§ "That, at any time after a question has been proposed, a Motion may be made, if the consent of the Chair has been previously obtained, 'That the Question be now put.' Such Motion shall be put forthwith, and decided without Amendment or Debate.
§ "When the Motion 'That the Question be now put,' has been carried, and the Question consequent thereon has been decided, any further Motion may be made (the consent of the Chair having been previously obtained) which may be requisite to bring to a discussion any Question already proposed from the Chair; and also if a Clause be then under consideration, a Motion may be made (with the consent of the Chair as aforesaid) That the Question, That the Clause stand part, or be added to the Bill, be now put. Such Motions shall be put forthwith, and decided without Amendment or Debate.
§ "Provided always, that Questions for the closure of Debate shall not be decided in the affirmative, if a Division be taken, unless it shall appear by the numbers declared from the Chair, that such Motion was supported by more than Two Hundred Members, or was opposed by less than Forty Members, and supported by more than One Hundred Members."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)
MR. W.E.GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Sir, I am sure that no one will complain of the general tone of the brief but succinct address which the right hon. Gentleman has made to the House. I understand that on this 1st Resolution we are at liberty, within due limits, to consider the plan before us as a whole. My remarks will not be many; but undoubtedly I think that it is necessary, as urged on a former occasion by my right hon. Friend near me (Sir William Harcourt), that there should be some regard to the general character of the proposals the Government have thought it their duty to make. These proposals represent a plan all the parts of which have relation one with another; and to proceed to the consideration of each detail and particular of proposals of this character without having endeavoured to take into view the general plan, would be very much like entering the Committee upon a Bill without having had a debate on the second 191 reading. The right hon. Gentleman, on the part of the Government, has, I have no doubt, made up his mind that to put forward proposals with regard to Procedure is the best mode of expediting the Business of the Session. On that point I own I have the gravest doubt. The business of Procedure we have found to be a very difficult business. It has been beset by difficulties of two classes. One, and perhaps the greatest, impediment to rapid progress in this matter is that the question is treated as a Party question. Now, we were so unfortunate as to have the question treated as a Party question. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman himself, as far as I recollect, took any very prominent part in those discussions. I do not wish at all to revive the recollection of the individual shares taken by hon. Gentlemen, some of whom are no longer Members of this House, in the discussions, which were made Party discussions, on the subject of Procedure. But this I think I may venture to say—that as far as I and my Friends near me are concerned, our conduct with regard to the proposals of the Government will be precisely opposite to that which was pursued towards us. We desire, as far as we are concerned, that these proposals shall be considered strictly upon their merits, and without the slightest reference to Party considerations. I think that 19 days was the time it cost us to obtain the Resolution on the subject of closure, which has now been found by the opponents of that Resolution to be too weak, and which they are now endeavouring to strengthen. Having said so much, I do not wish to enter into any detailed criticism of former proceedings, because it might be a course which would tend to lengthen discussion, and I should wish the discussion to be confined strictly to the merits of the question that is before us. But there is, no doubt, another source of difficulty in this matter, which is this—that these questions of Procedure are matters upon which individual Members of the House do claim and will claim—and within certain limits ought to claim—the power and opportunity of forming their own judgment upon them, and will refuse to be bound by the authority of the Leaders on either side of the House. For my own part, individually, I should be disposed to say that, to a considerable ex- 192 tent, I should like to accept for the purpose of trial what has been proposed by a Government upon its responsibility, and after having instituted a comprehensive and careful investigation of the whole subject. But with reference to the remarks which I have just made, I greatly doubt whether putting Procedure in the van of all other Business, to the utter extinction of the action of private Members' Bills, you are taking the best and most practical method of accelerating the work of the House. But, Sir, there is one point in connection with Procedure with regard to which I find no proposal on the Paper before us. I find no fault with them for not making one at the present moment; it may be right to take time to consider what the exact form of the proposal should be. There was recently brought into conspicuous notice the existence of a Rule recognized by you, Sir, as a Rule not in any way owing its first recognition to you, but being adopted and accepted by you as instituted, I understand, under precedents established by a distinguished Predecessor of yours in that Chair, under which limitations of a kind almost undreamt of in former times, not only upon the liberty of the individual Member, but upon the liberty of the House itself, were imposed. As I understand that Rule, and I speak subject to correction, no subject can regularly be discussed in the House, if there is upon the Notice Paper or the Order Book of the House either a Bill on that subject standing for discussion under an Order of the Day, or a Notice of Motion given by any hon. Member. I own it appears to me that the greatest difficulties must arise from the existence of a Rule of that kind. And I almost venture to predict that it is impossible to go through this subject of Procedure without introducing some modification of the Rule as it is now understood and acknowledged to exist. The case, Sir, has become an extreme case. I must here advert for one moment to the practice which has of recent years arisen, and which has been found, on the whole, to be for the convenience of the House—namely, that of allowing the First Reading of a Bill to be taken without discussion as a matter of course, and exceptions to that practice—I will not say to that rule—have become extremely rare. Now, the consequence of that is that, immediately after leave has 193 been obtained to introduce a Bill, and after or even before its First Reading, as a matter of course the Bill stands in the position of an Order of the Day. The House itself has, therefore, determined that the subject shall be taken into consideration. The subject, however, cannot be taken into consideration without waiting for the Second Reading of the Bill. In the case of a Standing Order, I can quite understand the House deciding, by an act of its own, that a subject shall only be considered in connection with a particular Bill, and that it would be undesirable to consider it on the proposal of an individual Member, and without waiting for the Second Reading of the Bill. But even there great difficulty may arise, because it is now in the power of any hon. Member to introduce a Bill upon any subject and to get it made an Order of the House; and so he may commit the House to the discussion of any particular subject at the time only when his Bill comes on for Second Reading. I very much doubt, now that liberty and licence have been established in regard to the introduction of Bills, whether we should find it to be a wise course thus to enable the mere existence of a Bill brought in under such circumstances to absolutely preclude the discussion in any other form of the particular subject with which such a measure proposes to deal. I admit that the matter requires most careful consideration, and I earnestly hope that the Government will give it that consideration, as otherwise there will be no end of the difficulties in which the House may be placed by reason of the different Notices of Motion which may stand upon its Notice Paper. If the mere giving of a Notice of Motion may prevent the discussion of the subject with which it deals in any other form, these Notices may be given with the view of restraining debate and preventing the progress of Public Business. I will not attempt to argue the point further; but the sum of what I have said is an earnest commendation to Her Majesty's Government to carefully consider the matter; because I feel quite convinced that it would be better for a proposal to be brought forward upon the initiative of Her Majesty's Government than that it should be left to hon. Members sitting in other quarters of the House to call attention to the subject. 194 The right hon. Gentleman informs us that he has made a proposal with regard to the devolution of certain branches of the Business of the House which differs in some degree from the proposals on the same subject which were recommended by the Committee. What I wish to say upon this will not occupy the House long. I think it is a matter which really touches the heart and centre of the whole subject. I am more than ever convinced that it is idle and futile to think of relieving the House from the enormous difficulties under which it labours and to meet the wishes and the just and reasonable expectations of the country—of the three countries—with regard to the progress of Public Business by mere penal, restrictive, and repressive measures, be they what they may. The right hon. Gentleman made an appeal to hon. Members to make fewer and shorter speeches, and he entered upon the consideration of the point and touched it with a pathetic sentiment with which I can well sympathize, having myself dwelt upon the particular matter on former occasions in a much less perfect manner. The right hon. Gentleman may perhaps say that I then directed my observations to himself and to his followers, and I might reply that they obtained a flinty-hearted reception. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be more fortunate, but appeals of that kind are more likely to produce an effect upon the House when they are put in connection with the frank and large proposals for what is called devolution than when the plan before it turns almost entirely upon changes in the mode of conducting the debates of the House, which are in the nature of diminution of the liberties of hon. Members. For my own part I am entirely convinced that it is a devolution of a very different kind from that which is contemplated here, and one very much larger to which we can alone look if we are really to achieve, or to have any chance of achieving, the great purpose that is in view. The late Government proposed originally the appointment of two Grand or Standing Committees, and the right hon. Gentleman now proposes to add a third, but experience convinced us of the absolute insufficiency of our own proposals. We found, in the first place, that they embraced a very small portion of the measures to which it was desirable 195 that they should be applied; and, in the second place, in certain cases where reference of the Bills was actually made the result was totally and absolutely unsatisfactory. We never supposed that in proposing these two Grand Committees we were disposing of the subject—it was meant to be a tentative experiment only, a beginning on which we were anxious to build something larger and more effectual. The right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues have shrunk from attempting any extended scheme of devolution. Our view was that by a scheme of this kind you would actually multiply the power of the House. What happened was that when Bills were in Committee, three-fourths or four-fifths of the House disappeared, leaving in the House one-fourth or one-fifth who took an interest in the Bill under consideration, or who were detained from accidental circumstances; but what we thought was that the smaller Bills should be taken out of the House and the large ones reserved for its own consideration; and that thus the House might multiply its agencies and at the same time extend its own power of working, so as, in some degree, to meet the desires and the expectations of the country, through means of a body fairly representing the House, and being in fact a miniature of the House. I am sorry to say that I regard the proposal now before the House, consisting as it does of what we proposed ourselves, with an addition still smaller in its practical extent and working as being totally inadequate and really amounting to nothing. I mean to nothing in this sense, that although on some rare occasions we may be able to deal usefully with a particular Bill, yet there is not the smallest hope or chance of its producing any serious effect upon the mass, and the increasing mass of the real Business which the House has now invariably to grapple with. With regard to the functions which it is proposed to assign to the Chair, that is a matter of the most profound importance. I was greatly disappointed at not having heard from the right hon. Gentleman some explanation and elucidation of the nature of that very high, delicate, and difficult duty which is to be assigned to the Chair in connection with these Rules. When the subject was before the House on a previous occasion we suggested that the Speaker should play an important part, and in a certain 196 sense it was said that the Speaker was to have the initiative, but it was distinctly set forth and admitted upon all hands that the Speaker's initiative was to depend upon his judgment on a question of fact, and not in the slightest degree on his own opinion, either of the subject in debate or on the manner in which the debate was conducted. One thing, and one thing only, he was to look to, that being a question of fact, as to which he was to exercise his judgment—namely, as to whether there did or did not exist a certain general state of sense and feeling in the House in favour of the determination of the debate. But it should be recollected that that proposal was denounced by a large portion of the House as being calculated to lead to the practical destruction of the authority of the Chair, and it was said with perfect truth that we must not overload the Chair. The great difficulty I apprehend in regard to the future constitution and working of the House, as far as the Chair is concerned, is that the House will get into a state of things in which you will ask and expect from the Speaker more than you can possibly get from any human being. I have seen the practice growing in my lifetime. The task of the Speaker 50 years ago was comparatively easy, and the selection of a Speaker was a simple matter, and was very soon disposed of. Now we come to a matter of very great diversity of opinion and very great difficulty. Are we, as it were, to break the back of the Speaker by putting upon him duties which it is not possible for him to discharge? It is now proposed—That at any time after a Question has been proposed a Motion may be made, if the consent of the Chair has been previously obtained, 'that the Question be now put.' Such Motion shall be put forthwith and decided without Amendment or debate.I wish to know on what principle is it the intention of the Government that the Speaker shall proceed in giving or withholding that consent. It is quite plain that, to put into the Speaker's hand and to charge him with the responsibility of the decision of a question of opinion, is an infinitely more formidable charge to lay upon him than the decision of a question of fact. Yet, so dangerous was it deemed to put in the Speaker's hands the decision of a question of fact that 19 197 days were occupied in discussing the subject before the House came to a decision upon it, and then only by a comparatively moderate majority. But now the Speaker is to form an opinion. On what principle is he to form an opinion? Is it to be simply this, that the Speaker is always to be ready with an opinion on every subject that arises on being challenged by any Member of the House as to whether the debate has or has not been continued long enough? That, Sir, is a tremendous responsibility. If, as I suppose, the Speaker's opinion as to the closing of the debate can be challenged at any time by any rash Member, whether old or young, so that the Speaker may at any time, by the action of one Member, be called upon to express an opinion, then I must say that a most alarming burden is laid upon the shoulders of the Speaker. Even if I could be sure he would never be so challenged, except on great and worthy occasions, I should not wish to be responsible for forcing upon the Speaker such a responsibility. You must always recollect that the Speaker of the House of Commons must, like Cæesar's wife, not only be impartial, but must not be suspected of partiality. If once he were suspected, the ground on which he stood would be undermined. Happily, we have been able to secure a succession of Speakers down to the present hour entirely above suspicion. Long may it continue; but you must recollect the jealousy of the Party opposite when we proposed to add to the duties of the Speaker the judgment upon a question of fact. Yet it is now proposed to place in his hands matters of a totally different kind and infinitely more dangerous. My desire is, as far as I can, to consider this question and to weigh the responsibility of the Government without reference to political feeling. But there are limits to the application of that principle, and I hold that what concerns the honour of the Chair of the House is a matter on which it is impossible for us to devolve our responsibilities even on the Government. I do not wish to give any opinion on this subject until I know the mind of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Speaker, being known as absolutely impartial, is a person who can properly be called upon to give his consent, and that he is the proper person to discharge 198 the duty laid down in the Resolution. Before I can form any opinion I want to know what duty he is to discharge. Is he to be continually liable in any debate to have his opinion challenged by any individual Member? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, or some of his Colleagues, will give us some explanation of the nature of the duties which the Speaker is expected to perform. I quite agree that the House has been able to look for a long series of years with unbounded confidence to its Speakers for the discharge of all the duties put upon them. But when a proposal is made of a character so novel as this, and so unlimited as to the possibilities of the working of the proposal, I think we are right in asking what duty it is that the Speaker is to perform. With regard to the general effect of the proposals I will not detain the House. I have seen with great satisfaction that all those apprehensions which were entertained as to voting the closure by a majority have entirely disappeared from the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. That is a very great change indeed. It is the adoption of the principle for which we contended with great pertinacity and in the face of very great difficulties; and naturally we rejoice to see that our opponents have at length accepted our doctrines, and that those doctrines are to be enforced and completed by those who gave them the most determined and, I might almost say, the fiercest opposition. How do we now stand in this matter? Whether the debate will last a long or a short time I know not; Party opposition to the proposals I hope there will be none, but sporadic discussion there may be a good deal. Viewing the proposals as a whole, and viewing the manner in which they give the go-by to that which I consider the really vital, central part of the whole matter, the principle of devolution and the multiplication of the organs of the House for the transaction of Business, I cannot but consider that they are wholly inadequate to their purpose. I fear that if adopted they will do nothing adequate or commensurate with the existing necessity for diminishing the enormous mass of arrears, and the natural impatience in the country arising out of the inability out-of-doors to understand how this House, elected by the best exercise of the mind 199 and judgment of the people for the purpose of transacting their Business, and being able to regulate its own Rules, yet has so managed to allow these Rules to fall out of harmony with the time and its calls that the Business of the House cannot be done; and that the nation waits in vain from year to year—I am afraid it will soon be from generation to generation, for the satisfaction of its just demands.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I am anxious, Sir, to address the House upon the Question you have put; but before doing so I wish to submit to you a Question upon a point of Order which I would have explained to you privately if I had had the opportunity. I wish to know whether I shall forfeit my right to move the Amendments which I have put down on the Paper upon the first Rule if I address the House upon the Question now before it?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I expected that this difficulty would arise, for it is one which has occurred to myself. If the hon. Member addresses the House now he will have spoken upon the Main Question. But the Amendments down on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member might be moved by another hon. Member, and then the hon. Member himself would be entitled to speak on the General Question now, and would not be precluded from speaking on the Amendments which now stand in his own name.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I am sorry at this early stage to have to take a course which may put this House to some inconvenience, but I think it is necessary to take it for the maintenance of our rights. The Leader of the Opposition has made a speech, pointing out grave, clear, and momentous subjects on which information is absolutely necessary before the House proceeds further with the Resolutions. To afford the Government an opportunity of giving that information I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. T. P. 0' Connor).
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
I hope the hon. Member will not press that Motion. We are, no doubt, in some considerable difficulty, and, although the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has very fairly 200 met the request that this evening, at all events, there should be an opportunity of discussing the matter generally, these extraordinary technicalities prevent us from doing what everybody in the House desires. All I can say is that if we cannot do this, and if the House submits to be bound by such technicalities, we are the most incapable Assembly in the world. At first we had some difficulty on this matter in the Committee. We felt that the whole matter should be discussed on the first Resolution, and the Clerk said it could not be done because there was no precedent for it. I am happy to say that my noble Friend the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) at once said—"Then let us make a precedent," and it was done. I hope that we shall not be the slaves of those technicalities which prevent the House of Commons from making progress with Public Business. If we do not have common sense in these matters this House will degenerate into a second-class vestry, and all matters in which the country take an interest will have to be discussed elsewhere. Therefore, I do hope that somehow or other what the Speaker has said will be carried out, and that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) or anybody else who wishes to make observations on the General Question, will not be subsequently precluded from moving Amendments. If this Rule is to be treated like a clause in a Bill I do not understand how either the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, or my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) was in Order, because unless there is an Amendment moved to a clause in a Bill nobody can say anything unless it is a new clause, when there would be a Second Reading. The best and most sensible thing would be to treat this matter like the bringing up of a new clause, and that the Leader of the House should move that the first Resolution be read a second time. We could then discuss the whole matter upon it, but otherwise the whole of our proceeding will be irregular, and our whole position will be ridiculous. I hope the House will exhibit a little common sense, and rise somewhat above the level of the exceptional technicalities of debate. I think we ought at all events to deal with the matter in a way which would give effect to the desire of the 201 House for a general discussion on the Rules as a whole. If it is said that there is no precedent let us make a precedent. We are dealing with our own proceeding, and it is worth while that we should make a precedent.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I believe it was distinctly understood that on the present occasion a general discussion might take place on the Rules as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman has asked that these clauses should be read a second time; but the effect of that would be that no one would then be at liberty to refer to any other clause than that under discussion. I differ somewhat from the views which the right hon. Member has expressed. I have great regard and respect for the ordinary Rules and Regulations of this House, and I cannot think that it would be a desirable thing if on an occasion like the present, when there appears to be a little difficulty, at once to jump to the formation of new Rules. If there is any difficulty in the way of the hon. Member for Cork, I think with the general consensus of the House, the suggestion made by the Speaker would get over it, and if any other way, in accordance with the Rules of the House, can be pointed out I shall be willing to accede to it.
§ DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
A few days ago, when this matter was under discussion, I ventured to predict the very difficulty which has now presented itself. The right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) had asked the Leader of the House whether he would allow a discussion of the proposed Rules, as a whole, upon the first Rule. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was perfectly willing to do so, but I asked if such a course would be in Order. I pointed out that it might be found not to be in accordance with the Rules of the House, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby thereupon mentioned what had been done in the Committee—namely, that he had proposed, as a preliminary point, that the Rules should be considered, upon which the Leader of the House (Mr. Smith) apparently assented to adopt the same course. We are now told there is no precedent for that. If you, Sir, should rule that such an Amendment could not be moved, of course there will be an end of 202 the matter at once; but I will ask if it would not be competent to move an Amendment to leave out all the words after the word "that" in order to add "these Rules be now considered." That would place the matter in the position desired both by the right hon. Member for Derby and the Leader of the House. I ask you, therefore, Mr. Speaker, whether it is competent to move that as a preliminary Amendment?
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has suggested that I should enter into some sort of collusive arrangement with some other hon. Member to move my Amendment for me. Now, Sir, I desire to move my own Amendments, and although hon. Gentlemen may think that my Amendments might be equally well moved by some hon. Member taking off his hat in dumb-show, that is not my opinion. I think it was distinctly understood that we were to be afforded some opportunity for discussing the Rules, as Rules, before we come to discuss them in detail together with the various Amendments, and I think the right hon. Gentlemen the Leader of the House is bound to carry out that understanding, which was as clearly a Parliamentary understanding as was ever entered into. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) has had no intention of an obstructive character in moving the Adjournment of the debate. He wishes merely to raise a protest against a breach of the understanding which was entered into in the presence of both sides of the House; that we should have an opportunity of discussing the principle of all these Rules together. It appears to me a very much greater breach of the Orders of this House to allow the principle of all the Rules to be discussed on the Motion that one of the Rules be passed, than it would be to allow a general discussion upon the first Rule, and then to allow an hon. Member who has put Amendments down on the paper to move those Amendments. It is not an unreasonable thing to ask that an hon. Member who has put Amendments down on the paper should be provided with some way by which he may be permitted to move them. It has been suggested by the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow 203 (Dr. Cameron) that there is no precedent for such a course, and he has suggested that we should leave out all the words after the word "that" in order to insert that "these Rules be now considered." Now, there is a precedent which comes very near to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Glasgow; which touches it and runs alongside of it. In 1879, when the Conservative Government for the first time commenced its tinkering process with the Rules of the House—a process which has since been repeated by several Governments—the late Mr. Rylands, whose death we all so much regret, moved an Amendment to the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day, to the effect—That this House will forthwith resolve itself into a Committee, to consider the Resolution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Business of the House.If there be no other way—I do not wish to prejudge the question as to whether it is desirable or not to consider these Resolutions in a Committee of the whole House, it is possible that a majority of the House may consider it undesirable to do so—but if there is no other way of affording Members an opportunity of speaking on the principle of these Rules, and of offering suggestions which may be of value in the course of the debate, and which ought not to be waste verbiage, I submit that now is the time when the House at large ought to be afforded an opportunity of offering suggestions of importance, which may affect any of the Resolutions in the course of future discussions. It seems to me that the Resolution which I have read, and which established a precedent in 1879, would then afford a legitimate opportunity for discussing the whole question without rendering it necessary to adopt a collusive arrangement, such as has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. Possibly, some better way can be suggested, but this is a way which would certainly have the sanction of precedent. I think I am entitled to complain of the way in which I have been treated by Her Majesty's Government. It was understood, as clearly as anything could be understood, that we were to have an opportunity of discussing the principle of these Rules before we came to the discussion of them in detail; but now, on the very 204 threshold, I am met by the Chair, and no doubt properly met, with the intimation that no Member who has put down Amendments on the Paper is to be allowed to discuss the principle of these Rules, or he will otherwise forfeit his right to move the Amendments which stand in his name.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) appealed to me as if it was in my power to do away with the technicalities of the House. It is my duty to point out the technical Rules of the House. It is to my great regret that any technical Rules which I am bound to enforce should cause the House any inconvenience. I quite feel the difficulty as much as any Member of this House. I do not think that the precedent cited by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) would apply to the present case. It was understood—at least in my belief—that a general discussion might be taken on the first Resolution being proposed by leave of the House. When that was suggested to me, I at once pointed out the difficulty that if an hon. Member spoke on the Main Question, he would be precluded from speaking again on moving an Amendment, as he would have already spoken upon the Main Question. That difficulty the hon. Member for the City of Cork has, if I may say so, very properly pointed out, as he does not see his way to delegating the function of moving his Amendment to another Member, but prefers to move it himself. I respectfully suggest that the best way would be to regard the whole subject as if the House were not to be bound by the Rule, that if any Member speaks now he shall be precluded from moving his Amendment. If that is the general sense of the House, I shall be glad to act upon it.
As I understand your suggestion, Sir, hon. Members are to have an indefinite power of moving Amendments after speaking on the Main Question. Will it not be necessary to embody so important a decision of the House in some form of Motion? No- 205 thing, Sir, can be kinder and more satisfactory in spirit than the suggestion you have made; but it appears to me that when we find it necessary to depart from the established practice, we ought to formally record that departure. It would be dangerous to have a departure by a mere understanding. Mr. Speaker himself has been kind enough to make a suggestion; but I humbly submit that it is a suggestion which we ought to have in precise terms.
MR. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House should add to his speech the Motion "That these Rules be now considered."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
That could not be moved as an Amendment to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, because it would negative all the words that came afterwards; but if the right hon. Gentleman would, with the sanction of Mr. Speaker, withdraw for the moment his Motion, that the Resolution proposed by him should be now considered, we might conduct this debate in the same way as it was conducted upstairs. That, at all events, would not land us in the unsatisfactory doctrine of waiver. It would be in accordance with the Rules of this House, and would accomplish the object my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian has in view, while, at the same time, what we are doing would be thoroughly understood. I think that is the most simple Motion that can be made—namely, that the Resolution proposed by the right hon. Gentleman "be now considered."
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
I would venture to express a hope that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will be very careful before they adopt the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman. We have heard a good deal about cobweb technicalities, and the necessity for sweeping them away; but I do not remember on the last occasion when new Rules of Procedure were considered, we heard anything of such necessity at all. Neither do I see any reason for the great difficulty in which hon. Gentlemen consider they are placed today in arriving at a conclusion as to the course they ought to pursue. This is not the first occasion on which new Rules have been considered. If I may venture to do so, I 206 would advise the House to adhere strictly to the precedents of other days. Otherwise, what guarantee have we that we shall not depart from the understanding of the other night, which was to have the general discussion on the Rules limited to one night. [Cries of "No!"] Surely I am entitled to my opinion. I am simply giving my own interpretation of what was stated in the House, and I and many other Members thought the understanding was that the general discussion should be limited to a single night. [Cries of "No!"] Those cries of "No" afford an illustration of the difficulties we are placed in by a departure from precedents. I hope that the House will pause before it enters into the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) to depart from the precedent which was set four years ago when the Resolutions of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian were considered. If we do depart from that precedent, I am afraid we may find ourselves involved in all kinds of difficulties. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down gives us much assistance in the difficulty in which we find ourselves placed.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman refers us to the precedent of four years ago, when the Rules were discussed on the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone); but, on that occasion, it was not desired by the other side of the House to have anything in the nature of a general second reading discussion. Accordingly, on that occasion the House proceeded at once to the discussion of the Rules seriatim; but, on the present occasion, it is desirable, by common consent, to have such a general discussion. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has endeavoured to secure such a discussion, and it was the general desire of the House that this should be done. We are now endeavouring to arrange for this by observing, on the one hand, the technicalities of the Rules of the House, and, at the same time, by permitting all kinds of illegalities. The whole of the discussion up to the present time has been one continued series of illegalities according to the strict Rules of the House. According to the Rules of the House, neither the Motion made by the right hon. Gentleman nor 207 his speech, nor the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, have been strictly in Order. Nor is that all. In order to meet the case of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) it has been suggested that the House should consent to the perpetual recurrence of a series of waivers of its Rules, so as to allow any reference to be made to the general question. I agree with the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), that if the Leader of the House were to withdraw his Motion, and to propose "that these Rules be now considered," a general discussion might go on without prejudicing the right of those who took part in it to move their Amendments afterwards.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I venture, once more, to interfere between the House and the discussion with reference to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) has said—that if there is any departure from the usual technical Rules it would be necessary to put on record some protest that we are departing from the usual course, taking into consideration the very exceptional nature of the case. That protest has now, I think, been sufficiently made. I did venture to suggest, earlier in the discussion, that it would be possible for hon. Members to speak upon the general question, and yet not waive their right of speaking upon moving an Amendment. If the House thinks that an acceptable proposition I shall make no technical objection from the Chair. In support of what I said, I may remind the House that, in the year 1882, when the former Rules of Procedure were being discussed, the Chair took the same course as that which I am suggesting by assenting to a relaxation of former practice, by permitting that on each Resolution an hon. Member might speak more than once if he desired to move more than one Amendment, although those Amendments were not consequential. That was accepted by the House, and I venture to suggest that a similar course of departure from the usual practice should be adopted now.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to say that the general discussion on the Rules is to be limited to one night's de- 208 bate? We had no idea on this side of the House that such a limit was intended. We are proposing to make an enormous change in our Rules of Procedure, and it would be very rash if we were to attempt to limit the free discussion of hon. Members to a single evening. I wish to put this question to you, Sir. Suppose that the 1st Resolution is carried, will it become de facto a Sessional Order, and be immediately operative, so that it can be used for the limitation of debate upon all the subsequent Resolutions?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
It is not necessary that we should continue this discussion. I understand that the object of the hon. Member for Cork was secured to him, and any Gentleman who has an Amendment on the Paper will be at liberty to speak on the Main Question, and yet retain his right to move an Amendment. Upon that understanding, I think the House may proceed to the discussion of the Rules. I have had no intention of limiting the general discussion to this one Sitting. At the same time, I hope the debate will not be unduly prolonged, although I fully recognize that some general discussion is necessary, and may conduce more to a rapid solution of the question than if we go to the Resolutions at once. I therefore propose that the general discussion should proceed.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Does the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool withdraw his Motion? [Cries "No!"]
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
The Leader of the House seems to think it is agreeable that the Speaker should permit an hon. Member to speak on the general question, and then to move an Amendment afterwards. I must confess that I have been startled and penetrated with a sense of the impropriety of doing anything in an underhand way. If any arrangement of that kind is come to, I shall oppose it, and shall object to any hon. Member speaking first on the general question and moving an Amendment afterwards.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
Upon the point of Order, I wish to know whether any understanding arrived at now will be binding upon 209 Members who are not at this moment present in the House?
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I am desirous, in the first place, to express my greatest doubt as to whether this fourth edition of the alteration of the Rules of the House will have the slightest effect whatever in facilitating the Business of the country. I have been looking over events since 1879, when the Conservative Ministry of the day commenced the first attempt to facilitate the Business of the House by an alteration of the Rules of the House; and I have not been able to see that, in those seven years, the Business of the country has been even facilitated by so much time, by the alteration which then took place, as was consumed in giving them effect. I think the same thing may be said of the attempts which have been made, from time to time, by different Governments since then to tread in the same path. We had the Conservative Government of the day very confident that, if the House accepted the alterations in the direction of Procedure, all would be well, the wheels of the Parliamentary machine would go smoothly, and the Business of the House would progress. What happened? If those Rules are remarkable for anything, they are remarkable for the fact that they are almost a dead letter. For several years they were scarcely used at all, so utterly hopeless did it appear to trust in them as any measure for facilitating the Business of the House; and so matters remained until, in 1882, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) took the matter up. The right hon. Gentleman struck his plough deeper in the virgin soil, and he brought forward more drastic and more numerous alterations in the Procedure of the House. He recommended the closure for the first time in the history of the British Parliament, a recommendation which even the Select Committee of 1879 shrank from entertaining, and that closure, after many nights' debate, after long contention, and after much procrastination, was passed into law, surrounded by such safeguards which are familiar to the House; that it 210 has since been twice used only; and, as far as it has been used, it has shown by its application that it is useless for anything except to check freedom of debate. It is altogether useless for facilitating the progress of Public Business. The same thing may be said with regard to all the other Now Rules which were passed in 1882. After an expenditure of great time and trouble on the part of the House of Commons, those Rules have been absolutely useless; and I defy any Member to say that a single measure has been added to the Statute Book in consequence, or that there is any measure on the Statute Book which would not have been there if the New Rules had never been heard of. As far as they go, they simply produce no effect, except in the direction of irritation and exasperation. The only feeling they produce is that of unfair treatment, which feeling certainly does not tend to facilitate the progress of Business, or to grease the wheels of the Parliamentary machine. Some day or other the Conservative Party, now so confident in their majority, by the help of 75 Liberal Unionists, will bitterly regret their confidence in their majority. You are doing your small part this Session to strike away some of those bulwarks and some of those protections for the minority, which you will desire in vain to bring back again when the hour of your bitter need comes. If there is one thing more remarkable in the difference between the Party in power and the Party out of power, it is that the Party in power always thinks very little of conserving the liberties of debate for the protection of minorities; whereas, the Party out of power always thinks a great deal about it. Her Majesty's Government, although they may be in a majority for a few months, ought to recollect that even under a restricted franchise they were more often in a minority than in a majority during the last 50 years; and that in all probability that state of affairs will be repeated and intensified in the 50 years to come. It will be they who will have to regret, and to regret bitterly, that they have done something—a feeble something, it is true; but still something—I suppose the best they are able to do, to injure the position of minorities in this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House says that it is in the power of the Nationalist Party to 211 help the Government to do without alterations in the Rules of Procedure. But every year he sits in this House he realizes more and more the impossibility of their doing the work of three or four Legislatures. How would the Congress at Washington get on if, in addition to its own work, which is quite enough for its power, it had also to transact the business of the 39 State Legislatures, each of which has as much to do as it can do? The difficulties with which this Parliament has to contend are insurmountable, and they are always seeking some avenue of escape. They have sought a remedy in checking debate; but the Rules passed for that purpose have proved to be absolutely unavailing. Instead of adopting this course, would it not have been better for the Government to face the real difficulty of the situation? Now that the masses have been admitted to the Franchise, now that, through the operation of the Corrupt Practices Act, the avenues to Parliament are open to young men of ability, albeit of slender purses, the state of affairs is materially different from what it was 30, or even 20, years ago. One machine is no longer able to do the work of the country; a division of labour is necessary. What would George Stephenson, or any other of our great engineers, have done if he had imitated the example of the right hon. Gentleman when he found it necessary to devise some new labour-saving machine in order to enable him to provide for the necessities of modern engineering and society. If he had endeavoured to accomplish that object by going among his workmen and imposing fresh rules upon them, he would have accomplished nothing. But, instead of that, he went to the root of the matter, and brought his talents and engineering ability to inventions that were calculated to supply the needs and necessities of the time. Nothing but failure will ever come from this fresh departure of the Government. They have thought to improve upon the scheme of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. Now, I think I may say, without flattery, that when that right hon. Gentleman has made an attempt and failed, no prentice hand is likely to succeed; and, certainly, the right hon. Gentleman the present Leader of the House, notwithstanding his ability and amiability of character, is not likely 212 to succeed. After the New Rules have been passed, there will be nothing but exasperation and a feeling on the part of the minority that they have been ill-treated. The problem is now to enable the House to perform work which they have neither time nor sufficient physical capacity to undertake and carry through to a successful issue. We are told that private Members will be benefited by the New Rules, because there is some provision at the tail end of them to enable Members who have succeeded in obtaining a satisfactory judgment on the second reading of their Bills to get the Wednesdays after Whitsuntide for subsequent stages. No expectation can be more illusory. The Government will do as they have always done hitherto. They will say to the House—"We have two or three measures in advanced stages which we are desirous of saving." Therefore, about Whitsuntide they will take the Wednesday from private Members, and private Members will find themselves in about the same position as that which they occupy now. The same thing will happen in regard to this wonderful stoppage of Business after half-past 12 o'clock. Reference has been made by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian to the interpretation of the Rules which has recently been given by the Chair—namely, that Notices of Motion, even although it be done obviously for an unfair purpose, have the power of shutting out all debate on the Address upon the special or specific topic to which such Notice of Motion may refer. That ruling, I wish to say, with great respect, as far as it relates to the topics of discussion in the debate on the Address, is an extension of Mr. Speaker Brand's ruling.
§ MR. SPEAKER
That subject has no reference to the Rules now before the House, and I cannot allow the hon. Member to question the ruling of the Chair. If the hon. Member desires to do that, he must do it in the regular way, and by asking the House to pronounce whether I was right or wrong.
§ MR. PARNELL
I should regret, Sir, if I have led you to suppose that I was in any sense about to object to the ruling of the Chair. I have not the slightest doubt that the ruling of the Chair was most correct, and that it was absolutely necessary in the point of view of the Rules and precedents now in existence; 213 but I was going to point out, for the purpose of illustrating my argument, the necessity of making some alteration in the Rules, so as to prevent the unfair use of the right of putting down Members. What I said was that the recent ruling was an extension of Mr. Speaker Brand's ruling, inasmuch as his ruling only had reference to Notices of Motion and Adjournments of the House after the New Rules had been passed. I do not, for a moment, wish to criticize the soundness of the ruling or judgment either of Mr. Speaker Brand or of the present occupant of the Chair; but I wish to point out that it is an extension, although based on the same principle as Mr. Speaker Brand's ruling, and it may practically have this result. The Crown may address the House of Commons, and the Government may address the Crown in the usual way; but, if sufficient care is not taken, hon. Members may cover all the topics contained in the Queen's Speech and the debate may actually be closed after the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Address. Indeed it is not certain if it may not be possible to close the debate even before the Address is moved and seconded. Can any hon. Member imagine a greater reductio ad absurdum? Another point which I wish to urge upon the Government is, that they should give private Members opportunities for moving independent Resolutions upon Procedure. It is obvious that if the Government desire, as was stated by the Leader of the House, to take the House generally into consultation, they can only do so by giving the House fully an opportunity of putting down their thoughts in. the shape of suggestions. The Resolutions of the Government cover but a very limited area; and it would be impossible, by drafting Amendments upon them, to get many valuable suggestions which occur to some of us; but which may not occur to the Leader of the House. It is of the highest importance that private Members should be afforded some opportunity of entering into free counsel with Her Majesty's Government, for the common object if we can—although I very much fear we cannot—of amending the Rules of the House. I wish now to say a word in regard to the question of the action of minorities in this House. I have said, Sir, that your Rules will not be effectual in forwarding the discharge of Public 214 Business, but that they will simply be effectual in limiting the rights of minorities, and to some extent in throttling debate. As to the action of minorities, it is to the efforts of minorities that the country owes almost every great reform. It is to the action of minorities repeated for days, weeks, Sessions, and even years, that you owe the most important measures you have ever passed. The Rules of the House I have always thought were really intended to spur up and push forward a lagging Government. A Government, having come into Office, like well-fed hounds, do not care to work; but private Members who are not so well fed, are in full possession of their faculties and are well able to work. I think you will have cause to regret it even during this Session if you unduly fetter the right of minorities as you propose to do by your new Rules. And remember all minorities make many valuable suggestions from time to time. I consider myself as one who has been in a minority during the whole of the 11 years that I have sat in this House, in which time there have been several changes of Government. I regard myself also as one who is likely to be in a minority hereafter, and I plume myself on having made some proposals which have passed into law; not one of which could I have carried out if the Rules of Procedure had been altered as the Government proposes. The pity of the thing is that you give nothing in return. You do not advance your own object, but you take away our reason for existence, in saying which I do not speak as a Member of a particular Party in this House, but as a Member of a minority. I say it will be utterly impossible for you, by mere restrictive Rules, to attain your object or facilitate by one jot that progress of Public Business which all hon. Members of this House so earnestly desire. With regard to the proposal of Standing Committees, I very much agree with the opinion that has been expressed, that they will only increase the block of Business. They will send down many Bills for consideration on Report. Again, these Standing Committees will practically consist of very few Members, and the great majority will be shut out from their deliberations. But do you think this great majority would give up its right to discuss the various measures? Would it not rather happen that the 215 desire to discuss them would be intensified and not removed, and would not the accumulation of Business towards the latter days of the Session be greater than could possibly be discussed? Well, Sir, it is my opinion that this result would follow. There are many points with which I will not now trouble the House, but reserve them for consideration when the various portions of the proposed Rules are moved by the Leader of the House. My prophecy may prove untrue, but I fear it will not. In my opinion, in the action which the Government are now taking, they are treading a road which has been described as useless and dangerous, and I do not see that by it the great object which the right hon. Gentleman has at heart will be achieved. On the other hand, if you adopt measures in the interests of the Nationalities of which this great Empire is composed—if, instead of taking action against the rights and interests of minorities, you remodel your machinery in a manner that would be likely to prove effectual, then you will be richly rewarded, and this House, proud of its title of "Mother of many Parliaments," would have cause to be still more proud in the possession of an increasing and happy progeny.
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
Sir, I look at these New Rules, not with regard to present circumstances merely, but to the future, when we may have not a hostile but a happy and contented Ireland. I regret that the Government have departed from the scheme laid down by the Committee. I do not think their proposals are in any sense an improvement; but, on the contrary, I think that their departures from the scheme of the Committee are in every respect departures for the worse. I think they are to be condemned in two ways—one on account of the mode and the means by which it is proposed to apply the closure in this House; and, secondly, because we are not provided with any scheme that would get rid of any portion of the Business which at present has to be transacted. And, therefore, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) has said, I not only add my request, but entreaty, that the Government will pause in the course they are taking. I desire, as the best hope for the future, to maintain the authority of the Speaker, 216 the absolute submission to which has always distinguished this House as compared with other Parliaments, and I will do nothing which will jeopardize that authority. But how will this Rule work? It will not be minorities in future who will apply to the Speaker to have this closure enforced; it will be the Government of the day. But if this frequently occurred would that belief in the impartiality of the Chair, which is so important, be maintained? I do not suppose that anyone occupying so exalted a position as that of Speaker of this House would act with anything but absolute impartiality; but, notwithstanding that, the result remains that this Rule is to be enforced at the request of the Government of the day, and the effect of that may be serious. It must be borne in mind that the closure will not be ordinarily enforced in times of calm, but rather in times of great excitement and passion. I fear very much, therefore, that the result of asking for this Rule as proposed must be to weaken the authority of the Chair. I call on the Government and the House to consider the tenure by which the Speaker holds his authority. It is not by Statute; it is not by Standing Order, but by the submission of the Members of this House; and I cannot but think that by establishing a Rule which will cast the slightest suspicion upon it, you will strike, in a moment, at the authority of the Speaker a dangerous if not a fatal blow. I have been in favour of the introduction of closure into this House. But, looking at the present Rule, it seems to me that it will not only be used to put an end to unduly prolonged debates, but that it will be used to drive through the House a clause of a Bill—an attempt which I believe will lead to the most disastrous failure. The Rule says that if a clause is under consideration at the time the closure is applied, the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill," shall be immediately put. Sir, it frequently happens that one clause of a Bill consisting of several sections, and again of four or five subsections, is almost a Bill in itself, and it seems to me almost impossible that the House would submit to deal thus with a clause of importance. But if this is to be so, the minority will always have ample means of avenging itself if they consider that the closure has been unfairly used. 217 I am glad the right hon. Gentleman opposite appears to share to some extent in these feelings, and I can only hope that the clause will be limited in such a way as to prevent its being used in an arbitrary manner. I am surprised that the Government have taken the step of again proposing the institution of Grand Committees. But there will be no devolution of the Business of the House, and we shall never have any real relief until the Government take the whole House frankly into their confidence and give every Member his share in the discussion. That was the plan recommended by the Committee. When is it proposed that these Committees are to sit? I presume that they are to sit at 12 o'clock, and that they are not intended to sit while the House is in Session. Well, Sir, that would only give them two hours for their deliberations. Under the plan of the Committee, if you divided the whole of the House into Standing Committees, it would not be unreasonable to suspend the ordinary early Sitting of the House until 9 o'clock, and allow for a certain period all the Standing Committees to be at work on a Bill. But you cannot do that with only three Committees. You cannot allow those Committees to sit during the Sitting of the House, because, if you do, you will draw from the service of the House 240 or 280 selected Members. This question, however, is of too much detail to enter upon now, and I will only say that I hope it is not too late for the Government to consider again some of the objections that have been raised upon this point. Finally, the general scheme of the Government seems to us faulty in these two main points—first of all the mode in which they apply the closure; and secondly, the manner in which they propose to constitute the Standing Committees. If, however, the Government will make improvements in these respects, I think they will find that our remarks upon their proposals will be made in no captious spirit, but with the intention of rendering the new Rules as workable as possible.
MR. CHAPLTN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that all the dangers he has pointed out equally existed when the Rules of Procedure, of which he was a consistent supporter, were 218 proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone); and I am totally unable to gather from what it is that he apprehends these great dangers at the present time, unless it be the matter of getting the consent of the Speaker for the application of the Rule. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) professes great care for the rights of minorities. Well, Sir, it will be the business of Gentlemen on both sides of the House, before these Rules are passed, to see that proper safeguards are given to the rights of minorities, which, I for one, hope and trust will be strictly preserved as long as the House of Commons is continued. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian expresses great doubt as to whether to continue the discussion upon the Rules of Procedure de die in diem is the best mode of making progress with the Business of the Session. But on this point I may say that my recollection is that when the right hon. Gentleman introduced his Rules of Procedure he made their discussion, not only the first, but the only, Business of the House of Commons. The Rules and Regulations of Procedure of the House of Commons exist as much in the interest of hon. Members as of the Government. But what I particularly wish to point out is, that whether the consideration of these Rules be taken at the middle or at the end of a Session, their importance remains the same, and, therefore, the argument of the right hon. Gentleman falls to the ground. The main difficulty of the right hon. Gentleman, however—and here the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) agrees with him—is this. He appears to view, with great apprehension, the new and difficult and delicate functions to be conferred upon the Speaker, and he earnestly presses the Government for an answer to the question, "What is to be the nature of this new duty and function which is to be placed upon the Speaker?" And the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that he had discovered some anomaly and something quite unprecedented in the proceedings of the House of Commons. Formerly, he said the Speaker had to decide as to whether a question had been adequately discussed or not, but that now he would be called upon to decide on a matter of opinion, instead of one of fact. Well, 219 Sir, this seems to me to amount to precisely the same thing, and, therefore, I think that the right hon. Gentleman has only succeeded in discovering a mare's nest. What will probably take place will be this. Some hon. Member will discover that a question has been adequately discussed; he will go to the Speaker, who will inquire why he thinks so; the hon. Member will say that a certain amount of time has been occupied, and, in his opinion, the debate ought to be terminated; on that the Speaker will form his opinion. Well, it appears to me that the Speaker has already had to do that, and, therefore, there is no new departure in this respect. The Speaker, indeed, has formed this very opinion and declared it on previous occasions, and he has done so in a way which has commanded the approval and support of the great majority of this House. The right hon. Gentleman has twitted hon. Members sitting on the Ministerial side of the House with being now supporters of the closure by a bare majority; whereas in former years they were the strongest opponents to it. But it is not strictly accurate to say that the proposal before the House is the proposal of the closure by a bare majority. If it were so, 101 Members would be able to close a debate, against 100; but if there be 100 Members opposed to this we now require 200 for the closure of the debate. There are several safeguards, however, and there is one which I regard as a very great safeguard; it is that before the closure can be applied the consent of the Speaker must be obtained. For my own part, although I have been always opposed to the principle of a bare majority, the time has arrived when we are called upon to decide as to the proper or precise mode in which the closure should be applied; and those who have any preference for one mode over another will have an opportunity of giving effect to their views before the debate closes. I have been opposed to the principle of a bare majority—and I am opposed to it now—because I have always been afraid that it might be made a weapon of mere Party practice. If that can be provided against I shall be satisfied, and, subject to that, my desire is to see an effectual mode of applying the closure adopted. But if the House is to make any real progress with Public Business in the fu- 220 ture, there is another matter even of more importance than the closure of debate, and that is, that there should be some addition to the Rules at present existing with regard to the closure of individuals. That has always appeared to me to be a point which requires to be dealt with by the House. When I first entered this House, 10 or 11 years ago, it was the desire of every hon. Member to conciliate and gain the ear of the House, and to consult its convenience when addressing it. I must leave it to others to say whether that has been the practice during the last five or six years. It seems to me that on many occasions even the decencies of debate have been outraged, and that the only way to meet the difficulty of restoring the state of things which formerly existed, is by some method of dealing with individuals who offend against the sense of the House in this respect. I will only add, in conclusion, that if no other hon. Member makes a proposal to that effect, I shall take upon myself the duty of proposing some such Rule before the conclusion of these debates.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)
said; Sir, I do not propose to look at these Rules of Procedure from an Irish point of view—if I did, I should be prepared to give them my most hearty approval; for when the time arrives that the majority of this House, which holds different views on the Irish Question, is in power, it will be a satisfaction for us to see a Home Rule Bill for Ireland rushed through all its stages by these means. But looking at them from the point of view of one who respects the traditions of the House of Commons, which has been the nurse and model of free legislation all over the world, which we hope to make the model of an Assembly of our own, I cannot regard with composure the havoc which it is proposed to make with the ancient Procedure of the House. What you propose to do is to transform this House from the august platform on which the Voice of the Nation makes itself heard, into a simple machine for passing Bills into Acts without due deliberation. I consider that what is being done by the proposed Rules of Procedure amounts to 221 very little short of a revolution. Several of the Rules laid upon the Table of the House have for their object to increase the power and responsibility of the Chair. As far as I understand, the traditions of the House, for the last two centuries the Procedure of the House has been in the direction of limiting and restricting as much as possible the power and authority of the Chair. The very first Resolution throws a grave responsibility upon the Speaker, and the second gives him power beyond all precedent, having regard to the manner in which the Office of Speaker has been regarded in this House in former days. It is left to the Speaker to decide whether a matter brought before this House is, or is not, one of public importance; and on this point I need hardly say that a matter which is of vital importance in the mind of one man may appear of no importance to the mind of another. It is proposed to leave this question in the hands of a single Member—the Speaker—whose position in the old days was that he was supposed to have no opinion upon any question discussed before the Chair unless the question presented itself in the form of requiring him to give a casting vote. Here you require the Speaker to take upon himself a responsibility which the House has always properly withheld from him. In the third Rule, you propose to give the Speaker further power to decide upon Questions before the House. This is an increase of the power of the Chair which I say goes in direct opposition to the traditions of the House. There was a time when the Speaker was a spy on the House—a tool of the King and of the Governments of the day. Whether we shall ever arrive at a state of affairs when the Office of Speaker is held to be one over which the Government of the day can hold control, I do not know; but certain it is that many of these Resolutions go to place the control and influence of the Speaker largely in the hands of the Government of the day. So long as the Chair is filled by a Speaker worthy of his exalted Office, the danger of this will be at a minimum; but I do not think we can be sure that an absolutely impartial Speaker will always fill this Office; at any rate, the fact that the powers of the Speaker are placed at the will of the majority of the House will largely nul- 222 lify the advantage which would otherwise accrue to the House from the character of the Speaker. You are placing in the hands of the Government of the day the same power which was wielded when the Speakers were the enemies of the House; and the time may come again when the Speaker may, as the servant of the majority of the House, cease to be the champion of the liberties and traditions of this Assembly. One of the most important forms of your Procedure is founded on a jealousy with regard to the influence of the Speaker. I refer to the form of constituting the Committee of the Whole House, which enabled the House to shut the Speaker outside the door, and enjoy freedom of debate in his absence in a manner which, under the Speakers I have referred to, was impossible. There is another proposed Rule, the fourth, to which I have some objection to offer. That Rule provides for an adjournment from half-past 7 till 9 o'clock. I do not think that this arrangement can in any way conduce to the convenience of the House or the despatch of Business; because although there are few hon. Members in the House at the hour in question, yet the few are generally desirous of making speeches which they would perhaps not have an opportunity of delivering at another time. I venture to say, with regard to those hon. Members who occupy these Benches at the time of the proposed interval, that the great majority would prefer to remain here and deliver their speeches on the subjects under discussion. For this reason I think the House would make a mistake in adopting the Rule. These are, I think, all the observations which occur to me at the present stage of this Business; but I may also notice one of the phrases made use of, if not in the proposed Rules, at least, in the Standing Orders; and that is the phrase "The evident sense of the House." The evident sense of the House, to my mind, is only another name for the evident sense of the majority; and I say that to propose to provoke the action of the Chair on the supposed evident sense of the House is a most arbitrary proceeding, intended to cloak an action which, "under another name, would certainly not smell so sweet."
MR. CRAIG-SELLAR (Lanarkshire, Partick)
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Trea- 223 sury (Mr. W. H. Smith) that the fewer speeches that are made upon the general subject, and the shorter the speeches are, the sooner we shall get to the real Business before the House. But I venture, as one who has given much attention to the question of Procedure in its different aspects, and as one who had the honour of being a Member of the Select Committee which sat last year to consider the question of Procedure, to offer a few observations to the House. Two principal objections have been taken tonight to the plan which is now before us. These objections were stated with great force by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone); and they were echoed with, perhaps, no less force, but certainly with more solemnity, by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). The objections against the scheme are that it does not adequately carry out the principle of devolution of the Business of the House; and that by the new proposals with regard to closure delicate and difficult duties are thrown upon the Speaker. With regard to the first of these objections—namely, that the proposal of the Select Committee to divide the whole of the 670 Members into four or five Grand Committees, has not been carried out. I am much in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) and the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). I regret exceedingly that the Government have not seen their way to propose this Session that effect be given to the recommendation of the Select Committee in this respect. At the same time, I acknowledge that there are very grave and serious difficulties in the way of carrying out this proposal at once. There is, in the first place, a physical objection to the appointment of Grand Committees. If the House were divided into Grand Committees, it would mean that 160 Members of the House should sit together in the Committee stage on the different Bills. It is said there is no adequate accommodation in the House for so large a Committee as 160; but I cannot think that is a very serious difficulty. I should have thought that by the simple process of knocking two of the present Committee Rooms into one that difficulty might be over- 224 come. Then it has been objected that there would be some difficulty in getting competent Chairmen to preside over the deliberations of the Grand Committees. I cannot imagine that the House of Commons is so barren of capable men that four or five men could not be found to preside efficiently over the Committees. No difficulty was experienced in getting competent Chairmen for the Grand Committees on Law and Trade which sat some time ago. Another objection is that it might not be satisfactory to the public if the Committee stage of important Bills were considered by a portion of the House even if it were a fourth or fifth of the House. Now, anyone who knows the practice in this House knows that very often important Bills are carried through Committee when there are 40 or 50 Members present. A larger number perhaps may come in for Divisions; but it is well known that the real work of Committee is discharged by a much smaller number than a fourth or fifth of the House, consisting generally of hon. Gentlemen interested in the Bill under consideration. Another objection—and a very grave objection—is that there might be more scope for an insidious form of obstruction in the Standing Committees than there would be in the Committee of the Whole House or in the House itself. It is said that where there is not publicity, scope is given to hon. Gentlemen who wish to obstruct Business. My experience does not quite bear out that view. No doubt in the Committee on Law there was at one time serious obstruction, and one or two—certainly one important Bill was defeated by the tactics resorted to by some hon. Gentlemen. But in the Grand Committee on Trade there was no obstruction; and in the Committee on Procedure, which was a Grand Committee in a sense, there were no obstructive tactics of any kind. Though no one of these objections is insurmountable in itself, I quite see that all these difficulties may have impressed themselves upon the Government, and that the Government may have said "these difficulties in the aggregate amount to such a difficulty that it is impossible in this Session of Parliament to carry so great a change as is proposed with regard to the devolution of the Business in Committees, and therefore let us pass these Rules now, and divide the House into Com- 225 mittees in another Session if such a change is then thought necessary." There is another difficulty, and, perhaps, this one may have very largely operated with the Government. The Committee of last year reported that if the proposal to divide the House into Grand Committees were carried out, it would be essential that this House should be relieved of the work done by Private Bill Committees at the present time. The Government very probably said "let us clear the ground with regard to Private Bills before we attempt to divide the House as proposed by the Procedure Committee." Anyone will see at once that it is impossible to divide the House into Grand Committees, and for the work to be done properly so long as Private Bill Committees exist. It has been announced in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne that the Government propose to introduce this Session a Bill to deal with Private Bill Committees. I think we may assume that the object of that Bill will be to relieve this House of work which is now discharged by the Committee. If that is the Government's reason for not at once devolving the whole Business of the House upon the House divided into four Grand Committees, it seems a very fair one. I am not here to defend the Government proposal, but if the Government's intention is what I assume it to be I do not think we shall have any cause to complain. Now, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) warned the Government and the House in the most solemn tone against what is proposed to be done by the first New Rule—That at any time after a Question has been proposed, a Motion may be made, if the consent of the Chair has been previously obtained 'that the Question be now put.'The hon. Member (Mr. Whitbread) seemed to consider that that was throwing a very onerous and delicate and dangerous duty upon the Chair. But surely the duty of stating whether it is the opinion of the Chair that the proposal made by an hon. Member "that the Question be now put," is a proper one to make at the time it is made, is not so delicate or difficult a duty as that now imposed upon the Chair—namely, to declare that it is the evident sense of the House that the Question be now put. It has always been a marvel to 226 me how it is possible for the Speaker to know what the evident sense of the House is, when perhaps there are only 30 or 40 hon. Members in the House, and possibly 200 or 300 within the precincts of the House. It seems to me that the duty which it is now proposed to take away from the Chair is of the greatest difficulty and delicacy; whereas the duty proposed to be imposed upon the Speaker of stating whether or not he considers a Motion should now be put, is comparatively very simple. The object of the present proposal is to prevent an hon. Gentleman, or hon. Gentlemen, at the very beginning of a debate, or at short intervals in a debate, jumping up and moving that the Question be now put; it is really to prevent frivolous Motions of that kind. It is much better for the House and the Chair that the initiative of moving the closure of a debate should be taken from the Chair. I should have thought we would all agree upon that point. I can understand that there will be great divergence of opinion upon the concluding portion of the Rule—namely, as to whether there should be 200 Members in favour of closing the debate if there are more than 40 Members against it. I have always been strongly in favour of closure by a simple majority. If we were to be guided by the Rules and Regulations of Foreign Legislatures we should find that in every case where the closure exists—except in Switzerland—closure is adopted by a simple majority. I know that is the case in Austria, in France, in Germany, in Holland, in Belgium, in Denmark, and in Italy; and in the United States they have no closure, but the previous question is carried by a bare majority, and in the Legislature there, the previous question takes the place of the closure in the other countries I have mentioned. A Report has been laid before the House as to the practice and regulation of Legislative Assemblies in Foreign Countries; and in that Report there are given the regulations of something like 11 Foreign States in which Representative Institutions prevail, and in every one of them—except Switzerland—the closure is carried by a bare majority. In Norway and Sweden and Hungary there is no closure. There is no doubt that if we do not now adopt the closure by a bare majority, we shall have to do so 227 before very long. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) startled the House by protesting in the strongest and most solemn manner against introducing the closure into the Proceedings of Committees of this House. He considered it would be monstrous if the clauses of a Bill were subjected to the closure, but at the same time he strongly advised dividing the House into four Standing Committees. Surely it must occur to the hon. Member that if we have Grand Committees of 160 Members and have obstruction, we shall require the closure in those Committees quite as much as in the House itself. I certainly hope the Government will adhere to its proposal to extend the closure to Committees. I consider that the proposed Rules are good, and I trust the House will be able to agree to them without much discussion. But I regret the Rules do not go further than they do. I regret, for instance, that no proposal is made with regard to the system of interrogating Ministers. A great deal of time is wasted every afternoon upon the multitude of Questions addressed to Ministers. I have always thought it would be very easy to have a small Committee to consider the Questions of which Notice is given, to divide them into questions which are purely local, and questions which are of Imperial interest; and that the questions which are purely local should be answered in the Departments by the heads of Departments; while the questions of Imperial concern should be answered in the House. I regret also that nothing has been proposed with regard to the system of giving precedence or priority to Motions. Amendments have been put down bearing upon the point, and I hope they will receive favourable consideration by the House. I regret that no proposal is made to limit the length of speeches in the House. I am glad to see that there is a likelihood of the matter being considered, Amendments bearing upon it have having been put on the Paper. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) was good enough to refer to Amendments of which I have given Notice, having for their object the extension of the time of sitting in exceptional circumstances—in other words, the suspension of the half-past 12 o'clock Rule in face of emergency. When the Resolution comes up for con- 228 sideration, I hope to be able to make an adequate defence of my proposal. At the present moment the House is perfectly competent to suspend any of its Rules, but it can only do so after debate. The gist of my proposal is that when a Minister of the Crown wishes to extend the half-past 12 o'clock Rule, he should be able to make a Motion to that effect, due notice having been given, and that the Motion should be put without discussion. If, under these Rules, we are able to carry out an effective system of closure; if we are able to alter the hours of sitting so that the Business of the Country shall be done in the middle of the day and not in the middle of the night; and if, finally, we succeed this Session in relieving the House of the burden that is entailed upon it by Private Bill Committees, we shall have done very useful work, and we shall have taken three long steps towards giving the House of Commons a great chance of reinstating itself in the confidence of the country.
§ MR. SALT (Stafford)
The Government is responsible for the management and order of debates in this House, and when they find it necessary to put before the House a number of Rules and Amendments upon the existing Procedure of the House, we are bound to receive the suggestions with considerable sympathy. There is some difference between this Amendment of the Rules and that proposed in 1882. In 1882, the House was so accustomed to its old Procedure that hon. Members naturally shrunk from adopting hard and fast Rules proposed for the first time; but I think that now we can calmly and coolly consider the proposals put before us whether these Rules are exactly what each of us would desire or not. I hope we shall, as far as possible, make them perfect for the object they have to attain, and not expect Rules of Procedure from time to time—because nothing would be more dangerous than an annual meddling with the mode of transacting the Business of the House. After all, we must acknowledge that the present House of Commons is very different to the House of Commons of a generation ago. There is now much more talk than formerly. There is more talk because there is much more necessity for talking. The constituencies which return hon. Members to Parliament expect a great 229 deal more than constituencies did a generation ago; besides, I do not believe that the excessive talk which is complained of is altogether an evil. Now, in the consideration of these Rules, I feel we must be guided by two principles. First of all, I am of opinion that very great power must be given to the Chair. We must trust the Chair, and the Chair must have great power. We must remember that the Speaker is perfectly independent, responsible for his actions to the House, and carefully selected by the vote of the majority of the House. There is no question, as in olden days, of outside influence. The second principle by which we ought to be guided is that in dealing with any violence against the decorum and order of debate we should endeavour to deal with individuals and not with the House itself. If any person examines the old Orders and Customs of the House he will find that the great point aimed at in them was to maintain the power of the House itself and the liberties of minorities, while dealing out very strict and condign punishment upon the individual Members violating the order and decorum of debate. I do not want to go too much into details now, but there are one or two points upon which I should like to touch. There is very much to be said in favour of the establishment of Grand Committees or large Committees, but we must be careful in considering our ground before we embark in them. There are great difficulties in the way of Grand Committees. There is the physical difficulty of finding sufficient men. Hon. Members of the House have a great deal of work to do. Besides the consideration of Private Bills, the Public Committees—of which there are each Session a great number—have to be dealt with by men experienced in the Forms of the House, and accustomed to Business. There is, too, the work of the House itself, besides which many hon. Members have, during the day, to transact their private business. I do not say you cannot find a sufficient number of men to attend Grand Committees; but I think any one of the hon. Members of the Selection Committee will confirm me in what I have said as to the difficulty of finding a sufficient number of suitable men to serve on an important Committee. There is another point with regard to large Committees which is worthy of atten- 230 tion. It is, no doubt, true that the Committee stages of important Bills are considered by 10, 20, 30, or 40 Members; but it must be borne in mind that these are the very men who know all about the subject under discussion. If you come to divide the House into large or Grand Committees, are you quite sure you can obtain the services of the men who are the best fitted to discuss the subjects brought forward? In one case, you do the work well, and get the confidence of the public; in the other case, you run a great risk of doing neither. There is a third point with regard to Grand Committees which must not be altogether lost sight of, and it is this—that it is possible some day that the Grand Committees may come into very serious collision with the House, and that would lead to a very awkward block which none of us wish to see. The subject of Questions has been raised in the course of the debate. My view is that we must be very indulgent with Questions. Questions are a sort of safety valve; they are a safety valve for the public and for hon. Members themselves. During the last few years the time at the disposal of private Members has been seriously curtailed; therefore, no one need be surprised if hon. Members run riot somewhat in Questions. At the same time, some Regulations might be usefully introduced into these Rules with regard to Questions. A Question should really be a Question, and not an interesting little narrative about something which hon. Members of the House have been fully informed of before, as is often the case now. It is suggested that there should be a considerable alteration in the hours of debate. I must say I look upon this as a great experiment; indeed, it appears to me we shall really, by the change of hours, give the talkative Members all the more opportunities of talking Questions out. By the suspension of Business at the dinner hour there will be two opportunities in one day of talking a Question out.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
Perhaps it is as well I should say that the proposal is, that at half-past 7 o'clock the Sitting should be suspended, and that the debate should be continued upon the re-assembling of the House.
§ MR. SALT
I stand corrected, but still I cannot help thinking that the suspension for the dinner hour would afford an opportunity to hon. Members to talk on a Question, which is very like talking it out, and he will return refreshed and invigorated after the dinner hour, supported by his Friends, to continue the talk till the closing hour at 12 or 12.30. I should like to see some larger alterations in the proposed Rules with regard to the Speech from the Throne. I think we might have a very short debate, only allowing Amendments upon very important subjects. By the Amendment which stands in my name, I have endeavoured to throw into words what I believe has been the practice of the House for many years; and I should be very glad if that Amendment, or some Amendment of the kind, should find favour with the Government and the House. I will not detain the House longer. I think, in many respects, the Rules presented suggest a considerable improvement in our Procedure; and I trust that we shall turn to their consideration in a friendly and non-Party spirit.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I quite agree with the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), that we ought to approach the consideration of these Rules in a friendly and non-Party spirit. Private Members are far more interested in these Rules than the hon. Members of either of the Front Benches; and I confess I should have been glad had the Government seen their way to lay before the House the Rules as they came from the Committee which sat last year, in order that they might have had no Party complexion about them. With regard to the closure, I have always felt that the present Rule was most unfair, because it threw very great responsibility upon the Speaker; and I am glad to see that in these Rules the Chair has been deprived of the initiative. As to the majority by which the Resolution for the closure should be passed, I think it should be a majority, though an appreciable majority—not a majority of one or two or three in a large House. Perhaps if three-fifths of those present voted in favour of closure, that would be ample. You may depend upon it that the clôture will never be put in force unless there is a sensible majority in 232 favour of it. I have always had a very strong objection to the Rule providing that a Motion for the Adjournment of the House must be supported by 40 Members on the ground that it relieves hon. Members of individual responsibility, whilst depriving the House of any voice on the question of urgency. As to the alteration in the hour of meeting, I very much incline to 3 o'clock as against 2. I do not at all agree that the question of the time of meeting is one for lawyers and men of business in London only; those hon. Members who have much correspondence and are required to travel frequently to and from the country, are greatly concerned in it. A great deal of time might be saved if the House would go to work directly it meets, instead of wasting, as very often happens, half or three-quarters of an hour between prayers and half-past 4. But I rose particularly to refer to the question of the debate on the Address, and that of the devolution of the Business of the House. Everyone will agree it is most desirable that the debate on the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne should be shortened. If you are to shorten it, you must do so by removing all controversial matter from it. What I suggest is, that only the first and last paragraphs of the Speech should form the Address; that, in fact, the Address should simply be a dutiful and loyal Vote of Thanks to Her Majesty, accompanied by a promise on the part of the House that they will take all questions laid before them into consideration. I suggest, too, that the only Amendment that should be permitted to the Address should be a direct negative, which would amount to a Vote of Confidence in the Government. In this way the Address might be got through in three nights at most. It is said that would greatly reduce the rights of private Members. That I entirely deny. No one would be better off than private Members by the shortening of the debate on the Address. This year, in fact, by the prolongation of the debate, private Members have lost nine nights, or three Tuesdays, three Wednesdays, and three Fridays. The Government have lost six nights, which they might have used in taking Government Business. The same thing has happened in previous years, and, as a consequence, that early 233 in the year the Government have come down and asked private Members for their time. Now, upon the question of Committees, I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith), that the House would put less faith in the conclusions of Committees chosen in accordance with the proposition of the Select Committee last year than in those of the Grand Committees such as were formerly appointed. The proposition of the Committee of last year was to divide the House into four or five Grand Committees, consisting of from 140 to 160 Members each. As has been already said, the Grand Committee on Trade did their work uncommonly well; but nothing could have been worse than the way the Grand Committee on Law did its work. If the House agreed with the Government in reviving these two Grand Committees, I should certainly protest against a third being appointed for Agriculture. The most important questions of agriculture really affect trade. I should like to know whether hon. Members would be willing to have a Railway Rates Bill sent to an Agricultural Committee? They would send it to a Committee on Trade. Would they like a Land Reform Bill to be sent to an Agricultural Committee? They would have sent it to a Law Committee. There is no question of a purely agricultural nature which cannot be properly dealt with by a Select Committee, or by a Hybrid Committee. I prefer, however, a number of Public Committees to deal with any Bills sent to them with the removal of all Private Bill legislation from Westminster. I have made these remarks because I have Amendments on the Paper in accordance with the views I have expressed. I have no wish to put forward my Amendments in a factious spirit; but I believe they will receive considerable support in the House.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
Though the question of recovering for Parliament control over its own proceedings is the question prominently before the House at present, it is by no means the most important point which we have now to consider. We must look, not merely to the possibility of passing measures through the House of Commons, but to the importance of passing them in such a form that they will work, 234 and accomplish the object which we have in view; and to secure this end, hardly anything that we could desire would be likely to be attended with better results than a proper division of labour in the Business of the House. This is a most important matter; but it has been sadly neglected in late years. I regret extremely that the Government in their present proposals have not thought fit to go as far in this direction as the recommendation of the Committee of last Session, I believe that it would be a wiser course to go even further in the direction of a system of division of labour by the adoption of Grand Committees. Anyone who has watched with practical interest the work of legislation of late years cannot fail to agree, in a great measure, with the condemnation which has been heaped on Acts of Parliament by the Judges who have to interpret and administrate them. Very often the defects and confusion which have called forth the unfavourable remarks of the Judges have resulted from Amendments hurriedly introduced in Committees—often made by hon. Members who have not even taken the trouble to listen to the debate, and sometimes accepted by the Ministers or Members in charge of the Bill to save time; for of course they could not be expected to foresee that Amendments of the kind would not work with pre-existing legislation on the same subject. But, now, a very important political reason has sprung up for increasing the number of these Grand Committees. I believe it is the only way to prevent this country being split up into provinces, which I, for one, should, deeply deplore. A long course of neglect and mismanagement and ignorance of Ireland on the part of this country has made it necessary in the opinion of a large number of hon. Members of this House, that a certain amount of legislative independence should be given to Ireland. I believe the necessity for this might have been prevented if a very statesmanlike proposal made in the Business of the House's Committee in 1874 by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) had been adopted. He proposed that there should be a Standing Committee—including all Irish Members—to deal with Irish Business. Now, I believe that it would be a great impoverishment of the political life of England, Wales, and Scotland—I be- 235 lieve that it would add to the expenditure of the three countries, and diminish their material prosperity, if any separation similar to that now proposed for Ireland were to be carried out; and all that I believe is necessary to prevent it, is the adoption of the suggestion made for Ireland by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), and I may also mention, independently by my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Birmingham (Mr. Bright). By the adoption, in the case of Ireland, of such a Grand Committee, the dangerous delay in passing remedial measures for that country might have been avoided, and much that is difficult in the present state of Ireland might have been removed at the outset. This is no theoretical proposal. The Scotch Members for years used to form themselves into such a Grand Committee; and the consequence is that in many practical matters, legislation for Scotland is years and years in advance of the requirements for England, Wales, or for Ireland. Is it too much to ask that that which has been proved to be a practical and successful way of managing Business should be adopted by the House of Commons? It would be easy to show, if it would not weary the House, how, if such a system had been adopted for Ireland years and years ago, the defects which existed in the first, second, and third Irish Land Bills would have been corrected in time before they became sources of discontent and, too often, outrage. Take the second Land Bill alone—that of 1870. By a defect unforeseen by anyone in that measure, the grasping, unprincipled landlord could, by gradually raising the rent in good times, gradually confiscate the property in tenant-right which the law had sought to secure to the tenant. If such a Committee as has been proposed had been sitting—an Irish Grand Committee—would not a single Session have removed this grievance which unsettled the confidence of the whole Irish tenantry in the Irish Land Bill of 1870? But I need hardly argue the question. Does it not stand to common sense that the Welsh Representatives are more likely to discuss the measures exclusively pertaining to Wales with interest and knowledge and information and sound judgment than Members for distant parts of the country, who have, perhaps, no interest 236 whatever in the matter; and, moreover, what fair chance have the smaller countries at present of obtaining their fair share of the attention of Parliament? I believe these Grand Committees would be stronger if, say for Wales, they consisted, in addition to the 30 Welsh Members, of 20 Members added by the Committee of Selection, as the presence of the latter in the House of Commons would lend support to the Report when it came back, and—being chosen as men of influence in the House of Commons—they would aid very much in preventing Bills being drawn without reference to the general interests of the community. But this is a matter of detail which I need not discuss here. In any case, such a Committee would, I believe, prevent the growing feeling of discontent on the part of Scotland and of Wales with the way in which Scotch and Welsh interests are postponed; and unite in a firmer union the three countries, whose very differences of character peculiarly qualify them, I believe, to assist and strengthen one another.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
A great many hon. Members must feel that the conditions under which the present discussion is being carried on are exceedingly unsatisfactory. We are, as it were, discussing in Committee what has not been treated to the second reading stage at all, and we are experiencing those disadvantages which for several years have been felt with regard to the Army and Navy Estimates; when, upon the first vote in either of those Estimates, a general discussion is taken in Committee instead of being taken while the Speaker is in the Chair, with the consequence that the discussion necessarily obtains a character of an unsatisfactory, indefinite, almost a purposeless, and certainly an unpractical kind. It is difficult to see what could be the issue of any objection to the general policy of the Government as shadowed forth in these Resolutions. Though we may be allowed a certain amount of latitude in discussing the general view of the Government as embodied in these Rules, we are technically discussing one of the Rules upon which it is impossible to take a general issue. Now, the Rules of Procedure in an Assembly which has a history extending through several centuries may primâfacie be taken to be such as are best adapted 237 for the despatch of work; and I should be disposed to doubt very much whether any tinkering which may be attempted now in a hurry, under the Rule of Urgency, is likely to be of any permanent use. I very much doubt either the advisability or the use in any way either of these Rules, or of any other new Rules which would substantially interfere with the recognized and established Procedure in this House. I should have thought Government would have considered it incumbent upon them, when laying the present proposals before the House, to explain clearly and fully what is the mischief which they propose to deal with. Where is the disadvantage, or the inconvenience, or the evil under which this House is supposed to be suffering? I am perfectly free to admit that in the air there is a general sense of dissatisfaction at the way in which Business is conducted in this House. There are rumours of waste of time; there are complaints about the congested state of the Business of the House; and there are multiplied suggestions from all quarters, some qualified and others not, as to what is to be done to remedy the mischief which exists. But I should have liked to have heard from a responsible Minister, or from anybody who has a character to lose with regard to Parliamentary Procedure, what is the mischief it is proposed to deal with. We are told that the House sits for a great many months in one year, and for many times a day, and produces little; but the House has not sat of late years so many months, or so late at night, as it sat 50 years ago. In the years 1831 and 1832, the sittings of the House after midnight were considered more prolonged than anything we have experienced during the 50 years that have succeeded. Only in one single year in recent times has the length of the sittings of the period to which I refer been exceeded. Under these circumstances it is rather hard to be expected that we should admit that the time of the House is taken up with prolonged sittings which produce nothing. Do they produce nothing? Well, Sir, anyone who sat through last Parliament—I put it to any lawyer who is conversant with the Acts which were passed in the last Parliament—I put it to anyone to say whether the time of 238 the last Parliament was really wasted. Why, some of the most useful Acts that ever have been put on the Statute Book were put upon it in that Parliament of 1880. I see the Solicitor General shaking his head, but I suppose he will admit that the Conveyancing Act of 1881, the Settled Lands Act of 1882, and the Trade Marks Act were important Acts. Then there was the Bankruptcy Act of 1883. Was not that an important measure? No doubt; and I, therefore, say that the time was not wasted in those years; and anyone who avers to the contrary must be absolutely blind. In these circumstances it is fair again to ask, What is it that the Government complain of? If they think they cannot get a sufficient number of Acts of Parliament worked out, I would inquire, is it the sole business of Parliament to manufacture Acts of Parliament. After all, that is merely a secondary business. This House is the Grand Inquest of the nation, to vindicate popular claims, to assert popular liberties, to guard against corruption, to save the public purse, and also to remove grievances; and Acts of Parliament as such are only means to an end, and so long as the end is attained, the means are of secondary importance. The number of Acts of Parliament that may have been passed within the last five or six years is not a fair measure of the serviceable character of the work of Parliament. This question of Parliamentary Procedure has been made the subject of very prolonged and careful consideration by as strong a Committee, probably, as was ever appointed for a particular purpose. The noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) was Chairman of it. To that Committee were submitted schemes or drafts of proposed amending Rules, one by the present Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), and another by the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt). These schemes, the outcome of the mature consideration of both sides of the House, or of representative men on both sides of the House, were discussed at very great length, and with very great care; and what was the result of these deliberations? Why, you will look in vain in the Special Report they made for any such proposal as that 239 in the first Resolution of the Government. Why have they discarded the Report of the Committee? If this had been a Second Reading stage of these Rules, we should have been able to canvass at length the policy of the view of the Government with regard to them. We cannot do that now, but we can plainly see what their policy is. To a certain extent they propose, in the first place, to meet what they consider the difficulty by a modified system of devolution; secondly, they propose to apply the clôture; and thirdly, they propose, as it seems to me, to put into the hands of the Speaker a still larger power than that which he already possesses. With regard to devolution, it requires some ingenuity to make out, or even to imagine, a system by which, in reality, you will relieve this House from any portion of the burden of work which rests upon it. You may shift the burden from one portion of a cart to another, but if the cart will not hold all that you desire to put into it—if the springs are not able to bear the load—no shifting of the balance will do. I maintain that no system of devolution will do what you require, that does not shift a portion of the work outside this House. If you are prepared to send some of the work with which you are overburdened to be dealt with finally elsewhere, it would be well if you would say so. If you do not propose to leave it to be finally dealt with elsewhere, then your system of devolution is very much self-deception. With regard to the increased power to the Chair, I hope I realize as clearly as most Members the respect due to the occupant of the Chair. I learned that respect in the days of Mr. Speaker Brand; but I much fear that if the present proposals of the Government are carried out, you will have this result—that, inasmuch as the Speaker will never be able to accept a suggestion from a Member of the minority, that the clôture should be applied, he will, after a while, be found by the minority always on the side of the majority. The minority may be misled—they may be hasty in their judgment, and altogether wrong—but it is not in human nature for them to avoid the suspicion that the Speaker is not in reality the catspaw of the Government for the time being. If it should always be a Member of the majority who can suc- 240 cessfully move the clôture to consent to the application of the clôture; if the Speaker should always really be moved by a Member of the Government, those who oppose the Government, and are in a minority, will feel, rightly or wrongly, that the Speaker is one of the majority. Now, one of the noblest functions of the Speaker is the protecting of the minority against an overwhelming majority; and it is of the first importance that the minority, and every Member of it, should feel that in the Speaker he has someone who has an authority, able, as well as willing, to serve him in the plenitude of his rights as a Member of this House. It is of great importance to the character of this House that nothing should be done that should imperil in the mind of any Member the respect and confidence in which the Chair ought always to be regarded. In regard to altering the Rules, there was in that Chair, many years ago, a very eminent and able man—a man whose conduct in the Chair has been from that day till now a pattern and an example for succeeding Speaker, whose slightest words and observations on great matters, on Constitutional Law, or the position of Parliament, and of Procedure in Parliament, have always been regarded with the greatest possible respect—I mean Mr. Speaker Onslow. In regard to the Forms of Procedure, he said—Nothing tended more to throw power into the hands of the Administration and the hands of those who acted with the majority of the House of Commons than a departure from established rule; that the form of proceeding, as instituted by our ancestors, operated as a check and control on the actions of Ministers, and that they were, in many instances, a shelter and protection of the minority against the attempts of power.But what is it that it is now proposed to do? Why, so far from making these Rules and Regulations a check and control of the power of Ministers, and a protection of the minority against the operation of numbers, it actually is proposed to increase the power of the majority, and to increase the power as well as the initiative of Ministers. I think that this expression of Mr. Speaker Onslow may be fairly taken to show that this proposition of the Government is one that so great an authority as he would scarcely put on the Blue Book. But the gentleman who reports this 241 statement of Mr. Speaker Onslow—Mr. Hatsell—in his book upon precedents, says—The axiom is true, and founded on good sense, that, as it is always in the power of a majority, by their numbers, to stop any improper measures proposed by their opponents, the only weapons by which the minority can defend themselves against similar attempts of those in power are the Forms and Rules of proceeding which have been adopted as they were found necessary from time to time, and which became the Standing Orders of the House, by a strict adherence to which the weaker Party can be protected from these irregularities and abuses which these Forms were intended to check, and which the wantonness of power is too often apt to suggest to large and successful majorities.The Rules framed years ago for the protection of the minority are now to be recast to make the minority still more defenceless than it is now against the wanton use of power by a hasty majority. Not only are the Rules so initiated a mistake, but it would have been right and proper for the Government to have put up one of their Members to explain how it is, and why it is, that the present proposals are made, and what mischief is to be dealt with—how it is proposed that that mischief should be dealt with by the particular Rules proposed, and why they consider these Rules to be the best possible solution of the difficulty against which they declare it to be so necessary to contend?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUEE (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
Mr. Speaker, I can assure hon. Members that it was certainly out of no disrespect and from no wish to promote what my hon. Friend and Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) calls a "conspiracy of silence," that no Member of the Government rose to reply to my right hon. Friend. But the Government have felt—and I think the House will endorse their view—that this is specially an occasion when the debate ought not to be mainly conducted by the occupants of the two Front Benches; and. that we ought not to engage, as it were, in a duel, answering each other from those Benches, without all Members in all parts of the House having an opportunity of submitting their views to the judgment of the House. But I gladly accept the challenge which was thrown down again by the hon. Member who spoke last, and who called upon the Members of the Government to state their views as to the 242 reasons which induced them to submit these Resolutions to the House. I did think, however, that the need of a reform of our Procedure had been admitted in almost all quarters; that it had formed the basis of many speeches, both by Liberals and Conservatives, at two consecutive Elections; and that hon. Members had repeatedly pledged themselves to their constituents that they would do all that in them lay to restore the authority of this House over its Members, and to endeavour to promote the more effectual progress of the Business of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] I hear the cheer of my right hon. Friend opposite, but I do not know whether he heard the appeal which was made to us just now by an hon. Member who seemed surprised that it was necessary to deal with Procedure at all, and who seemed to think that the progress of our proceedings generally had been so satisfactory and so much in accordance with the past traditions of this House that it was perfectly needless on the part of Her Majesty's Government to introduce these Resolutions. I am perfectly aware that that is not the view of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench, and I rejoice to think from the utterances which have fallen from many of them that we may count upon their co-operation, not perhaps for the particular proposals which have been submitted to the House, not for the particular form in which they are introduced, but that they are at least as alive as we are to the necessity of reforming the machinery of our Procedure, and of placing ourselves in a position to deal with the growing needs of the Empire that are submitted to our consideration. I do not know whether the hon. Member who last spoke heard the speech of his Leader the Member for the City of Cork. That hon. Member admitted to the full the difficulty of dealing with the vast amount of Business which is confided to this House. He dealt with it, I admit, with the intention of drawing a different inference from that which is drawn by Her Majesty's Government; but, at all events, he admitted frankly the difficulty under which the Business of this House is at present conducted. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), who spoke in a tone which I hope is an augury that we shall be able 243 to exclude Party spirit entirely from these discussions, put before the House several matters on which I would ask, with the permission of the House, to be allowed to speak. I will not touch the point as to necessity of dealing first with this question. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian doubted the absolute necessity of dealing first with this question; but I say that there are many Members who feel that, looking at the serious Business which we have before us, to the intense anxiety on both sides to come to the legislation which is looked for by the country, and to the power to deal effectively with that legislation; we are consulting not only the interests of the Government, but the interests of this House at large, in losing no time in approaching the subject and endeavouring to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. If my right hon. Friend's indisposition had not prevented him from being present on the first 16 days of the Session, during which the Address was debated, I think he might possibly have somewhat modified his opinion, and that he might have thought it essential to deal as soon as possible with the Rules of this House. One of the first questions with which my right hon. Friend dealt had reference, not to the proposals now on the Paper, but to a very important matter to which he called the attention of the Government and of the House—namely, a practice to which attention has been drawn within the last few days—I mean the Rule that when a Notice has been given of the discussion of any particular subject at a future day, it cannot be touched in any way before that day arrives; and my right hon. Friend called attention very naturally and very properly to the abuses which that view might lead to. But I think it will not be disputed by any Members who have experience in this House that the principle that you cannot deal at once with a question that has been put down for a future day was not asserted for the first time by Mr. Speaker Brand, and that it is a Rule which has been the unwritten law of this House for many years. I do not know whether my right hon. Friends on the Front Opposition Bench will dispute that proposition; but surely it has been continually accepted as a Rule of this House that you could not anticipate a discussion put down for a future day. 244 In the year 1859, on the occasion of a discussion on the question of Parliamentary Reform, Mr. Bouverie rose to Order and wished to know whether it was competent for a Member on a Motion for Adjournment to discuss a subject which had been placed on the Paper for debate on a future day. The Speaker ruled that it would be out of Order then to discuss a subject which had been fixed for a future day.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Yes, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit it was one of the principles taught him in his earliest days in this House that it was against the Rules and the courtesy of the House for one Member to anticipate a Motion put down in the name of another Member. Indeed, I am informed that so strictly was this Rule carried out, that it was even considered out of Order to ask a Question at "Question time" with reference to a clause of a Bill which had been put down for future discussion. I am not contending now—and I do not wish to introduce a controversial element into this discussion—whether it is right or wrong, but I simply say that it is an old, although an unwritten principle which has guided hitherto our deliberations. It is a principle, no doubt, which, like every single rule or precedent that guides those deliberations, is liable to abuse, and that is the unfortunate experience which has been made in these later years, that Rules which for a long time were found sufficient to guide us have, owing to new practices or to new views as to the duties of Members, become insufficient or even dangerous. I may say that Her Majesty's Government will be perfectly prepared to consider the suggestion of my right hon. Friend and to see how far this great principle, which has its great uses, but which at the same time is liable to abuse, may be so embodied in regulations as to prevent the abuse and secure that which all must desire—namely, that there should be some order in our debates, and that it should not be in the power of any single Member suddenly to spring questions on this House on a subject put down for discussion on a future day, and by that means to anticipate a regular discussion. I will put it to hon. Members whether there is not danger in the opposite view put forward by my 245 right hon. Friend. If you may anticipate a future discussion, you may find the House engaged at most inconvenient moments in debating parts of subjects in an incomplete and impromptu manner, although they desire to debate the subject fully at a later stage. It is to be regretted that both in these Rules and in the suggestions which have been made, there appears to be necessary a considerable amount of strategy that was not used in old times. I am sure that there is not a Member of the present or of the late Government who does not deeply deplore the necessity that such Rules should have to be introduced. Everyone must feel the reproach which may be levelled at those who are responsible for the introduction of these Rules, because they have to say, "We are now compelled to introduce these new Rules which, in appearance at least, are intended to fetter that free speech which has hitherto been the great boast of this Assembly." Everyone must feel that reproach. We are most anxious to continue to protect the rights of the minority, but we are anxious that while those rights are guarded and respected, the majority may be able to do battle for the great interests committed to their charge, and to do justice to the ever-increasing demands of the country upon their time and their energy. The next point to which the right hon. Gentleman addressed himself relates to a most important element in the Rules—namely, of the Standing Committees and to that great branch of the subject, the devolution of certain duties to a portion of the Members of the House. I wish it to be clearly understood that the adoption of the Rules proposed by Her Majesty's Government will not in any way preclude that subject being dealt with in the future. The hon. Member opposite has spoken as though nothing had been done in the direction of devolution. But we are all agreed that if we can lighten the burdens of this House we ought not to neglect any proper opportunity for doing so. I may say that there is now before this House a Bill introduced upon the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government, the effect of which will be to relieve the House of a great portion of its Business connected with Private Bills. Of course it would not be in Order for me to allude in any way to the provisions of or even to the effect of that Bill, but 246 I trust that I shall not be out of Order when I say that we believe that it will assist in clearing the ground, and that when we have disposed of that difficult and delicate question we may deal more satisfactorily with the question of Standing Committees. At present the great difficulty we have to contend with is that of finding the necessary strength to deal with the innumerable Private Bills. For my part I think that there are strong arguments in favour of Standing Committees and that there are also strong arguments against them, especially that one by which it is asserted that there is but little probability that this House will accept the work of such Committees. These arguments both for and against that proposal deserve the most careful consideration. But, while admitting that the principle of devolution has not been carried out by these Rules, we have not in the least prejudiced the question. We have measures which we hope to induce the House to pass, which will facilitate any future action in that direction, and at the same time we assure hon. Members that we are perfectly alive to the necessity in every proper and safe manner to relieve the Business of the House as far as possible. I now turn to another criticism which was made by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), and by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), with regard to the principle of one of the most important of the Resolutions before the House—namely, the arrangements made for the interposition of the Speaker in the application of the closure. It is perfectly natural that the attention of hon. Members should be called to the duties to be placed upon the Speaker, and no one can complain of the manner in which the matter was approached by the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite. It must be the wish of everybody to maintain the authority of the Speaker and to maintain his reputation for impartiality. We know that upon that impartiality depends the efficiency of this House, the credit of this House, and the reputation of this House. But we are prepared to think that among the hon. Members of this House, and of every House which shall be elected by Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Irishmen, we shall be able to find men who will, 247 while occupying that Chair, undertake the responsibility of guarding the great reputation of the Chair. We may have to place a heavy burden upon Mr. Speaker, and even now a heavy burden rests upon him. A heavy burden was placed upon Mr. Speaker by the Procedure Rules which were adopted in the previous Parliament. Let me examine for a moment what I call the rival modes of proceeding of the Rules as now submitted to this House, and of those which are at present in force. When we speak of this matter let us realize the two great forces which are to be brought into operation—there is that of the majority, and there is that of the consent of Mr. Speaker. I wish to know whether those who are prepared to do away with the consent of Mr. Speaker to the closure being put into force are prepared to accept the closure by the decision of a simple majority. [Opposition cheers.] Those cheers remind me that there are a large number of hon. Members who are willing to accept the decision of a simple majority in the matter, but they will not be supported by the hon. Members below the Gangway. In several speeches—and especially in that of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell)—we were called upon, in language with which I thoroughly sympathize, to protect the rights of minorities. The hon. Member for Cork was perfectly right in appealing to the Conservative instincts of the House to say that those rights must be protected—that minorities had in the past done great service, and that they would do so in the future. I certainly am not prepared to contradict the hon. Member for Cork upon the point. ["Hear, hear,"and laughter.] I do not know why the fact that I agree with the hon. Member for Cork on this question that minorities should be protected, should be a ground for laughter. But I state the fact with the most perfect sincerity. I have always argued in favour of the protection of minorities, and, although I differ from the right hon. Gentleman opposite upon the point, I am not prepared to hand over the entire rights of minorities to the tumultuous feelings of a majority even when tempered by the leadership of the right hon. Gentleman. I, of course, feel that he would do his best to moderate their impulses; still I do not feel confident that in moments of great excitement 248 any great majority, whether of Liberals or Conservatives, could be trusted with this power of closing debates without safeguards. What safeguard do we propose to establish? It is the impartiality and the authority of the Chair. It is for that reason—it is in order to protect the minority that the authority of Mr. Speaker is invoked. Much will turn upon the question whether you believe or do not believe in that as affording a protection to the minority. Right hon. Members and hon. Members opposite have argued as though the Speaker would be simply the mouthpiece and the servant of the majority. But we should have very different men in that Chair from those who have enjoyed that high honour if they were oblivious of the important duties that were imposed upon them of curbing the majority of the Government of the day if they should attempt to force the minority, and were to endeavour to deprive the latter of their proper privileges. Some pictures have been drawn this evening in which it was supposed that the Government of the day, even with the check of Mr. Speaker upon them, would endeavour to force Bills through this House in a way of which the whole country would disapprove. But right hon. Members opposite will agree with me that the country would condemn the abuse of the great powers intrusted by them to the Government; and therefore the minority would have the protection of the Speaker, of the Government, and finally of the country. The country would refuse to support a Government or a Party which abused their power and sinned against the first principles of British fair play. [Cheers and laughter from the Home Rule Members.] I am afraid that there are some hon. Members in this House who think they cannot rely upon British fair play. But if they had sat in any other Assembly, do they think that they would have had one-fifth part of the fair play that has been accorded to them here? Hon. Members below the Gangway laugh at that sentiment, but I would ask them to ask themselves whether if they had been in any other Assembly in the world and they had, as in past years they have done, attempted to thwart all legislation—I do not wish to revive those memories—but I ask them if they had done so, do they think they would 249 have received a larger measure of fair play than they have received in this House? I trust I may be allowed to use these words without offence; night after night we have speeches from hon. Members on that side, which, however much they may grate on the feelings of others, are listened to, I hope they will acknowledge, with fairness. ["No, no!" from the Home Rule Members] If hon. Members will not admit it I shall not be able to persuade them. I venture, then, in the face of that declaration, to say that in no Assembly in the world—either in America or France or Germany, or any part of the civilized world, would they have received fairer treatment than they have received at the hands of the House. I have spoken of the protection to minorities, which, in my judgment, would be afforded by the interposition of the Speaker. But I admit to the full it would be dearly bought if the position of the Speaker were thereby to be jeopardized and placed in greater danger than it is now. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are perfectly entitled to warn us on that ground if they see danger, because every Member of this House has been most anxious that the authority of the Chair should be maintained. But in what position is the Speaker placed under the present Rules? The Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman for Mid Lothian said, must decide upon a fact at present, and in the future he would have to give an opinion; but is it entirely a question of fact on which he is called upon to take action when he declares it to be the evident sense of the House that a subject has been adequately discussed? The Speaker has to give an opinion on that under the present Rules; and I think my right hon. Friend will admit that the Speaker has considerable discretion under the present Rules. It might be thought from some observations that have been made that the general sense of the House could be manifested by clamour, but that is not so. The Speaker considers all the circumstances of the case, and only when in his own judgment the moment has arrived at which he believes, as a matter of opinion—because he can have no possible means of ascertaining the fact that the House is opposed to further discussion—then he takes action. Suppose that under the present Rules, the Speaker, 250 having thought he knew what was the general sense of the House, found he was in error, and that a majority decided against him, which is a possibility, then it is the Speaker who has made the mistake. That is the present Rule under which the authority of the Chair is to be maintained. Under that Rule the Speaker is put in the position of taking the initiative, and of having a vote of the House taken to see whether he is right; and, if the Speaker has been wrong, he has destroyed his authority. But under the Rule now proposed it is not the Speaker, but it is a Member of this House who must take the initiative. He must obtain the consent of the Speaker; but the authority of the Speaker is not placed in so much peril as it is placed in under the existing Rule, under which he must act on his own initiative and take the full penalty should a Division hostile to him show that he has made a mistake. Does the House think seriously that the Rule with this protection can be liable to be much abused? I believe that the authority of the Chair would generally be used far more for the protection of the minority than in order to push Business rapidly through the House. But it is, of course, for the House to determine whether they consider there is a safeguard in this proviso which we have introduced. What are the alternatives? One is closure by a simple majority, and I do not think the majority of the House are in favour of such a proposal. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite would not be supported by a large portion of hon. Members on that side of the House in such a proposal; and I do not think it would be carried. I do not think they would consent to closure by a majority without the consent of the Speaker. Of course that is an issue upon which discussion, and possibly a Division, may take place, and it is a fair issue; but if the Speaker's authority is to be introduced, Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that it is safer to introduce it by placing the initiative in the hands of a Member of the House, and a cheek in the hands of the Speaker; than to place the initiative in the hands of the Speaker, with a ratification on the part of the House. I hope I have at least put intelligibly what I consider to be the differences between the two plans which are before the House. I have dealt with the main points which 251 were urged by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. Of course, a very different attitude was taken by the hon. Member for Cork, who disputes that we are likely to attain any success by passing new Rules of Precedure. He says:—"You have passed Rules of Procedure and they have not assisted you by one hour; they have not assisted you in any way, and you will find your proposed Rules will be as totally unsuccessful." I am not prepared to admit that past Rules have not attained a certain measure of success. I am not prepared to admit that we should at the present moment be discussing Rules of Procedure at all if it were not for the success of the Rules of Procedure introduced by the late Government. I cannot accept the general line of argument of the hon. Member for Cork that there is no possible advantage in these Rules; but I agree that under our democratic institutions there is an increasing necessity of our being able to grapple with the growing wants of the people. All that I admit; but at the same time we have seen that there have been abuses of the Forms of this House, which during past years have paralyzed us in the performance of our duties. Is it possible for anyone to look back at the history of the last seven years without recognizing that there has been a growing difficulty in the conduct of the Business of this House, not only in consequence of the growing needs, but also in consequence of the new methods of debate, and the new temper in which many Members have appreciated the Questions before us? It is necessary that we should look, and see how far we can lighten the burden that rests upon this House; but that cannot blind us to the fact that there has been a great abuse of Parliamentary forms, which were adapted to a different state of things. I agree with the hon. Member for Cork that we must adopt such methods of devolution in this House and out of this House as will increase our means of dealing with the work before us. There are schemes of local government which, by decentralizing, will lighten the work placed upon us, and the suggestions with regard to Private Bill Legislation will, if carried out, also be a step in the same direction. But this will not be enough. All parties are agreed on this—that it is desirable, and will be expedient and 252 wise to lighten the work of Parliament by confiding to County Local Authorities as much of the Business of the House as can safely be made over to them. But when the hon. Member for Cork seeks to draw certain inferences from the difficulties before us, and tells us in so many words that the burden of the Empire is more than one Parliament can bear, and there ought to be several, then we draw the line. We prefer by a resolute effort to attempt to cope with the difficulties before us, and to perform the work placed upon us—an effort in which I hope all quarters of the House will take part, and in which we have already been promised the co-operation of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We will not in alarm attempt to solve our difficulties by breaking off a piece of our burden, and placing it upon another assembly.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
We have listened to an animated speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but I am surprised to find that he, as an economist of the time of the House, and an experienced Parliamentary tactician, thinks he is going to shorten this debate by turning it into a Party controversy, ending with a denunciation of Home Rule. The tone of his speech was, I am bound to say, very different from that of the speech delivered by the Leader of the House, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian at an earlier period of the evening. He spoke in an inflammatory and bitter tone. I do not propose to follow his example. I think it is better to apply ourselves to the subject which is before us for debate. We have been accustomed, during the past few days and weeks, to be kept pretty strictly to our texts. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a chartered libertine. [Cries of "Oh!" and "Order!"] He has thought fit to enter upon a Home Rule debate. [Cries of "Withdraw!"] I certainly shall not withdraw the words I have used—they are words which, to borrow the phrase of Lord Beaconsfield, have received the "meed of Parliamentary approbation." I shall ask leave, if I may be permitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite to turn away from Home Rule, and go back to the Procedure of the House, which is the subject actually before us. As compared with hon. Gen- 253 tlemen opposite, we, at all events, have one advantage. We hold on the subject of Procedure and on the closure the same opinions now, when in Opposition, that we held when in Office. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, no doubt, is an exception to the other Members of the Government, who have completely changed their opinions on this subject. But I make no complaint of hon. Members opposite on this head. The truth is, you ought never to make the process of conversion too difficult for hon. Gentlemen opposite. If you are assured of the sincerity of their repentance you ought gladly to accept their contrition. The fact is, this question of closure has run the regular course of all great reforms. It was proposed by the Liberal Party, who were denounced by hon. Members opposite as enemies of their country, who were going to ruin the country and to destroy Parliament. A few months or years pass, and the Conservative Party adopt it as the salvation of the country. We are used to that kind of thing; it has happened in the case of greater questions before, and it will happen again very soon with respect to a still greater question. It is the regular law of political nature, and you fight against it in vain. Gentlemen opposite are now enthusiastic supporters of the closure. I am very glad of it; I think that perhaps, since their meeting today, they believe they are the authors of it. I suppose we shall hear no more—for a short time, at any rate—of those passionate demands for the rights of minorities and vehement denunciations of the tyranny of the majority which we listened to so long, and which wasted so much Parliamentary time. I have always supported the closure pure and simple—by a simple majority, and not by proportional numbers such as a two-thirds majority, which used to be the great panacea of the Conservative Party and of some Gentleman on this side. They combined and made our life rather uneasy, but if you have only patience and wait, Conservatives and Dissentient Liberals will become converted, and return to the faith in closure pure and simple. That is something to have gained at all events. A very distinguished personage, whom we miss from among us now and who formerly occupied the seat of the Chancellor of the 254 Exchequer, proclaimed the closure by a simple majority, both at Dartford and Bradford, and I am sorry that he is not hereto support us tonight. Now, our proposals—I speak of the proposals which I was the instrument of laying before the Committee upstairs—were drawn up at Devonshire House like many other famous agreements. I had then the advantage of the assistance of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), and the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). That scheme, as regarded closure, was for closure by simple majority without the intervention of the Speaker, and I listened with extraordinary surprise to the impassioned argument of my right hon. Friend opposite as to that intervention, because in those former proposals it was agreed that it was an entire mistake to introduce the Speaker into the matter of the closure at all. Although the Committee altered our proposals in other respects—and in important respects, in which I do not agree with them—one thing on which they did agree with the proposals was, that it was an entire mistake to allow the Speaker to have anything to do with it. That was the conclusion arrived at by the strongest Committee that ever sat upon the subject. What is the use of appointing such a Committee and then paying no regard to its opinion? Then, again, I say without fear of contradiction, in the presence of every Member of that Committee, that in their opinion far the most important part of the whole recommendations with respect to Procedure was the scheme of sending the whole Committee work upon Bills to a Standing Committee; and we also proposed to send the Estimates out of this House, so that the work for the House should be set free for the discussion of Second Readings and Resolutions. By doing so we should have relieved the House of its detailed technical labour, and confined its attention to its proper and principal work—the discussion of the great principles affecting the Government of this country. That was the scheme laid before Parliament. We thought the idea of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland of sending every Bill to a Committee was an excellent one, and we adopted it. Whatever method you take of saving the time of the House, if you 255 leave the Estimates to be discussed bit by bit in a Committee of the Whole House, you will never gain that freedom for the House which is desired. Then as regards the closure, what have they done? We proposed a closure which was to operate twice a-day. There was to be a morning sitting and evening sitting, and we wanted to secure that you should come to issue at least twice in. the day on the Question before the House. That was proposed because we felt the great importance of the House having Notice and not being taken by surprise in the exercise of this power. There was great opposition in Committee to using this power in the early sitting. I withdrew that part of the proposal and the Committee agreed that the closure was to be applied at the sitting of the House in the evening. When it was to be put in force there would be Notice to everybody, but the Committee limited the closure to the First and Second Orders of the Day, and very unfortunately, I think, required a majority of two to one. We would have nothing to do with it on these conditions; but I was in a wretched minority and had the great majority of the Committee against me. I am still of opinion that whatever you do in this matter of the closure, the one thing you must guard against is surprise. The House ought to have a fair Notice of what it was to do. We thought, in our original proposal of 1882, to obtain a certain security by the largeness of the quorum. An attendance of 200 was required. But it failed in this respect—you can always get 200 for a great Party tight, but that it is not for such a purpose that you require the closure exclusively or mainly. Anyone who has had to do with the conduct of a great Department knows what the country suffers from our inability to pass short Bills. I have been often asked about passing a short Bill, and I have said it was as difficult to pass a short as a long Bill. Therefore, even with a much less quorum than 200 or 250 Members, if you have fair Notice in the closure may be very useful. But what has the Government done with respect to it? They have made no alteration in that proposal against which they struggled so hard in 1882, except as to the position of the Speaker. The Chancellor of the Exchequer entirely misunderstood our position on that point, and it is a most 256 material point in the consideration of the matter. When the Speaker was originally introduced into this question of the closure, it was thought by Her Majesty's Government of 1882 that it would reconcile those who were altogether opposed to the closure, to feel that it was to be in the hands of a perfectly impartial and independent authority, the Speaker. That was the reason why it was given to the Speaker. Now, if you want to give confidence to the minority, you must make the authority an undivided one, because the moment you divide the authority you divide the responsibility. The consequence was, that we felt we were giving no security at all if we divided the authority of the Speaker with anybody else. But what was the view at that time of those Gentlemen who are so afraid of being overborne by a majority? We said, "You are safe in the hands of the Speaker." What was the answer given by hon. Gentlemen opposite? I am not using it as a taunt or a recrimination, but as a matter which throws a very important light upon what is a far more serious feature in the case. I might give the opinion of 100 Gentlemen on the other side, but I will content myself with giving that of two distinguished Members of the present Cabinet. I will take first the Gentleman who was put forward to move the main Resolution, the present Lord Chancellor of Ireland, then Mr. Gibson. Mr. Gibson said he declined to believe that the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees would never be liable to political influences; and he was pretty confident that it would be impossible for the two officers of the House to be above suspicion if the closure were to be enforced by a bare majority. The First Lord of the Admiralty has expressed the same opinion, that the operation of the closure by a bare majority would convert the Speaker into a partizan. These were the views then entertained by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and no doubt sincerely. What has been their experience since? Except on one occasion, a few days ago, the only time the closure has been applied, as far as I know, was on February 20, 1885. The Speaker then declared that it appeared to him that the subject had been adequately discussed, and that it was the evident sense of the House that the Question should be put. 257 He so informed the House, and the matter was put to the vote. I have no wish to raise any Party feeling, and I shall be simply stating a fact when I remind the House that the Speaker, having declared that opinion, it was barely sustained. The greater part of the Opposition then walked out of the House. Several distinguished Members of the Party opposite, some of whom are Members of the present Cabinet, voted against the Motion. There were 46 in the minority, a great part of whom were Members of the Conservative Opposition, and it was with great difficulty that 207 Members—200 being necessary—could be mustered to apply the Rule. No doubt, that led to the Rule being less employed than it might have been. Our view, in proposing that the Speaker should be made the sole authority in the matter, was to get rid altogether of the idea of his co-operation with any Party in this House. Accordingly, Sir, we relied upon your independent judgment when the closure was applied, and we knew you would apply it independently and impartially. But has the action of the Chair in the matter produced the desired effect on the public mind even under the present Rule? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has argued that the proposal of the Government is not more open to objection than the existing Rule. But I contend that the present Rule is open to great objection and great misinterpretation; and, therefore, we are endeavouring to keep the Speaker independent. We do not propose to introduce the Speaker as in the existing Rule, and still less do we propose to introduce him as in the proposed new Rules. I say that, not even under the present system, in which the Speaker acts as a wholly independent authority, having nothing to do with any Party in the House, does he keep clear of suspicion. What happened the other day when the closure was applied? The Times, a journal not unfavourable to Gentlemen opposite or to the closure, in referring, on February 19, to the application of the closure the other day, used these words—"The complete success of the operation which Mr. W. H. Smith undertook with the assistance of the Chair," against a "beaten minority." Is that a position in which you desire your Speaker to be presented? I feel quite sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not desire 258 that that should be the position in which the Chair of this House should be placed on an occasion of this important character. If this happens, then, when the Speaker is placed in a position to exercise an entirely independent judgment, will you improve matters by placing him in the position of a consenting or a dissenting party to the demand of some Member of the House? Moreover, this Rule is by no means clear in its meaning. It does not state how the consent of the Speaker is to be asked, whether in private by an hon. Member or openly in the House. Then, again as, to the request to be made to the Speaker, I venture to say that no man could make it to him with any expectation that consent would be given to him, except he represented a majority in the House; and, therefore, the only person under this Rule to whom the Speaker ever could or would give his consent was the Government Whip. Why should the Speaker give consent to persons whom he knows will be immediately afterwards beaten or placed in a minority, and thus practically waste the time of the House? By this hypothesis, therefore, the consent of the Speaker would only be given to the majority. Other people may apply to the Speaker, but, knowing the condition of Parties in this House, he will say—"No; I will not give you the permission for which you ask." Then the Speaker will be in the position in which he is described as being in The Times. The Speaker will be constantly represented as assisting the Representatives of the majority, and it is most undesirable that that should be possible. Then, by this Rule you will destroy the responsibility of both Parties. Under the present Rule the responsibility is with the Speaker; but if we allow him to exercise it at the request of the Government we diminish his responsibility, and also that of the Government, and the Government would say—"You cannot say we are wrong in demanding the closure, as we were supported by the Speaker;" and the Speaker would say—"You cannot blame me, because the Government demanded it". Between the two we destroy all responsibility, and a more utter and entire destruction of all the chances which a minority might otherwise possess I cannot conceive. Replying to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I tell him that I am for the closure pure and simple, without the interference of the Speaker. If you put the responsi- 259 bility in the right quarter you have nothing to fear. People in a minority should act as if one day they would be in a majority, and people in a majority should act as if one day they would be in a minority; and I advise hon. Gentlemen opposite to think of that. When the Conservative Party acted in all those panic terrors in 1882, they seemed to think they were always going to be in a minority, and that they ought to be taken care of. Well, they were mistaken in thinking they were always going to be in a minority; they are in a majority now. [Laughter, and cries of "No!"] Well, yes—at least of a sort. But it is a mistake, too, to think that they are always going to be in a majority, and I would advise them to consider the question with respect to those contingencies. I am not the least afraid, whatever minority I may find myself in, of this power of the closure. I do not want to be protected by any one, by two-thirds majority, or the Chair, or anybody else. I know there is protection which is quite sufficient—the public opinion of this country. If I were one of a majority, there is nothing which I should fear so much as a misuse of this power; and if hon. Members opposite were to abuse this power I should be delighted, because I should know that we should very soon get rid of them. I, therefore, am not the least afraid, and I do not want all these wretched safeguards. It is one of the weaknesses of the Party which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has joined that when they have laid down a principle they must always surround it by safeguards, which weaken and nullify it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has still enough of the old stuff left in him to enable him to cast himself free of this superstition. If any Party were ever to use this power tyrannically they would suffer for it. Should they close our mouths in this House there are other places where to speak. A tyrannical exercise of this right will only drive discussion from the floor of this House into the country, and the House of Commons will sink to the level of an inferior vestry under the absurdity of its own Rule. This consideration will always be a check upon the abuse of the closure; and I hope that under the exercise of sound common sense, and those principles of freedom of debate and liberty to which we have been accustomed, the House 260 may still continue to be the arena of debate of a free people. I have lived a goodish time in minorities and majorities, and I do not think it makes much difference whether we are in a majority or in a minority; it depends very much on whether the opinions we hold commend themselves to the majority of the country or not. These panic fears about the closure are absurd. If by the improper abuse of the power anything is closed it will be the House of Commons. You may depend upon it that is a consideration which will not be without influence upon the Government. Hon. Members opposite have no doubt at present that they are always going to be in a majority, and they think that they are introducing a Rule to suit that situation. They remind me of the Eton boy—Alas! regardless of their doomThe little victims play,No sense have they of ills to come,No cares beyond today.I should strongly advise them in dealing with this question to look at the possibilities of the future, and to consider how this thing may bear, not only upon their present, but upon their future position. I shall not detain the House any longer. We cannot quarrel with the closure, because it is ours. You have altered nothing except the position of the Speaker. As regards the position of the Speaker, I have read to you what your view was then. Our experience has led us to conclude that it was a mistake to introduce the Speaker at all, even as we introduced him. But your proposal is more dangerous still, and I think the House will be much better advised if it excludes the Speaker from the closure. I do not think that in that strong Committee there was a single dissentient opinion when we came to that conclusion. We agreed that it should be proposed independently to the House and voted upon by the House. Why should you throw over the unanimous conclusion of the Committee? For my part, I should adhere to the Resolution if you strike the Speaker out of it altogether. I am perfectly willing to rely upon the public opinion of the House and the country to prevent the abuse of the closure. I should be willing to diminish rather than to increase the quorums. I think the quorums much too large. I would leave the House like any other Assembly, and I do not know that other Assemblies require the 261 intervention of the Speaker. We are too timid, I think. To introduce the Speaker to say whether the matter is or is not fit for decision is most objectionable. It is the same with regard to adjournment. You expose him needlessly. He would be violently attacked by those to whom he would refuse it, and you would greatly destroy the authority of the Chair. Much better leave the responsibility with the majority, who will be responsible to the House and the country. Under these circumstances you can safely accept this Rule, and disregard all the fears entertained upon the subject; and I am satisfied if this power is reasonably and fairly used it will be greatly to the advantage of the House and the country.
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) appears to have forgotten part, at least, of the good advice which his Leader gave earlier in the evening. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) laid stress upon the fact that the Government need not expect anything of the nature of Party opposition to these Rules; but certainly at the beginning of his speech the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) seemed to be a little oblivious of that part of his Leader's observations. But although he did not remember that we were not to be treated to any Party recrimination, he did not forget that we had been promised a sporadic discussion. I think we may fairly say that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) went up and down and round about the question until we hardly knew which was the beginning of his speech and which the end. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken very strongly against the present proposals of the Government, and he has endeavoured to enlist as an advocate against the proposal now before the House a speech made by Lord Ashbourne five years ago against the proposals of the then Government, which were supported by the right hon. Gentleman himself, upon whom Lord Ashbourne's oratory seemed to produce very little effect at the time it was delivered. I must point out that the arguments which Lord Ashbourne used were not directed against the proposal which is now put forward, but against 262 the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman then saw no reason to condemn, and which the Government now propose to supersede by the very proposal before the House. Now, I observe that, in point of fact, there are three main questions which seem to run through the oratory of right hon. Gentlemen opposite in this discussion. One of them has reference to the devolution of the Business of the House; another of them has reference to the position of the Chair; and the third of them—though I do not think it is at all germane to the subject—has reference to the recent ruling of Mr. Speaker upon the question of Notice being given of matters to be discussed in the House. I should like to dispose of the last of these questions first, because the most extraordinary bugbears and imaginary horrors have been conjured up with respect to it. Now, it is not only an obvious and constantly recognized Rule of this House that we are not to anticipate the discussion of any question; but it appears to me to be essential and rudimentary in all debate whatever. I do not suppose that if the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) assisted at the deliberations of a band of Choctaws they would allow to be discussed beforehand anything that had been set down for their palaver on the next day. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT dissented.] Then I must leave the right hon. Gentleman to the practices of his friends and prototypes, and appeal to those of more civilized societies. Debate would become absolutely impossible if, when Notice has been given that a particular question is to be discussed on a particular day, it should be possible to anticipate that discussion by taking it on another day when, perhaps, Members interested in the subject might not be here to take part in the debate. In fact, we might as well burn our Order Book and get rid of all the Forms of Parliament if our proceedings are to be allowed to degenerate into such confusion. Passing from that, I should like to say a word or two with regard to the position of the Government upon the question of closure. It is no secret that the Conservative Party have not been enthusiastic supporters of the clôture. [A laugh.] That is no secret. Some of us have had very grave and serious objections, both constistutionally and politically, to the application of the clôture to the debates of 263 this House; but those objections were mainly urged at a time when the question was one absolutely new to Parliament, without precedent, and of which we had no experience. I claim for this side of the House that we may be allowed to profit by experience. We have had four years' experience of the system which was introduced in 1882 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), with the entire concurrence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) and his Colleagues, and I am bound to confess that that system does not appear to have operated as that serious infringement of Parliamentary liberties which some of us feared it would prove. The Conservative Party has never been a reactionary Party. We leave re-action for right hon. Gentlemen opposite; they are the people who are always trying to undo the achievements of their opponents. The Conservative Party endeavours always to make the best of things as they are, not to rip open old sores, or go back to an earlier state of things. We endeavour to absorb into the Constitution of this country all the new Rules which have been engrafted upon it by new legislation; and I think it is open for us to say that the result of four years' experience has convinced us that there was probably insufficient ground for our fears with regard to the clôture. But we think that in the system introduced four years ago there is one very remarkable and conspicuous defect. We think that the position assigned to the Speaker by the Rule for which the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) is responsible is not a position which has been advantageous to the Chair, and we think it has, in a great degree, prevented the Rule from being generally operative. Her Majesty's Government have determined that they will, on this occasion, do their best to make the Rule more effective and more operative. The right hon. Gentleman has taunted us with voting in the Committee upstairs in favour of a two-thirds majority, and that after that we should propose the Resolution as it now stands with regard to the invocation of the Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman is very proud of the fact that he is an advocate of the clôture by a pure majority without bringing the Speaker into 264 the question at all. Better than that is the two-thirds majority, and better than the two-thirds majority, in my opinion, is the scheme now propounded by Her Majesty's Government, who have considered the feelings of those who, like the right hon. Gentleman, are unwilling to set up a new-fangled form of majority in this House. The old Rule embodies the principle of the majority deciding the question, and we have respected that principle. It is retained in our proposal, and in that respect I think we may claim the assent of the right hon. Gentleman that it is preferable to a two-thirds majority. So far, it appears, we are agreed; but we differ from the right hon. Gentleman in this—that we do not approve of a majority pure and simple being able to decide the question in this House. I was rather surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman, with that magnificent temerity with which he sometimes approaches public questions, declaring himself in favour of a majority pure and simple deciding questions of this sort. How many hon. Members of this House does the right hon. Gentleman think he would be able to take with him into the Lobby on such a proposition? How many does he think he would be able to take with him—would be able to detach—from the Government side of the House?
§ MR. RAIKES
I will not speak of six months hence, because I do not know what fresh change may have taken place in the right hon. Gentleman's views within that time. But this I think I may say. The right hon. Gentleman must have been struck when the Chancellor of the Exchequer put it to him how many supporters would he be likely to find on his own side of the House below the Gangway? Is he going to lead into action the forlorn hope sitting on the Benches behind him? Does he suppose that the votes that he will be able to poll out of the Benches behind that upon which he sits will be such as to justify a Minister in making the proposal that he suggests? The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if he were sitting upon this side of the Table he would no sooner think of proposing in a matter of this kind to take the decision of the majority pure and simple than he would propose to go to 265 War with all the Powers of Europe combined. He knows perfectly well that if he were here and made a proposal of that kind, the defeat which would be given to a proposal of that sort would be overwhelming, and would be sufficient, at all events, to teach him a lesson which he does not seem to have learned at the present moment. I think I have shown how this Resolution is put forward in its present form. We believe it to be better, on Constitutional grounds, than a two-thirds majority. We believe it better and more acceptable to the House of Commons, and more certain to preserve the privileges of the minorities, than a majority pure and simple; and we believe that on both these points we shall find a considerable majority of the House in favour of it. Then, having shown how this presented itself to the minds of those who sat on the Committee to which such frequent reference has been made, I should like to say one or two words with regard to the difference in the position of the Speaker under this Resolution as compared with the existing arrangement. The right hon. Gentleman has been pleased to make rather merry with regard to the difficulties of the Speaker, in whose ear the Whips of the Party will always be whispering respecting his duty in this matter. Both the right hon. Gentleman and the late Prime Minister (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) have been at great pains in their endeavour to prove that the position of the Speaker under this new Rule will be more embarrassing than his position under the old Rule. Well, I think that a more baseless or unfounded invention was never put forward in this House. I think when you consider that at the present moment the closure has only been put in force on one occasion previous to last week during four years, and that on that occasion the Speaker's initiative was supported by only 207 against 49, we have the most obvious reason why the present Rule is inoperative, because no Speaker is likely to assume the initiative again, under the circumstances, unless in the face of extreme urgency. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT here made some observation across the Table.] I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman will make it convenient to speak at another time, and not be continually interrupting me. As the proposition now stands, it appears 266 to me that it will meet the whole difficulty. The Speaker under this Rule in future, instead of appearing to assume the initiative in putting down a minority, will appear to the House as the person who is the guardian of the rights of the minority. The Speaker is called upon by the Leader of the House, or by the Member in charge of some Bill, who believes he has the requisite majority to carry through the House a Motion for closing the debate. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is going away. It is for the Speaker, under these circumstances, to say whether or not he thinks that the application for the clôture may be granted—that is to say, he is introduced between the minority and the Government as a check on the Government; and I think it would be felt that his action, to which the minority must look, is protecting their rights and liberties against the influence of the majority. Instead, therefore, of putting the Speaker in a position, painful, invidious, and embarrassing, it seems to me that by this proposal he is restored to his position of moderator of the debates and guardian and champion of the rights of minorities. It seems to me that the question is one that does not bear much argument. It may be several years since the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) has found it necessary to make any proposal of an interesting character to any interesting person of the other sex. But if his argument is good for anything, the position of the lady in these circumstances would be less embarrassing if it lay with her to make the proposal herself. According to the right hon. Gentleman, the responsibility of the lady is much greater if she is merely to say "Yes" or "No" when addressed with all the force and eloquence which so distinguished a person would use in submitting his proposal to her. Is the lady in these circumstances to be told that her position would be far easier if she herself took the initiative, and got up and made the overture herself to the right hon. Gentleman? The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he does not think the present Administration will last very long, and that the time will come when Gentlemen who sit on this side of the House will sit on the other. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will then be in this House, 267 or, if he is, on which side he will sit. But, if he happens to sit on this (the Ministerial) side of the House, I can assure him that the minority will be very greatly in need of protection. I confess I doubt whether any man in this House would regard with equanimity the spectacle of the right hon. Gentleman returning to power, flushed with a triumphant majority, and conducting the affairs of the Government in the tone and spirit in which he commenced his speech this evening. I think the right hon. Gentleman had himself a little suspicion of that, because he said the only thing he would be afraid of was that he should misuse his powers; and I can assure him that that is a fear which will be very generally shared by the House. The right hon. Gentleman was very strong indeed as to the duty of the House and the Government in respect of the decision of the Committee upstairs. I should like the House to recall to its mind the very curious finale to the proceedings of that Committee upstairs. The right hon. Gentleman has told us tonight what we did not know before—namely, that the programme which he submitted to the Committee had been previously settled by a Committee which met at Devonshire House. I was not aware that that was known before. I never heard of it while the Committee was sitting.
§ MR. RAIKES
I was not here. I never heard of it before. We certainly never heard it in the Committee upstairs. The right hon. Gentleman, at the end of his speech, told us that it was a shocking and scandalous thing that we should treat lightly the recommendations of the Committee which sat upstairs. But what did the right hon. Gentleman himself do in that Committee? He resigned—we had a, Ministerial crisis that was chronic. He caused the adjournment from day to day, and we were frequently in doubt as to whether we should resume our consideration of the Resolutions or not, and whether we should ever arrive at a conclusion on the matter. Finally, the right hon. Gentleman, when we had arrived at a conclusion on the Clôture Resolution, flung up his brief and declined to take any further interest in the proceedings.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Really, Sir, there must be a limit to misstatement. What power had I to adjourn the Committee? The noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) was Chairman of that Committee, and he alone had the power to decide when it should sit and when it should not.
§ MR. RAIKES
Unquestionably, the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale was the formal organ in deciding the question of adjournment; but the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) must remember that it was in consequence of the extraordinary petulance, if I may say so, displayed by the Representative of the Government on that Committee, that our proceedings were constantly interrupted, and we never knew on a particular day whether the proceedings of the Committee were to be carried on or not. I think if the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) were here, he would thoroughly corroborate what I am saying. This point, at least, the right hon. Gentleman will not contravene—
§ MR. RAIKES
I think the course which is now being taken by the right hon. Gentleman must show that this House would require some protection when the right hon. Gentleman is in possession of greater power. I never knew a greater breach either of the Rules of Debate, or of the ordinary courtesies of debate, than the continual interruptions and constant contradictions of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman appeals to me and says—"At all events, what I have said the right hon. Gentleman cannot contravene." I say I contravene every word of it.
§ MR. RAIKES
The right hon. Gentleman has entirely misunderstood me. I said—"This point, at least, the right hon. Gentleman will not contravene, that"—
§ MR. RAIKES
This is an illustration of the state of mind to which the right hon. Gentleman can bring himself. I never remember a more extraordinary display in this House. I was going to say, 269 and I am going to say, what is the point that I am sure he will not contravene; but he will not let me finish my sentence; he again interrupts me before he knows what I am going to say. I wish to say—and this is the point on which I hope I shall not be interrupted again by the right hon. Gentleman—that he will not deny this—that when the Committee had arrived at the Resolution which it appears now the House ought particularly to respect, he disclaimed any further responsibility for the proceedings of the Committee.
§ MR. RAIKES
Does the right hon. Gentleman contravene that? Then all I can say is, that I appeal with confidence to every other man who sat on that Committee as to the painful impression produced on the minds of Members of the Committee by the course adopted by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not, however, particularly care whether the right hon. Gentleman's recollection of these matters tallies with mine or not. All I can say is this—and I put it to the right hon. Gentleman without the slightest doubt or hesitation—that it is not for the right hon. Gentleman, having taken the line he did take then, to tell the House that they are bound by the decision of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman is a great lover of devolution. Well, we have heard a great deal about devolution, and it is well to point out to the House what was the machinery by which it was proposed to bring it about. It was actually proposed, and actually carried in the Committee that sat upstairs, that this devolution was to consist of breaking up the House of Commons into four parts; that these four bodies were to supersede the action of the House itself on two days of the week until 9 o'clock; and that then the Speaker was to take the Chair and Questions were to be put, and Public Business was to be taken at that hour. It seemed to me that a proposition of such limitless absurdity was never propounded, and I am certain any Government that attempted to father such a scheme would be laughed out of the House, and that any House that passed it would become the laughing-stock of Europe. I endeavoured to bring about an arrangement by which the House would meet at some ordinary 270 time, and then break up into several Bureaux. The House was to sit here through Thursday and Friday afternoons in four Bureaux, and then make up a miserable meeting at 9 o'clock for the transaction of the Business of the nation. I confess the Government appear to me to have earned the gratitude of this House in having refused to encumber the Paper of Proceedings by reviving that ridiculous proposal. I am quite sure that whatever form devolution is to take it will never take the form that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) at that time was anxious to press on the House. I do not myself think that this House is ripe for the consideration, on an extended scale, of a scheme of devolution. I think that perhaps the time may come when it would be found possible to create a system by which Bills generally could be discussed upstairs, and when Committee of the Whole House was to come to an end. But that will not be because the House has failed to do its duty, but because it is overburdened with work. It seems to me that of all the valuable features of our Parliamentary institution, the most valuable is Committee of the Whole House. I do not think that any other part of our Business so favourably represents the business qualities of the British race as the stage of Committee of the Whole House; and I think it would be an evil day for this country whenever the discussion of the details of important matters was taken away from the Whole House sitting in Committee. The most useful discussions take place there, and it will be, as I say, an evil day when, for free and fair and open discussion downstairs, is substituted that inferior sort of sifting which can be given to a measure in one of those microcosmic bodies which the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) is pleased to call miniatures of this House. I do not wish to detain the House any further upon this question. I think it has not been very difficult to show to the House how exceedingly baseless and untrustworthy were the criticisms bestowed on this subject by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt); but then I think the right hon. Gentleman was in this difficulty. He was fettered from offering any effective opposition to the proposals, because they 271 were based upon, those of his own Government. I most earnestly hope that the example of the right hon. Gentleman will not be followed; but that criticisms will be made rather in the spirit of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell). That hon. Member's criticisms were perfectly fair and tinged with no Party acrimony, and not intruded to embarrass or confuse the mind of the House. I feel quite sure that if hon. Gentlemen generally will take their model from below, rather than above, the Gangway on the other side, they will be more likely to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion with regard to a matter that is, no doubt, of first importance, if Public Business is to be transacted in this country, and which it is, above all things, necessary should be brought to a conclusion, not merely with an eye to the acceleration of the Public Business, but to the maintenance of the ancient liberties and privileges of this House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Lyon Playfair.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Tomorrow.