HC Deb 23 April 1883 vol 278 cc988-96

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Mr. Hicks.)


said, he trusted that the Motion which had just been made for the adjournment of the House would not be agreed to. The Bill before the House contained merely the usual provisions for the reduction of the Income Tax and the continuance of the Tea Duties. The other questions in the Bill were all matters of detail, with one exception; and that was the collection of Schedules D and E of the Income Tax, in regard to which he had restored the clause proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford North- cote), with certain conditions as to compensations, which he hoped would result in the clause being better received than it had been. This, however, was not the proper time to discuss that matter; and, so far as the Bill was concerned, it was simply a continuance Bill, and might be accepted without any considerable amount of debate.


said, the right hon. Gentleman, in the observations he had just addressed to the House, appeared to entirely ignore the fact that there was an Amendment on the Paper upon the second reading of the Bill of very great importance, which stood in the name of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Ecroyd). As regarded the Bill itself, no doubt, what the right hon. Gentleman said was correct; but it appeared to him that when there was on the Paper an Amendment of the character he had described, if it was to be debated at all, and if it was to be a serious Amendment, they would not have the smallest chance of debating it at that hour of the night. He had no doubt that the hon. Member who had given Notice of his intention to move the Amendment would do so, and that he would desire to state his views to the House. He (Mr. Chaplin) knew, further, that the hon. Member was supported by a considerable section of the Members of that House. Under those circumstances, it was somewhat unreasonable that the right hon. Gentleman should press the second reading of the Bill at that hour of the night. If the right hon. Gentleman had moved the second reading of the Bill after the dinner hour—say, at 10 o'clock—he would have been well within his right; but to ask the House to proceed after midnight with a measure of that kind, in regard to which a most important Amendment was to be proposed, and which the hon. Member for Preston desired to proceed with, was most unreasonable on the part of Her Majesty's Government. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider his decision, and take a more favourable opportunity for moving the second reading.


said, he had no right to address the House again, and he could only do so with the indulgence of hon. Members. He was quite aware that the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Ecroyd) had placed a Notice upon the Paper of a Motion, proposing that they should return to Protection and Reciprocity. The hon. Gentleman might just as well raise a discussion upon the old Corn Laws and the duty upon corn upon the second reading of the Bill. [Cries of "Order" and "New Rules!"] He thought he had been answering a question which had been put to him.


said, he rose to Order. The right hon. Gentleman would have every opportunity afforded to him of explaining the course which he proposed to take; but it was out of Order to enter into a discussion of the Amendment upon the Motion for the adjournment of the House.


said, he was only trying to explain what the proposal of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Ecroyd) was. What he was going to say was this—that the Motion placed on the Paper by the hon. Member might be a proper Motion to bring forward on a Tuesday or Friday; but he submitted to the House that it was not a proposal which ought to be made upon a Bill which was almost of a formal character, in reference to the continuance of the Tea Duties and the Income Tax. If the hon. Member for Preston had brought forward his Motion on a Tuesday or Friday, it would have been the duty of the Government to discuss it fully; but he would appeal to the House whether it was proper, upon such a Bill as the present, to discuss the abolition of all Customs Duties, and of all direct taxes.


said, that the endeavour of Her Majesty's Government to force on the discussion upon this Bill in order to exclude the consideration of a Motion which was legitimately proposed as an Amendment to the Bill admitted but of one construction. That construction was that they feared the discussion of the Motion. At all events, they viewed the discussion of the Motion with the greatest possible dislike. This was, in fact, an attempt to burke a discussion which was most legitimately raised upon a very grave subject. Of course, if Her Majesty's Government chose to divide the House upon the Question of Adjournment, they would probably succeed in burking the Motion; but he trusted that the House would resist that tyrannical attempt on the part of Her Majesty's Government, by pro- ceeding to a division, and then the country would understand the alarm with which her Majesty's Government viewed the prospect of a discussion on the subject of the Motion of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Ecroyd).


said, he wished to put a question to the Speaker—whether, in speaking on the Question of Adjournment, he had any right to refer to the Motion which stood on the Paper in his name? [Mr. SPEAKER assented.] Then, with the leave of the House and of the Speaker, he would like to say that he could not conceive a more apposite occasion for the Motion than the second reading of the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill. He had a Motion on the Paper which took its place among four or five other Motions of a like kind last Session; and at the request of the Government, and for their convenience, he consented to take it off at that time, and no remark was made to him, as to its being an improper occasion for making such a Motion. He had not had the honour of a seat in that House so long as many hon. Gentlemen who were present, and he frankly confessed that he might very easily have fallen into the mistake of taking an unsuitable occasion for making the Motion; but he had no reason to believe that that was the case. In order to show the importance of the issue raised by the Motion, he would only point to the heavy duty still levied on tea imported from India, after we had compelled that vast Empire to receive our productions absolutely free from duty. He thought, if there were no other point of interest in his Motion, he could not be accused of troubling the House unnecessarily. The circumstances were extraordinary. Here was a Bill of first-rate importance, in the discussion of which the country must necessarily take a great interest. It was brought on considerably after midnight upon a day when many hon. Gentlemen had been serving upon the Standing Committee on Trade, which met at 12 o'clock and sat until 4. Since then the House had been engaged upon a long and exciting discussion; and now, at an hour when the House was completely exhausted, this question was brought on, and he was asked to bring forward his Motion at a time when it would be clearly impossible to secure for it the attention which it deserved. For those reasons, he should certainly support the Motion of the hon. Member for Cam-bridgeshire (Mr. Hicks), for the adjournment of the House. It was because he felt himself bound to raise a discussion upon that important question that lie must protest against the consideration of it being entered upon at a time when it was impossible that it could be adequately discussed.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been good enough to suggest that that Motion had better be put down on a private Members' night— say Tuesday, for instance—and he had given the House to understand that the Government would be anxious to promote the discussion of it upon a Tuesday. But he (Mr. O'Donnell) was not sure that recent experience in the House would lead many Members to come to the conclusion that Her Majesty's Government were not more prepared to facilitate the counting out of the House on Tuesdays than of discussing the Business of the House. It was just possible that on this question, as upon some others, there might not be perfect unanimity in the Cabinet, and that while the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer might be disposed to keep a House for the discussion of the question, some other Member quite as influential in regard to the management of the House might come to a different conclusion. He wished to point out that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, probably through haste, had misrepresented the object of the Motion. It was not merely a Protectionist Motion, but a Motion for granting Free Trade to India; and the questions involved in that proposition were of such very great importance that he thought they ought to be brought on at a suitable time of the day. The fact of the matter was that the most important part of the Business of the country—namely, the management of its finances and the consideration of its resources—was being burked in order to make room for the ecclesiastical "fad" which now possessed the imaginations of the Treasury Bench. He hoped there was a real disposition on that (the Opposition) side of the House to furnish a resolute opposition to the Government in their endeavour to put off all discussion upon this question. It was impossible, at that hour of the night, to enter into a proper discussion. The issues involved in the second reading of the Bill, even if so important an Amendment had not been upon the Paper, would have rendered it necessary that time should be afforded for adequate discussion. But considering the importance of the Amendment, and also the anxiety Her Majesty's Government had, on numerous occasions outside the House, expressed of their desire to have a thorough discussion of the whole Free Trade question, he thought they ought to accept the opportunity now afforded them, and even pressed upon them, and not be so unaccountably shy in declining the challenge. He hoped the Motion would be persevered with, because there was nothing left for the general body of the House to discuss but Motions of this kind. All great questions were packed away in Grand Committees; and even now it was proposed that this important Motion should be practically shelved by being deferred until after a midnight hour, for no reason whatever except to prevent discussion.


said, he thought that everybody who had watched the course of his hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Ecroyd) since he had been in that House must be perfectly well aware that in making the proposal which he had placed upon the Paper he was only giving effect to the view he had always held and put forward with so much earnestness. He thought it was but fair to a Gentleman in the position of his hon. Friend, and holding those views, that he should have an opportunity of bringing them before the House. It seemed to him that his hon. Friend had chosen an opportunity for making his proposals which could not be called an unfair opportunity, but which was one extremely suitable for the discussion of such proposals as he thought it desirable to make. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) would say nothing as to the proposals themselves; but they were of a character which would, undoubtedly, require that his hon. Friend should have reasonable and ample time for explaining and unfolding them; and, of course, he ought to be answered with tolerable fulness, and in a propermanner, which could hardly be expected at that hour of the night. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said very truly that the Bill was one with which the Government were anxious to proceed. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) could quite understand that; but if they were so anxious, why, especially as there was such a Notice upon the Paper, did they not put off another measure which was certainly not so pressing and not of such immediate and urgent importance as this was? It seemed to him that the Government had no right, first of all, to take up the entire night with a discussion which had naturally been of an exhausting character, and then to say they were obliged to go on with the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill, when they were not bound to do anything of the kind on this particular day. They had some little time before them, having regard to former precedents, in which to pass the Bill; and he thought it was only right and fair that they should so arrange the order of Business as to give his hon. Friend a fair opportunity of bringing his Motion forward.


said, he quite admitted the consistency and fairness with which the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Ecroyd) had always advocated the views he was known to hold on this subject, and he should be glad that the hon. Member should have an opportunity of discussing those views. But, in the opinion of the Government, the opportunity which the hon. Member had taken, although he could not deny that he was technically in Order in bringing on the discussion of the Motion upon the second reading of the present Bill, was not a legitimate opportunity for bringing on a discussion. In the opinion of the Government, the Motion ought to be moved as a substantive Motion on a Tuesday or Friday; and they did not think they were bound to give the hon. Member the opportunity he desired, by putting the Bill down as a first Order. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote) had referred to the discussion in which the House had been engaged during the evening. Whatever might be said of the right hon. Gentleman's own views, or those of his Friends, it was desirable, now that question had been placed before the country, that it should be thoroughly considered, and that the House should have an opportunity of arriving at a decision upon it at the earliest possible moment.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 81; Noes 102: Majority 21.—(Div. List, No. 69.)

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, it must now be apparent to Her Majesty's Government that the "evident sense of the House" was not in favour of continuing the discussion. He, therefore, begged to move that the debate be now adjourned.


said, he rose in consequence of a remark which fell from the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington). The noble Marquess seemed to think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Ecroyd) might obtain an opportunity of proposing his Motion on a Tuesday or a Friday. But Her Majesty's Government had ostentatiously told the House that it was not a duty of theirs to keep a House on a Tuesday or a Friday. ["No!"] That had certainly been said by the Prime Minister with regard to Tuesdays; and, moreover, the right hon. Gentleman laid down the principle that the Government would do nothing to keep a House on Tuesday. Under such circumstances, the hon. Member for Preston had no other course to pursue than to bring forward his Motion on an occasion like the present. He (Mr. E. N. Fowler), therefore, begged to second the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. Chaplin.)


said, he did not quite understand the relevancy of the hon. Member's (Mr. R. N. Fowler's) remarks. The hon. Gentleman said that the Government would not pledge themselves to keep a House on Tuesdays or on Fridays. [Mr. R. N. FOWLER: I said Tuesday.] The hon. Gentleman distinctly said Fridays. He must have forgotten what the facts of the case were. On Tuesdays it was the duty of private Members to keep a House. If a private Member wished to bring before the House any question, he had an opportunity of doing so on a Tuesday; and if he could find 40 Members who were disposed to discuss the question, he would get that discussion, providing he succeeded in the ballot. The remarks of the hon. Member were not quite pertinent to the Question before the House, which was whether the debate should now be adjourned. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) regretted that so large a minority of the House should have supported the Motion for Adjournment; and he was bound to say he could not at all accept the principle that it was not proper, after 12 o'clock at night, to take the second reading of a Bill—a Bill which in itself was practically unopposed —because an hon. Member chose to exercise the right which every hon. Member technically had, of raising any possible financial question which could be raised on a Bill of this kind. There was no question connected with taxation which might not be raised as an Amendment to the second reading of this Bill; and the doctrine was now laid down that, because it was possible to discuss every single financial question which could be conceived, it was the duty of the Government to give the greater part of the evening to that discussion. He disputed such a doctrine, and should continue to do so; but after the small majority obtained in the division it would be impossible to endeavour to force the House, and therefore he would consent to the Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Thursday.