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 be decided in the affirmative, if a Division be taken, unless it shall appear to have been supported by more than two hundred Members, or unless it shall appear to have been opposed by less than forty Members and supported by more than one hundred Members."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.868
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS,
in rising to move to add to the Resolution the words "Provided also, That in any such Division the Votes shall be taken by secret Ballot," said, that in the past they had had in that House every opportunity for fully and freely discussing every change that was proposed. The consequence was that great legislative changes, after a full discussion, were accepted by both sides of the House and both Houses of Parliament, and received the approbation of the country; and no one felt himself impelled to continue their discussion. He would remind the House that it was now many years since it had adopted the principle of the ballot with reference to the election of Members of that House, and on the occasion when that subject was debated it was most fully and completely, and some people were under the impression most exhaustively, discussed. Having been fully discussed and fairly carried, it was loyally accepted and carried out. Now, as one of those who had originally opposed the ballot when it was proposed in that House, but who had loyally accepted it, he claimed the right to inquire if its principles could not be carried further; and he thought it might well be applied to this totally novel form of Procedure for which Her Majesty's Government were seeking the sanction of the House. What were the main objects which the ballot was held to have in view, and what were the principal objections taken to it? It was hoped by those who supported it that the ballot would have a very great effect in preventing bribery and corruption. On the other hand, it was argued that it would have no effect in that direction. He was afraid that recent disclosures before Election Judges and Commissions had shown that the anticipations of those who apprehended that the ballot would not put down bribery and corruption had been more nearly realized than those of the supporters of the measure. It was also contended by hon. Gentleman opposite that the ballot would have the effect of putting an end to intimidation and undue influence, while on his side of the House some doubts were expressed on that point. He was free to admit that in that respect it had had the effect which its promoters anticipated; at all events, they had no evidence to show that intimidation and undue influence prevailed 869 in electoral struggles to any appreciable degree under the ballot. Under these circumstances, he asked himself whether there was any apprehension that, under this new system of procedure, bribery and corruption would be likely to take effect within those walls? He did not believe that such a thing was to be feared; but he could not say the same of some forms of intimidation and undue influence for which the ballot would be the most appropriate and effective remedy. During these debates, prolonged now over many months, they had had statements from various Gentlemen in different parts of the House that they apprehended intimidation and undue influence in carrying the clôture; and if it was carried by intimidation and undue influence, was it not most reasonable to suppose that it would be applied under similar influences and similar auspices? They had no disclaimers except from Gentlemen representing either county constituencies or very small boroughs. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) indignantly denied that any such influences had been brought to bear on him. Well, he was not acquainted with the borough of Ripon; but he doubted whether the elements of a Caucus were to be found within the entire constituency. But let them take the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), a far more representative Gentleman. He found, not in a speech in that House, which might have been delivered under the influence of excitement, but in a very carefully written letter, the following passage:—That the Radical Party in the House of Commons should sit quietly by and see the Government deliberately forge the weapon whose chief force it is certain will in the future be used against the Party of Progress is, to my mind, amazing. It becomes, however, less annoying, though not less painful, when one becomes aware that not a few of the aforesaid Radicals are acting under the strongest pressure from without and in the teeth of their own convictions. A well-known Radical Member replied to my question as to whether it was possible he was going to support the clôture by saying—'I detest it; but I am no more free to vote against it than I should be to refuse my purse on a dark night to a man who held a revolver at my head.'That statement had never been qualified or contradicted by the hon. Member for Leicester. Struck by that statement, he (Lord John Manners) examined the Division Lists the other day to see on which 870 side the name of the hon. Member for Leicester might be found, and, to his surprise, it was on neither. He could not conceive a more convincing proof of the necessity for the ballot than the letter from which he had read an extract, combined with the absence of the hon. Gentleman. Then there was another class, the Gentlemen below the Gangway—the Irish Party—who deserved some consideration, and to whom the Prime Minister alluded when, in a remarkable part of his speech the other night, he illustrated the necessity of clôture by a bare majority by pointing to the possibility of the Government and the Irish Members combining in a wish to close a debate, but being overruled by an irresponsible Opposition. It was, therefore, of some importance to consider under what conditions the Irish vote properly so-called was not unlikely to be had recourse to when the clôture was established. They had some curious statements from the hon. Member for the County of Louth (Mr. Callan) and the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) of the manner in which the Irish vote was given the other night. He did not want to lay too much stress upon those cases; but the fact was, that the Irish Members voted not as they wished or intended, but as they were compelled to vote by the action of their comrades. In his (Lord John Manners's) opinion, if the principle of the clôture were to be applied at all, it ought to be applied by every Member of the House, free from all fear or favour. The Prime Minister, in his speech the other night, also pointed out that when there was on both sides a general feeling that a debate ought to come to a close, some influences might be worked to prevent the Leaders of the Opposition from voting as they would like, and they would be compelled by Party spirit in support of their Friends to vote against the clôture when they would like to vote for it. He did not know what feelings might actuate the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends when they should be in Opposition; for himself and his Colleagues, he hoped such influences would not exist; but if right hon. Gentlemen opposite desired to vote according to their wishes, there ought to be no objection to the ballot in the pitiable case the right hon. Gentleman supposed, for that was their only remedy. 871 Now, in considering this question, he had naturally turned to the Papers which had been laid upon the Table, to see how the clôture was applied in those countries in which it existed; but, strange to say, there was hardly anything to be found in them on the subject. Without any disparagement to the intelligent and skilled gentlemen who prepared those Papers, he did think it odd that in the letter from the Foreign Office, asking for information on the subject, no request was made that the foreign Embassies would inform Her Majesty's Government and the House of Commons how the clôture was applied in different Legislative Assemblies. The consequence was that there was no authentic information on the subject. In the French Chambers, he believed, the voting usually took place by ballot; but he admitted that it was a curious exception in the case that when they came to apply the clôture—although there was no system of open voting, such as prevailed in the House of Commons—ballot was not resorted to. He made that admission freely. What happened was this—the President called upon the Members to decide, by what he would call a show of hands—that was, by some Members standing up and others sitting down—and when that operation had been performed twice, if the President, assisted by his secretaries, could not make up his mind on which side the evident sense of the House had manifested itself, the debate went on just as if nothing had happened. There was a reference, too, he thought, in these Papers to a similar system prevailing in Germany; but he could not make out from these Papers that in any one of the Representative Assemblies abroad there was any such system of applying the clôture in that form of division which the House of Commons had hitherto practised, and which the right hon. Gentleman asked them to continue. It was, he believed, altogether unknown; and by the system which prevailed both in Germany and France individual Members, it was clear, were not subjected to that pressure from their constituents or from those organized Associations of which so much was heard, and to which English Members would be subjected under this new system, unless the protection which he proposed was established. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman might think of the course of 872 these debates, however well satisfied he might be with the arguments with which he and his Colleagues had recommended his Resolution, and with the fact that he had carried the great body of his Party with him, at all events, he must admit that the opposition to it was serious and sincere, that the objections to the clôture were truly and deeply felt by its opponents, and that he did not carry with him, irrespective of Party, the general sense of the House. Apprehensions were deeply felt that the new system, when established, would be applied under most severe outside pressure acting on the fears and ambitions of the supporters of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman could not be blind to those considerations. The Amendment was not proposed out of any hostility to this new system, because now, at any rate, was not the time further to contest it, but with a view, if possible of softening the asperities which he, for one, felt perfectly convinced must arise unless every safeguard were taken to prevent a constant sense of injustice arising from the belief that the debate had been closed, not by the free will of the great majority of the House, but by indirect influences from without being brought to bear upon individual action. It was for this purpose that he asked the Government and the House to assent to his proposal that, whenever a division was taken on the question that the clôture should be applied, it should be taken under a system of secret ballot. He believed that if the Government would adopt this Amendment, they would, at any rate, secure to the beaten minority the consolation of knowing themselves beaten by the free and unprejudiced decision of the House, and not in obedience to the pressure exercised on the majority by Democratic Caucuses and affiliated Clubs. The noble Lord then moved the Amendment standing in his name.
At the end of the Question, to add the words "Provided also, That in any such Division the Votes shall be taken by secret Ballot."—(Lord John Manners.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
said, he had cast a glance into those quarters of the House where the Members sat on whose behalf the noble Lord had shown such 873 a generous and chivalrous feeling. It was, indeed, touching to see a Member of the High Tory Party, who had been a pretty stout Party man all his life, now, upon an occasion when, as he thought, great suffering was about to be endured by the Members of two other sections of the House the most remote from him, with unparalleled generosity, come forward to cast over them the shield of secrecy—the old phrase revived, "the protection of the Ballot." One would have thought that if the representative Radicals, who had so large a share in the sympathies, or, at all events, in the compassion of the noble Lord, and the Members of that portion of the Irish Representatives who sat below the Gangway on the other side, were likewise in apprehension of those evils, they would have been the best witnesses to their own case, and he (Mr. Gladstone) knew nothing to lead him to believe that they would not have been able and disposed to plead their own cause. The truth was, that the noble Lord, in order to get up and to build up his case—in order to manufacture with incredible ingenuity a speech of some length upon a question where he (Mr. Gladstone) really believed it to have been absolutely impossible—he had been led to interpret, out of the resources mainly of his own mind, coming events which were to affect severely certain Members of the House—these Members being apparently quite insensible to the mischiefs that were coming upon them, or quite incapable of stating those mischiefs to the House, and dependent on the mercy and compassion of the noble Lord to take up the cudgels on their behalf. That was a singular and very peculiar case. If there was going to be intimidation in voting of this kind—and he was not very much afraid of it—it appeared to him that it would come from another quarter. It appeared to him that all the vehement language and unmeasured epithets that were adopted on the other side of the House, with respect to which they on his (Mr. Gladstone's) side had hitherto been exceedingly sparing in their comments—all the dismal views that were conjured up about the suppression of liberty of speech, and the great schemes that were now on the carpet for gagging large portions of this House—that was the thing that was likely to stir up intimidation against 874 those who were the supposed authors of those mischiefs. If the noble Lord wanted to suppress intimidation, let him recommend and let him observe a little moderation of language with regard to this Resolution, which had been described and which had been conceived in terms of such extravagance. One rag of evidence the noble Lord had brought into Court to support his contention, and it was the only rag he had brought forward. He had found somewhere or other a letter attributed to the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), in which he mentioned some anonymous Radical who expressed a great horror of the exercise of this closing power. He could only say it was a very singular circumstance; and whatever had been said of the Radicals in this House, he thought, speaking generally, they had been men who had the courage of their convictions, and who had often braved a great deal of unpopularity in this House and in the constituencies, and he could not, therefore, attach a great deal of importance to this anonymous Gentleman, who preferred the shadow of secrecy to the light of publicity, and who, if there had been no mistake on the part of the hon. Member for Leicester, was certainly an exception to his class. Therefore, he must say that the whole of this notion of intimidation, as likely to act upon the minds of Members, and induce them to vote in favour of closing debates, was, he thought, as visionary—he could not say more visionary—as the rest of the apprehensions which had produced so portentious an effect on the mind of the noble Lord and his Comrades. For his part, he saw very little likelihood of intimidation; but the likelihood he did see was exactly from the opposite quarter from that in which it was seen by the noble Lord. It was from the noble Lord, and from men who spoke like the noble Lord, that he (Mr. Gladstone) thought intimidation would proceed, because if courage was required in a case of that kind, courage was required to stand in the face of prejudice, and it was prejudice that raised these imaginary difficulties and dangers, and it was that prejudice that was most likely to be the cause and fountain of intimidation in these cases. The noble Lord said the Government could not deny that the opposition to this subject was of the most sincere character. Well, he subscribed 875 to that doctrine. He admitted that the objections urged were truly and deeply felt. But was it the first time that the noble Lord and the Party opposite had had objections which were truly felt? Had not the objections to the repeal of the Corn Laws been truly and deeply felt? Had not the objections to Roman Catholic Emancipation been truly and deeply felt? Had not the objections to the admission of the Jews to Parliament and the un-Christianizing of the Constitution been deeply and truly felt? Had not the objections to the Reform Act and to the noble Lord's favourite Ballot been truly and deeply felt? Had not the repeal of the Navigation Laws been founded on the certain ruin of the country? And had not the country and the Constitution been ruined almost every year? And were they not met, under these circumstances, amidst the ashes not of the Constitution and of the country, but of all the prophecies which had been made with sincerity, with truth, and with deep feeling?—just as true and just as deeply felt as prophecies, he would venture to say, of the same flimsy character that the noble Lord and so many near him had been engaged for so many weeks and months inventing. That was the nature of the opposition to the Resolution; and if Governments, in the face of these and similar objections in the past, desisted from the prosecution of the measures they proposed, the history of this country would have been a melancholy record of timidity and want of statesmanship, and of subservience to prejudices perfectly honest and perfectly sincere, but in every case, without exception, completely falsified by the facts; and yet, notwithstanding their being thus defeated by the testimony of experience, they were renewed again, if possible, with even greater confidence, on every new occasion as it arose. The noble Lord had, of course, the right to form his own estimate of the future, and it was vain for him to contest the noble Lord's opinion; but even if all these evils were likely to be realized, he was surprised at the remedy which was proposed. The noble Lord's first argument, as they had seen, was that intimidation would arise; and his second argument was derived from foreign authority. He told them that in the French Assembly the general mode of voting was one of ballot; but 876 that when there was a question of the exercise of the closing power, Members were called upon openly to rise or to sit, and thereby openly to testify their sentiments, and the noble Lord thought that was an example and an authority to induce the House, which never had secret voting, to adopt it on this question. But that was an argument, he (Mr. Gladstone) should have thought, for open voting, and an authority, as far as it went, directly running counter to the proposal of the noble Lord. But, in truth, the answer to the noble Lord's Motion was independent of reference to foreign authorities, and was independent of all these apprehensions. The House of Commons, between 40 and 50 years ago, gave effect upon principle to the method by which the personal responsibility of every Member of the House for every vote that he gave was established in the most formal manner. This was the doctrine of the Government. There were no irresponsible acts in the House. They wanted every man to act openly, and that the consequences of his act should be made known to the world, and he must abide by these consequences. He really hoped the noble Lord would divide the House on his Amendment. He should like to know who were the Members of the House who desired to give their votes on what was described as a subject of immense importance, covered by the shield of the ballot. He wanted to know who held the un-English doctrine on this occasion. But, apart from personal recrimination, the Motion of the noble Lord was radically and fundamentally opposed to the principle which he hoped, whatever else was altered or given up, they never should give up—the absolute and complete responsibility of every Member of the House for every act he did on behalf of the country. It was all very well to say that those who had absolute power, and were not responsible to anybody, should vote by ballot. But the Members of that House were responsible, and, in order that they might be accountable, it must be known what they had done. The noble Lord proposed that it should not be known what they had done. There was an inconsistency between the proposal and the general tone of the noble Lord's views in favour of publicity and of English methods. For these reasons, it was quite impossible for the 877 Government to accept upon any conditions the proposal of the noble Lord.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he cordially re-echoed the hope which had been expressed by the Prime Minister that his noble Friend would divide the House on this question, as, like the right hon. Gentleman, he should look forward with some curosity and interest to the result which would thereby be displayed. The right hon. Gentleman said that a great number of measures, including Parliamentary Reform, the Corn Laws, Vote by Ballot, Admission of Jews to Parliament, and other matters, respecting all of which foreboding had been expressed, had received the sanction of Parliament, without any injury resulting to the country; but he did not say what his own feelings had been respecting those measures, though he might in candour have been obliged to state that he had felt deeply on both sides of the majority of such questions. He ought to have taken a note of the fact that the reason why, perhaps, more than any other, these great fundamental changes were accepted by the country at large without any disaffection was because they were fairly and openly discussed by Members to the full extent of their desire. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the danger of undue influence. He had candidly admitted so much of the argument of the noble Lord, but had said that it would not come from the quarter indicated. He (Mr. Lowther) did not care from what quarter the danger might arise; he thought they might fairly ask the right hon. Gentleman, having admitted the danger, to be prepared to accept a remedy to deal with it. He had expressed his surprise that the noble Lord should be selected as the champion of oppressed minorities, and asked, "Why do not those Members get up and state the case themselves?" The reason was given in the letter quoted by the noble Lord, which was signed by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor). The right hon. Gentleman did not take any notice of that part of the letter which stated that a Radical Member detested the clôture, but he was no more free to vote against it than he was to withhold his purse from a man who demanded it, presenting a revolver. This statement was not anonymous. It was made respecting one Member of the House by another 878 Member, whom they had no right to charge with falsehood. The right hon. Gentleman, when he referred to the Representatives from Ireland below the Gangway, surely could not have been in his place the other day, when the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Callan) stated that, though personally in favour of voting for the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Gibson), he was deterred by the casting vote of the Chairman of the Caucus or meeting which had been held among his political Friends. The Prime Minister had spoken of the incongruity and inconsistency of the noble Lord advocating secret voting and the departure from the traditions of the House of Commons with regard to the open recording of a vote; but the noble Lord distinctly pointed out that, although retaining his old objection to secret voting, that practice having been adopted for certain purposes in this country, after full discussion, and not by the application of any gag or other unconstitutional interference with debate, he was prepared loyally to acquiesce in those results. He thought the right hon. Gentleman on this occasion had recurred to his earlier opinions on the subject of the Ballot, and had exemplified what might be called dogged Conservatism, as he always did the moment a suggestion was made for the reform or amendment of any institution the working of which in its present shape might be considered advantageous to the interests of his Party. The noble Lord had shown, he thought, to the satisfaction of the House, that pressure had been exercised in the past; and on whatever side it existed—and he doubted its existence on his own side of the House—it was the duty of the House to endeavour to remove any ground of complaint. In his opinion, the noble Lord, therefore, had not in any way exaggerated the facts in regard to the feeling on this subject; and he hoped his noble Friend would not be discouraged by anything the Prime Minister had said from taking the sense of the House on his Amendment, for he believed that independent Members on both sides would be found to support his views.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had suggested a claim to the gratitude of his countrymen of which, up to this 879 moment, he (Mr. Chamberlain) had been profoundly ignorant. The right hon. Gentleman told the House that the beneficial measures which were enumerated by the Prime Minister had been accepted by the country because of the fulness and length with which they had been discussed in the House of Commons. [Mr. J. LOWTHER: I said accepted without disaffection.] Well, without disaffection, because of the full and exhaustive character of the discussion of the measures when before Parliament. He (Mr. Chamberlain) remembered very well that on the question of voting by ballot, for instance, the discussion was exhausted very much indeed, in consequence of the efforts of the right hon. Gentleman. Those Members in the House who had watched his conduct on that occasion thought his object was to prevent legislation, and certainly the House did not think he wanted to secure its final acceptance by the country without disaffection. With reference to the charge of inconsistency urged against the noble Lord for supporting the ballot for Members of Parliament, after having opposed it for the electors, he could remind them that the argument against the ballot at elections was that an elector had a trust reposed in him, and that it was necessary he should be protected. Now, whether an elector had a trust or not might be doubtful; but there was no doubt that the Members of the House of Commons had a trust from their constituents; and it was very extraordinary that those who held this opinion a few years ago as to the proper way of performing trusts, should now wish hon. Members to exercise in darkness and concealment the most important trust conferred upon them. On what ground was the ballot to be applied to this particular Resolution? They were told there was a fear of great pressure being exerted—the right hon. Gentleman said "severe" pressure. They were told, further, that severe pressure had already been applied. Two proofs of that allegation were given. One could hardly be regarded as a proof, but only as an illustration. They were told that the Irish Party were subjected to pressure. Now, what was the case? From the newspapers they learnt that there had been a meeting of the Irish Party—that usual weekly meeting, just as occurred with the Conservative Party 880 —and that at this Caucus meeting there was a division taken, which, was not taken by ballot, but an open division as to what should be the action of the Members present, and the minority honourably yielded to the majority as they had promised to do. For what was the ballot, then, required? For the protection of what? Persons in this Irish Party? Was it to be insinuated that under the protection of the ballot the minority who agreed to vote in accord with the majority should come down to the House and falsify their pledges? That was not a very honourable insinuation to make against the Irish Party. The second proof of these allegations was taken from a letter written by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor). He Mr. Chamberlain) thought his hon. Friend, when he wrote that letter, was smarting a little under the representations which had been made to him by his constituency with reference to his vote on this subject. He spoke of the pressure placed upon him. Very well; what conceivable objection was there to pressure of that kind? Was there anyone in that House afraid of his constituents? Would anyone declare that he was unwilling to learn from his constituents what might be their views on important questions? "Oh!" said the noble Lord, "the pressure comes from the Caucus." Well, what of the Caucus? He would tell the House what the Caucus was, and what it professed to be. It professed to be an absolutely representative body—representative of the wishes of the whole of a Party in a constituency. Was that a false profession? If so, hon. Members might safely disregard the impertinent interference of a body which had no authority to speak for their constituents; but, if not, what objection could fairly be taken to the information which a really representative body was able to give of the wishes and opinions of the constituency? What Member would say that he had been injured or hurt by learning from such a body the opinions of his constituents? It was the greatest hypocrisy and nonsense to talk as some did of this matter. There were few of those who talked about the pressure of the constituencies who would tell the constituencies that they were absolutely indifferent to their opinions. If, therefore, the only pressure used was the legiti- 881 mate representation of the opinion of the constituents, it appeared to him that the possibility of such pressure afforded no reason why they should change their practice in this case, and in this case alone, and apply the Ballot to the votes of Members of Parliament. From his knowledge, he could say that the constituencies cared more for their votes than for their speeches, and that they would gladly dispense with the one for the other. Again, if the Ballot was to be applied to the clôture, why was it not to be applied to every other vote? Was there no pressure in other matters? Was there no pressure when the question was one of peace or war? Was there no pressure when there was under discussion the question whether a lawfully-elected Member was to take his seat or not? If the Ballot were to be applied in the present case, they could not logically refuse to apply it to every vote in the House. In conclusion, all he could say was, that if any hon. Members thought to shelter themselves by this method of voting, they would not be likely to secure the approval of the constituencies for a course which would leave them in the dark as to the manner in which their Representatives performed their trust.
§ MR. SCHREIBER
In the course of his somewhat discursive, and, as I thought, rather inconsequent remarks, the Prime Minister spoke of the vehement language which had been heard upon these Benches. Now, that strikes me, Sir, as being not a little hard; for I see the complaint is made in certain quarters that, at this supreme crisis in the fortunes of the House of Commons, we do not speak out upon the Benches of the Opposition. Whether that complaint is justly made, I leave it to those who have heard the debates of the past fortnight to determine. Certainly, it is not the impression they have left upon my mind. But those of us who have hitherto been silent may perhaps take the hint; and, with the permission of the House, I intend to speak out in support of this Amendment. A variety of considerations, Mr. Speaker, seem to me to recommend for our adoption the proposal of the noble Lord. In the first place, as I read our Notice Paper, this is the last of the Sibylline Books—the last offer of conciliation and of compromise, before we knock the buttons from 882 our foils, and finally discard—let there be no mistake about it—the present modus vivendi between the two sides of this House. In the next place, the proposal of the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) corresponds only too well with the facts of the position in which too many hon. Members of this House now find themselves. By which, Sir, I mean this—it is impossible for one and the same person to be the creature of a Caucus and a Member of Parliament in the old sense and acceptation of the term. And just as a few years since, hon. Gentlemen opposite perambulated the country, telling the people of England—"You are weak and dependent beings, and need the protection of the ballot," so now, in the same spirit of kindly consideration, we say to hon. Gentlemen—"That your rights of private judgment be not invaded, let us shield them for you with the ballot." But that, important as it is, is a small part of the matter. We had it on Friday evening from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, that "gagged men"—I thank him for the phrase—will experience so much irritation that they cannot be permitted to protest in writing lest their protest should contain a censure on the Chair. Well, Sir, of all the successive admissions which Ministers have made in these debates about this Resolution, the latest is the most damning; because if "gagged men" cannot be trusted to protest in writing, what is likely to be the nature of their spoken communications to each other, and what will be their feelings, when they see, next morning on their breakfast table, a long list of the "howling nobodies" by whom they have been silenced? No, Sir, if this fatal Rule is put in motion, at least let it operate in the dark, that "gagged men" may not know their "gaggers." "Gagged men," Mr. Speaker, "gagged" Englishmen, "gagged" English Gentlemen are certain to meet a policy of exasperation with a policy of reprisals. If you silence us, we will not hear you. That will be only fair. So that if you do not wish to be silenced, either do not put this odious Rule in motion, or, if it is put in motion, let us not know by whom. Certainly, Sir, if the orators of this House, with the Prime Minister at their head, and the hon. Member for 883 Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) at their tail, think to put this Rule in motion against Her Majesty's Opposition, and ever again to have a hearing, I can tell them they are mistaken, and they had better retire from the oratorical business without more ado. Sir, when we assembled here a fortnight since, I, in my simplicity, thought that the object we all had in view was to restore the authority of the House of Commons in its collective capacity over individual Members, or groups of Members, who now defy it; but it has been impossible to listen to these debates without learning that we have been called together to forge fetters for Her Majesty's Opposition. And they may be forged; but the attempt to make us wear them will be met with such resistance as will go near to wreck the House of Commons. Therefore, Sir, I most earnestly hope that all who love this House as we have known it in the past and as we would have it in the future, will seek to prevent the application of this most disorderly and obstructive Rule, by voting for the Amendment of my noble Friend.
said, he was so glad to find the noble Lord a convert to the ballot that he did not find so much to object to in his remarks as would otherwise have been the case. He was weary of hearing that the Liberal Members did not vote for those Rules from conviction, but from fear of the consequences. It was stated that the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) had said that there were 100 Liberal Members who would vote against the clôture if they voted from conviction. If the hon. Member said anything of the kind, he was labouring under a great mistake. He (Mr. Brand) knew of no such number, and he believed that, with the exception of those who had voted in favour of the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), there was no such sentiment on the Liberal Benches. Then the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) had been referred to; but he believed that that hon. Member was only quoting an opinion which had been expressed to him by an hon. Member who had said that he dared not vote against the clôture. But that remark only applied to a Dissolution, which many hon. Members undoubtedly dreaded. But the ques- 884 tion had since been declared by the Government to be a completely open one, upon which, in case of defeat, the Government would take no action of any kind. He could answer for himself, and for many others on the same side, that they voted for the Rule cheerfully—not because they liked it in itself, but because they admitted its necessity—its absolute necessity—to effectually remedy the evils connected with the progress of Business. There was no doubt that the Liberal Party did wish to pass certain measures; but he denied that they wished to pass them without full and free discussion. They were sent to that House for the purpose of passing such measures as were required by the constituencies, and the only difference between the Opposition and the supporters of the Government was, that when a measure had been fully discussed the majority should have their way. There was one other reason, which was the strongest in his mind, why he voted with the Government, and that was to save the credit of the House. It was necessary to save the House from the discredit which had attached to it from the all-night Sittings and Obstruction of recent times. With respect to the Amendment of the noble Lord, he should strongly oppose it. He had always understood that Members were trustees for their constituencies, and he believed that the constituents had a right to know how their Members voted on every occasion. More particularly, indeed, had they a right to know how their Members voted in cases of the application of the clôture. Unless Members voted openly, it would be impossible for the constituents to know whether the majority had not abused their powers in the summary closing of a debate.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, that on the introduction of the Ballot Bill he had proposed that the voting in that House should be by ballot. The old Whig doctrine accepted by the Peelites was that the Members held a trust on behalf of the electors. If a Member did not know by whom he was elected, what right had the electors to know how the Member voted? If the vote of the elector had ceased to be a trust the Member must also have ceased to be a trustee for the electors. For this reason he supported the Amendment. The Prime Minister and the President 885 of the Board of Trade and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Brand) had denied that Members were intimidated to vote in favour of the clôture. But he would bring facts to bear against that statement. A leading case was that of the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Macliver), who, when the gagging Re-solutions of February last met his eye, rushed to the Library, and wrote a letter to The Times in which he denounced the whole project in the strongest terms, and expressed his belief that—The Liberals would have fought to the last against the establishment of such a Rule had it been brought forward by Conservatives, and it was not surprising, therefore, that the Tories should oppose it.These were brave words, and the hon. Member was, no doubt, sincere in his expressions; but his demonstration of independence was forthwith resented by the Plymouth Caucus, who came down upon him for venturing to question the will of the Prime Minister with such force and celerity that the hon. Member, within a week, was reduced to submission, and compelled to write to the local papers, eating his former words and promising his hearty support to the Government in every division. He (Mr. Bentinck) would also refer to the cases of the hon. and worthy Member for Lambeth (Sir James Lawrence) and the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens), who were lectured and scolded by their respective Caucuses, for merely absenting themselves from the divisions; and, to sum up, he would mention the case of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), who, though he obediently voted with the Prime Minister on every occasion, was taken to task by the Kirkcaldy Caucus for daring to press Resolutions and asking Questions which retarded Government Business. The hon. Member was not in his place, but if he were present, he was sure the hon. Member would confirm all he had said, and perhaps explain the particular hardships of his case. It was quite clear that even the Brahmins of the Treasury Bench stood in great jeopardy of the attacks of the Pariahs. He denied, however, that there was anything like the Caucus on the Conservative side of the House. He hoped the noble Lord would press his Amendment to a division, which he would certainly support.
§ MR. P. A. TAYLOR
said, that he should not have risen on that occasion had it not been that the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) had been good enough to account for a letter which he had written by saying that he was smarting under a communication which he had received from his constituents. He begged to assure his right hon. Friend that there was absolutely no foundation for the observation. His constituents and himself understood each other far too well for such to be the case. They never said anything that they meant to be unkind to him, and they were well aware that, whenever he failed to represent their opinions in that House, his resignation was always at their service. In these circumstances, therefore, he was neither afraid of his constituents nor of the threats of the Government. For his own part, he regarded the introduction of the clôture either by a bare or a proportionate majority into that Assembly with abhorrence. If anything, however, could add to his objections to the proposal of the Government, it would be the adoption of the Amendment of the noble Lord. He was not going to enter into the question as to how many hon. Members on the Government side of the House would, if left to themselves, oppose the clôture. Some time ago, the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) said that there were about 100; but he could say that if this proposition had emanated from the opposite Party, it would have been opposed by the full tale of every Liberal Member. In such a case, the great Liberal Party would have risen up in all its magnificent strength and have denounced this treason against the Constitution. He would not trouble the House by giving them his views upon the clôture, because it happened, fortunately, that the letter that he had written to his constituents, which had been very widely spread throughout the country, contained all that he had to say upon the subject. If, however, he might be permitted to give a word of advice to his Radical Friends, he would recommend them not to place too much reliance upon the alleged unanimity of the constituencies upon the subject of the clôture. The opinion of the constituencies on the question was by no means unanimous. At present, doubtless, the opinion of the 887 majority of the constituencies was in favour of the Government proposal; but that opinion was not based upon sufficient knowledge of the forms of the House, or experience of their working, to be regarded as being mature and final. That opinion was based upon these grounds—first, in an unbounded faith in their great Leader, whose lead upon every point they followed with unwavering confidence; and, secondly, in a belief in their own Radical Representatives, whom they trusted to keep their great Leader straight if he should be inclined to go wrong—strong reasons both, but which had failed them in the present case; and, thirdly, their want of knowledge of the Forms of Procedure in that House. Nothing could tell more with the constituencies than to say that the great Liberal Party had great Liberal measures for the benefit of the country which they were prepared to bring forward, but could not carry in consequence of the Obstruction of their opponents; but the constituencies were never told of the evils and the danger to the principles of Constitutional liberty and progress that the Government proposal would involve. They were not told that the Government would be killing the goose for the sake of the golden eggs. He believed that if this Resolution were passed it would not be long before a strong reaction set in against those who ought to have instructed their constituents, and have been more bold in the assertion of their own views as upholders of the privilege of free speech, and that those would be called to severe account who had yielded up that privilege at the bidding of a strong and powerful Government, and had sacrificed to the interests of Party that liberty which was meant for the benefit of all mankind.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, that the Prime Minister had already made the admission that this measure was directed, not against hon. Members below the Gangway, but against the great Conservative Party. This proposal was forced upon the House by the great personal influence of the present Government. It was no secret what enormous pressure had been brought to bear upon Representatives of all parts of the country. Hon. Members opposite who had written letters denouncing the clôture had been compelled in violation of their 888 opinions to record their votes on behalf of the Government on this question. He would be glad to know why the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) had not risen in his place and stated his views upon the question. He was one from whom they differed, but whom they always listened to as an able exponent of Liberal views. He hoped, however, that the hon. Member would give his opinions before the Question was put from the Chair. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) had received an admonition from his constituents, not in regard to this question in which he supported the Government, but not to speak on those Indian questions in which he was the highest authority in the House. The electors of Kirkcaldy ought to be proud of their distinguished Representative, and thus to attempt to shut his mouth was the most astounding piece of electoral arrogance he ever heard of. The power of the Caucus had been shown in the cases of several other hon. Members who had been obliged to vote against their own opinions. He thought, therefore, that the ballot should be applied to the clôture in that House, and he should vote for it. The truth was, that if this proposal were to be carried out to the bitter end, it would be better that that House should not exist at all, and that all proposals of the Governmant should be accepted in silence.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he thought he might appeal to the House whether hon. Members opposite had not selected in him a very unfortunate instance of one who had been coerced and made subservient. Hon. Members opposite said it was very sad that a Member should be silenced in this way. He appealed to the House to say whether he had been silenced. He did not think he had; and he did not think he should be. There had been a good deal of misapprehension upon this case, and a mountain had been made out of a molehill. As regarded what passed in his constituency, it was not true that his constituents had admonished him. It was true that, quite unexpectedly, in a very small meeting in one of the burghs he represented, a resolution was passed that he had not given a sufficiently generous support to the Government. He had inquired, and he did not know whether any influence of any kind was 889 brought to bear to produce that resolution; but he had not the slightest idea that his constituents would subject him to any Caucus, whether inside or outside the constituency. He was quite willing to admit that there might have been some ground for that resolution. He did not take it altogether in good part; but, on the other hand, he had asserted his independence, and he thought his constituency and he pretty well understood one another. In spite of what had passed, he thought he might say his constituency was a model constituency, who thought sufficiently for themselves, and tried to control their Member to an adequate degree, and not, he was bound to say, to too great a degree. For his part, he tried to play the part, he would not say of a model Member, but to go as well as he could in the direction of that ideal. He had no squeamish horror of the name of delegate. There were a good many points that his constituents understood much better than he did, and upon those he would defer to their opinion. There were other subjects—the closure, for instance—which he thought Her Majesty's Government had studied better and understood better than he did; and, having paid the best attention to the subject, he had come to the independent opinion that Her Majesty's Government were right. There were other subjects relating to Egypt and India which he thought he knew better than Her Majesty's Government, regarding which he had expressed his independent opinion. Therefore he thought that he at least was not an instance in which an undue amount of coercion had been brought to bear with any success. He was still as independent as he ever had been, and he hoped he always should be. With regard to the immediate Question now before the House, he thought they must all feel that they were wasting time in discussing it, and that the noble Lord could not really seriously mean to press his Amendment upon the House.
§ SIR ANDREW FAIRBAIRN
said, that he had volunteered to return from the South of France, expressly to vote for the clôture, before he received any communication from the Government Whips. After the division took place on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), he was surprised to find his name mentioned in the 890 analysis of the division as one who really did not agree with the Government, and who had only voted under pressure. That was entirely false; and he wrote to The Times and The Globe the same letter, in which he explained his views on the subject. The Times, as usual, never published his letter. The Globe garbled his answer, and said that although he might be in favour of some clôture, he might probably not be in favour of a clôture by a bare majority. Considering that, the year before Her Majesty's Government brought forward this question, he had made up his mind that they ought to have the clôture, he could accept the challenge of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), and say that, had a Conservative Government made the proposal, he should have felt bound to vote for it. In fact, he had, for the last 18 months, been of opinion that, unless they had some power of putting down Obstruction in that House, the Business of the country would be at an end. As a Yorkshire Member, he had received from his constituents resolution after resolution passed by them in favour of the cloture, and especially of clôture by a bare majority; and he had great pleasure in supporting the opinion of his constituents in these respects.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he would like to know how many signatures had been attached to those resolutions, as there had been a futile attempt to get up a bogus agitation in favour of the clôture by a bare majority. The country would read with the greatest interest the admirable protest of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) on this question. He believed with that hon. Gentleman that hon. Members who supported the clôture under the impression that their constituents were in favour of it would find that they were greatly mistaken. They had the independent feeling of the country on one side, and the wire-pulling organization, represented by the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), on the other. He hoped those who mistook that for the genuine opinion of the country would read the monstrous, tyrannical, and, he would even say, infamous Circular issued by the Birmingham Caucus, pressing hon. Members to vote for the clôture. He believed that at the next General Election the 891 constituencies would express their opinion against this tyrannical and unnecessary pressure. The Amendment before the House would tend to very much diminish the evils of clôture, and, therefore, it would have his hearty support. He hoped hon. Gentlemen would remember that it applied not to any question of policy or reform, but simply to whether a debate should be there and then closed. This was a matter which might fairly be left to the impartial, unbiassed opinion of Members of that House, as it was not a question involving the responsibility of Members to their constituents. This was the third moderate and sensible proposal that the Government had rejected. The first was the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), who proposed that the operation of the clôture should be confined to cases of evident Obstruction. The second was the Amendment of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Hinde Palmer), who proposed that the judgment of the presiding officer should be reinforced by a certain number of Members rising in their places before the clôture vote could be put. Now the Government refused the proposal of the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), which was intended to secure the Representatives of the people from the coercion of the Caucus. The evident intention of the Ministry to introduce the despotic and oppressive Caucus system into that House, as it had been introduced into constituencies, would inevitably produce a reaction. In the meantime great harm would be done. It was precisely this foreign cycle of violent evils, followed by violent reactions, which the opponents of the clôture wished to avoid.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he was of opinion that if the vote on the clôture were taken by ballot it would be rejected. But although, he believed that under the ballot the clôture would have a very different effect from what the Liberals anticipated, yet so un-English and so unfair and cowardly was the ballot that he could not vote for its introduction into the House in any shape or form. Even to cheek the terrorism of the Prime Minister he would not vote to degrade the House of Commons to the level to which the ballot had degraded the constituencies by giving men who could 892 not speak the truth the opportunity of telling a lie.
§ SIR HENRY TYLER
said, it was a singular spectacle to see the ballot being supported on the Conservative side of the House and opposed on the Liberal. He could not agree with the previous speaker, for although he did not love the ballot more, he loved the clôture less. He should vote for the Amendment, because he thought it would, to some extent, tend to prevent the evils which would otherwise arise from the operation of the clôture.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 55; Noes 139: Majority 84.—(Div. List, No. 361.)
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have to inform the House that the three next Amendments on the Paper, not being in order, cannot properly be put. The proposal of the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton) is inadmissible, as the House has already determined that the Question referred to in his Amendment be put forthwith by the Speaker, and the matter cannot now be re-opened. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. C. Seely) raises the important question of an official Report of the proceedings of the House, but cannot be put, as it is not germane to the Resolution under consideration. The Amendment of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) is inadmissible, as it would be irregular to go back to the earlier provisions of the Resolution relating to the declaration by the Speaker or Chairman of the evident sense of the House, which have already been determined by the House.
§ MR. RITCHIE
In respect to your ruling, Sir, I ask to be permitted to make one or two remarks. [Cries of "No!" and "Yes!"] I quite understand that no Member has a right to move an Amendment that conflicts with any decision that the House has already arrived at, or which is the same as any Amendment that has been rejected; but I beg most respectfully to point out to you, Sir, that although the House has affirmed that the Speaker is to declare the evident sense of the House, it has not yet given any definition of what the evident sense of the House is. I also 893 beg to point out that there is nothing in my Amendment which is in antagonism with any Amendment which has been considered by the House. It is no uncommon thing in a Bill passing through Committee for there to be an Interpretation Clause, by which certain definitions in the Bill are interpreted; and the only object which I had in putting this Amendment on the Paper was a similar one—namely, to define, as far as possible, in what way the evident sense of the House is to be arrived at. It appears to me it is absolutely essential that the House should arrive at some conclusion on this point, as two different definitions of the evident sense of the House have been given by Members of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesy's Government has described the evident sense of the House as being something different from the mere clamour of one side; but the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India said the evident sense of the House is to be declared by the opinion of the majority. I submit these two statements are in antagonism, and it is essential that a definition should be given. If you, Sir, remain of opinion that my Amendment cannot be put, I would respectfully ask you whether you can assist the House out of the dilemma which I submit it is in by giving an official declaration on your own responsibility of what is meant, in your opinion, by the evident sense of the House?
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
I wish to ask you, Sir, whether it is in Order, after you have given a distinct decision, that your ruling should be challenged, and that a debate should be raised upon it—for the question of the hon. Gentleman will inevitably lead to a debate?
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
May I ask whether there are not several precedents of the ruling of the Speaker having been challenged and debated at length in the House on various points of Order?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The observations of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) seem to me to refer mainly to expressions used in debate; but that is no ground for importing his Amendment in an irregular manner, because the House, it appears to me, has already settled the question about the evident sense of the House. That is a matter which has already been 894 under the consideration of the House, and to re-open it would be out of Order. If the hon. Member desires me to define the evident sense of the House, I have to say that that is not my duty; that is a duty which the House itself has already discharged, and I am bound to carry out the orders of the House. With reference to the interpretations to be put on the expression "evident sense of the House, I have no hesitation in stating that, according to my construction of the Resolution, it will be the duty of the Speaker to ascertain, so far as he is able, the evident sense of the House at large.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
That is so very important a statement, that I will venture to ask the Prime Minister whether he will consent to introduce some words into the Resolution to make it clear?
I feel very great difficulty in answering a question of this kind at a moment's notice. We have been regarding the Resolution as sufficient in itself; but the question is a question which the right hon. Gentleman has a perfect right to put, though I should certainly wish to reflect upon the question before I gave an answer. I am sorry if I have said anything in the course of debate that could have imported difficulty into this question. What I said was, not what the evident sense of the House would be, but what it would not be.
§ MR. GIBSON
I beg to suggest that the important statement which you, Mr. Speaker, have just made should be entered on the Journals for the instruction and guidance of the House hereafter.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
I should like to know if it would be in Order to propose this as an addition to the Resolution?—Provided that, in carrying out this Resolution, it shall he the duty of the Speaker or Chairman of Committees to ascertain the evident sense of the House at large.If so, I shall propose that Amendment.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is too late to make a proposal of this kind, because the House has already settled the point. It has given its decision already in regard to the earlier part of the Resolution, and it is too late to raise the question proposed by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. C. SEELY (Nottingham)
With reference to my own Amendment, I ven- 895 ture to ask whether I shall be able to move it as a new additional Rule? If I can I will do so; but if not, I would express the strong hope that the Government would take the matter into their consideration. If a debate were closed at 3 in the morning, no report of the proceedings would be given.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
Assuming that the Prime Minister is going to give the matter brought forward by the Leader of the Opposition his consideration, I rise to ask in what way the House is to be in a position to profit by the result of the right hon. Gentleman's consideration? I think the right hon. Gentleman will see there is no opportunity for the House availing itself of the results of his consideration of the subject unless he either consents to an adjournment or announces now the decision he has arrived at.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have now to call on the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) to move the next Resolution.
§ MR. GIBSON
May I ask for a ruling as to whether the decision of the Chair could be recorded on the Journals of the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have to state, in reply to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that it is not usual to enter on the Journals of the House observations which fall from the Chair. They will, I presume, be reported in the usual manner.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
I do not know whether it would be possible, in the event of the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman being favourable to the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Devon, to insert the declaration we have just heard with so much interest from the Chair in the form of a separate Resolution to be subsequently brought up.
In the first instance, I could not resist giving a moment or two's reflection to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman; but I see, now that the Speaker having given the interpretation or description he puts upon the matter, we are asked to introduce that description into the body of the Rule. Now, it appears to me, if Gentlemen opposite are pleased and satisfied with the interpretation, by all means let them note it as a fact and as an event in the history of these discus- 896 sions; but I am not disposed to accede to the admission of the interpretation by the Speaker into the Rule, for if we begin upon that course I do not see where it is likely to lead.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
Let me point out, as a point of Order, that the Prime Minister has not exactly apprehended the point. I understand that you, Sir, put a certain construction on this Resolution, and you, in consequence of that construction, ruled this Amendment out of Order. [Cries of "No!"] Well, then, we are in this position—that you have put a construction on the words "evident sense of the House" which rules a certain Amendment out of Order. The construction which you put on that Amendment is not to be embodied in the Standing Orders of the House, and yet the Amendment we propose is not allowed to be put. It seems to me that this Amendment ought to be put, or else the ruling of the Chair ought to be embodied in the Standing Orders.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I would point out to the noble Lord that the ruling is not based at all on my interpretation. That ruling is based on the ordinary practice of the House. The House has dealt with the portion of the Resolution that the hon. Member wishes now to deal with, and it is too late. I must now, after this conversation, call upon the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
I venture to call your attention to the question of the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Seely)—namely, in regard to his proposed Amendment. My hon. Friend wished to know whether he could introduce that Amendment as a separate Resolution at a subsequent stage of the discussion. In consequence of the decision of the House the other evening, preventing a dissatisfied minority from recording its protest, it will perceive that the proposal of my hon. Friend is of great importance. I hope we shall have the decision on that point.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am not prepared to say that the hon. Member for Nottingham might not frame a Resolution that might be brought up after the other Resolutions have been discussed; but as an Amendment now it would be quite out of place.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
Last year, Mr. Speaker framed certain Rules to regulate the conduct of Busi- 897 ness during the period of Urgency. One of those Rules provided that, under certain circumstances, a Question should be put forthwith, and a subsequent Rule distinctly declared that by "forthwith" was meant without amendment, adjournment, or debate. I, therefore, wish to ask whether it would not be competent in the same way to move another Resolution, providing that the words "the evident sense of the House" should mean "the sense of the House at large?"
§ MR. SPEAKER
That is raising the same question. I have twice given my opinion that it is not competent.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
Might I ask whether it would not be competent to move that the interpretation you have given be entered on the Journals of the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have already stated the point. If the hon. Member thinks proper to raise a question of that kind, it must be done by a substantive Motion, and not by interrupting the discussion.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he thought that, under the circumstances, the most convenient course he could now take was to move the adjournment of the debate. There could be no doubt that a question of immense importance had been raised. The Speaker had placed an interpretation on the 1st Resolution which appeared to Gentlemen on both sides of the House to be totally at variance with the interpretation put upon it by some Members of the Government. ["No!"] The Prime Minister had acknowledged himself unable, without time for reflection, to state his opinion on the points put to him by the Leader of the Opposition; and it was obvious that on so serious a matter connected with a Resolution of that kind they were entitled to ask that sufficient time should be given to the Government for making up their minds. He therefore moved that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Chaplin.)
It is perfectly true I required a moment for reflection—the subject being absolutely new to me—before I could say "yes" or "no." Having had that moment's reflection, I stated that, in my opinion, it would not 898 be wise that there should be introduced into the Resolution the words of description or interpretation used by the Speaker, because if we begin on that course I am not aware where it will end. Therefore, my answer was a distinct negative to the Question put to me by the right hon. Gentleman. I apprehend that anything said by me or any Member of the Government, although it may form an argumentum ad hominem, yet it can have no effect whatever in competition with anything that has fallen from the Chair.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that although the Speaker had announced the course which he intended to pursue, it would be in no way binding on anyone who succeeded him in the Chair or who presided over the Committees of the Whole House. The Prime Minister had not met the point raised by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire. The right hon. Gentleman said he had had a moment for reflection and had availed himself of it; but he had not yet had time to consult his Colleagues, and the House could not be expected to be satisfied with the decision at which he had arrived thus hurriedly. The right hon. Gentleman asked them, without even engrafting on the Resolution the opinion he had so hastily formed, to accept his view of what was the possible duty of the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees instead of having the meaning of the Rule distinctly embodied in the Resolution. The Government must realize that some clear and distinct definition ought to be inserted in the Resolution for the guidance of future Officers of the House.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to observe that if the House were to adjourn nothing could be done in the direction he desired. The Speaker had already decided that Amendments about the evident sense of the House could not be put; therefore, any new Resolution the hon. Member might propose would come under the same censure. Under these circumstances, he trusted that the House would waste no more time, but would be allowed to proceed with the Business before it.
said, he did not think the Government were in the miserable and hopeless position the Home Secretary had described. Assuming that 899 there was an adjournment and the Government withdrew this Resolution, they could begin again de novo and introduce a new Resolution embodying the excellent definition which Mr. Speaker had given from the Chair.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he had noticed that the Prime Minister and other Members of the Government who had spoken had refrained from expressing one solitary syllable of concurrence in the ruling of the Chair.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, that, as a fact, great difference of opinion existed among hon. Members on the subject. The real point was whether or not the sense of the House was to be ascertained in the ordinary way by a mere majority. The Prime Minister said the Government were most anxious to exclude political pressure, and that they wished it to go for nothing. On the other hand, the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India distinctly stated that the evident sense of the House was declared by the opinion of the majority. Those two opinions were in antagonism. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] Surely, if the Prime Minister did not wish to use the Party majority that followed him and the noble Lord did, they could not be in accord. It was on this account that he desired to have some record of what was meant by the evident sense of the House.
After what has fallen from the right hon. And learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), I wish to explain. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that no concurrence has been expressed by us as to the ruling of the Chair. It is not my business to stamp with my seal and my authority the ruling of the Chair. It is rather to accept the ruling of the Chair. I thought I had indicated clearly how heartily I accepted it when I said there did not appear to me to be any contrariety whatever in what has been said by my noble Friend and myself as to the ruling of the Chair; but, if there were, whatever has been already said must be completely swept away and treated as not of the smallest authority in competition with what has fallen from the Chair.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
said, it was curious to watch the manner in which the Government shifted their position. He could not conceive what objection the Government could have to allowing a definition coming from a Speaker of great experience and judicial penetration to be introduced into this Resolution. But if they felt a technical difficulty only, he would ask them to support a Motion introduced with that view subsequently. Their votes would then be the best test whether they meant what they had said or not.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said: This conversation from first to last upon the matter now in discussion has been irregular. The hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) moved the adjournment of the debate, and in doing so he adverted to that which has been already discussed, adopted, and settled by the House. In taking that course he was certainly irregular. Except in so far as he spoke to a point of Order, the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire was out of Order.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
wished to ask whether the adjournment of the House could be moved in order to raise the present question?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The House has already settled certain points in its progress through this Resolution, and the House can by no method that I am aware of go back upon those points.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR,
in moving to add the words, "Provided that the Resolution does not come into operation during this Session of Parliament," said, he proposed this Amendment for the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), who was precluded from moving it. He did not suppose that the Government desired to put the clôture into force for the purpose of carrying the rest of their Resolutions. In his opinion, such a method would not commend these New Rules to the House. This Resolution was the most stringent and drastic of the whole, and all that his hon. Friend asked was that the Government would pledge themselves not to use the power enforced upon them by the 1st Resolution, in order to carry the other Resolutions with undue haste.
At the end of the Question, to add the words "Provided also, That this Resolution does not come into operation during this Session of Parliament."—(Mr. Arthur Balfour.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
said, his hon. Friend had proposed this Resolution in perfect good faith; but he could assure him it was an Amendment the Government found it impossible to accept. The hon. Member had said this was the most stringent and drastic Resolution of the whole. The view of the Government was that, so far from this being a drastic and stringent Resolution, it would be found by his hon. Friend very mild and gentle in its operation. If they were to accede to the Amendment they would be making the fatal admission that they were going to enforce drastic impediments to free, full, and ample discussion. The Government entirely and absolutely disclaimed any such intention. That being so, his hon. Friend would see that it was quite impossible for them to accept the Amendment, because if they did it would cast discredit upon their own assertions. He would suggest to his hon. Friend that if he were to allow this matter to go forward he would find the result most satisfactory, as all his dismal anticipations would be refuted by the event. His hon. Friend would feel how gently the Resolution would work, that he would have the same elbow-room and the same-freedom of speech as before; and there would be this immense advantage—that the Rule would be tried, not under one of those dangerous Speakers of the future who would be the product of a new state of things, but under a safe and trustworthy Speaker of the present, who by universal admission was certain to work it in a spirit agreeable to the House, and consistent with full and free discussion.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he did not see why the right hon. Gentleman should not accept the Amendment, if the Resolution was to be so mild and gentle in its operation, and if there was to be the same freedom and the same licence under the New Rules as before. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I said the same for my hon. Friend.] But his hon. Friend had been accused of Obstruction. However, if the Rule was to prove so ineffective, he 902 wondered why they had been called upon to spend so many weary hours in its discussion. His only object in putting on the Paper the Motion which had been proposed by his hon. Friend was to secure the full and free discussion of the remaining Resolutions. The Prime Minister told the House that it was impossible that the Government could assent to the Amendment, because that would be making an admission contrary to all the Government had said. But the Home Secretary told them the other night that there was no possible chance of the Rule being put into operation this Session.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, that what he meant was that there was no chance of its being required to put down factious Obstruction.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he might be permitted to observe how very important many of the subsequent Resolutions were. The next Resolution was one by which, unless with the permission of the majority which the Government of the day might command, it would be absolutely impossible to move the adjournment of the House or raise questions upon that adjournment. That was a Resolution of so extreme a character that it would be impossible for the House to accept it in its present form. Then the 5th and the 12th were important Resolutions, and so was the 13th, by which it was proposed that the first seven and the last three Resolutions should be Standing Orders of the House. That was a state of things which Members could not reasonably be expected to agree to unless some concession were made to them.
§ MR. HUGH SHIELD
said, the acceptance of the Amendment would involve the admission that the Rule would unduly restrict debate, which was not admitted by those who supported it; and the suggestion that the Rule might be improperly used was inconsistent with the position that the Opposition had hitherto taken, for while they foretold innumerable evils as certain to flow from this 1st Resolution, they had always said that those evils would not be realized while the House had the security of the present Speaker's impartiality. Yet now they were showing distrust of the present Speaker.
§ SIR HENRY HOLLAND
said, that he did not propose to enter upon the 903 broad question of clôture, nor to discuss the other question to which the last speaker had referred, of the impartiality of the Speakers of the future. He was prepared to support this Amendment as one most reasonable and fair. At first sight the proposed delay in making this Resolution not take effect during the Session might seem unduly long; but it must he remembered that the Government had pledged themselves—and hitherto had very fairly kept that pledge—not to allow Private Business or any other public legislation to come on and be discussed this Session. The Amendment, therefore, in effect, only pointed to this—that this Resolution should not apply while the subsequent Resolutions were under consideration. Now, the Members of the Government had more than once spoken of these Resolutions as a Code, and that was a reasonable way of looking at them. But surely, in dealing with a proposed Code, one part of it ought not to be put in force while the rest of it was under discussion. And this would be still more incorrect, unfair, and without precedent, when the part that was passed was to affect the procedure of the discussion upon the following part. Did anyone ever hear of one part of a Bill before Parliament being passed, and then put in force to affect the discussion upon the subsequent clauses of the same Bill? He thought it was sufficient to state the case to show that the Amendment was a reasonable one and ought to be supported.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he was surprised that the Government should not have attempted to make any concession. Despite what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, the fact stood out in bold relief that the Government said "No." The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department also spoke with a somewhat mild manner; but the House could not fail to plainly recognize the fact that, although the debates had now been going on for a fortnight, not one solitary concession had been made, and not one single word had been accepted by Her Majesty's Government. He desired to call attention to a matter to which the hon. Baronet the Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland) had already alluded, and that was that the Government themselves, in explaining the proposals before 904 the House, had repeatedly and steadily called them a Code. Was it not utterly absurd to suggest—nay, would it not be ridiculous—that in an Act of Parliament they could apply as existing law a section as they passed it, without waiting for the passing of the entire Act, and until, at all events, every part of it had been considered? Of course, these Resolutions were not embodied in an Act of Parliament, though they constituted the most important proposals that had been submitted to the House for the purposes of legislation during, at all events, the last century. Availing themselves, however, of that fact, the Government were now seeking to utilise the 1st Resolution for the conduct of the subsequent ones. It might or might not be that that Resolution would be applied. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary had assured them it was to the last degree improbable that the 1st Resolution could be applied to the later ones; but at the same time it was idle to suggest that they were not bound to be very careful and cautious before they allowed the 1st Resolution to pass in such a shape as to guide and control, and possibly mutilate the subsequent discussions. The 2nd Resolution was one that, if retained in its present form, would be strongly and hotly contested, and he, for one, should certainly fight it inch by inch. There were two other Resolutions that must necessarily occasion the greatest differences of opinion, and that might possibly be pressed resolutely by the Government, and be just as resolutely contested from that side of the House. Bearing in mind that the Government had not yet made any concessions, the result might be that warm feelings would be excited, strong language used, and, it might be, embittered expressions allowed to drop. Under those circumstances, it was unreasonable of the Government to ask to be entrusted with a strong and keen weapon, and trust to their good faith not to use it. He did not care to pry into the motives of any Government or any body of men. He was willing to take them at their own estimate; and, therefore, he believed that the Government was actuated by the very best intentions. But this was a case in which, in the words of the old proverb, "It was better to be sure than sorry." If it was not intended to use this weapon during 905 the discussion of the rest of the Code, if it were improbable the necessity would arise owing to the admirable conduct of the Opposition, surely it would be a very small concession for the Government to accept the Amendment. There could be no reason for refusal, unless the Government felt bound to show the country that they were determined in no circumstances to make concessions to the Opposition.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gibson) seemed to complain of the dulcet tones of the Prime Minister, and, at the same time, to threaten that there might be some strong language used on the other side. Well, he (Sir William Harcourt) did not complain of strong language. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman was wrong on one point. He said that the Government bad accepted no Amendment; but the fact was, they had impartially accepted an important Amendment from the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey), who was no supporter of theirs on this question, and another Amendment from, perhaps, the greatest master of the arts against which this Resolution was directed, the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton). There was no hon. Member who more thoroughly understood the whole subject. The right hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last had given the Government credit for the best intentions, and he (Sir William Harcourt) was sure that was entirely reciprocated by Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would, however, allow him (Sir William Harcourt) to return another proverb, and to say that they would rather "be sure than sorry." It was true that he (Sir William Harcourt) had, on a previous occasion, declared, that he was quite sure, from the faith he had in the good conduct of the Opposition, that this Rule would never be employed in the discussion of the Rules which were to follow; but when he made that statement he did not think there would be anything like Obstruction on the part of the Opposition. That assurance had, however, been shaken, by the revelations made during the last 24 hours. If the House accepted this Amendment they would condemn all the New Rules. Either there was to be Obstruction or there was not. If there was to be no Obstruction, the Rule 906 would not apply; but if there was to be Obstruction, why should it not apply? If the Speaker should say that, in his opinion, any question, under this or any other Rule, had been adequately discussed, and that there was an "evident sense" for its being closed, why was a different Rule to be applied than would be applied to all the other questions which would come up in the future? To admit that this Rule was not to apply to the question following that now before the House would be to admit that the Rule would prevent fair discussion. But the Government did not admit that; and the Opposition could not ask them to admit it. So far from that, the Government asserted that the Rule would admit of fair discussion; and, if that was so, what case was there against the Rule being applied? With regard to the argument founded upon the Rules as a Code, he would point out that, although all the Resolutions dealt with one general question, each of them dealt with a separate branch of the subject, and would stand upon its own merits.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, that when he listened to the dulcet tones of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir William Harcourt) he could not but think that his speech was too pleasant, and that he (Mr. Beresford Hope) must be in the town of Derby. In fact, he fancied he was listening to the strains of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and he feared where he might be led to. They must, however, look at the facts; and, that being so, they could not forget that these Resolutions had always been placed before them as a Code, in the common acceptation of the word, by the Prime Minister, and friends and foes had rivalled one another in attaching importance to their results as a whole, and as they hung together. They had been pressed forward on the ground that they made the greatest alteration ever known in Parliamentary Procedure. It was dinned into Members' ears that these Rules equalled in importance any Act of Parliament, and transcended very many; and yet an Act of Parliament never came into force until a fixed day, and sometimes, if it was a Welsh Closing Bill, not till 12 months after its promoters intended it to be operative. The argument in abatement of their being a Code was extremely ingenious; 907 but it was far from convincing to Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, though, of course, on the other side it was duly accepted. His right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had pertinently asked, what would be thought of an Act of Parliament of which each section was to become operative before the House discussed the next? Again, what objection could there be to declaring that, after the Code had been passed, it should not come into operation for a certain time? All Acts of Parliament had fixed upon them the time at which they should become operative. If they commenced to put sections of an Act of Parliament into operation before the whole Act was passed, it would be an absurdity and scandal which would raise the indignation of all sensible people. This was a Session in which, he contended, it was above all necessary that the Business for which Members were now called together should have a full and fair discussion. They had all left the delights of the country in order to come up to town, and show themselves good citizens by devoting themselves entirely to this great and solemn debate. There were no obtrusive Committees of Supply to intercept its majestic and continuous flow. Replying to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the borough of Cambridge (Mr. Shield), who had introduced into the debate the name of the Speaker, which he had no more right to do than that of Her Majesty, he (Mr. Beresford Hope) said they were afraid, not of the Speaker, but of those Gentlemen who would try to manufacture the "evident sense of the House" by acts in which there was more evidence than sense. Why could not the Government be content to allow the Resolutions to be dealt with in the usual manner? If, in February next, they were able to put upon the Table, alongside the Mace, the newly-forged gag of the old free Parliament of Great Britain, that would surely be a sufficient triumph without their endeavouring to humiliate their opponents by pressing this petty point.
§ MR. GRANTHAM
said, the attitude of the Government on this matter justified the fears of those who thought that the clôture was to be put in acting, living force as soon as possible. He 908 thought, however, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary had forgotten the fact that it was quite clear from the Rules themselves, as they stood on the Order Paper, that this was not an independent Resolution, but only one of several, and could not be put in force by itself, for they were numbered consecutively, and the first was referred to in the last, No. 13, which declared that the seven first and the three last Resolutions should be Standing Orders of the House; and his (Mr. Grantham's) contention was that until they came to the 13th Rule the discussion on the 1st was not completed. One portion, according to natural interpretation, could not be considered complete until the whole of the first 12 had been discussed, for it was not till the 13th had been reached that it was intended to decide whether this and the earlier ones were to be Standing Orders or not. He was, therefore, much surprised to find that the Government had intended to put this one Resolution in force at once. He further argued that, from the wording of the Resolutions, it was evident that those who framed them had not contemplated putting the 1st into operation until the whole had been passed. They were divided into two series, and the whole plan showed that they were originally intended to form a single scheme.
said, he had intended to make the same objections as had been urged by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Grantham). He questioned whether a point of Order ought not to be raised to settle whether the 1st Resolution could be enforced on account of the reading of the 13th, which distinctly made the 1st a part of the whole. It was strange that the Government were so little in accord among themselves, for while the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for India declared that the Rule was intended to apply not to Obstruction, but to foolish debates and unnecessary verbosity, the Secretary of State for the Home Department placed so much stress upon Obstruction that he had used the word no less than 10 times. In the conduct of Bills they were guarded against undue haste; but here was a Rule which, if passed in one day, would be law the next morning, a state of affairs which he characterized as undue, unseemly haste on the part of the Go- 909 vernment. There were some of the Resolutions which followed to which he had at least as great, if not a greater, objection than he had to the 1st, especially to that which proposed to establish Grand Committees. If Obstruction were at any time justifiable, it would be to the Resolution which established those Grand Committees; and he thought any hon. Member who valued Constitutional government would be justified in using Obstruction to oppose them. It would appear, however, as if the Government wanted the remaining Resolutions passed under the gag.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he should not have interposed on the present occasion, but he could not but feel that the Motion before them was a just, relevant, and pertinent one for the consideration of the House. There was no doubt this was a great and serious innovation on the principle on which their Business had been hitherto conducted; and he ventured to suggest, while the other Rules were under consideration, it would be fair to suspend the operation of this 1st one. He must deny that the Opposition had in any way obstructed the progress of the Resolutions, and thought it would be unfair to the House and the Conservative Party to assume that there would be any hindrance to the discussion of the subsequent ones. As far as he was individually concerned, he had never, in the least degree, offered any Obstruction to the progress of Business, and as soon as these Resolutions were passed by the House he intended loyally to accept them; and he would be no party to, or co-operate in, anything like Obstruction, in consequence of the decision to which the House might come. Many of the subsequent Resolutions he cordially approved of, and he hoped to see them adopted by the House. He believed that a large number of those who sat near him entertained similar views, and failed to see what reason the Government had for refusing the Amendment.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he thought that the Government, for the sake of their own character and honour, should agree to the Amendment, in order to disprove what appeared to be a very suspicious circumstance, and something bearing the appearance of a trick, that the Government had placed this Rule in the forefront and refused to exempt the others 910 from its operation with the view of applying it, when it was passed, to all the subsequent Rules. If they did not do so he would be driven to the belief that the Government had done so for that unjust and iniquitous purpose. This Resolution, in fact, was the head and front of their offending. He hoped the country would distinctly understand the position. Some day the Radicals who now bowed down before the Birmingham idol would remember with chagrin, perhaps, that the Rules of Debate had been passed by means of the 1st Resolution. His own impression was that it would be used for the purpose of passing those revolutionary measures towards which the Prime Minister was hounded on by those infuriate and insatiate Radical Members behind him. The Prime Minister had no alternative. He (Mr. Warton) did not think the right hon. Gentleman himself wished to apply the Resolution in that way; but the right hon. Gentleman must feel that if he did not comply with the wishes of the Democracy, he would be devoured, like Antæus, by his own dogs. Moreover, they had absolutely no guarantee that Procedure would be the only Business during this Session; it was true they had the pledge of the Government, but that might go, as their pledges had gone before. Indeed, remembering the broken promises of the Government with regard to the Saturday Sittings last Session, he should not be at all surprised if fresh legislation were introduced. He hoped they would not find out that the 1st Resolution had been put forward for any tricky purpose.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
while regarding this Resolution as the death-knell of freedom of discussion, and one which was strongly objected to by the Conservative Party and by many Ministerialists, said, that they were prepared to approach the subsequent Resolutions with every desire to give them a candid consideration. He, for one, was anxious to form his opinion on the subject of Grand Committees on what he heard from experienced Members of the House. It therefore ought not to be possible to apply the clôture until after the consideration of the remaining Resolutions to be proposed by the Government.
§ SIR GABRIEL GOLDNEY
contended that the proposals of the Government formed a Code, of which no part ought 911 to be passed independently of the remainder. It would be one of the strongest measures ever adopted by any Ministry to take one part of the Code and enforce it against the other parts.
said, he wished to point out that the Government were surrounding the House with trammels in such a manner as would gradually deprive the Opposition of all their powers of resistance, and that moment would probably be the last when they would be able to make use of the only means they had hitherto possessed of exercising any controlling influence over the action of the Government. It would be in the recollection of the House that in the early part of the Session he (Mr. Gorst) had asked the Prime Minister whether, when the 1st Resolution was passed, he intended putting it in force before passing the others? Although the Prime Minister had not on that occasion, given an explicit reply, he had carefully avoided exciting the alarm of the House by admitting that the suspicion was well founded, and that it was the intention of the Government to use the 1st Resolution to pass the others. Now, however, on the strength of their majorities, they had thrown off the mask, and now announced that, as soon as they got this Resolution, they intended immediately to bring it into operation to force the other Resolutions through the House. He had no doubt the same tactics would be followed in regard to the other Resolutions. As soon as the new one was passed, the minority on his side of the House would find their powers of resistance crippled, and that power gradually taken from them, so that in a short time, if they felt disposed to offer determined resistance, they would find their Constitutional power to do so gone, and their attempt too late. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen cheered that statement; and, certainly, nothing could be more marked than the contrast between the conciliatory and apologetic tone with which the Resolutions had been first introduced, and the aggressive spirit that was now displayed. That tone would grow fiercer and fiercer; and, before arriving at the last, they would feel the whole power of the triumphant majority put in force, and those who formed the minority would be wholly powerless.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 52; Noes 97: Majority 45.—(Div. List, No. 362.)
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Mr. Speaker, when the Notice was first given of these Resolutions, I at once announced that it was my intention to oppose the first of them. That is now a good many months ago, and much has happened, no doubt, since I gave that Notice; but I may say that never at any time during the course of this discussion have I seen any reason to change the opinion which I formed of this Resolution when I first heard it announced. We have heard debates, and Motions have been submitted to us, some of which, in my opinion, might have modified certain objections I take to the Resolution. I have supported the Amendments which have appeared to me to have had that bearing; but all through the discussions which have taken place, I have felt that we should be committing a worse error if we passed this 1st Resolution. Well, Sir, I rise to oppose the Motion, and I rise with no little feeling of embarrassment, because I cannot but be aware that if the rejection of the Resolution should be lost, and the result of my opposition to it should be such as recent divisions lead us to fear that it may be, this is probably the last debate that will take place in this House under our old conditions. I cannot but feel, Sir, that if the post which I am now occupying had been filled by one who had greater powers of addressing himself to questions of this kind than I have, he would have dwelt with great force upon the history of the great achievements which this House has effected under the old conditions, subject to which it has so long been conducted. Nothing can be more remarkable than the great advance which the House of Commons has made, since the early historical times, from the position of an Assembly charged with little more than the functions of granting Supplies to the Crown and calling attention to grievances within this Kingdom, to the highest position in the administration both of domestic and of foreign and Colonial affairs, and claiming and exercising a very large share in the Executive power of the country, and by 913 which it has attained a position not only great in the eyes of this country, but great, incomparably great, in the eyes of the civilized world. The House of Commons has not attained that position without severe struggles, both external and internal. We have had to struggle against the encroachments of arbitrary power; sometimes against mob tyranny; and sometimes against lethargy, and even corruption. But, sooner or later, the House has cut its way through all these difficulties; it has purged itself of all its ill-humours, and it has defeated, at the same time, its external enemies by the use of the same weapon—its freedom of speech. It is that freedom of speech we are now called upon materially to modify and abridge. I am unable to conceal from myself that in taking such a step, whatever may be the grounds alleged for it, and whatever may be the consolation administered to us, we are taking one of a very serious character, and one which is threatening the very life and power of the House. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlow County (Mr. Macfarlane), the other day, in explaining why he voted, somewhat contrary to his own inclination and convictions, against the proposal for limiting the power of the House in this matter, said he did so on the same principle as that in which Samson is said to have pulled down the Temple of Dagon on himself. I almost feel inclined to borrow an illustration from the same story, and to say that we, who have shown we cannot be bound or holden by thongs and cords, are in danger of suffering through selling the very secret and true source of our strength. I do not wish to offer these observations to the House in a spirit merely of lamentation, or in a spirit of alarm; but I am anxious to take this opportunity of calling the attention of the House and of the country to the real position in which we stand; and I cannot but hope that even before these debates finally close, some effect may be produced upon the mind of the Government by them. After all, what I fear most is, that this is the first step in a wrong direction, and though its effect may not immediately be sensibly perceived, it will not be very long before it begins to manifest itself. I do not deny that we have a difficulty to deal with; I do not deny that the House is afflicted 914 with a disease which demands our consideration; but what I say is, that my impression is that the remedy—the course we are asked to take—is worse than the disease. I am most anxious to call the attention of the House and the country to the consequences of the step which we are now invited to take. It is, at all events, a gratification to find that we have at last a clear issue before us. Early in the year—in the month of February—we discussed the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott); and, upon that occasion, the House by a majority—not a very large majority under the circumstances—came to a conclusion which may be shortly expressed in these words—it was a conclusion to give the majority the power, under certain circumstances, of closing a debate. Many who voted—certainly some—in the majority on that occasion, did so, I believe, with a reservation in their mind that they would still be able to restrict the power of the majority, by requiring one that should be larger than the mere numerical majority. Well, later on, after other Amendments had been disposed of, we came to an important decision on the Amendment proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), and then, by a larger majority than that which had spoken in February, the House rejected a proposal which would, in their opinion, have rendered it necessary for the majority and for the Minister to come to the Leaders of the Opposition, in order to put into effect the clôture, if it were desired. We have got rid of one of these complications. Hon. Gentlemen who may have voted on that occasion against the two-thirds' majority were—some of them—nevertheless opposed in their hearts, and will still be opposed, I hope, also in their voices, to the principle of the clôture as a whole. But now we have come to the question of the clôture in the form in which you, Sir, have put it from the Chair, and that is to permit the House to close the debate at any time, subject to two limitations. The first is a limitation with regard to the number of Members who may be present and take part in the vote. That is a limitation intended, as I understand it, to guard, not so much the rights of small minorities, as to guard against 915 surprises. The second limitation is the initiative of the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees. With regard to the limitation of Members, it is a misnomer to speak of it as being a protection to small minorities, because small minorities would find that, if they asserted their rights in a manner disagreeable to the majority, they would soon be swept out of the way by a large majority; and, if that were the view, I would say that it was an entire delusion, and that some hon. Gentlemen in a certain part of the House, who have been very much appealed to on the ground that the scheme of the Government was one intended to give them a protection which we should not have afforded to them, have been much mistaken and misled as to the real working and effect of what is called the protection of small minorities. But I admit that the provisions are valuable in another sense. They are valuable, because they prevent the closing of a debate by a surprise in a very thin House; and if that limitation can be preserved, no doubt it will have its value in the future on that account. Then as to the other limitation or safeguard—namely, that resting on the initiative of the Chair—I am sorry I cannot speak of it with the same satisfaction. Are we really to be guarded by the initiative of the Chair? ["No, no!"] That is the point about which I confess I have had great doubts throughout, and those doubts have been very much increased by the discussions which we have had within the last few days. I could hardly resist the logic of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), when he pressed upon us, the other day, that the effect of the words "evident sense of the House" must be such as practically to overrule any real decision or freedom of judgment on the part either of the Speaker or Chairman. Sure I am that if this principle is engrafted into a system of working, before very long it will be found impossible for any Speaker or Chairman—especially anyone elected hereafter under the clôture, and who may not have the former traditions of his great Office to sustain him—to stand up against a clearly-expressed opinion of a majority of the House. I do not at all fail to recognize the value of that little sentence which you, Sir, pronounced a few hours ago, and which, I hope, will be recorded and remembered in the House—that 916 when "the evident sense of the House" is spoken of, the expression means "the evident sense of the House at large." I hope and trust that these words, which, no doubt, will always guide you, Sir, in the application of this Rule, will be of sufficient force to bind also your Successors and the Gentlemen who may occupy the Chair of our Committees. But, Sir, I cannot but feel that that is a very dangerous and unsafe ground to stand upon, and that when the times come to which the hon. Member for Northampton looks forward, the pressure exercised will be such that the initiative will fade away into thin air. I do not say it will be nominally abandoned, but that it will be really abandoned; and if it is nominally maintained, while it is really abandoned, we shall be in a worse plight than ever. For having to exercise such a power nominally and not really will weaken most materially the general position and foundation of the Chair, and will render the Speaker and Chairman less able to do what they are now able to do when removed from the field of Party strife. And, in my opinion, one curious circumstance, I venture to predict, will follow from such a state of things. Obstruction, instead of being put down, will be actually encouraged; and the power of putting down Obstruction, which now resides so largely in the Chair when the Chair is supported by the common feeling of both sides of the House, will be greatly limited and diminished. I am afraid that the Resolution will be unable to put down Obstruction; and I am not sure it will not have the opposite effect to what is intended, and will, to some extent, have the effect of stimulating it in two ways. I think that the irritation which would be caused among Members who are not disposed themselves to be obstructive, but who may feel themselves put down in a manner which is unsatisfactory to them, may lead them into something like a half-sympathy with Obstruction itself. I think also, in the next place, that relying upon the clôture, in order to put down Obstruction, will have the mischievous effect of diverting the attention of the Government, and of the Leaders of the House, from the real causes of the difficulties with which we are surrounded; for it appears to me that we are not now dealing with these evils with a proper diagnosis of their causes. I 917 doubt very much if we have given sufficient attention to that which is one of the greatest causes of the difficulties in which we find ourselves. I mean the want of proper management on the part of those who arrange and conduct the Business of the House. If the Government are to have this power put into their hands in order that they may cut the Gordian knot instead of trying to untie it, I am afraid the effect will be one of a very mischievous character. It is impossible not to think sometimes of the strange destiny which seems to dog the footsteps of our present Government. First of all, their main doctrine at one time appeared to be that force was no remedy; and yet, in their administration in Ireland, in Egypt, in every part of their Administration, and in the Procedure of this House itself, they seem to have no other remedy but that of force. I cannot say that the prospect appears to me to be an encouraging one. I wish, however, to be allowed to put the question from another point of view. I see the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) is here, and I must really apologize to him for again referring to a speech of his, to which he gave us to understand that more than enough references had already been made; but I allude to it, because I do not very well see how I am to avoid it. Some time ago the noble Marquess told us that his great object was to provide for the closing of certain classes of debate without the necessity of having recourse to the violent and unpleasant measure of accusing a Member who might be carrying on such a debate for the purpose of Obstruction. The other day the noble Marquess said that he was quite right in the general opinion he then expressed; but he feared he might, perhaps, have been rash in giving the illustrations he did give. I do not think the noble Marquess was rash—at least, I think we are all very much obliged to him for giving those illustrations, because otherwise we should not so well have understood his meaning. The meaning of the noble Marquess I understand to be this—that his present object is not so much to put down Obstruction, as to put down what I may call pertinacity. He mentioned the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett), and said that the hon. Member brings forward Motions about Central 918 Asia, and that we do not want to listen to them, although we do not wish to sentence the hon. Member from exclusion from the House. The meaning of the noble Marquess is that if there is any matter brought forward by any Member of the House which is disagreeable to the Government, and which he thinks is disagreeable also to the majority of the House, he will be quite justified in exercising any influence he may have to get that Member silenced and the discussion put an end to; not because he is obstructing, for if the hon. Member for Eye brought forward his Motion, not for its own sake, but in order to stop some other Business, or to bring discredit on the House, he would justly come within the penalty of Obstruction, and we should have nothing to say. But if he brings it forward as a matter which he believes is well deserving consideration, and on which he feels that he ought to say something, who is to be the judge whether or not his pertinacity is justifiable? Who is to judge between the hon. Member for Eye, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), or the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), or any other Member who has at heart, and who wishes to bring forward before the notice of the House any subject on which the House has made up its mind and does not care to listen to any more? I say, therefore, you are introducing a principle which, if it has full play, will be found to be one of the greatest possible danger. We had, the other day, an interestingly lucid and candid speech from the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). I am sorry that he is not in his place. I should have liked to ask him a question in regard to the system which has taken hold of his mind, and in the prospect of which he evidently revelled. The hon. Member said—You may dispense with all debate on subjects on which the country has once made up its mind. When we have got our good Democratic Radical Millennium, we shall be in this condition—there will be frequent elections; at each election the country will return a majority pledged to certain measures; the Minister will receive an imperative mandate as to the measures he is to promote, and the Minister, having so received that mandate, will, of course, bring forward those measures, and it will be absurd for anyone to discuss them, because they will have been already decided upon.Half-an-hour, I believe, is all that out 919 of his extreme good humour—for he is a man of great good humour—he would allow the Opposition to make fools of themselves by attempting to oppose what has been decided. Now, let me take an illustration. I may be rash, like the noble Marquess opposite; but the question I want to ask the hon. Member is this—I have no doubt he has in his mind the possibility that a new House is thus elected, and a Minister receives an imperative mandate to bring forward a measure for the extension of the county franchise. That is, no doubt, one of the 100 measures to which the hon. Member for Northampton and others sitting opposite look forward. Well, according to his doctrine, the Minister will bring forward that measure, and we, after our half-hour, will be silenced in the way of saying anything further as regards criticism upon it. But what if the country did not return a Minister who was pledged to bring forward the extension of the county franchise? Suppose, instead, the country returned a House like that which was elected in 1874, with a mandate in a directly contrary direction. Would the hon. Gentleman then consider that his principle applied, and that under those circumstances half-an-hour only should be allowed to anybody to plead the cause of the county franchise, and that we should be at liberty to say—"We will shut you up, because the country has decided that this is not to be a part of the imperative mandate given to the Minister to be carried out by the House?" The matter, I think, would then assume a very different aspect in the minds of the hon. Member for Northampton and of those who support him; and they would be the first men to get up and say, if the clôture was proposed—"That is not a question which you have a right to put. We are here charged by our constituents, whatever the majority of the House may think, to put forward and express our views in favour of this measure for the extension of the county franchise, and you have no right to silence us by the voice of a brute majority." I do not see very well how, logically, you can escape from that conclusion. I can hardly mention the subject of an extension of the county franchise without asking you, who are so anxious to increase the franchise, and bring in a large number of electors—"Are you going to tell the people of these en- 920 larged constituencies that you cannot trust their Members to discuss measures, but that there must be a power of stifling discussion and preventing their taking a proper part in debate?" The difficulty is in where you are to draw the line and to say where free debate is to close. The natural desire of the majority will, no doubt, be that of desiring to put an end to all Obstruction, as it is called, on the part of the minority. The tyranny of the majority is a very awkward thing, especially if the majority be democratic, as the history of the French Revolution shows. I dare say some hon. Gentlemen here may have met with the very elegant and pretty expression, "La docilité du Républicain." It was much praised at the time by distinguished Members of the Republican Party in France. I am afraid that that is what we shall see here, and that there will be a readiness to accept the mandate of any power that may be strong enough to enforce its will. If we are to submit to such a tyranny, what will be the effect on the character of this House—what will be its effect on those who are desirous to express their own judgment and to speak their own thoughts? They will be to a very great extent stifled. There is nothing that is more required now, under the present circumstances of the country, than that we should foster and encourage individual courage among men in these matters. There is plenty of what may be called mock courage—that is, of men acting together and supporting one another in extreme measures. But what I mean is the courage of individuals who will, in small minorities, dare to stand up against the demand of a large body, or a mob, which is most valuable—that is the kind of courage in which, I fear, we shall be likely to be wanting, and which you will discourage by the measures you are taking. We shall, no doubt, find that there will be men who, whatever may be the discouragement they may meet with, will be ready to speak their minds in this House; but with regard to the more modest and more sensitive men, and those who have much in them, which it would be desirable to draw out, but who are easily repelled from bringing it forth, I am afraid you are doing all you can to discourage and silence them. I may be told that my apprehensions are very much exaggerated. I hope they are; 921 but although I do not believe that the immediate effect of this measure may be so bad as it may ultimately become, yet I am convinced you are taking a step which will be extremely difficult, and which, if not possible to retrace, will land us in a position in which we shall not be able to stand. We shall be obliged to fall, or to go forward. I look with uneasiness upon what I must consider the unfortunate auspices under which this measure is brought forward. It is not a measure adopted after calm consideration and the deliberate advice of leading and experienced Members of the House generally. It is brought forward and supported distinctly as a Party measure. Even if it were brought forward after calm and deliberate consideration, I should have felt myself very much indisposed to incur the risk which, I believe, attaches to it. It was asked the other day, from this side of the House—"Would you, the Gentlemen below the Gangway, have voted for such a measure if the Conservatives had brought it forward?" And the answer retorted was—"What would the Gentlemen on your side have done if a Conservative Ministry had proposed it?" There is much virtue in an "if;" but I may say that is exactly the thing we are not likely to have done. For myself, I can say that on several occasions during the last Session of Parliament, when I had, in concert with my Friends, to consider what we should do, I always stood firm in my refusal to bring forward such a measure. I know quite well there are those who have not scrupled to garble my words and have given them an exactly opposite meaning to that which they intended to convey. I stated, it is true, on one occasion, that unless certain steps were taken there was no other remedy left but clôture to stop Obstruction; but they stopped there, and represented me as approving of that measure, excluding altogether the fact that I went on in the next sentence to say that I hoped that was a measure that would never be adopted; and I retain the opinion which I held then, and held in common with hon. Gentlemen opposite high in authority, who have now come forward as supporters of the clôture. But it is a question how and in what spirit this proposal is made. I say it is made in a spirit of Party zeal, and it is made almost or quite avowedly, not for 922 the purpose of putting down Obstruction, but for the purpose of promoting Liberal legislation. I cannot but feel that in adopting this Resolution we shall be placing ourselves in the position of promoting Party interests and Party faction; and I venture to say that an Assembly which makes itself the tool of faction, and which tramples on a minority indoors, will before long find itself the victim of a majority out-of-doors.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman has addressed the House at the final stage of the debate upon this Resolution, with his usual moderation—
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I beg pardon for one moment—I am taking a very great liberty; but there was one other point which I think a very cardinal and vital point, and which I omitted to mention. I forgot to state that we have to consider the bearing of this Resolution on the other Resolutions. Some time ago I said—and I have stated it more than once—that the other Resolutions of the Government were Resolutions which, with some modification, might be accepted, and might do much to effect the object which the Government profess to have in view. In saying that, I do not refer to the second portion of the Resolutions, dealing with Grand Committees, which require special consideration; but I wish to say that with regard to the other Resolutions, their acceptability would be materially qualified, and must be materially qualified, by the passing of this Resolution. The general character of this Resolution is to limit the number of opportunities for debate. We might be prepared to limit those opportunities if debate is to be full, and to adopt the other Resolutions, if it was not passed; but the case is materially altered if it he adopted. I thought it best to mention this, in order that there might be no misapprehension hereafter.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I was about to say that in the tone of his speech the Government had no reason to complain of the right hon. Gentleman, who addressed the House with that moderation which always gives great weight to his remarks. He said that this measure was introduced as a Party measure. In one sense of the word that is true; but in another sense—that is, the malignant sense of the word—I en- 923 tirely deny it. The Resolution was introduced as a Party measure in this sense—the Government introduced it on their own responsibility it is true. My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury, at the very commencement of these discussions, explained why that was necessary. Many attempts have been made to improve the conduct of Business in this House by Committees and by other measures by which, without pledging the responsibility of the Government, something like a general arrangement was arrived at. All those attempts successively have failed; and feeling, as we did, that so serious a matter deserved an immediate and speedy decision, we felt it was the duty of the Government, upon their own responsibility, to make proposals to the House. When the Government makes proposals to the House on any subject, it is extremely likely they will be opposed by the Party opposite. No man has a right to complain of that. But if the right hon. Gentleman intends to say that this measure was introduced for the purpose of securing triumph to one particular Party, either in the present or the future, that is the greatest mistake, and I entirely deny it. I say that such never was our intention, and never could have been the effect, unless we are to assume that one Party is perpetually to occupy the place of power. It is quite plain that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill) does not believe that; and, therefore, I again claim credit for the Government having made this proposal—whether it be a wise or an unwise proposal—in no partizan spirit, but from a deep conviction that it was the best and the only plan which could give back to the House due control over the proceedings of the House, and enable it to conduct the affairs of the country. We have been discussing the Motion that is now before the House many, many times, for, in point of fact, everyone must feel that, from the moment this Resolution was placed before the House, the whole question of the clôture has been at issue upon every Amendment. Now, Sir, I do not say that in any impatience of debate upon this proposal. I say it rather to apologize for having very little myself to add to the discussion. Indeed, everything, I think, that can be said upon this subject has been said over and 924 over again. I think that, well and clearly as the right hon. Gentleman put the position of himself and his Friends, we must all acknowledge that the arguments which he adduced were not novel at all in this debate. Therefore, I do not intend to occupy the time of the House at any length. I should like to answer a challenge which the right hon. Gentleman threw out the other day, when he said he did not think I had my heart very much in these Resolutions. He was good enough to say that I had a pride and pleasure in debates in this House. So I have; but it is because I have a pride and pleasure in them that I wish the debates in this House to be restored to what I recollect them, when discussion really was free, and when small minorities did not usurp the whole time of the House, so that, in point of fact, freedom of discussion had become impossible. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) spoke of the House as having "grown with our growth, and strengthened with our strength." I wish I thought it was so; but within my experience of the House I have not observed that. It seems to me that the influence of the House is being dwarfed by our growth and enfeebled by our weakness, and that the country has recognized that its influence is falling with the nation. Then the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was good enough to tell a story of mine again. I frankly admit that there are difficulties in dealing with a Highland stream, with a lady, or the House of Commons, to the extent that it is absolutely necessary that we should take some measure to control them. It has been said sometimes that we on this side of the House have not been opposed to Obstruction, and that we have not aided in putting it down. Well, Sir, on that subject at least my "withers are unwrung." [Ironical Opposition cheers.] I am glad that is recognized by Gentlemen opposite, who are great authorities upon the subject. Well, the right hon. Gentleman, finding himself in difficulties some three or four years ago in conducting the Business of the House, difficulties for which he now charges us for being more or less responsible, came down to the House with remedies which he proposed; and I 925 criticized those remedies, thinking they were too feeble. I remember that the proposal was to suspend a Gentleman who had offended twice for a single day and so on. I said I thought that a Gentleman who defied the authority of the Chair three times ought to be suspended for the rest of the Session. The real truth is that the right hon. Gentleman proposed a remedy, but it was an ineffectual remedy; and nobody will say that if the right hon. Gentleman were in power and had his own remedy to work with he would be able to carry on the Business of the House. I said that the Rules he proposed were ineffectual for that purpose. If it be the fact that the quantity of Business has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished, the question is, what are the remedies we are to employ? Some Gentlemen opposite have repeated over and over again that we want to silence the Opposition. I suppose as Gentlemen say it that they believe it. To me it is incredible. I never was so astonished in my life as when I heard the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) rise in his place and say that this "Resolution is directed against the Tory Party, and it is directed against me." I am sure my hon. Friend, if he will allow me to call him so, was sincere; but does he really believe that it is the intention and object of this Resolution and of Gentlemen sitting upon these Benches to silence him? [Mr. E. STANHOPE: As one of the Opposition.] Why, there is no man in this House to whom the House listens with greater pleasure. Does my hon. Friend really believe that when he desires to address the House, and intimates that he has something to add to the debate, you, Sir, will be of opinion that the subject has been adequately discussed, or that the "evident sense of the House" is that the debate should be closed? If that be the opinion of my hon. Friend, it seems to me that he is affected by "the fears of the brave and the follies of the wise." No, Sir; that is not the object of this Resolution, and if I believe in the sincerity of your assertion, I ask you to believe in the sincerity of mine. We may be wrong as to the methods; but as to the objects we are entitled to some credit when we affirm that we have no such desire. What we do desire is some method of economizing the time of the House. In 926 the conduct of all business, if you are to deal with it effectually, you must apportion the time according to the object you have in view. What is the fact now? Has the House the means, as I am sure it has the will, to use its time to the best of the public advantage? Can anyone upon either side honestly say that this is so? Is it in the hands of the overwhelming majority of the House on both sides to dispose of its time? You know that any handful of men can prevent you from using the time of the House, can determine that the time of the House of Commons shall be wasted upon some trivial subject, and that, consequently, no time shall be left for the discussion of more important subjects. There is not a man opposite who has not suffered from that as much as we have done. You know perfectly well at present under the existing Rules, and I am sorry to say the existing practice, the House has no control over its own time to apportion it to the public advantage. If time is the most valuable commodity of all to an individual, so it is to the House of Commons. The necessity of some Rule of this kind had become apparent even in the time of Lord Eversley. There was not the same pressure then as now; but now that the necessity has arisen we must address ourselves to the remedy. You expect Parliament to do a great work, and you allow the machine to run to waste, to be employed upon objects which are not worth employing it upon, and you do not employ it upon the objects most deserving of your labour. Every year the country is requiring Parliament to do more, and every year, unfortunately, Parliament does less rather than more. I do not say that you consciously deceive yourselves upon this matter. But whatever may be the case within these walls, I venture to say that outside the walls the matter is thoroughly well understood, that the country knows perfectly what the mischief is from which we are suffering, and that it is against that mischief alone the efforts of the Government are directed. But, then, in the course of this debate some objection has been taken on the ground that we had said that this Rule was not directed against Obstruction, and yet we used Obstruction as a means of passing it. Now, there is an ambiguity in the word "Obstruction," and the fallacy lies in 927 that ambiguity. You may have Obstruction of different kinds. First of all, in the most popular sense of the word, there is a wilful and perverse waste of time, a delay of Business simply for the purpose of delay, that sort of desperate resistance to a single Vote of which we have seen examples. A desperate resistance twice, at least, has only been overcome by action on the part of the authorities which has been characterized as a coup d'état. That shows, at all events, you may be obliged to resort to a coup d'état as long as Parliament has no regular way of dealing with its own time, or overcoming obstacles of that description. Most Gentlemen opposite would say they are against that kind of Obstruction, and that they would be willing to deal with it. The noble Lord below the Gangway (Lord Randolph Churchill) does not say so; but the right hon. Gentleman the recognized Leader of the Opposition condemns Obstruction of that description. However, it is not only necessary to know the view of Phœbus Apollo, but of Phæton. In the words of Prior, he may—Obtain the chariot for a dayAnd set the world on fire.The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock tells us he is not against Irish Obstruction; he approves of it; he thinks it is a thing we require to encourage. He is altogether against Hibernian lawyers who sit upon the Front Bench; but he is as thick as possible with Irish Gentlemen below the Gangway. He says he regards Obstruction as a safety-valve. In that I fear there is a confusion of ideas, for I always thought a safety-valve was somewhat different from Obstruction. That is one of the rival policies among the Conservative Party in dealing with this matter. But besides this, the more familiar kind of Obstruction, there are other kinds to which likewise this Resolution is addressed. You may have conduct which does, in fact, obstruct Business, and which consequently is as much Obstruction as the other sort. That is the Obstruction against which this Resolution is clearly directed. Anything which wastes the time of the House, anything which leads to that which is beyond adequate discussion, is a thing against which this Resolution is directed. Anything beyond adequate discussion is Ob- 928 struction, whatever the motive or the source from which it may originate. Now, it is extremely difficult to deal with, because it is very Protean in its structure. We are very familiar with what is called the "block" system. I do not mean the system so skilfully carried out by the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton), but the system of discussing the most trivial measures in the world at extreme length, not on account of the measure itself, but to prevent other measures from being discussed; that is Obstruction of the very worst description, because it is a most unjustifiable waste of the time of the House. It is against waste of that description that this Resolution is directed; because when a measure of small importance and trivial character is discussed day after day and week after week, not upon its own merits, but simply for the purpose of preventing other measures from being discussed, that is one of the worst forms of Obstruction, and if the House sees that this is being done, it would be justified in saying—"We have discussed this measure long enough, let us pass on to another." That is common sense. Otherwise, what would happen? You have three measures which might be fairly discussed in three or four months, and what is easier than to take one of these and spend the whole four months upon it? [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: Hear, hear!] The noble Lord cheers. I do not know whether he is really opposed to this Resolution, except that he has argued in a self-contradictory way, not exactly seeing with which horse he is going to win. The other day he urged the Conservative Party not to be so suicidal as to refuse the clôture, because, as he said, "when we come into Office we shall want it. Let us have a real clôture, so that we may carry our measures of Tory Democracy." Then, why is he against the clôture, and in what other way does he expect to be able to carry his measures of Tory Democracy? Coming into Office, he is going to carry these measures, and he cannot tolerate a two-thirds' majority, because that would obstruct and impede his projects; but if he is to have no clôture, I do not understand how these great measures are to be rushed through by the noble Lord. The real question before us is, is the House to have power to dis- 929 pose of its time or not; and, if not, who I is to determine how the time of the House is to be laid out? I do not think I am stating a very extraordinary proposition when I say that on this point the majority ought to decide, and that for this purpose the majority does mean the House of Commons. When you say "the House of Commons" has done this or that you mean the majority; when the House conducts its Business you mean the majority does so. And why? Because, as my noble Friend said the other night, the country holds, and must hold, the majority of the House of Commons responsible for the conduct of its Business. Indeed, no one else can possibly be responsible for it. Whichever Party furnishes the majority, there is the body of men whom the country has a right to hold responsible. The House decides by a majority upon all great questions, and, above all, the question of the order of its proceedings. It decides, for example, whether a particular Order of the Day shall have precedence; whether it shall sit on Saturdays, and so forth. And I was quite astonished to hear an hon. Member on the Front Opposition Bench say that such questions are decided by general consent. Nothing of the kind happens; the arrangement is made by the majority; and that must necessarily be the case, because if the country turned round on the House and asked the Government "What have you done with our time?" we could not go to the country and say—"We were willing to use your time to the best advantage, but the minority would not let us." What an answer is that for the majority to make to the country? The right hon. Gentleman does not attribute much importance to the safeguards we have provided. Let me say from what point of view I regard them. In my view, the Speaker is placed as a sort of assessor and moderator over the majority in this matter. It has been said over and over again that there used to be an honourable understanding with reference to the conduct of the Business of the House, when the minority agreed with the majority that the time had come for deciding the question under discussion. Unhappily, that is no longer to be relied upon. [An hon. MEMBER: Why?] Well, look back to the last two or three years. I have described the position that the Speaker 930 holds, in my opinion, and I do not see how the duties of an assessor and moderator can be better performed than by the Speaker. Well, you also say that you contend for freedom of discussion. I say that we are for freedom of discussion as much as you. ["No!"] Yes, we are. Why should we not be? Who, I should like to know, has had the best of freedom of discussion in this country for the last 50 years—is it the Conservative or the Liberal Party? Depend upon it, all the measures we have carried against your resistance have been obtained by freedom of discussion. Why, you had possession of all the fortresses of the country, and we stormed them by freedom of discussion. We shall use freedom of discussion yet. What you want is, not freedom of discussion, but the power, even if the Speaker decides that the discussion has been adequate, of preventing the Question from being put. You are contending, not for freedom of discussion, but for a veto on Business. You contend for the right avowed by the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), and, I understand, approved by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill)—a right, if you choose, to defeat any measure by a minority, however small, even if that measure be supported by a majority, however large. ["No, no!"] That is the issue, and that power you cannot deny can be exercised under the existing Rules of the House. There is no dispute about it; that can at present be done, and that is the real issue here—the right of the minority to prevail over the majority. ["No, no!"] Well, it cannot be settled by clamour. I did not know, when I used that expression, that it was my right hon. Predecessor (Sir E. Assheton Cross) to whom I was addressing it. I say your objection, in my opinion, is not to silence; that is not what you refer to. What you would demand is, that you should have the power to evade defeat by delay, if you chose to exercise it. You wish to reserve to yourselves the power of preventing defeat by unlimited delay; but that is not a legitimate Parliamentary object. We have seen the power claimed and exercised by men who do not profess allegiance to this Parliament; and that is one thing that must be remembered. We have heard a great deal about a reckless and unscrupulous majority. As- 931 sume all you like against that majority as to the mischief it could do. It is assumed that a minority can never he reckless or unscrupulous. Why should that he assumed? And what is the consequence of the assumption? Why, the action of the House of Commons may he entirely paralyzed, and that is not a question for the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party, but for the whole country, in whatever hands the Government is. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said he disapproved of the clôture, but thought it was the only alternative.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I said, when recommending some other measure, that the only alternative would be this.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
At all events, we have come to a point where, if this be the only effectual measure, we must employ it. I admit all the prejudice against it. I admit I would far rather, if I thought it possible, adhere to the old traditional Rules of the House of Commons. One is naturally extremely averse to touching anything connected with an ancient institution like this House. Therefore, I do ask the House to believe that I have no rash desire to do so; but the experiences of later years of this Government, and of the preceding Government, have shown that it is absolutely indispensable that a remedy of this description should be applied. It is said the power may be abused. So it may be. But what will be the consequence? If you refuse the power you will reduce the House to a state of impotence. There are powers vested in the Crown and in the House of Lords which might be abused with the most mischievous effect; but hon. Gentlemen opposite do not propose to take them away. To nearly all the institutions of the country we are compelled to trust powers which, if they were abused, would produce results we should deplore. Yet that is not a reason for refusing the powers and paralyzing the Legislature or the Executive. You must rely for the use of these Rules, as of all the rest of the powers, upon the good humour and good sense of the English nation, as represented both in and out of the House of Commons. Hon. Members opposite entertain great alarm upon this subject. May I remind them, without offence, that they have enter- 932 tained great alarms on the subject of many other proposals made by the Liberal Party. There is hardly a great reform which has not inspired you with alarms which, happily, have not been realized. There is not one of which it was not said it would produce results disastrous to the country; and they have not followed. Let me ask the Leaders of the Opposition what would be their position if they had to take our place? They might find some difficulty if they could not always rely upon the close alliance of the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) and the Friends near him. Suppose they found they were not able to transact the necessary Business of the nation, as they have found before; suppose they found minorities had very different objects from freedom of discussion in this House, and were determined to paralyze the action of the State, and then they found that by voting against this Resolution they had deprived, not only themselves, but the country and the House of Commons, of the means of doing that which it is their clear duty to do—what condemnation would be too strong, what remorse too great, feeling that they had brought on themselves evils against which they had no remedy? That is a situation which is quite possible; you may take these seats, and you may find yourselves in it. We cannot accept that responsibility. You may remove us from these seats—that would be a circumstance I should not personally regret; but as long as we occupy these seats we have a duty to perform to the House of Commons and to the country. We have to propose to them such measures as we think necessary for the public advantage; and we have to endeavour, as far as we can, to make the House of Commons what it has been in former times—a great instrument for carrying out the will of the nation.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
remarked, that the Home Secretary had informed them that everything had been said which could be said on this subject; and certainly the right hon. and learned Gentleman illustrated that statement pretty well by the speech to which they had just listened. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had assured them that the only plan which could be devised for restoring the authority of the House was the one under discussion, and he had em- 933 phatically denied that the power of closure was to be used for silencing the Opposition. He could only repeat that hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House had no doubt that it was not the intention of the present occupants of the Treasury Bench so to use the power; but they could not by any possibility answer for those who would come after them, or for those who would occupy the Chair after the present Speaker had resigned his Office. When this proposal was first brought forward he thought it was directed against the particular kind of wilful and persistent Obstruction which it was more necessary to stop than other forms of that unfortunate practice. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), however, referred to the practice of making Motions and keeping up long debates on comparatively trivial questions for the purpose of preventing certain measures from being brought on. He believed the hon. Member alluded to the Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister Bill as a cause of this mode of Obstruction. The argument, he thought, was one against the Half-past 12 o'clock Rule rather than in favour of this Resolution. It might be fairly argued that closure would be inoperative in such a case, inasmuch as it would be necessary to allow a certain time for the discussion of each of the Motions preceding the Bill objected to. Another form of Obstruction consisted in the discursiveness and length of speeches, in the "exuberant verbosity" of some Gentlemen. But certainly the Liberal Party was more obnoxious to that charge than the Conservatives. He knew that figures might be made to prove anything; but, at the same time, they occasionally formed an instructive study, and he thought it would be of some service to compare the speeches of one prominent Member of the House with another. He had taken the right hon. Gentlemen the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister, and he had selected the volume of Hansard produced in 1879, from the period of the 31st of March to the 8th of May. At that time his right hon. Friend was Leader of the House and Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister was but a private Member. He found that during that period, exclusive of the Answers to Questions, the then Leader of the House occupied 71 columns 934 in Hansard, while the Prime Minister occupied 55 columns. Then he had selected an analogous period in 1881 from March 26 to May 6, when the position of the two right hon. Gentlemen were exactly reversed. Then he found that his right hon. Friend occupied 31½ columns, while the Prime Minister occupied 139 columns, or nearly twice as much time as was occupied by his right hon. Friend in a similar period and under similar circumstances. He should say that both these periods included the Budget Statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. [Mr. GLADSTONE: There was the Land Bill.] He did not know how that was. He did not wish to say that the right Gentleman should have curtailed his power of speech, for they were always delighted to hear him; but he quoted the figures as showing how the time of the House was sometimes used. The Prime Minister had said that in other countries the clôture had never been abused. But the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) had pointed out one occasion of such abuse. That hon. and learned Gentleman said—I have heard it stated in America that if there had been full debate the Civil War would have been avoided.If that was so, it was a striking instance of abuse. Sir Erskine May, too, had pointed ont that in America the clôture had been found ineffectual, and had to be supplemented by the one-hour Rule, under which no speaker whatever was allowed to speak more than one hour. The one-hour Rule had been found eminently successful. Much had been said against Obstruction, and, no doubt, a good deal of what had been said was just; nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that Obstruction was by no means a new practice, and that there had been occasions when it proved to be anything but an unmixed evil. Such an occasion was March 12, 1771, when the minority divided the House 23 times in its resistance against the proposal to punish the printers of the Debates, and when Burke said that "Posterity would bless the pertinacity of that day." This Rule was now avowedly aimed at Obstruction in the shape of prolixity and discursive debating, and the House would gladly welcome some reform provided it did not unduly interfere with due liberty of speech and action. The present proposal would be deleterious to the excel- 935 lence of Parliamentary legislation. A good deal had been said about the power of public opinion to prevent the improper and tyrannical use of the clôture. If that was true, would not public opinion be equally efficacious in preventing the inconvenient use of Obstruction in that House? A proof of the indifference of the public to this question was shown in the fact that on no occasion during the debates on the clôture Rules had it been necessary that balloting should be resorted to for admission to the Strangers' Gallery. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not bring his great career to a close by passing a restrictive measure which would give more time to the House by the sacrifice of the freedom and independence of debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Viscount Lymington.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at five minutes after Twelve o'clock.