HC Deb 04 July 1884 vol 290 cc27-53

I am sorry to say that the Prime Minister is slightly indisposed to-day; and, therefore, it devolves upon me to make the following Motion:— That, for the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions on Tuesday, and that Government Orders have priority. The object of the Motion is, of course, that instead of taking, as we have hitherto done, Tuesday mornings, and leaving Tuesday evenings open, the whole of Tuesday shall be taken for Government Business, the House meeting at 4 o'clock on that day. Last year, on the 10th of July, the proposal of the Government was considerably more extensive than that which is now made. At that time Tuesdays and Wednesdays were taken for Government Business, and Morning Sittings were taken on the Fridays. It is found, also, so far as can be gathered from both sides of the House, that taking the Tuesdays from 4 o'clock is preferred to taking Morning Sittings at 2 o'clock. Everybody knows that if a Morning Sitting is taken on Tuesday, practically the whole of that day is appropriated by the Government. The proposal is not an extensive one, and I hope that, under the circumstances, both sides of the House will be disposed to concur in the request for the purpose of forwarding Public Business. The arrangement will commence on the 8th instant.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions on Tuesday, and that Government Orders have priority."—(Secretary Sir William Harcourt.)


said, he only echoed the general feeling in expressing regret at the absence of the Prime Minister. They could not wonder, with the work which devolved upon him and in the present state of the weather, that the right hon. Gentleman should be indisposed; but they regretted it the more because, had the Prime Minister been present, he would have said—what the Home Secretary had not told them—what Business it was seriously intended to proceed with during the remainder of the Session. There was force in the observation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there was no great advantage made by taking Morning Sittings on Tuesdays; but the Government had had the whole of Tuesday Morning and Friday Morning Sittings for the last two months, and the present proposal must be considered, not with reference to how much further it went than the privileges already granted to the Government, but with reference to how much it was in itself. There had been several occasions, during the last two months, on which hon. Members, after having conceded the Tuesday Morning Sitting to the Government, had found themselves very hardly treated when the Evening Sitting came. The Government considered themselves entirely free from any obligation to assist in making or keeping a House. The assistance they had received from the House had been considerable; and when a demand of this kind was made towards the end of the Session, it was usual, and, he thought, very reasonable, that the Government should state what they proposed to do with the additional time asked for. They knew there were a number of Government Bills on the Paper, and they were Bills, every one of them, which would, if fairly discussed, take a considerable time. There seemed to be no order or method in the way in which those measures were to be taken, and now was the time for the Government to declare their programme. If all the Bills were to be taken, it would be quite impossible for the Session to close at the ordinary time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, however, had not once alluded to the state of Business in the slightest degree. What Bills did they intend to proceed with? The President of the Board of Trade had abandoned one large Bill, and his reasons were very cogent. The House ought to know whether the Government intended to proceed with the Bills on the Paper or not. He would mention two or three of them. There was the London Government Bill. Was it the intention of the Government to proceed with it or not? It would be a mere waste of time to go on discussing that, Sitting after Sitting, if there was not the least chance of passing it. Did the Government see their way to passing it? Other measures had been made to give way to that Bill, and early in the Session the significant statement was made that one of the great reasons why the Government could not introduce a redistribution scheme was that if they did so it would take up the whole of the Session, and the London Government Bill could not be passed. The House was entitled to know whether the Government seriously intended to pass the London Government Bill or not. Then there was the Railway Bill, with regard to which the President of the Board of Trade could, perhaps, tell the House something; and there were several other Government measures, in respect of which they were entitled to some further information. As he had said, he regretted the absence of the Prime Minister, all the more because he was sure that if the right hon. Gentleman had been present he would have given the House much fuller information with regard to the intended order of Business than had been afforded to them. The House wished to know what was to be done with regard to the Irish Land Purchase Bill, the Sunday Closing Bill, the Universities of Scotland Bill, and the Coinage Bill. Then there was the great question of Supply. He saw the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) present, and he trusted that they would put in their protests against any unnecessary interference with a fair examination of Votes in Supply. He did not think that they were very forward with the Votes in Supply at the present moment; and if it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to go on discussing Bills which were not likely to pass so that it might be necessary to hurry up Supply in order to enable the Session to be finished, it would be very unsatisfactory. He trusted that before the House was asked to assent to this Motion, the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite would supply the omissions in his statement which he had pointed out, and would tell the House what Business the Government really intended to proceed with.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite must feel that in the absence of the Prime Minister it was impossible for him to make any definite statement with regard to the Bills which it was intended by Her Majesty's Government should be proceeded with. It was not usual for the Government to make any final statements as to which of their Bills they would proceed with until a later period of the Session. He, however, had no hesitation in saying that next week the Prime Minister would make a statement on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman had asked whether it was the intention of the Government to proceed with the London Government Bill, and that question he could answer most distinctly in the affirmative. With regard to Supply, two days a-week would be set apart for it.


said, he thought facilities should be given to his hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) for the discussion of his Motion with regard to Disestablishment in Wales. The hon. Member had balloted every month since the commencement of the Session for a day to bring on his Motion. He had at last secured the first place on Tuesday, the 29th instant, and it seemed very hard that he should be deprived of it. The question was of the gravest importance, and one in which the people of Wales took a great interest; he, therefore, hoped the Government would make an exception in the case of his hon. Friend.


said, he had a Motion on the Paper with regard to the cultivation of opium in India, which, of course, he would have to give up in the face of the appeal of the Government. Supply was yet very far in the rear, and he thought its backward state was largely due to the un-wisdom with which the time of the House had hitherto been divided between the Government and private Members. He considered that it would be very much bettor if, in future, the Government made up their minds earlier in the Session to take the whole of Tuesday or the whole of Friday, instead of giving half these days to private Members. By taking the morning part of the day only little or no Business was done; for it offered an inducement to debate which ended in talking out Government measures. In the evening counts out were frequent, and private Members had no opportunity of bringing forward questions in which they were interested. After hon. Members had sat from 12 to 4 in Committee and from 4 to 7 in the House it was not easy to secure an attendance at 9 o'clock punctually. He begged to intimate to the Under Secretary of State for India that he would raise the question to which his Motion had reference when the Indian Budget was introduced.


said, he had the first Motion on the Paper for Tuesday next. That was a Motion with regard to a large class of public servants who felt that they had a grievance which ought to be remedied. He protested against being forced to give up his place unless the Government would state frankly which of their Bills they intended to proceed with. The action of the Government would give great dissatisfaction to those who, like himself, felt that they had a claim upon the attention of the House.


said, he had, also, secured the first place on one of the Tuesdays which the Government proposed to take. He hoped the House would not agree to the proposal of the Government as a protest against the way the time of the House had been used. He was rather surprised to hear from the Home Secretary that it was intended at this stage of the Session to proceed with so serious and critical a measure as the London Government Bill. In his (Lord Burghley's) opinion, it was impossible to carry such an enormous measure during the short remainder of the Session. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would be able to give a more qualified reply with regard to that Bill to the question of the right hon. Baronet.


asked what facilities the Government would give for the progress of certain Irish Bills if this Motion were agreed to, and especially whether Government assistance would be given for getting on with the Poor Law Guardians' Elections Bill, of which the Chief Secretary expressed approval last Wednesday? The Bill had been blocked by the hon. Member for Dublin at the instance of the unscrupulous Orange Party. ["Order!"] They knew that the Orange Party in that House were toothless.


The word "unscrupulous" is un-Parliamentary, and ought not to be applied to any section of Members of this House. I must ask the hon. Member to withdraw it.


begged to withdraw the expression. He also wished to know whether it was intended to proceed further with the Law of Evidence in Criminal Cases Bill, which had passed the second reading without an opportunity being afforded to Irish Members of saying a single word with regard to it? Would it not be better for the Government, if the House was to be called there again in the autumn, to wind up the Session as soon as possible, and let them away while the weather was fine?


said, he wished to make an appeal to the Government on the question of Supply. The House would now expect that Mondays and Thursdays would be devoted to Supply. Of the many Rules of Procedure lately introduced, one of the most important was that which gave the Government those two days for Supply without any preceding Motion when it was the first Order. They had, therefore, a right to expect that Supply would be in a forward state. But it was not so, and they actually found the Government giving up yesterday to the London Government Bill instead of Supply. Such action was almost trifling with the convenience of the House. Until himself and his hon. Friends had heard that day from the Home Secretary that it was intended to proceed with the London Bill, they never dreamt the Government had any such intention; looking to the circumstances of the case, all that they thought was intended was to have an academical discussion on the second reading. But if they were to be told that the London Bill was to be passed this Session, all the other Business of the House would have to give way to it. There was no doubt that there would be a very large amount of discussion on the Bill in Committee. If the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth) hoped to see the Bill passed this Session, he was more hopeful than many hon. Members. The Government ought, therefore, to look facts in the face. Supply was very backward. There were 23 Votes for the Army, of which only six had been taken. For the Navy, only four out of 17 Votes had been taken; and in the Civil Service, out of 139, only 26 Votes had been taken. Thus there remained no fewer than 143 Votes out of 179. If the London Bill and other measures were to be pressed forward, Supply would be hurried through, and the discussion of Votes would be a mere farce. He must protest against the conduct of the Government in this respect, as he had protested against the late Government. He would not, however, vote against the Motion; but he had a right to urge that if this additional time were given to the Government, it should be devoted to practical purposes.


said, he agreed with the speech of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), but regretted his practical conclusion. No mention had been made of the Navy Estimates. He hoped there would be an early opportunity for a full discussion on the Navy. Notwithstanding the confident announcement as to the London Government Bill, the Government would, in his opinion, have a hard task to carry it through. If they were really serious in their intention there would be no opportunity for discussing the Estimates, or anything else. He had a Motion with respect to the Civil Service clerks on the Paper, in which 5,000 or 6,000 persons were deeply interested, and he thought it was very unfair that he should not have an opportunity to bring it forward. They ought to have a chance of discussing on the Civil Service Votes the interesting question which the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson) was to have brought forward on Tuesday next. The Government were much to blame for time wasted on measures like the Irish Sunday Closing Bill and other measures, which every one knew would be talked out. This year the Government had made a more than usually large demand on the time of the House in beginning so early with Morning Sittings, yet the result of these had been that stormy mornings were wasted and evenings thrown away, and great hardship inflicted on private Members. He should oppose the Motion if a Division were taken.


said, that the hon. Member for Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) had argued with a good deal of force against Morning Sittings; but he did not think the hon. Member could have anticipated, for instance, that the Irish Sunday Closing Bill would have required 10 or 11 or 12 hours' discussion on its second reading. On the contrary, they expected that hon. Members, whatever their opinions might be on the Bill, would have been anxious to bring them to a test. He could not but sympathize with the hon. Member for Durham and other Members who had Motions on Tuesdays and Fridays; but the Government had taken the only course which they could have taken. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) had stated very strongly the claims of Supply; but the hon. Member should remember that Monday and Thursday in next week had already been set apart for Supply. He was getting the lions's share, and he could hardly expect to get the jackal's also. The Government would certainly give an early day for the discussion of the Navy Estimates. Then the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy) had referred to the Irish Bills which were before the House, he could not trench on the Prime Minister's functions with respect to the apportionment of the time of the House; but he could state that such portions and fragments of the time of the House as could be given to Irish measures would be devoted to certain Bills in which the Government had already expressed a very strong interest. Among those Bills were the Government Bills on the Purchase of Land and the Sunday Closing Bill. He hoped also that they would carry the private Member's Bill on Irish Poor Law Guardians, which was an excellent measure, of which the Government fully approved.


remarked, that if the House would allow him he would make, with all respect, a few observations upon its general habits. The change that had come over the habits of the House since he first became a Member was very remarkable. One element in that change was the almost total loss of independent action on the Ministerial side of the House. Yesterday, if the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) had not been supported by the Opposition, he would not have been able to bring a serious grievance before the House. He had himself in former days been a "Whipper-in;" but now the function of certain Government officials seemed to be to "whip" Members out on Tuesday and Friday evenings, which constituted the small remnant of time left to the unofficial Members of the House. The fact was that hon. Members were wearied by, or could not afford time for, both Morning and Evening Sittings, so the House was easily counted out on Tuesday and Friday evenings; so that the Head of the Government, who was supposed to be the Leader of the House, was responsible for a great deal of the waste of time which, by these faulty arrangements, he contributed to produce. But there was another circumstance. The whole object of Her Majesty's Government appeared to him to be to anticipate agitation by the measures they introduced. They had carried a Reform Bill through the House, but he understood that it was not likely to become law during the present Session; and it was reported that the Government intended to propose a special Session to accomplish, not merely the object of an agitation originating out of the House, but of an agitation which they had originated themselves within the House, or had adopted, or to which they had become parties under this new phase. With a prospect before them of not being able to accomplish their agitation—the principal object—immediately in one respect, they now proposed to use the power they had in that House—a power which was exaggerated by the want of independence among their Party—to force through the House another great measure. Now, he put it to the Home Secretary whether, by that system of forcing agitation within that House in support of democratic measures, the Government did not justify Obstruction? The House had at one memorable crisis of Obstruction been liberated, not by the Government, but by the independent action of the late Speaker.


said, the Motion to-day raised the question of the mode of conducting Business between the Government and private Members. Long ago he had said that it would be better for the Government to take Tuesdays and Fridays for the rest of the Session. On Tuesdays there had been almost invariable "Counts-out," and now they were having a Morning Sitting. The present system was unfair to the Government and to private Members, and also to the country. There had been 17 available Tuesdays since the Session began. On nine of those the House had "Counted-out" early—before 11.30 P.M. On the first four Tuesdays the House was "Counted-out" almost before any work was done. Those days were the 4th, 11th, 18th, and 25th of March. He did not believe in private Members' legislation; and though posterity would deal severely with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton), yet his hon. and learned. Friend had done good service with respect to private Members' Bills, which were almost invariably bad ones. As to Supply, he thought the time had come for something being done to put the whole question of the Business of Parliament on a different footing, so as to render the time of the House really available for practical legislation and administration and control of the Expenditure of the country. What had the Government done this Session? The Government had introduced 53 Bills, nine of which were mentioned in the Queen's Speech; but only 14 had received the Royal Assent, and only two of those—the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill and the National Debt Bill—were of first-class importance. Then the Government had not fulfilled their promise to consider the whole question of the Civil Service Estimates. No other important Bill, except the Franchise Bill, had gone beyond a second reading. A statement was made yesterday, which he thought one of the most startling ever made by a British Minister, and which, he thought, would astonish the country. The President of the Board of Trade told the House that, in his judgment, and presumably that of his Colleagues, the present state of the law occasioned a preventible loss of human life at sea. If that statement were true, and, he believed, it was, then he said it was the first duty of the House, and of the Government, to endeavour to alter that state of the law. There was no measure on the Government programme which could compare in importance with a measure intended to save human life, yet what was the announcement that followed this startling statement of the President of the Board of Trade? It was that he should be compelled on Monday to ask leave to withdraw the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman stated also that, with the concessions that had been made, he believed if he got the Bill fairly submitted to a Grand Committee there would be no difficulty in passing it this year. In order, therefore, that his (Mr. H. H. Fowler's) conscience should be clear, he should say "No" when the right hon. Gentleman made his Motion on Monday. There ought to be no subject nearer to the heart of every Member of that House than the saving of British sailors' lives. Then there was the Bill for the regulation of railways. There could be no doubt, he thought, that if that Bill were submitted to a Grand Committee the objections on both hands would be removed, and satisfactory legislation would result. But that Bill was apparently to be thrown away. He thought they were entitled to ask from the Government a distinct statement of what they intended to do in the remaining four or five weeks of the Session. Did the Home Secretary really believe that the London Government Bill, large and important as it was, could be really discussed in Committee and advanced to other stages along with the Business that must be disposed of? There ought to be a distinct understanding that a statement would be made by the Prime Minister early next week.


said, he concurred in the concluding remarks of the hon. Member; but he must remind him that the Home Secretary at the outset stated that the Prime Minister would take an opportunity of making a statement to the House. He listened with great interest to the eloquence of his hon. Friend; but he could not help thinking there was some little inconsistency in some of his conclusions that appeared to have escaped him. For instance, the hon. Member referred to a statement he (Mr. Chamberlain) made yesterday, in answer to a Question, when he said that, in his opinion, there was a preventible loss of life going on amongst our sailors, owing to the present state of the law. In his opinion that was a deplorable fact, and it was a reason why he was most reluctant to suggest to the House the abandonment of the Bill; but he must point out that a similar statement applied to other work the Government had in hand. It applied to any proposal for reforming the Government of London. So long as London was without a proper effective Municipal Government, it was quite impossible to hope that the sanitary arrangements which ought to be made would be efficiently cared for; and he believed his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, when he had the opportunity, would lay before the House conclusive facts and statistics tending to show that epidemic disease was prevalent, which would not be the case if the Municipal Government were improved. The same remarks might apply to other Bills. There was the Railway Bill. In addition to those provisions which were intended to put in a satisfactory state the relations between the Railway Companies and their customers there were provisions for the public safety. He might refer to other Bills also in charge of the Government, where, perhaps, the effect of legislation was less direct, but not less certain. He might appeal to hon. Members with regard to a Bill already mentioned—the Irish Sunday Closing Bill. Any Bill that would do anything to decrease the intemperance of the population was a Bill that would save life, and as such was entitled to the attention of the Government and of the House. Let them not, therefore, make invidious comparisons between the Bills of one Minister and the Bills of another. Why could they not proceed with the Bills? And now he came to the point where the inconsistency of his hon. Friend came out. His hon. Friend had been urging them to give more time to Supply; but if they were to give more time to Supply at an earlier period of the Session they could not proceed with any important Bill. He thought it necessary to legislate for the wants of the country, and, if necessary, they should not hesitate to postpone Supply for the exigencies of legislation. What had they done in the present Session? His hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) said they had framed New Rules, by which they ought to have got more forward with Supply. That was perfectly true. The Government gave more attention to Supply in the earlier part of the Session than had ever been given before; but what was the result? The more time they gave the more talking there was and the less work done; and so they might go on. If they accepted the views of his hon. Friend they might give time until they had no time for legislation; and no course would be less satisfactory to the country than that. They had given time to the Franchise Bill, for which they put aside Supply; and did his hon. Friends complain of that? [Cries of "No, no!"] He felt sure they would not. They might have had time for Supply; but how many Votes of Censure had they had to meet during the course of this Session? [Opposition cheers. He was surprised that hon. Members opposite should take to cheering that view, for hitherto they had met their Votes of Censure, and met them successfully. [Cries of "How?"] How? By the vote of the tribunal to which hon. Members appealed. What he wanted to point out was that a portion of the limited time of the Government had been taken up by repeated Votes of Censure and by interpolated debates, which had left for Government purposes hardly any time at all at their disposal. He did not wonder at the complaints of private Members; he sympathized with them; but he could only say the proposal of the Government was not unprecedented, except in its moderation. They were not proposing to take the whole time of the House, as they might have done, for which there would have been a precedent. They were proposing only to take Tuesdays. His hon. Friend referred to last year; but let them see what happened in the time of the late Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had pointed out truly that it mattered little to private Members whether the Government took the whole of Tuesday or the Morning Sitting, because in the majority of cases after a Morning Sitting Members would not come down to make a House in the evening. In 1875, after the 1st of June, Tuesdays were taken by the late Government; in 1876, on the 3rd of June; in 1877, on the 5th of June; in 1878, on the 4th of June; and in 1879, from the 10th of June. [Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE: From what date this year?] Early in May. He had no wish to trouble the House by going into a comparison between the two Governments; but it was a fact that for particular purposes the late Government had taken Morning Sittings much earlier—one year on the 13th of April, another year on the 4th of May, another year on the 11th of May, and another year on the 25th of May. He was not complaining of this; he was only showing that the present proposal was not of an unprecedented character. He recognized the importance of the Motion which the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) would be unable to bring forward on the 29th of July; but the hon. Member must have felt that he had not been favoured in the ballot, and that there was little chance of his really obtaining the day the ballot had given him. He hoped the House would accept the proposals of the Government. He recognized the duty of the Government to make a statement as early as possible regarding the future progress of Business. If it was not made that day, it was partly due to the indisposition of the Prime Minister, and partly to the fact that it was not usual to make the statement so early.


said, he had been prepared to support the Government in making a demand which was in accordance with the usual practice; but it was a reasonable expectation that the Motion should have been accompanied by a statement as to the course of Business. He had not had the advantage of hearing the opening statement of the Home Secretary, though he had been fortunate enough to listen to the speeches of the Secretary for Ireland and the President of the Board of Trade. He condoled with the Home Secretary, however, on those speeches, which showed a capacity for Public Business in which he was lamentably deficient. The right hon. and learned Gentleman could, however, speak his own mind, if not that of the Government. Private Members were asked to part with one of their two days in order that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might proceed with a Bill which had not the slightest chance of passing. They were landed in this position by the unfortunate manner in which the Government were represented on this occasion. As they were promised the statement of the Prime Minister on an early day, and in its absence they could not appreciate the sacrifices they were asked to make, he moved that the debate be adjourned.


seconded the Motion.

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


said, he supported the adjournment, because if the Government got those opportunities they would only use them for electioneering purposes. He would only vote with the Government on one consideration, and that was that they should use the first Tuesday for continuing the debate on the Merchant Shipping Bill.


We are not now discussing the subject that we were before the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.


Of course, he could speak only to the adjournment; but, perhaps, he might be allowed to ask the Government to give some assurance that the Motion for discharging the Merchant Shipping Bill would be brought on at a time when it would be possible to discuss it. He did not wish to trespass longer on the House, because he understood that practically the question was simply the Motion for Adjournment.


said, he thought that it would be better to adjourn the discussion until Monday, when the Prime Minister would have an opportunity of giving his statement, and showing that the time of the House would not be wasted.


said, that the suggestion of the noble Lord amounted to this—that, having wasted the greater part of Friday, they should waste a great part of Monday in renewing the discussion.


said, that was not the question at all. The question was whether if the Prime Minister had been present he would not have complied with the reasonable request of the House, and said something as to what Business he proposed to take. The whole difficulty had arisen because, in his absence, the Home Secretary had been unwilling or unable to afford that information to which the House was entitled.


said, he had already stated that it was not in accordance with the practice of the House at the beginning of July to make a detailed and final statement on a Motion of this kind. He adhered to that statement. He should be wrong if he said he was surprised at what had taken place; he was prepared for it by rumours which reached him both yesterday and to-day. He hoped a Division would be taken, so that it might be shown whether or not the House would go on with the Business of the country.


said, he did not know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant by these mysterious observations. The gist of the case was, that facilities of this kind were never granted to the Government without some information as to the course of Business. On the present occasion, when they asked for explanations as to the use which the Government would make of these facilities, they were referred to the fact that the Prime Minister was absent, and no other Minister could say a word. Under these circumstances, it was not unreasonable that the debate should be adjourned.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 136; Noes 189: Majority 53.—(Div. List, No. 153.)

Original Question again proposed.


said, that as the House had decided to give the Government Tuesdays without any explanation, he rose to make one last appeal to the Home Secretary with the object of saving the time of the House. The two principal measures before the country, besides the Franchise Bill, were the Merchant Shipping Bill and the London Government Bill. Looking at what had taken place, the former measure appeared to have been brought in in order to give the President of the Board of Trade an opportunity of making one speech four hours in length, and the latter Bill had been introduced to enable the Home Secretary to make two speeches of two hours each. Half of the time spent on these Bills had been taken up by the right hon. Gentlemen under whose charge they were brought forward. If, however, he was wrong in his supposition, he would urge the Government to put forward the Bill which there was some chance of passing now. Which of the two had the best chance? Putting on one side the absurd remark of the President of the Board of Trade, that the London Government Bill was a life-saving Bill—it was nothing of the sort, for London was the healthiest city in the world—it was clear that while the Merchant Shipping Bill, which it was alleged was for the preservation of life, had a tolerable chance of success, the London Government Bill had none. Of the two Bills, the Government had deliberately chosen the one which had no chance of passing, and then they came down and said it was all owing to notorious Obstruction that the Business of the House could not be proceeded with. Was it not Obstruction, pure and simple, to occupy their time over a Bill which could not pass—a Bill which must take weeks and weeks before they were even able to discuss in Committee the various clauses? He repeated that the London Government Bill had no chance whatever of passing; but this would not be due to Tory Obstruction, but rather to gross mismanagement on the part of the Government.


said, he did not know whether the hon. Member expected him seriously to answer the appeal he had just made. Did the hon. Member really seriously believe that the Members of the Government were actuated by such a spirit as that which he attributed to them? Did he think that, in determining what measures should be brought forward, the Government, and the individual Members of the Government, were only desirous of making a display by delivering speeches?


I never suggested that this was their only motive.


denied that such motives actuated them at all. [Cries of "Spoke!"] Having made the Motion, he had the right of reply. The Government were obliged to look round these questions, and a very serious element in the matter was the feeling of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and that, of course, must govern the Administration in the determination of these questions. He thought they had been a little unfairly pressed on this matter by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The absence of the Prime Minister from indisposition was quite unexpected, and it was not till the moment he (Sir William Harcourt) entered the House that he was told it would devolve on him to make this Motion. He had no doubt the Prime Minister would have given fuller explanations than any other Member of the Ministry; but a fair tender had been made to the House—namely, that the Prime Minister would make a statement at the beginning of next week. He asked that the matter should be decided now, for everyone knew that if it was not, the whole of this discussion would recur on Monday. He desired to disabuse Members of the idea that the Members of the Government were extremely anxious to undertake the greatest possible burden. There was no individual Member of the Government who, for that matter, would not gladly see the Session close to-morrow; but their duty was, according to the best of their judgment and abilities, to get through the Business of the country. It lay entirely with the House first, and with the country afterwards, whether the Government should be supported in endeavouring to discharge that duty. Therefore, they asked the House to support them in the demand they now made.


wished to say that he felt no personal hostility to the way in which the Government had dealt with the London Government Bill; on the contrary, he was under a deep obligation to them. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had done all in his power to make his seat certain at the next Election; for if ever 25,000 men were agreed on any question, quite apart from politics— Liberals and Conservatives were both of one mind—it was upon the inadvisability of the scheme put forward. As far as he (Mr. R. N. Fowler) was concerned, the Government might prolong the Session till September without his raising the slightest personal objection; other official duties kept him in London, and a late Session was no inconvenience to him. This Bill bristled with details, which would have to be examined carefully. It was not the fault of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It was only his misfortune. He had to evolve many of the details out of his own intellect, not having the advice of those who were practically acquainted with the question. The right hon. and learned Gentleman wished to go down to posterity as the man who gave London a new Constitution and was a great Legislator. But he must not expect, for all that, that his Bill was to be muddled through in the small hours of the morning. For himself, he had no objection to the Session being prolonged into September; but he wished to warn the Government that they had undertaken in July a task which would not only task the energies of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but entail great sacrifices on Members generally.


said, there was no disposition to oppose the proposition of the Government on its merits. It was the accompanying circumstances that had occasioned the long conversation about it. When the Prime Minister asked for a concession of time two months ago, he (Mr. J. Cowen) pointed out that it would be much better to take one whole day than two halves. Everyone acquainted with their proceedings knew that Morning Sittings did not much benefit the Government, while they placed private Members at a great disadvantage. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and he took a Division against, the Ministerial proposal, and the results had justified their action. He, for one, had no objection to allow the Government an even larger amount of control over the time of the House than they asked for, provided they would state frankly how they meant to use it. That was a reasonable request, and one that was always complied with at such a time and in such circumstances. As the Prime Minister was unable to be present, and as the Home Secretary was not in a position to make the required statement, it would have been easy for him to adjourn the subject altogether until Friday next. If he had done this, and asked for the whole of the intermediate Tuesday, he would have got it without demur. Instead of doing that, he had demanded the time, and refused to fulfil the conditions consequent on obtaining it. It had been stated that the Ministers meant to persevere with the London Government Bill. He was very much surprised at hearing such an announcement. He did not think there was a single man in Parliament who seriously believed that the Bill could pass into law this Session. The only person who dreamt of such a result was the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth). He admired that hon. Gentleman's courage, and envied his optimism. To persist in discussing a Bill that all knew would have to be abandoned was not treating Members fairly. If they were to credit the reports in circulation, an event was likely to transpire in "another place" next week which would bring them back to Parliament in the autumn. If such was the design of the Cabinet, was it fair of them to keep Members hanging on in London until the middle of August beating the air? If they selected from the list of Bills those they meant to carry, and then stated their decision to the House, there was every disposition on both sides and in every quarter to give effect to their intention. The President of the Board of Trade had spoken rather slightingly about the claims of private Members. He did not wish to re-debate the question, as he had expressed his opinions on it repeatedly. But he would say this—that while the time placed at the disposal of the Government had increased every year—and never more than during the last two or three Sessions—the time at the disposal of private Members had decreased in like proportion. He regretted this. He could see many disadvantages arising from it; but it was no use arguing the point then. He must protest against the statement of the President of the Board of Trade, that there had been any wilful Obstruction this Session. There had been delay, undoubtedly—unnecessary delay, perhaps—but Obstruction of the kind known to Parliamentary practice had not occurred. The right hon. Gentleman complained of the Votes of Censure; but those Votes of Censure were demanded by the condition of public affairs. The Government were engaged in one of the most momentous enterprizes of modern times. They were busy hatching the egg of a new African Empire. They were bungling in the process, and the Opposition were not only justified in discussing their policy, but if they had failed to do it, they would have been recreant to their duty and the interests of the country. After Egypt, the main work this Session had been the Franchise Bill. They had been told by a Member of the Government that that would effect one of the greatest revolutions that had been accomplished in this country since 1688. If that was the case, was there any man there who would undertake to say that an undue amount of time had been spent over it? Some points had been talked about too long, and some extraneous topics had been dragged into it; but, taking the controversy as a whole, he held that the Bill had made as fairly rapid progress through the House as any man experienced in legislative work could have expected. It was easy to say that one speech was too protracted and one Resolution was uncalled for; but as long as they had an Assembly of 600 Members—every one of whom had an equal right to speak—there would be tautology and verbosity. As far as his experience of Parliament went, he believed that in recent weeks the House had got into its normal condition, and that as reasonable an amount of progress had been accomplished as, under the circumstances, could have been looked for. The right hon. Gentleman complained generally of the delay in legislation. He and his Friends seamed to regard the House of Commons as a law-making machine, and nothing more. He (Mr. J. Cowen) did not share that opinion. He thought that Parliament had other functions besides passing Bills, and that the modern craving for legislation was not only unnatural, but, in the end, would be injurious. The greatest people were those who had the fewest legal restraints. The most powerful nation was that in which the greatest number of men were a law unto themselves. They required considerable legislation in the complicated society in which they lived; but he conceived that many of the laws they passed were unnecessary, some of them ineffective, and some of them baneful. They had far better try to make vigorous, self-reliant, self-dependent men than have men hampered in all their actions by swaddling bands. His hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Richard) had expressed a desire that the Motion with respect to the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales should be discussed. He, too, was anxious for such a discussion, and regretted that there had not been one already. He would take the liberty of making one other remark. His hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), who had charge of the Resolution, used to be extremely tenacious of private Members' rights in the last Parliament; but he had witnessed, without opposition and without protest, not only their reduction, but their absolute abolition in the present. While sorry that the debate he wished to initiate could not take place, he confessed that he felt a quiet pleasure in seeing applied to his hon. Friend the restraints that he had so willingly applied to others.


said, that if the Government had come down earlier in the Session, and stated that there were a certain number of Bills which, in their judgment, it was desirable should be passed, and had asked special facilities for the purpose, the House would have been willing to meet them. But he agreed with the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) that the Bills they were now pressing forward were Bills which had no chance of being passed. It appeared to him that the Secretary of State was anxious to obtain the second reading of an impracticable Bill for no intelligible purpose whatever. He considered that the House was asked, practically, to waste several days, in in order that the Government might have their vanity flattered by being able to boast that the Commons had passed the second reading of the London Government Bill. It was quite unprecedented for the Government to make such a Motion without stating what they were going to do with the time placed at their disposal. He hoped the House would emphatically refuse to assent to it.


said, he thought it was rather strange that in the present political situation the Government should have come down, in the lull before the storm, and taken up this position with, reference to the Business of the House. The House had a right to insist on its being no longer trifled with. They had a right to know why the Government wanted to waste a large amount of public time; and it was the more important that they should be told this, as the air was full of strange rumours, and everyone believed that a crisis of some kind was at hand. The questions of the Civil Service and of Disestablishment were placed on the Paper for discussion; and although they were questions which ought not to be trifled with, and were of the greatest importance, all opportunity of discussing them would be lost if the London Government Bill were to be proceeded with. He should also like to point out to the Government another question on which life was depending, and that was the question of over-pressure in Voluntary Schools. If the Vice President of the Council succeeded in killing three children every week, and an Inspector every six months, that was surely a question which the House ought to discuss. It was a further reason for not acceding to the demand of the Government that both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War were absent, and that the Home Secretary had been left as the Representative of the Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was certainly a very fit representative of the Prime Minister, as he had contrived to make four speeches on the subject.


said, that on behalf of private Members, and as the official representative of a Public Body, he felt bound to enter his protest against the proposition of Her Majesty's Government, which he thought was very unfair. On the second Wednesday of this Session he had got a Bill read a second time; but it had been postponed time after time, because Her Majesty's Government took away from private Members on Tuesdays and Fridays all possibility of bringing forward any measures intrusted to their care. The Bill he referred to was the Metropolitan Board of Works (Further Powers) Bill. It had been 16 times on the Notice Paper, and 16 times had he come down to proceed with it; but it had been impossible to go on with it. He did not grudge any time or trouble; but he grudged this—that, after the Metropolitan Board of Works had intrusted him with a very great and important Bill, to enable the Board, if it existed next year—and he thought that it was hopeful—to deal with the Water Companies, which was one of the most pressing wants of the day, he should be unable to proceed with the measure. On the first day that the Bill of the Home Secretary was brought in, the House was informed that the Metropolitan Board could not deal with the Water Question. Why could it not deal with the Water Question? Because they did not receive the assistance which they had a right to demand, and because the Government blocked the way with impossible measures. The Government could have no serious hope that they would be able to pass the London Government Bill this Session. Everybody in his senses knew that. It was impossible to adequately discuss such a measure, dealing with the interests, the health, and the happiness of 4,000,000 of people in such a short time; and it was unjust that they should be compelled to pass such a measure in a hurry, merely because it suited the Government purposes to pass it. He should certainly take the sense of the House upon the subject.


said, he did not think that the Government would make any good use of the Tuesdays. No consideration should be shown to the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), who, when he had had a good place for his Motion on a Tuesday, had withdrawn his Motion, in order that the House might be "Counted out" for the convenience of the Government, to prevent him bringing forward his Motion with reference to the loss of life and property at sea. He thought they had reason to complain of the action taken by the President of the Board of Trade with respect to the Merchant Shipping Bill, because by that action those who had been attacked would be prevented from defending themselves. The right hon. Gentleman had himself admitted that the loss of life at sea was largely due to bad legislation; and the Bill ought to be proceeded with, so as to enable it to be shown that there were alternative proposals.


I must remind the hon. Member that the House is not discussing the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Bill.


said, he trusted the Speaker would pardon him. [Laughter, and cries of "Oh, oh!"] He did not appeal to hon. Members below the Gangway on the Liberal side. He hoped that the Speaker would pardon him for pointing out that he was not discussing the Merchant Shipping Bill, but only provisions which, in his opinion, ought to be substituted.


The hon. Member would not be in Order in discussing that.


said, he at once bowed to the decision of the Speaker; but he appealed to the President of the Board of Trade to afford an opportunity, before the close of the Session, for discussing the constitution and functions of the Board of Trade. It was perfectly clear what ought to be done, and he hoped the Government would give a means of discussing the question; but he ventured to think that Her Majesty's Government were more anxious to save themselves than to save the lives of British seamen.


said, that he had as good a right to complain of the conduct of the Government as any Member in the House, for he had secured the first place for two important questions next Tuesday, and also on the third Tuesday in the month; and so far back as the 1st of April he had given way in order to oblige the Government. It would have been more graceful if Ministers had told the House what they intended to do. Up to a very recent date the House did not expect the Home Secretary's Bill to come on.


could not but sympathize with the Home Secretary in his attachment to his Bill, although that Bill was both impracticable and mischievous. The House would be surprised at the audacity of the President of the Board of Trade, who had pointed out that many lives would be saved by the Merchant Shipping Bill, and yet put that Bill in the same category as the London Government Bill. Whose fault was it if the Shipping Bill had not advanced? Months ago the right hon. Gentleman was urged to refer the measure to a Select Committee, and if it had been so referred great progress would probably by this time have been made with the Bill. Then the President of the Board of Trade had complained of the Votes of Censure. But who was to blame for them? What was now the state of Egypt and the Soudan? The one was a pandemonium, and the other in a state of anarchy.


I must request the hon. Member to confine himself to the Question before the House.


said, he would not further refer to Egypt. It was Ministers who had wasted time, not only during this but duriug the proceeding four Sessions, by their mistaken policy with regard to Irish and other question. [Cries of "Question!"]


I must again remind the hon. Member that he is wandering from the question before the House. That question is a definite one, and has nothing to do with previous Sessions.


said, that he was discussing the grounds upon which the Government asked for Tuesdays. It was the Government who, by their mismanagement, were far more responsible for the waste of time than private Members. He complained that he was not allowed to refer to a subject of the greatest importance, which involved the safety of thousands, if not millions, of people; and that was the danger which was now threatening Egypt. [Cries of "Order!" and "Name!"]


I hope the hon. Member will not oblige me to call further attention to the irrelevancy of his speech. I have done so twice; and if I have occasion to call him to Order a third time, I shall be obliged to resort to other measures.


said, he bowed to the ruling of the Chair. He had not, however, gone as fully into the questions raised by the Motion before the House as some Members of the Government had done. The Government had not established their case; and he should oppose the Motion.


said, the Government were much more intent on keeping Office than of saving the lives of sailors. While the Opposition were charged with Obstruction, the delay of Public Business was entirely due to the mismanagement and misgovernment and the reticence of the Government, who had caused infinite waste of time by refusing to give information on what was going on in any part of the world, in answer to reasonable Questions. If they had been more communicative, Business would have gone on much more smoothly.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That, for the remainder of the Session, Orders of the Day have precedence of Notices of Motions on Tuesday, and that Government Orders have priority.

Back to