are submitted for its consideration; and I think hon. Members opposite might very beneficially follow out the further question, and that is whether that object is always attained or not. I think that everyone will be painfully conscious that that object is not always attained, and that simply because the time of the House is wasted by redundant oratory, by tedious repetition, by speeches which in no way elucidate the subject, but really darken counsel by words without knowledge. Now, Sir, these Resolutions proposed by the Government are intended, and I think are thoroughly well calculated, to remedy that evil; but hon. Members raise up this and that and the other quibble in order to prevent them being passed. Surely they must be aware, after what took place last night, that it is utterly impossible for them to influence one single vote on one side or the other by any discussion which, can now take place on this question. When these Rules are passed they will enable the Government to carry into effect the promises which they have made to the country, and of which the country has a right to expect the fulfilment. There are great questions awaiting legislation, as we were reminded on Wednesday by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill)—questions relating to the extension of the franchise, questions relating to the land, 779 and questions which will come to the front with reference to Ireland. The noble Lord gave his Party a very fair hint that unless they attempted to grapple with some of those subjects the little dyke which they attempted to raise against this Resolution would not be a very effective shelter, and that they would soon lose their position. It seems to me that their trust is already reduced to a spider's web, and the Party to a state of impotency. Well, Sir, I think that when these Rules of Procedure are passed, the debates in this House will be much freer, and there will be much more real liberty, and the legitimate objects of debate will be more effectually gained. They will enable the subjects brought before the House to be well discussed in their varied aspects. At the present time we find that speech follows speech with really and truly no result at all but to prevent [the House from understanding what is submitted to it. Now, I believe there are many hon. Members who come here with a sincere desire to do their duty, and who, from their special calling, or it may be from private studies, are well able during the debates on many questions to say something which would be helpful in enabling the House to understand the subjects under discussion; but they are prevented from speaking by men who spend most of their time in little else than trying to gather and scatter the flowers of exordial and perorational eloquence. Now, those men who would often be most useful in the elucidation of a subject are not the men who desire to shine as orators, but are men who would give their information in a plain, straightforward, and logical manner. No one can doubt that such Members are frequently prevented from speaking by others who know little or nothing about the subject, but who, as the Prime Minister has said, speak chiefly to please a section of their constituents rather than to instruct the House. No one can doubt the beneficial effect of any Rule which will check that class of oratory and give time for such speeches as I have alluded to, speeches which really stand very much in the same relation to a question submitted to this House as evidence does to a case for trial by a Judge in a Court of Justice, and which are essential to enable the House to comprehend and clearly understand the subjects 780 brought before them. There are many Amendments on the Paper; but I hope that the Conservatives will consult the dignity of their great Party, the convenience of the House, and the expectations of the country, by withdrawing them. That will do far more good than can be obtained by these fruitless arithmetical discussions.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had given the Opposition a pretty strong hint that there was no chance of their influencing a single vote by anything they might say. He feared that had been the case for many months past, and he believed the hon. Gentleman was stating, not only his own opinion, but the conviction of most, if not all, who sat on the same side. Nevertheless, he hoped that there still remained a small remnant of independent feeling on the other side of the House which might be disposed to look at the Amendments impartially and without foregone conclusions, and not to close their ears to every argument addressed to them from the opposite Benches. With reference to the observations of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz), the hon. Member represented what remained of what he might call moderation and freedom from prejudice amongst his constituents; and he did not desire to attack the action of the hon. Member last night in not taking part in the division. The hon. Gentleman had very candidly informed them that he held opinions in favour of clôture by proportionate majority, and still entertained them, but was unavoidably absent from the division last night. No doubt, he was called upon to consult with an important political body, whose mainsprings were within the limits of his own constituency, and so was unable to be in the House.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he was sorry this had been the case; but he was glad that the report of the cause had been denied. The absence of the hon. Gentleman, however, not only deprived the Opposition of one vote, but a very important vote, carrying with it the mind, of a large constituency. Surprise had been expressed that the Opposition were 781 opposing the adoption of some method of closing a debate, considering the difficulties they had themselves had to encounter in a previous Parliament, with, he was bound to observe, very little support from the then Opposition Leaders; but it had been admitted in the speeches made in support of Amendments that Obstruction must be met in some way. He never had been in favour of a two-thirds' clôture, and he felt no great grief at the rejection of the Amendment proposing it; but he supported it, as his hon. Friends did, because he considered it less objectionable than the Resolution. It was avowed now that its object was not to put down illegitimate Obstruction, but to enable the Government of the day to carry measures in the teeth of legitimate opposition. The avowal, reiterated by several Members, remained with out reproof from the Treasury Bench. The Mover of the present Amendment had done well to give the House one more opportunity of reconsidering the unfortunate position arrived at. Without going into arithmetical puzzles, the hon. Member had stated the case in such a way as to present an alternative to Members, who might have objected to the two-thirds' Amendment, to support this; and he trusted there would be some who would avail themselves of the opportunity.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, that the hon. Member (Mr. O'Donnell), in the speech he had a short time ago delivered, declared that the Irish Party in voting last night against the two-thirds' majority Amendment had acted under a delusion. He (Mr. Macfarlane) wished to explain that he was subject to no delusion on the subject. In the vote he gave he acted solely on the principle of Samson, who pulled down the house upon himself in order that he might at the same time overwhelm a large number of the Phillistines. He had been asked by some Conservatives—"What better will you be by giving your vote against the Amendment, and helping the Government to get a bare-majority clôture?" He had replied—"We shall be no better, but you will be much worse." It was on that principle he voted, and on no other.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
contended that the arguments had shown very clearly that the 1st Resolution of the Government was addressed not so 782 much to put down Obstruction as to bring about the close prematurely of a debate. The Resolution was intended to act upon individual Members; but the Rules which were constructed in the last Parliament were quite sufficient for the purpose of putting a stop to Obstruction. After the arguments which had been addressed to them, was it not clear that Members would be less oppressed by a numerical majority than by a bare majority? Some hon. Members repudiated the idea that the House of Commons could ever possibly be subjected to demoralization; and yet it had been stated by the Prime Minister that the House had actually suffered demoralization during the last three or four years. In fact, that was the chief ground on which the arguments in support of the Resolution were based. What had happened in countries where clôture by a bare majority prevailed? In the French Assembly there had been the greatest demoralization. During the past 10 or 15 years important debates had been closed there by the votes of bare majorities after exceedingly brief discussions. Debates had been closed in the most tyrannical manner, and the result was that French minorities looked for the redress of grievances, not to Constitutional means, but to the violent methods of revolution. If, as they were often told, this system of clôture was to be applied in order to pass a series of drastic revolutionary measures through the House, they would, sooner or later, find a tendency in English political life to look to revolutionary and not to Constitutional methods for a remedy. The mistakes committed by the Prime Minister in his various speeches, with regard to Colonial precedents, afforded a considerable argument against trusting the right hon. Gentleman on other questions. The right hon. Gentleman deliberately stated that the clôture by a bare majority prevailed in the majority of the Colonies of England; whereas, in fact, it only prevailed in one. In two Colonies this clôture had been tried and abandoned; and the Cape Legislature had come to the conclusion that it was better to trust to the good sense of the House than to resort to unconstitutional methods of clôture. He believed that there had been a real re-action in that House against Obstruction, and that it would require only a little more patience to 783 bring all sections of this House to the conviction that it was neither wise nor dignified, nor likely, in the long run, to prevail. He considered that the country was over-legislated for; but even if more legislation were desired it should be remembered that for centuries they had got on very well without any unnatural clôture. Suppose some measures did take more than a month or even a Session to pass, was it such a very desperate state of things after all? There was no country which resembled more the political life of England than Hungary, and there clôture did not prevail; and many countries which had adopted the clôture allowed Members, when it was submitted to the House, to vote by ballot, and this, of course, made a great deal of difference. He had little doubt that if this clôture by a bare majority were carried it must tend to demoralize the public life of this country, to degenerate the Office of Speaker, and to destroy freedom of speech and fulness of discussion. Therefore, he welcomed the Amendment as the lesser of two evils. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had taken a leaf out of the book of the Prime Minister, and had learnt to prefer ingenuity and sophistry to genuine arguments. The noble Lord had argued from a Party point of view, and he was sorry there appeared to be a general idea prevalent that this clôture would be generally enforced as a Party weapon. He was afraid that the prediction of the noble Lord was only too likely to be realized, and that the clôture would be put into frequent operation. He protested against the Conservative party looking forward to the exercise of a bare majority clôture. But if the Front Benches were agreed on a particular application of the Rule there would be no doubt that the Rule ought to be applied. The second argument of the noble Lord was that he would never be a party to the suppression of Irish national feeling in that House. He did not believe there was any desire in any Party to do so. But the question was whether the Party which had been guilty of Obstruction did represent a genuine national feeling. He imagined that many speeches of the noble Lord might be quoted which took a very different view from that which he had expressed on Wednesday. But he certainly did not believe that Irish 784 national feeling would be so likely to be suppressed under a two-thirds' or a five-eights' as under a bare majority; and on these grounds he should vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. DALY
failed to conceive how any useful purpose could be served by discussing the Amendment, after the rejection of the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). An hour and a-half of the time of the House had already been wasted, and that waste of time, to some extent, constituted a breach of the Privileges of the House. The raison d'être of the Rule and of the Amendment was to put down Irish Obstruction. But what was called Obstruction by English Members was rightful resistance not only for freedom of speech in that House, but for the liberties of Ireland. He had voted with the Government last night, not for any love of the Government, but because he saw that the Conservatives voted from a mean desire to save themselves from clôture, and a strong desire to suppress the Irish Party. But Irishmen were not to be led into the trap. The Government had put on a semblance of respect for the rights of minorities; but whenever Irish Members made themselves obnoxious, a House of the requisite number would soon be found to suppress them. He believed the Rule would tend to the degradation of Speakers, and that the present occupant of the Chair would be the last high-minded and impartial official who would sit there. At the present moment the screw from Birmingham was being put on Members opposite. Pressure from the Caucus was being exercised. In the face of all this, the duty of Irish Members was clear. He would rather have voted against the Government, if the Conservative Party, instead of making a miserable compromise to shelter themselves, had met the question in a proper stand-up fashion, with a decided negative. [Mr. WARTON: So we shall.] Yes; but it would have become them better if they had done so at first, and have had some regard for the feelings of the Irish Members, on whom, however, after all, the clôture would be found to press less heavily than on themselves. He was a determined opponent of the clôture in any form; but they had voted with the Government because they ob- 785 jected to the attitude of the Conservative Party. Their object was, he believed, to retain for themselves freedom of speech while they crushed the Irish section.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he would not have addressed the House but for the speech on the previous evening of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). He desired to deny that in the action of the Conservative Party there was any desire to burke the Irish National Party. Whenever he had spoken on the subject he had always declared that their objections were to the clôture as a whole, and that they were determined by every means in their power to oppose the steps that were being taken to silence the Conservative Party. That such was the intention of the Government it was impossible to doubt, for it had been let out as clearly as possible. They did not care whether they damaged the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees, as their only aim and object in introducing the clôture was to pass those measures which Liberal Caucuses had determined should be passed, by providing a weapon by means of which these might be forced down the throats of the Conservative Party. As regarded the Irish Party, he had always felt that it was their right to make known their views with regard to the country they represented, and he thought that Party had erred in taking the course they had done on the previous evening, instead of trusting the Conservative Party. They would find that in trusting to the so-called safeguards of the clôture they were leaning on a broken reed, as when it came to the point all those safeguards would be swept away, and it would turn out that the clôture was a weapon forged at the expense of Ireland as well as of this great country.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) made a mistake if he imagined that the Irish Party trusted the Government. They trusted no Party in the House. Both Parties, one after the other, had governed Ireland during the past 80 years, and the misfortunes of the country were as much due to one as to the other. He was ready to acknowledge the consideration shown personally by the hon. and gallant Gentleman towards Irish Members; but 786 when creditable intentions were claimed for the Conservative Party towards the Irish Party, he could only say that he judged Conservatives by the rational inference to be drawn from their acts. The Government had proposed a Rule of clôture which would undoubtedly enable the Party in power to put to silence at any time either the regular or irregular Opposition. The Conservative Party had, however, proposed a clôture which would allow freedom of speech on their part, but would put Irish Members to silence. The clôture which they proposed would put in the hands of the right hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) the practical control of the House. Therefore, the attitude of the Conservative Party was an attitude cynical, selfish, and atrocious. The Irish Members in the House had the moral rights of a small party of men struggling for their rights, and the right of speaking, and it would not be denied them by honest men in the House. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) was leading the English Tory Party on a false and evil path. He was there as the advocate and champion of the landlord class who had endeavoured to keep the people of Ireland under their feet; and it was in the interest of that class that he had misled the English Tory Party by the adoption of a Rule which had alienated from them the support of the Irish Party. They had no choice, as honourable men, but to give the vote they gave last night. They were sufficiently Christian to desire to extend to the Conservative Party the salutary discipline which that Party were so willing to give them. When the time came for considering the policy of the Government on its own merits, they would be prepared to show that sentiment which he believed was in the heart of every Irish Member of the House, that they trusted neither Party, but longed for the time when they should be emancipated from both.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) had given the House reasons for his supporting the Government, and the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), determined not to be out-done, turned, upon him (Mr. Gibson), and tried to destroy him. He desired to evidence as plainly as he could that there were still some 787 remnants of life left in his possession. It was nothing short of a misreading of the whole position to assume that in proposing the two-thirds' majority he had in his mind an idea so absurd as to interfere in the slightest degree with anyone in the House. He was fighting what he conceived to be a battle on the part of the liberty of free discussion and free debate, and he advocated that in the interests of all parts of the House alike. When the hon. Member suggested that he (Mr. Gibson) was speaking as the spokesman of a minority in Ireland, he desired to point out that that was not a controversy in the slightest degree involved. But if it was to be gone into at all, he desired to indicate that the hon. Member himself was not particularly strong on that subject; because they were credibly informed by all the organs of public information that it was only by the casting vote of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), who had forgiven a great deal to the present Government, that the accident was brought about that the United National Irish Party supported the Government. Supposing the vote of those who opposed the action of the hon. Member for the City of Cork was taken into account, he did not think it would be found that the hon. Member for Sligo was entitled to pose as the Representative of a united Irish Nation.
said, he fully concurred with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's (Mr. Gibson's) remarks in respect to the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) as regarded that hon. Member's attack upon the Conservative Party. He also thought the hon. Member was not entitled to take so much credit to the Irish Party for voting, as they were compelled to vote by their present Leader; because, when the debate closed last night, an hon. Member below him (Mr. Callan) stood up and—
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he would remind the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Macartney) that the Question before the House was the Amendment of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt). The hon. Member must confine himself to it.
said, he was only following the example which had been shown him. But if no answer was to be given to the allegation that the Conservative Party was constantly treading 788 the Irish Party down, of course, he would not persue that subject farther, but would say a few words on the Amendment. He agreed with the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Muntz) that the effect of the Rule would be to crush the small minorities, while letting the large ones go free. It was a remarkable fact that under the Resolution, as it stood, the same majority of 201 was required to put to silence a minority of 200, that was required to put to silence a minority of 40. The prevailing impression seemed to be that if the Resolution were adopted, no opposition would be silenced by the Government if there were 40 Members in it, and that the power would be exercised by the Speaker alone, of his own motion, without any suggestion being offered by anybody else. That, however, was a mistake. Anyone who had seen the practice abroad, as he (Mr. Macartney) had, would know that in foreign Assemblies, where the clôture existed, it was never brought about by the President of the Assembly, but was always initiated by some Member of the House; and, in some instances, from 20 to 40 Members were required to rise in their places and demand that it should be put into operation before it could be enforced. The country had been greatly misled with regard to the subject; for the fact was that this Resolution was proposed with the view not of putting down Obstruction, but of facilitating Government Business, and the sooner the country understood that fact the better.
§ MR. HICKS
said, that new matter was continually cropping up in the course of this discussion, and it was the duty of hon. Members to let the country know what were the real objects of this measure. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had said, the other night, that this proposal would have met with but very little support from hon. Members opposite had it been introduced by the Leaders of the Tory Party; but the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in reply, had treated that as an argument which he met with what he perhaps thought a novel and convincing style of answer, and he thereupon asked how many of those sitting on the Opposition side would have opposed it had it been brought forward by the last Government? This mode of argument 789 reminded him (Mr. Hicks) of his school days. But the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin had used no such argument, but had simply challenged those on the Government side. That challenge had not been met. But he would meet the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. For his own part, and on behalf of those who sat near him, he (Mr. Hicks) was convinced that had the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition brought forward such a proposal when his Party was in power, those sitting below the Gangway on the Opposition side of the House would have been the first to oppose it. If he should have the honour of having a seat in that House when next the Conservative Party came into Office, he would be one of the first to vote for the immediate repeal of this most tyrannical Rule. Hon. Members on that side had been censured for supporting these Amendments to protect themselves, whilst they were not ready to protect small minorities. He denied the charge. The fact was, the Opposition was placed at a disadvantage. They had to deal with a Resolution instead of a Bill, and so had not had any opportunity of opposing the principle, as in a second reading, but were now dealing with it as in Committee. It was their duty to try and make it less objectionable; but, whether they succeeded or not, when the time came they would oppose it upon principle.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he must remind the hon. Member that he must confine his remarks to the Amendment before the House.
§ MR. HICKS
said, that, whether the Amendment were adopted or not, the Resolution ought never to be permitted to be used for the purpose of putting a stop to legitimate discussion. He supported the Amendment, as one of the means of minimizing the evil effects of the clôture, after the attempt to obtain a two-thirds' majority had failed. It was the duty of the Conservative Party to endeavour to effect that.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 70; Noes 146: Majority 76.—(Div. List, No. 357.)
§ MR. MACFARLANE,
in moving, as an Amendment, to leave out, in line 9 of the Resolution, the words "to have 790 been supported by more than 200 Members," in order to insert—That the number of Members voting in the affirmative exceeds 200, and that it has been opposed by less than 200,said, it was intended to make more clearly what the meaning of the 1st Resolution was. As regarded it, he had found in the Lobby no less than six different interpretations of what the Resolution really meant. He supposed it conceivable, and the fact was, that many people believed the meaning of the latter part of the Resolution to be that if a Motion for the clôture should be supported by 200 Members, it would be carried in spite of the fact that it bad been opposed by more than 200, say, for instance, 300.
In line 9, to leave out the words "to have been supported by more than two hundred Members," and insert "that the number of Members voting in the affirmative exceeds two hundred,"—(Mr. Macfarlane,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'to have been supported by more than' stand part of the Question."
said, he did not believe that the words of the Resolution presented any difficulty whatever, or that they were at all ambiguous as they stood. The hon. Member (Mr. Macfarlane) was apprehensive that, under the wording of the Rule, the clôture might be passed by 200 Members, although a still larger number should vote against it. There was, of course, no foundation for such an apprehension, for the statement in the Resolution was, that the Question should not be declared to have been decided in the affirmative, unless it should have been supported by 200 Members. If more than 200 Members should have voted against it, of course, it could not have been decided in the affirmative. If it were supported by 200 Members, it would then come under the general law of the House, and would be declared in the affirmative if the number was a majority, and would be negatived if it was a minority.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
MR. ASHTON DILKE
moved, as an Amendment, in line 9, to leave out everything after "more than," and to insert 791 "150 Members." The hon. Member said, its effect would be to strike out the provisions of the Government as to Houses of under 200 and 100 Members respectively, and simply to give the power of closing a debate if 150 Members gave consent to it. He thought the Government would find it to their advantage to have, instead of what was called an arithmetical puzzle, some clear and intelligible proposition which could be understood at first sight. By adopting some such number as he proposed, they would get rid of the proportional vote.
In line 9, to leave out from the word "than," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "one hundred and fifty Memhers,"—(Mr. Ashton Dilke,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'two hundred' stand part of the Question."
said, he would submit that there was something in the nature of a principle in the distinction they had drawn. The Government thought the name of "small minorities" must be justly held to include numbers greater than 40; because the number of 40 was not a number of itself competent to transact Business at all, and, that being so, they thought it fair to give it no further protection than was required by having 100 constituting the majority against it. If the House was constituted with a number competent to do Business, they provided the number of 200. That was the reason for the two-fold division. Every number of a minority, from 40 up to 149, would stand in a position of much worse protection if the Amendment were carried than would be the case by the recommendation of the Government. His hon. Friend would give more protection to a minority under 40, which had got enough already, while it diminished for all minorities between 40 and 150 the protection which the Government had given, and which they did not think excessive. He admitted the Amendment possessed the advantage of simplicity; but thought, on the whole, the Government proposal was the more equitable.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.792
§ MR. SALT
moved, as an Amendment, inline 9, to substitute "300" for "200" as the number of Members who should be required to vote in the majority before the Rule should be put in force. While admitting the strength of the argument that questions should be decided by a simple majority, he thought it a very serious departure from the usual custom of the House to fix any particular number at all; but, since a number was to be fixed, he thought that 300 would be more useful than 200. It was said that the clôture would never be put in force by a mere Party vote. Now, 200 might often represent a mere Party Vote, while 300, while it might do so occasionally, would always represent a definite and careful expression of "the sense of the House," for such a number of Members could not be brought together without thought and care and considerable trouble; and it might be better to rely on a simple number than on a proportion, such as two-thirds. Again, the limit of 200 would not be sufficient to meet the demands of the case. If the larger number were adopted, it would clear away many of the difficulties and some of the seeming injustice connected with the aplication of the clôture. It would probably be needless to retain the complicated provisions in the latter portion of the Resolution. He did not entertain much hope of persuading the Prime Minister to accept the Amendment; but he thought that if the safeguard were put at 300, it would afford enough protection to minorities without the complicated figures that followed.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 9, to leave out the word "two," in order to insert the word "three,"—(Mr. Salt,)—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'two' stand part of the Question."
said, he had listened with some curiosity to the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Salt), because, under the name of an Amendment of detail, he had proposed to sweep away practically—for every practical purpose—nearly the whole fabric they had been building up at such extraordinary length. To require a vote of 300 before the clôture was put in operation was to require that a number should be gathered together, for the purpose of putting it in operation, which 793 was not gathered together for voting purposes, he believed, upon the average five times in the course of the whole Session. It was not that the hon. Member meant to determine that the closing power should be put in operation during the whole of a Session; but what he meant was that the House would be in a state of impotence to apply it upon all occasions except those very rare ones. The Government had pushed things very far indeed in the Resolution, in the way of protection to small minorities, by extending that protection so far as to require in support of the Resolution 200 Members. If 300 Members were required, that would give absolute immunity, in almost all circumstances, for small minorities of 6, 8, or 10; because these minorities, in 19 cases out of 20, were formed in the Houses that never could, by any possibility, reach 300. In point of fact, it was cutting at the roots of the whole matter; and while the proposal had the aspect of an Amendment of detail, it would really stultify everything they had done and had voted. On the other hand, this was by no means protection of certain cases where a small minority ought to be protected, because there were cases requiring it. Take a case like that of Mr. O'Connell, when he proposed the Repeal of the Union, and had a long debate upon it in 1830. He (Mr. Gladstone) supposed everyone would admit that it would have been an extremely wrong thing prematurely to close that debate; but there were 300 men on the ground, and more than 300, for the division against him was more than 500. The Amendment would not only not protect the minority in cases where it required to be protected, but it would give protection where it ought not to be given, and make the whole clôture proposal unworkable in 19 cases out of 20.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he failed to see how the Resolution as it stood would protect a minority; but he would show how that minority would be protected by this Amendment. In the instance alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, Mr. O'Connell moved a Resolution of great importance, but failed to obtain any support, except from an insignificant portion of the House of Commons. But the right hon. Gentleman said it would have been a hardship if the minority bad not been allowed a hearing. How 794 did the right hon. Gentleman himself propose to protect the minority? The right hon. Gentleman admitted that it would have been an act of hardship and injustice if so small a minority as that obtained by Mr. O'Connell had been suppressed while urging a question of great importance. The right hon. Gentleman in making that admission had gone more than half-way in justifying the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), though, at the same time, he (Mr. J. Lowther) was bound to say that hon. Members on that side of the House felt it their duty to go further and support the Amendment of his right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote), which proposed the rejection of the Resolution altogether. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman's own arguments had afforded most material support to the present Amendment, upon which he hoped his hon. Friend would take the sense of the House.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he was free to confess that in this matter of the clôture he was inclined to put his conscience in the hands of Her Majesty's Government. The more, however, he heard of the discussion, and the more he examined the subject, as regarded the practice of other countries, the more he felt that the Government were right in pressing their proposal. If they were to have a clôture at all, it ought to be a real clôture; but it was quite clear that if the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Salt) were adopted, the clôture would be a sham, and could only be exercised on very rare occasions indeed. He was afraid that even the limit of 200 Members would restrict the operation of the clôture too much.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he was one who refused to place his conscience in anybody's hands, but claimed to exercise his own judgment. He supported the Amendment as being in the nature of a last appeal to the good, feeling of their opponents on the part of hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House; and he warned the Government that they would incur a heavy responsibility if they declined to accept the co-operation of the Opposition in revising the Rules of Procedure, and insisted on crushing them by a mere Party majority. He saw no reason why the Government should op- 795 pose the Amendment, for on all important occasions a Government was not worthy of the name if they could not get together 300 Members in a House which numbered some 658 Members.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he must point out that, if the Government would not accept that Amendment, or one of a similar character, some attempt must be made to define what was meant by the "evident sense of the House," because, on that point, the Resolution as it stood was perfectly absurd and hypocritical. It began by talking of the "evident sense of the House"—for the Government had insisted on retaining those words—and yet did not give any definition of what that "evident sense of the House" was to be. The House of Commons differed from foreign Legislative Assemblies, among other things, by sitting longer, and, consequently, many Members were absent. A certain proportion were generally in the House, another proportion were in its precincts, and could be summoned by the Division Bell, while a number more were at a distance. What, under those circumstances, was meant by the "evident sense of the House?" Did it include the hon. Gentlemen who had not heard the debate, but who rushed in at the sound of the Bell? If the present Amendment were adopted, it would be quite clear that when so important a Motion as the clôture was carried, it had been sanctioned by what was generally understood to be the "evident sense of the House." It would be ridiculous to say 41 Members represented the "sense of the House," when 199 voted against clôture being declared. If the Government rejected this Amendment, they would have to give their serious attention to the Amendment which stood on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie)—namely, that before declaring that it was the "evident sense of the House or Committee" that the Question should be put, the Speaker or Chairman must have satisfied himself that such "evident sense" was not confined to one side of the House or Committee.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he did not think the noble Lord's (Lord George Hamilton's) solicitude with regard to the "evident sense of the House" would be met by the Amendment, because the presence of 300 Members did 796 not at all secure the "evident sense of the House" that the debate should be closed. Supposing the House consisted of 600 Members, and the question rested on the casting vote of the Speaker, they could not say that 300, under those circumstances, represented the "evident sense of the House." The noble Lord opposite seemed to argue as if they could not have the "evident sense of the House" ascertained unless the House consisted of more than 300 Members; but the House often transacted Business, indeed, the greater part of its Business was got through, with a much smaller attendance than that. Hitherto it had been the practice to require a quorum of 40 Members; but, in introducing the clôture, the Government thought that 40 was too small a number, and that it ought to be increased. They had, therefore, taken a number which was consistent with forwarding the Business of the House in what was its ordinary state. It seemed to him if they had 250 Members present after a long debate, and the Speaker supposed the matter to be adequately discussed, that the matter might be put to a vote, and that that would be a much more "evident sense of the House" than if there were 301 on one side and 300 on the other. The Rules at present furnished no means of preventing a small minority from indefinitely protracting debates; and it was felt that the block arising from that cause, and from which the country had suffered so long, must be removed. But it would not be consistent, with their experience of the House, to require 300 Members to be summoned, in order to overcome the resistance offered by a very small section. The House which the Government had in contemplation by the higher scale was a House of 250 Members—a number quite sufficient to transact the ordinary, or, indeed, the important Business of the House. They knew perfectly well that Business of the most important character was constantly dealt with by a House not larger than that, and they thought they were taking a reasonable security when they secured what might be called a minimum House of 250 Members.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he was surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt) had argued that, while 10 or 12 Members might block the Business of 797 the House, it might be necessary for the Whips to bring down 300 Members in order to carry on the work of the country. If he would complete his labour of love, and read a little further, he would see that that case was provided for, as it only required 100 Members to defeat a minority of less than 40.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he had been answering the argument of an hon. Member who had spoken previously, and had purposely omitted to refer to the subsequent portion of the Rule.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he was not aware that that was the case. The great evil, however, contained in the Government's proposal was that, by its evident insincerity, it robbed the foundations of public morality, for it said one thing in decorous words, and meant another in the evident sense and intention of its authors. It would be the duty of the Speaker to gather something to be the evident sense of the House; but that, in reality, would be an impossible task, according to the natural and honest sense of the words. He would really have to consult the wishes of the Ministry, and all that he would believe was that the Ministry was supported by a bare majority. He (Mr. Beresford Hope) foresaw that hereafter, in place of Parliament guided by Ministers—hitherto technically servants of the Crown, but really of Parliament—they were to have a Cæsarean form of government, with a Dictator and a legislative, so-called, Body to register decrees. When the Speaker was reduced to the position of determining the falsely-named "evident sense of the House" according to the wishes and promptings of another person, and that other person probably a Minister, a great shock would be caused to public morality by the exhibition of the tenant of so great a dignity tied to an occupation so evidently hypocritical. The Government, by leaving to the Speaker the decision to be pronounced, were casting on a man of honour and discernment a duty which could only be performed perfunctorily and in a technical sense.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 72; Noes 35: Majority 37.—(Div. List, No. 358.)
§ MR. BRODRICK,
in moving an Amendment requiring that the Motion to close a debate supported by more 798 than 200 Members should have been opposed by less than 150 Members, explained that his Amendment had been particularly designed with the view of obviating those difficulties which were chiefly urged by hon. Gentlemen opposite against accepting a two-thirds' majority. There was evidently a feeling that if a two-thirds' majority were passed it would always be open to some individual Member of the House to upset the arrangements which had been made between the two Front Benches to bring a debate to a close, and the figure which he had adopted in that Amendment was chosen in order to prevent the possibility of such a disturbing force. He asked, before it was too late, that the Government should take back that portion of their programme which involved the entire exclusion of the Leader of the Opposition from any participation in an action which was to be for the good, not merely of the Government, but of the country at large. He maintained that large minorities had been too much ignored in this matter, and it was assumed that a large minority needed no protection. But that it was not so was shown on the occasion when Urgency was refused. Besides, it ought not to be forgotten that, on a large number of questions, the constituencies had never been consulted. He would undertake to say that three-fourths of the measures passed by the present Government were measures of which the constituencies knew nothing. Certainly, they were, for the most part, entirely ignorant of the great majority of the Amendments on the Irish Land Bill. The very instance of the Urgency Rule to which he had referred, when the division was 296 against 212, ought to induce Members to vote for his Amendment, which was not influenced in any way by the two-thirds' majority question. He intended to press it to the fullest extent, and if he were defeated, it would be by a majority voting not according to conviction, but under the pressure of Party. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Amendment.
In line 9, after the word "Members," to insert the words "and to have been opposed by ess than one hundred and fifty Members."—(Mr. Brodrick.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."799
§ MR. DODSON
said, he respected the gallantry of the hon. Member (Mr. Brodrick) in moving such an Amendment after the division which had taken place on the previous night; but the Government could not accept the Amendment, when a less stringent one had been negatived by the proceedings of the night before. One-third of the House amounted to 216 or 217 Members, and now they were asked to accept an Amendment enabling an even smaller portion of the House to veto clôture, for the effect of this Amendment would be that a debate could not be closed if it were opposed by 150 Members. It ought not to be forgotten that there was an essential difference between a voluntary arrangement, by which hitherto an end had been fixed for debate, and a legal Rule for the compulsory closing of debate. Under the old practice, there was a concurrence between both sides of the House as to the time when a debate should terminate; but, owing to changes which had recently come over the House, the Government found it necessary to make legal provision for the purpose, and the action could not be left to depend upon voluntary concurrence. This was not an unqualified clôture, because it required—first, the interposition of the Speaker; and, secondly, that it should be supported by a substantial number of votes. These safeguards the Government considered fair and reasonable; and, looking to the decision which had been come to last night, they must decline to accept the hon. Member's Amendment.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he thought that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Dodson) was a little remarkable, and showed a strange change of front on the part of the Government. Whereas it appeared at first that the "evident sense of the House" was to be that of the Whole House, now it seemed as if that term was to be applied to a majority of the Liberal Party only. It was really remakable how the language of the Government seemed to have changed, for it appeared now that what the Government meant was the sense of the majority of their own side. If his hon. Friend (Mr. Brodrick) went to a division, he should support the Amendment.
§ MR. WARTON
said, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Dodson) 800 had said that, owing to altered circumstances, the arrangements between Parties as to closing debates could not now be come to. He (Mr. Warton) should like to ask what those altered circumstances were? They on that side of the House had not changed. He could, therefore, see no reason why the two Front Benches should not be able, when necessary, to make an arrangement for putting down Obstruction, unless it was the determination of a domineering and tyrannical Government to oppress their opponents.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
said, he was glad the Prime Minister had returned, as when he was absent the House seemed to be without intelligent leadership. He looked upon his hon. Friend's (Mr. Brodrick's) Amendment to fix the number at 100 or 150—he was not sure of the number—as a locus penitentiœ for the right hon. Gentleman. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would accept it; for, if he did so, as a matter of course the whole of the Members behind him would immediately give their adhesion to it. He would not say the right hon. Gentleman's whole career had been one of inconsistency; but the right hon. Gentleman had always shown that he could look back and retrace his steps. Here, then, was an opportunity afforded him of exercising the virtue of repentance. The effect of carrying that Resolution, without some such compromise as that now proposed, would be to take away from minorities their responsibilities as well as their rights. The Party in power would be in a position to pass whatever measures they liked in the form in which they were introduced. The maxim of the majority was "Magna est veritas, sed non valet." The practice of the House had been for centuries to allow the minority a right of veto. Only in the Long Parliament and in the days of the Tudors that tradition was broken. And now, again, the minority were once more to be treated as the "Delinquents" and "Malignants" of those days. From that day forth compromise would be got rid of. "Sic volo sic jubeo" would be the principle of the future. The Prime Minister had already become like an Eastern Nabob surrounded by flatterers. He (Mr. Stanley Leigh ton) was shocked at the grossness of the flattery exhibited towards the right hon. Gentleman by some of his Colleagues in their speeches 801 outside the House. Under the principle of compromise, the minority had always accepted some responsibility for the legislation of the country. Under the new system, after Bills had been introduced with two or three long speeches by the Ministers, an organization of silence would be established on the Government side of the House. After a one-sided debate, at length the clôture would be applied, and the measure passed in its integrity without the slightest amendment. How could the Opposition take any responsibility for measures which they were not allowed in any way to shape? Then an agitation would begin in the constituencies, and the power of the House of Commons would be shaken. The Tory Democracy might at length be inclined to get rid of the sleek, self-seeking Radicals, the mummies of Brooks's, and the Representatives of all those antique, corrupt, pocket boroughs, one of which was represented by the noble Lord the Member for Calne (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice). The tendency would be more and more to throw absolute power into the hands of the Ministers, and as soon as absolute power was given to men they were sure to abuse it. The Prime Minister gave his opponents no quarter now; perhaps the time would come when they would give him or his Successors no quarter. Surely the Prime Minister might be content, for never was there a Minister backed by so large a following, and faced by so gentle an Opposition. The Prime Minister did not appear to have fully measured the intensity of the dislike entertained to this measure, or the country to have yet fully grasped the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was trying to put down something more than Obstruction, and to lay his heavy hand upon Parliament itself. He lauded and magnified the attributes of the majority. He could well imagine the right hon. Gentleman saying, when he looked into the glass in the morning—"I am the majority, the brains, the voice, the heart of the majority. Without me the majority is a vain, fugitive, unsubstantial thing." And then the right hon. Gentleman walked down to the House, and found that his imagination had not told him a flattering tale, for there were some 350 hon., right hon., and independent Gentlemen falling down upon their faces and worshipping the image of clay, the 802 reflection of which in the glass pleased him so much in the morning.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
said, it seemed to him that the more the House progressed in the discussion of that Resolution, the more puzzled were they on that (the Opposition) side to find the position in which they were placed. They were puzzled more especially by the variety of reasons given for urging this very strong and tyrannical measure. One day they were informed that the Resolution was to arrest Obstruction, another day they were told by many of the supporters of the Government, with a candour which did them all possible credit, that the only possible reason why they could support the Resolution was because they saw, in the not very distant future, the power of using it as an engine for forcing Radical and Democratic measures against the will of the minority through the House. But what was still more puzzling was the fact that not only did the reasons vary from time to time, but they were still more bewildered by the variety of arguments adduced in support of the Resolution itself. Arguing against the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said that there was one very fatal objection to it—namely, that 300 Members could not be assembled in the House on one side more than four or five times in the Session. But in replying to his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department tried to upset his argument by saying—"What would you do with 600 Members in the House?" Then they were told that people out-of-doors had made up their minds upon the question, that the Prime Minister had the country at his back, and that hon. Gentlemen on the other side must swallow the dose with as good a grace as they might. No doubt, the country had made up its mind that something must be done to put down the system of Obstruction which had prevailed. They were all agreed on that point; but with regard to the question the House was now discussing, whether it would be a good thing for England in the future, or for that Assembly in particular, that any Government should be able by a bare majority to stop debate, he maintained that the 803 country was as ignorant as a child six years of age. He denied that the Opposition pressed this point for the purpose of obstructing the Resolution; but they had a right to demand that such an Amendment as the present should be fairly discussed in the House, so that people outside might hear both sides of the question. If that was done, he believed that, before long, the Opposition would be able to show how those who supported the Resolution were shifting their arguments from time to time, and how very unstable was the position Her Majesty's Government were taking up in seeking to pass the whole of this Resolution. He would state frankly that he supported the present Amendment in this sense alone, that he considered half a loaf better than no bread. He supported it because he believed it to be a good one, which, if carried to its legitimate conclusion, would enable them to avoid an evil which many hon. Members opposite were as anxious to avoid as themselves—the evil of the spirit of Party conflict entering into their debates and divisions; and this Amendment of his hon. Friend, if carried, would certainly have that effect. They were told that these matters should not be made the subject of Party debate. They on that (the Opposition) side were not responsible for that state of things. No one more regretted than he did to see the House divided into hostile camps, or to hear the speeches of hon. Members who avowed their intention of working this Resolution in a Party sense, thus degrading the House into an arbitrary machine. But the course of the Opposition was a simple one, not by illegitimate Obstruction, but by the force of fair argument on fair Amendments, to endeavour to show as clearly as they could to people out-of-doors who had not studied the question what the effect of the Resolution was likely to be. If they took such a course, he believed, before very long, there would be a strong revulsion of feeling among our fellow-countrymen with regard to this proposal. He disliked using threats; but he was strongly of opinion, as one who loved the House as much as anyone in it, as one who had received much kindness from all quarters in the performance of duties always difficult and often impossible, that if the Resolution was not to undergo some such Amendment as that now proposed, 804 and was to be pressed to the bitter end, he feared that when the first Party conflict occurred under this Rule it would be the most evil day that had ever happened in that House. Knowing what the spirit of Englishmen was, he was certain that anything like dictation or unjust treatment at the hands of a majority would result in grievous evils. The question of injustice did not rest with the majority, but with the minority; and when they had been unjustly treated by a majority—and there it was where the pinch would be felt—then an evil day would assuredly come upon the House. He used those words in no spirit of threat, but of friendly warning; and he hoped the Government would see their way to modify the Resolution in the manner proposed, otherwise he felt assured that there were many troublous days in store for that Assembly.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that since the Speaker had directed the officer of the House to read the Order of the Day, they had passed through an evening somewhat amusing, and, perhaps, from an arithmetical point of view, somewhat instructive. It was like those prolonged festivities of which they sometimes read, which, in the beginning of the week, were very brilliant, but after a few days became a little wearisome as they proceeded from their repetition. That had been the characteristic of the present week's discussion. They had had, in the course of the evening, explanations from some Members why they had voted yesterday; from others why they had not; but the extraordinary thing was that no one thought it necessary to speak to the Amendment before the House. Hon. Gentlemen seemed to think that what occurred yesterday was the matter to which they should address themselves, and that, having prepared speeches for yesterday, they ought to deliver them to-day. Not one of the speeches which had been delivered by hon. Gentlemen opposite was pertinent to the Amendment before the House. It was very difficult to say when the speech of the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton) was intended to be delivered, but probably for the previous day. Most certainly it was not for that evening, and not upon the Amendment, because the hon. Gentleman said he did not know whether the 805 Amendment was for 100 or 150; but what he had to say he would say. The hon. Member seemed to think that because there had been compromises in past times, the Government ought to compromise itself that evening, though the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had been so decisively defeated. So far as there had been any argument in the speech of the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down (Sir William Hart Dyke), it was that a minority ought not to be oppressed by a majority. That was precisely what had always been said by the small minority of the Irish Members; but if that were accepted as valid, no suspension of an individual Member, and no enforcement of the clôture, however great the majority, would ever be justifiable. There had been so much digression that he doubted whether Members who had not the Amendment Paper in their hands had the slightest notion as to what Amendment was before the House. He would, therefore, point out that the Amendment was concerned with one of those arithmetical problems which had recalled to their minds their early struggles with simple fractions. On Thursday the House had discussed the question whether one-third of those having the right to vote should be given the power to veto the closure. That proposition having been negatived, on the proposition of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Harcourt), they had discussed whether, instead of one-third, three-eighths—a difference of one-twenty-fourth—should have the power to veto; and, that also having been negatived, they were now discussing whether two-ninths should have the power. No one could suppose that such debates constituted earnest Business. The discussions that had taken place that evening were nothing more than attempts to "keep the question going." Much had been said about the hostility which the Government were alleged to feel towards hon. Members opposite, and they had been warned not to divide the House into two hostile camps. Such allegations were, of course, groundless; but if hon. Members should continue to charge men who had spent a great part of their lives in that House with having sacrificed their honour and the honour of the House to Party motives, it would, 806 indeed, become difficult for them not to manifest feelings of hostility. The discussion of the Amendment had not, in his opinion, been serious, and it was impossible for the Government to accept it.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he must confess to a feeling of some surprise that, after the somewhat unaccountable delay which had been imposed upon the hon. and learned Gentleman, who always spoke with great ability and practical knowledge of matters affecting the House, he should have kept them so very much in the dark as to the grounds on which these Resolutions should be supported. The hon. and learned Gentleman complained that, during the whole of that evening, the House had been occupied with the consideration of mere arithmetical calculations, which he appeared to think beneath the notice of Members of that Assembly. But the hon. and learned Member should bear in mind that the necessity for a recurrence to their early knowledge of simple fractions had not originated with those who opposed the Resolution. Calculations had been forced upon them by the author of the Resolution himself. The hon. and learned Gentleman was difficult to please, for he objected to details, and still more to any discussion of the general principle involved. The fact was that the hon. and learned Gentleman and those around him did not desire that the question should be discussed at all. They seemed to consider that, as a majority had expressed its opinion upon one branch of the question, therefore even important details should be left alone. The hon. and learned Gentleman was wrong in stating that the proposal of the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Brodrick) merely reproduced an issue already decided. As a matter of fact, it was as widely separated from the point decided on the previous day as the poles were asunder, for the Amendment now before them dealt with a reasonable-sized minority, and not with the case of a large minority. They had been told that the evident sense of the House no longer meant the sense of the House, but only of a section of it. The Prime Minister generally spoke as if Parliament consisted of but one Chamber; and now, apparently, the House of Commons was to consist of one side only. He (Mr. J. Lowther) trusted, however, that the House would remember that it had tra- 807 ditions and privileges which were common to all its Members, and that they would maintain that the "evident sense of the House" meant the evident sense of the House as constituted; and he hoped that the discussion would not be allowed to terminate before they received some really authoritative explanation of the real meaning of a phrase which was of such vital importance to every Member of the House.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 45; Noes 84: Majority 39.—(Div. List, No. 359.)
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
rose to a point of Order, and asked whether it was not the duty of the Chairman to call upon Members having Amendments on the Paper?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, it was not customary for the Chairman to call upon Members, and all through this debate he had waited for hon. Members to rise on their own account. If any hon. Member had an Amendment to propose, it was his duty to rise.
§ MR. WARTON
moved to omit the word "less." in line 10 of the 1st Resolution, and to insert "fewer" in place thereof. He suggested the alteration for the purpose of improving the phraseology of the Rule, which would be more intelligible if it spoke of not "fewer" instead of not "less" than 200 Members. The word "less" was generally used with regard to quantity, and "fewer" with regard to numbers.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 10, to leave out the word "less," in order to insert the word "fewer."—(Mr. Warton.)
§ Question, "That the word 'less' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
beged to move an Amendment providing that the clôture should not be put in force if 40 Members voted against it. His reason for doing so was that 40 was the quorum of the House, and he contended that, whatever the quorum might be, the clôture ought not to be put in force against its will. Whether the number of the 808 quorum should be altered was another question.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 10, to leave out the word "Members" to the end of the Question."—(Mr. Chaplin.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
opposed the Amendment, observing that proposals were brought forward on the other side of the House on the principle on which the Sibylline books were tendered; as their quantity decreased, their price increased. Last night the House declined to give one-third the power to arrest the exercise of the closing power; but hon. Gentlemen opposite had to-night, with the exception, he must say, of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. E. W. Harcourt), made not smaller but greater demands; and the Government had been called upon successively to permit smaller and smaller minorities to arrest the exercise of the power. But the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had attained what he thought was the climax; be had fairly distanced all his competitors in imitating the tactics of the Sibyl by asking that one-sixteenth of the House should have the power of arresting the action of fifteen-sixteenths.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
proposed, as an Amendment, to add at the end of the Resolution the following Proviso:—Provided also, That any number of Members exceeding ten who shall be dissatisfied with such decision shall be entitled at the next sitting of the House to make a protest in writing, which shall be recorded in the Journals of the House.If the action of the Speaker or the Chairman in closing the debate, pursuant to what he considered to be the evident sense of the House, was taken against a considerable minority of the House, it was impossible but that great dissatisfaction would prevail in consequence of the majority having tyrannically closed the mouths of the minority. Instead, therefore, of driving the minority to the country or the Press for the ventilation of their grievances, he proposed that the minority should in such cases have the power of recording the grounds of their dissatisfaction by a protest to be 809 recorded in the Journals of the House, as was the case in the House of Lords. He could not conceive anything more dangerous to the House than that there should be no means of stating the grounds of dissatisfaction; and he thought it would be a far more Constitutional course to allow that dissatisfaction to find, expression in the Journals of the House than elsewhere. He believed that this would appear to be a moderate and reasonable course to the country at large. He wished to preserve the power of the House to deal with its own Business, so that its Members might not find a mode of giving expression to their wrongs elsewhere than in that House. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would consent to this addendum to the Resolution. He did not disguise the fact that he was opposed to the Resolution altogether; but if it passed, he wished it should do so with the least possible danger to the House, and he thought his Amendment would mitigate the evils which a very large section of the House felt were attendant upon the Resolution.
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words—
Provided also, That any number of Members exceeding ten who shall be dissatisfied with such decision shall be entitled at the next sitting of the House to make a protest in writing, which shall be recorded in the Journals of the House."—(Mr. W. B. Smith.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he thought the argument of the right hon. Gentleman went further than his Amendment. What he understood from his argument was that a minority, when aggrieved by a decision of the House, ought to have the power of recording their dissatisfaction in writing with the course the House had taken, so that the dissatisfaction would find expression in that House rather than outside. But why should he stop there? The right hon. Gentleman and his Friends had been parties to a Resolution that professed to deal with grievances which interrupted the Business of the House, and had introduced a Rule by which the Speaker, with the support of the House, could, in the course of a debate, suspend a Member; but he did not think the right hon. Gentleman thought it neces- 810 sary that that Member should be entitled to record on the Journals of the House his opinion of his own suspension. If that were allowed, there would be some danger of the Journals of the House becoming a document which might lead to the institution of legal proceedings; for hon. Members, in the heat of discomfiture, might make remarks concerning the authorities of that House not of the most complimentary character. As regarded protests in the House of Lords, he believed they had diminished in modern times, for there were other means of a more effective character for making sentiments known than by a record in the Journals of the House. He thought the practice might lead to serious evils. If any man thought fit to say what he liked about the Speaker or the Chairman in a moment of exasperation or temper, there would be no means of preventing him from doing so. He did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman, when on a former occasion he was a consenting party to the closing of debate, would have supported such a proposal as this. For the reasons he had stated the Government could not accept the Amendment.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he wished to point out that the question of personal insults to which the Home Secretary had referred was entirely different from the question now before the House. Those who offended against the Rules of the House by insulting its authorities would be dealt with under Rules framed to meet cases of that nature, and which had nothing whatever to do with the question now under discussion. What mischief could possibly arise through allowing persons suffering from closure of debate to put their complaints in writing on the Records of the House? Supposing the Speaker stated that, in his opinion, the debate should be closed, having been adequately discussed, and that he had acted upon what he thought was the evident sense of the House, but that when the division came it turned out that it was not the evident sense of the House, there being only a majority of 1, why should it not be recorded that under such circumstances it was not the evident or general sense of the House that the debate should be closed? He could not see what conceivable objection there could be to the responsible 811 Leaders of the Opposition being allowed to record their opinions in the Journals of the House that the question had been wrongly decided. The protest would not be entered, as the Home Secretary supposed, at the moment when those who made it were smarting under a sense of defeat, but on the next day, after time had been given for reflection. They might depend upon it that such a protest would never be recorded without some practical reason for it; and if the right to record it were now refused it would only tend still further to show that the Prime Minister desired to overrule the House of Commons and to make his will law. He would remind the Home Secretary of a speech which he had made in 1879, in which he said that majorities would in time become minorities; and nothing that was not accepted by the general sense of the House, when they were altering its ancient Rules, could be expected to work satisfactorily.
wished to point out that the Amendment itself said nothing whatever about the protest which it contemplated emanating from responsible Leaders of the Opposition. Was it to be considered impossible that, under any circumstances, any 10 Members of the Opposition should desire to enter a protest on the Journals unless it was prompted, or at least approved, by their responsible Leaders? His right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary had never argued that the punishment of Members who were noted by the Speaker for wilful and persistent Obstruction was one and the same question with the application of the clôture by the House; but he had argued that there was an analogy between them, and also circumstances of resemblance in them on a vital point. If it was a hard thing for a minority to have to submit to the clôture, and when defeated not to be able to enter a protest on the Journals of the House, surely it would be little less hard for those who were punished by suspension, undeservedly, as they might think, not to be allowed to record their protest also. The principal arguments of the Mover of the Amendment was that in that case, unlike the ordinary decisions of the House, there had been no opportunity of discussion, and that, therefore, there should be a subsequent opportunity for a protest. Well, but that was precisely the case of any Gentleman or number of 812 Gentlemen who might be suspended by vote of the House for wilful and persistent Obstruction. They might plead that they were generally weaker and more in need of defence and protection, and that they had suffered in their own person. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said there was no conceivable objection to that proposed right of protest. Now, the right of protest which had existed in the House of Lords was totally different from that which was now proposed, because in the House of Lords it had been a protest upon the merits of public measures and public proceedings. He had never heard of a right of protest on a matter of discipline under the Rules of Procedure of the House of Lords. He did not believe that any precedent of that kind existed. The proposed right would be attended with the greatest practical inconvenience. The Speaker or the Chairman of Committees must be the direct subject of attack. The Speaker must give his responsible opinion that the question had been adequately discussed, and that it was the evident sense of the House that the debate should be closed. The protest, he presumed, would deny that the question had been adequately discussed. The protest would contest the judgment and the action of the Speaker. Was it desirable or tolerable, or at any rate expedient, that-Members of the House should have the right of inscribing on the Journals of the House lengthened arguments, questioning the judgment of the Speaker, and attempting to show that he had acted on insufficient grounds? Such protest could not fail to assume a very personal character. The Speaker was the organ and the highest authority of the House; and was he to make any reply, or was he to remain under any imputation which any 10 Members chose to cast upon him? They must surely prepare the means for a regular defence of the Speaker from the attacks which might be made upon him. Therefore, although there might be at first sight some considerations to recommend that proposal, be thought that when it was looked into that it could not be made workable.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he thought that the objections of the Home Secretary to the Amendment were remarkably weak, and those of the Prime Minister did not appear to be much stronger. 813 The Home Secretary said it was very inconsistent for Gentlemen on the Opposition side to claim that right of protest, because they had brought forward a Resolution providing for the suspension of an individual Member, and had given that individual Member no such protection. But the House would see that there was a vital difference between the two cases. The contention was that if free discussion was to be checked there must be some further safeguard provided. The Home Secretary had made a reference to the Law of Libel. He never heard of such a thing. Protests were common enough in the House of Lords, and they had never heard the Law of Libel mentioned there. Of course, he agreed with the Prime Minister that the protests of the House of Lords were different; indeed, it appeared to him that the House of Lords would shortly be the only Assembly in which freedom of discussion would be allowed. In that House they were going to be gagged; and, therefore, they contended that they had a right to enter their protest in order that the country might know, and, at any rate, future times might judge of the course they had adopted. He was afraid they must criticize the Speaker's acts; the only alternative was to agitate upon public platforms. It was perfectly absurd to say because a respectful protest was recorded, that, therefore, the Speaker was made the subject of attack. They knew that Notices had been placed on the Paper impugning the conduct of the Chairman, and, if he remembered rightly, of the Speaker also; but no one had ever suggested that in doing so hon. Members were in any way going beyond what they were perfectly entitled to do.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
The hon. Gentleman has admitted that there is great difference between the proposition now before the House and the protests in the House of Lords. But the right hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) quoted the House of Lords, who have had this practice for many years, as in some sort an argument in favour of introducing the practice into this House. The protests of the House of Lords go back for about 300 years, and there have been Sessions in which as many as 20 protests have been entered in the Journals of that House. Some Members have tried to perpetuate 814 their memory by incessantly protesting, and I am not at all certain that we might not find Members of that character in this House. That mode of protest has latterly fallen into disuse, for reasons which must be obvious to everyone who thinks for a moment on the matter. In those days there was no Press to report the proceedings of the Houses of Parliament to the public; and, therefore, so far as the public goes, no public opinion and no power that could in the slightest degree correct or influence any action which took place in either House of Parliament. All this is changed now. Hon. Members have their protests in the Division List next day in the newspapers. The 238, who, at 1 o'clock this morning, voted against this dreadful Resolution, or rather in favour of one brought forward by the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) which the House considered still more dreadful, they have their protest now before the whole public of the United Kingdom in the newspapers, and they have had 20, 30, or 40 speeches in support of their view. There can be no kind of reason why they should appeal to the public, as if they had not been heard. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Amendment made one serious mistake. He seems to think that when the House has decided that a subject has been adequately discussed, and that as he sees the mouths of Members are stopped, there will be great discontent. I never saw any sign of discontent during the nearly 40 years I have been a Member of this House at any decision at which the House arrived. Men in this House have sense enough upon that question, if some of them are wanting it on others, to know that, as far as that particular debate might go, the decision of the House is final, and they snbmit. No man is simple enough to go to the public and complain of the decision of the House, that the discussion has proceeded to an adequate length, and a decision has been taken when everybody expects it. It would be a preposterous idea to say that after the decision has taken place—and it is the action of the House and not of the Speaker that decides—the public of the United Kingdom would not accept the decision as a final and just judgment. The right hon. Gentleman opposite and his Friends 815 claim to be the Conservative Party; they rest not only upon law, but upon tradition. They are anxious to object to almost everything new that is proposed from this side of the House. ["No, no!"] More than one Member has protested in this debate against the Resolution, because they said, and said it most untruly—[Cries of "Oh, oh!" and "Withdraw!"] Well, if the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) objects, I will say that they said it labouring under a gross mistake. They said that the main object of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was to get some machinery by which he might pass Bills to which they were opposed. It may be that measures to which they are greatly opposed will pass. I have never known any measure that the public wished for that they did not oppose. But if they are thus Conservative, why is it that they introduce these new-fangled propositions? The proposition last night was that two-thirds of the House should be required to do something, when in all other cases only a majority of the House is required; and now they propose to introduce into this House a system which had its rise 300 years ago in the House of Lords, which that House itself has almost entirely abandoned. On the Records of that House there are many records that are protests of wisdom; but there are not a few that are protests of folly, and the posterity of those who uttered those protests would wish that they should be obliterated from the Records of the House of Lords. I advise hon. Gentlemen opposite, in their anxiety to find something to do, at least not to bring forward the novel, absurd, and in this case very childish proposition which has been offered to the House. I do not like to use that expression in reference to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), because he is not generally absurd or childish; but I think, in the difficulty in which he and his Friends find themselves in fighting this matter, they have really dropped upon a proposition which deserves the words which I have applied to it. I am quite certain that the whole idea of a protest is one which the House will not accept. I am sure that if we accept it we should sink very much in the estimation of the public. All our proceedings are reported in the Press, 816 and every Member—the humblest—every Party—the smallest—has a full opportunity of making its protest, and nothing on the Journals of the House would be of greater advantage than the means now at his disposal.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman consisted, as usual, of two parts, the first being an attack upon the policy of the Conservative Party, and the second a liberal tender of advice to them. He was sure that they would be greatly indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for his watchfulness on behalf of their Party. When, however, they came to examine his arguments they were not found to be quite so satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that this practice of minorities entering protests had been in existence for 300 years, and yet he taunted his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith) with having proposed in the House of Commons a new-fangled mode of procedure. How could it be newfangled when the right hon. Gentleman admitted that it was a very old established practice in the House of Lords? Many of those protests which used to be applied in the House of Lords were admirable specimens of argument and English, and not very long ago a Member of that side of the House had thought it worth while to preserve them as a record for future generations. But the right hon. Gentleman had said not only were those protests antiquated and useless, but that every Member of the House would have a full opportunity of expressing his views before the division was taken. But that was precisely what would not take place; and, in order to convince them that it would not take place, the right hon. Gentleman illustrated his position by what occurred last night. What had occurred? There had been a full and ample discussion of the question at issue, and when, with the full consent of both sides of the House, a division was taken, there was no further need of any protest. But it was precisely because there would not be that full and ample discussion in future that they asked for this power. It might be that Parties in that House would be discontented at the discussion having been prematurely cut short, and his right hon. Friend asked that they should recur to this old-established instead of new-fangled practice, and place a pro- 817 test on the Journals of the House. The illustration which the right hon. Gentleman brought forward to prove the validity of his argument completely upset and reversed it, and the position taken by his right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster held good. None of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite had adduced any reason why, after the introduction of those new-fangled Regulations, a Member should not be allowed to have recourse to the system of dignified and harmless protest.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that the noble Lord had referred to the advice which the right ton. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) had often given to the Conservative Party; and it must have been a sad reckoning to him how much better the fortunes of that Party would have been if that advice had been more frequently followed. The right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir E. Assheton Cross) asked why the Amendment should be objected to, as recourse would only be had to the protest after consultation with the Leaders of the Opposition, who would use language of extreme courtesy and take care that what they said would add to, rather than detract from, the dignity of the Speaker. But what would that protest be? It would not be an expression of the opinion of that House; but any ingenious person might frame a statement of facts wholly erroneous and enter them upon the Journals of the House. No one could contradict that statement, and there would be no remedy except a Motion to expunge it from the Journals. Thus that which had been devised to put an end to unnecessary debate would be the means of giving rise to a debate. A studied insult to the House and the Chair might be inserted in the Journals, and the only way of getting rid of it would be by a Motion, which would give rise to a debate in which there would have to be the fullest discussion. And the Speaker, whom the House was so rightly earnest in shielding from Party warfare, would be the object of general attack. Such an Amendment, therefore, would greatly detract from his position. He hoped, therefore, that, having regard to the position of their President, whether Speaker or Chairman of Ways and Means, and the dignity of the House of 818 Commons, the Amendment would not meet with support.
MR O'CONNOR POWER
said, he rose with great diffidence after so many champions of debate. He was surprised that the Attorney General should have thought it worth while to reproduce an argument so weak that it would not stand the test of a brief criticism. He wanted to know why the Attorney General, looking at the clear and unmistakable meaning of these words, talked about this Amendment constituting a censure on the Speaker? There was not a single syllable in this Amendment which could be tortured into any such sense, or a syllable which referred to the original action of the Speaker. They were told in this Amendment that any number of Members who were dissatisfied with "such decision"—what decision? It was not the Speaker who determined the matter; and, therefore, it was not against his decision that the proposed protest was to be made. Subsequent to his decision that the evident sense of the House was opposed to prolongation of any debate, the House proceeded to a division; and if the minority were dissatisfied with the result of that division all his right hon. Friend asked was that they should have the right to make a protest, and to cause its entry on the Records of the House. The decision of the Chair in declaring the evident sense of the House to be favourable to the curtailment of debate was vindicated by the majority on a division; but what his right hon. Friend contended for was that when a minority exceeding 10 Members felt dissatisfied with the result arrived at, they should be allowed to record a protest. What was the use of trying to confound and mystify so plain a proposition? He must, however, express his dissatisfaction with the Amendment, for he thought there was something to be said as to the inconvenience which might arise from every Member of a dissatisfied minority having the power to record his individual protest. He would, therefore, suggest that the Amendment should be so altered that the protest must be of a collective character. Again, he did not see why a minority of 10 should not have a right of recording a collective protest as well as a larger minority. In his opinion, the occasions on which the Resolution would be used harshly against a large minority would be very rare, be- 819 cause a large minority would have a considerable amount of public opinion to which they could appeal out-of-doors. But a minority of 10 could not successfully make such an appeal; and he confessed he was surprised that the right hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) should have qualified his Amendment. He thought the Conservative Party had shown a want of sympathy with small minorities. They were told that Members would avail themselves of the right of protest in order that they might make use of insulting and uncomplimentary language; but how could a Gentleman who did not possess that power, when addressing the House, acquire it the moment he took a pen in his hand? He maintained that a protest might be useful in acquainting the public outside with the reasons which induced a minority to ask the House for a fuller hearing. These Resolutions were intended to facilitate the despatch of Public Business, which certainly could not be in the slightest degree hindered or obstructed by a protest written in the Journals of the House. In conclusion, he begged to move to amend the Amendment by omitting the words "exceeding ten," and inserting before "protests" the word "collective."
§ Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "exceeding ten."—(Mr. O'Connor Power.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'exceeding ten' stand part of the said proposed Amendment."
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
said, he thought the right hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) had done good service by bringing this subject forward. He (Mr. Thorold Rogers) was not one of those who thought they should have a partizan Speaker in the House of Commons, nor did he believe that any 10 Members would be at all likely to make a protest the vehicle for insulting the Speaker. He was surprised and sorry to hear the language of the Attorney General, for he did not think that in the other House, where Party feeling had been sometimes very strong, there was a single instance in which a protest had been made the vehicle for attacking the institutions of the country or the discipline of the House. Why, 820 then, was the right of protesting refused to the House of Commons? The long series of the protests of Peers which he had had the honour of collecting were, in his opinion, among the most valuable State Papers in existence. Statements made by way of protest by minorities in the House of Lords had been full of practical wisdom and suggestive of future action, and they were part of a remarkable history of progress in the direction of liberty. Protesting began in the House of Lords with the Long Parliament, and it had been of the greatest assistance to English liberty. Almost all who protested were the leaders of public liberty against the arbitrary Government of Charles I. An attempt was made to introduce into the House of Commons the power of protesting, not, however, for the purpose of promoting liberty, but for that of stifling it, as the grand remonstrance would have been marked by the King; and, therefore, the Commons refused what the Lords had granted. The case was now entirely reversed, and there were occasions when it would be well if protests were allowed in the Commons. If the custom were adopted it would furnish many valuable records on subjects in which minorities had failed to produce conviction. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Bright), who had criticized this practice, would have found it useful, during his experience of the anti-Corn Law struggle, if, after defeats in the House, he could have put on record in the Journals the conclusive arguments by which that beneficent economic reform was advocated. In his (Mr. Thorold Rogers') opinion, the opportunity of placing on record the reasons for their not acquiescing in the judgment of the majority would be used with the full conviction that that judgment would be weighed, and that it would then be approved or condemned by the country.
§ MR. DODSON
said, there was some confusion which it would be well to clear up. The hon. and learned Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) had started by assuming that, according to the Resolution, the Speaker was to declare it was the evident sense of the House that a subject had been adequately discussed, and also that the Question be now put; but the former declaration was to be made by the Speaker or the Chairman on his own exclusive responsibility.
§ MR. DODSON
said, the decision referred to in the Amendment was the decision of the House upon the question submitted to it by the Speaker upon a judgment formed on his own responsibility. It was scarcely possible that a protest entered on this decision should not take the form of a protest against the Speaker's initiative. His hon. Friend the Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) spoke as if the proposal were in pari materiâ with the protests of the House of Lords. But that was not so. Those in the House of Lords were protests against the subject-matter under discussion; but that would not be the case with those in this House. The protests referred to in the Amendment would not be in rem, but in personam—["No, no!"]—and the person protested against would be no other than the occupant of the Chair. ["No!"] Hon. Members said "No;" but any such vote must be given on a Question submitted by the Speaker on a judgment formed on his own responsibility; and, therefore, any such protest as that proposed would be a censure on him. The hon. Member also said that such protests would be entered in guarded and well-balanced language; but was that likely to be so when the protesters were to be, according to the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the position of gagged men smarting under the application of the Rule in that particular case, and who would probably compose their protests in the ecstacy of the moment? His hon. Friend also said that these protests would facilitate the Business of the House. On the contrary, he apprehended that, impugning, as they would do, the conduct of the Chair, they would be likely to impede rather than facilitate the passage of Business through the House. Whichever way he looked at it, he considered the Amendment most objectionable, and he trusted the House would not accept it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, it appeared to him that every new development given by the Government of the state of their position gave the House a new surprise, and every new surprise was an unpleasant surprise. When, at the earlier stages of the debate, hon. Members on that side of the House ex- 822 pressed their fears lest the power of the clôture should be abused by a tyrannical majority, they were told, especially by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington), whose opinion had since been echoed by his Colleagues, that there would soon be an appeal to the country, so strong that no Government could resist it. What was the answer which hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House gave to that statement? They said that by giving the Speaker the initiative they would confer upon the Government of the day the power of sheltering themselves under the authority of the Speaker, and of saying that as the Speaker had declared that the subject had been sufficiently discussed, the Opposition, in disputing the decision arrived at, were not attacking the authority of the House, but were directly attacking the authority of the Speaker in the Chair. It would now appear that the fears they originally entertained were not altogether illusory, for the Government were advancing, in support of their present position, arguments altogether inconsistent with their former one. What was the whole case of the Government on the Amendment, whether that case was argued by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, or by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Dodson)? Their case was that the minority could not attack the decision of the majority of the House without, by the very same act, bringing into contempt the authority of the Chair. He wished to know from the Government, once for all, whether, when this Rule was passed and put in action, they did or did not mean to shelter themselves under the authority of the Speaker of the day? If they did not mean to shelter themselves under that authority, then let them adopt the Amendment proposed by his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. H. Smith). If they did propose to shelter themselves under that authority, then let them explain to the House of what value was the security which the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India had offered them that a tyrannical majority would not abuse the power intrusted to them.
§ MR. HUGH SHIELD
said, he thought the question before the House was practically this—Could a protest be put in any form without reflecting upon the 823 Speaker and the authorities of the House? He ventured to say that it was demonstrable that such a protest must reflect, and must reflect most injuriously, upon the action of the occupant of the Chair. He confessed that he had heard the statement that the recording of such a protest upon the Journals of the House would not have such an effect with absolute astonishment; and he did not think it could be the outcome of serious argument. Hon. Gentlemen opposite said the value of this protest would be that it would enable the Members who protested to inform the public of the reasons why they desired further discussion. That was the argument of his hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. O'Connor Power). [Mr. O'CONNOR POWER: It was a portion of it.] He (Mr. Hugh Shield) would put this alternative—either the protesting Members would have had sufficient opportunity for bringing forward the reasons why they desired further discussion, or the matter would not have been adequately discussed. But, by the hypothesis, the Speaker had decided that the matter had been adequately discussed. It was impossible, therefore, that any body of hon. Members could place before the public the reasons why, under such circumstances, they wished to continue a discussion, without at the same time reflecting on the Speaker's decision, which was the first step of the process which culminated in the closure of the debate. What was the matter that was to be the subject of protest? It was nothing that could bear the slightest analogy to the subjects which had been usefully made matters of protest on the Journals of the House of Lords. What was to be allowed to be protested against was the decision of the House under this Resolution. It was the whole process described in the Resolution, and what was that? It commenced with the Speaker in the Chair, who formed in his own mind a conclusion that the subject under the consideration of the House had been adequately discussed. The right hon. Gentleman in the Chair then rose, interposed in the debate, and voluntarily declared to the House his opinion that the matter had been adequately discussed, and also his opinion as to the evident sense of the House. Then followed the vote, and the result of that vote was the decision which was to be protested against. 824 Now, a protest meant a complaint; but was it the complaint that the majority of 250, or whatever the number might be which carried the day against the 40 or 50 who formed the minority, had acted improperly? Nothing of the sort. They could not protest against the vote of the majority, nor could they enter into the mere arithmetical matters of the calculation. What they must protest against, and the only debatable matter upon which there could be any difference of opinion was, whether the Speaker had acted rightly in first declaring that the matter had been adequately discussed, and then in declaring that it was the evident sense of the House that the Question should be put. He (Mr. Shield) submitted that in the remarks that the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) had made, evidently without having heard the speech of the Prime Minister and other Members upon the matter, the hon. Member had discussed questions that were as wide apart as the poles from the real matter which it was proposed to make the subject of protest. He (Mr. Shield) contended that it was impossible to concede the right of protest asked for by the right hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) without incurring the grave inconvenience of placing upon the Journals of the House reflections upon the highest authority of the House. It was for the House to say whether that was a desirable consummation. For his own part he did not think it was, and he should, therefore, vote against the Amendment.
§ MR. DALRYMPLE
said, the hon. Member who had just spoken, and others who had preceded him, were determined to assert that the protest must necessarily be a reflection upon the Chair. Now, neither in the terms of the Amendment itself, nor in the speeches in which it had been commended, was there any indication of the sort. The protest would be a protest against the decision of the House after a Motion made, and only after, as it were in the third place, the Speaker had recognized what he considered to be the evident sense of the House. It was only a far-fetched suggestion of the Attorney General, followed up by other hon. Members, that there would be any reflection upon the occupant of the Chair. He could not congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local 825 Government Board (Mr. Dodson) upon the success he had achieved in delivering the House from the confusion in which he said it had been left by the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power) and the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers). The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Mayo was a most valuable one; and he thought, with the hon. and learned Member, that it would be better to have a collective protest than one which proceeded from eight or ten individual Members. In regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Southwark, it must be true, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Shield) said, that the hon. Member had not heard the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), because the proposal which the hon. Member for Southwark now supported, with full knowledge of the subject, was a proposal which the right hon. Member for Birmingham had described as newfangled, absurd, and childish. He (Mr. Dalrymple) sometimes thought the proposals which were made on that side of the House might be commended to hon. Gentlemen opposite a little more, if they could imagine themselves for a moment in the position occupied by the Opposition. It was possible that at some time or other the Conservative Party would be in power, and he did not know that that was so very remote a possibility when he thought of the capacity for fatiguing and disgusting the country which the Liberal Party possessed. He would ask them to imagine the Conservative Party in power and the clôture being put in force. What would be said then? Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, whenever that time came, would highly value the opportunity of making a protest; and it would be better to make a protest on the Journals of the House than to make protests which were recommended to them in the pages of the public newspapers. Certainly he thought it would be far better to enter a protest upon the Journals of the House than in the pages of a well-paid magazine. In August, 1879, the first article of one of these well-paid magazines was an article entitled "The Government and the Country," which, to the best of his belief, was called "A Protest," and it was an article written by the right hon. Gentleman, the 826 Prime Minister. He would not at this moment venture to quote the language of the article; but he remembered that it contained words to this effect—that so far as any good to the human race or to the cause of humanity was concerned, during the years the Conservative Party had been in power, this country might almost better not have existed at all. His (Mr. Dalrymple's) opinion was, that a protest, entered upon the Journals of the House—and certainly not in any degree reflecting upon the occupant of the Chair—would be far better than the violent articles which now appeared in the newspapers and magazines.
§ MR. MORGAN LLOYD
said, he was anxious to say a few words on the subject before the House divided. It appeared to him that any sensible protest to be made against the closing of a debate must be one of two things. It must either be a protest against the debate being closed because the question had not been adequately discussed, or it must be a protest against the right of a majority to close the debate when the question had been adequately discussed. If it were the latter, it would be a protest against the legislation now going on in the House; and if the former, then it would be a direct protest against the action of the Speaker. He would ask any hon. Member on the Opposition side of the House who still desired to address the House to be kind enough to answer these remarks, and to answer them satisfactorily. There could be no sensible protest except the one or the other. The one alternative would lead to an absurdity, and the other would be an attack upon the Speaker for his action in the Chair.
said, he could not help thinking that the argument which had been used against the Amendment of his right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) had been, to use the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), childish and absurd. They had heard from the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Shield) that any protest against the decision of the Speaker would be very wrong and very improper on the part of a minority; but, however unwilling to attack the right hon. Gentleman, and however desirous the minority might be to support him or his Successors in the Chair in any decision the 827 Chair might arrive at, he did not think I that was a matter that was called in question in any way except by the Resolution of the Government. The Resolution of the Government was that the decision of the Speaker, declaring the subject to have been adequately discussed, and that the Question might be put, could only be put to the vote after a direct Motion had been made. He would remind hon. Members that there must be two sides to the vote, and those who voted in the minority must necessarily be protesting against the decision of the Speaker in the most distinct manner possible. How, then, could it be urged that a protest in words and a protest in fact could convey a different reflection on the Chair? Those who voted with the minority would declare that they did not agree in the decision which the Speaker had arrived at; and it was but reasonable that they should be allowed, after the vote had been given, to state the reasons which had induced them to take that course. All that was asked now was that, when hon. Members did differ from such a high authority as the Speaker, they should have the option of explaining, in reasonable and courteous language, the reasons which induced them to differ. Hon. Gentlemen who had spoken on the Liberal side of the House, and especially the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson), seemed unfairly to argue that the Speaker closed the debate by having come to the conclusion, in his own mind, that the subject had been adequately discussed, and that, therefore, the Question ought to be put, and that by that decision the discussion would have been there and then closed. It was no such thing; but the closing of the debate was left to the decision of the House, and it was against that decision that hon. Members who supported the Amendment wished to protest. Then, again, it was urged that the decision was simply the decision of the clôture; and the hon. Gentleman who last spoke (Mr. Morgan Lloyd), if he had caught the hon. Member's words aright, seemed to think that they wanted to protest against what was being passed by these Rules of Procedure. It must not be forgotten that, after the Speaker had declared his opinion, the Question then put would be that the debate be closed and the Ori- 828 ginal Question put. The two things must be taken together, and the protest would take this form—that there were reasons which might be given why the discussion should not be closed, because certain statements or certain other speeches connected with the Main Question had not been adequately put before the House. The two things must be taken together. It was absurd to say that the fact of one Question being put before the other, after a brief interval in which hon. Members had been engaged in marching through the Lobbies, should invalidate the power to enter a protest in the Journals of the House, giving reasons for the view entertained by the minority that the debate had not been adequately discussed. He denied that such a protest could either be an insult or an attack upon the Speaker.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said, he thought the question should be discussed purely as one of utility, and discussed as a matter of taste. Whether a protest would be insulting to the Chair must be left to the taste of hon. Gentlemen who protested; and he ventured to think that the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) was asking too much when he called upon them to take up as a new experiment in the House of Commons that which had become obsolete in the House of Lords. What questions were the protest to deal with if it were allowed to find its way upon the Journals of the House? Nothing in regard to the subject of debate or of the material question which had been before the House could be contained in it. The only advantage would be to hon. Members who had not had the opportunity of firing off their speeches, by affording them an opportunity of expressing their disappointment that others had said before them all that was necessary to be said. It would be patent to everybody that the Speaker had declared, in the first instance, that the subject had been adequately discussed, and that, in his opinion, it was the evident sense of the House that the debate should close. This view of the Speaker must also have been confirmed by the majority of the House; and, therefore, there would be nothing left for these hon. Gentlemen to protest against except that, in their view, they might have used something in the debate which, according to 829 the majority of the House, had already been stated by others, and probably better than they could have stated it. Such a protest would be of so shallow a character, and so indirect in its operations, that there was no Party in the House, whether large or small, who could regard it as of the slightest advantage in the way of instructing the country. There had been past debates, during the time he had been in Parliament, upon the Irish Question, in which a good deal of feeling had been aroused that was adverse to the views entertained by the Irish Representatives; but what had been the course pursued by the Irish Party? Would anybody say that they had not had ample opportunities of making the Irish people perfectly aware, in the course of a very few hours, of all that had passed in the House the night before. Therefore, what was really asked by this Amendment was that they should open the Journals of the House for the purpose of satisfying some disappointed speaker on the one hand or on the other—of affording an opportunity to hon. Members, who were not in the most amiable frame of mind, for conveying reflections upon the Chair which it was not desirable to indulge in.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, the real objects of this scheme of clôture were becoming more clear as they proceeded. He dare say they would soon begin to understand them. Up to the present time the contention of the Government was that the Speaker would not be responsible for the application of the clôture, that it would be the act of the House; and when hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House said that the result of the proposal would be to degrade the Speaker into the position of a partizan, they were told that the Speaker would hold an independent position, and that the act would be the act of the House itself. But now, when the other side of the argument was taken, and when, accepting the independence and irresponsibility of the Speaker, hon. Gentlemen on that side said—"Allow us to question the act of the majority," the Government replied—"No; for by questioning the act of the majority you proceed to insult the Speaker and to attack his authority." Was there not a radical irreconcilability between the two arguments? If the Speaker and 830 the majority had their identity and their responsibility so irreconcilably bound lip with one another, what was the use of this intricate scheme, which would simply be hypocritical in its effect? Why did not the Government simply, at once, instead of erecting before the Speaker the fence of a majority which they themselves confessed to be illusory, frankly proceed to legislate that the Speaker should declare a question adequately discussed, and that on the announcement of his decision the debate should be closed? That would be a much more frank and honest way of proceeding than the course now adopted. He ventured humbly to submit that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson) was much too childlike in his frankness to hold the position of a Cabinet Minister. The right hon. Gentleman had risen at the Table, and, by way of enforcing his argument that a protest entered upon the Journals of the House might embody an insult to the Speaker, he drew a vivid picture of the feeling of excitement and discontent under which the gagged men might act in drawing up their protest. He (Mr. Sexton) had no doubt that the Prime Minister, who was a much more deft artificer in words than the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, already considered that "gagged men" was a vile phrase. Hitherto the House had been familiar with two Parties only in the House of Commons—the Ministerialists and the Opposition. He ventured to think that, thanks to the enlarged vocabulary of the right hon. Gentleman, the divisions in future would be simplified into "the gaggers and the gagged." The right hon. Gentleman, by way of further enforcing the argument that to allow a protest against the clôture might lead to insults to the Chair, referred to a debate which had been conducted by the Irish Party. He (Mr. Sexton) ventured to suggest that there was no parity in that case and any case which might arise under the scheme of the clôture, because in that case the Speaker, without any order, or real authority, or Resolution, or formal warrant of any kind, but in the exercise of his own discretion, interposed his own will between the Irish Party and the exercise of free speech in that House; and that extraordinary occasion, never known before 831 in the Parliamentary history of the country, and never likely again to arise, was not to be quoted as a referential precedent. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the confusion of the debate. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who sat near him (Mr. Dalrymple) that the right hon. Gentleman had only made confusion worse confounded; for, on looking at the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), and reading it by the light of the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, he failed to see how the collective protest of discontented Members could be an attack upon the action of the Speaker. What was the Speaker to do under the 1st Resolution? He was to declare to the House his impression that the subject under consideration had been adequately discussed, and that it was time to close the debate. He simply declared an impression, and communicated certain information to the House. He made no decision upon that information, but the House proceeded to act upon his information; and the first mention they had of any decision in the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister occurred in line 9—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.Therefore, the decision would result upon the division, and not upon the action of the Speaker; and he would remind those who talked of insult to the Speaker or to his Successor in the Chair, that he was in danger of a worse insult than any that could be levelled against him by a protest; because if, on any occasion, the right hon. Gentleman declared that the question had been adequately discussed, and that it was the evident sense of the House that the Question ought to be put, and the majority decided against him, a much greater indignity would be flung upon his word and judgment by the majority than any that could be conveyed by a protest placed by the minority upon the Journals of the House. It was, therefore, perfectly plain that a protest would not touch the authority of the Speaker, because the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had wisely and prudently interposed the fence—the wide and impassable fence of 832 the vote of the House between the protest and the Chair; and he invited the right hon. Gentleman to say whether, under these circumstances, any protest by the minority could be considered an insult to the Speaker? But, as to insult, was not the Speaker the Editor of the Journals of the House? Was he not the authority, one of whose functions it was to guard the Journals of the House against being made the medium of insult, either to himself or to the House? From day to day the Speaker took upon himself the duty of altering, correcting, and revising the terms of Questions and Motions, and of expunging altogether from the Journals and Papers of the House anything he might deem an insult. He wished to know if the discretion and functions of the Speaker, as Editor of the Journals, were to disappear altogether under the new scheme of clôture, or if any 10 Members of the House, or even a smaller number, were to hand to the right hon. Gentleman a protest couched in offensive or indecent terms, the same power would not rest with him, as now, of guarding the dignity of the House? He had not had the pleasure of hearing the entire speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright); but what he did hear seemed to him to consist of an assumption and a fallacy. The assumption was unfounded, and the fallacy was patent. The fallacy was that because the House of Lords had had the faculty of exercising a protest for 300 years, and because it had not used it always prudently and wisely, that, therefore, it should not be given to the House of Commons. He failed to recognize the sufficiency of the argument that, because the power might have been misused in past times in the House of Lords, it ought not to be conceded to the House of Commons.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
The hon. Member has entirely misconceived what I said. I said nothing about the misuse of protests in the House of Lords. I do not believe that there has been any misuse of protests. I did say that some wise and some very unwise things had been said, and that the privilege which was given to the House of Lords is scarcely ever used now. I, therefore, objected to the proposal to use them now for the first time in this House.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he was glad that he had elicited this explanation from the 833 right hon. Gentleman. He had heard the right hon. Gentleman say that there were many protests on the pages of the Journals of the House of Lords which the descendants of the Peers who made them wished had never been placed there. If that was not a condemnation of the use of protests by the House of Lords, he did not know the meaning of language. The assumption of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was that the Members of the House of Commons having had an opportunity of expressing their opinion, there was no need of the further superfluous opportunity of expressing it by protest. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to forget that they were considering a scheme which would deprive the Members of the House of the opportunity of expressing their opinion at all. The scheme of the Prime Minister had never been clearly understood until last night, when it was outlined in lines of light by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington). It was now perfectly plain that what the Government meant was this—they meant to arrange their programme at the beginning of the Session; to consider how many Bills they could pass during the Session; to do a sum in simple division, and decide the number of hours in the Session they would devote to the consideration of each particular Bill. If any Party wished to be heard, they would be required to select two or three spokesmen from their side, or else remain silent. Hon. Members who had hitherto come there each man for himself, to speak for himself the opinion of his constituents, would hereafter find themselves not the spokesmen of the people, but each political Party would be a College of electors with the right of nominating two or three Gentlemen to speak for them. The assumption of the right hon. Gentleman that speech would be allowed to each Member had been sufficiently shown not to be the case; and he was surprised, when he considered the professions of the Government in bringing forward this scheme of clôture, at the manner in which they had received the Amendment. They professed to exercise these drastic powers with tender regard for the rights of Members; but he found them refusing in any case in which the clôture was applied to allow any number 834 of Members of the House who considered themselves to have been improperly put to silence to use the limited safety-valve of a protest which might serve to assuage discontent and allay political excitement.
§ MR. RAMSAY
said, he had listened with attention to the debate, and he thought the difference of opinion which existed on the two sides of the House had arisen in consequence of a misunderstanding as to the object of the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith). The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson) said that the effect of a protest against the decision of the House would be a reflection and an insult upon the Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means. Now, he thought it would be a most invidious thing to place any protest upon the Journals of the House against the proceedings of the Speaker or of the Chairman of Committees. But he did not understand that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. H. Smith) intended that that should be the case. The right hon. Gentleman had already disclaimed any such intention, and there was evidently a misunderstanding between the Government and the right hon. Gentleman opposite as to the object they had in view. As to the Amendment itself, he should like to say a word upon it. It seemed to him that the misapprehension arose from the language of the Resolution itself, and it arose in this way. In the first place, the Speaker was to inform the House that, in his opinion, it was the evident sense of the House that the subject had been adequately discussed. Having informed the House on that point, a Motion would immediately be made "That the Question be now put," and there would be a division taken thereupon. The division of the House would either affirm the opinion expressed by the Speaker, or deny the accuracy of his conclusion. In the next place, the Resolution went on to provide that, if the House affirmed the judgment of the Speaker, then the Main Question under discussion was to be put forthwith. As he understood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), the protest was to be made against the decision arrived at by the House on the 835 Main Question under discussion; and if that were the case—and he felt that it was the obvious meaning of the language of the Amendment—it was not necessary for the Government to proceed upon the assumption that the protest would be a protest against the decision of the Speaker, or of the Chairman of Ways and Means. He thought that some explanation might be allowed. If he misapprehended the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the protest, and if the protest was to be taken against the decision of the Speaker as to the adequate discussion of the subject before the House, then he thought the House and all sides would agree in refusing to allow a protest on that ground to be put on the Journals of the House. But if the protest was to be against the decision of the House upon the subject which had been under discussion, he did not see why it should be necessary for the Government to object to it.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Ramsay) had accurately and thoroughly realized the object he (Mr. W. H. Smith) had in view. It had never entered into his mind, and nothing he had said and no words he had put upon the Paper justified the assumption that he desired to cast any imputation upon the decision of the Speaker, or of the Chairman of Ways and Means. If the Government would read their own Resolution, they would find that after the Speaker had made his statement to the House it would become necessary that a Motion should be made. That Motion would be made on the Ministerial side of the House, and the whole responsibility would rest on the right hon. Gentleman who made it. The evident sense of the House would have been conveyed to the Speaker—the Speaker or Chairman would state what his view was, and then the Minister, rising in his place, would move, "That the Question be now put." It would thereupon be put without question and without debate. It was because he believed that there ought to be the opportunity of recording a protest—it might be from a discontented body of Members, such as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson) had described—composed of gagged men.
§ MR. DODSON
begged the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. He had simply quoted language which had been used on the other side of the House.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he was not aware that the words had been used on that side of the House. He had understood the right hon. Gentleman—and he was sure the whole House understood the right hon. Gentleman—to express his own appreciation of the sentiment which would agitate and move the minority, if subjected to the process now sought to be put upon them. The words of the right hon. Gentleman were that a minority composed of gagged men, in the hour of smarting, would, in the ecstacy of the moment, retire to the Library and put on record a protest which was not to be presented to the Speaker or the Clerk at the Table until 4 o'clock the next day. It was contrary to their experience of human nature that anything of the kind should be done; and he said, positively, that if this power of recording a respectful protest on the Journals of the House were refused, a protest, composed in the ecstacy of the moment, would be made, and would be transmitted and appear in the newspapers the next morning; and then, indeed, it would partake of the character which had been attributed to it by some hon. Gentlemen, and repeated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Dodson)—namely, that of having been composed by gagged men in the hour of smarting. He earnestly desired to afford dissenting Members what had been justly described by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) as a safety-valve for their feelings. If this power must be applied, if this pressure must be inflicted on a minority in the House of Commons, it was, at all events, better that their dissent should find expression in respectful terms in the Journals of the House than that they should give vent to their dissatisfaction out-of-doors. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), he (Mr. W. H. Smith) regretted that the hon. and learned Member should have attributed to him the motive of prevent- 837 ing minorities of 11 recording their protests, because it never entered his mind that less than that number would consider it necessary seriously to dissent from the decision. But he had no objection to make a provision in the sense which the hon. and learned Gentleman indicated. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) believed it was apparent that this power ought to exist, and up to the present he had heard no argument against it, except that it did not now exist. But hon. Members would recollect that this idea of the clôture was a new one; as, indeed, were all the Resolutions on Procedure now proposed by Her Majesty's Government. There was, therefore, nothing unreasonable in the proposition he had laid before the House, which was intended to relieve pressure and enable Members to justify to their constituents the course they might feel it their duty to pursue.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir FARRER HERSCHELL)
said, he would remind the House that the question to be considered was not what the right hon. Gentleman intended by his proposal, but what would be possible and even probable if it were adopted. The objection of the Government was that the power of entering a protest was not likely to be of practical use, and, at the same time, that it would, be open to grave abuse. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the protest would be a protest against the decision of the House; but surely, so far as a mere protest against that decision went, Members would have already protested against it in the most complete manner by voting against it. How could the decision be more emphatically protested against than by this? But then it was urged that something more than a protest was wanted; reasons were to be recorded, which meant that the proceeding was to be criticized. Now it was obvious, if this were done, Members who protested would adopt their own form of criticism, and the objection of the Government was that this might take a form offensive and derogatory to the Officers of the House. It was suggested that the Speaker had a certain control over the record of the proceedings of the House; but was it seriously meant that he would exercise this power by expunging criticisms consisting of reflections upon himself? ["No, no!"] He was argu- 838 ing against the position taken up by the hon. Member for Sligo, who said, in effect, that there was complete protection against the abuse of the power of protesting, because the Speaker could prevent a protest remaining on the Journals of the House. But surely that was not a desirable position in which to place the highest authority in the House. No doubt, any protest made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) would be couched in perfectly respectful language; but then he would be unable to answer for the language used by any 10 Members who desired to protest. The right hon. Gentleman said that the adoption of his proposal would afford a kind of safety-valve, and that it would be better that these protests should be made within the House than out-of-doors. But did he think that they would not be made elsewhere as well as in the Journals of the House of Commons? For his own part, he was certain that the mere entry in the Journals of the House would not for one moment prevent a single Member from protesting elsewhere. The Government, therefore, saw no use in this proposal, which, if it were adopted, would, as he had shown, be liable to abuse. No doubt, in some cases it would be perfectly harmless; but they considered that in others it would be productive of considerable mischief. For these reasons Her Majesty's Government were unable to accede to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, that the more the Government arguments were unfolded the more they had the effect of mystifying the question at issue. They, however, went far to refute certain other arguments which had been adduced more than once in the course of the debates which had taken place on these Resolutions. The hon. and learned Solicitor General told them that he could not consider the intention of the Amendment, but that he felt himself obliged to look at the possible result if it were carried. But when the Conservative Party submitted to Her Majesty's Government that they were unable entirely to pin their faith upon their good intentions in introducing the cloture into the Procedure of the House of Commons, and when they pointed to the possible and probable results that would ensue, these argu- 839 ments were laughed to scorn, and they were told they should not prophecy unless they knew. The hon. and learned Gentleman proceeded to say that the right of protesting was not wanted, because the most complete protest would already have been recorded in the votes given by Members. But in the House of Lords, where the right of protest existed, those Peers who protested had already recorded their votes; and they protested because they wished to record the reasons for their votes in the most formal and distinct manner. Hon. Members, then, on those Benches wished the same practice to be followed in the House of Commons. It was very easy for the Solicitor General to say that the practice would be open to very grave abuse; but, surely, the right hon. Gentleman at his side (Mr. Dodson), who for so many years sat at the Table with great honour to himself and credit to the House, ought still to be sufficiently jealous of the character of their proceedings not to allow it to be attributed to Members of the House that they would be guilty of conduct of which, as the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) had stated, there had been no instance in the House of Lords. "But," said the Solicitor General, "think what a dreadful thing it would be that it should rest with the Speaker to have the unpleasant responsibility of erasing from the Journals of the House a protest which might be directed against his own action." He (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) humbly suggested, however, that this would not rest with the Speaker at all. The work which he held in his hand said—Any protest or reason, or part thereof, if considered by the House to be unbecoming Or otherwise irregular, may be ordered to be expunged;and that, he contended, was a sufficient and conclusive answer to the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He hoped that the debate, if it were not closed that night, might be enriched with some additional argument from Her Majesty's Government, because the more they argued the more they disproved that bold assertion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), that this Motion was childish and absurd, and the more clearly they showed that they had not considered the full effects of the clôture they were forcing upon the House 840 —that Her Majesty's Government felt the force of the arguments adduced on that side of the House; but that, with reference to the Main Question, they dare not admit it, because they knew that would be fatal to their policy.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
said, he had listened to the debate on the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith), and was obliged to confess that the opinions which had been expressed as to its probable effects were somewhat mixed. Some hon. Members thought that if the right to protest were conceded, the effect of the protests made would be reflections upon the Speaker as the first Officer of the House; while others were of opinion that they would reflect upon the Government or the majority which put the clôture into operation. But he did not believe, no matter from whomsoever they came, that these protests would operate as a reflection upon the Speaker, nor that the right of protesting would be improperly used by any Member of the House. He was fortified in that opinion by the argument of the hon. Member for Southwark, whom, if he were in his place, he should heartily thank for having so ably shown that there was still some amount of proper feeling inherent in the House of Commons. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman now before the House had been supported by the argument that protests were in use in the House of Lords, and that they were sanctioned by ancient usage. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), however, when he rose, stigmatized the practice of protesting as being quite obsolete at the present day. The right hon. Gentleman was, to a certain extent, supported by the hon. Member for Southwark, who said protests had been used on a few occasions in the House of Lords—the last protest being made on the Disestablishment of the Irish Church. Having heard that statement questioned by hon. Members near him, he went to the Library and examined the Journals of the House of Lords, and finding that no protests had been made in the years 1876, 1877, and 1878, he began to think the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in his argument; but it occurred to him that during those years a Conservative Government was in power, and he then 841 turned to 1880, in which year two protests were made in the House of Lords. That showed that, any rate, the practice of making protests was in existence. Then he came to 1881, and he found that in that year there were no less than six protests made, that being one of the years in which the Liberals were in power. One of those protests was against the Army Discipline and Regulation (Annual) Bill, and another against the Charitable Trusts Bill. The Land Law (Ireland) Bill was also protested against, as were also the Law of Libel Bill, the Solicitors' Remuneration Bill, and the Supreme Court of Judicature Bill. The use of protests might have become obsolete in the House of Lords at one time, but was being revived at the very time when it was proposed to introduce this practice into the House of Commons; but if the Government would leave to the House of Commons that freedom of debate which was permitted in the House of Lords, the House of Commons could very well dispense with the necessity of protests. He should most heartily support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, and he was very glad to think that the right hon. Gentleman had so cordially accepted the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member behind him (Mr. O'Connor Power), because he thought that that was a decided improvement.
§ LORD BURGHLEY
said, he should be very happy to support his right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith) upon his Amendment, which, however, he thought would be greatly improved by the Amendment proposed to that Amendment.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Amendment further amended, by inserting, before the word "protest," the word "collective."
§ Question put, "That the words 'Provided also, That any number of Members who shall be dissatisfied with such decision shall be entitled at the next sitting of the House to make a collective protest in writing which shall be recorded in the Journals of the House' be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes 67; Noes 98: Majority 31.—(Div. List, No. 360.)
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.842
§ Debate arising;
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.