HC Deb 14 July 1884 vol 290 cc932-44

I beg to move "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee of Supply."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee of Supply."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


A question of very great importance and of considerable interest to the House was raised a short time ago by the hon. Member for Queen's County (Mr. Arthur O'Connor). We all know that Supply became a dropped Order on Friday, owing to the fact that the House was counted out. That, however, was the fault of the Government, who might have kept a House, if they had chosen to do so. The Standing Order of November, 1882, only applies to a case where Supply is the first Order; and, clearly, that is not the case on the present occasion. Supply is not the first Order, and it can only be put as the first Order by this Motion. Seeing that a Motion is made to place Supply as the first Order, it is evident that at the present moment Supply cannot be the first Order. The matter would be still further accentuated by a Division being taken against the Motion; but I presume there is no intention of taking a Division. But what I would impress upon the Government is, that while we assent to the Motion, we are fully aware that there is other Business, and very important Business, on the Paper, and that tomorrow we shall expect from them a definite statement as to what they propose to do with the important Irish Business which still remains on the Paper. I need only refer to the Poor Law Guardians (Ireland) Bill, which the Government have already given a guarantee to press forward. If so, I want to know whether it is to be at a Saturday Sitting, or how the Prime Minister proposes to manage it?


I should like to make one or two observations on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, in order to point out to the Government the extreme inconvenience of allowing the Order for Supply on Friday to become, as it too frequently does, a dropped Order. I am certain that considerable progress might have been made with Supply on Friday evening if the Members of the Government had made any exertion whatever to keep a House. But, unfortunately, in order to get rid of some inconvenient subject which happens to be on the Notice Paper, they are in the habit of allowing the House to be counted out. I think there is nothing more detrimental to the progress of Public Business than these constant "Counts-out," because when a Motion is down upon the Paper, and is discussed and decided upon by the House, it is done with for the Session; whereas, if the House is counted out, and no opportunity is afforded for taking it on Friday, the discussion usually takes place upon the Estimates themselves, and no time whatever is saved. I may give, as an illustration, the important Motion which was put down for a Friday, some time ago, by my hon. Friend the Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland), in reference to the present state of Zululand. The House was counted out before that Mo- tion could be brought on, and, although it may not have been counted out at the instance of the Government, the Members of the Government made no effort to keep a House. In that case there was a distinct loss and a waste of valuable time, because, instead of the question being discussed then, the question of Zululand will now be discussed upon the Estimate itself, and probably will delay Supply for an entire night. The same thing happened again on Friday last. The Government, by neglecting to keep a House, prevented private Members from having an opportunity of bringing important questions forward which must be discussed at some time or other. The Motion for Supply became a dropped Order, and the House is experiencing the inconvenience at this moment. As to the precedent which has been established to-day, I may remark that you, Sir, have allowed the Motion "that the House will immediately resolve itself into Committee of Supply" to be debated. I am now making the second speech which has been delivered on that Motion. Therefore, there is a clear precedent for debating the Motion that Supply shall be made the first Order of the Day, and I assume that, as the Motion itself can be debated, an Amendment can be moved upon it. Therefore, by being compelled to put down the Motion "that the House will immediately resolve itself into Committee of Supply," the Government are really laying themselves open to any Amendment which any hon. Member may choose to move. I suppose that it would be perfectly competent for me, or any other Member, to bring forward a Motion now on the subject of Zululand or any other subject it might be considered desirable to discuss on the proposal that Supply be again set up.


I cannot allow that a general debate of that kind would be permissible. According to the practice of the House, it has been the custom, at any rate since 1866, to allow this Motion to be put as a purely formal Motion for the purpose of setting up Supply.


I was not intending to take any such course. I am only pointing out the inconvenience which might arise from taking such a course for the purpose of urging on the Government not to allow the Motion for Supply to become a dropped Order on Fridays. I do not know that you, Sir, have ruled that such a Motion would be out of Order. It is perfectly obvious that this Motion is capable of being debated, and I assume that some Amendment would be in Order which would give rise to a debate. Friday is now to be the only opportunity left to private Members for moving Amendments on the Motion for going into Supply; and if the Government become lax in the matter, the only effect of their laxity will be to deprive private Members of Friday nights, which I feel might be profitably preserved for the discussion of private Members' Motions. At present it appears to be the practice to count out, if there happens to be a question on the Paper that is likely to prove disagreeable to the Government, in order that such question may be got rid of. But questions constantly arise which, whether or not they can be discussed on a Friday night, must be discussed in some form or other.


I do not think the protest should come from one side of the House only. I think that both sides have good reason to complain that on Friday nights the Government make no efforts whatever to keep a House, or, at any rate, to prevent it being counted out at so early an hour. It is most unusual, when the House meets at 4 o'clock, that it should be counted out on the first Amendment to the Motion that Mr. Speaker leave the Chair. On Friday last I had the honour of bringing forward a Motion which interests a considerable number of Members on this side of the House—more, perhaps, than on the other side—and I certainly was surprised that the Government took no steps whatever in order to keep a House, seeing the early hour at which it was counted out. I think it is only right to make a protest against this unfortunate practice, on this side of the House as well as the other.


With reference to the remark of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) that no steps were taken by the Government to prevent the House from being counted out on Friday night, I must say that every possible step was taken by those who usually serve under my command. But on Friday night, when the House has been sitting until very late hours during the rest of the week, it is found almost impossible, sometimes short of using physical force, to keep Members in the House. Every possible effort was made by us on Friday night to keep a House; but I regret to say that the stream was so strong against us that we were obliged to give way. Indeed, we were almost carried away with it.


On the point of Order which has been raised, I think, Sir, the House entirely concurs with you as to the practice which previous to the passing of the new Standing Orders in November, 1882, prevailed. As you have properly said, when this Motion was made it was assented to as a matter of course; but the form in which it was put was to enable a debate to take place. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister now asks the House immediately to resolve into Committee of Supply, and the Motion is made for the purpose of setting aside Amendments to the Motion for going into Committee, so that a debate might take place with you, Sir, in the Chair in the same way as if the Motion was the ordinary one for going into Committee of Supply, and the original Motion had not fallen through from unforseen circumstances. That was the practice up to 1882, and I think, Sir, that you have quite correctly seated that the Motion was made as a matter of course, and simply took the place of the old Motion "that Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." The Motion stood practically on all fours with the original Motion. As we all know, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister can draw exceedingly subtle distinctions in matters of this kind; but I think it will be generally admttted that practically the two Motions were on all fours. The new Standing Order passed in November, 1882, provided that when the Committee of Supply stood as the first Order of the Day, Mr. Speaker should leave the Chair without any Question put. The point now taken by the hon. Member for Queen's County (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) is, that Supply does not stand as the first Order of the Day on this occasion, and that therefore the new Standing Order does not apply, but that a preliminary debate may take place. I understand that there is no intention of raising a discussion now, but that the right has been waived. That I quite understand; but in case it should be necessary on any future occasion to take advantage of the Stand- ing Order, I wish to draw attention to the fact that prior to 1882 it was the immemorial practice for a debate to take place on the Motion that "this House do forthwith resolve itself into Committee of Supply," and that practice was in no way affected by the passing of the new Standing Order.


I wish to corroborate what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther). I gathered from you, Sir, that you stated the Motion was purely a formal Motion, and that it had been so regarded for many years. Now, it has been my fortune since I have been a Member of the House to have heard it debated over and over again. It has been the invariable practice, when the Government has wished to set up Supply after an Amendment had been carried against the Motion for going into Committee of Supply, to move "that this House do forthwith resolve itself into Committee of Supply," thereby giving the hon. Member who had the next Motion upon the Paper the right to raise a fresh debate. Now, I think it most important that, as this discussion has taken place, the reasons for it should be placed on record—namely, that a "Count-out" having taken place on Friday night, and the Order of the Day for Committee of Supply having become a dropped Order, the usual rule does not now apply. It is perfectly clear that this is so, because you, Sir, have now allowed a prolonged debate to take place on the Motion "that this House will immediately resolve itself into Committee of Supply," so that it is evidently a Motion that can be debated. And if a Motion can be debated, then, by the immemorial practice of the House, an Amendment can be moved to it, and therefore I apprehend that, unless the Motion be at once assented to, it can be debated even on a Monday, and an Amendment moved to it. In consequence of what has taken place this evening, whenever, in future, a "Count-out" occurs on a Friday, and it becomes necessary to set up Supply on a Monday, it will be competent, I presume, not only for a debate to arise, but for an Amendment to the Motion to be moved.


I think, Sir, the discussion which has taken place suggests, in view of the possibility of having "Counts-out" on Friday and debates on the Motion for setting up Supply on Monday, that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister should include the whole of Friday in the Resolution he proposes to move tomorrow, as well as Tuesday and Wednesday. The Government would then have possession of the entire day, and there would be no fear of the House being counted out. At the same time, I am not prepared to say that that is the view which is entertained by all hon. Members on this side of the House.


In regard to the practice of the House, I believe that for the last 18 years, at least, the Motion for setting up Supply has been agreed to without debate.


Upon the point of Order may I ask if it has not been perfectly competent for any hon. Member to set forth his reasons why any one of the Orders of the Day is more worthy of consideration than Supply itself?


That would be quite an unusual course for the House to take. It has been so generally recognized that the Motion for setting up Supply is for the convenience of the House at large, that, as I said before, as a general rule, there has been no preliminary debate upon it.


I should like to be allowed to give my recollection in regard to Motions of a similar character to the one now before the House. The practice, previous to 1882, was that the proposals to set up Supply on Monday by a Motion such as that which has now been proposed by the Prime Minister were not debated; but I will tell the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) what took place. Supply was set up and then all the Motions which stood on the Paper for going into Committee of Supply were discussed, so that although the formal Motion "that this House do forthwith resolve itself into Committee of Supply" was not debated, the reason was because it was understood that it would be followed by the ordinary Motion for Committee of Supply upon which private Members had then the right of bringing forward such Amendments as they had placed upon the Paper. The circumstances have been altered since, and we now know that the Motion "that this House will immediately resolve itself into Committee of Supply" may lead to a debate which may be of inconvenience to the Public Service. I should, therefore, feel inclined to support the view which has been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), that under the extraordinary circumstances of the present Session, private Members would be glad to give up their right of proposing Motions on going into Committee of Supply on Friday; and I am satisfied that if the Government were to ask that Friday night as well as Tuesday and Wednesday should be appropriated to Government Business, the majority of private Members would be willing to give way in their favour, so that on every day in the week the Government should have an opportunity of going at once into Committee of Supply.


I can only go so far with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) as to express a hope that on this occasion hon. Members will not take advantage of the Motion of the Prime Minister to bring about an interminable debate. On the point of Order, it appears to me that the operation of the new Rule when it is necessary to set up Supply on Monday has brought about a novel state of circumstances. It has been the immemorial privilege of the House to discuss preliminary Resolutions on the Motion for going into Committee of Supply, and, therefore, the effect of the new Rule ought to be construed strictly. The Government, whenever they allow the House to be counted out on Friday, propose this Motion on Monday as a matter of right; but they ought not to be in a position to take advantage of their own wrong. If we were to adopt the proposal of the hon. Member opposite we should still further curtail the privilege of private Members. Therefore, whenever the House is counted out on Friday, it should be the duty of the Government to set up Supply again on Monday, and it cannot, in my opinion, be regarded as the first Order within the meaning of the new Rule.


I am not prepared to admit that the Government are responsible for the "Count-out" on Friday. What the right hon. Gentleman seems inclined to recommend is that now, at a time when the House is ex- tremely anxious to go forward with Business, we should mark our sense of the wrongful conduct of the Government by imposing something upon them which may lead to inconvenience. I must add my recollection to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands). I think he is perfectly correct in the account he has given of the practice of the House as to setting up Supply. I think, Sir, your statement in the Chair requires no confirmation from me; but another hon. Member having confirmed it, I am bound to say that the view which has been expressed is in entire conformity with my own. As to the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands), although there is, no doubt, a great deal to be said in favour of taking Friday, still I wish to observe that it has never been the practice for the Government to ask for Friday nights. I should, therefore, be very sorry to depart from the recognized practice.


The right hon. Gentleman says the Government are very anxious to get on with Business; but I am afraid, bearing in mind the way in which they have mismanaged their opportunities in the course of the present Session, that it would not do much to expedite Business if we were to hand over Friday nights to them.


I think the hon. Member has already spoken in the course of the debate.


No, Sir, I only addressed you on a point of Order. I merely addressed a question to the Chair, and did not address the House. I was calling the attention of the House to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had stated that he was anxious to get on with Business. Now, my observation of the mode in which Business maybe best expedited is not to hand over the whole of the time of the House to the Government, because the Government appear hitherto to have mismanaged their opportunities. For some time they have taken possession of the days usually appropriated to private Members, on the ground that on those days "Counts-out" occurred. But how can the Government monopoly be defended when they allow such "Counts-out" to take place as that which occurred on Friday evening? The noble Lord the Member for Flintshire (Lord Richard Grosvenor), with so many persons under his command, tells us that he was unable to keep a House for effective Supply. Yet we are now asked to take Supply when there is much more important matter on the Notice Paper. The third Order, for instance, is the Medical Act Amendment Bill. We have had an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman in charge of that Bill (Mr. Mundella) that he will not proceed with it after 11 o'clock, and I think the only chance of making progress with it is to take it on some such occasion as to-day, when it might easily have been reached at a reasonable hour. But, unfortunately, the "Count-out" on Friday, among other inconveniences, resulted in the dropping of a number of blocks which were then on the Paper. Order No. 25 is the Ulster Canal Bill, to which I, for one, am strongly opposed. In consequence of the "Count-out" I have been unable to renew my block, and the Bill now stands on the Paper without anything to prevent it from being taken at any hour of the night or morning. That is another result of the conduct of the Government at the last Sitting of the House. What I wish to obtain from the Government is an assurance that they do not intend to proceed with such Bills as the Ulster Canal Bill and the Tyrone Navigation Bill, which were blocked last week, but which, by reason of the "Count-out" on Friday, now appear on the Paper without a block against them. If the House agrees to allow the Government to go into Supply without further delay, the Government might reasonably give an assurance that they will not go on with any of the Bills which had blocks against them on Friday.


I have once had the misfortune this Session to be counted out on a Friday night—when I proposed to bring under the Notice of the House the state of affairs in Zululand. I was therefore glad to hear the Prime Minister state that he intends to adhere to the present arrangement in regard to Friday Sittings, and that private Members will still have a chance of bringing Motions forward. With a view, principally, of saving time, I would ask the Prime Minister whether he can arrange to take Class V., Vote 7, on which the question of Zululand is raised, at the beginning of some evening? That would save a separate discussion upon Zululand upon a Motion of which I have given Notice. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will admit that the question is one of very great importance.


I will see what can be done to comply with the request of the hon. Baronet.


With reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) and the noble Lord the Member for Flintshire (Lord Richard Grosvenor) as to the "Count-out" on Friday, I believe there were only 27 Members in the House at the time it happened, and that there were only two or three Members on the Treasury Bench. I myself was in the Lobby before the "Count-out" happened, endeavouring to induce a number of Gentlemen to stay, but they told me they had not been asked to stay. I think that, considering the importance of the question proposed to be brought under the notice of the House, Her Majesty's Government might have been fairly expected to keep a House.


It is true that in times past the present Motion used not to be debated; but in view of the alteration of the proceedings of the House by the 21st Standing Order, passed in November, 1882, the Motion at present under the consideration of the House partakes of a considerably wider character than it formerly did, because, as the consequence of the adoption of the Motion by the House, you, Sir, would at once leave the Chair, without any hon. Member being entitled to propose any preliminary Resolution. That is distinctly laid down by the 21st Standing Order. It therefore becomes a very much more important Motion than it used to be in the days when, according to the practice of the House, no debate took place upon it. In those days Motions upon going into Supply were not interfered with by the passing of a Resolution similar to that which we are now considering, but, after it was agreed to, it was competent for hon. Members to bring them on in the usual course. Private Members did not lose their right; whereas, if the present Motion is adopted, the Government will be at liberty to move Mr. Speaker out of the Chair without debate, and the House will at once proceed to discuss the Estimates. Consequently, I think it may fairly become a subject for inquiry by private Members — perhaps it is not exactly a matter of inquiry by Her Majesty's Government—as to how far they may expect the Government, in the future proceedings of the House, to facilitate private Members in the passage of certain Bills which have already received a second reading. The Prime Minister has given Notice that he will to-morrow move to take for the Government the only remaining days of the week except Friday, and to make the 21st Standing Order apply to them. The consequence, in regard to private Members, will be that they will be entirely shut out from forwarding the stages of Bills which stand in their name on any day except Friday. I do not propose, at the present moment, to discuss the nature and bearing of the Prime Minister's Resolution; but I merely take this opportunity of saying that, when the right hon. Gentleman moves that Motion, I shall certainly urge upon him very strongly the fairness and justice of affording us some little portion of the time of the House in order to enable us to pass the Poor Law Guardians (Ireland) Bill through Committee. It is a Bill which is highly approved of by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, and it will remove a great deal of hard work from the Local Government Board. I may further remind the Government that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has practically pledged himself to endeavour to pass it into law in the course of the present Session. I have merely referred to the subject now, not with the view of opposing the present Motion, but to give Notice that I shall certainly press very strongly on the attention of the Government to-morrow, when the Motion of the Prime Minister is brought forward, the desirability of giving a few minutes of the Government time for the purpose of taking the Committee stage of the Bill to which I have referred.


I am unable to say anything in reply to the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), as my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary happens to be away; but I can say a word in reply to the appeal of the hon. Member for Queen's County (Mr. A. O'Connor) in reference to the Ulster Canal Bill. I should be unwilling to take advantage of the removal of the block against that Bill, considering that it has only been removed in consequence of the "Count-out" on Friday. But what I propose to do is to hear anything the hon. Member may have to say this evening, and if I find there is any serious objection to go on with the Bill, it will not be persisted in. I hope we may be able to come to an understanding as to what the objection of the hon. Gentleman is, either to-night or any other night he likes, so that we may know what he wants.


I should like to ask the noble Lord the Member for Flintshire (Lord Richard Grosvenor) a question as to the interesting statement which he has made to the House in the course of this discussion. He gave us to understand that tremendous efforts were made by the Government to keep a House on Friday last; and I think it would be useful to know who the Members of the Government were to whom he has referred?

[No reply was given.

Question, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee of Supply," put, and agreed to.

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