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 he 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.
§ VISCOUNT LYMINGTON
said, that in none of the speeches of hon. Members did he find they denied the fact that there had been great Obstruction, in none that the Rules of the House were inadequate to deal with that Obstruction. What was the remedy which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition suggested as a security for the good conduct of debate in that House? The right hon. Gentleman said it was the good feeling of the great body of the House, and that seemed to represent the spirit of the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. Walter) in his able speech in support of a proportional majority; but, speaking from the experience of the last few Sessions, what was the sum and value of this good feeling? In the first place, they had in the House a body of earnest and determined men, whose 959 avowed object was the acquisition of an independent Parliament; and it was the avowed policy of those hon. Members, as they could not obtain that object in accordance with the wishes of the Members of the House, to endeavour to coerce the House and the country into this concession by rendering their presence in the House intolerable, by hampering and obstructing the Business, and by destroying the business-like and efficient character of the House of Commons, and degrading its position in the opinion of the constituencies. Obstruction, however, had not only been practised by the Irish Members; it had been practised in all parts of the House. Obstruction had become an art, which, once discovered, was always ready to hand, and was a formidable weapon in the hands of a small and determined minority. The House had lost that corporate character which permitted it to be influenced and controlled by the general opinion of its Members. In addition to this, and he might say as one of the causes of this, a great change had come over Parliament from the mode in which it was constituted. While Members were returned in great numbers for nomination boroughs, and the House was drawn almost entirely from one class, what the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford North-cote) alluded to as the good opinion and general sense of the House wag, doubtless, a very effective control on behalf of the good conduct of debate. Whether for good or evil, that influence had passed away, and in place of social pressure they now had popular pressure from great constituencies. The changes of the last 30 years had brought Parliament directly under the influence of the people themselves. As far as he was aware, there were only two other methods suggested, apart from the closing power, aimed at facilitating Business in the House. The one was the reference of Bills to Grand Committees; the second was limiting the duration of speeches. As to the reference of Bills to Grand Committees, he considered it pregnant with serious difficulties; but, while reserving his opinion, it might be turned to good account if it was found capable of meeting some of the reasonable requirements of the Irish Party. But if it were found expedient to refer Bills to Grand Committees, it could not be those 960 which contained any question of general principle, and in regard to which the whole body of the House would have an interest. On measures of this character, an Opposition would be able to use the weapons of Obstruction in all their power, and the majority would remain powerless without clôture; and it was the primary object, it seemed to him, of reforming the Rules, to make the House, and not a minority, master of its debates. As to the suggestion that the duration of speeches should be limited, that appeared to him to be most objectionable. It behoved them to be very careful in framing these New Rules of Procedure lest they increased unduly the power of Ministers and ex-Ministers in that House, and substituted the despotism of officialism for that of Obstruction. That, to his mind, would have been the result of the two-thirds' majority, and it would also be the result of limiting the duration of speeches. Such a Rule as the latter would ruin the grace and spontaneity of debate. Had it existed in the past, the literature of this country would have lost such speeches as were delivered during the debate on the Crimean War by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), or during the debates on the Reform Bill by Lord Sherbrooke. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said on Friday night that this Resolution would hamper and destroy those friendly relations which then existed between the House and the Chair. He (Viscount Lymington) did not share in that opinion; but of this he was certain—that the House was acting in accordance with the highest interests of the Chair in taking efficient measures for protecting the Chair from such scenes as occurred in February, 1881, and in June last, when the Speaker was obliged, in the absence of any impersonal power such as the clôture contained, to proceed against Members of the House individually. Whatever might be the feelings of a body of men against whom the clôture had been put in force, they could not be so personally resentful or bitter towards the Chair as of those against whom the authority of the Chair had been personally directed. With regard to the dreaded harshness of a bare majority, it should be remembered that any attempt on the part of the Liberal Party in that House to rush a mea- 961 sure through would afford the House of Lords a creditable opportunity, which they would certainly take, of avenging an act of Liberal intolerance. Moreover, a large minority could hardly fail to find means to raise their opinions again in a new shape. The risks and inconveniences of compromises between the two Front Benches had already been stated during the debate on a proportionate majority; and, therefore, he would now merely address himself to the necessity of the clôture. That necessity was not, he believed, caused by any deterioration in the character of Parliament or of Parliamentary warfare. Not only had the responsibilities, the business, and the wealth of this country increased to an extent which had multiplied tenfold the material for legislation, but it was only now that they were beginning to realize the influence of the Liberal reforms of the last 30 years. Thanks to those reforms the public life of this country had grown with the growth of its material development. With an extended suffrage and a national system of education the people of this country were enabled to take a lively interest in all political questions; it was the action of that interest upon Parliament itself that had made a greater number of Members than formerly wish to take part in debate. So far from the clôture being a sign of decay, it was an evident result and indication of greater Parliamentary activity. The Liberal Party was not the Party who were likely to depreciate liberty of speech. What had it been to them? It had been the weapon—the only weapon—they had had with which to contend against all the forces which the Party opposite could call to their command. Against the forces of wealth, society, and position, and—if they might accept the statement of a noble Relative of his, who had lately returned to the fold of his Party, with all the enthusiasm of a repentant sinner—against two-thirds of the literary power of this country, they had only had the power which liberty of speech had given them, the power which honest discussion had had on the minds of their fellow-countrymen. He fully believed in the priceless value of liberty of speech. It could not be compromised in anything they said or did; but it would be without value and reality of purpose if it were not addressed to a certain end—the performance of 962 public duty. It was because he believed that the power which the Prime Minister pleaded for was not going to stifle free speech, but to methodize their debates in that House in a way which was absolutely essential for the fulfilment of the first duty of their Parliamentary existence, that he, for one, should give his earnest and hearty support to this 1st Resolution.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
observed, that one of the arguments advanced was that no one on the Opposition side had proposed an alternative scheme for dealing with the mischief complained of. For his own part, however, if he had had the control of Business during the first portion of this Session, he should have simply taken two of the Resolutions subsequent to this; and, coupling these with anything like careful management of the Business of the House, there ought to have been guaranteed to any Government with a majority at its back a most successful Session. The House had now reached a point in the discussion when they were brought face to face with the difficulties with which they had to deal. When this Resolution was proposed in the early part of the year, the Prime Minister said it was the most important.
§ SIR WILLIAM HART DYKE
thought, therefore, that he was right pro tanto in what he had said with regard to precedence. It was hinted then that if it were rejected a Ministerial crisis and Dissolution might possibly be the result. Subsequently, in May, a proposal was made by the Prime Minister, by which the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) was practically accepted. No doubt, the Prime Minister and the Government were at liberty to change their minds on the subject; but this spasmodic treatment of questions, as in the case of Ireland, where severity one day and leniency the next had proved most disastrous, and had made it very difficult to know how to deal with them. Upon 963 the most vital questions concerning the future of that Assembly, it was greatly to be regretted that Her Majesty's Government should have betrayed so vacillating a spirit. When a proposal was made to gag freedom of speech, it would be most improper to accept the statements of the Government, remembering that the Prime Minister said the other day that the acceptance of the very proposal he made in May would make the conduct of Business in the House absolutely impossible. With respect to the conduct of the Business of the House, it might be that Her Majesty's Government took too sanguine or the Opposition too gloomy a view. That could be shown only by results; but it was right that the House should consider how the difficulties with which they had to contend had grown up, for it was only by doing so that they could arrive at a just conclusion as to how those difficulties should be dealt with. The latest ground upon which the necessity for the clôture had been urged was that the House had not time to transact the Business for which it met; but against that he put the conduct of Business by Her Majesty's Government during the present Session, and he took leave to say, after full consideration of the facts, that if they had undertaken purposely to waste the time by their mismanagement, they could hardly have been more successful in doing so. There were certain Rules laid down with respect to the conduct of Business—Bules not written, but long established and well recognized—and during the Session the Government had disregarded most of these Rules. The first order given to him when he was responsible for the conduct of the Public Business of the House was to see that the rights of private Members should be respected—that with regard to Tuesdays, although there was no positive obligation on the part of the Government to keep a House, yet it was the duty of those who had charge of the Business of the House to try to keep one. The Opposition were told when they were in Office that they passed no measures of importance; but that when a strong Radical Ministry came in we should then see how, by their will and energy, they could carry great measures for the benefit of the people. It was urged that the House had not time for the proper transaction of Business. Well, let them take this Session, and what had hap- 964 pened? On the 14th of last February the House was counted out at 9 o'clock, on the 28th of February at half-past 8, on the 7th of March at half-past 8, and on the 14th of March at half-past 7. On the 28th of March there was a Morning Sitting; and the House, having again met at 9, was counted out at a quarter-past 10 o'clock. On the 31st of March it was counted out at half-past 9, on the 18th of April at a quarter-past 8, and on the 16th of May at five minutes past 9. That was the formidable list; and he found on looking through the "Parliamentary Record" that in the short period he had spoken of the present Government allowed the House to be counted out as often as had been done in the first three years of the late Administration, 1875, 1876, and 1877. The late Government had discovered in their experience that if they were to get on with Public Business they must make considerable progress with certain measures before Easter. But what happened in the beginning of this Session? Her Majesty's Government brought forward an absurd Motion for attacking the House of Lords. When he saw that that was done, he said—"There goes this Session, so far as Business purposes are concerned." The Opposition were told that no one had anything to propose as an alternative. But he had shown that by a little management Her Majesty's Government might have done a great deal more; and when the Home Secretary said, as he had done last night, that the country would ask—"What have you done with the time of the House?" he would reply that Her Majesty's Government had been the chief Obstructives. The Home Secretary said that anything which wasted the time of the House meant Obstruction. Now, he charged Her Majesty's Government with having by their conduct wasted the time of the House. Why was it that Her Majesty's Government clung so pertinaciously to this Rule, and refused the proposal to deal with individual Obstruction? It appeared as if they were afraid that the first operation of such a penal Rule would be directed against themselves. In discussing this Resolution he was anxious to look to the future rather than to the present day, and the more so on account of the question that had arisen yesterday as to the Speaker's interpretation of the Rule. He had been very glad to hear that interpretation, the 965 spirit of which was worthy of the occupant of the Chair; but there seemed to be no great inclination on the part of the Government to embody that dictum in their Resolution. That that should be done was a most moderate demand; but he went further, and ventured to assert that when so vast a change as this was proposed some stronger guarantee even than the interpretation of the present Speaker was desirable; and unless some such guarantee were provided, Members would not be justified in submitting without a struggle to its passage through the House. It had been said that the clôure would never be used, or only when such Obstruction was practised I that both sides of the House would combine to put it down. He certainly took no such view of the Resolution. The future had to be thought of; and after the threatening utterances of certain hon. Members opposite, who j bade the country wait and see what they would do with the clôture when they got it, he could not imagine that the intention was never to use it. Having had some practical experience both of majorities and minorities, he had formed the decided opinion that when a majority had a definite end in view, there was no more tyrannical engine than their voting power. He need not make a long search for an illustration of this assertion, but would quote the case of the Arrears Bill, which was introduced early in the present Session. That Bill was handed to Members on a Saturday, and, as everyone would remember, pressure was put upon the House to carry the second reading of the Bill on the following Monday. That was a conspicuous example of the change that might probably occur in the relation between the majority and the minority when this Resolution became a Standing Order. He remembered that when he worked in the House with the present Lord Wolverton, the latter used to come to the managers of the affairs of the Conservative Party and demand two or three days' notice of the intentions of the Opposition with respect to any particular measure, and nothing could be more businesslike than such a system; but, in the case he had cited, a Bill was placed in the hands of hon. Members on a Saturday, and the Opposition were held guilty of a most barbarous act of Obstruction because they did not accede to the desire of the 966 Government that the Bill should be advanced a stage on the Monday following. He remembered, too, that when he urged that more time should be allowed for the perusal and consideration of the Bill, he was received with a yell of derision from the Ministerial Benches—a circumstance which at once led him to reflect on the probable course of Business under a Radical Government, with such a power as proposed placed in their hands. A great deal had been said of the position of the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees with regard to the House if the Resolution were passed; and it was, perhaps, the worst feature of the New Rule—which, of course, would be carried out, or the Government would stand convicted of having called Parliament together in order to waste time—that it would gradually but surely destroy the impartiality of the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees together with much besides that was good in the present system of Party government. There was a good deal which went on in the conduct of the Business of the House which was not known to people out-of-doors, and he considered that there was a great deal in the way in which the Business was conducted which was for the public good. It had been urged that if this Resolution was carried the Speaker would have no communication with the Government with reference to stopping a debate. In that case, if the Speaker were never to communicate with the Government of the day, he was confident that the House in general would greatly lose by the prohibition. Indeed, its Business could not be properly conducted without constant communication between the Speaker and the Secretary to the Treasury. Under this Resolution, if an hon. Member saw a Member of the Government during any important discussion carrying on a conversation with the Speaker, he would be justified in rising to a point of Order, and inquiring whether the subject of that conversation was the debate that was going on with a view to bringing it to an end. All that he had said on this point applied with tenfold force to the case of the Chairman of Committees; and he knew by his own experience as Secretary to the Treasury that it was necessary for him to be in constant—he might say incessant—communication both with the 967 Speaker and with the Chairman of Committees. The Chairman of Committees was appointed by the Government of the day, and it was absurd to ask them to believe that he was not influenced by them. Why, when his right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Raikes) was Chairman of Committees, he (Sir William Hart-Dyke) was always at his elbow when the House was in Committee, asking how he was progressing with Business; and in future there was no doubt that great pressure would be put upon the Chairman if this Resolution passed. Was all this to be disregarded in the future, and no guarantee to be provided in the interests of minorities for the safe working of such a Rule? It was the protection of minorities that he looked to. He disclaimed any Party feeling in the matter as against the Government; and, with regard to the complaint which had been made against Conservative Members by the Irish Party, he could only say that in the course the Opposition had taken they had in view the protection of minorities in general. For himself, the more he looked at the Resolution the less he liked it. Then they had been told that they ought to fight this question to the bitter end. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had urged, in a letter to the Press, that the Conservative Party should fight this question, and produce an appeal to the constituencies with regard to it. As to that, he (Sir Willliam Hart Dyke) did not quite agree with his noble Friend. There was no man who loved fighting more sincerely than he did; but there was a time for fighting and a time for not fighting; and he did not quite agree with the noble Lord that the present was the time for driving Her Majesty's Government to appeal to the constituencies of the country. There was such a thing as fighting, and such a thing as paying the bill; and the interval between the conclusion of a most successful campaign and the actual moment for the payment of the bill was not a very felicitous time for election operations. It was a happy thought on the part of Her Majesty's Government, when they were struggling in difficulties at the end of last Session, to go for the wardrobe of the Opposition. They broke it open and put on the Conservative Party's clothes. For a time the clothes did not seem to fit very well; but now the Government had begun to 968 settle down with a feeling of more comfort. He would say for the comfort of his noble Friend that in political life it was always the unexpected which happened, and it might happen that the great success they had achieved might turn out to be one of their greatest disasters. It might be possible that the Government would carry this Resolution, and if they did it would be mainly owing to the eloquence of the Prime Minister, for if any other man had brought it forward it would have been laughed out of the House in three hours' debate. Nothing could have been more curious than the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), or unhappy than the visage, during the speech of the Prime Minister, of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. P. Rylands). The hon. Member's countenance seemed like that of a man having a tooth drawn under the charm of some anœsthetic which was not sufficiently powerful in its effects to prevent him from being waked up to receive an occasional reminder of the biceps and the energy of the operator. What a lamentable thing it was to see in the Liberal Party a Baronet representing a Scotch constituency who could come down to the House and say he was perfectly happy because he had handed over his political conscience to Her Majesty's Government. From a speech made last night, they had discovered the only Liberal left on the Ministerial side of the House. These were all painful things; but the Opposition must notice them by the way, as they all strengthened them for the trouble that lay before them. He knew it was too late to appeal to the Government; through some misguidance they were determined to force this Resolution on the House. With proper management of the Business of the House and proper control the subsequent Resolutions were all that was necessary. The Opposition were still free to deal with them; but this Resolution was forced down their throats. In all sincerity he said it was a most lamentable incident in the public life of the country that a large minority such as they represented should be forced by the Government into the position of antagonism they now occupied. It might all have been avoided by better management. Under this Rule he could only take a most gloomy view of the future of that Assembly. 969 In pleading for the freedom of speech the minority pleaded for the freedom and good name of that Assembly; and he was firmly of opinion that if that freedom were destroyed a degree of confusion would be produced which would shake the confidence of the country in the value and efficiency of the House.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said, he was glad to support the Resolution. As to the "counts out" complained of by the last speaker, he believed the initiative had usually come from the Opposition side of the House. If the Government had made a mistake in these proposals, it was that they did not go so far as they ought to do. So far from the Prime Minister forcing these Resolutions upon the rank and file of the Liberal Party, he ventured to say that, so far as his knowledge went, the Resolution had rather been forced upon the Prime Minister by the rank and file of the Party. No one would for a moment pretend to say that there was an unanimous support to these Resolutions. But then it had become a fashion, of recent years especially, that no man could be a good Liberal unless he was constantly in opposition to the Party to which he professedly belonged; and reference had been made to the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) as the only Liberal still left on the Radical Benches; but, for himself, he did not seek to distinguish his Liberalism by constantly doing his best to oppose those with whom he had been associated all his life. The feeling among the Liberal Party in the country was that there had been far too much talk and far too little result. The people did not require the operations of wire-pullers or the incitements of organizations to induce them to demand some reform that should make progress in legislation more possible than it had been. The early part of this Session had been marked by great repetition and redundancy in debate; and the country would not submit to have reforms delayed by talk. There had been many exhibitions of delay. He remembered the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) entertaining the House for upwards of an hour with a dissertation on the best means of planting potatoes. He had no fault to find with the lecture. It was, no doubt, very instructive to the Members present; but it was evident 970 that if public life had been greatly benefited by the noble Lord's entrance into Parliament, the potato interest had greatly suffered. But the noble Lord's object was not to instruct them on the cultivation of potatoes, but obviously to occupy time so as to prevent another subject being discussed. There had been too many exhibitions of this kind of delay. The impression abroad was that reforms that could be no longer defeated by argument were being defeated by delay; and it was on this ground that a general demand had arisen in the country—not arisen on the part of the Government—that unless the Government could get on with their Business more rapidly than they had been able to do in recent Sessions, such alterations should be made as the Government might deem necessary for the promotion of Business. It was being constantly said, on the other side of the House, that Liberal Members were acting on instructions from associations. At any rate, the Caucus was the representation of the people in each constituency. [Cries of "No!'"] It was the complete and free representation of all sections of the constituency for the free and popular choice of whatsoever candidates they thought proper to represent them in Parliament. [Cries of "No!"] He was, perhaps, to a great extent indebted for his seat in that House to the existence of an association which permitted every section of working men to be represented in it in proportion to their numbers, and thereby gave them a chance of selecting one of their own order to represent them in Parliament. With regard to that association, which was described as a Caucus, he could truly say for himself, and, he thought, for his Colleague also, in the representation of Stoke (Mr. Woodall), that never since they were returned to that House had they received from the association a single letter or telegram asking them to support any particular measure which was promoted by Her Majesty's Government. There was one exception in the case of the measure promoted by the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson). Everybody knew how zealous the teetotal party were; but they were not the Caucus. That association had never offered to suggest what course he and his Colleague should take on public questions; but had left the matter to their free choice 971 and good judgment. He hoped the Resolution now under discussion would be carried, and carried soon. If it were true, as was rumoured about the House that evening, that they were to have three or four days' more discussion on a subject which had been absolutely threshed out time after time, this would be a magnificent illustration to the country that the proposals of the Government were not made any too soon; and, further, that they were not even now adequate to the requirements of the case.
§ MR. HERBERT
said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) had referred particularly to the way in which the clôture by a bare majority, or by the two-thirds' majority, would affect private Members. The right hon. Gentleman had said that almost the whole legislation of the past 30 years had originally emanated from private Members, and that he had thought that private Members would be sufficiently safeguarded under the New Rule as it stood, inasmuch as the words "adequately discussed" had been inserted. He admitted that those words would protect a certain section of private Members—namely, those who sat on the Government side of the House. Under the two-thirds' majority, which Her Majesty's Government had unfortunately not seen their way to accept, both sections of independent Members would be protected; but as the evident sense of the House was to be declared by a purely Party majority, Members of the Opposition who supported Motions, especially on going into Committee of Supply, would often be prevented from obtaining a hearing by the impatience and shouts of Gentlemen on the Government side. They had to remember also that the very adequacy of the discussion was to be settled by the Party in power. The Prime Minister had asserted that the Parliamentary history of the last few, and especially of the last two, years showed the necessity for this change During the six years in which he (Mr. Herbert) had had the honour of a seat in that House, he had keenly watched the progress of Business, and he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in 1877, 1878, and 1879—especially 1878—there was a great deal more Obstruction than had been seen in the subsequent years. For instance, there was marked Obstruction during the progress of the South Africa Bill and the Army 972 Discipline Bill, the latter containing the contentious matter of flogging in the Army. No one would deny that on both those Bills there was Obstruction in its worst form. The President of the Board of Trade took a large share in the discussion, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman would himself admit that he really did obstruct.
§ MR. HERBERT
said, that, at all events, the right hon. Gentleman used these words in the debate on the Army Discipline Bill on the 19th of June, 1879—If there was any threat in that House or out of it of anything like Obstruction, they must not lose sight of the fact that the Government only made reasonable concessions after four days' discussion; in fact, they could get nothing from the Ministry except by what was commonly called Obstruction."—[3 Hansard, ccxlvii. 206–7.]He was bound to say, however, that the right hon. Gentleman qualified this on another occasion, the 17th of June, when he said—It might be said that such opposition as that amounted to Obstruction. He thought that there was only one thing which justified such persistent opposition as was now offered—namely, the persistent obstinacy on the part of Her Majesty's Government to give way to the views expressed on that side of the House. The refusal on the part of those who had the conduct of this Bill to meet in any way the strong feelings which had been expressed on that side of the House justified any opposition to the Bill." —[Ibid. 46.]Then the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India gave his opinion of this, he would not say Obstruction, but persistent opposition to the Bill. His Lordship said on the 7th of July, 1879—He must say that he thought that the Privileges of the House had been abused by advantages being taken of a Motion to report Progress for discussing clauses which were not before the Committee.He did not think there could be a better definition of Obstruction than that. As for the wilfully deliberate speaking to which the Prime Minister referred, he did not think it had been much indulged in by Members apart from the small knot of Obstructionists. There had, however, been occasions on which Bills had been talked out. In 1877, for example, the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), now Secretary to the Treasury, but who then had been but a short time possessed of a seat in 973 the House, got up and deliberately talked out a Bill against a strong manifestation of the most evident sense of the House. With respect to frivolous speeches, the evident sense of the House would probably be manifested in such a way that it would be impossible to hear whether they were frivolous or not. It had been said by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) that the feeling of the country was in favour of the Government proposals, as legislation was needed and no adequate means existed by which it could be effected. Well, all agreed that something must be done. But, with all due respect to the country, the question was one which the country ought not to decide. The mission from the country was that they should frame some measures to facilitate legislation; but it did not dictate the means. But when political clubs framed resolutions and sent them to the Prime Minister in favour of the present Rule, it ought to be borne in mind that not 3 per cent of the members of those clubs, or even of the constituencies, knew anything about the Rule. Every Member knew how difficult it was to master the Rules of the House, and how great an experience was required before the reasons for those Rules were understood. It was perfectly absurd, therefore, to say that the country was with the Government on the subject; and, even if it were true, that was not a question for the country to decide. The country was calling out about Obstruction and about nothing else, while the greater part of the subject-matter introduced by the Prime Minister was utterly apart from Obstruction. It had been said that there was a good deal of contradiction between the different Members on that side of the House. That might be so, but such contradiction was not confined to one side; and he might safely leave the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) to be answered by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler). The fact, too, that there was so much contradiction only showed that the House ought to be all the more careful and deliberate in its action in the matter. But there was certainly reason to complain that the Government had not accepted the proposal to defer the operation of the 1st Rule until the others had been disposed of. That decision would prevent the 974 House from approaching the other Resolutions in the spirit in which they ought to be discussed. Some of those Resolutions required the fullest possible discussion; especially, for instance, that which proposed to establish Grand Committees. That was pre-eminently a question which ought to be thoroughly examined without any feeling of resentment, but calmly, and by the oldest Members on both sides who had great experience as Chairmen of Committees, who, so far as common sense went, could alone decide the question. He begged, in conclusion, to apologize for the length of his remarks. He had attempted to approach the subject, not in the spirit of a partisan, but as one who was sincerely anxious to promote the honour and dignity of that House. Regarding this as a question that ought to be looked at from a purely non-Party point of view, he hoped the House would have the courage to reject the proposals of the Government.
§ SIR HENRY HOLLAND
said, he felt so strongly upon the important question now before the House, that he was desirous to state his objections to it—objections which he felt bound to say had been strengthened, not weakened, by the debate, although he must apologize to the House for going over ground which had been, and would be, traversed by speakers far more experienced than himself. In spite of what had been said of the fears of those who opposed the Motion being visionary and baseless, he should not hesitate to state his fears of the result of the working of this Resolution. The Prime Minister had, a few days ago, taunted the Conservative Party for their alarm, and had reminded them of the ashes of their falsified predictions and fears upon many important questions. But he should be glad to hear from the Prime Minister, when he rose to reply, whether, in his political progress upwards, or downwards as he (Sir Henry Holland) should be inclined to say, from High Toryism to Advanced Liberalism, he had not to look back upon the ashes of many of his burnt hopes and fears and predictions. To take a comparatively recent and very analogous case. The Prime Minister, during the passing of the Irish Land Act in 1870, denounced, in eloquent and forcible terms, as impracticable and impossible the very measures which, within the short space 975 of 12 years, he had to introduce, and defend in the recent Irish Land Act. Surely, then, he might refer the Prime Minister, when attacking the Conservative Party, to the ashes of his own weighty denunciations and strong opinions. He might also, upon this point, remind some of the right hon. Members now forming part of the Government, and notably the Home Secretary, of cases in which their predictions and fears of the result of measures brought foward by the late Government had been grievously falsified. Take, for example, the Royal Titles Bill, by which the Queen became Empress of India. It was prophesied that the Colonies would be discontented, and consider themselves left out in the cold; that India and the Native Princes would be alarmed at a change the reason for which they could not understand, and that disorder, discontent, and perhaps revolt, would ensue; and, lastly, that the honoured and dignified title of Queen would be degraded, and merge into the newly-coined title of Empress. He need hardly remind the House that none of these fears proved true. Passing, however, from this point, he would proceed to state, very briefly, his objections to the Resolution. In the first place, it was a distinct step, and, he feared, a very considerable step, downwards in the history of this great Assembly; a step which, at the same time, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to retrace. Englishmen prided themselves, and very justly, upon their freedom of debate and discussion inside and outside out of that House. Whether this Liberal Government would take steps to check this freedom outside the House he could not say, as he was not in the secrets of the Government; but, at all events, they in that House were to be humiliated—and the humiliation was great in proportion as their pride was great—by having to accept a Resolution, the practical effect of which would be that, if the majority of the House were tired and impatient, freedom of debate was to be cut short. He could not take comfort, as some speakers seemed to do, from the fact that the system of clôture prevailed in some Foreign Assemblies, and in one or two Colonies. They were not accustomed, or desirous, to look for their guidance to the practice of Foreign Assemblies, which, it must be observed, were but of recent creation compared 976 with the antiquity of this great Assembly. Moreover the experience to be derived from the working of the system in those foreign bodies was not re-assuring. Few could study the debates in France, for example, without seeing how often the clôture was applied, and the debates stopped, when measures, unpalatable to the Government, or likely to endanger their position, were under discussion. He would observe, also, that some of the ablest and most moderate French journals, and notably the Journal des Débats, and, as he was informed, some of the best German papers, had expressed their surprise and regret at the proposed change of procedure in this House, and had sounded a note of warning to us. It might be said, as the hon. Member for Wilton (Mr. Herbert) said of the country here, that foreigners did not understand the exact nature of the Resolution, or the grounds for pressing it on the House; but he suspected that those who had suffered under the clôture understood very well its working, and he believed that their experience and advice were very suggestive. Nor could he take comfort from the fact that this system prevailed in some Colonies. On the contrary, an examination of the case would show that Colonial experience was against the system, and that in a very marked manner. From the Return presented to Parliament in 1881, it appeared that there was no clôture in Tasmania, or Queensland, and only in the Legislative Council at the Cape, not in the Legislative Assembly. The case of New Zealand was very remarkable. There was originally a clôture Standing Order in the first Code of Orders. It did not appear whether it was ever put in force before 1863; but he rather gathered that it never had been. In 1863 it was made use of to terminate a debate as to the change of the seat of Government; and in that very year, and that same Session, a proposal to expunge the Standing Order was agreed to. In other words, the Colonial Assembly, upon their first experience of the working of the system, and closure of free discussion, refused to be bound down, and put an end to the restriction. The Colonial Assembly were wiser in their generation than this House; and he, for one, could only hope that clôture, when passed, might be got rid of here as speedily as it was in New Zealand. And the case of Victoria was hardly 977 less striking. There was no clôture in that Colony, until the Session of 1875–6, and it was then only passed under very peculiar circumstances, and only for a part of that Session. The circumstances, it must be admitted, were very peculiar, for the Sittings were almost continuous, from May 1875 to April 1876, and in that time there were two changes of Government. The Resolution was, however, only in force from February to April, when the Session ended, and it was never revived. It was adopted for a very special purpose and for a very limited time—not as they were called upon to adopt it here, for general use and an unlimited time—and directly the special object was attained it was abandoned. The experience of this Colony, then, was also against the Government Resolution. The Prime Minister had felt himself pressed by this failure of clôture, and by the non-adoption of it in so many Colonies; and he tried to account for by saying, in one of his speeches, that—In those comparatively infant and slightly developed societies and institutions, the Business of their Legislative Chambers is easily managed.He could hardly expect the Prime Minister to study the debates of Colonial Assemblies; but having had occasion to look pretty closely into the working of these Assemblies and their debates, when he (Sir Henry Holland) was at the Colonial Office, he could assure the Prime Minister that if he did so, he would find that greater difficulties and troubles had to be encountered in the management of Public Business, and that greater obstruction and more persistent deadlocks had occurred in some of those Colonies than had ever occurred here. The Business was by no means so easily managed as the Prime Minister supposed. And now he would ask the House whether this great change, now embodied in the Resolution under consideration, was really and absolutely necessary? He held that it was not. When the Resolution was first introduced, it was argued that it was necessary for the purpose of putting down Obstruction. It was not a very easy matter, in the first place, to define exactly what was Obstruction. What was considered Obstruction by Members sitting on one side of the House was regarded as only a legitimate expression of opinion by 978 Members on the other side. The Prime Minister, in his speech on the 20th of February, said that, "persistent and even reiterated pressure of argument was not always obstructive." He noted the word "always," in this sentence, as curiously bearing out the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson), on Monday last, that in every definition of the Prime Minister's there was always to be found some qualifying word, which made it very difficult afterwards to pin him down to the full and apparently clear meaning of his definition. Possibly, however, in the present case, the word "always" was introduced as a protection to himself against the charge of Obstruction on account of his well-known, persistent, and even reiterated pressure of argument against the Divorce Bill. But whether such persistent argument was or was not always Obstruction, it must be admitted that it would always be considered to be so by Members sitting on the opposite side of the House, and it would, in the future, be speedily put an end to. The Prime Minister also, early in the debate in February last, defined "Obstruction" as—The disposition of the minority of the House or of individuals to resist the prevailing will of the House otherwise than by argument.He (Sir Henry Holland) ventured to think that a very fair definition; but as the debate proceeded, it appeared more clearly that it was not the general Obstruction of a minority, or of a section of a Party, but the Obstruction of individual Members that had caused the difficulty, to meet which this Resolution was put forward. It was the abuse by individuals of the liberty allowed under the Rules and Forms of the House. As the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) said—"The House has suffered from the tyranny of a few;" and the Prime Minister also, in one of his speeches, spoke of the diminution of power of the House over its own Members individually as the ground for this Resolution. He (Sir Henry Holland) quite agreed that this tyranny should be put down, and that the power of the House over individual Members should be regained; but he did not agree with hon. Members opposite that this should be effected by the introduction of a general clôture. He thought that this tyranny 979 might be put down, and the power of the House regained, by what had been called "individual clôture" aided by the amendment of the Procedure of the House in other matters. It was not because the Rules of the House were abused by a few individuals that moderate men who desired to speak on any subject should have their mouths closed if they were not able to catch the Speaker's eye till late in the debate. This would be to adopt the principles of the Permissive Alliance Bill, and of the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), who, because a certain number of men drank to the ruin of themselves and their families, would limit the liberty and freedom of action of moderate and sober men. The plan of individual clôture was said by some to have failed. But he thought that it had not worked badly, even although it had only been tried fitfully, and upon no very clearly defined principle. He believed that if the principle of individual clôture was carefully defined and embodied in a Standing Order of the House, and was coupled with a more severe punishment than suspension to the end of the Sittings, the plan would be found to work well. The present punishment was quite insufficient; and the shortness and inadequacy of it, when taken in proportion to the time consumed before it could be inflicted, was quite apparent. The Member punished could now go out and enjoy his dinner, and then frame fresh material for a renewed fight at the next Sittings. In his opinion, the suspension should be for a month at least, except by special leave of the House. The Home Secretary and others had challenged the Opposition to produce an alternative scheme to this general clôture, and this was his answer to the challenge—"We propose individual clôture coupled with a more severe punishment, and with amendment of other parts of the present Procedure of the House." Well, as the debate went on, Obstruction somewhat fell out of the running as the ground for the proposed change, and the necessity of passing Government measures was put prominently forward as rendering clôture necessary. Now it was not denied by any one that it was desirable to clear the ground for measures of importance, affecting the interests and welfare of the great agricultural, commercial, and 980 manufacturing classes of this country. It was not denied that for this purpose the Procedure of the House required amendment, and support would be readily accorded to most of the proposed amending Resolutions, though he must except from this list the Grand Committees Resolution, upon which very grave doubts existed. But it was denied that for this purpose it was necessary to sacrifice freedom of debate, or to limit the ancient and legitimate right of Members to speak freely and fully. It must be remembered that besides Government measures there were questions of the greatest importance which had to be discussed; political questions affecting our relations with Foreign States and our Colonies; grievances; wrongs to be redressed, and so forth. It would be greatly to be deplored if full discussion on these subjects was prematurely closed because the Government wanted to force on some measure. There would be a special danger that a question affecting the position of a Government, or damaging to it, would be cut short by the clamour of the Government supporters. It was true that the initiative was with the Speaker or Chairman of Ways and Means; but, in the first place, he (Sir Henry Holland) was not satisfied with this safeguard; and, in the second place, he thought that this responsibility should not be cast on the Speaker or Chairman. He was not satisfied with the safeguard, because he thought that there was great danger that the Speaker might be, perhaps unconsciously, influenced by the Government majority. Ho did not take quite so gloomy a view of the Speakers in the future as some hon. Members had taken. He did not believe that the Speaker would ever become a mere partizan and tool of the Government majority to whom he owed his election; but he would naturally be anxious to see the Business of the House got through, and as, after all, Speakers were but poor human creatures, he might be anxious to get to bed. His sympathy would rather be with the majority than with the persistent reiteration of argument of the Opposition, though he had the high authority of the Prime Minister for saying that that was not always obstructive. He would be influenced by the cries of the supporters of the Government, and thus misled in form- 981 ing his judgment. And one of the worst features of the Resolution before the House was that in a full House he would be sure of a majority; and although if the majority was a very small one his opinion would be, in fact, confirmed, yet the error of his judgment as to the "evident intention" of the House would be clearly manifested. Now, if all this was true of a Speaker, it might far more certainly be predicted of a Chairman of Ways and Means. They might argue as much as they pleased, and give all credit for honesty of purpose to Chairmen, past, present, and future; but no one, he thought, could really doubt that the Chairman of Ways and Means was less likely to be impartial, and more likely to be influenced by Government pressure, than the Speaker. The post of Chairman of Ways and Means was practically one of the Government places, although the actual election rested with the House itself. Speakers had of late been reelected Parliament after Parliament, though the Government might have frequently changed. That had never, he believed, been the case with the Chairmen of Ways and Means, and probably never would be. They had heard that evening how constant was the communication between the Chairman and the Party in power, and the fear expressed lest, under the New Rule, this friendly communication should become pressure. Again, the Speaker's right to vote and speak had never of late been exercised, and thus his absolute freedom from Party bias had been made more manifest; but the very contrary was the case with the Chairman of Ways and Means. He voted regularly with his Party, except when the House was in Committee, and no one blamed him. If, then, he (Sir Henry Holland) distrusted the safeguard of the Speaker in the future, he had far greater reason to distrust the safeguard of the Chairman. But, in the second place, he thought that this responsibility should not be cast on the Speaker. The responsibility should rest with the Leader of the House, as representing the majority, and answerable, in a more or less degree, for the good conduct of the Business of the House. In this latter work he had been hitherto materially assisted by an honourable understanding that had existed between the Front Benches, and 982 by the good sense of the House. He (Sir Henry Holland) was afraid that this good understanding, which had hitherto prevailed in the great majority of cases, though of late somewhat weakened by the action of a few individuals, would cease to exist if this clôture was frequently applied, as the feeling of the minority who had resisted the restriction of debate would be much embittered. And this feeling of bitterness and resentment would, he feared, tend to weaken the position and dignity of the Speaker, who had to take the initiative, both in the House and out of it. In the House, because the Members of the minority, if at all a large one, would be more inclined to cavil at the subsequent rulings of the Speaker; and out of the House because attacks would be made on the Speaker as a Party man or as a weak man, both in the Press and on the platform. It might be that he would be wrongly blamed and attacked; but, still, his present high position, above attack, would be lowered. To sum up, he (Sir Henry Holland) believed that there was no necessity for this general clôture, which infringed upon the ancient privileges of Members; he feared that the dignity of the House and of the Speaker would be lessened by the exercise of this power; that the good understanding which had hitherto existed between the Leaders of the Parties as to the management of debates would give place to a sore and bitter feeling; that Obstruction would be rather quickened than suppressed; and, for these reasons, he should give his vote heartily against the Resolution.
§ MR. T. C. THOMPSON
said, he had all along voted for the Government on this subject, and he intended to do so on this occasion, though if the Government had been endeavouring to limit the right of debate and freedom of speech in that House, he should unquestionably have opposed them, and he should have done the same if the Resolution had been one of first impression. Notwithstanding the eloquence of the Prime Minister, he should have opposed such proposals, although he might be opposed by the Liberal Associations, which sometimes were called Caucuses. His hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) had spoken with approval of the Caucus, and well he might, because in the borough of Stoke he was probably the Caucus 983 himself. He thought Liberal Associations had a perfect right to call the attention of their Members to the votes they had given in opposition to Liberal principles; but he thought that they showed a great want of modesty when they called attention to the votes of a Member who had not been going against, but had been supporting the principles that he had been sent to Parliament to represent. As he had already observed, he should not vote for the Resolution if it had been one of the first impression. He would not vote for any Resolution which would limit the right of free speech in that House. Complaints had been made that there was Obstruction to the Business of the country. He would remind the House how that had arisen. The House of Commons was composed of Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition, and no one had presumed to say that the Leaders of either had made tedious addresses to that Assembly. But on both sides of the House, besides those two great Parties, there were men who entertained strong opinions and strong principles. They were the minorities of the House, and it was to them that they owed almost all of the important legislation of the last few years. One or two distinguished Members could be, and generally were, appointed to speak on behalf of either the Government or the Opposition; but it would not answer the purpose of minorities to have only one or two persons speaking for them. They must individually advocate their views to willing or unwilling ears, through good report and evil report, before full Benches and before empty Benches, and speak whenever an occasion should present itself. In the country at present such conduct was looked on as Obstruction; but it ought to be remembered, as he had said, that it was to such Obstruction that we owed most of our reforms. Why were the people now in favour of these proposals of the Government? Because the Obstruction about which complaint was made was being carried on by a Party who were said to be opposing the legislation of the Prime Minister so strenuously that it was futile to hope that any of it could be successful. The people believed that, but for this Obstruction, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would have passed household suffrage for the counties, and 984 effected the dissolution of the Church of England. Many people believed also that if Obstruction had not been practised, the right hon. Gentleman would now be on the point of carrying Home Rule for Ireland. It was for such reasons as these that Obstruction was so unpopular. But it should be borne in mind that the small band of resolute men who had shown so much resistance to the wishes of the Government were then defending the liberties of Ireland, and that the conduct of the Government during the last two years had been such as to cause a feeling of hatred between the English and the Irish. He was one of those who thought that it was dangerous to attack the liberties of Ireland, and that opinion was shared by very many in the country. During his persistent opposition to the coercive measures of the last two years he had received strange-looking epistles, some of them dirty productions, and not emanating from the pen of the ready writer. They had not come from the Caucuses, but from some of the large towns of England — from men living in streets where the scent of the violet and the bloom of the primrose were not to be found. Those letters were from men who, in the mine and in the ironworks, worked early to promote the grandeur of England. They were afraid that if the liberties of Ireland were assailed now, those of England might be assailed later on. It was because this so-called Obstruction had been put down with so high a hand that he should now support the Government. On the first memorable occasion when the Speaker interfered to close the mouths of the Irish Members, it was said that there should be no repetition of the occurrence. But, before long, the Irish Members were silenced a second time in a manner that reflected dishonour and disgrace upon that House. They would at a future time certainly look back with sorrow to the occasion when a number of Gentlemen were suspended from the exercise of their Parliamentary functions, though they had but just risen from their beds, and had not for some hours been in the House. As Members had been twice assailed in this way, he thought the time had come when some definite plan to limit the right of the Authorities of the House to interfere should be adopted. The Speaker had 985 stated on the first occasion that it was imperatively necessary that in the future the closure of debate should be guarded by legislation. It was necessary, therefore, to legislate on the subject; not to put a fetter on men's lips, but to limit the right of the Authorities of the House to interpose in its debates. No doctrine was more dangerous than that which said, "This shall be for this once only." Alas! how often had such teaching heralded to their fall the noble and the beautiful! Of such legislation to guard the right of debate he did not think that any better or wiser proposal than that of the Government could have been made. In his opinion, the proposal on the other side to change the whole principle of the House, and no longer leave the decision to a simple majority, had been wisely rejected. A majority of two-thirds or three-fourths always opened the door to communication between the Leaders on both sides; hence the necessity for compromise arose. When the House was endeavouring to restrain the liberties of the Irish nation, did the necessity of having a two-thirds' majority make any difference? Was the cruel treatment of Ireland lessened by that? No, certainly not; and he ventured to say that if the House had been confined to the old system of a majority, it would have been possible to obtain better consideration for the people of Ireland than was obtained under the two-thirds' majority Rule. Then, again, hon. Members opposite had recommended the Government to look at what was done in foreign countries with regard to this matter. He hoped the House of Commons was too proud to look anywhere else for information or instruction on the subject. In past time men had been accustomed to look to that House for an example. It was a new doctrine, indeed, that for lessons in our conduct we must look to our own Colonies or to the mushroom growth of freedom in France. It seemed to him that they could not do better than leave it to the Speaker to initiate the closing of the debate. Nor did he see that much had been gained by the Amendment requiring him to be of opinion that the subject had been "adequately discussed." Was his conviction on that subject to be questioned? Was it open to point out to him that more argument could be 986 advanced? Supposing the Speaker were to decide that a subject had been sufficiently discussed, and some ingenious Member were to write a letter to The Times the next morning suggesting new arguments, the Speaker would be placed in a false position. But let the initiative come from the Speaker, let a consequent Motion be required to be made to the House, let the House decide by a majority, and enough would be done. It was his hope and his belief that with such safeguards the clôture would never be used.
§ COLONEL KENNARD
said, he believed that the very last nail was being driven into the coffin of freedom of debate. If the Resolution were passed, he might never have another opportunity of raising his voice in the House; for, in the Prime Minister's words, he might be considered vain, idle, and frivolous, and as only willing to please his constituents. It had been argued by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House that, far from curtailing speech, the closure would restore freedom of debate, just as if, by the restoration of duties on foreign imports, they would be placing on a higher footing the principles of Free Trade. Others contended that the closure was not so much directed against legitimate opposition as illegitimate Obstruction. In that case, they would be cracking a small nut with a Nasmyth hammer. Why did they not pass penal Rules against individual offenders, instead of directing penal legislation against a whole Party? If the clôture were to be seldom used, why should the Government consume the time of the House in constructing this great engine of offence against their political opponents? If, however, as he thought was more natural, the clôture was frequently used, mistakes would constantly occur, and, if so, they were certain to be animadverted upon both inside and outside of the House; and he believed that the dignity of the Chair would be thereby impaired. The frank and direct avowal of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), that he would give the Opposition half-an-hour to discuss any proposal made by the Minister of the day and then silence them, showed what they might expect if the democratic Resolution with which they were threatened was ever accomplished, and the 987 principles of the Constitution swept away, and the despotism of mob law substituted in its stead. At the same time, he did not sympathize with the view of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), who appeared to think that if the Conservative Party obtained power they would use the clôture by way of retaliation against their opponents. He (Colonel Kennard) would not retaliate; but the proposed legislation was altogether so distasteful to him that, instead of using the power it gave, he would prefer to vote for its total repeal. He thought, having regard to the reduced majority that had hitherto supported the Government, that the country and the House entertained grave doubts as to the advantage of this measure. He would, therefore, support the right hon. Member for North Devon in his opposition to the Resolution.
§ MR. MELLOR
said, it was somewhat late in the day to question the necessity of dealing with Obstruction. So far back as 1848, the Committee on Parliamentary Procedure was appointed to consider the subject, and examined several witnesses, among others, M. Guizot, who gave important evidence as to the use of the clôlure in France. The Committee thought so much of this evidence that they set it out on the face of their Report. M. Guizot stated that, having had the clôture in operation since 1816, in his opinion it had never been abused, and that Public Business could not have been effectively carried on without it. The Committee set this out unquestionably to draw the attention of Parliament to the subject. That Committee included such eminent authorities as Sir Robert Peel, Sir James Graham, Mr. Disraeli, and Mr. Evelyn Denison, who was afterwards Speaker. No condemnation was passed by that Committee on the principle of closure on any of the grounds relied upon by the other side. A suggestion was made by Lord Eversley which was even more stringent in its character than that now introduced by the Government, for Lord Eversley's proposal was that it should be in the power of any hon. Member, on the Order of the Day for the resumption of an adjourned debate, to rise in his place and move that it be not again adjourned, but that the division upon it should be taken before 2 o'clock a.m. Moreover, it was suggested that the Motion might 988 be carried by a bare majority. From 1848 down to 1880, Obstruction was steadily increasing; and in 1880 the right hon. Baronet opposite, the then Leader of the House, speaking with all the responsibility of his Office, said—I earnestly press upon the House the consideration that Obstruction is an evil which has grown up in a large measure during the life of the present Parliament, and that this House has had the opportunity—the melancholy opportunity—of witnessing its growth and its threatening character."—[3 Hansard, ccl. 1462.]The right hon. Gentleman had said that his statements respecting closure had been garbled during the present debate; but hon. Members were not suggesting that he ever said he approved of closure, but had drawn attention to the testimony which he gave as to the important nature of Obstruction, and that, having come to the conclusions that he did, had stated their astonishment that he shrank from the only remedy. Another right hon. Gentleman opposite, the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross), had used language almost as strong; he said, amongst other things, that the state of the House had become a by-word. The House, therefore, had the testimony of two right hon. Gentlemen of great experience on the other side of the House that Obstruction had become serious, and that it was important to deal with it at once. He had great difficulty in understanding how, in the face of that opinion, those right hon. Gentlemen could have arrived at their present conclusions. In this matter of Obstruction it was to be observed that, while in 1881 there were 122 dilatory Motions for Adjournment, in the year of the great Reform agitation there were only 20. To meet these dilatory Motions no remedy had been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He had stated that he had a scheme, but had given the House no details of any kind, and no other hon. Member opposite had ventured to suggest a scheme. It was said that the proper way of dealing with the matter was by punishing the individual. That was all very well in dealing with cases of wilful Obstruction which were an obvious offence against the House; but how was that to be carried out where there were several Members all combining to obstruct and spin out the discussion on one measure, in order to prevent a Bill to which they were 989 opposed from being brought forward and having a chance of being discussed? In such a case it might be difficult to apportion the degree of blame. He had been but a short time in the House; but he had seen these tactics resorted to on several occasions, as in the case of the Bill to legalize Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister, discussion upon which had been absolutely prevented by these means. This mode of Obstruction was difficult to deal with. They had been told more than once that this Resolution was all the work of an imperious Prime Minister, that pressure had been put upon his followers, and that they disliked the measure. He would like to know where hon. Members got their information from?—certainly not from the Liberal Party. Was it not evident, from the course of that debate, that the Prime Minister was not the first, but the last man to be convinced of the necessity of that measure? The pressure for it had come from the Liberal Party to the Government, and not from the Government to the Liberal Party. It had been said that it was the work of the Caucus, which was supposed by some to be a dreadful institution; but he could not understand how any man who had seen it at work, and who was really anxious for the good working of representative institutions, could attack the Caucus—a body which fairly represented the feelings and views of the Liberal Party in the constituency in which it existed. The Resolutions had been very severely criticized; but he was much disposed to agree with the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) in thinking that the country was prepared for a far stronger measure of clôture than the one now proposed. It was all very well to allege that the country did not understand the question; but it understood this—that there was a deadlock of Business in Parliament, and that unless something was done that deadlock could not be got rid of. Men had come to the conclusion that the debates ought to be shortened, that the time of the country was now wasted, and that the people were cheated, to some extent, of the legislation to which they were entitled. If any hon. Member doubted the feeling of the country, he invited him to attend a public meeting anywhere, and he would soon get a very plain answer. The Government, besides, had so moulded 990 the Resolution that it was difficult to see how it could be unfairly used. It was not proposed to interfere at all with legitimate discussion. The Speaker had become more and more of a judicial officer, whose decisions were recorded as precedents for future guidance; and it was not likely that any future Speaker would exercise the power intrusted to him with a Party bias—a course which must deprive him of the respect of the House. Neither could it be suggested that Members on either side would wish to act unfairly towards their opponents in closing debates. To use the Rule unfairly they must have a conspiracy or combination among a large body of Members; and surely that was a thing not to be thought of. If any attempt were made to stop fair discussion on any burning question, so strong a feeling would be aroused in the country against the Government, or the Party making it, that they would be speedily hurled from power. The Rule would be used to enable questions to be fairly discussed, some of which were now blocked, and which the public wanted to have properly debated. He earnestly trusted that the Government would succeed in carrying that Resolution, because he believed that they had not only a united Party, but the strong feeling of the country with them.
§ COLONEL L. P. DAWNAY
said, that if the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. T. C. Thompson) was not convinced by his own arguments, nothing could convince him; for, while he ended by saying he would vote for the Resolution, his speech was a strong protest against the clôture. He (Colonel Dawnay) trusted that they had not fallen so low as to be willing to remodel that ancient House upon a French pattern. Although the Prime Minister had hitherto achieved an uninterrupted success in regard to the proposed change of Procedure, still his triumph was eclipsed by that of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). In the division on the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) the Home Rule Party had scored a double victory. In the first place, they had struck a blow at the Conservative Opposition; and, in the second place, they had earned the heartfelt gratitude of the Government, which they had rescued from an imminent de- 991 feat. He was thankful they had at last got out of the region of artificial safeguards. The question now at issue was whether they were to part with that right of free discussion which had been so jealously guarded for centuries by the Commons of England. The hon. Member for Northampton had pretty plainly shown them that that measure was intended to silence the Conservative Party in order to give free play to revolutionary legislation. That might not be the object of the Government, but it was the object of some of their supporters; and surely the House ought to be very careful how they intrusted so dangerous a power to the hands of any Party. If brute force was to be substituted for argument, they might depend on it the decline and fall of Parliamentary government was imminent. The National Expenditure would no longer be subject to independent criticism; and while this might be a small matter when a Government of peace and retrenchment was in Office, yet there might come a time when an unscrupulous and extravagant Tory Administration were in power, and then the clôture might be a source of considerable anxiety to hon. Gentlemen opposite. On his side of the House it was thought that the elôture would be used as an organ of oppression, and he believed that many of the Liberal Party viewed it with feelings of apprehension. If the power was abused, it would undoubtedly show up Parliamentary government to the contempt of the country. He wished to draw the attention of the House to another point. It might happen that what appeared to Mr. Speaker the evident sense of the House was by no means the evident sense of the country. It might happen that in some important debate the views of the Representatives of the Cities of London or Liverpool might be prevented from being heard by the casting vote of the microscopic constituency of Carlow. On both sides of the House there existed a strong feeling that, sooner or later, the clôture would be used as an engine of oppression, and would end in a gross abuse of the powers of the majority. Some hon. Gentlemen appeared to look forward to that result with satisfaction; but there were many others who regarded it with grave misgivings. If used for Party purposes, it would rouse feelings of anger and resentment; and, sooner or 992 later, it would bring government by Party into contempt in the eyes of the country. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had, during his long career, been the defender of many institutions which he had afterwards felt it his duty to attack and to destroy; but he trusted even now that it never might be able to be said of him that he had brought his long and distinguished Parliamentary career to a close by lowering the character and destroying the ancient liberties of the House of Commons.
§ MR. LEWIS FRY
said, that, as representing a large constituency, he should ask the House to listen to him for a few moments while he adverted to one point which had been alluded to in the course of the debate. It had been remarked in the course of the debate that had taken place on these Rules of Procedure that the country did not care about this question; but he rose to assure the House that his constituency, at all events, felt a very keen interest in the matter. A great deal had been said as to the object and purpose the Government had in view in bringing forward the Resolutions that they were now engaged in discussing, and it had been frequently stated from the other side of the House that they were brought forward for the purpose of enabling the more speedy prosecution of certain measures to which the Government were pledged. They who sat on that side of the House were very anxious, and so also his constituency were extremely anxious, that many of those measures that had been promised to the country should be passed. But what he wished to state was this—that, in his opinion, there was a more strongly felt and expressed conviction than any wish for the passing of any particular measure; and that was the feeling that the credit of the House of Commons was at stake, in the continuance of the state of things that existed in their debates. The country, he believed, was thoroughly determined that the House of Commons should be placed in a position which would enable it to carry forward its debates with efficiency, and to carry into effect also, in a reasonable time, the will of the country. There was a time when that House was regarded as a model for all other business Assemblies as to the manner in which it conducted its Busi- 993 ness; but they must surely all be prepared to admit that the respect once felt for the House of Commons had sensibly diminished. Many, indeed, felt that the Members of the House of Commons were often treated almost with condolence at the things they had to suffer in that House—evils which he was sorry to say they were almost powerless to remove. Certainly, the proceedings in that House were often spoken of in a manner almost approaching to contempt by men who were accustomed to other great business gatherings in the country. No doubt, great differences of opinion on that subject did exist in the House of Commons itself; but he thought—nay, he was convinced—that the evident sense of the country at large was this—that the time had come when the existing state of things should be altered, and the House of Commons placed in a position which would be calculated to enable it to conduct its Business with efficiency, and in a manner far better calculated to promote the great interests of the nation. It was when that feeling prevailed with respect to the House of Commons, that the Government had brought forward a plan which they had submitted for the consideration of hon. Members. As was anticipated, the scheme of the Government had provoked a great deal of discussion, and certain propositions had come from right hon. and hon. Members sitting on the other side of the House. He (Mr. Fry) had not a word to say as to the plan that had been proposed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). There was, no doubt, a great deal to be said on that side of the question; but one might also say this—that the weight of the arguments, adduced in the course of the debate on the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, most strongly supported the view that was taken by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. And now, after two weeks' debate, they were asked to reject the Resolution proposed by the Prime Minister altogether! He (Mr. Fry) might, however, ask in what condition they would stand before the country if that course were adopted? It had been hinted at that the other Resolutions, which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would propose, would be sufficient to meet the difficulty, and 994 deal with the awkward pass to which matters had come; but he believed the soundness of that argument had hitherto been questioned by the House, and should be also by hon. Gentleman opposite who were prepared to oppose this Resolution, if they were unable to show what remedy they could suggest for the evils which the country was admittedly suffering under—evils which he did not hesitate to say were freely confessed on both sides of the House to exist. What would be the result of rejecting the proposition now before the House? If they rejected that Resolution, which he did not believe, the House would, in effect, tell the country they were unable, as a House of Parliament, to get themselves out of the difficulties in which they found themselves plunged. He did not believe that was the course the House of Commons would take; but that rather it would carry the Resolution submitted by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government by a substantial majority. He, for one, taking as he did the view that the country itself was most earnest in the matter, that the people really did desire a reform in the condition of things existing in that House, and looking at the future not only of the Liberal Party, but also of the Conservative Party and Parliamentary life in general, bound up as it of necessity would be with the question of Procedure in the guidance of the Business of the House, should most certainly, for the reasons he had mentioned, support the proposal now before the House which was made by Her Majesty's Government.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
said, the hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Mellor), who had spoken, seemed to think that Obstruction had had its rise in the year 1848, or, at all events, became then a noticeable entity. But was he not aware that it had been a theme, not only of prose writers, but of poets in the comparatively early years of the last century? While listening to the hon. and learned Gentleman he had called to mind some lines, he thought by the Poet Cowper—Ye powers that rule the tongue, if such there are,And make colloquial happiness your care,Protect me from the thing I dread and hate,A duel in the form of a debate;The clash of arguments and din of words,995Worse than the mortal brunt of rival swords,Decide no question with their tedious length,For opposition gives opinion strength.It seemed to him that the same dislike to iteration existed in the minds of politicians and private individuals in the last century in the same degree as existed now; and certainly that opposition was expressed in more musical words than they had heard during the course of that debate. The hon. and learned Gentleman had quoted the Leader of the Opposition in support of the assertion that Obstruction had become intolerable. Well, he believed all in the House were agreed that it had become intolerable, or at all events objectionable, and the very purpose of their assembling at this period was to consult with the Ministry as to the best means of putting down Obstruction. It was simply as to the method of doing so that the Opposition differed from the Government. They considered the proposal of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) preferable to that of the Government; but that had been rejected, and they were quite within their right in objecting to the proposal of the Government. They were only standing up, each according to his ability, for the rights and the freedom of minorities in all time to come. He denied that there was that unity in the Liberal Party on this subject which the hon. Member who had last spoken alleged. The hon. Member must have forgotten the able and amusing speech of the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) in the early part of the Session, the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) last evening, and the names of 15 Members of great weight in the Liberal Party which appeared in the Division List in support of the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson). Those facts seemed to show very little unity in the Liberal Party. They had heard a great deal about the evident sense of the country being in favour of the Resolutions. "Well, he had attended a comparatively great number of political meetings during the short Recess, and it was perhaps because his countrymen were proverbially slow of apprehension that he was unable to apprehend that evident sense of the country. It had been said to 996 him, over and over again—"Don't come to us and ask what Rules you are to make to regulate the debates of Parliament If you can't make Rules to regulate your own debates, you are not fit to be in Parliament, and don't expect us to do it for you." The evident sense of the country on these questions was a sense of indifference. They were told that the Caucuses were exerting themselves in favour of the Resolutions; but that was wire-pulling. How many of the people who had attended these Caucus meetings, or signed Petitions in support of the Government, understood what went on in debates? He believed it would be a revelation to 99 out of every 100 people in the country to learn that the debates which seemed so continuous in the papers were interrupted for 20 or 30 minutes every evening while the Speaker took refreshment. The interior economy of that House was not a matter for the country at all, except in this respect, that hopes of legislation in certain directions had been excited, and the people of the country had been stimulated and encouraged to desire reform of the Rules of Procedure, in order that such legislation might be proceeded with. The country had been asked to swallow these Rules of Procedure in much the same way that a child was induced to swallow the nauseous dose—in order that it might have something sweet put into its mouth afterwards. It might be said that the nauseous dose was necessary—that medicine was salutary. Yes; but before they consented to open their mouths and swallow the medicine, they had to have some confidence in the doctor who was prescribing for them; but in this case, on the Opposition side of the House, and to a great extent in the country, there was a want of such confidence. Had not the Members of the Government themselves been guilty of Obstruction? He had heard a well-known and mature Member of the Liberal Party say that half of the time of the House was taken up in listening to the Prime Minister and the other half in disputing about what he had said. Of all the measures mentioned in Her Majesty's Speech at the opening of the Session, only two had been passed; these related to Scotland, and were passed because the Scotch Members determined to set to work in a businesslike manner. He believed that the 997 Floods Prevention Bill and other Bills of greater importance than the so-called popular measures, might have been passed if the Government and their Supporters had shown a more earnest desire to press them forward. It appeared to him that outside the House the country was indifferent on the question of clôture, and that the actual feeling of the House was adequately expressed by its yawns. The evident sense of the House was one of langour and distate. When he was a boy a cruel species of tyranny was practised at school, which consisted in the recurrence at each successive meal of the arrears of food that remained over from the previous repast, the process being repeated till the last tasteless morsel was assimilated. That was the case at the present moment with the House of Commons; and those who had called hon. Members together to discuss the New Rules probably foresaw that they would ultimately accept them from sheer nausea and weariness. Except the Prime Minister—who always threw a charm and a glamour over whatever he handled—and the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), no one had exhibited the slightest enthusiasm for the clôture. In such circumstances, the Opposition was compelled to protest strongly against the Resolution, especially as the House had always been disinclined to alter its Rules of Procedure. All had felt the inconvenience of Obstruction; but they were not prepared to make such a radical and lasting change in the Rules as would deprive them of that characteristic which this House possessed in a greater degree than any other Assembly in the world, and they were all the more loth to pass this Resolution because they felt that the House would be unable to part with it after it had once been adopted. His greatest objection, however, to this Resolution was that it would confer almost despotic power on the Ministry of the day. To say nothing of the present Ministry, which was a combination of transcendant genius and set off to great advantage the moderation of the Prime Minister and the patience of the Home Secretary, other Ministries would come after them whom he should be sorry to intrust with the power of enforcing the clôture, and other Speakers would in process of time succeed the present occupant of the Chair. As long as the Speaker whom they all 998 trusted presided over the debates of the House he had no fear; but he naturally looked to the possibilities of the future, and was afraid that the time might come when, on the eve of a great debate, English orators might use the greeting of the Roman gladiators—"Ave, Cœsar! Imperator, morituri te salutant." Besides, who could say that the Government might not some day find it convenient to bring a debate to a close by manufacturing and stimulating Obstruction? Perhaps, in the endeavour to rouse the evident sense of the House, Ministers might, like Canning's horsemen—With deft heel, insidiously applied, Provoke the caper which they feign to chide.The Prime Minister and other right hon. Gentlemen had repeatedly said that they did not intend, that it was not conceivable they should intend, to smother debate; but could they always be quite sure of the evident sense of the House? Of course, there was a good deal went on that was not understood by private Members, otherwise debates would collapse at inconvenient moments. These things must be arranged. Could the Ministers be sure that they or future Ministers would have their followers so in hand and so bestowed that they could at all times estimate and regulate the amount of evident sense which should be shown, so that debates should not come to an end by snatched divisions at undesirable and inconvenient times? He had only spoken on this occasion because he felt that they were about to pass from them those traditions of freedom of speech which they certainly should be the last to part with. They were about to take a leap in the dark. That was admitted on all hands. No one knew what the working of these Rules would be; but some of his fears would probably be realized, and it might, at any rate, be predicted that the Ministry of the future would have to deal with an Opposition exacerbated by the intended clôture, and willing, in consequence, to take any unfair advantage. He would leave the supporters of the Resolution to say how greatly it would conduce to the dignity of the debates for the Opposition, whether Liberal or Conservative, to come down to the House, like the Devil in the Apocalypse, "having great wrath, because they know that they have but a short time."
§ MR. H. LEE
supported the Resolution on the ground that much valuable time was wasted by the reiteration of arguments, and that the increasing work of the House necessitated the shortening of debates. He trusted the Resolution would be passed by a considerable majority, and he believed its operation would prove an advantage to the House. The constituencies were almost universally in favour of it; if they had not been, they would have held meetings and expressed themselves in such a way that the House could have been under no misapprehension. Knowing that the Autumn Session was to be devoted to the subject, they were willing to wait; but if the House did not pass the Resolution, meetings would soon be held to pass resolutions of remonstrance. No Speaker would venture to take the evident sense of one side of the House without taking the evident sense of the other side too. Any future Speaker would satisfy himself as to the evident sense of the House on both sides before he expressed any opinion under this Resolution. There was real security for freedom in the safeguard that a subject must have been adequately discussed before a debate could be closed. He believed that after these Resolutions were passed it would be found that the House of Commons would be able to fulfil the purpose for which it was elected by the nation, and to pass laws which would be of advantage to the community at large.
§ MR. PICKERING PHIPPS
said, the exercise of the clôture, as to whether it would or would not be used to pass Party measures, was presented to the House in various aspects by different speakers on the Ministerial side of the House. One hon. Gentleman expressed the belief that it would be seldom used; another expressed the hope that it would be often used; while another frankly uttered the hope that it would be often used for Party purposes, so that the Democratic Millennium which he looked forward to might be the sooner realized. It was with the object that the country should be saved from the latter calamity that the Opposition were desirous of opposing the clôture with all legitimate weapons in their power. They opposed the measure because it was altogether unnecessary. The other Resolutions would give the Government of the day suffi- 1000 cient power to carry on the Business of the country. The tendency of the clôture must be to diminish freedom of speech, which had long honourably distinguished, and which all desired to preserve in, the British House of Commons. The Resolution, as framed, would protect small minorities and bear harshly on large minorities. The Home Rulers had been the immediate cause of any necessity for the alteration of Procedure, and they would be in a measure protected; while the Conservatives, who had not been delinquents, would be punished. Some alterations were necessary, and the Conservatives were willing to help the Government in making them. But the measure, while equal to the necessity, ought not to go beyond it. Less drastic measures than this Resolution carried unanimously would be more likely to produce a good effect than extreme measures forced by a majority. If the Government were determined to press this Resolution in the spirit of the Radicals who, like the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), openly avowed that they wished to limit free discussion by Conservatives, the latter were justified in offering to the Resolution all the opposition they could. The concession made by the Government was very much like one of which he heard the other day. A person who had put another into the County Court wrote to the defendant in these terms—Dear Sir,—I am opposed to law altogether, and if you will accept my view of the case, and pay all the expenses, and the sum which I think is due to me, I will not bring the matter into Court.That appeared to him to be like the concession made by the Government. He held that if the Government were determined to thrust the clôture by a bare majority upon the House, the Conservative Party would be justified in using in a legitimate and proper manner all those powers which had been so graphically described by the Prime Minister as essentially belonging to an important minority. While it had been said by the Prime Minister—"Better not have clôture at all than have it by a two-thirds' majority," he believed he was expressing the opinion of all hon. Members on that side of the House when he said—"Better not have clôture at all than have it by a bare majority."
§ MR. DIXON-HARTLAND
said, that in introducing the Resolution, the Prime Minister stated, as a main argument, that its principle was adopted in most other Legislative Assemblies, and especially in our Colonies, in which the British character was reflected, and which valued British freedom no less than we did. In point of fact, however, not only no clôture existed in any of the British Colonies, with the exception of South Australia, which contained less than 250,000 of English people, but also that it had been tried in New Zealand and Victoria, and had to be abandoned. Therefore, he asked whether it was right that the great English House of Commons—the mother and model of all the Constitutional Assemblies in the world—should show, by adopting these Resolutions, that she had less power of restraint than was possessed by her children? In Europe there were 13 Lower Houses. Clôture, by a bare majority, existed in three only—those of Belgium, Denmark, and Germany. In five—those of Hungary, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, and Spain—no form of clôture existed at all. In Switzerland there was a two-thirds' majority, which was found to work well. In France, Holland, Italy, and Austria the clôture was only enforced after further debate. In France the clôture was not introduced until after the coup d'état of December, 1851, which in reality put an end to all Parliamentary institutions in that country; and he could not help thinking that the passing of these Resolutions in the House of Commons would be the coup d'état of our liberty, and that we should thereafter be practically at the mercy of the Minister of the day. After the clôture had been introduced in France it became a regular habit of the majority to clamour at once for the closing of debate the moment they were given to understand that that was the wish of the Minister of the day to silence the Opposition. The next result was that the Speakers became strong Party men. Count Walewski was obliged to give up his Office because he was not a sufficiently Party - going man. Men like Thiers, Berryer, Ollivier, Picard, and others were silenced; and measures of the greatest importance were never allowed to be discussed—as, for example, the Mexican Expedition, which was the first step in the downfall of the French 1002 Empire, and M. Thiers complained that he was never allowed to bring on a discussion upon it in the Chamber, either before it was undertaken, upon the ground that if it was so discussed the enemy might think the French armies were not backed by the whole French nation, nor afterwards, because it would be useless and unpatriotic. More important still was the war which rose out of the Hohenzollern Question. Had that subject been fully debated in the French Assembly probably the Franco-German War would never have occurred, which had brought so much ruin and misery on the French people. If that was the experience of their neighbours, should they not take a lesson from it in that House? Did they not believe that if this measure were adopted clamour, instead of debate, would become the object of some people in that House? The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) hoped that clôture would be adopted in order that his Party might be able to force certain measures through the House of Commons. Would they not always have the Chair filled by partizans in future? The present Speaker was elected by the Liberals; but when the Tories came into power, in 1874, it was the wish of all parts of the House that he should continue to exercise the high functions which had been performed with so much impartiality. But did they think that any Party could in future afford to give up the advantage of having a partizan in the Chair to support them? Again, might they not hereafter have men as patriotic as Thiers, as eloquent as Berryer, as fearless as Jules Favre, who it might be desirable for the Minister of the day to silence? And, lastly, might not questions as important as those French ones to which he had referred arise in this country, and yet, not having those questions fully debated, they might find themselves some day involved in a war, which, had opportunity for discussion been allowed, might have been avoided with dignity and honour? Lord Macaulay justly said that to gag the Press was to take away the rattle of the serpent while leaving its sting, and he thought the same words might be applied with even greater force to the House of Commons. In conclusion, he expressed a hope that the Prime Minister would pause before it was too late, 1003 and not sully an illustrious career by forcing on a reluctant House of Commons a measure which he could not but feel would be the death-knell of its liberties and those of the whole English people.
§ VISCOUNT EMLYN
said, that the cause originally assigned for the introduction of this Resolution was receding from view, while the real cause of its introduction was coming more clearly in sight—namely, the reason that it would put into the Ministers' hands the power of forcing through the House, as rapidly as they pleased, certain Radical measures which they desired to pass. It was remarkable to notice the different arguments used by right hon. Gentlemen opposite in favour of this Rule, according to the audience they wished to influence. If the Whigs were shaky, they were assured that this Rule was quite harmless, and could not be put in force without the interposition of the Speaker. When doubts were entertained by some Members of the Radical Party whether this Rule was running on the lines of the old Liberal programme, the assurance was given that it was not Obstruction that was aimed at, but the object was to give the Government absolute command of the time of the House because they wished to pass Radical measures, and if those who entertained these doubts wished such measures to be passed they must give the Government their support. The situation had become more grave since the very important statement of last evening was made by the Speaker. That statement was to the effect that it would always, under this Resolution, be the duty of the Speaker or Chairman of Committees to consider before putting it into action whether the evident sense of the House was the evident sense of the House at large. If it was not the sense of the House at large, then it was, in the opinion of the Speaker, contrary to the intention of the words of the Rule that it should be put in force. If that were so, what became of the argument of the Home Secretary that when the Rule was passed the Government were going to carry through Parliament any measures they pleased? They had been buying up Radical support throughout the country by holding out false promises, which, according to the Speaker's interpretation of the Rule, they had not 1004 the power to fulfil. He feared, however, that the Prime Minister did not accept the ruling which had been laid down by the Chair. He challenged the right hon. Gentleman to say whether he accepted it or not. If they did they would bring upon them the whole pressure of the Caucus. No considerable Radical feeling would endure to be thwarted by the action of a Speaker of that House. If they did not they were involved in the inconsistency of making the evident sense of the House mean a bare majority of the House, and going directly in the face of the Speaker's decision. He wanted to know what was the view of the Government as to the position of the Speaker and the Chairman? Their positions would be changed, and the whole tone of the House of Commons would be lowered. If clôture were carried by a bare majority the Speaker's initiative would be falsified, and it would be shown that the evident sense of the House was not in favour of closing the debate; but the debate would be closed nevertheless. Then the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had opened out a new view, and told the House that the real debates were held in the country, and the Members of that House were only there to records votes and to carry out the instructions of their constituencies. But when had the constituencies declared in favour of clôture? If they had not so declared why did not the hon. Member stand upon the floor of the House, and declare that that question should not be decided there? The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India had thrown cold water on all that the hon. Member for Northampton had said. But at that moment certain Whig votes were supposed to be in the balance, and they remembered the noble Marquess under pressure on a former occasion. It would be remembered in the Army Discipline debates, when Obstruction was being practised by certain Gentlemen opposite, that the noble Marquess adopted a very dignified and sensible attitude. But pressure was brought to bear, and in particular one prominent Member of the Radical Party referred to the noble Marquess as "the late Leader of the Opposition." Then followed a complete change of front on the part of the noble Lord, which it was painful for those to witness who respected his high character and 1005 position. Then it was said that the clôture would never be enforced unless in case of absolute necessity. But many Members of the House would bear in mind the occasion on which Urgency was demanded in Supply, and when the Prime Minster came down to the House and stated most distinctly that it would be impossible to obtain the Votes within the necessary time unless Urgency were voted; but Urgency was refused, and the Votes passed within the time referred to. So it would not do to rely too far upon the leniency of the Prime Minister. Those who abused the Rules of the House should be dealt with stringently; but A B should not be punished because C D had transgressed the licence of debate. The more he heard and thought of the Rule, the more he was convinced that it was un-English, unnecessary, and dangerous, and that the Government Resolutions were aimed not at Obstruction, but at freedom of speech, and that they would extend the Rule as they went on until its operation had converted the Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means into Party men, and had done irreparable damage to freedom of debate in the House of Commons.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he had been endeavouring to classify the arguments of hon. Members opposite; and one or two of them had struck him as remarkable. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Mellor) had complained of the trouble that had been raised about the Speaker becoming more or less of a political character; whereas already the Lord Chancellor, who acted as Speaker of the other House, was confessedly one. The hon. Member must remember that the Lord Chancellor could not call to Order, or perform many of the other duties intrusted to the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Woolsack was supposed to be, technically speaking, out of the House of Lords; and, further than that, the Speaker of that House need not himself be a Peer. In fact, he (Mr. Beresford Hope) remembered the Great Seal being in Commission, and a Commoner being the Speaker of the House of Lords. Did the hon. Member wish to reduce the Speaker of the House of Commons to that level? Then they had heard a good deal about the clôture being demanded by the nation. What could 1006 that mean, when, as it was well known, the displacement of very few votes would have wholly altered the results of the last General Election? As it was, too, why were they to listen to the supposed demands of one part of the country rather than of any other? Were the demands of ail the South-Eastern Counties—of Middlesex, Essex, of Surrey, Sussex, Kent, and Hants—to go for nothing, and only Birmingham and Mid Lothian to be attended to? Another Gentleman, the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Brinton), with sweet simplicity, said—"I am a young Member, and very seldom have an opportunity of speaking. Only introduce the clôture, and young Members will be able often to give their views to the House." But the hon. Member must remember that as debates increased in length, so did opportunities of speaking. [Mr. MUNDELLA: No, no!] But he (Mr. Beresford Hope) would say "Yes." The more the debates were shortened, the greater would be the difficulty of private and inconspicuous Members, and the more completely would the time be monopolized by the two Front Benches, as it had been in the un-Reformed Parliaments and in the times shortly after them. He could remember the old times referred to by the Prime Minister —the times of Mr. Wynn—and he asserted that the speaking in the House of Commons, in those days, was the monopoly of the two Front Benches, except by their leave. Speaking was not so free in those times as it was now, and debates were shorter. The increase in their length was a part of the great political and literary movement of the age, of the increase of newspapers and readers, and of the increased interest taken by the public in the debates, although it was denied by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) the other night; and, if that freedom was curtailed, although the Government might attain that mysterious end known as "getting through Business or carrying through measures," they would do it at the expense of such hon. Members as the hon. Members for Kidderminster and Grantham. The people who would profit by the clôture would be the Ministers and ex-Ministers. But those remarks were only preliminary. He gave this warning out of pure benevolence towards those young Members who expected such 1007 great opportunities of speaking when they got the clôture. He wished to refer to the Chairman of Ways and Means, who had not had his innings to-night. The Chairman would, of course, attend to what had fallen from the Speaker, and would search for the "evident sense of the House" in the Committee at large. But suppose the Chairman came to the conclusion that the "evident sense of the House" demanded the clôture, and that, upon a division, there appeared 199 against 201 votes in favour of it—technically, his decision would be right, but, by the natural sense of language, the "evident sense of the House" would not have been as he assumed. He would, in short, be shut up in a conclusion inevitably reached under the new Forms, and yet untruthful and immoral. Then, again, how were they to bring home to the Chairman of Ways and Means an idea of the "evident sense of the House?" It must be by the aid of various cries of "clôture!" of "Close!" and so forth; and the House would soon find a large number of fresh cries acclimatized in addition to its already too copious vocabulary—indeed, an entirely new art would be developed in their invention. Looking at the Resolution in its entirety, he regarded it as a violation of grammar and of common sense in its use of language, and as in its substance embodying a form of Procedure that would not add to the dignity of a House that had long been celebrated for the gravity and logical accuracy of all its Rules, Orders, and Proceedings. He feared that the clôture would give rise to scenes of undignified disorder. Under the proposed system, the irregular, illegitimate, clandestine forms of communication between Members, such as conclaves in the Lobby, and whisperings in the Library, would be multiplied, intensified, and vulgarized; in short, this power would lead to the creation of a new form of strategy, or, in other words, a new Code of Obstruction. Would not discontented minorities, who had a spite against any particular measure, cry from the earliest period of the debate for the clôture for the mere purpose of annoying an overbearing majority by the unexpected use of the new instrument of torture forged by the Prime Minister? He was convinced, in fact, that the New Rules, which were intended to make them so good, were not unlikely to make 1008 them more turbulent than they were at present. As to the tales of grievance brought by hon. Members opposite, and their complaints that questions of interest had been shunted over half-past 12 o'clock by inordinate talking over some antecedent topic, he must point out that these events usually occurred on any private Members' nights—Mondays most constantly—so the Government gag could not help them, and, in all probability, there would not be 200 Members in the House to sustain a clôture. The only expedient he could think of for insuring a House would be to bring in a Bill to marry your grandmother, and intrust it to the Member for Birmingham.
§ MR. CHARLES PHIPPS
said, he could only account for the silence of hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House during the later hours of the evening, by the supposition that the Government hoped to make it appear that the Opposition were obstructing their scheme. If that supposition was not correct, he would ask whether that reticence was observed because the "gag" had already been imposed upon them? Obstruction was of very recent growth, and there was no evidence that it would become permanent. With regard to the change proposed by the Prime Minister, it involved such an upheaval of their former usages that he, for one, should be sorry to see the clôture substituted for the present system, which, on the whole, had worked extremely well. It did not seem to him that it was right, hastily and without consideration, to alter the Rules under which the House of Commons had attained its present high position simply to correct an evil of modern growth. There was no proof before the House as to what was the state of public opinion on this question, and he doubted whether the Government represented the feeling of the majority of the country in the proposals they were making. He firmly opposed the Resolution, as it would, in his opinion, so work in Committee of Supply as practically to place the whole Expenditure of the country in the hands of the Government of the day. It was, of course, easy to attack the time-honoured institutions of the country; but he warned the House not to be too hasty in voting for the Resolution, as the time would come when England would deeply rue it.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, that in the earlier part of the debate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) had expressed an opinion to the effect that that subject had been worn threadbare; and the speeches delivered by hon. Gentlemen opposite would imply that such was the case, for what was the argument they all used? It amounted to this—some alterations of the Rules were necessary, and, therefore, as the Government had put this Rule first, it was necessary for the House to accept it. If, however, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had been in the House during the past few hours, he would have found that, so far from the arguments against this Resolution being threadbare, a great many new points had been raised by hon. Gentlemen who had spoken from the Opposition Benches, and his (Lord George Hamilton's) noble Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Viscount Emlyn), in particular, had stated very clearly what was the real question they were deciding—and it was the most important question they had dealt with since he (Lord George Hamilton) had had a seat in the House. It was not merely whether any alteration in the Rules was necessary or not; it had not now to decide whether the system of clôture was the best remedy; the question before it was whether the clôture, as proposed in this Resolution, would raise and elevate the tone and dignity of the House of Commons, and tend to the more rapid progress of Public Business. In his opinion, of all forms of the clôture that could have been devised, this was the worst and most dangerous. In the first place, what did the Resolution mean? From the first day of the debate until then, they had been asking, but could get no reply. The Government had assured them on that (the Opposition) side of the House that their intentions were benign and moderate; but when they (the Opposition) attempted to import any modification for the purpose of embodying those intentions into the Resolution, they were always met by a resolute refusal. The absurdity culminated last night. They had been told that the great protection of the future was the impartiality of the Chair, and a most important ruling was given on that occasion by the Speaker. They implored the Prime Minister to put that ruling 1010 into the Resolution, so as to be hereafter accepted as the definite interpretation of the Resolution. That he declined to do, on the ground, so far as he (Lord George Hamilton) understood, that he was satisfied with the decision of the Chair, and bowed to its ruling. Would the right hon. Gentleman pay the same deference to the possible ruling of another Speaker, a few years hence, in a sense hostile to that given last night? His (Lord George Hamilton's) objection to the Resolution was that it was so hypocritical; there was deceit stamped on every line of it. The Resolution pretended to put down Obstruction, while it legalized the peculiar Obstruction from which the House had suffered for the last four years. It purported to protect fair discussion by putting it under the ægis of the impartiality of the Chair; but the inevitable tendency of the Resolution was to convert the Speaker into a partizan. It made the highest Officer of the House a partizan of the most objectionable character possible, and, having done so, it utilized him for the promotion of the clôture. It made the highest judicial Officer of the House perform partizan functions under the guise of judicial impartiality. With that Resolution, they could not expect the same stamp of Speakers hereafter as they had had. The Resolution contained clear and distinct instructions to the Speaker to co-operate with the majority for the time being for the purpose of expediting measures which it was the duty of the minority to oppose. The Speaker, therefore, must belong to the majority for the time being; for no man of delicacy or honour would accept a position, in which he would know that one of his primary duties was to expedite measures, which he believed to be wrong, by shutting the mouths of those he believed to be right. How was the Speaker to ascertain the "evident sense of the House?" In his (Lord George Hamilton's) opinion, there was only one conceivable method by which that "evident sense" could be expressed, and that was by noise and by interruption. The Government, therefore, proposed, with the view of elevating the tone and dignity of the House, deliberately to tie to their highest judicial Officer the noise, violence, and intolerance of the majority. Any decision the House arrived at on 1011 this question would be irrevocable—[Mr. GLADSTONE: Why?]—he was glad to have received that interrogation from the right hon. Gentleman, and he would at once answer. If, when once this weapon had been forged, it were of the use to the present majority which Radical Members expected it would be, future majorities would not be able to dispense, in the future, with a weapon that had been of such immense value to their Predecessors. The case would have been different, if the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) had been accepted; for, in that case, the minority would have had in a certain sense to co-operate with the majority. They had, however, been told that to accept that was impossible, because the minority might have abused the rights of co-operation. But if the minority had abused their power, the remedy always lay in the hands of the majority by amending the Rule. On the other hand, if the majority abused their power, there was absolutely no remedy. The Resolution was so cunningly contrived that, no matter how unfair the Speaker might be in the future, there was absolutely no remedy, either inside or outside the House, against his interference, provided the majority for the time being supported him. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson), in opposing the Amendment with respect to protest, had pointed out that it would not be possible for hon. Members to protest against the action of the majority, without attacking the action of the Speaker. Therefore, he (Lord George Hamilton) maintained that the action of the Speaker and the action of the majority were so inseparably mixed up, that they could not separate them. He would ask the Prime Minister, whether it was not almost verging on nonsense to tell the minority that, if the Speaker abused his powers, the minority would have him out of his Chair in a month? They could not attack the Speaker without attacking the position of the majority, and outside the House there was no remedy. However unfair the Speaker might be, or however intolerant the majority, the majority had an impregnable defence. The majority might fairly say they could not be wrong, because they had the Speaker with them. The Speaker, on the other hand, would 1012 say he had only acted according to the Resolution and the sense of the majority. The principle that he thought was most objectionable in this Resolution was, that a judicial decision in this House was to be regulated by the amount of Party pressure that could be brought to bear upon the Judge. That was a principle to be sanctioned for the first time in English history. He wished to emphasize the immorality of that principle by pointing to Ireland, where the discontent with the decisions of the so-called Judges of the Land Court was based upon the belief that those decisions were regulated, not by the evidence given before these Judges, but by the amount of political pressure that was brought to bear upon them. If the decisions of the Speaker were to be regulated by Party pressure the effect would be felt through the whole political strata of the country. It had been said that this would be impossible. Nothing was impossible. If three years ago Liberal Members had been told that the three most notable acts of the Prime Minister would be the introduction of the strongest coercive measure ever passed for Ireland, the suppression of a national movement in Egypt, and the introduction of côture by a bare majority for the purposes of restriction of debate and freedom of speech, they would not have believed it possible there could be such a departure from the traditional principles of the Liberal Party. The right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor for the Dnchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) had complained of the comments made on the Resolution by Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House, and had told them it was not true that it was proposed for the purpose of enabling the Government to pass the legislation it desired; but it had since been affirmed by the Chairman of the Liberal Federation at Portsmouth and by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) that that was the case. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman had expressed his opinion that the only reason he cared for the Resolution was that it would expedite Liberal legislation. If they were asked to describe the difference between English, French, and American politicians, it would be that, in this country, men in high official rank made a distinction between their duty to their Party and their duty to their country; but if the Go- 1013 vernment were successful in carrying their Resolution, and placing it upon the Standing Orders of the House, they would make a new departure which would produce results very little contemplated by its most ardent Supporters. Of this, he was perfectly certain, that although there might have been, in the constituencies, a strong feeling that some change in the Procedure of the House was necessary, there was no wish that the Speaker should be made a partizan; and he believed that, if the natural and the inevitable result of this Resolution were known, there would be a very strong and unanimous feeling expressed against it. The Opposition had a right to complain upon three grounds against the conduct of the Government with regard to the Resolution—first, that they had departed from the usual order observed in dealing with such matters and had contrived so to obscure its purport, that very few persons could understand it; secondly, that they had unfairly exercised pressure, both within the House and out of it, for the purpose of carrying it; and, thirdly, that the Prime Minister had made a most unfair use of the trust and confidence placed in him by his own Supporters, by giving personal assurances which it was impossible could be fulfilled. It was the invariable practice of the House in dealing with offences against its Rules to specify the offences for which they wished to provide a penalty or remedy, and then to take a general power with regard to offences which were not included in the list. Following that practice, he thought this Resolution ought to have been, not the first, but the last; but being the last, he believed it would not have been passed, because the other Rules would have dealt specifically with certain classes of Obstruction, and when such Obstruction had been disposed of, the Government would have been obliged to define what was the real object and the necessity for this Rule, which they could not have done, and then it could not have been passed. These protracted debates were entirely due to that reversal of that usual order of proceeding. In the last Parliament there was persistent Obstruction, and it had been proved that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had himself been guilty of Obstruction. It was a fact that Obstruction systematically prevailed in the 1014 late Parliament, and that it was supported by Liberal Members. In 1880, a solid Irish Vote was given for the present Government; but, very shortly after they came into Office, they coerced those who placed them in power, and the Government was supported by those on this side of the House. The Irish Members naturally resented those coercive measures, and resorted to Obstruction. He maintained that the Obstruction of the Irish Members in the present Parliament was more justifiable than the Obstruction of the Liberal Members in the late Parliament. A certain amount of popular indignation was roused on every Liberal platform throughout the country against the Obstruction of the Irish Members, and now the Government proposed a Resolution which, as a sort of bribe, legalized a particular kind of Obstruction which those hon. Members practised. An agitation had thus been got up to enable the Government to pass the clôture, in order that, by its means, they might gag the responsible Opposition. In fact, if they took the history of the last two years, whether they looked to the Irish Party or to the Conservative Party, they must come to the conclusion that the Government had deluded and entrapped each political Party in turn; but he doubted whether such tactics as these were likely to add to the moral tone of the House of Commons. The Prime Minister had declared to the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), that if the operation of that Rule should tend to gag the Opposition he would be the first to co-operate towards its repeal. But what was the value of that promise? The right hon. Gentleman had himself told them that his political life was in the past, and not in the future. But the Prime Minister had, during the past few years, more than once induced the House to adopt a false principle of policy, on the plea that the exigency was so great that they could not do otherwise, and also that the false principle was so safeguarded that no evil or dangerous consequences would result from it. But he (Lord George Hamilton) believed that of all the mischievous theories and fallacies in political life, the most mischievous was that a false principle could be so adopted, because it was safeguarded. And, moreover, had they not seen how the false principle itself was afterwards made the 1015 means of sweeping away the very safeguards by which it was at first accompanied? He believed that so far from the fact of the Speaker being associated with the initiative of providing a safeguard, it would prove exactly the reverse, He had himself repeatedly endeavoured to have the words "evident sense of the House" struck out of that Resolution, as being most dangerous. When those Resolutions first came under discussion, he met a distinguished foreign diplomatist, who had been deputed by his Government to inquire into the operation of the clôture where it was in existence, and he said to him (Lord George Hamilton)—Whatever you do, do not allow the Speaker to he associated with the initiation of the clôture, because the invariable effect of such a system has been to make the Speaker a partizan. During the second French Empire, there being constant complaints against M. de Morny as President of the Chamber, he was succeeded by M. Schneider, who was absolutely under the thumb of M. Rouher, and then M. Gambetta, M. Theirs, and other eminent Members were not allowed to speak.The great mass of the Conservative Party had never been averse to reform, when such was proved to be necessary; but this Resolution did create a revolution in the Forms and Procedure of Parliament. A great authority had laid down, as an incontrovertible maxim, that "Cautious progress was alone continuous progress," and that had been their motto. As regarded the Procedure of the House, however, so far as the Resolution was concerned, their progress had not been progress, but a rash and reckless innovation; and if the new powers were to be used for the purpose of pushing through measures without adequate discussion, they might depend upon it that their progress, though it might be rapid, would not be continuous; nor would their legislation, when once passed, retain the same character of stability which had hitherto marked it. It was to be feared that the Party which was uppermost, if this power were given to it, would be tempted to use its strength unmercifully; and if it became known that those powers were to be used by the majority severely and mercilessly a feeling of irritation would be produced that would be widespread; and he could not help regretting that they were going to give those increased powers to a Prime Minister who had such destructive tendencies. He was 1016 quite sure the right hon. Gentleman did not intend to destroy everything he touched; but even, when he was endeavouring to construct, so overwhelming was his tendency to demolition, that the things which he created destroyed everything they touched. They might take that very Resolution as an illustration of his handiwork. The Prime Minister did not wish to tamper with two of the great characteristics of the English House of Commons—freedom of speech and the impartiality of the Chair. He professed to desire to preserve freedom of speech and the impartiality of the Chair; and yet he had constructed a Resolution, the tendency of which was the destruction of freedom of discussion under the ruins of the impartiality of the Chair. The new conditions would cause much irritation, and the effect of adopting that Resolution would, he feared, be the curtailment of those kindly and friendly personal relations between hon. Members on both sides, which had heretofore done so much towards smoothing the course of Public Business in the House. [Ministerial cries of "Oh, oh!"] Yes; he believed there would be a great curtailment of those relationships, arising from the natural irritation of gagged men, who suffered from a sense of injustice. He did not deny that the Liberal Party might gain a temporary advantage over the Opposition; but he thought they would purchase such temporary advantage very dearly, because, some day or other, when the Conservative Party appealed to the constituencies, they would have a very powerful weapon in their hands, for they would be able to say that, in 1882, the Liberal Party and its Leaders did not make a fair use of the confidence which the country had reposed in them—that they deliberately turned a Judge into a partizan in order to gag their political opponents. The Conservative Party would be able to add, as a claim to the confidence of the country, that, at that critical moment, they had, to the best of their power, under most untoward circumstances and against overwhelming odds, endeavoured to preserve, in their integrity, two of the noblest attributes of public life in this country—liberty and freedom of speech and fair play.
SIR GEORGE GAMPBELL
said, he had always been in favour of clôtures and of clôture by a majority. As to the de- 1017 structive tendencies of the Prime Minister which had been referred to by the noble Lord opposite (Lord George Hamilton), he (Sir George Campbell) believed it was necessary for the right bon. Gentleman to destroy a great deal that was evil in order that he might build upon a safe foundation. Though he was entirely in favour of the elôture, he confessed be had some doubts whether it was desirable to put it so much in the forefront as was now the case, and whether they ought not to have proceeded with some of the other Resolutions first. He confessed also that, with the Prime Minister, he had great doubts whether the clôture alone could possibly be passed in so strong a form as to be a radical cure for the evils under which they were suffering. He was disposed to attach very great importance to some system by which they might better divide their labours among the Members of the House. It was, he thought, impossible, that 650 Members sitting in one House, at one time, could satisfactorily conduct all the Business of the Three Kingdom s and the Empire. He believed that the clôture was undoubtedly a necessity, as to which he was sure that hon. Members opposite were far to much afraid; and he did not think the result would be so bad as was imagined, because it was so safeguarded that it would not often be put into practice. In the last Parliament, there were many occasions when it would have been well to have had such a power; but during the present Parliament, there had been but few occasions when it could have been put in force; and he certainly thought the opposition offered to the Irish Coercion Bills were not such occasions, because the Bills in question were highly distasteful to the Irish Party, and therefore the discussion was not excessive. Yet he believed that notwithstanding the infrequency of its actual use, it would exercise a constant influence upon the debates, and be held as it were in terrorem over Members who might be disposed to offend. He admitted that there were some defects in the form of the Resolution. He particularly disliked the arrangement which put the initiative in the matter in the hands of the Speaker, and he specially disliked the words the "evident sense of the House." He was afraid that some ambiguity, some doubt, might 1018 arise in that respect; but there was another sense in which he very much doubted the advisability of inserting those words. Already they had a sufficient idea of the "sense of the House" in the howling of Members, and the great noise that was made when impatience was shown by the House; and the effect of this Resolution would be to put a premium upon those disorderly noises, causing them to become more frequent, and induce the House not to give a fair hearing to small minorities. He was indeed very jealous of those words that were inserted in the Resolution, because he was afraid the effect of them would be to make the House more intolerant than ever to small minorities with crotchets. The reason he was against the initiative being placed in the hands of the Speaker was because he thought the position of the Speaker ought to be that of an English Judge, and not that of a foreign Judge. The Speaker should act only when put in motion by a responsible person, either by a Minister or by a Member, supported by a number of other Members rising in their places, and that was why he supported the Amendment to that effect, moved by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Bryce). In that case no damage would be done to the authority of the Chair in case the speaker made a mistake. He hoped, however, that the Resolution would be passed, but that it would shortly be so amended that the Speaker would not have the responsibility of acting upon the initiative.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, that almost every hon. Member who had spoken from the opposite side of the House, had spoken of the Resolution with some reservation, and the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Sir George Campbell) distinctly stated that, so far as the House was concerned, a clôture of some kind was essential; but he objected to two fundamental propositions contained in it—namely, the initiative of the Speaker, and the words "the evident sense of the House." But those were precisely what the Conservative Party objected to; and if they excluded those two conditions, they would remove the very conditions on which the Government placed the greatest reliance. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman supported not the Resolution, but something altogether 1019 different. The question of the initiative of the Speaker was a very serious one indeed, for he had said that he was to have regard to the "evident sense of the House at large." But the Resolution of the Government involved something essentially different from that, and they had not accepted that interpretation. The hon. Gentleman had spoken of the judicial character of the Speaker; and the Conservative Party looked upon that judicial character as one of the most precious possessions of the House. It had been the duty of every Speaker, from time immemorial, to plead at the Bar of the House of Lords for freedom of speech for Her Majesty's faithful Commons; and yet, singularly enough, it now became the duty of the Speaker to be the Officer who would check that liberty of speech in the House. That was a change in the circumstances which would alter altogether the judicial character of the Office which he held, and other circumstances might occur which would bring about changes more radical than any changes of the past. If the Speaker should be so unfortunate as to make a mistake in interpreting the "evident sense of the House," if he should come to be placed in a minority, he (Mr. W. H. Smith) could not understand how it would be possible for him longer to retain the position he occupied, and he could conceive no misfortune that could overcome the House that would be more serious. The hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Mellor) could claim no better argument for the Resolution than that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote) and the right hon. Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had declared that some change was essential. But there was no hon. Gentleman on that (the Opposition) side of the House who did not admit that some change was necessary to advance the Business of the House. And they would be prepared to give all the assistance in their power to carry some scheme that would promote Business and vindicate the authority of the House; and when these discussions commenced last February they were fully prepared, as the Prime Minister was well aware, to give favourable consideration to such a modification of the Rules as would have resulted in a considerable curtailment of the opportuni- 1020 ties for delays, and which, while they provided for fair discussion, would have facilitated the progress of the Business of the House. But they could not understand why the Government had not first proceeded with the other proposals concerning details, as to which there was a less strongly marked difference of opinion. The House might then, after disposing of those questions, have proceeded with the question of closing the debate. If the Government had first set about Rules 2 to 9, much time might have been saved and progress made; and it would probably have then been seen that no case existed for the application of the present Rule. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had said last night that the Government might be wrong or right as to their particular proposals, but that some change was absolutely wanted. But the real controversy was what that change was to be. The proposal of the Government was that the House should part with all its traditions, and that all the immemorial customs of Parliament should be swept away. He asked the House whether it was reasonable to suppose that the substitution of law and force for that understanding which had subsisted during periods of great trial for the House and the country could work well when a mode of proceeding might be adopted which would be assented to by the great body of the House, and even by those who might feel affected by it? He believed, from the bottom of his heart, that no greater calamity could befall the House than that what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Dodson) had described as an understanding, a conventional agreement, should be swept away, and that law should be substituted for it. No law could take the place or answer the purpose of that loyal, thorough, and cordial concurrence which had existed, notwithstanding political differences, between Members of the House, between Parties on one side and on the other, and between the Government and the Opposition, to support the ancient traditions of the House, and to vindicate its title to the confidence and affection of the country. Let it be understood that whatever was not prohibited by law was allowed; and if the time 1021 should come that hon. Gentlemen should feel themselves in bondage under that Rule, they would use all the power, ingenuity, and skill they might possess to defy the Rule, to bring that law into contempt and failure, those who enforced it into difficulty, and the Business of the House into danger. He felt that they were approaching a time which was most grave in the history of Parliament, which threatened the influence of Parliament and the character of the House of Commons. The argument of the Government was that it was not responsible, that it was the Government of the majority, and that the majority was omnipotent. That was a theory altogether inconsistent with the rights and privileges of the Members of the House of Commons. It was a new and startling doctrine. As the hon. Member opposite (Sir George Campbell) had said, unpopular men and unpopular minorities had, from time to time, found themselves at liberty to raise questions which ultimately attracted the sympathy and support of the House and the country; but all that, under the clôture, would be absolutely impossible. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) acknowledged that, for some time to come, while the traditions of the House of Commons existed, and Members remained who had sat in it for many years, that would not be the case. But as time passed the existence of the new power would induce violent and strong men to demand its application. There were instances every day that men who had resisted dictation and pressure from outside at last gave way, because they did not wish to lose the position they now occupied. He had no more doubt than that he was standing in that place that that power would be exercised by-and-bye in a manner not contemplated by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and only contemplated now by one or two Members of the House. There had already been two notable speeches from hon. Members representing two different sections of the House. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) told the House, in a cynical manner, that he supported this proposal because he believed it would be the prelude to a series of operations which would result in an imperative mandate to Members of Parliament that the measures upon which the mandate had been given should be passed rapidly and without 1022 discussion through the House; and the hon. Member added that discussion was useless when the constituencies had come to a conclusion on the measure. It was true the hon. Member represented a very advanced section, but that section was very much in earnest. There were hon. Gentlemen opposite who, being moderate Liberals, represented large Radical and vigorous constituencies; and he was afraid the time was coming when those hon. Gentlemen would either have to give place to others much more advanced in their principles than themselves, or, as in time past, have to move rapidly under pressure from behind, and be prepared to accept, more nearly than they were at present prepared to do, the views of that advanced Party. There was a section in the House—and it was well that the fact should be recognized—who were prepared to encounter almost any misfortune, if they could only involve the House of Commons and its traditions in the common ruin. For instance, the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Dawson) justified his vote the other night by saying that he was prepared—like Samson—to put his arms around the pillars, and bring down the roof upon himself. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) should like to consider next, whether the clôture would be effectual. In one way, it would certainly be effectual, for it would leave the Opposition free from responsibility. Time was, as had been referred to by the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), on which appeals made to the Opposition by the Government of the day for support had been loyally responded to, invariably the bounden duty of the Opposition having been to give the Government the required support; but now, if the Rule were passed, it would be, as the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India had said, the right of the majority in the future to control and direct the Government of the country, while the minorty would have no right to interfere, or to put any difficulty in the way. But if it was the right of the majority to do as it pleased, and that was the real and clear expression of the views of the Government on this matter, it was no longer the right or the duty of the minority to assist the majority in any difficulty under any kind of clôture. He understood that to be the converse 1023 of the noble Marquess's proposition. The noble Marquess said distinctly that they, on that side of the House, were prepared to part entirely with the past; all that had gone before was to be as nothing; the experience of the past was distasteful and disagreeable, and they would rely henceforth wholly on the power of the majority. If that was the spirit in which the Government meant to conduct the Business of the House, he (Mr. W. H. Smith) could say that, on the Opposition benches, there were many hon. Gentlemen who so far inherited the traditions of the House that they would not place difficulties in the way of the Government, but who would distinctly understand that they were no longer called upon to assist in the Government of the country. He regarded the views that had been expressed with respect to the Opposition as being, if not unconstitutional, at any rate different from those that had been held in time past. He believed he had rightly understood the noble Marquess the other day to say that the Leader of the Opposition had no responsibility?
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I am most unwilling to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. He may put whatever interpretation he thinks fit on words I have uttered; but I must disclaim the words he attributes to me. What I was arguing against was, the proposition of the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), who wished to place in the hands of the Opposition the power of saying whether a debate should be protracted or not.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he was glad to extract from the noble Marquess any explanation of his views; but the noble Marquess had said this—My position is that in placing such a power in the hands of the Leader of the Opposition, you will be giving it to one who has none of the rights that entitle him to the exercise of this power.And the noble Marquess went on to say—You cannot make the Leader of the Opposition responsible, because no responsibility attaches to his position.That was a doctrine to which he (Mr. W. H. Smith) took serious exception, as it was, in his opinion, opposed to the theory of the English Constitution. Up to the present time, he had always been 1024 under the impression that the Leader of the Opposition had a great responsibility—and so had every individual Member of the House—for the conduct of Public Business. If, however, the proposed great change were effected, and the majority took all the power into their own hands, that responsibility would be entirely lost, with the loss of all power, by the Opposition. The noble Marquess had spoken the other night of the extreme inconvenience that attached to arrangements between the two sides of the House, because, as he said, they resulted in compromises, than which nothing could be more hateful. He (Mr. W. H. Smith) admitted, of course, the superior power of the majority; but, surely, no Government ever possessed such abundant wisdom as to make compromises always unnecessary? His own belief was that the clôture would do little or nothing to expedite the Business of the House; but, on the contrary, that it would delay and obstruct it, and would merely be a weapon in the hands of the wire-pullers; still, assuming it to be successful, the only result would be that all the drastic measures spoken of by the hon. Member for Northampton would be passed; and that a violent reaction would follow. When the reaction came, there would be a demand for the reversal of legislation, and such a state of things was not to be apprehended without concern or alarm. Hitherto, great changes had been accepted after long and almost intolerable discussion; but legislation under the clôture would be followed by other legislation under the clôture, and the exasperation which produced reaction would be followed by a demand for the reversal of that legislation which had gone before. There could be nothing more dangerous or injurious to the country than such a position, and he believed it would arise. Party Government was a necessary evil; but the wire-pullers and others who were attached to it were a comparatively small proportion of the population. Were we prepared to shock the greater mass of moderate men by the triumph of a majority under the clôture? Because a small minority had made the conduct of Business impossible, it was proposed to impose on the Constitutional Opposition conditions hitherto unknown. The opponents who were loyal were to be punished, because there were others who were not. Experience had shown 1025 the necessity for the power and privilege proposed to be parted with, and no one would regret more than he if, from this time, were dated the decline and fall of Parliamentary life.
§ MR. DAWSON
said, the House was like a club or an association, the prosperity of which would be imperilled by the substitution of Rules for the traditional influences which had rendered regulations unnecessary. In Austria-Hungary, when a Motion was put to close debate, the speaker who at the time happened to be addressing the Chamber could not be interrupted in the course of his remarks; and, besides this, each Party could choose one person on their behalf to make final speeches on the subject under discussion. He was not aware that the Prime Minister had made any such provision for the House of Commons. Again, in Austria-Hungary, if the Government answered any of the charges made by the final speakers, the debate was re-opened de novo. In France two appeals were allowed before the discussion was closed; while in Germany no special privileges were given to the Members of the Government. It was true that the clôture existed in the American Congress; but it should be borne in mind that that Assembly had to deal only with "Imperial," and not with local affairs. It was melancholy to reflect that that great Assembly, now the foremost in the world, was about to sink to the lowest position among Assemblies of its kind. He knew that the Party to which he belonged had been accused of being guilty of Obstruction, which was unwarranted, by the condition of things, and which was put forward as the reason for the necessity of the step now proposed to be taken. That they had been so guilty he most emphatically denied. Since the year 1880 there had. been several Imperial measures, and several specially English measures; and they were found supporting every great and liberal measure which the Government had introduced. What did they obstruct? They obstructed two things. They obstructed penal, coercive, despotic, tyrannous, and, as it had proved, useless legislation against their own countrymen. He contended that it was their bounden and imperative duty to oppose and delay those measures of coercion, and, as every man did in public or private, put off the 1026 evil day to the very last hour. What else had they delayed? They delayed the Land Bill. He always expressed his thanks to the Prime Minister for the Land Bill he had introduced; but he would ask him, would he not admit that that Bill had been materially improved in consequence of the delay to which it had been subjected on that side of the House? Then what had they done? They had obstructed—they had delayed that which they had improved. What had they therefore done that the Government should crush them, and, in crushing them, ruin and imperil the liberties of that great Assembly? Hon. Members should bear in mind that while the English Members had the English Press, by which to ventilate their grievances and opinions, the Irish Members had no such resource to fall back upon in this country, as Irish newspapers were not read or circulated in England. Irish newspapers were not to be found along the English railways and in the principal reading rooms. Except where his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) had put them, they would not find an Irish newspaper. Did the Prime Minister not know that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had admitted to-day that he never read an Irish newspaper? The only platform, therefore, which the Irish Members had to reach the English ear, or even the ear of the Prime Minister, was the platform of the House. It should also be remembered that the only channel through which Englishmen and persons abroad derived their information about Ireland was the correspondence supplied to The Times by their Irish Correspondent in Dublin, who was also the editor of The Daily Express. Through that correspondence foul calumnies were circulated about Ireland, and no opportunity or means were available for the refutation of these calumnies. As respected the allegation that there had been a compact entered into between the Prime Minister and the Irish Party with regard to the course they should take on the clôture Resolutions, to the effect that, if they remained silent, the right hon. Gentleman would promise them Home Rule, he (Mr. Dawson) would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he had on a former occasion given a categorical promise of Home Rule. In conclusion, he would say that it was 1027 his earnest belief that the course now taken by the Government indicated a political movement which would end in the destruction of the liberties of England.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett.)
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he understood that it had been arranged by the authorities on the two Front Benches that there should be no division upon the Amendment until Friday. He wished to know what would be the use of spending two more days in talking upon a subject in regard to which every Member of the House had made up his mind, and upon which it was absolutely impossible to bring forward any new argument? Why were hon. Members to be put to the purgatory of hearing all this stuff talked over again for two more days? He would suggest that it would he much better to adjourn the debate until Friday. It would be a matter of great convenience to everybody, and he would throw out the suggestion for the consideration of the Government. [Cries of "Move!"] If it was the wish of the House he would move that the debate be adjourned until Friday.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be adjourned till Tomorrow."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "To-morrow," and insert "Friday."—(Sir Wilfrid Lawson.)
said, that one reason, and one absolutely conclusive against the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) was, that if the debate were adjourned until Friday, the division would not be taken until Monday. If his hon. Friend could prevail upon the House to go to a division on Friday, he would gladly accede to the Motion; but he (Mr. Gladstone) was afraid that no such understanding could be arrived at.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he could bear personal testimony to the 1028 fact that there were still a very large number of hon. Members who desired to speak upon the Amendment.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he was sorry to hear that such was the case. He would not press the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at a quarter after Twelve o'clock.