, in rising to move, "That until the end of June this House will meet on Tuesdays and Fridays at 2 o'clock," said: When my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) gave Notice of his Amendment on this subject, I heard it without dissatisfaction, because I quite admit that when demands for Morning Sittings become frequent, it is not satisfactory that the Question of "Aye" or "No" upon them should be decided by a conversational and irregular debate, incomplete and incoherent, arising, perhaps, at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning; and therefore we considered our course, and examined what the precedents had been on former occasions. Certainly I am making a concession to my hon. Friend, though it is a concession I do not grudge, because in no former year has any Motion of this kind been made since the original Motion made by Mr. Disraeli in 1867. But this year, in consequence of the pressure of Public Business, the necessity of asking for Morning Sittings has become unusually strong; and therefore it is quite fair that we should ask the House to consider the question more as a whole, and with more than usual deliberation. I at once admit that I am asking for Morning Sittings—not, indeed, for the entire Session, or with the possibility of their lasting the entire Session—at a somewhat earlier period than has been usual in former years. Mr. Disraeli made his proposal in 1867, I think, on the 27th May. I am making the same request upon the 2nd of May. Mr. Disraeli then asked 1172 for Morning Sittings until the end of June. His reason for the limitation was that his plan was an experiment. It was an experiment which I, for one, approved and supported; when he made a renewed demand I thought it a good plan; and, on the whole, I believe it has served materially to enable the House to face the constantly-increasing demand on its time and patience. I do not call it a perfect plan, and I know that it may be considered anomalous and inconvenient, having regard to the work that has to be done by private Committees; but still it is a plan that, upon the whole, has produced a very great balance of good. As we are making a demand which I admit to be, to some limited extent, in excess of former demands, I think it is fair that I should point out to the House what I conceive to be the changes in the course and state of Business that have made this demand a necessity, for I do not hesitate to say that it is a consideration of public necessity, and nothing else, that has led us to make it. The House knows that, with regard to Monday and Thursday evenings, we already have ample demands upon them before us. Even if it were only the demands of Supply and Ways and Means that had to be met there would be very little time to spare between this and Whitsuntide. But we have got on our hands a Franchise Bill of the greatest importance—a Bill with regard to which no one, I think, will deny that it is desirable to carry it to a speedy issue, and with regard to which it is perfectly plain that, if it is to be dealt with in detail, there is no chance of carrying it forward except at Morning Sittings. It was for this very purpose, in a time of far less pressure, that Mr. Disraeli made his request in 1867 for Morning Sittings; and it was in the Morning Sittings of that year that the Franchise Bill was, if not wholly, yet mainly and substantially disposed of. I do not recollect if there was at that time any other Bill of great importance before the House; but we have many Bills of importance before the House—Bills either already produced, or about to be produced. There is, for example, the London Government Bill. That measure, affecting 4,000,000 of population in this Metropolis, must be felt to be a measure of first-class importance. In other years, and in times of less 1173 pressure, we have been able to pass not only one, but two or three measures of first-class public importance in one Session of Parliament. In 1870 we passed the Irish Land Bill, the Education Bill, and the Ballot Bill; and all those were measures requiring most minute attention in Committee. We have thought it our duty to do the best we can. We should be delighted if such were the assistance given to us by the House that we could this Session also pass three great measures—the Franchise Bill, the London Government Bill, and the Local Government Bill. To give the great measure introduced by the Home Secretary a fair chance, it is absolutely necessary to ask for a larger share of the time of the House. I will not dwell greatly upon the Cattle Diseases Bill, which we have likewise in view, because that will not now make any large further demand upon our time. It is a matter of interest to look back and to consider what have been the changes as regards the position of the Government and its command of public time that have taken place in recent years. Looking back, I find two points in which the Government have gained time. One of them is of recent date and the other of long standing. The one of long standing is with respect to the time to which the House now ordinarily extends its application to the principal subject of the evening. The House, for the most part, in the absence of disturbing circumstances which sometimes arise, now usually continues the principal subject of the evening until towards 1 o'clock. The Government have certainly somewhat gained in that, because for the best part of the 50 years since I entered Parliament, the late Mr. Brotherton, the Member for Salford, was accustomed to rise shortly after 12 and insist on moving the Adjournment of the House, and by his pertinacity, or rather consistency, he acquired a power in that respect. All that was overturned by the hardihood of Lord Palmerston, because he was always ready to sit to any hour in the morning; and he succeeded in effecting an extension of time. There is one other change made by the House which has been of important value to the Government—I mean the change with regard to the power of going into Supply on all except certain nights—namely, Mondays and Thursdays. That was an important change. 1174 I do not disguise the benefit of it, nor do I wish to understate it. But what are the other changes which have taken place within the last 30 years? I will state them very shortly. In the first place, there is the practice of Questions. I am not going to speak of questioning as distinct from the abuse of questioning. Without any disrespect, questioning as distinct from catechizing, which is threatening to take its place, has become really a necessary and essential part in the conduct of Public Business; but do not let us disguise from ourselves the position. The House will bear me out when I say that on Mondays and Thursdays, which are Government nights, Questions occupy one hour on the average, and frequently go on for an hour and a-half or two hours. Even take them at only one hour, that, in itself, is a sheer destruction of one-seventh or one-eighth of the time at the disposal of the Government. That is a very serious matter. Then, again, last year and this year certain Members have been pleased to devote a period of three weeks or so in the discussions of matters connected with the Address; and I know of no more fatal example for the future of this country—that future in which almost every man who hears me has a far greater interest than I—I know no more fatal example than the course adopted in that respect in the last two years. Three weeks taken from the Session means another ninth part cut off from the time available for real Business; and that produces a confusion in the proceedings of the House from which it is almost impossible to obtain a subsequent extrication. There is another subject connected with the Rules of Procedure of the House to which I cannot help referring. I have already stated that the Rule with regard to Mondays and Thursdays has been very successful, and has, undoubtedly, increased the responsibility of the Government by giving increased means of putting forward Supply; but the Rule with regard to the Adjournment of the House at Question time has, thus far, been a perfect failure. It was not so at first, so, perhaps, it seems inconsistent to speak so; but I should say that it has been increasingly a failure. During last Session, according to a Return I hold in my hand, the Adjournment of the House was moved five times, and the 1175 requisite number of 40 Members was always to be found. We have not now nearly completed one-half of the present Session, and the Adjournment has already been moved six times; and, therefore, as regards that formidable instrument of invasion of public time, a great deduction has to be made from the time at the disposal of the Government for bringing forward Public Business. I am now going to refer to another very serious change, not to be lamented, because it grows out of arrangements good in themselves; but at the same time it is well, I think, that the House should have the exact state of the case before it. That change is the very great increase in the time which the House is now required to devote to Committee of Supply. That is due in some respects, no doubt, to the increase in our expenditure, and I wish our available time could increase as much as our expenditure does. Unfortunately, it is not so. But it is not due alone to the increase in expenditure; it is likewise due to the method now adopted of dealing with Supplemental Estimates for the purpose of closing the account on the 31st of March. I hold in my hand a Return comparing the first 10 or 12 years, immediately after the Reform Bill, with the last 10 or 12 years, taking in each case the nights on which discussion took place, whether it occupied the whole night or not. In the 11 years from 1833 to 1843 the maximum number of nights spent in Supply was 13, while the minimum number was seven, the average being 10. Well, I now take the last 10 years, and I divide them into two fives; and in the years 1875–9, when the late Government were in power, the average of nights spent in Supply, instead of being 10, was 22. Nor has that diminished during the last four years the present Government have been in power; but the 22 has risen to 24. This is a very great increase in the demand upon the House in connection with that portion of Public Business which the Government is compelled to bring forward. But there is another very important change to which I must call the attention of the House, than which I do not know of any change more adverse to the progress of Public Business. I admit that the old system dealt somewhat ruthlessly with the rights of private Members, and for that reason we do 1176 not propose to revive it; but we propose, in lieu of that, to resort to this method of Morning Sittings. The old system was this—that whenever great questions were raised requiring more than one night's debate, such debates were carried on de die in diem, and the difference produced thereby was enormous. For instance, last year, or the year before, we thought it our duty to propose a Resolution in support of the Irish Land Act, and that Resolution was opposed. Four nights only were required for the debate, and yet one fortnight of the Session passed over before the Motion was agreed to. That is only an illustration, and I know what the answer of hon. Gentlemen opposite will be. It will be said that it should never have been proposed. But that is not to the purpose. The same Gentlemen who would say that would also say that in 1831, when Lord Ebrington proposed a Motion in this House with regard to a vote in another House, that it ought never to have been brought forward. But, nevertheless, it was passed by a large majority in one night. Sir, some hon. Member said the other night that there had been eight nights' debate upon the Reform Bill of 1859. But there was also a great political question mixed up with that Reform Bill. The debate upon that Bill was really a debate upon a Vote of Confidence as well as upon a Reform Bill, and the debate lasted upon the second reading for seven nights, and not for eight nights; but those nights were consecutive nights, with the exception that, of course, Wednesdays were not included. Now, Sir, this is an enormous change; and it is a change of which we feel the consequence in such a way that we are hardly able to cope with it. These, then, are the details with which we consider it necessary to trouble the House in order to exhibit the altered position in which the Government now stand, and to show how it has lost greatly the command of the time which the House was formerly pleased to place at its disposal. It is on that ground that we feel it necessary to make the request which is embodied in the Motion I have put upon the Paper; and I say the grounds of the Motion are grave and serious, and I hope the House will acknowledge that fact by agreeing to the Motion by a very large majority.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, until the end of June, this House will meet on Tuesdays and Fridays at Two o'clock."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
, in moving, as an Amendment—That, previous to the 1st of June in each year, no Morning Sitting on Tuesday or Friday shall be taken except by Resolution of the House, moved, after Notice in each case, at Half-past Four,said, the right hon. Gentleman defended his Motion, which he admitted was of a very unusual character, on two private grounds—namely, first, the general opportunities of the Government for carrying on their Business; and, secondly, the particular position of the present Session. As regarded the first ground, he was prepared to admit that the difficulties of the Government had in many respects increased; but the right hon. Gentleman had said that the practice of putting Questions had enormously increased, and was a serious tax on the time of the House. He admitted that the number of Questions had increased, and that the power of putting them had been to a certain extent abused; but he must point out to the House two mitigating circumstances. In the first place, the very much curtailed power of private Members to bring on subjects on Supply necessarily drove them to discuss matters of interest at Question time; and even if private Members had abused the system of putting Questions, he did not think the Members of the Government always consulted economy of time in the House, either by the conciliatory character of their replies, or by the brevity of the language in which they were given. The Prime Minister referred to what he termed the failure of the Rule regarding Motions for the Adjournment of the House, and said that many more Motions for the Adjournment failed last year than this. But this only proved that Members did not now risk moving the Adjournment of the House unless they were sure that 40 Members would support them. The right hon. Gentleman mainly based his case on the precedent afforded by the fact that Mr. Disraeli, on the 27th of May, 1867, made a Motion that the House should meet on Tuesdays and Fridays until the end of June. But there were two wide differences between that case and this. In the first place, Mr. Disraeli's Motion 1178 was made on the 27th of May, whereas this was being made on the 2nd. And, in the second place, Mr. Disraeli's Reform Bill was of a very different character from that now before the House. By bringing in a Reform Bill which did not deal with redistribution, the whole burden of the task was being relegated to another year. The present Reform Bill was a very simple Bill; the Government had simplified it by omitting several matters with which it ought to deal; and he apprehended that in Committee it would not be found that there was much room for discussion. The Prime Minister said that unless this Motion were carried the Government could not find time for the London Bill. He did not know before this that the Government ever had any serious intention of passing that Bill this Session. He had been under the impression that the function of the London Bill was at an end now that the Home Secretary had been allowed to make the speech which for three years he had carried about in his pocket. The Prime Minister had treated the whole subject from the point of view of Government Business. He appeared to think that it was the essential Business of the House to carry Government measures, and that the House existed for no other purpose than to carry the Bills that the Government proposed. But the House had many other important functions, such as ventilating, by means of Motions, subjects of public interest, and it was the power of performing those functions that would be curtailed by this Motion. Whatever might be said of Government facilities having diminished, they had not diminished in so great a ratio as those of private Members. The power of private Members to call attention to matters on the Motion to go into Committee of Supply was much diminished by the new Standing Order. If this Motion were carried private Members would have no opportunity during the remainder of the Session—for they all knew what the 30th of June meant—of calling attention to any subject which they had in hand except at 9 o'clock in the evening. A more wasteful arrangement of public time, from the point of view both of the Government and of private Members, could not be conceived. The Government subjected themselves to talk-outs, and the convenience of private Mem- 1179 bers was equally neglected. The Prime Minister said that if the Motion on the Paper was of public interest 40 Members could always be obtained to make a quorum. But even Government measures would be talked out at 9 o'clock after a Morning Sitting were it not for the pressure of the Whips. He agreed that the Government could not, and ought not, to undertake to keep a House; but he maintained that these Evening Sittings commencing at 9 o'clock ought not to take place at all. It was all very well for the Government to state that there were special circumstances that necessitated this Motion. But in future years the precedent would be remembered and the circumstances forgotten, and the Government would come down to make a similar Motion to this on the 1st of May, relying on this precedent, He begged to move the Amendment which he had placed on the Paper.
To leave out all the words after the word "That," in order to add the words "previous to the first of June in each year, no Morning Sitting on Tuesday or Friday shall be taken except by Resolution of the House moved, after Notice in each case, at Half-past Pour,"—(Mr. Arthur Balfour,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, he hoped the Motion would be agreed to, and did not think it could be used as a precedent against private Members, unless in the very justifiable case in which the Government was engaged with a Bill for Parliamentary Reform. At the same time, he trusted that the Government would afford facilities for the consideration of the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir Alexander Gordon) dealing with the practice of putting Questions to Ministers. He would only add that he hoped the Government would not take the Cattle Diseases Bill after half-past 12.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, there was another important question which the House should not forgot in considering this matter—the question of Grand Committees. He maintained that it was not fair to hon. Members to have Grand Committees sitting when Morning Sittings were being held on Tuesdays 1180 and Fridays during the remainder of the Session, because that was what the Motion of the Prime Minister really amounted to. The pressure of work on Members was so heavy at present that to ask them to undertake the work of Grand Committees, in addition to their other work, was to ask them to do more than they were able to bear. He should, therefore, support the Amendment.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, that, although the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) and other hon. Members interested in the Motion in favour of marriage with a deceased wife's sister were much disappointed at losing part of Tuesday night, they had decided to vote for the proposal of the Government; but they considered that in doing so they would on Tuesday have a great claim on the Government not only to make a House at 9 o'clock, but to assist in obtaining the judgment of the House on that Motion even at a late hour.
§ MR. PELL
said, his experience as a working Member of the House for 16 years led him to the conclusion that Business would not be much advanced if the proposal of the Prime Minister were accepted. It was a merciless proposal. He had been sorely tempted to take notice of the matter in a way which would interfere with the progress of Business; but though he should not do so, he thought that private Members could not do better than lay to mind the indifference which was shown to their interests by the present Government. No reference had been made by the right hon. Gentleman to the work being done by hon. Members in the various Committees now sitting. In the event of this Motion being acceded to, he would ask how it was possible for hon. Members to devote the necessary time to the consideration of the important matters before the Committees if their attention was to be diverted by the Business going on in the House itself? He did not think the Government had done what was requisite to recommend such a proposal as this to Members sitting on the Opposition side. When a j private Member had had the good fortune to obtain a night for the discussion of an important subject, and when the Motion brought forward had been carried, the decision of the House was treated by the Prime Minister with indifference, and no further notice was taken of it. Many right hon. Gentlemen 1181 opposite, some of them belonging to the Cabinet, had won their spurs and made their mart simply by means of the opportunities afforded to private Members. He would therefore appeal to the Government not to deprive private Members of those rights, or of the opportunity of doing their duty by their constituents. He would support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Hertford.
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, the speech of the Prime Minister was a suggestive comment on the new Rules. The House spent a great deal of time—had, in fact, a Winter Session to adopt a fresh mode of transacting Public Business, which the Government promised would remove all their difficulties, and send the legislative machine smoothly ahead. This Code of Procedure had been in operation nearly two years, and they now had the Leader of the House and the main author of the Rules confessing that Government experienced as great difficulty as they ever did in making progress with their work. He did not say that this showed that all the Rules were faulty; but it did show that it was unwise to attach too much importance to the best devised regulations. The Prime Minister complained of the number of Questions. He admitted the value of the privilege of questioning Ministers; but he thought it was abused. He (Mr. Joseph Cowen) quite agreed with him. It was abused at times, but there were reasons for it. First, the Government had taken away from private Members the right of raising discussions on going into Committee of Supply, and this led to a multiplication of Questions. This was one reason. The second reason was that Ireland was under a state of siege. The people of that portion of the United Kingdom were denied their Constitutional rights, and they had no means of getting redress but by fetching their grievances before Parliament through the instrumentality of Questions. The Prime Minister had quoted a number of figures to show that the time at the disposal of the Ministry was not as great as it formerly was. They could make figures bear almost any meaning, and the figures that had been quoted only showed one side of the question. It was a fact, as the history of Parliament attested, that the privileges of private Members had been steadily decreasing for years. A quarter 1182 of a century ago the time of the House was divided between the private Members and the Ministry, the former having the larger share. Ten years ago this division was kept up. Now, however, the private Members had not one-third of the time of the House. Indeed, two Sessions ago they had not one-fourth, and every year there were encroachments. One time they took a day, then two days, then a week. These demands were made on the ground of exceptional circumstances; but a demand having once been acquiesced in was used as a precedent the year after, the exceptional circumstances under which it was granted being forgotten. Hon. Members on his side of the House used to be the special champions of the rights of independent Members. They had ceased to be that now. These encroachments, insidious, gradual, and persistent, on the privileges of private Members, would in time shut them off entirely, and make them almost as extinct as the Dodo. His hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) and others were unceasing in their watchfulness over those rights when they sat on the other side of the House. The late Government never asked for the slightest concession that was not resisted. The present Government never asked for any concession, however extravagant, that was not granted. His hon. Friends and other private patriots sat there, in the face of these encroachments, mute and motionless. That might be all well enough at present; but the day would come when the position of Parties would be reversed. The whirligig of time would take the Liberals to the other side and bring the Conservatives there. And where would Liberal independent Members be then? They would have applied to them the restrictions that they had been instrumental in framing during the tenure of Office of their Leaders. This was no small matter; and when the pinch came they would admit it, although they looked at it so indifferently now. He knew the answer his Friends would give. They would contend that the legislation of the Government met their approval; and, therefore, they were prepared to adjust the Rules of the House to help it forward. But the Rules, once broken or relaxed, might be used for objects that would not meet with Liberal approval at other times. Complaint was made 1183 that the Liberal Members did not utilize the time they had. There was some truth in the statement. The frequent Counts out which took place, perhaps, justified the accusation. But there was an explanation for that. Personal and local questions had an equal chance in the ballot with national questions; and it often happened that these local questions, of limited interest, got the first place, and the general body of Members would not attend to make a House for their discussion. This explained some of the Counts out. He did not think the evil would ever be cured until the House decided, as the Prime Minister had often suggested it should do, upon some plan of selecting its Business. There was another reason why there was less interest in these discussions than there formerly was. The Liberals had got more faith in the Government than they once had. They were more official than they used to be. They trusted too much, in his judgment, to the making of new laws, and to the augmentation of the power of the Executive. The narrower they defined the sphere of Government the greater scope there was for personal exertion and individual enterprize. They made too many laws. ["No, no!"] He admitted that in the present complicated and complex state of society they must have laws adapted to the circumstances; but there was reason in everything, and they overdid the law-making. They had better strive to create a condition of mind that would render fewer laws necessary. Not one-tenth of the Bills that had been passed in that House in recent years had had any effect, and some of them had had an injurious effect. He had no sympathy with this constant running after legislative restraints. There never was any trouble but they flew to the Government to remedy it. The time would come when they would ask for a law to cure the toothache. This unnatural and excessive demand for new legislation led Liberals to encourage the Government in making fresh laws—whether good, bad, or indifferent. And their policy was their Party, right or wrong. His policy was with the Government when it was right, against the Government when it was wrong. The crating after legislation and the obsequious obedience to Party Leaders was one of the reasons 1184 why the rights of independent Members had been entrenched upon, and with such impunity. He was willing to give the Government any reasonable facilities for advancing the Franchise Bill; but he thought that, instead of taking two half-days, it would have been bettor to take one whole day. It would have saved the chance of having their Business talked out. But if they insisted on having the two half-days, they should, at least, give some guarantee that at the Night Sitting a House should be made.
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
said, he trusted the House would not agree to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman. In his (Baron Henry De Worms's) opinion, the rights of private Members were being curtailed in a most dangerous manner. The speech of the Prime Minister had been most ingeniously framed with the view of lending colour to the statements with regard to Obstruction that had been circulated throughout the country with the object of damaging the Conservative Party. The right hon. Gentleman had said that there had been a great increase this Session in the number of Motions for the Adjournment of the House; but those Motions had been made in accordance with the new Rules, and they merely showed that there had been greater cause this Session for making such Motions, owing to the impossibility of obtaining from the Government any clear disclosure of their Egyptian policy. The Prime Minister had also laid considerable stress upon the time occupied by Questions; but if Tuesdays and Fridays were taken from private Members the time occupied in asking Questions from a reticent Government who only returned evasive answers to Questions put to them must necessarily increase. Unless private Members were to take some part in the proceedings of that House he did not see the use of their constituencies sending them there. Little by little the time at the disposal of private Members had been whittled away; and he, for one, must enter his protest against this plan for securing a Liberal autocracy.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
said, that the question now before the House excited much interest throughout the whole country, great dissatisfaction being felt at the inefficiency of the labours of the House, and at the waste of time and power that nightly took place there. He 1185 gave Ms firm and cordial support to this proposal of Her Majesty's Government, and ventured to express his regret that, instead of being limited to two months, their demand for Tuesday and Friday mornings was not extended to the whole of the Session. Legislation by private Members was a thing of the past, and in the future all legislation must be effected by the Government of the day. He had heard with regret the Prime Minister remark that no more time ought to be occupied in the discussion of the Estimates.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton has misunderstood me. My observation was to the contrary effect.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
remarked that he was glad to be corrected by the right hon. Gentleman, because he thought that far more time should be devoted to the consideration of the Estimates. In his opinion, there was no ground for complaining of over-legislation. With reference to making a House on Tuesday nights, there never would be any difficulty in regard to matters in which the House felt any real interest. There would be no difficulty in making a House next Tuesday night; but the country was tired of debates on subjects in which nobody felt the slightest interest, and the country did complain that this gigantic legislative machine should be used for waste instead of for the public advantage.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, he wished to point out that the reason there was such delay in the progress of Public Business was because, under the present Rules, they gave up some 16 hours each week that might be devoted to Public Business. The evidence of the late Speaker and Sir Thomas Erskine May before the Committee of 1878 showed that, instead of Public Business being advanced, it was considerably delayed by the introduction of the half-past 12 o'clock Rule. On Wednesdays also Public Business was stopped at a quarter to 6 o'clock, and the result was that if an objection was raised to the third Order on that day hon. Members discussed the two first Orders—though possibly of no interest or importance—until the hour for closing, and by that means the whole day was wasted. The same thing frequently occurred at Morning Sittings, and his belief was that the real cause of the delay 1186 of Public Business was because upon every day in the week they had an hour for closing, which was made worse on Morning Sittings, from the fact that they had two hours for closing—one at 7 and the other at half-past 12 o'clock. If the half-past 12 Rule were abolished, and after the interval at a Morning Sitting the Speaker was permitted to call upon an hon. Member to resume the debate which had been suspended, he believed that Public Business would be as expeditiously got through, as was the case in the days of Lord Palmerston, when the Rules were different. He, therefore, could not support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hertford, because he could not find it in his heart to recognize that Public Business could be properly conducted until hours of closing were done away with on every day in the week.
§ MR. BRYCE
said, he felt so strongly the value of the rights of private Members, and the services which might be rendered by the discussions of their Bills, that he should vote for the Amendment if he thought it would seriously damage those rights. But the fact was that under the present system of procedure, and especially through the operation of the Half-past 12 o'clock Rule, a private Member could do little good; because if he had a Motion which came out second or third on the ballot, with some unimportant Motion preceding it, the House was sure to be counted out before his Motion was reached, while no Bill could get beyond the second reading if it incurred the hostility of even a single Member. Now, the Business of Parliament was conducted more by chance than anything else, and matters would not he better until they substituted a system of choice for that of chance. No real advance in the mode of doing Business would be made until they left it to a Committee or to the House itself, instead of to the ballot, to decide the questions which should be brought on. It was clear that before long they must have a complete revision of their arrangements. He admitted that the New Rules of Procedure framed 18 months ago had broken down. They might as well not have been framed at all. Three reforms were now urgently called for—an effective system of closure, a limitation of the length of 1187 speeches, and some means of determining with regard to their comparative importance the topics which private Members might bring before the House.
§ MR. R. H. PAGET
said, he thought that some effort should be made to utilize the time now wasted between 4 and half-past on days when there was little or no Private Business. It was a matter of grave doubt whether so sweeping a proposal as that of the Prime Minister, which meant the complete and absolute extinction of the rights of private Members for the remainder of the Session, would have the effect desired. He thought the right hon. Gentleman might have been satisfied to ask the House to surrender a somewhat smaller portion of the rights of private Members. For instance, the Government might be content to take private Members' Tuesday mornings, and then the Government would have no difficulty in keeping a House for their own Business on Tuesday evenings. If Members were ruthlessly deprived of their rights, they would find other means of making their voices heard, and might be compelled to assert them in a manner, which the Government would not like; and, therefore, he appealed to the Prime Minister to make some modification in this sweeping extinction of the rights of private Members. Let the Government take one day, Tuesday or Friday, and give private Members the other; They would in this way be far more likely to command the assent and support of Members on both sides of the House.
§ MR. RYLANDS
said, he had always maintained the rights of private Members, and though he intended to support the Government he had not altered his opinion as to the jealousy with which any attempt to curtail those rights should be regarded. When the House was asked to decide whether they would give the Government a portion of the time generally allotted to private Members, they ought to consider each case upon its merits. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) thought they should invite the Government on each occasion, when they required to encroach upon the time of the House, to make a Motion to that effect, and place their reasons upon re- 1188 cord; but, he asked, had not the Government sufficient reasons? If he understood the Prime Minister they were going to put down Supply for Mondays and Thursdays, and discussion would be then invited. It was very important that Members should examine the expenditure of the country; and, at the same time, he considered that his rights as a private Member would be sufficiently protected by the plan proposed by the Prime Minister.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I should like to trouble the House with a few observations; but it seemed to me that, as this question was one mainly affecting the non-official Members of the House, it was desirable to hear as soon as possible the views those Gentlemen held. I was also rather curious to hear, the sentiments of hon. Members opposite, and particularly hon. Members below the Gangway, because we know the line they have taken before when these proposals have been made, and we were anxious to hear what they would say now, perhaps for the last time; for if this Resolution passes they may not have an opportunity again of expressing their views so freely. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford must feel rather in the position of the man who prayed for a shower and brought down a deluge. The matter began with the proposal of the Government to take Tuesday for a particular purpose; but the hon. Member said it was inconvenient that Tuesday should be taken in that way, and suggested that there should be some solemn record of the fact, and that Tuesdays and Fridays should not be taken without some such record. The Prime Minister comes down to-night and says—"Your suggestion is excellent. It is inconvenient to have these Motions one by one, and to have discussions and debates on them. I tell you what I will do—I will take them all. I will take all the Tuesdays and Fridays till the end of June, and this may lead to their being taken to the end of the Session." That is going rather far. It is said that we are to have Mondays and Thursdays for Supply; but we want some further explanation as to that, for it is not quite consistent with what fell from the President of the Board of Trade on the subject of the Merchant Shipping Bill—it is at variance with it, for that, I understand, is to be taken in the regular 1189 course of Business. This taking up of Morning Sittings is very inconvenient to the House in more ways than one. There is not only the extra labour, but those who have to attend Private Bill Committees are placed in a position of very great difficulty and inconvenience when Business is put down in which they are interested, and to which they cannot attend. I will give the House an illustration. The Business we are to consider is the Representation of the People Bill, and one of the first Amendments is one in the 2nd clause, a most important Amendment, with regard to the limitation of the time when the Bill will come into operation, proposed by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Stanley). He is Chairman of a Private Bill Committee, and he cannot attend the Morning Sitting. That is one instance of the inconvenience which the proposal entails. The right hon. Gentleman says that he makes it upon a precedent set in 1867; but the Reform Bill of that year was a different Reform Bill. It did not consist of about a dozen clauses, but was a Bill of great length and great complexity, in which it became necessary to propose that Clauses 4 to 34 should be postponed. The proposal was confined to that particular Bill; but the Prime Minister says he will not do this; he will get through as many measures as he wishes. He says it is a very reasonable wish to hope that we may pass three great measures—that is, the Reform Bill, the London Government Bill, and the Local Government Bill. We have not even got that yet. Apparently we are to give up all our Tuesday and Friday mornings for the sake of these three measures, and really I think it is rather beyond the necessity of the case. The suggestion is made at a very early period of the Session compared with that of Mr. Disraeli, and I think the House should look with jealousy on any such proposal. It is said that the House wastes time, and I have no doubt that sometimes this is the case; but these attempts to curb a proper and legitimate development of private Members' rights always end in more irregular proceedings.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I wish to ask the House to consider the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hertford. He does not say that Morn- 1190 ing Sittings are not to be taken; he differs from the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in that. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR: No!] Well, I understand the right hon. Gentleman to be against Morning Sittings altogether, and I was surprised to hear that argument from the right hon. Gentleman, because he will remember that he was in the Government that invented Morning Sittings. But the hon. Member for Hertford admitted that Morning Sittings were permissible in certain cases, though on each occasion you must make a Motion to that effect at 4.30. A more certain method of wasting the time of the House could not be conceived. Everybody knows it would be debated for two or three hours, and would necessarily lead to such a waste of time that it would be hardly worth while asking for it, because the time that would be taken up would be almost equal to the time gained. It seems to me that if the House really desires to save time it cannot and will not vote for a proposal of this kind. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) that legislation is useless. The Business of the country cannot be carried on absolutely and altogether by eloquent speaking. The hon. Member for Newcastle may be a great benefactor to his species; but more ordinary men must pay some little attention to the business of practical legislation. It has been said that a House cannot be made for private Members in the evening. But how is that? As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) pointed out, when there is a Motion before the House which commands any interest there is no difficulty in making a House. Government numbers some 30 or 40 Members, while the private Members amount to 600; and I do not see why among that gallant 600 there cannot be found a sufficient number to rally to the great cause of private Members' rights, of which at 4 o'clock we hear so much and at 9 o'clock hear so little. This plan of Morning Sittings is much better than taking away the whole of a private Member's day. I venture to say that if we really want the Business of the House to go on we should not accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hertford.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he thought that the House would agree that the right 1191 hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had afforded one admirable illustration of his words—that the Business of the House was not to be advanced by eloquent speeches. He had not been fortunate enough to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford; but the effect of the hon. Gentleman's Motion was clear, that previous to the 1st of June Morning Sittings should not be taken except by Resolution of the House. The Home Secretary had said that this must lead to a waste of time. For his own part, he did not think that it would do so in the least degree. It was most improper that the Government should come down at that period of the year and deprive private Members of their rights. [Cries of "Divide!"] Hon. Members would have an opportunity of dividing before very long, and possibly more than once before these proceedings terminated, for he intended to do all in his power to protect the rights of private Members. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the rights of private Members could always be vindicated. So they might, but by irregular means. Did the Home Secretary mean that private Members should be driven in their own defence to adopt those irregular methods rather than take those means which the sense of that House had placed at their disposal?
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, that the Home Secretary, in his speech, had somewhat mistaken, not only the Motion of the hon. Member for Hertford, but also the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon. He had stated that the right hon. Gentleman had opposed Morning Sittings altogether. The right hon. Gentleman had done nothing of the kind. He had said that at that period of the year they led to a great and cruel interference with Members who had to serve on Committees upstairs, and so were unable to attend in the House. But why had the right hon. Gentleman laid such stress upon the time of the year? Because experience showed that as the Session advanced private Members were not so much divided between their duties upstairs and their attendance in the House. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Hertford only imposed the restriction until the 1st of June. After that Government could claim the privilege without stating their reasons for doing so. 1192 He thought that the Home Secretary by his speech had weakened the case of the Prime Minister rather than strengthened it. With regard to private Members themselves, if they chose with their eyes open to vote away their rights and privileges, they must never again make any complaint. If that Motion were carried now, it would be not only for the present Session, but it would be a precedent for next Session. It might be, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton had told them, that the time had gone by for private Members; that they were no longer any use; that the Motions they might make with regard to foreign or other great interests of the nation were unworthy of the attention of Her Majesty's Government. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had appeared to imply that there were only two objects to be looked to—namely, Supply and legislation; but, for his own part, that was a view which he refused to take, and he should, therefore, support the Amendment.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
thought that the real difficulty complained of did not rest with the meetings of the House, but with the prolixity of speech. They had passed a Standing Order providing for the application of a clôture, but that clôlure was too harsh for application. If the House were able to express its opinion as to whether a Member was wasting the time of the House, Obstruction would fail. While thanking the Prime Minister for having submitted the Motion to the House, he should vote for the Amendment, because he thought that the House had not fallen so low as that it could not be intrusted day by day with the disposal of its own time.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 216; Noes 103; Majority 113.—(Div. List, No. 81.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he had intimated in the few words that he had previously spoken that he would ask the House to divide again. He had been under the impression that he would he able to move the omission from the Prime Minister's Resolution of the words "Tuesdays and," so as to limit it to the Fridays; but he found that it was not 1193 competent for him to do so, and, therefore, he would not trouble the House to divide again.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
wished, with the permission of the House, to make a suggestion, which, however, he was not quite sure would be considered practicable. The Government was endeavouring to take the Tuesdays and Fridays for Morning Sittings, leaving the evenings on those days to private Members. The result of that arrangement, as experience showed, was that the House would be frequently counted out at 9 o'clock. He proposed, therefore, that the mode of procedure at the Evening Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays should be of the like character to that followed on Wednesdays—namely, that the Speaker should take the Chair at 9 o'clock, and, if the House was not then made, that the Speaker should wait a certain time to enable a sufficient number of Members to come down to make a House. The reason why the House was counted out was often because, immediately on the Speaker taking the Chair, his attention was called to the fact that there were not 40 Members present; whereas, if an interval of about 20 minutes were given, a sufficient number of Members would probably arrive to form a quorum. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) had said there never was any difficulty in securing a House when a question of general interest was to be discussed. But such questions often stood second or third on the Paper; and Members who took an interest in them would come down shortly after 9 to join in their discussion. He would suggest that when the Speaker came down at 9 o'clock, and there were not 40 Members present, he should sit for one, two, or three hours. If there were several Motions, a certain time might be fixed in which to make a quorum for each Motion, so that in the course of time some Motion might be reached in which the House was interested enough to make a quorum.
The suggestion of the noble Lord, so far as I have been able to follow it, has all the marks of a work of genius; but, at the same time, it is involved in a certain amount of obscurity. The precise relation between the times and the Motions on the Paper have not been quite clearly laid down 1194 by the noble Lord; and though the noble Lord has devoted himself in a very patriotic and impartial spirit to the subject, I am afraid that without long Notice and some explanation we could not do justice to it.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he did not think that the Prime Minister had done justice to the suggestion of the noble Lord, for whose proposal there was a great deal to be said. He desired to enter a protest against the course taken by the Government. The vote just taken was unfortunate and deplorable, and illustrated the degradation of the House, and proved the tyranny of the Government and the servility of a large number of their supporters. If Members of the Government would avail themselves of their brief holiday to take a trip to Australia or India, instead of going, for instance, to Copenhagen, they would have their views of these subjects greatly widened, and they would feel the indignation and resentment that prevailed in our Colonial and Imperial Dependencies with regard to the neglect with, which questions relating to the Colonies and the Dependencies had been treated.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, that he and his hon. Friends near him had voted with the Government on this Division, because of the general importance of the Government programme; but, at the same time, he was bound to say that the Government had not during the past two years, and apparently did not intend during this Session, to devote any fair proportion of the Government time to their own Bills relating to Ireland; Bills which they had announced their intention of bringing forward, and which the Chief Secretary for Ireland had admitted the importance of. Now, under these circumstances, he thought he was entitled to express the hope that the Government should see their way to devoting some portion of the extra time which they had now obtained in going forward with their own Bills relating to Ireland. It was announced some time ago by the Chief Secretary that he had a Bill ready with regard to the important question of Irish education; the other day he also announced that he had a Bill ready with regard to sites for schools; and on last Wednesday they had the further important announcement from the right hon. Gentleman that in a fortnight he 1195 would introduce a Bill with regard to additional facilities for the purchase of land by tenants in Ireland. Now, these were all questions which could not be disposed of without the allocation to them of some fair proportion of the Government time. Last Session they had practically no time devoted to Irish Bills except a day or two at the end of the Session, and the Bill then passed was thrown out by the Lords on the ground that they had no time to discuss it. Now, he hope the same mistake would not be made this year; and he thought the Government, in arranging the Irish programme, in choosing the Irish Bills which should first be presented to the consideration of the House, might fairly take into consideration the general opinion of the Irish Members on all sides of the House upon it. The Government had expressed their own preference for the Irish Sunday Closing Bill. Well, that was a question on which he had always remained neutral, and he intended to remain neutral on the present occasion, although he believed the majority of his own constituents were opposed to it; but he thought the Government, before they decided that the Irish Sunday Closing Bill, or the Bill for the Purchase of Lands, or any other Bill should be taken first, might fairly take into consideration the prevailing opinion of Irish Members on all sides of the House. By doing so they would be lifting from their own shoulders a great load of disagreeable responsibility in the matter, and would not, in any Bill they then introduced, be running foul of any important section of Irish opinion.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
suggested that the House should revive a Sessional Order which had been adopted in some former Sessions, to the effect that at Evening Sittings the Speaker should remain in the Chair for a quarter of an hour after 9 o'clock before counting the House.
MR. J. LOWTHER
differed from his right hon. and gallant Friend. Although the practice referred to did exist for a short time it was soon dropped, and it was felt to be a mistake that it had ever been adopted. The suggestion of the noble Lord the Member for South Wilts (Viscount Folkestone) was really only the discarded plan referred to by his right hon. and gallant Friend. If a House could not be formed at 9 it was a hint that the House did not care for the sub- 1196 ject. He entirely agreed with the Prime Minister that it was incumbent upon private Members to keep a House for themselves. To compel the Government to do so would be an act of tyranny on the part of the House. With regard to the noble Lord's proposal, he was sure that it would lead to a system of scheming and intrigue and locks-out which it was most undesirable to introduce. Of course, Members interested in Motion No. 2 would take care to be conspicuous by their absence; and, perhaps, the supporters of Motions Nos. 3 and 4 might by various processes succeed in obtaining special favour. He hoped the Government would not re-open the question, and that if it were re-opened they would not let it bethought that they were in favour of either of the suggestions that had been made.
§ MR. WHITWORTH
said, he would not have spoken if it were not for the remarks of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). The hon. Member said that a majority of his constituents were opposed to the Sunday Closing Bill. Now, he (Mr. Whitworth) believed that a canvass of the inhabitants of Cork City showed that there were five to one in favour of the Bill. ["Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not in Order. The House is not discussing the merits of the Sunday Closing Bill.
§ Main Question put, and agreed, to.
§ Resolved, That, until the end of June, this House will meet on Tuesdays and Fridays at Two o'clock.