§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I entered into an engagement a few days ago with the right hon. Gentleman opposite to state to the House again the Bills which Her Majesty's Government think it necessary to persevere with, and those which they, with very great reluctance, feel compelled to drop. I think it may be well that I should refer to those which they consider it their duty to persevere with under all reasonable circumstances and conditions. The first Bill to which I refer is the Coal Mines Regulation Bill. It is with great regret that I have to remark that that Bill has not yet passed through Committee; but I have every hope that the appeal which I made to hon. Gentlemen who take an interest in that Bill will induce them to remove the new clauses on the Paper, so far as the Committee stage is concerned. The appeal has been seconded by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers), and I believe it is one which has been received with great favour by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt). Under these circumstances, if these new clauses are removed from the Paper so far as the Committee stage is concerned, we can report the Bill to the House this 958 evening; and I hope to arrange for the earliest possible day after progress has been made with Supply, which is absolutely required, for the consideration of the Report on that Bill. It is the strong desire of the Government to pass that Bill. The other Bill which the Government think it necessary to pursue with diligence is the Allotments Bill. We think that that Bill ought to pass into law before the Session is brought to a close. There are two or three comparatively minor measures which are of great administrative importance. There is the Local Government Boundaries Bill, in order to establish the Commission to set out the boundaries which will be included in any Local Government Bill next year, and which will greatly facilitate the progress of legislation next year for that purpose. I trust that the House will pass that Bill without any discussion or delay, for no political principle whatever is involved in it. Right hon. Gentlemen who have experience of the conduct of Public Business will, I am sure, confirm the expression of opinion I have given. There is one other small measure—a measure promoted by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews)—with regard to the police of the Metropolis. That is to redeem and carry out an engagement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary in the last Government. A great loss will be experienced to the Public Service unless that Bill is passed in the course of the present year. But it is one which, of course, could not be passed if it meets with any very serious opposition. The public interest will, however, be served largely if it is passed. There are three Scotch measures which we urgently desire to pass—the Lunacy Districts Bill, the Sheriff of Lanarkshire Bill, and the Secretary for Scotland Bill. I propose, as soon as Supply will enable me to make an arrangement for that purpose, to put down these Bills on a day on which Scotch Supply will be taken, so as to have another Scotch day. There are one or two other small matters to which I need not allude, and which are simply local and administrative. The first of the Bills which we are, with great regret, compelled to sacrifice is the Tithe Rent-Charge Bill, with which we part with very great regret, having regard to the serious condition of 959 affairs in different parts of the country. We are responsible for the peace of the United Kingdom; and we are, therefore, at liberty, and we are bound to express regret that we are compelled by the state of Public Business, and by the great delay which has occurred in the conduct of Public Business, to part with a measure which we believe would have tended greatly to advance the best interests of the country. It has boon represented to me that a modification of that Bill might have been accepted by the House, or that a Bill for a short period might have been accepted. But after very careful consideration of the question from every point of view, I came to the conclusion that a Bill for one or two years, or even a Bill for the modification of the existing system of the collection of tithe rent-charge, would have met with greater opposition in this House than we could have encountered in the last days of August. Under these circumstances, we part with the Bill this year with very great regret. There is also another Bill which I am obliged to surrender, and which I do so on other grounds with great regret, and that is the Technical Education Bill. We hoped that that Bill would have been received almost unanimously by the House, but it has met with opposition, and we are threatened with prolonged discussion of the measure, and on the 18th of August I cannot encounter the difficulties which are likely to be thrown in the way if we persist in the carrying through of that Bill in the course of the present Session. It is, however, a measure which we should feel it our duty to introduce in the very earliest days of the next Session, and I hope that the consideration which will be given to the subject in the interval will enable us to meet any objections raised by my hon. Friends on this aide of the House, and by hon. Gentlemen on the other side, so as to produce a measure which will rapidly obtain the concurrence of the House without exciting any Party feeling of any kind whatever, for I should greatly deprecate any Party or sectional feeling on a question of this kind. Then there is another Bill which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has introduced, which we also feel that we must sacrifice. This is a Bill which I think does not merit the disapprobation with which it has been received from all quarters of the 960 House. It was intended to facilitate the collection of public revenue, and to remedy evils which undoubtedly exist in that collection. But again, I say, on the 18th of August it is impossible for us to insist on passing a number of Bills into law when we have 116 Votes in Supply to obtain before this Session can be closed. I have every reason to believe that a more careful study of the provisions of this Bill will reconcile a great many hon. Gentlemen, and a great many gentlemen outside this House, to the provisions of this measure, which have occasioned alarm and consternation, not at all, in my judgment, warranted by the actual arrangements in the Bill itself. There are certain Consolidation Bills which I hoped, as improvements of the law, would have been accepted by the House without much consideration. There is the County Courts Act Consolidation Bill; but I am informed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) that that would meet with some opposition. Then the Sheriffs Consolidation Bill and the Coroners Bill must also be surrendered to the exigencies of the case. There is an Irish Bill which we must also sacrifice—the Royal Irish Constabulary Bill. [Home Rule cheers.] I am glad to say anything that will give satisfaction to any Party in the House; but it is no source of satisfaction to me that I am compelled to make this announcement under circumstances of great and unusual pressure. I do not think it is necessary for me to refer to other measures of minor importance which stand on the Order Paper, and which ought not to occupy more than a few minutes for consideration. One little measure, called the Charity Commission Officers Bill, is to carry out the Report of the Committee which sat last year and the year before, and to make economical arrangements with regard to the Charity Commission Office. I hope that the House will accept this Bill. It will bring about a great reduction in the public charge, and it will add greatly to the efficiency of an important Department of the Public Service. There is also the Superannuation Bill and the Appellate Jurisdiction Bill which have passed the House of Lords, which I hope will be accepted by the House. But we leave them on the Paper in the hope that the House will be able to deal 961 with them. They are measures which are for the advantage of the country and for the Public Service, and they involve, as far as I can see, no Party questions whatever: And now I must refer to the course of Business. I undertook last week, in answer to an appeal made by the hon. Gentleman opposite, to put down the Diplomatic Vote for the first day after the Mines Bill had passed through Committee. The Mines Bill has, unfortunately, not passed through Committee, and I am not able to say at the present moment what will be the result of the appeal I have made to hon. Members on the subject. I think it would be very much to the convenience of the House to proceed with the Allotments Bill on Friday, and to take the Diplomatic Vote in Supply on the first occasion after the Allotments Bill has passed through Committee, and then I trust we may be able to proceed with Supply and make distinct progress with it. On this subject, I wish to state to the House that we have had 23 nights in Supply this year; the total number in 1885 was 23, and the total number in 1886—including two Sessions of Parliament—was 25. I think I have said enough by merely giving these figures to satisfy the House that the time has arrived when it is most essential, in the interests of the House and the country, that we should make reasonable progress with Supply, and that the Session should not be unduly prolonged.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
I wish to say only a very few words with regard to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. I believe the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman has made with reference to the principal Bills he desires to proceed with will receive the unanimous assent of the House. Everybody desires to see the Mines Bill and the Allotments Bill pass. I also think what the right hon. Gentleman has said with regard to the Boundary Commission Bill is reasonable, because an examination of the boundaries is au essential preliminary to the measure of local government reform we are promised next year. To the Police Bill also, no objection would be raised. As to the Scotch Bills, I do not feel very competent to express an opinion, but the Scotch Members may have something to say about them. The right hon. Gen- 962 tleman said there was one Irish Bill he was going to drop; but there is another Irish Bill which we have heard a great deal about. I will not call it "Coercion Bill, No. 2," because the right hon. Gentleman objects to that term, but the Supplementary Coercion Bill. I should like to hear that there is a prospect of that Bill being among the dropped measures. With respect to the Revenue Bill, I am not one of those who share the prejudices, as I think them, which are held on the subject. But the right hon. Gentleman must remember that the difficulties with which this Bill is met are very much of his own making. Some years ago he led a violent opposition to a similar Bill; and if this Bill suffers, it will not be from the action of any hon. Member, but of the right hon. Gentleman himself. As to the arrangement proposed for the Allotments Bill, I think, as Members are here in considerable numbers, it would probably be the most convenient course that it should be taken to-morrow.
§ MR. MASON (Lanark, Mid)
said, he wished to appeal to the First Lord of Treasury with regard to the Technical Schools (Scotland) Bill. The difficulties which he understood had arisen in connection with the English Bill did not apply to the Scotch Bill, which had been received with great favour. Now that it had received a second reading he would suggest that it might be allowed to remain on the Paper so as to give it a chance of passing. He believed the Committee stage would not occupy more than an hour.
§ MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
asked the First Lord of the Treasury to take into consideration the advisability of appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the question of the commutation and redemption of tithes during the Recess, with a view to legislation next Session?
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would not take the English Votes in Supply now that the English Members were present and postpone the Irish Votes. He should like a definite intimation as to when the Irish Votes would be taken?
§ MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
asked whether any indication could be given 963 as to the time when the Indian Budget would come on?
§ MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars, &c)
inquired whether the right hon. Gentleman could not put down the Technical Schools (Scotland) Bill among the Scotch Bills which were to be taken?
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
asked whether the Allotments Bill would be the first order to-morrow?
MR. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
asked on what day after to-morrow it was proposed to take the Allotments Bill?
§ MR. BAIRD (Glasgow, Central)
asked, seeing that the School Board elections in Scotland took place early next year, whether the right hon. Gentleman could not take the Technical Schools (Scotland) Bill in place of the Secretary for Scotland Bill?
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said, he understood the Allotments Bill would be taken to-morrow, but when would the Diplomatic and Consular Vote be taken? Nothing that had been said from the Front Opposition Bench favoured its postponement beyond to-morrow.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
asked whether it was not time that the First Lord of the Treasury should introduce the Bill he had promised to provide the right hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Colonel King-Harman) with his salary?
§ MR. SCHWANN (Manchester, N.)
hoped the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider his determination to sacrifice the Technical Instruction Bill as it had created great interest in manufacturing districts. The opposition to the measure came chiefly from the other side of the House among the right hon. Gentleman's own followers.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c)
inquired whether if the Allotments Bill was to go forward the right hon. Gentleman could not introduce something of a corresponding nature for Scotland. He wished also to know whether the Government intended to adhere to the order in which the Votes were placed?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I have been asked as to the order of the Votes. I think it would be for the convenience of the House to proceed with the Votes generally in the order in which they stand on the Paper. I will endeavour to give the earliest possible intimation to 964 hon. Members below the Gangway—if possible, 48 hours' Notice—as to the time when the Irish Votes will be taken. I have been challenged as to the Technical Education (Scotland) Bill. If it is the wish of hon. Members from Scotland that that Measure should remain on the Order Book, I certainly shall not remove it, but I must reserve to myself time for a little consideration as to whether it can be proceeded with. I will endeavour as far as possible to meet the wishes of hon. Members. I have been challenged, also, with regard to the Belfast Municicipal Regulation Bill. It is our strong desire to pass this Bill. It is a Government Bill, and it can be passed if time be not wasted. We will do our best, if hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway will help us. With regard to the Indian Budget, the hon. Gentleman will see that I cannot say when it will be taken until progress is made in Supply, and the Government is able to form some idea as to the course of Public Business. But progress in Supply has been so excessively slow that it is impossible to forecast when any particular measure which depends on Supply will be taken. The subject of the tithe commutation is engaging the serious consideration of the Government, but I cannot say more on that question, which involves very serious issues. As to the Bill authorizing the payment of salary to the Under Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, we wished and intended not only to bring in that Bill this year, but to pass it; but I think it is now too late in the Session. We therefore intend to introduce it in the earliest days of next Session.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
It is only duo to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who gives his time and his ability to the Public Service that he should be put into the position and recognized by Statute as Assistant Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, and we shall certainly lose no time in taking the steps necessary for carrying out that arrangement. I think I have now answered all the Questions addressed to me.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
There is one Question I should like to ask. We certainly understood that the position of the Parliamentary Under Secretary was to be formally brought under 965 the notice of the House of Commons so that it should be discussed. The right hon. Gentleman pleads time as a reason for not bringing forward that measure, but I would like to ask him whether during the Recess the right hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet is going to perform executive duties in Ireland; because, to my mind, that opens a very grave Constitutional question. [Ministerial cries of "Oh, oh! and Order!"] If Gentlemen opposite put me to it I shall be obliged to move the adjournment of the House. [Laughter.] I am quite sure, in spite of the civil Laughter of Gentlemen opposite, that I am consulting the convenience of the House in the course which I am taking.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman because I fully admit the importance of the question which he has raised, but if he will be so kind as to repeat his question to-morrow I shall be prepared to give a full answer, which I think will save the necessity of any further discussion upon the matter.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
asked whether it was intended to complete the Civil Service Estimates before the remaining Votes for the Army and Navy were taken?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I must consider the exigencies of Supply. It may be necessary that certain Army and Navy Votes may have to be intervened in the Civil Service Votes, but it is the desire of the Government to go on with the Votes in the order in which they stand upon the Paper.
§ MR. O'KELLY
asked whether it was the intention of the Government to make the Bill providing for the salary of the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Ireland retrospective or not?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I thought the hon. Gentleman would have been aware that such legislation was never retrospective.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I hope that the Law of Evidence Bill will be generally accepted by the House, as I believe that it is a great improvement in the law, and almost all lawyers are of that opinion. With regard to the question of the hon. and learned Member behind me, I really hope that the Allotments Bill would be finished in one night. I am afraid that I am not in a position to say when the Scotch Votes and Bills will be taken, but I will give 24 hours' Notice of the intention of the Government to bring them on. As regards Supply I will endeavour to take the Diplomatic Vote on either Saturday or Monday, but I will see how Public Business proceeds to-morrow. I have fully considered the question of the hon. Member with regard to the Scotch Technical Education Bill, but I am afraid that I cannot undertake to proceed with that measure having regard to the period of the Session at which we have arrived.