HC Deb 20 November 1884 vol 294 cc65-9

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether the House will be put in possession of the scheme of Redistribution as settled by Her Majesty's Government, and the alterations in the said scheme agreed to, in order to meet the views of the Conservative Leader in the House of Lords; and, whether Her Majesty's Government will regard as a vital question the passing of the Redistribution Bill in the House of Lords, as well as in this House?


It must be obvious to those who look at it that this Question is really two Questions. The first of them I understand to be, whether the House would be put in possession substantially of any confidential communications that may be carried on between the Members of the Government and any other Gentlemen representing a large Party in this House. Well, there are great objections, I think, to such a proceeding. The first of them is that undoubtedly it would involve a complete breach of engagement, because I do not see how such communications can be carried out except in the strictest confidence, and I hold myself bound in the most absolute manner to that confidence. Therefore, I could not promise that any production of such proceedings should take place. But I may assure my hon. Friend that any proceedings of that kind, whatever they may be, cannot in the slightest degree diminish the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government in this matter. Their responsibility is the same as it would be in any other case. With regard to the second part of the Question, I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity of stating more accurately and more carefully what I stated rather too hurriedly and without sufficient precision on Monday evening. The declaration I then made contemplated as possible two modes of action—one of them being what may be called, more or less, previous concert upon the main provisions of the Seats or Redistribution Bill. Well, in that case previous concert itself, if it arrived at a result, would constitute the "adequate assurance" which I said it would be our duty to look for; and if it arrived at no result, all parties would stand as they would have stood if it had not taken place. So much for previous concert. If there were no previous concert, then, of course, we should have to look for adequate assurances by other means, or go without, and take our own course. Then, with regard to the question of how far the Seats Bill which we may have to introduce would be considered a vital question. I think I can answer that in the most precise terms; and I believe I can say that an understanding prevails as to what is just and equitable, and as to what can be fairly required from us in that matter, and what cannot. In the House of Commons we are, at the present time, honoured by the confidence of the majority of the House. In an Assembly so constituted we are in a condition to say absolutely, and in conformity with all Parliamentary usage, that we should regard the passing of our measure as a vital question. About that I think there can be no doubt; and so much was clearly understood from the declaration I made on Monday. In the House of Lords our case is different in one point—namely, that it is impossible for us to answer absolutely, and with the same degree of confidence as we might do here, for the action of the majority of that House. But what I think is justly to be expected of us in the House of Lords is this—that we should use every effort that depends upon us to pass the Redistribution Bill in the year 1885. But we could not be answerable for what the majority of the House of Lords might do independently of us. Everything that depends on us ought to be done in the House of Lords just as much as in the House of Commons. Unless I were prepared to give that pledge to Parliament and to hon. Gentlemen opposite, it is obvious that any engagement we might come under to the House of Commons would leave them totally unprotected, and would not be of the least value in their eyes. I hope, Sir, that answer will be considered satisfactory. I may say, in regard to the declaration stated to have been made "elsewhere" by the Marquess of Salisbury, it appears to me that that declaration is evidently intended to express the same thing that I have expressed, although, in speaking of the House of Lords, it does not contain the exact words that I have used—namely, that we are to be bound to use our own efforts; but, of course, that we could not be bound by anything beyond our own efforts. I hope there is no want of clearness in what I have now stated; but if there is, I should be happy to make any further explanation that might be desired.


In order that there may be no ambiguity, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not only regard it as vital that the Bill should pass this House, but also vital, that, on those points as to which any agreement has been come to, it should be passed in this House in the form agreed to, provided that either of the concurring parties desired to insist upon it?


I think it will be wise for me—I do not say to decline to answer the Question—but to postpone answering it, in order that I might answer it with more distinct and substantive reference to the respective transactions.


I will give Notice of the Question.


I wish to ask whether it is true, as stated in one of the public journals, that a Joint Committee of 12 Members of the two Houses of Parliament is to be appointed to consider the question of redistribution; and, if so, whether the deliberations of that Committee, and the information which will be laid before it, will be confidential?


I wish to ask, in regard to the friendly communications on the subject of the Redistribution Bill, which the Prime Minister has stated it is the intention of the Government to prepare with certain leading politicians, whether he proposes to consult the Representatives of all sections of the House; and, if so, whether ho will consider the desirability of the light hon. Gentleman the senior Mem- ber for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) being taken into consultation in the matter?


May I ask, also, whether the right hon. Gentleman will nominate a Gentleman representing the views of the Irish Party?


In reference to the Question of my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Causton), the report to which he refers is, as far as I am aware, without foundation. I will answer the Question of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) in conjunction with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson). It is not possible for us, from the nature of the case, to hold such communications, of the nature indicated in my declaration of Monday, with the several sections of the House combined. I should say to the hon. Member for Galway that if he, or anyone in concurrence with him, is pleased to favour me or the Government with an intimation of his views, they will have my best attention; but it is absolutely necessary, from the nature of the case, that any communication of that kind should be in a separate form. Having said that with respect to Gentlemen who do not usually act in concurrence with Her Majesty's Government, I may refer to those Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House, who are generally pleased to honour us with their confidence in the matter of principles, and, certainly, not the least among those my right hon. and valued Friend the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright). With regard to the whole of these Gentlemen, we are in possession at all times of perfectly unrestrained and easy means of taking the measures which may appear to us desirable and available to ascertain what are their views. Of course, we do that on our own responsibility. It can hardly be supposed that the Government would have proceeded to this time of day without ever holding any communication with Gentlemen like my right hon. Friend the senior Member for Birmingham. With regard to what I may term our political Friends, it is obvious, I think, that the communications which we may hold are not of the kind to be attended with any special formalities; but are, in fact, of the nature of that every-day intercourse which, in a country like this, and in an Assembly like this, must go on between the Government and those who may be disposed to support it. That is the state of the case, and the answer which I would give to my hon. Friend. Every such communication brings with it a very heavy responsibility to the Government. We are sensible of the nature and extent of that responsibility, and of the gravity of the interests of which we take charge. We have to bear that carefully in mind in every step we take.