HC Deb 01 April 1884 vol 286 cc1288-303

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Order for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Second Rending of the Representation of the People Bill have precedence, this day, of all Notices of Motions and Orders of the Dav."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


said, he wished to take the opportunity which this Motion gave him of making some observations upon what he might almost term the speech of the Prime Minister at Question time with reference to the Resolution on local taxation. They were asked to arrange the order of Business in that House. He would not raise any objection to that. The Representation of the People Bill might justify such a demand; but if the House agreed to the Motion, they ought to have from the Prime Minister some distinct explanation as to the arrangement of Business after the Franchise Bill had been, disposed of. They ought to know whether the giving effect to the Resolution of last Friday was to be deferred until the Government had had an opportunity of bringing under the Notice of the House their Bill with regard to local government generally. If the Government did not, when the Budget was brought forward, offer some relief to the ratepayers, he should feel it his duty, as far as it laid in his power, to interfere with the arrangements which the Government might think well to make. He was as anxious as the right hon. Gentleman himself to see reform on these points; but he was more anxious that effect should be given to the deliberate opinion of the House of Commons; and if the Government found themselves pressed on that point, it would be one of the main inducements for them to proceed on an early day with their measure in reference to local government reform. The Prime Minister had stated that they must read the Resolution which was agreed to on Friday in connection with the decision which was arrived at last year upon this subject. In his opinion, the right hon. Gentleman should consider Friday night's vote as a reversal of the Resolution of last year. It was a reversal, because many of the Members who voted with the Government last year had, he would not say voted against them on Friday, but crept out of their places and refused to support their previous vote. He did not think the Prime Minister should fall back upon an Amendment which was carried by a small majority of Members who did not on Friday support the views which they held last year.


said, the Prime Minister must be sanguine indeed if he supposed that the answer which he gave earlier in the evening would give satisfaction to hon. Gentlemen who sat on the Opposite side of the House. If that answer meant anything at all, it was a flat refusal to do anything for the purpose of giving effect to the Resolution of Friday night. He gathered from the action of the Government that they were going back to their old practice of deliberately ignoring declared Resolutions of the House of Commons. Last year they ignored the Resolution on the importation of foreign cattle, and this year they were evidently prepared to take a similar course with reference to the Motion on local taxation. He did not hesitate to say that the Franchise Bill was nothing whatever to hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House. He was opposed to the measure under the circumstances in which it had been introduced; and so long as the Government were careful to conceal the whole of their scheme, he believed the Conservative Party in general would oppose it. He did not understand that the way to offer an effective opposition to the Bill was to give unusual facilities for passing it through the House. Considering the course which the Front Opposition Bench had taken, however, he was not prepared to oppose the concession asked for by the Government. He should leave the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) to make his own terms with the Government with reference to the local taxation Motion; but he thought the time had come when the House should have a distinct assurance from the Government as to the course which they proposed to take with respect to the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill. He hoped the Prime Minister would assure the House that after the second reading of the Franchise Bill he would take the Committee stage of the Cattle Bill, and proceed with it without interruption until that stage was concluded. Unless he received that assurance, he should join his hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire in offering further opposition to the arrangemements of the Government.


said, he could not concur in the remark which had fallen from the two hon. Gentlemen who had just spoken, that the responsibility of dealing with the questions referred to now rested with Her Majesty's Government. On the contrary, it appeared to him that the responsibility rested with the Leaders of the Opposition. The House arrived on Friday at a certain decision, and there was a difference of opinion between the Government and the Leaders of the Opposition as to what that decision meant. Members on the Opposition side asserted that it meant something; Her Majesty's Ministers thought it meant nothing; and, more than that, the Prime Minister, stating that the Resolution meant no- thing, challenged the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) to invite an expression of opinion by the House on the subject. Under these circumstances, a private Member of the Conservative Party having, as had been done before, gained a victory over the Government for the Opposition, he had a perfect right to call on the Leaders of the Opposition, now that the battle had been fought, to come to his assistance, take up the challenge thrown down by the Prime Minister, and at once place on the Table of the House a Resolution expressing the dissatisfaction, or, if they liked, the Censure of the House on Her Majesty's Government for not having taken immediate steps to carry out the Resolution of the House. If the Leader of the Opposition would take that course, it would be absolutely necessary for the Government to give him facilities for bringing forward the Resolution after the challenge they had thrown out, and he would certainly assist great numbers of county Members on that and the other side of the House who were really earnest in their wishes and their anxiety to benefit the ratepayers of the country.


My noble Friend is very adroit and agile in the positions he takes up; but this is the first time I have seen him perform the part of "bonnet" to the Government.


said, that, whether the noble Lord acted the part of "bonnet" of the Government or not, he had no doubt that the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) was quite right in saying that the entire Conservative Party was opposed to the Franchise Bill. He had risen, not to interfere with the discussion on that Bill, but to endeavour to lead to something which would expedite its progress. On the first reading of the Bill they had an excellent speech from the Prime Minister, going into full details in regard to all the matters of the Bill, and upon the second reading they had another speech from the noble Lord the Minister for War; but since then they had suffered greatly from the obstructive loquacity of past and present officials and ex-Cabinet Ministers. On Thursday the debate lasted about six hours, and four of those hours were taken up by past and present officials and ex-Cabinet Ministers, and yesterday not one English Member who did not belong to either of those classes had an opportunity of addressing the House. He had listened with great pleasure to the speeches of right hon. Gentlemen; but a minor official of the Government ought on no question to indulge in the luxury of an opinion. They knew perfectly well what his opinion was before he got up—that he would accept any Bill brought in by the Government, otherwise he would not be on that Bench. With respect to these minor officials of the Government, and also ex-Cabinet Ministers, their speeches, he was bound to say, were somewhat lengthy. They caught the Speaker's eye, and they did not seem able to resume their places. He had made a calculation, and their speeches on an average had been above one hour. Now, considering the short period that they existed, he might almost say, in this world, but considering the very few hours they existed in that House, because they all went away to dinner, and there were only four or five hours during which the debate assumed a practical form on any evening, he did think that if this were to be continued the debate would go on for some interminable period. So far as he was concerned, he believed that the nation had issued its mandate—["No, no !"] —and the best thing they could do was to accept the Bill, and vote for it without saying a single word. ["Oh!"] If that was not the view taken by the House, and if the system which had prevailed up to the present time were to continue, they should not be able to enjoy that Easter holiday which they all anticipated with so much pleasure. The country did not care sixpence whether they had an Easter holiday or not. Whether they passed the second reading this week or next was a thing which concerned Members themselves, and not the country.


observed, that he could speak on this subject with perfect impartiality, because in the course of this debate on the Reform Bill he had no intention of intervening. He was told by those of more Parliamentary experience than himself that there was a time when it was not the unwritten rule of the House that the Speaker should invariably call on a Member of the Front Benches when he got up. If that was so once, it was so no longer. Under these circumstances, the Front Benches were strong; but, though strong, they were not merciful in the exercise of their power, He had been informed that they had not, in this debate on the Franchise Bill, even allowed unfortunate private Members the hours from 8 to 10—those hours sacred to humble mediocrity and budding genius, during which the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War, as he told the House last night, was always in the habit of retiring for refreshment—they had not allowed private Members the undisturbed enjoyment even of those hours in which they might meekly express their opinion. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had put his finger on the difficulty. It was not that too many Gentlemen on the Front Benches spoke, but that they spoke too long. He could not believe that anyone could not express his opinion on so well worn a subject as the Reform Bill in less than 90 minutes. And yet any Gentleman of the rank of a Privy Councillor seemed to think that the House and the country at large would feel aggrieved if he compressed his speech within shorter limits.


said, he felt this grievance very much indeed. This was now the fourth night of the debate on the second reading, and five right hon. Gentlemen on the Bench below him, four right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite Bench, and three right hon. Gentleman, "corner-men," had spoken—[Cries of " Refugees!"]—the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), and the right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter). And he was informed that the right hon. Gentlemen—also "corner-men"—the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) and the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) were going to speak. In such a case, if they were to have such long and interminable speeches as the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) made last night, there was no chance of independent Members saying anything. The two Front Benches seemed to have come to the conclusion that they would not speak during the dinner hour; and, as a consequence, they spoke from 6 to 8 and from 10 to12. Accordingly, private Members had only the hours between 8 and 10. He knew there was a practice on the part of private Mem- bers of going to the Speaker in order to be called on at a particular time. Personally he had always objected to that practice. He had never gone, and never would go, to the Speaker to ask to be called on, because it would be unfair to private Members that he should have that advantage by quietly whispering into the ear of the Speaker. He would, therefore, suggest that they should have a Morning Sitting on Friday—["No, no !"]—only in order that the two Front Benches might be allowed to talk and to exhaust themselves, so that private Members who took a deep interest in the question might have an opportunity of addressing the House.


wished to call attention to a question which concerned himself and his Friends. He had secured Friday for the discussion of a Motion of extreme importance, and about which he saw Notice of a Question upon the Paper to-day by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). He would like, therefore, an assurance from the Government that if there was a Morning Sitting on Friday, their position with regard to this Motion would not be damaged. He thought that considering the number of Members who sat near him who were interested in the question, he was entitled to some consideration in this matter, as it was a subject which affected all parts of Ireland.


asked whether the Prime Minister approved the growing disposition of right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Front Benches to monopolize so much of the time of the House? They all listened with pleasure to the right hon. Gentleman himself, and to the Leader of the Opposition, and no one objected to their occupying a very considerable portion of the time of the House. The complaint was that the Colleagues of those two right hon. Gentlemen occupied too much time. He admitted that their Colleagues were extremely eloquent; but in the present debate the House wanted richness and variety. In the orations delivered from the Front Benches they missed the element of variety. No one on the Front Ministerial Bench dared differ from the Prime Minister, nor did anyone on the Front Opposition Bench dare differ from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon. The Colleagues of the Leaders of the two Parties were not free to think for themselves. They were accustomed to accept the opinions that came from their Leaders. Of course, they were quite right to hold those opinions; but having heard them once from the mouth of the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for North Devon, the House did not care to hear them any more. He wanted to know also whether the Members of the Government would pay attention to the debate on the Franchise Bill supposing that the Notices of Motion were postponed? On Monday night between 9 and 10 o'clock, when one of the most important speeches yet delivered—namely, that of the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. C. Russell) —was made—the only speech yet delivered from a purely Irish standpoint —the Treasury Bench was almost empty. During part of the speech one of the Lords of the Treasury was present, and during another part the First Commissioner of Works was in the House. No other Members of the Government, he believed, heard any part of the speech. He wished to know whether the Government would pay more attention to the subject that evening?


With regard, Sir, to the Question put to me by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell), all I have to say is that I take my stand on the Resolution of last year, and that I do not find that that Resolution has been reversed or set aside by the terms of the Resolution of the present year. With respect to the subject raised by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), all I need say is that he is aware that we have made some efforts to push forward the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill, and that we have found a disposition to occupy a much larger share of time with discussion on that Bill than was anticipated when the subject was first brought to the attention of the House. Nevertheless, I am very desirous to do all that I can in this matter; but it is impossible to undertake to give a continuous progress to that Bill to the detriment of all others. But if the House should be disposed to take a Morning Sitting on Tuesday, the day after our first meeting after the Recess—presuming that the House meets on the 23rd—we should be ready to devote it to the consideration of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill. We are very desirous that the judgment of the House should be given upon the proposals before it with respect to that measure. Coming now to the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), who has just sat down, and of other Members, I find that they are attacks more or less severe upon official and ex-official Members of the House, and upon minor Members of the Government. As regards minor Members of the Government. I cannot help saying that the state of things which has been brought about is worthy of note. I think it is most desirable that Members of this House individually should know to what degree the character and credit of the House are at present being staked—and I am afraid not being staked under favourable circumstances—by the alteration in the habits of Business. When I first entered Parliament—I think I can support what I say from memory—it was the desire and pleasure, and I may even say the delight, of the House, that minor Members of the Government, as they are called; that is to say, the young men who have been chosen for their merit in early life and who represent the future Ministers and statesmen of the country—[Cries of "No !?"]—well, to a great extent; do not suppose that I mean exclusively—that they should have considerable opportunities given to them of speaking in general debate, and not only in discussions on subjects connected with their particular offices. Well, I may say that now there is nothing so rare as for any of these minor Members of the Government—I do not speak of the present Government alone, for the same thing, I suppose, applied to the late Government—to find an opportunity for opening their mouths at all. Whoever are responsible for the delay of Business, assuredly they are not the minor Members of the Government. As regards ex-official Gentlemen, they naturally divide themselves into classes. I must honestly say, in the first place, that there is no man who is less responsible for the unnecessary length of speeches, or for the difficulties in which we stand, than the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote). I must make that confession. It is not for me to comment on the conduct of Members on the Front Opposition Bench; but it is for me to say a word with regard to those who sit upon this Bench. I must point out that those who are in Office are in this difficulty—that while occasionally they are criticized for excessive speaking, they are also exceedingly liable to be criticized for insufficient speaking; and sharper and fiercer attacks are made upon them in cases in which it is thought that they ought to have spoken when they have not done so. Well, four Members of the Government have as yet spoken in this debate; and all I can say is, that while we shall remember what has been said to-night, I presume that to-night's debate is not to be allowed to pass without some official speech. But we shall endeavour to confine ourselves within limits; and if it be my duty, as it may be, to take part in the debate when it closes, I shall not dismiss from my memory what has now been said. As to other official Members—Members who are not absolutely involved in the responsibility of either Front Bench —they must really defend themselves. They are generally men of very great ability, and none are more competent to defend themselves. As we are making those remarks in a good-humoured way. I must frankly own that I am not quite sure of the wisdom of the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just eat down in drawing attention to this subject. Generally, a man is judged by reference to his friends, and Parties and combinations of men are supposed, in some degree, to base their title to occupy the time of the House upon the importance which is attached to them. Those who sit near the hon. and learned Gentleman will, I am afraid, be found in a predicament from which it will require all their ingenuity to extricate themselves, if a severely critical and numerical test is applied to this part of our proceedings—a test which sometimes brings to light awkward facts. I hope we shall endeavour to reduce our official speeches to a minimum. As far as the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Mr. C. Russell) was concorned, my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works assures me that he was present during the greater part of the speech; my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General was also here; and the hon. and learned Gentleman himself confesses to the presence of a Lord of the Treasury. With respect to the ques- tion of Friday, I have been asked no Question upon the subject at a time when I could have considered the matter. But I do not see why I should attempt to bind the discretion of the House. We have no intention at present of asking for a Morning Sitting on Friday; but I cannot tell what the desire of the House may be. The desire of the House is certainly to have a Division on this Bill not later than Monday next. I do not wish to bind the discretion of the House; but if it should happen that a necessity arose, and that a Morning Sitting was voted by the House on Friday, we should think it a matter of justice to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Longford (Mr. Justice M'Carthy), and those who support him, that we should take care to secure for him a House, so that he can bring forward the important subject of which he has given Notice.


said, he rose to complain of the serious and unprecedented outrage committed on Tuesday last, when the Government, having taken the day for a Morning Sitting, arranged that it should be counted out, when, at the resumption of the Sitting, he rose to call attention to the affairs of Madagascar. Forty of his Friends were good enough to come down to make a House for him, and there were altogether 44 Members present, but four of his Friends subsequently were obliged to leave. The Government Whips were active in preventing Members from coming into the House, and then, when an unsuccessful attempt had been made to count out the House, they, like the Serpent in the history of the Fall, instilled poison into the ears of several hon. Members, and induced them to leave the House in order that the second attempt to count out the House might succeed. That attempt was made, he was sorry to say, by the hon. Member the Colleague of the Home Secretary in the representation of Derby, and thus a question which the Government did not dare to face fell to the ground. This he could not but describe as an unprecedented outrage, and he appealed to the Prime Minister to secure him facilities for bringing forward his Motion, which he had put down again for to-night.


As I was present——


No, Sir. You came in late.


I was present during the second "Count." I was not present at the first "Count." I was present during the hon. Member's speech.




Yes, during 15 minutes of the speech.




said, that if the House had been in the exact condition described by the hon. Member it could not have been counted. He said there were 44 Conservatives present.


I did not say so. I said 44 Members were present, and that four of them sat on the Ministerial side.


said, that in that ease the hon. Member had 40 of his own Friends present. If even the hon. Member with his Friends only counted 40, he was at a loss to see how there could be a "Count out." He (Sir Charles W. Dilke) was certainly present himself, there was Mr. Speaker in the Chair, and the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was on the Treasury Bench, so there must have been, according to the hon. Member's own showing, not less than 43 Members in the House. As far as his recollection was concerned, at the time when the House was counted out, there were only 30 Members on the Conservative Benches and four on the Liberal side of the House. He saw no action on the part of the Government Whips which would justify the charges which the hon. Member had made against them. He was very sorry that the hon. Member had brought this subject forward, because hitherto he had always looked upon the hon. Member as a public benefactor. The officials of the House were much overworked, and he thought the hon. Member had done good service in bringing forward Motions on Tuesday evenings, because he thus secured a "Count," and the officials and overtaxed Members were able to be released. This had happened on several occasions last Session as well as on that day week; but he was sorry the hon. Member now appeared to be ashamed of the holiday he had thus given the officials. It had always been considered that if, on Tuesdays, less than 40 Members were present in the House, it was primâ facie evidence that the subject under discussion was not of sufficient importance or interest for keeping a House.


said, he desired to traverse the theory laid down by the President of the Local Government Board to the effect that when 40 Members did not assemble to hear a discussion it was of no interest or importance. There might be a very great number of Motions which if they once could be got before the House would interest not 40, but 400 Members, although before such Motions were brought forward they might not interest 10 Members. He thought that, in the circumstances of the present time, the Government were bound to keep a House on Tuesdays for the benefit of private Members.


asked the noble Marquess if he would afford him an opportunity for bringing on the Motion standing in his name in reference to the New Education Code? The Code lying on the Table would come into operation on Thursday. Therefore, that was the last occasion when it could be called in question. He was willing either to go to a vote without argument on his Motion at once, or else to withdraw his Motion on the understanding that the Vice President of the Council would withdraw the Code till after Easter; if neither of those courses were convenient to the Government, he must ask the Leader of the House to arrange for the adjournment of the Reform Bill debate in time for him to bring on his Motion that night.


said, with respect to the form of the hon. Member's Notice, he understood it was contrary to the Rules of the House that one or two clauses of the Resolution should be put. The hon. Member proposed an Address to the Crown to increase the expenditure of the annual grant for elementary education. The proposal of the hon. Member, if agreed to, would enormously increase the annual grant, so that that part of the Resolution could not be put. With respect to the first two propositions, the Department had already done all that the hon. Member required. These matters were provided for in the Code.


observed, that inasmuch as the Deputy Speaker had been suffering very much, it would not be right to keep him in the Chair beyond a certain hour. He hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would allow the debate on the Franchise Bill to be adjourned at an early hour, so as to permit the very important Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton) with regard to the Education Code to come on at a reasonable hour. He was surprised—but, really, nothing surprised him now—to hear from the Vice President's own lips that long as he (the Vice President) had been in the House he knew nothing with regard to the Rules of the House in respect of Public Business. That was shown from what the right hon. Gentleman had said in reference to the Orders of the Day at Tuesday Sittings.


said, he would remind the Vice President of the Council that, although the Education Code had been lying on the Table of the House for a long time, hitherto no opportunity had presented itself for discussing it. This was the last chance hon. Members had of proposing Amendments in it. As a matter of political fairness his hon. Friend should have an opportunity of bringing forward his Motion.


said, he was afraid there was no alternative but to discuss the Motion of the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton) after the adjournment of the debate on the Franchise Bill tonight. The suggestion that they should divide upon it now was impossible. The question before the House was the Motion of his right hon. Friend for the postponement of the Notices of Motion and the Orders of the Day, and it would be impossible to make an exception in favour of the Motion of the hon. Member to the prejudice of the Motions of other hon. Members. He understood that the New Code had been on the Table for a month, and it could hardly be said that there had been no opportunity of discussing it. Under the circumstances, there was no alternative but to discuss the matter to-night after the debate on the Franchise Bill had been adjourned, and it might be hoped that the discussion would not take very long.


asked at what hour it was proposed to adjourn the debate upon the Franchise Bill?


As soon after 12 o'clock as possible.


said, he understood that the Education Code would become law to-morrow; and if the consideration of the question was to come on after 12 o'clock, he should like to ask the noble Lord at what time tomorrow it became law?


said, that the Code would not become law until the 3rd of April.


asked whether the Vice President of the Council would, in the circumstances, undertake to withdraw the Code, in order that it might come on again at a time when it could be properly discussed?


said, he had no power to withdraw the Code.


said, he must deny that absolutely. The right hon. Gentleman had perfect power to make a Motion to that effect.


said, that, in his opinion, it would be an act of cruelty to the Deputy Speaker, in his present state of health, to keep the Franchise debate up until after 12 o'clock, because the question of his hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire would occupy at least an hour or two, in consequence of which the Deputy Speaker would be detained in the House until 2 o'clock in the morning, or perhaps later.


rose to a point of Order. He desired to know whether an Amendment could be moved to the Motion of the Prime Minister to the effect that the Motions on the Paper should be postponed till after the Orders of the Day up to 11 o'clock?


The hon. Member has put a Question to me on a point of Order. He asks me whether the Resolution can be so altered as to fix the adjournment of the debate at 11 o'clock? That would be putting a limit to the power of debate in this House, and consequently it would not be in Order.


I wish to know, Sir, whether, looking at all the circumstances of the case and the time that is occupied in discussing this matter, it would not be well to undertake to adjourn the debate about 11 o'clock in order to give the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stanley Leighton) an opportunity of bringing forward the great social question, with regard to which the Members of the House generally have feelings of strong interest.


said, the Government wished to do what was most agreeable to the House in this matter; but he must point out that it was not altogether the fault of the Government, because the Code had been upon the Table of the House for many days, during any one of which the matter might have been discussed. He only rose, however, to say that if it was the wish of the House that the debate should be adjourned about 11 o'clock, the Government would offer no objection to such a course.

Question put, and agreed to.