HC Deb 15 July 1884 vol 290 cc1129-32

Motion made, and Question proposed' "That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Orders have priority on Wednesday."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


said, that before this Motion was passed the Government were bound to give the House some information as to the duration of the Session and in connection with the Conference now sitting. They had been assured by the Government that the decisions of the Conference could not be carried out until they had received the sanction of that House. He had on various occasions endeavoured to elicit from the Chancellor of the Exchequer some assurance as to the time when the labours of the Conference would be renewed; and the right hon. Gentleman had informed them that the Conference could not be summoned again until the business of the Financial Commission was finished. They were given to understand that the greatest possible difficulties existed in the way of the delegates coming to any decision at all. He did not intend to go into the subject of the Conference; but he might say it was perfectly well known that there was a great difference of opinion between the English and French delegates as to whether the interest on a certain class of Egyptian Stocks should be reduced or not; and he was told on pretty good authority that the difficulty was not likely to be overcome for a long time. Then, even when the delegates had arrived at a decision, the Plenipotentiaries had not full power to give their consent to the arrangements submitted to them, as the powers which they possessed were ad referendum. That being so, what was the good of hurrying on with the Business of the Session? Was the House to wait for the decision of the Conference? If the right hon. Gentleman would assure the House that the Conference would conclude its labours within a certain time, Parliament might be kept sitting till then; but, meantime, after the rights of private Members had been given up to the Government, were they, in the event of the Conference coming to no decision, to wait twiddling their thumbs perhaps until the time for the Autumn Session arrived? The decision of the Conference involved vast questions of finance. There were £8,000,000 sterling, which had been burning in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's pocket ever since he made the proposal to settle the affairs of the Suez Canal. The Government were now determined to give that sum to Egypt in some shape or other. Before that was done the House ought to be fully apprised of the manner in which the money was to be given and guaranteed. The right hon. Gentleman was bound to give the House some information on this subject; and if that information was not forthcoming he should oppose the Motion.


said, the hon. Gentleman did not object to the Motion on its own merits, a Motion which had been made on former occasions at earlier periods of the Session. Last year it was made on the 10th of July, and in some previous years at an earlier date. In 1878 and 1879, two years before the present Government came into Office, it was made exactly at the same time as now. But the hon. Member raised a question with respect to the Conference, and wanted to know whether the House was to be kept waiting for its decision; and what it should do if the Conference failed to come to any decision. It would be premature for the Government to say what they should do until the Conference had failed to come to any decision, a result which they had at present no title and no reason to anticipate.


But with regard to the duration of the Session of Parliament?


said, that no doubt the hon. Member would be entitled to ask whether Parliament was to be kept waiting for the Conference after they had arrived at the time when they had disposed of their business, and the Conference had not disposed of its business, and the Government were not in a position to make any proposal with respect to the Conference. As far as he could understand, they had upon their books three weeks', if not more than three weeks', Business, independently of the Conference, which must be disposed of, Conference or no Conference. He quite admitted that about the end of that period, when they had made progress in their Business and had come to the close of Supply, it would then be perfectly fair for the hon. Gentleman to ask the question. Until then the Government could not say; they could not absolutely bind the Conference as to the termination of its proceedings; but he had said before, and would say again, and he thought his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer near him would support him in saying that they had no reason yet to suppose that any inconvenience would arise to the House from the prolongation of the proceedings of the Conference. Nor did they anticipate that these proceedings would be so prolonged as to make it impossible for the House to take cognizance of the result, whatever it might be.


said, he hoped the House would not agree to the Motion after he had drawn attention to the Business on the Notice Paper for to-morrow. He believed that the question of how to save life and property at sea was a pressing and important matter. The Prime Minister yesterday, replying to a Question which he ventured to put to him with regard to the Merchant Shipping Law Amendment Bill, made, unintentionally no doubt, an erroneous answer. He was asked whether he had observed that the Business upon the Paper for to-morrow was the Merchant Shipping Law Amendment Bill, and he replied that he had not noticed it, because it was not the fact. Now, the fact was that the Bill was the second Order of the Day; but the first Order was the Vaccination Acts (Compulsory Clauses) Repeal Bill, which stood in the name of Mr. P. A. Taylor, who had resigned; and there was the additional circumstance that if any of its other supporters tried to bring it forward the Bill was not printed. Therefore the Business for to-morrow, according to the Notice Paper, really was the Merchant Shipping Law Amendment Bill. There were several reasons why that Bill should be taken to-morrow, and the Government and the House would be put in a very false position, if the very first Wednesday taken from private Members should be one that should have been devoted to the consideration of proposals to save life and property at sea. He might be allowed to say that the Bill contained the proposals of men who possessed a practical acquaintance with the question, and who had a reasonable justification for saying that they knew how to deal with it. He therefore hoped the Prime Minister would not persist in his Motion after what he had said. He had, of course, no hope that the right hon. Gentleman would give way, if he listened to hon. Members below the Gangway opposite. The Bill which the Government and hon. Members below the Gangway opposite were determined should not be discussed was supported by the seamen of the country and by many of the shipowners of the country, and it was put forward with a real desire to solve the great question of how life and property might be saved at sea. He did not suppose that under any circumstances the Bill could have become law this Session; but it might become the basis of future legislation, and it would only be right and fair that alternative proposals to those which had been so ignominiously dropped by the Government should be considered by the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Orders have priority on Wednesday.

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