§ ADJOURNED DEBATE.[SECOND NIGHT.]
§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [February 21],
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ I.—Closure of Debate.
§ "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.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR LYON PLAYFAIR (Leeds, S.)
The Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) appealed to us to discuss the Rules with a single desire to promote the efficiency and to preserve the dignity of the House, and the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) cordially reciprocated this wish. I promise to act in this spirit, and not to utter one word of Party recrimination, although I will exercise free criticism on the Rules before us. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) warned us that our labours will be useless, because the Rules passed by the House in 1882 have proved of no value. This is not the fact. Most of these Rules have now become Standing Orders of the House, and have frequently been brought into operation with considerable advantage. But they were passed at a time when there was much 307 Opposition, and their revision now, when there is a general disposition to restore the working efficiency of the House, gives us prospects to make them still better adapted to the needs of the House. I take it for granted that we are all agreed some remedy must be found to prevent the waste of time which, in recent years, has destroyed the efficiency of the House and lowered its reputation in the opinion of the nation. The House must be supreme in its own discipline, and its Members should have such innate respect for its Rules, that they should rarely be reminded by the Speaker or Chairman that they are outside the limits of Order. In all ordinary meetings, the intervention of a Chairman is comparatively rare; but, in our present method of conducting Business, it is constant. In the year 1881, when obstructive discussion attained its maximum, the Speaker had to intervene on points of Order 935 times, and the Chairman of Committees 939 times. Allowing only 5 minutes on each occasion, the wrangling between the Chair and Members occupied 150 hours of the time of the House. Collisions between the Chair and Members necessarily weaken the Chair, and tend to disorganize the House. The New Rules passed in 1882 have mitigated this intolerable evil, though it has not been extirpated. Perhaps the Rules now proposed may not wholly root out the evil; but even if they do not, they may improve the sense of the House as to the need of forbearance on the part of Members, upon each of whom the dignity and efficiency of the House depends, rather than upon the exercise of penal rules. It depends far more upon the co-operation of Members to preserve the dignity and Order of the House than it does upon the Speaker, whose intervention in a well-ordered Assembly should be of rare occurrence. The Rules now offered for our acceptance are intimately interwoven, and cannot be considered separately without seeing their mutual bearing. Still their object can be divided into three heads:—(1) The method by which free, instructive discussion can be promoted, and unfair, obstructive discussion can be prevented; (2) how the large amount of work brought before Parliament may be most efficiently performed by the devolution of portions of it to Committees; (3) how the work 308 of Members may be regulated so as to produce a maximum of efficiency by an 8½ hours' limitation of labour. The first head, that which aims at repressing unfair obstructive discussion, while it does not interfere with free instructive discussion, is already accepted in principle by a large proportion of the House. It is opposed by the hon. Member for Cork, who warns you, in expressive terms, that you will Dot find that it is fitted to grease the wheels of the Parliamentary machine. It is intended for a very different object. Its purpose is to unlock the wheels of the machine, the locking of which a few Members in combination may be able to effect against the will of the great majority who desire the machine to continue in motion. The hon. Member for Cork repeats the old argument that a Closure Rule will enable majorities to tyrannize over minorities. The Closure Rule of 1882 has not had this effect, and the experience of almost all Legislative Assemblies throughout the world shows that it does not work in this way. It works in practice in exactly the opposite way, for its purpose, and its actual working, is to prevent minorities tyrannizing over majorities. The reason is not far to seek. A majority is returned to Parliament by the people to obtain specific ends, and their objects and desire are to promote action; while the minority, distrusting these ends, have a temptation to promote inaction. An irresponsible minority is much more likely to abuse its power than a majority which is guided by a responsible Government, charged with working the Parliamentary machine with the least possible friction. We have before us two palpable facts: the first, that all other Legislatures apply Closure Rules of a simple character, without injury to instructive discussion; the second, that our present Closure Rule is so cumbrous that it can only be rarely useful. Our House is now much more democratic than formerly, and the people see, with profound dissatisfaction, that the wheels of the Parliamentary machine can be locked by a few men, and that we no longer advance on the road of progress. This House is sometimes like Mr. Pecksniff's horse, which Dickens describes as puffing, pawing, and prancing, though it positively refuses to go ahead. The first Rule of Closure is introduced to us as a 309 great improvement upon that of 1882. I wish that I could think it was. It is the actual Rule of 1882, with one difference, that, whereas formerly the Speaker had to take the initiative when he had made up his mind as to what was "the evident sense of the House;" now any Member may take the initiative after having obtained the consent of the Speaker. By the existing Rule, the Speaker is simply the interpreter of what he believes to be the will of the House; now he is to be converted into a judge of what the House should do. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, in his opening speech, put this very plainly. He said—The Speaker occupies a judicial position in this House, which may be of the highest benefit to the House itself and to the country, by securing the rights of minorities and, at the same time, the dignity of the House of Commons—securing the rights of minorities without, however, allowing them to become a tyrannical obstruction to the business of the House. By this Rule full security will be obtained that the debate shall not be closed until, in the judgment of the Speaker, the discussion has been sufficient.Surely, then, I am right when I say that while by the existing Rule the Speaker is the mere interpreter of the evident sense of the House, he is, in future, to have the much more responsible position of being the judge of what the House ought to do. I think this is a formidable duty to throw upon the Speaker. The present rule of making him an interpreter was, I always thought, a dangerous one to the Chair, and the Speaker, feeling it to be so, has rarely ventured to act on this initiation. What will result when, instead of being an interpreter, he becomes a judge? He will still more rarely act, because he will dislike to be the judge of the House as to the extent of its discussions. Under ordinary circumstances, the Rule with such a proviso will be rarely acted upon; but upon extraordinary occasions, what may happen? Let me go back to 1881 for an illustration. Fierce passions and much Obstruction were raised during the passage of the Crimes Act through this House. In an all-night Sitting, the Deputy Speaker occupied the Chair. The Majority, consisting both of Liberals and Conservatives, almost fiercely urged the Chair to make a general suspension of Irish Members, and the Deputy Speaker declined to do so, as he 310 did not consider the Rule was then applicable. The whole body of Conservative Members rose and walked out of the House. In times of fierce and excited debate, this might happen again. Members in the Majority might make incessant appeals for closure and could easily get into conflict with the Chair, whose authority would thus be weakened. The responsibility for carrying out the Rule of Closure should rest with the House, and not upon the judgment of the Speaker. All this would be avoided if you made the Closure Rule automatic in its action. This will ultimately become necessary if we are to have interrupted meetings according to the Fourth Rule. If you have not, the means of Obstruction will be increased two-fold. Just as the Speaker says formally—"The Question is that I now leave the Chair" and no one thinks of dividing on it, so he could say formally at the end of each Sitting "That the Question be now put." That would be negatived as a matter of course when the House desired to continue discussion; but if it is considered that the debate has been sufficient, then, without any Member intervening, or any consent being necessary, the House could express its opinion. This has always appeared to me to be the least repulsive, as well as the easiest, way of ascertaining the sense of the House with regard to the length of debate. The Committee presided over by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) did not go quite so far as this automatic method; but they nearly reached it, only they complicated it by asking for a two-thirds majority. I have never seen the need for any but a simple majority, if there be a sufficient quorum ad hoc to prevent a snatch Division. With a house of 100 or 150 Members, that would be impossible. The most important Acts involving the happiness and welfare of the people are passed or rejected by a simple majority. Why should we be so careful in regard to our own lesser Rules of Debate by making a complicated Rule of Closure? It is no doubt true that in those Assemblies which use closure as a common method of expediting Public Business, it has been found necessary to limit the length of speeches. That is the natural supplement to closure; because a limited debate lessens free discussion, if a few men speak at an inordinate length, and 311 shut out other speakers who desire to speak with brevity. The United States Congress provides for this, in its practical fashion, by allowing speeches to be printed although they have not been delivered. This pleases the constituencies, and perhaps does no harm to efficient instructive discussion. I should not, however, like such a rough-and-ready method to be adopted in this Assembly. There is no provision for limitation of speech in the Rules before us; but it must follow as a corollary to the proposition of efficient closure, as it provides a safety valve for the easy working of the machine. I now come to the second head—how to pass work from the House by devolution to Grand Committees. Perhaps I may claim to have some knowledge of the working of these Committees, as I had the honour to be Chairman of the panel of Chairmen of the Grand Committees when the experiment was tried, and it was my duty to watch the proceedings. The conviction forced on my mind was that they worked well when they received fair play; but that prolixity and frequency of speeches by the same Member were as possible in them as in the Committee of the Whole House. They were too large for business, and could be made into imitative repetitions of the Whole House. They had not the merits of Select Committees, which are usually thoroughly good working bodies, encouraging no prolixity of debate, and going through their work in a good business fashion. I have frequently presided over Select Committees, and I had the short experience of presiding in Grand Committees; but I confess that I often wished the latter were less like the House of Commons, and were more like the Select Committees of the House. I therefore hailed with pleasure the views of the Conservative Government of last year, when the then Leader of the House (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) proposed the formation of a sufficient number of Public Bill Committees of 30 to 40 Members in each to do the work of devolution. These would have worked in an easy and practical way, as they would have the advantages of Select Committees, large enough to be representative, and small enough not to encourage prolixity of debate or to invite Obstruction. The proposal certainly did not receive the support of the Select Committee presided over by the noble 312 Marquess the Member for Rossendale. That Committee recommended the formation of four Grand Committees into which the whole House should be divided, so that they would have contained 167 Members in each. The Government rejected that plan, and now revert to the method authorized by the Resolution of the House on 1st December, 1881, with the addition of a Grand Committee of Agriculture, the value of which no one seems to recognize. As they rejected the plan of the Select Committee, would it not have been better to revert to the still better plan proposed by the Conservative Government last year? Perhaps, however, this Government desire at present to make little change, as they may next year propose a larger measure of devolution when a good deal of the Business of the House may be removed from it altogether. Of course, I do not know the Government proposals about Private Bills and Local Government. If there is to be a great devolution of work to authorities outside this House, fewer Public Bill Committees will be required within it; but with our present knowledge of existing work, I do not think that these Grand Committees, constituted as they were in 1882, will effectively act in the devolution of work. Upon the last head, I must say only a few words. The work of the House requires so much attention from Members that its faithful discharge is beyond human endurance. To work all day on Committees, and to remain in the House till 1 or 2 next morning is an abnormal strain on any constitution. No wonder that we have been warned by the Speaker that, as the Session advances, he observes the work is slurred and that the debates show signs of weariness and irritability. The fifth Rule offers us the relief of an 8½ hours' labour protection. To many of us who are constantly sent by the House upstairs to Select Committees, the labour relief is only one of 10½ hours, and surely that is as much as even a strong man can give of daily labour. I believe that the work will be much better done by this limitation and interruption of work, and I heartily support this Rule in its intention. If the House modify it, I trust it will be by reduction and not by increase of the time. I will only say in conclusion that I hope the 313 reform of our Rules of Procedure will be carried out with the simple desire to fit the House to carry on its constantly increasing work with dignity and efficiency. There is now a general feeling in the country that the no-work tactics, which have some time prevailed, should be firmly repressed, and that while instructive discussion should be promoted, obstructive discussion should be a crime which the House should sternly punish Experience has shown that under our present Rules the House can be reduced to a state of temporary paralysis by prolixity of speaking and obstructive tactics. Among our Members there are statesmen of whose constructive ability we are all proud, but even they may be reduced to a state of impotency by obstructive debate. The nation demands that we should regulate our proceedings so as to remove the scandal, and unless we do so it will be impossible to recover the confidence and sympathy of the people, who still rest in hope that our great Representative and Consultative Assembly will recover that efficiency which made it in the past an honour to this nation, and an example to other nations that desired free Parliamentary Government.
§ SIR JOHN R. MOWBRAY (Oxford University)
I think I may congratulate the House on the calm and philosophical tone in which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Sir Lyon Playfair) has dealt with the proposals of the Government. He has admitted the urgency of the proposals for dealing with the Business of the House. I note, however, that his language is very different from that employed yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), who found fault with the Government for making them the main Business of the Session. The great objection last night was to the proposal of a new scheme. The House had sanctioned a Committee, and it has been set aside. Why not lay the Report of the Committee before the House, and ask the House to accept the recommendations of the Committee? My right hon. Friend now comes down, and neither supports the recommendations of the Government nor those of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, of whose Government he was a Member; but certain other Resolutions of his own which he asks the House to consider. I 314 think all that shows that the Government have pursued the right course in the steps they have taken. We have had inquiries by Committees without end, and they have presented many voluminous Reports, although I have never seen any attempt to carry them into effect. When my right hon. Friend the late Sir Stafford Northcote was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1878, a Committee appointed under his auspices presented a Report; but instead of acting upon that Report, the Government contented themselves by producing two or three recommendations of the Committee and dropping the rest. I take it that it is impossible to ask the House to legislate on the Report of the Committee. No doubt, the Report of a Committee affords valuable material for the consideration of the Government of the day; but it is for the Government themselves to produce a complete scheme, carefully considered in all its parts and submitted to the House, on its own responsibility. My right hon. Friend says he objects to the course taken by the Government in two particulars—first, in respect of the form of closure, and, next, in respect of the devolution to Grand Committees. Now, in regard to closure by the interposition of the Speaker, I find it difficult to follow my right hon. Friend. He considers, I suppose, that the Speaker should be entirely relieved from all action in the matter; and, as far as I understand him, he is of opinion that there should be no Motion at all—no initiative, but that the question should be put by the Speaker at the close of the debate without anyone moving at all. I cannot believe that the House will ever consent to any form of closure like that. My right hon. Friend objects to the Speaker being called upon to interpose in any way. He says that the Speaker is to be the interpreter and not the judge of the House, and the hon. Member for Mid Lothian last night drew a subtle distinction between the Speaker sitting in he Chair and judging what is the "evident sense of the House," which must be a matter of fact, and pronouncing his opinion that a subject has been sufficiently debated. The right hon. Member for South Leeds appears to think that, in ordinary times, the Rule would not work at all; and in regard to extraordinary times, he has given a rather 315 remarkable account. He stated that when the House was in Committee all night in 1881 Members were continually rising to request the Chairman to give an order from the Chair, and because he was unwilling to do so a considerable number of Members left the House in a body. However that may be, I do not see how that solitary instance affords a convincing proof of what we ought to do. It must be remembered that that was before the present Rules were adopted; and I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the Rules of 1882, as far as they have gone, have worked well. The difficulty of the Rule, as it stands at present, is that the Speaker is called upon to ascertain the evident sense of the House. That is said to be very easy, as he has only to ascertain a matter of fact. But what is the state of the House at 9 or 10 o'clock at night? Where, then, really is the House? Is it within these walls, listening to the debate, or is it to be found in the Smoking Room, the Dining Room, the Library, or on the Terraces of the House; and are we to regard as the sense of the House those who have been listening to the debate or those who have been summoned by the ringing of the Division bell? At present I think a greater burden is imposed on the Speaker than would be cast upon him by the proposed new Rule. The proposal is that a Motion shall be made by an individual Member that the question be now put. It may be right to impose a limitation in regard to the Members who should make such a Motion. Some may think they should be Ministers of the Crown, Privy Councillors, or the Movers and Seconders of Bills or Motions, or some person with responsibility, who should obtain the consent of the Speaker; but that is a point which can be discussed later on. Is it not the consent of an impartial man sitting in the Chair throughout the debates, used to the way of the House, and who has come to a deliberate conclusion that the time has arrived for closingthedebate—that, in point of fact, the discussion has been exhausted. Those who saw the working of the present Rule last week will admit that it was a relief to all of us when the debate on the Address was brought to a close by the intervention of the Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds says that it is very easy to make 316 a Rule, and that the Committee last year very nearly made it; but he admits that they did not make it, and he says that he wishes to have an automatic Rule at the close of every sitting, by which, by a simple majority, an end may be put to a debate. That is not as bad as the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) who would have this course taken on Tuesdays and Fridays—before we go to dinner at 7 o'clock; and again at midnight. I am, however, quite satisfied that such automatic Rules will not recommend themselves to the general sense of the House of Commons. I have always felt, and supported from the first, the necessity of closing debate under certain circumstances. In 1882, I said that I had some doubts about it, but that I was prepared to support it with conditions and limitations; but the closure desired by the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for South Leeds and Derby would become an act of tyranny. I am not indifferent to the rights of minorities. I have sat for 35 years in this House, and only for six years among a Party who had a majority of its own supporters. I voted for closure by a proportionate majority in 1882, and I voted for it in the Committee last year; but I am now convinced that we could not carry out the proportion of two to one which we agreed upon last year. Whether there are any other proposals which can be agreed to, I do not know; but the present Rule is not closure by simple majority, it is accompanied by the initiative of the Speaker; it has limitations as to numbers; it varies in its application to a small House or a large one. It is never likely, when a large number of Members are anxious that a debate should be continued, that the Speaker would interpose to put an end to a discussion which might be fairly prolonged. We have heard something about a defenceless minority; but hitherto we have had a defenceless majority; and only the other night the majority required protection from the minority. It is not to be regretted that the power of closure should not be of frequent application. It could not be brought into action every night, or twice a day, but only on extraordinary occasions. The right hon. Member for Derby has pointed out that the House might be taken by surprise 317 by a Motion being made at an unexpected hour, a thing that would be very undesirable; but perhaps the First Lord of the Treasury will be able to provide some precaution against such a contingency. With that exception, I am prepared to support the proposal of the First Lord of the Treasury. With regard to the question of devolution to Grand Committees, I think the suggestions of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds would impose a heavy additional burden on the Speaker, by requiring him to preside all day in a new Committee of Selection for constituting those Grand Committees.
§ SIR LYON PLAYFAIR
What I said was that the Select Committee presided over by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) found a difficulty in accepting more Committees; because the Committee of Selection found it very difficult to obtain proper Members to serve upon them; but I added that new powers might be provided for dealing with the matter.
§ SIR JOHN R. MOWBRAY
We have now a further proposition to provide a new Committee of Selection, and this, too, from a right hon. Gentleman who expresses his unwillingness to introduce new proposals, or to throw additional burdens upon the regular Committees of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has always handsomely recognized the services of the Committee of Selection; and I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Leeds should wish to set aside the present Committee of Selection; and that he is so anxious to throw increased labour and responsibility on the Speaker by making him Chairman of a new Committee of Selection. I regret to have to differ, in however slender a degree, with the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), with whom it has been my pride and my pleasure to associate for many years. We have worked together with the same harmony and good feeling as if we had been members of the same political Party; but in his observations as to devolution last night, my hon. Friend appears to have overlooked one point. The scheme for constituting Grand Committees, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford referred, was a very perfect scheme, and I should wish 318 to see it worked out in future years; but it is impossible that it can be worked out this year. The hon. Member for Bedford, first of all, forgot that the Committee of last year only recommended the constitution of those large Committees, on condition that arrangements were made to relieve the House of the duty now discharged by Private Bill Committees. We are told that there is to be a Bill introduced by the Government to that effect. But is there any prospect of such an arrangement being made? It is one thing to introduce a Bill and another thing to carry it; and the hon. Member for the Partick Division of Lanarkshire (Mr. Craig-Sellar) can tell the House something of the difficulty he has encountered, when he made an attempt to move the Government on his own side of the House to take some action with respect to private Bill Legislation. Hon. Members are aware of the interests within and without the walls of Parliament which have to be overcome before such a question can be dealt with. I believe that such a work would not be accomplished in one Session, and, probably, not in two. There is also the structural difficulty to consider. The hon. Member for the Partick Division of Lanarkshire referred to the possibility of knocking two Committee-rooms into one; but the Grand Committees would consist of 170 Members, and anyone who knows the dfficulties attending the fitting up of rooms to hold 80 Members will recognize the impossibility of providing rooms in the present Session large enough to accommodate such Standing Committees. There is another and very important difficulty to consider, and that is to find Chairmen for the Standing Committees. The Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means occupy exalted positions in the House, with remuneration attached to the appointments for their services; but the House would have to call upon 8 or 10 Members to sit all day, and discharge very arduous duties without any remuneration whatever for their labour. Questions of this nature must be considered before devolution bodies of the character under discussion are constituted in a hurry. I believe that my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury has done wisely in limiting the number of Committees to two, with possibly the addition of a third on Agri- 319 culture. The hon. Member for the Arfon Division of Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone) said something about a Grand Committee for Wales, another for Scotland, and a third for Ireland. That would give us some six or seven Grand Committees; and I should like the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale, who presided over the Select Committee, to say what his impression upon that matter is. I give generally a cordial support to the propositions of the Government. I wish, however, that I could believe they would effect their object. I confess that, while I feel compelled to support them, I do not view the result they are expected to bring about in a very sanguine temperament. The First Lord of the Treasury spoke of the pain and humiliation with which he proposed to the House these restrictions on its debates. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian will bear me out when I say that, many years ago, there existed, among hon. Members in the House, a feeling of fraternity, a courtesy and consideration from one Member towards another which I heartily wish I could see revived. In those days there was a feeling animating hon. Members of pride in the House itself—a feeling akin to that of the old Lacedemonian, as expressed in the words—Spartam nactus es, hanc exorna. Each Member strove, to the best of his power, to maintain the honour and the dignity of the House; and if we could revive such a spirit as that, I think it would conduce to better results than by setting down any hard-and-fast line in the regulation of debate, or than any resolution we may be able to pass. But in the present unhappy time into which we have fallen, there is nothing to be done but to give a cordial support to the proposition of the Government.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON (Lancashire, Rossendale)
In the few observations which I shall address to the House at this stage I hope I shall be able to discuss the question in a short space of time. Indeed, I hope that, if not a direct, at all events an indirect effect of the adoption of the Rules of Procedure we are now asked to consider may be in the direction of some shortening of the length of speeches. I do not know whether we shall be prepared to accept the suggestion of my 320 hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Wodehouse) in this direction; but I hope, if the House should adopt some practical method of shortening debates in general, that the adoption of that method will also have an indirect effect in the direction of shortening the length of speeches in the debate itself. The debates are now practically unlimited in length, and every hon. Member feels that he has an unlimited portion of the time of the House at his disposal, which he has as good a right to use as any other hon. Member. If, however, we can arrive at some plan which limits the length of debates, then every hon. Member in addressing the House will feel that by unduly trespassing on the time of the House he is taking away the opportunity which would belong to other hon. Members. I hope that a sense of fairness and justice on the part of hon. Members themselves may have the effect, without any direct regulation on the subject, of limiting the speeches within some shorter period. I am quite aware that I have no right to speak on the subject. Probably I am as great an offender as any hon. Member of the House; but all I can say is that I never sit down after speaking for what I considered an unduly long time without feeling that I have inflicted an injury on the House, and my aim has been to amend in that respect in future. I am not quite certain that a general discussion upon the Rules of Procedure to which so much importance was attached yesterday is an advantage. I cannot say that in the discussion, so far as it has gone, there seems to be any great desire on the part of hon. Members to look at the plan as a whole, or to take any wide or general view of it. On the contrary, there has been a disposition to dwell upon details of the plan which, however we may discuss them now, we shall have to discuss over again when we come to consider the Amendments. I doubt very much, therefore, whether much time has been gained in discussing the Rules as a whole before coming to the Amendments. In 1882 it was not considered advisable to have any general preliminary discussion; and certainly in 1882 the Rules about to be proposed by the Government raised more novel principles than anything which is contained in the present Rules. The subjects which have been directly referred to in 321 the course of the debate have been the closure and the intervention of the Chair, and the subject of devolution. As regards the closure, my own opinion has always been, since I became convinced of the necessity of limiting the length of debates—a conviction which I formed six or seven years ago—in favour of adopting the most simple and most practical form of giving the House that control over the length of its discussions. I agree with a great deal of what fell from my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) last night. Personally, I have not the slightest apprehension as to the probability that the power of the closure would be abused. I do not think I am subject to the panic fears about which my right hon. Friend spoke. I think it would not be to the advantage of a majority to abuse the power of closure, however stringent and however drastic that power might be. I believe that what would be considered in the country an unfair use of the power of closing debate would act injuriously upon the majority's own cause, and that there would be no temptation on the part of the majority, even a somewhat intolerant majority, to resort to unfair means of suppressing debate. Further, I believe, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Leeds (Sir Lyon Playfair), that in the Assemblies where the simple form of closure has been adopted, and where Party spirit is certainly quite as prevalent as among us, and where passions are rife, it has not in practice been found that the power of closure or limiting the length of debates has been abused. Therefore, I still maintain the opinion I have always personally held on this subject—that it is not necessary to surround the use of the closing of debate by so many limitations and restrictions as the timidity of some hon. Members seems to suggest. Personally, I should not be in the least afraid to see a system of closure voted by a bare majority without any intervention on the part of the Chair, and limited only by the presence of what might be considered to be a sufficient quorum. I have always, at the same time, endeavoured to regard the subject more from a practical point of view than from the point of view of abstract principle. I think our object ought to be to endeavour to obtain not that system of closure 322 which in our opinion may be absolutely the best, but that which will commend itself most fully to the general and prevailing opinion of the House, and to obtain that system which the House will be most disposed to make use of, and to acquiesce in the use of, when adopted, rather than to obtain that form of closure which may most commend itself to our own individual opinions. Now, what are the alternative forms of the closure which have been suggested or can be suggested for our consideration? There is, in the first place, closure by a bare majority without any intervention from the Chair, which is advocated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby. But my right hon. Friend did not venture himself to propose that system of closure in the Resolution which he laid upon the Table last year. The closure which he proposed was the only one which was to come into operation at the end of each Sitting. Now, that appears to me to be a very inadequate, and not altogether logical, form of Procedure. It seems to me to be somewhat unreasonable that it should be in the power of a bare majority at the close of a Sitting to put an end to a debate on, perhaps, a very important question, while it would not be in the power of that majority to stop a minority, however small, which might be wasting the whole time of the House in one Sitting on what might be a very trivial matter and a comparatively unimportant issue. Now, my right hon. Friend will tell me that the suggestions he laid before the Committee last year emanated not only from himself, but from a small Committee which sat occasionally at Devonshire House last year. I think my right hon. Friend laid too much stress upon that preliminary examination. I certainly do not desire to evade any responsibility which may attach to me for the part I took in that preliminary discussion; but I was not a party to any of the preliminary proposals, which I thought were in principle objectionable. But I never understood—and I do not think my right hon. Friend, or any of us who met there, understood—that we were thereby committing ourselves irrevocably to any set of proposals, irrespective of further discussion or the result of further consideration. I do not think that in what took place in regard to the preliminary discussions any of us were 323 prevented from stating our views or advocating some modification of what was proposed as the result of this consideration and discussion. Then I come back again to closure by a bare majority. It is useful to refer to the critical Division on this point which took place in the Select Committee of last year. That critical Division turned practically on the question whether safeguards or restrictions were to be imposed upon the closure by a bare majority; and my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, with whom I admit I should have gone, if I had voted, was defeated in that Division by a majority of 20 to 12. Now, it is necessary to consider what was the composition of that minority and of that majority. The minority which supported my right hon. Friend was entirely composed of hon. Gentlemen who now sit in this part of the House; and the majority of 20, by which it was decided that safeguards of some kind were to be provided, consisted of 13 Conservatives, three Liberals, and four, being the whole, of the Irish Members who were on the Committee. I believe that the vote of the majority very accurately represented, so far as I can judge, the opinions of the House at the time. I believe it was a tolerably accurate representation of the feeling of the last House of Commons upon this subject. And certainly the present House of Commons would take a still stronger objection to the imposition of closure by a bare majority without safeguards of any kind. My right hon. Friend must be aware that in such a proposal he would only have the support of a certain number of hon. Gentlemen who sit on this side of the House. He knows that a certain proportion of hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite are opposed to any such form of closure, and that the Irish Members are also opposed to it. Therefore, it seems to me that it would not have been a practical course on the part of Her Majesty's Government, even if they had themselves inclined to it, to have proposed closure by a bare majority without safeguards of any description. Now, the next alternative which the Government might have adopted was the closure by a proportional majority. I am of opinion that that is open to still stronger objections on principle. I have on former occasions argued against the principle of pro- 324 portional majority, and I retain the objections which I expressed in 1882; but I am perfectly willing to admit that, in spite of the objections I entertain, if I had thought there was any probability of general concurrence on the part of a large majority of the House in such a system I should have been quite prepared to waive the objections I felt, and to have accepted such a solution. But I understand my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby and the great majority of hon. Gentlemen who sit in this part of the House are absolutely opposed on principle to the adoption of the closure by a proportional majority in any form, and if it had been proposed by the Government it would have led to a strict Party conflict upon the point. I think it would have been very impolitic under the circumstances if the Government had proposed that course. I think we are bound to avoid, if possible, raising questions which must necessarily excite strict Party divisions in this House, and therefore the Government are right in discarding a proportional majority. There appears to be only one alternative left, and that was the adoption of some system of numbers voting in the majority such as comes under the present Rule. I cannot say I consider that to be an entirely satisfactory system. I think that the numbers are far too large, and that the difficulties which are imposed in the way of the fulfilment of the wish of the House are greatly impeded and too much restricted by the numbers which have been adopted. But while that is so it still appears to me, on the whole, to be the system which is likely to command the largest amount of assent and acquiescence, although not a unanimous assent and acquiescence on the part of the House. The principle of closure by a bare majority, for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbycontends, is contained in the Rule as it stands; but, at the same, time the Government appear to be unwilling or afraid to entrust the power of closure to a limited number of Members, and, therefore, the Rule requires that a large number of Members shall be present before the closure is passed. I come then, lastly, on this point to the provision as to the consent of the Chair. My right hon. Friend said that that was unanimously rejected by the Committee. 325 Now, I cannot recollect—I cannot certainly find it in the proceedings—that that point was actually discussed in the Committee. It was not raised as far as I can recollect, and I think the Committee had no opportunity of giving an opinion or of discussing the question. It was not raised by the proposal of my right hon. Friend, nor by any of the alternative proposals placed before the Committee. Therefore, I cannot attach so much importance as my right hon. Friend does to the absence of any recommendation on that subject by the Committee. But even if the Committee had arrived at that conclusion I do not think my right hon. Friend would be justified in attaching so much importance to it as he does, because, if the opinion of the Committee was absolutely right as to one point, he thought it arrived at an absolutely wrong opinion on another. When the question of a proportional majority came up he wan so strongly opposed to it that he divided the Committee against the whole Resolution and declined to take any further responsibility for the recommendation of the Committee with regard to closure at all. It has been said that these proposals throw upon the Chair a new and very onerous responsibility. I am unable to agree with that view of the case. The present Rule appears to me to throw upon the Speaker a greater responsibility than is now proposed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) said last night that the Speaker, under the present Rule, was only called upon to pronounce a decision upon a question of fact, and that he was not called upon to pronounce an opinion. Now, the Speaker, under the present Rule, has not only to form a judgment upon the evident sense of the House, but he is only to act—When it shall appear to Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means, or a Committee of the Whole House, during any Debate, that the subject has been adequately discussed.That is not a question of fact, but a question on which he is bound to form his own judgment and opinion. Such is the present Rule, and it appears to me to cast a very great responsibility upon the Speaker. The responsibility that is cast upon him by the proposed alteration seems to me to be less onerous. It is said the Speaker will only be able to 326 act on the demand or on the appeal of the majority of the House. Now I cannot take that view. It seems to me that if the Speaker, under the proposed Rule, takes the responsibility of action upon himself it will be not so much on the demand of the majority as in the interest of and in the protection of a minority. Then there is one other point which I think ought to be considered, and I am afraid that it is one that will be classed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby as one of those "wretched details" for which he expressed so great a contempt last night. I want to know how, unless some provision to that effect be inserted, it is proposed to prevent the power of demanding the closure being used by a small minority of the House for factious purposes? Without some provision of this kind it would be in the power of a small minority constantly to interrupt an important debate by moving that the debate be brought to a close, even although an overwhelming majority of the House might be against them. I quite admit that that may be a "wretched detail;" but, however small and contemptible my right hon. Friend may think the details, some of them, at all events, are details of a practical character, which it is necessary for us to consider and to deal with unless we are to be landed in still greater difficulties. It is probable that at a later period of the discussion we may hear either from the Speaker or from the Leader of the House the interpretation which they place upon the duty which it is proposed to confer by this Rule upon the Chair, and that some further intimation may be given to us; but I submit that whatever may be the interpretation to be placed upon these provisions by Her Majesty's Government or by the Speaker, it is not possible that it should be an extension of the power or the responsibility that now rests upon him, but to some extent, at all events, a limitation of the responsibility which he at present bears. Now I will only say a few words further upon the subject of devolution. I quite admit that I should have preferred some system of devolution such as that indicated in the Report of the Committee of last year to the present proposals of Her Majesty's Government, and I hope that before long it may be possible for the House to arrive at some system of division of labour applied to 327 its Committee works, both as regards legislation and as regards Supply. At the same time I am bound to admit that the plan which the Committee laid before the House was, in many respects, an incomplete and imperfect plan, which could not possibly be submitted by the Government to the consideration of the House in the form in which it appeared. As Chairman of that Committee, I may, perhaps, be permitted to say a word or two as to the difficulties under which that Committee sat. During almost the whole time of our proceedings the House was engaged in the consideration of the most exciting question which has come before it for many years. Our deliberations were almost coincident with the debates on the Irish Government plan of the late Government; and under the circumstances I think that the House will hardly be very much surprised to hear that the Committee very frequently found it somewhat difficult to give a very continuous and patient attention to the questions that were brought before them. The conclusion of our labours took place after the final Division upon that measure had taken place, and when it was known that the duration of Parliament would be an extremely short one it became exceedingly difficult for the Committee to pay much attention to matters of this kind at all. With regard to the proposals for Standing Committees we spent a great deal of time over them, and we were obliged to adjourn for further consideration certain points connected with them until towards the close of our proceedings; and when that time came it was, as I have said, difficult for the Committee to devote continuous attention to the work. There are, therefore, many points which remain undecided, some of them minor points and some of great and cardinal importance. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir John Mowbray), who has just sat down, has referred to two or three of these questions. In the first place, he said he did not believe that there is accommodation in this House for three or four Committees of 160 Members each. No recommendation has been made upon the subject. The Committee, for instance, never considered the procedure of these Standing Committees, the powers of the Chairman, or the mode in which Divisions were to be taken. 328 All those subjects would have to be thoroughly considered and threshed out before the House could be asked by the Government to adopt such a scheme as was indicated, and only indicated, in the Report of the Committee. The Procedure of these Committees was a most important question. If they were to be on the same footing as Select Committees, and to have no special power of closing a debate, then, instead of being an assistance to legislation, it is quite possible that obstruction of a measure would be more easy and more fatal than even in a Committee of the House itself. Then, again, the question is a very important one whether divisions are to be taken on the spur of the moment, when Members of the Committee might be in another part of the House, or whether Notice should be given. These points are of great importance, because, unless they are decided, it may be found that great practical inconvenience would result. I will not, however, dwell upon these points; the principal ones which the Committee left undecided referred to the Estimates and to the Private Bill Business of the House. The Committee arrived at the decision at an early period, on the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), that the Estimates should be referred to a Standing Committee "in the manner hereinafter described." The proceedings were subsequently adjourned, in order that that manner should be considered by my right hon. Friend, who represented the Government at that time; but no proposal ever was adopted or brought before the Committee, except the proposal which I brought forward myself—and which, I believe, had the support of my right hon. Friend—but which was rejected by the Committee. Therefore, the Committee, having laid down that the Estimates were to be referred "in manner hereinafter described," declined to sanction any mode by which they could be referred, and the proposal dropped out of the recommendations of the Committee altogether. My right hon. Friend says that the Committee embodied in its Report an expression of opinion that it was essential that some other mode than the existing one should be adopted for disposing of the Private Bill Business of the House. No proposals on that subject ever came before the Committee. I 329 understand that proposals are going to be made by Her Majesty's Government in the present year; but although those proposals may be made, they may not be adopted, and it would have been a waste of the time of the House if the Government had invited the House to consider an elaborate system of delegation to Standing Committees, which, after all, might be brought to a standstill by the failure of the Government to provide a satisfactory system for dealing with Private Bill legislation, it having been stated by the Committee that the peliminary difficulties were insuperable. This imperfection—this incompleteness of our representations—do not appear to me to constitute, in any degree whatever, any permanent obstacle to the extension of the system of devolution; and I hope that when the House has time it will devote its attention to the consideration of this subject, and will be disposed to adopt some more complete system of devolution than the present system of Grand Committees. I hardly think, however, that the system of Grand Committees, proposed a few years ago, has had a fair trial. They only sat during one Session, and I think it was admitted that one of them performed his duty in a satisfactory manner. I think it is rather soon to dismiss the system of Grand Committees because one of them did not accomplish such satisfactory results as might have been expected; and I think that any further experience which might be gained by their re-appointment would be useful if the House desired to proceed to a more complete system of devolution. In my opinion, therefore, the proposals of the Government, if adopted by the House, will not in any sense whatever constitute the rejection, or even the permanent postponement, of the principle of devolution; but I consider that their proposals are made necessary by the condition and the circumstances in which we find ourselves at the present time. I have not ventured to enter in much detail into those subjects, as I think that no possible advantage could be gained by doing so. I do not think, in the preliminary discussion in which we are engaged, it is possible to enter into the consideration of details which may more easily be raised hereafter. Therefore, I will not detain the House by considering them now. All I 330 desire to say before I sit down is that I trust the House will not think it necessary to spend a very large portion of its time upon this general discussion. I do not think that any very important or very novel principle is raised by the proposals of the Government; they are in the nature rather of an Amendment of Rules involving much more important considerations which were adopted by the House a few years ago, and which have been shown by the experience we have since gained to require amendment. I trust that, after due and not too prolonged consideration, these Rules will be found to be an improvement on the existing system, and that they will be of assistance in the progress of Public Business. Certainly, I think that from the lines on which this debate has proceeded we may hope that these Rules will be considered in a fair and impartial spirit by, at all events, the great majority of the House, and that we shall not deem it necessary to intrude into this debate any considerations of a Party or of a personal character.
§ MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N.E.)
As a comparatively new Member of the House, I feel that I stand in need of the indulgence of the House when I intervene in this debate at all, and especially when I venture to follow the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) and the right hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John E. Mowbray), who have spoken on this question with so much authority. But I think the House will concede—and perhaps Her Majesty's Government will concede—that it is not undesirable that some of the less experienced Members should briefly lay before the House some of the difficulties and considerations which occur to them in regard to these proposed Rules of Procedure. The two points upon which I desire to say a few words are, in the first place, the intervention of the Speaker; and, secondly, the question of devolution. I think I may say that there are a great many hon. Members on this side of the House who feel that the question of the intervention of the Speaker is a very much more serious one than it was allowed to be by the First Lord of the Treasury in supporting the Resolution of the Government the other day. I am quite ready to admit that 331 on reading the proposed Rules I did not think the addition to the existing Standing Order No. 14 was one which would do much harm—indeed, on first reading it, it occurred to me that it might be an improvement; but on further consideration I have been led entirely to change that opinion. I think that any hon. Member of this House who recalls to his mind the incidents which occurred within the last few days when the Chair had to intervene at a period of no particular excitement will be led to the conclusion that we ought to watch with the utmost jealousy any attempt to throw a heavier burden upon the Chair. I have no doubt that every hon. Member of this House will be steady in his loyalty to the Chair; but this House is not the whole country, and I think that if we reflect upon the conversations we have heard within the last few days, and upon the injurious comments which we read in the Press, we must come to the conclusion that it is very desirable that this House should have regard to the dignity of the Chair in this particular. Now, Sir, there is one point in these Rules to which I think attention has not been sufficiently called by previous speakers, and upon which, therefore, I should like to say a word. It is this—the difference which is made by introducing into the Rules a fixed hour for the termination of debate. That proposal affects the question of closure in a very particular manner. The same Rule which might be suitable and sufficient for closure when there is no fixed hour for the determination of debate, in my humble judgment ceases to be equally applicable when a fixed hour for the termination of debate is proposed. The reason why I say this is because, when you have a fixed hour for the termination of debate, it may be said that the question of closure more or less inevitably arises every night. The Rules proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), and reported upon by the Select Committee last year, were intended, I think, as I read them at first, to retain both methods of closure, because the Standing Order No. 14 was not proposed to be repealed in the Report of the Select Committee. In the Rules laid on the Table by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) various 332 Standing Orders were proposed to be repealed; but in the Report of the Select Committee there was no proposal to repeal Standing Order 14, and until it was otherwise interpreted by the noble Marquess the Chairman of the Committee, I thought it was intended that both methods should stand together.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I am afraid that I have failed to make myself understood. The hon. Gentleman is practically correct. Under the recommendation of the Select Committee of last year both systems of closure would have remained in operation.
§ MR. D. CRAWFORD
Then I was right in my original interpretation. It is very important to know that both systems of closure were proposed to be left in operation; and I submit to the House that whereas the mode of closure in Standing Order 14 and that proposed by the Government and laid on the Table in the present Rules might be applicable and sufficient, and unobjectionable as applied to the ordinary course of debate, the matter is quite otherwise at the end of debate, when the question of closure must, more or less, arise every night. I say that it is too much to throw on the Speaker the duty, or that he should be asked at the close of every evening to form an opinion as to whether a subject has been sufficiently debated or whether it is desirable to put the Question to the House. If the House comes to the conclusion the Government asks it to arrive at, that there shall be a fixed hour for the termination of debate, the proper sequence of that would be that at the end of each evening there should be an automatic closure; and I submit that on that question the sense of the House by a simple majority should be taken. On that point I venture to agree, in substance, with the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Sir Lyon Playfair). According to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, as far as I understand it, on a Motion being moved by anybody that the Question should be put by the Chair, a Division would be taken without discussion on the question. Well, I think an even more simple plan would be better. Perhaps it is a small matter, but it seems a somewhat irregular and anomalous idea that the Chair should in any case act until moved. There could 333 be no compulsion on the majority or on the Government to move the Chair to take that course, so that the action of the House would not be strictly automatic, as, in my opinion, it ought to be. It would be better, I think, at the end of each evening to provide that the Question under discussion should be put by the Chair—that would require no Motion—unless a Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate had been previously made. If a Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate had been moved then a Division would be taken on it without Amendment, and in that way automatic closure would be arrived at; or, if the Motion were carried, the House would decide that it was desirable to continue the discussion on the next day. I wish to point out that if that course were taken some of the objections stated by the noble Marquess and the right hon. Gentleman opposite to automatic closure in any form would be obviated; because there could be no surprise in such a case, and no necessity for providing either for a quorum or a proportionate majority, or any other artificial devices of that kind, for any hon. Member interested in the Business of the House would know that the question, in some shape or form, would have to be decided at 12o'clockat night, and could, if he thought proper, be in his place to take part in the decision. As to the application of the closure during the currency of debate either in the House or in Committee, I think it is a most important fact that the Committee presided over by the noble Marquess proposed that this closure should be entirely distinct from closure at the end of the Sitting, and dealt with differently. I have no objection to that; and I would even desire that some kind of closure of that sort should be provided. It would be rarely put in force at all, and I should be perfectly satisfied if Standing Order 14 is allowed to remain as it is, and the action of the Chair is taken spontaneously, or for that description of closure I should not object to adopt the Rule proposed by the Government. I hope I have made myself clear on that point; and now I wish to say a word on the subject of devolution. The right hon. Baronet (Sir John E. Mowbray) and the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) have no doubt pointed out, with considerable 334 force, the difficulties that would attend the promulgation of a system of devolution at this moment. I think the House would have had a great deal more indulgence for these difficulties if the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House had stated, when he introduced the Rules, that he was desirous to overcome them, and determined ultimately to overcome them and make a complete devolution. He has not, however, done so. The Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) spoke last night with something approaching to enthusiasm of a Committee of the Whole House. According to the right hon. Gentleman, the House of Commons never appears to so great advantage as when it is in Committee of the Whole House. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has a very good right to speak on that point, and it may be that the days when he was Chairman of Committees were the halcyon days of the House; but, admitting all the advantages of the system of Committees of the Whole House—admitting the truth of the right hon. Gentleman's contention that a good Committee is formed by the process of natural selection—it is perfectly plain that we cannot overtake the Business committed to our hands. I sometimes think it possible that the Government were deterred from making more satisfactory proposals on that head by the idea that a more complete system of devolution might not be entirely palatable even to hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. If, however, we are to have the hours of sitting shortened, it is absolutely necessary that some division of labour should take place. I think, with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Sir Lyon Playfair), that we ought not to have such gigantic Committees as of 160 Members. It is difficult to say, judging from experience, what amount of obstruction we might have in such Committees, or how far they would be found to be workable, and I cannot help thinking that Committees of a much more moderate size would be more desirable. I apologize for having intruded upon the attention of the House for so long a time, having so little experience in its Business; but I join very warmly and earnestly in hoping that the eloquent appeal made by the right hon. Baronet (Sir John R. Mowbray) to the best traditions of this House in former days will 335 be responded to by all hon. Members, and that we may pass a set of Rules which will restore the ancient efficiency of this Assembly.
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
Mr. Speaker, I admire the candour of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John Mowbray) when he said that, although he is willing to give a cordial and enthusiastic support to these Rules, he thinks they will do no good. I confess I am more sanguine than the right hon. Gentleman. I think these Rules contain very valuable recommendations; at the same time, I hope I may be allowed—certainly in no Party spirit—to criticize fairly and freely some points involved. I shall confine myself to two points—namely, the question of closure, and the question of devolution of the Business of the House, Eight or nine years ago, when it was considered almost un-English even to mention the name of closure or clôture—as it was then called—I expressed myself in favour of such a system; and certainly, if I was in favour of it eight years ago, I do not think it is likely that I should have changed my opinion now. I am glad that the Government put this closure in the forefront of their Rules, because, as has been observed by more than one speaker, several other Rules hang upon it, such, for instance, as the fourth and fifth Rules, which relate to the duration of Sittings and the interruption of debates. Without the closure it would be possible for Members speaking against time at Sittings of limited duration to prevent any decision being arrived at at all. Now, I quite agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leeds (Sir Lyon Playfair) that the question of the hours of sitting is a most important one. As a matter of fact, we keep the most disreputable hours of any Assembly in the world. We begin our Business when most reasonable men leave off, and we leave off when most sensible people have been in bed for three or four hours. It is all very well for young men, like the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), to advise us to lengthen our days by stealing a few hours from the night; but most middle-aged English Members cannot afford to lead the lives of owls and bats and night porters. When I think of what I went through when I 336 occupied a seat on the Treasury Bench for five or six years, I am almost astonished I am living now to tell the tale. I remember a physician, whom I had occasion to consult once, saying to me—"You live in defiance of all the laws of Nature, and yet you come here and expect me to make you well. Change your habits, and then you will not want to come here." Over and over again I have left my house at 11 o'clock in the morning and not returned to it till 3 o'clock in the following morning. What Members of the House have to pass through reminds me of an overworked member of the Legal Profession, who once said he liked the Long Vacation because it enabled him to make the acquaintance of his wife and family. But coming directly to the question of clôture or closure, I have never been able to understand why it should not be applied at the will of a bare majority. A bare majority is quite competent to say whether a law shall be passed or not; and I cannot see why a similar majority is not competent to decide the much less important question whether a matter has been sufficiently discussed or not. At the same time, I cannot see that it makes any practical difference whether we have a bare majority, or a two-thirds majority, or even a three-quarters majority, because I am quite certain that closure would never be imposd unless those who called for it were much more than a bare majority. At the same time, I do not like these highly artificial checks about 200, or 100, or 40 Members, which it almost requires a Cambridge mathematician to calculate. I believe that the real safeguards of a minority are not to be found in such checks as these, but are to be found in public opinion. One would think we had not got such a thing as public opinion or a free Press. I am perfectly certain that if any Minister, or any Member of the majority, were to attempt to enforce these Rules in a tyrannical or oppressive way the act would recoil upon himself, and he would not attempt it twice. Indeed, I cannot imagine a better weapon being put into the hands of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) and the Irish Members than that they should be able to go to Ireland and say they had been prevented from debating a really important matter by the action 337 of the majority. Now, there is one point which certainly requires explanation, and that is how the consent of the Speaker is to be obtained—how a Member is to move that the Question be put. Will he be required to stand up in his place and make the Motion, or will he be allowed to creep behind the Speaker and, as it were, earwig the Chair? I do not much like the division of responsibility; but, in any case, I trust we shall know, before we come to the discussion of the first Rule, how the consent of the Chair is to be obtained. Now, upon the question of devolution, I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) that the present remedy for the congested state of Business is only skin deep. What we want is a much more drastic remedy. I took the trouble last week to reckon the number of Public Bills at present before the House. They actually amounted to 175; and I have no doubt that the cry is still they come, and that by this time there will be several more. Of these 175 Bills, 59 were Scotch and Irish Bills, nearly 20 were Metropolitan or Welsh Bills, or Bills relating to Cornwall or other parts of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork was, therefore, perfectly right in saying that we are doing the work of three or four Legislatures. Does the House know how many of these 175 Bills could, by any stretch of the word, be called Agriculture, Trade, or Law Bills, and therefore be capable of being referred to the three Standing Committees proposed by these Rules? Only 24—that is to say, only one in seven. Therefore, I maintain that to attempt to relieve the congested Business of the House by such a process as that is very much like attempting to bale out a water-logged vessel with half-a-dozen teaspoons. I very much prefer the suggestion of the hon. Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone)—namely, that we should have a Committee dealing with Irish questions, another dealing with Scotch questions, another dealing with Welsh questions. There is one thing, however, I can assure the Government of, and that is that nothing in the nature of Party opposition or factious opposition will be offered to these Rules from this Bench. I speak on this point most confidently for my- 338 self, and I hope I may speak equally confidently for those who sit near me. The question before the House is far too important. It is not a question of Party politics; it is a question of the efficiency of the House—nay, more, of the character of the House. I am often asked why is not progress made with such and such a measure in the House of Commons, and I can only say in answer that in the House of Commons progress is made with nothing. People are beginning to find that out, and it is telling very seriously against the reputation of the House, and I fear that before very long it may affect the character of the Members sent here. At present we boast that, in some shape or other, we do get here thoroughly representative men—we get the cream of the nation—all kinds of representative men; merchants and lawyers; employers of labour and working men; sons of Peers and sons of toil; but how long will that continue to be the case if Members find that when they come here they have to sit twiddling their thumbs for six or seven hours, or yawning over papers in the Reading or Smoking Rooms? If that is the case, the best men will not want to come here at all, or if they do come here they will very soon wish to leave. These Rules contain some excellent suggestions; and I can assure the Leader of the House that, while I shall criticize them fairly, I shall give them, as a whole, my hearty support.
§ MR. HOWORTH (Salford, S.)
Mr. Speaker, I must apologize for rising at all in this debate; but, as I take some interest in the efficiency of the House, I may be allowed, notwithstanding my limited experience, to make a few observations. I cannot help saying that on the first day of the Session I was very much surprised that the most important Business of the day was postponed for two hours, because the Clerk at the Table had to go through the pantomime of balloting for papers. That the time of this House should be taken up in work which is so purely perfunctory, and which could be as well performed in another room of this House by the clerks themselves with proper restrictions, seems to me to be exceedingly ludicrous. If the Ballot is to continue and to be of service at all it is quite evident that some reform is necessary. To me the present system of 339 balloting appears in itself a most clumsy and most unsatisfactory way of revising and arranging the list of Motions which this House proposes to discuss. So long as it was the custom for each Member in this House to ballot for a place for the Motion in which he was interested, it was also fair and right that the Motions should be distributed over the Session by a process so neutral as the process of balloting; but it was a long time since discovered that it was easy indeed to get behind this simple method, and by 40 or 50 Members balloting for one Motion the system became a mere farce; and it is felt now to be a farce which tells unduly against Members who use the Ballot fairly, and simply ballot for the particular Motion in which they themselves happen to be interested. Like every other Legislative Body, this House ought to have some means or power of arranging the Motions on the Paper in something like the order in which they interest the great proportion of the House; in other words, that the time of this House should not be taken up in discussing trivial matters which are only of interest to a few hon. Members.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must call the hon. Member's attention, to the fact that he is not now discussing anything that is in the Rules proposed to be laid before the House, and, further, that this is in the nature of a second reading debate. It is not, therefore, the occasion for going into detail on the subject of an Amendment which I see stands in the hon. Member's own name. It is hardly permissible on the general Question for the hon. Member to continue his present line of argument.
§ MR. HOWORTH
I must ask the pardon of the House; it is entirely owing to my ignorance of the Forms of the House that I have at all transgressed. Mr. Speaker, I was particularly struck by the extremely fair way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) approached this question. I thought he exaggerated some of the difficulties; but that altogether his statement was not only extremely lucid, but extremely fair and judicial. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the difficulty that has arisen in the House in consequence of the Forms of the House, as interpreted by yourself, not allowing a de- 340 bate upon any question in regard to which a Notice of Motion is already on the Paper. Before these Rules are passed something will have to be devised to get over this difficulty. It seems to me that if it is the general sense of the House that any particular Motion on the Paper has been put there for obstructive purposes and for preventing a rational and reasonable discussion of subject, the general opinion of the House may be given expression to, and that, in that way, a discussion upon the subject in question might be secured. I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Leeds (Sir Lyon Playfair) that a form of clôture which will work automatically is likely to succeed, for an automatic clôture must work numerous injustices to the minority. We, on these Benches, feel that the best judge as to whether a minority has been sufficiently heard is the person who has to preside over our proceedings; and I cannot help feeling that in the Speaker hon. Members below the Gangway opposite have the best of friends. The Speaker is the man who has to decide whether a minority, such as that which the Irish Members form, have had sufficient time and opportunity of stating their case fully and fairly; and if you have any system of clôture which works by mere numbers or automatically and mechanically, without the interference of the Speaker, it must invariably tend to the disadvantage of any small, or even large, minority in the House. It is for this reason, among others, that I feel the position taken up by the Government is quite unassailable. Whatever system you adopt, you must, undoubtedly, have difficulties. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) was quite right when he emphasized the fact that it is a danger against which we must always guard that the Chair should even be suspected of being friendly to one section or Party in the House. The danger arises a great deal more under the Rule of Clôture now imposed than it can possibly arise under the new Rule of Clôture, which takes away from the Speaker the initiative, and places it with Members of the House. The present proposal certainly relieves the Speaker of a burden of a very serious kind indeed. It has been asked how the opinion of the Speaker is to be ob- 341 tained. The opinion of the Speaker is to be obtained now, and it can be obtained by any private Member who ventures to move the closure of the debate. No one who has any regard for himself or for his position would venture to consult the Speaker unless his position was so absolutely plain that the Speaker would have very little difficulty in deciding. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian enlarged upon the question of the devolution of the Business of the House; and it is quite evident that we must presently invent some more elastic system of devolution, by which the congested condition of the Business of this House may be, in some measure, relieved. The difficulties hitherto have arisen, not about the theory, but about the putting the theory into practice. The French Bureau system works very admirably; and if it were not for the continual interference of Private Bill Business with the course of the general work of the House, I cannot help thinking that we should do well in carrying out very largely the system which the French Legislature has found so convenient. I have detained the House too long already, and I thank them for the patience with which they have listened to me.
§ MR. COGHILL (Newcastle - under-Lyme)
Mr. Speaker, I am afraid I must apologize, as a new Member, for trespassing on the attention of the House on an occasion like the present. The question of Procedure is one of great importance, and one which ought to be considered with great care and attention; and for this reason I venture to offer a few remarks. I think the clôture ought to be imposed by a bare majority of this House. I never understood what objection there could be to such a system. It is said that it can trample upon a minority. No doubt, sometimes minorities have rights; but they have not in all cases, and this is one of the particular instances in which a minority has no right at all. While we have a system of Party Government, and while we hold the Government responsible to the country for the Business of this House, we ought to entrust them with the fullest powers possible. There ought not to be any want of confidence on our part, and no Minister dare abuse his power for a single instant. 342 The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) last night mentioned the fact of M. Gambetta being the object of the application of the clôture in France; but the right hon. Gentleman did not bring forward any evidence at all that anyone in France, or that the French people in general, suffered by the suppression of the speech of M. Gambetta. Now, with regard to the question of Grand Committees, it has been admitted on both sides of the House that there must be devolution of the Business in some way or other. Some years ago Grand Committees on Trade and Law were formed, and, at the time, they answered their purposes very well; but I submit that such Committees will not suit the altered necessities of the present time. We really ought to have four Committees—one to deal with the affairs of Wales, and another with the affairs of Scotland, another with the affairs of Ireland, and the fourth with the affairs of India. Until some such system as I suggest is adopted we shall find that the local affairs of these countries will never receive the amount of attention and consideration they require. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John Mowbray) considers that more than two Grand Committees would be unworkable; but he confined his remarks to Grand Committees of 160 Members. Why should we have such large Committees; why not have Committees of 100 or say 50 Members? I was glad to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) yesterday that the Government intended to give up the present system of Private Bill legislation. There is no doubt at all that Private Bill legislation has been one of the scandals of the present system for a long time past. Only the other day a discussion was raised in this House upon a Bill relating to the maintenance of roads in Orkney. I was required to vote on that Bill and did vote; but I must confess that I have not the faintest idea what the effect of my vote will be. There are some matters which cannot be managed locally; but a great majority of matters—those relating to gas, water, and drainage, and other similar matters—can and ought to be dealt with locally. The case of short railways, for instance, ought to be dealt with in the county in 343 which the railway is to be constructed. Of course, in the case of long railways passing through a great many counties the question involved is one of national interest, and must be dealt with in the National Chamber. Now, it is suggested in these Rules that the House should adjourn for an hour and a-half for dinner. I am strongly opposed to such a proposition. There is an idea in some parts of the country that we are too much of a club or a fashionable debating society, and that impression should be removed. If we were to sit here steadily on and take dinner as we were able, we should give a pledge to the country that we did not regard the House of Commons merely as a fashionable club, but that we came here to look after the affairs of the nation. I am sorry that it is not proposed to place some limitation upon the length of the speeches of Members. There is no doubt that most of the time that is wasted in this House is wasted by Members speaking at inordinate length; I think 20 minutes is sufficient time for one Member to occupy by a speech, and I would go so far as to make this a test question with candidates at Parliamentary Elections. I believe that if this House earnestly and determinedly sets to work to reform the Procedure of the House it will recover for itself that esteem in the country which at the present time it has lost altogether. The proceedings in this House have become more or less a scandal; and when I referred to minorities just now, I know that one section of the House considers itself affected very seriously by these Rules. But has that part of the House any claim in particular on our sympathies? If they cannot get their wish on any particular question, how do they meet us? Why, by the suggestion of the sweet and persuasive influence of dynamite.
§ MR. COGHILL
I beg to withdraw the observation if it is not in Order. In conclusion, I cannot help saying that if these Rules are passed and enforced with determination we shall discharge the Business of the House in a way which will be much more satisfactory to all Members of the House, and to the electors who have sent us here to watch and protect their interests.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
Mr. Speaker, I am sorry that in dealing with the question of closure many of us must be open to the charge of having materially changed our opinions during the last few years. Of late we have had considerable experience, and we feel that, though we regret the necessity for this change, there is no alternative, in addition to which, if there be one mandate which has been given to us by our constituents, it is that we should substitute in this House, if possible, work for words, and that we should again restore to it the dignity it once possessed; that in, effect, we should no longer say—Ours is the praise of standing still,And doing nothing with a deal of skill.I hope, Sir, that this question of Procedure will be solved in a permanent and practical way; the question is one which primarily belongs to the Government. The Government is responsible primarily for the conduct of the Business of this House; and though some of us may differ on certain points from the proposals which have been made to the House, we should not feel justified in risking some solution of the difficulties in which the House is placed by interposing strongly private notions as opposed to those which have been formulated by the Government. It is for this reason I accept without rebuke the principle of the clôture by a bare majority, as proposed by the Government. We have, at any rate, the satisfaction of knowing that even now the application of the clôture will be controlled and modified by the action of the Speaker, so that it will not be a mere simple clôture; but there will be, at least, one check which we believe will be placed in hands which will deal with it to the satisfaction of the House. I think we understand that while the Government are anxious to carry in principle the proposals which they make private Members on both sides of the House should contribute suggestively as much as possible to the solution of the question at present before the House. I hope that opinions will be freely expressed from both sides of the House. I heard with great satisfaction the expression of opinion by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), that it is more important to solve this question to the 345 satisfaction of the general body of Members than to solve it upon any particular plan whatever; and if the result of this debate should be to pass Resolutions which meet with general acceptance I think the Government—as I think they will be—will be wise and practical enough to accept the situation. If that result be achieved, we may make a new departure without applying the clôture, in which all parties will endeavour to put aside those principles of resistance and delay which unfortunately have marked the character of the House lately, and endeavour to do legislative work which shall be permanently beneficial to the nation. Acting, then, on this principle, may I venture to criticize one or two words in the first Resolution proposed by the First Lord of the Treasury? I take some exception to the words, "the consent of the Chair having been previously obtained." I should like to know, with others, how the consent of the Chair is to be obtained; if it is to be obtained by private approaches to the Chair, it is open to very considerable objection. For instance, it will be in the power of any hon. Member to make a private approach instead of approaching the Chair from his seat in the House. That would be to give to the Speaker a position which ought never to be occupied by him. It would place him in an alliance with a private Member, a partizanship to which the Chair ought not to be liable. I suggest that instead of the words, "the consent of the Speaker having been previously obtained," we should adopt the ordinary formula— namely, "with the consent of the Speaker." I think that the previous consent of the Speaker need not be regarded as essential, and that the Speaker should have distinctly isolated and defined functions in this matter. At present the Speaker's position is clearly defined; he is to initiate the clôture without previous conference on certain conditions, and in the future there should be a position of individuality accorded to the Speaker, and there should be nothing in the shape of a conference or partizanship with individual Members of the House. It may be said that that would give rise to frequent Motions for Adjournments, and to obstruction; but I think if the consent is to be given in the House an effectual check would be provided. At any rate, whatever is done 346 in this matter, there ought to be steps taken which will render the position of the Speaker absolutely unimpeachable from a Party point of view. The effect of my proposition is that the Speaker should have the veto upon the clôture. Perhaps it would be desired that some such words as these, "the Speaker not objecting," should be substituted for the words at present in the Rule. In that case, the position of the Speaker would be clearly defined. The Speaker would exercise a restraint upon the whole proceedings of the House, and that restraint would clearly amount to what we all desire, a protection of minorities. Assuming the principle of veto to be substituted for that of consent, we should have an ample guarantee of the fair conduct of the proceedings of this House. But I would also say, if I may add one more friendly criticism of the proposed Rules, that the House should have an additional guarantee, and that that should consist of the clôture being proposed, when it is proposed, by one of the Ministers of the Crown. I think, then, that this proposal should come from one of the Ministers of the Crown; and an additional reason for taking that course is that Ministers of the Crown know the position and course of Public Business and the demands upon the time of the House far better than they can be known by any private Member. If you have these principles in operation, it seems to me that you have a perfect check upon the application of the clôture. I venture to say that our acceptance of the closure pure and simple, as proposed by the Treasury Bench, would be much more ready if we had a veto instead of the preliminary arrangement, and if a proposal were made by a responsible Minister of the Crown, who would have before him the fear of public opinion if the closure were improperly exercised. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) has stated that he is in favour of the clôture pure and simple, and I have heard the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) say, also, that he had no fear of the consequences of the closure; but I venture to say that if we look back to the debates of 1882, and take into account the state of public opinion now, we shall see that the public opinion is not ripe yet for the absolute 347 application of the closure. If, then, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby and the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale are prepared to accept the closure in the way I have referred, to, it is desirable that we should deal with this question on a non-Party footing, and that we should remember that it is a re-modelling not only of the Rules of Debate, but of the Rules of the House. That being so, I think the veto is the nearest approach to the ideas of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and, therefore, that its advantages are open to some consideration. I would add that in addition to the experience of France, where absolute closure has worked serious mischiefs, we have the fact that nearly every other country which has the closure has adopted a system of checks, and the result of the Reports that have reached our hands in the form of Parliamentary Papers is that under those checks the system has been found to work well. In some countries the check is that several Members must demand the closure before it can be applied. In Germany, one Member from each side is allowed to speak on the question; in Italy, one Member is allowed to speak against closure, and there is, indeed, need for the closure in that country, for I see that in some cases Members have spoken for three consecutive evenings; in Spain, also, Members have sometimes spoken throughout the whole Sitting; and I think we have only matched that once in the case of an hon. Member who spoke during the whole of a Wednesday Sitting, with the exception of one hour. In France the same practice prevails; in the Delegations of Austria-Hungary one speech is allowed on each side; in Portugal two speakers are allowed to address the House before the application of the clôture, and in Switzerland a two-thirds majority is required before it can be applied. These are the cheeks which are applied in other countries, and I submit that although we accept the principle of the closure, we ought to surround it with proper restrictions; and I hope, also, that by a regulation which shall be adopted by the Government only a Minister of the Crown shall have the responsible duty of applying it. One word with regard to the appointment of Standing Committees. I must say that my conviction is that devolution in some 348 form or other is the remedy for a great deal of the congestion which exists in this House; and I think that the clash, and the conflict is upon local, as distinguished from national, matters. But while I accept the principle of devolution in the form suggested in the Report of the Committee over which the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale presided, and which has also been suggested in this House, I am bound to say that my opinion carries me further, and urges me to the conclusion that some concession should be made to the principle of localization by having Grand Committees to deal with the affairs of various parts of the United Kingdom. I think if that were carried out we should, in the first place, gain a material relief of the congestion of Business in the House, and I will put it on higher ground and say that Members on this side have shown a desire to deal with Ireland on what I may call a remedial basis, and to give every concession which this House can give to the aspirations of the people consistently with what we feel to be our duty. I say that if Grand Committees are appointed I am not quite sure that in time we shall not only relieve this House of the great incubus of an unwieldy mass of Business, or that we may not approach a modus vivendi with the people of the Sister Country. Although we differ now, I think we may in time come to the conclusion that in spite of the interruption of all Business and the clashing of opinion it is best to accept in some measure what this House would concede, and thus restore that happier feeling which we all desire should exist between the two countries. If the plan I have suggested is adopted, I venture to think that the result will be greater despatch of Public Business, greater dignity of our proceedings, and greater happiness and prosperity for the people of this country.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
Sir, I believe that on the right solution of this question the future of this House and the country will depend; but I am also labouring under the feeling that I cannot suppress the opinion that the Rules before us will utterly fail in attaining the object in view. I have heard some opinions expressed in the course of this debate with, regard to the efficiency of the House for the trans- 349 action of Public Business. Well, Sir, one of the chief matters connected with the legislation of this country is that the House is accustomed to spend a great deal of its time and energy on the passing of certain Bills through the House, which Bills, having passed a certain stage, are at the end of the Session dropped, and have to be taken up in the next Session as new measures which have not been heard of before. Now it seems to me that if we are to bring about efficiency in the matter of legislation, this is one of the questions with which we must deal. Then, Sir, I believe that this House is unable to deal with the details of all the local questions which come before it consistently with efficiency. We had, for instance, the other night a question before us relating to the crofters. Now it struck me at the time that for 670 Gentlemen to be called on to deal with a question of which very few could have any notion whatever was a very great waste of time. It has been proposed that we should have Committees of the House to deal with the affairs of the sections of the country; and on that I may say that it is my opinion that if we had not to deal with the local affairs of England, Wales, and Scotland we should relieve this House greatly of the waste of time which is largely due to want of local knowledge. I cannot but feel that the speech of the Leader of the House last night did not give us the idea that the Government were very earnest in the matter of carrying through these Rules. I gathered that the right hon. Gentleman thought that we are not going to accomplish much in the direction of relieving the House; and therefore I am driven to the conclusion that the discussion of these Rules will form one of the most destructive agencies in the way of debate. Therefore I hope we shall be able to have before us Rules more calculated to facilitate the transaction of Business than those which we are now discussing. I have listened to some of the remarks made in the course of the debate with a certain degree of pain. This House of Commons, one of the most representative we have ever had, has been spoken of as having degenerated. But we must remember that it is more in tact with the people than before, and we must expect that the grievances of the people will be brought before this 350 House to a greater extent than has hitherto been the case. For that reason I wish hon. Members to understand that even if they wish to have that dead opposition which has obtained in the past they will not get it, because the Members of the present House are here to bring forward the great evils and wrongs that exist in the country, and it must be expected that those matters will be very freely discussed, nor must we attempt to restrict discussion by imposing Rules which will work neither wisely nor well. I think, Sir, it is to be regretted that hon. Gentlemen should place upon you the responsibility of stopping debate. For my part, I rather prefer that the responsibility should lie with the Government, and that we should have a guarantee that they would not exercise that responsibility without there are very strong grounds for doing so. I think that would be a better plan than that the Chair should be called upon to intervene. I very much sympathize in the principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) that the Chair should be approachable by all sections of the House, and that on no occasion should the Chair be called upon to take any steps that would bring it into collision with any portion of the House. Therefore, I think it right that the Chair should not be called upon in connection with the closure, but that the initiative should rest with the Government of the day.
§ MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
Sir, it is now 30 years since I was introduced to your Predecessor, and therefore I hope I shall not be regarded as improperly trespassing on the time of the House by the few observations I have to make. The hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Handel Cossham) has spoken of the importance of relegating local questions to local Committees. On this point I make this observation—that the House will go astray and make a mistake if we do not bear in mind that every local question does really embody a large question; unless we bear that in mind, we shall have a chaotic condition of things that will lead to great difficulty and detriment by making the conduct of affairs almost impossible. It occurs to me, in the first place, that it is not necessary that we should not have precisely the same Rule of Debate for every question or for every stage of each question. 351 As our Rules exist now, we have precisely the same form of procedure on Bills introduced by private Members as that which regulated the proposal made by the Government with reference to so large a question as the Government on Ireland. How far it will be possible for us to frame Rules of Debate of such a character that there may be a difference between one measure and another I do not presume to say; but I do lay down the principle that it is not necessary that we should have precisely the same Rules for a Second Reading discussion as we have for considering the details of a Bill in Committee. With regard to the closure, it seems to me that if this is applied we ought to be sure that there are a large number of Members in favour of exercising the Rule. The quorum of this House may be convenient for the conduct of Business, but I think it must be conceded that large measures are sometimes settled by a House whose Members are not numerically proportioned to the importance of the subject. There is a Rule laid down by the House of Congress of America which is so germane to this point of discussion that I will venture to read the words, which are to the effect that a majority of each House shall constitute a quorum, but a smaller number for the purpose of doing Business; but for the closing of debate the attendance of absent Members may be compelled in such a manner and under such penalties as the House may provide. I do not invite the House to adopt the Rule of the American House of Congress or of the Senate; but I think when we are dealing with the question of closure of debate we are entitled to call to our aid the example of those Assemblies which requires a sufficient number of Members to be present, in order that ample authority may be given to the closing of discussion. I think it must be conceded that 200 Members is a sufficient number for the object in view; but I am not equally confident that the proposal that the closure shall be applied, if opposed by less than 40 or supported by 100 Members, does afford sufficient protection. Then, Sir, it seems to me that the Rule which would make it necessary that your consent should be previously obtained is not sufficient or complete. I think there should be some Notice that a request has been made to you, and 352 that you acquiesce in the closure being applied, because, if that is not done, we may hereafter be liable to great surprises, and through them injury may be done to the Public Service. Then, Sir, with regard to the person who is to approach the Chair, there is a rumour that the Chair shall only be approached by some Member holding a responsible position. If that is to be the law of Parliament, I venture to say that it should not be an unwritten, but a written law—that there should be some definition of the character of the Member who is to approach the Chair. With regard to the subject of devolution, I think there can be no doubt that devolution, in some form or other, has become necessary in this House, and I believe that in all Foreign Assemblies this practice has, in some form or other, been adopted. There will, no doubt, be some difficulty in making a selection of Members to deal with matters of large detail; Members taking a strong interest in the subject would not care to be excluded; but that, I think, is a risk which we must be content to run to secure the object in view. There was power given in the Resolution of 1882 to add certain Members to Committees, so that Members entitled to speak on a subject might have the opportunity of stating their views on matters of importance. Well, Sir, I think that, unless some plan of that kind is adopted, the system of devolution will not act to the satisfaction of the House. We may be assured that, in the present position of public life and existing relations between a Member and his constituents, that a Member who has not been able to make a proposal to a Standing Committee will be heard at some subsequent stage, and therefore no time will be saved by his exclusion from the discussion in Committee. With regard to the closing of debate at a certain time, I think it will be necessary that some departure should be possible from this Rule, because it would be extremely unsatisfactory that a speech by a Minister of the Crown should be cut short by the clock at a particular minute. I am inclined to think that time will not be saved by this plan under all circumstances, for in certain cases the debate would have to be adjourned, and a discussion which might have been concluded in two speeches resumed on the following day. 353 With regard to the meeting of the House at 2 o'clock, with an interval from 7 o'clock till 9, I think it is desirable that our debates should be uninterrupted, and that we shall gain more by meeting at 3 o'clock, and sitting till half-past 12, than by meeting an hour earlier under the conditions described. With regard to the Rule dealing with the Address, on this, I hope, there will be entire unanimity on both sides of the House. I quite appreciate the reasons which have induced Members to make use of the opportunity offered by the Address to exercise their privileges, which are so curtailed during the subsequent part of the Session; but I hope that if the Rules of Procedure are adopted, the curtailment of debate on the Address will lead to an enlargement of the opportunities of private Members during the Session. I have one more observation to make on a subject about which I entertain a strong opinion. I think that these Resolutions will fail in a large measure if they do not tend to shorten the duration of the Session, the prolongation of which during the last few years is, in my opinion, a great evil. I do not think it is either to the interest of the country, or conducive to the influence of the Parliament, or calculated to advance wholesome legislation, that the selection of Members to serve in the House should be unduly narrowed. It is of great importance in this commercial country that we should have in this Assembly a large number of commercial Members conversant with practical business through the whole course of their lives, and who can give the House the result of actual experience, and not the mere treatises of theorists and schoolmen; and that, I think, cannot be accomplished unless the Session is diminished in length, because, under existing circumstances, there is an increasing reluctance on the part of able men versed in practical affairs to offer themselves as candidates for the representation of constituencies. It is because I think that the Rules before us are likely to bring about this result that my desire is that they may be adopted in the main as the best practicable Rules in the circumstances of the case.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)
Sir, I think we are all indebted to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. F. S. Powell) for many of the sugges- 354 tions he has made with regard to the proposed new Rules of Procedure, many of which have my concurrence, and I hope that when we reach the next stage they will receive the earnest attention of hon. Members. I should like to say first a few words in support of the Grand Committees scheme. I had the honour of being a Member of the Grand Committee of 1883 on Trade, and I can safely say that the work on Bills passed by that Committee—the Bankruptcy Bill and the Bill for the Amendment of the Patent Law—was much better done than it could have been in Committee of the Whole House, where attention is less concentrated upon the subject under discussion, and where many influences have a tendency to disturb Members in their work. One of the most remarkable features of that Committee was the entire absence from their discussions of any manifestations of Party spirit, and both Parties seemed inclined to do their utmost to make the Bills in hand the most perfect pieces of practical legislation. I should, therefore, be very sorry indeed to see the Grand Committees scheme discarded; and on the other hand, I shall be willing to support any proposal that will improve their constitution where improvement is necessary. But one of the points to which I desire to draw the attention of the House and of the First Lord of the Treasury, is the fact that we are now altering the whole system of Business in the House for good or for evil, and that probably for many years to come. I appeal to the House to improve upon the work done in recent years, so that we may make this a House in which men can sit who have to work for their living outside the House. The present unreasonable and altogether stupid system that controls the conduct of our Business, makes it almost impossible for men of limited means who have other work to do to discharge effectually their duties to their constituents in addition to their other work. The Government have undertaken on their own responsibility to name a time at which debate shall close. In this way expression has been given to a desire on the part of some which no one has had the courage to put hitherto in the shape of a Motion. But I would suggest, Sir, that, having gone so far as to specify a 355 time, they should go further. What reason in the world is there that the debate should not close at 11.30 instead of 12.30? There is nothing which causes more disgust to our constituents than the ridiculous and absurd hours at which this House is often in Session transacting serious Public Business. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the debate this evening, with all his great authority, has declared that it is almost impossible for a human being to sustain more than a given number of hours of effective and concentrated labour; and, further, all medical evidence taken in this and other countries has gone to show that a reasonable number of hours' labour is more effective for productive purposes than long-extended periods, during which the body and brain become exhausted, and also that the work done in a less number of hours has always the best result attending it. I apprehend that Members of this House are only human; they are not endowed with any extraordinary powers of endurance as compared with other men; yet I have seen the House of Commons in Session and at work when, for the reasons I have indicated, it was physically incapable of working, and, therefore, morally unfit for the transaction of important public affairs. I hold to the theory that a man who is not physically equal to the labour in which he is engaged is not morally fit to do that work; and I say that this is more seriously true as to the work of this House than it is of any other work undertaken by man. We find that our practice excludes from this Chamber some men of the most valuable experience in the commercial world and other spheres, simply because they are not willing to come here and, so to speak, publicly commit suicide in what is called the interests of their country. On the other hand, if we were to transact our Business and go home at a reasonable hour of the night, we should, in many cases, have a much better choice of Representatives. I will now refer to another proposal in the new Rules—that is with regard to the dinner hour, or evening adjournment. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. F. S. Powell) has very clearly shown that this arrangement would be a great mistake. I believe it would be so indeed. My experience as to the two hours' adjournment is unfavourable to its per- 356 manent adoption; it may suit some hon. Members; but I am satisfied that the vast majority of them would be rather inconvenienced than otherwise by the permanent alteration of our Rules in this respect. There is another point in connection with it to which I would invite the attention of Members, especially those who have not sat for several Sessions in this House, and who have, therefore, an imperfect knowledge of the way in which we conduct our Business here. I warn them in time not to agree to any such proposal. Last night the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), in his speech, said he hoped the debate would not degenerate into a duel between the two Front Benches, and he invited discussion from all parts of the House. But, Sir, that is precisely what this hour and a-half adjournment would do. We should have the morning sitting consumed by the Member who had moved the adjournment the night before, a Front Bench man on the opposite side, and a Front Bench man in reply on this side. The ordinary rank and file—I do not use the word disrespectfully—would find the greatest difficulty in getting a hearing. I know, Sir, that you, as Speaker, call upon hon. Members from both sides of the House and from all sections impartially. But no Speaker, however strong he might be, and however determined to hear all sections of the House, could possibly control the circumstances. The circumstances would be stronger than the Speaker, and I sincerely trust that hon. Members will see that this would be a fatal blow to the opportunities young Members and independent Members of this House have of taking part in our various debates. Therefore, I trust that the Government will consider these two special points, both of which are especially of interest to my hon. Friends below the Gangway—the Labour Members. I trust these points will receive the favourable consideration of the Government, and that the Government will agree to a modification of their proposals in the direction which I have indicated.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I believe the House will fully recognize the great value of the speeches delivered at the early portion of the discussion this evening, and it is mainly on that account that no hon. Member from this part of the 357 House has previously risen. I think the constant recurrence of these new Rules for the conduct of the Business of this House sufficiently establishes the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) last evening; that it is not by the system you propose, and by a constant meddling with the Rules of Procedure and the Orders of the House that you can hope ever to perform the great and growing Business which, at the present time, falls to the share of this House, but by a system totally different, which partakes of the nature of devolution, but not the devolution spoken of by hon. Members on the opposite side of the House. With regard to the question of the devolution Committees, I believe it is totally impossible to organize any system of the kind, which will have a more satisfactory effect than the abortive attempt that was made in the year 1883. It has been even suggested that the consideration of the Estimates should be devolved to a Committee. I believe that no more unconstitutional suggestion has ever been made in this House than that the consideration of the Estimates should be taken away from this Chamber and devolved to a small section of Members of this House. The only real check that any minority has over any Government of the day is the right of considering the Estimates in detail, and if we part with that right, then there is an end altogether to the power of minorities in this House, to press forward their claims and their views on general subjects. It must be borne in mind with regard to the great measures of reform that have ever passed into law in this country, that they were originated by the minority, and that it was only by persistent struggles extending—in some cases—over a great number of years, that they were brought about. So jealous has Parliament at all times been with regard to the exercise of its supervision over the Estimates, that the Standing Orders of the House require that the Government should on certain days set up Supply before all other questions, and thereby give hon. Members an opportunity of placing grievance always before Supply. Now, I believe that Rule 7 on the new List proposes that the Government should have power on the days set apart for Government Business, to ar- 358 range the Business in whatever order they like, and that would give them power to put down Supply in whatever position they choose, and leave hon. Members who have grievances to bring forward in a most unfavourable position. I think hon. Members ought to be careful of guarding the rights they at present possess, and the checks they at present enjoy over the Government, and they should be careful to see that the Government continue at all times to give hon. Members the opportunity of addressing themselves to grievances, which they may feel it their duty to bring forward, before the Government are enabled to proceed with their Business, or before they can get any funds in Supply. With regard to the question of anticipating the subject-matter of Motions put down on the Paper by private Members, I venture to believe that at the present time, in consequence of the elucidation of the Rule, with regard to that matter of anticipation, that if some Standing Order is is not proposed by some private Member, and accepted by the Government, there is practically an end to freedom of discussion in this House, because, at the present time, obeying the Rulings of the Chair, any private Member who so chooses can put down on the Paper a Notice of Motion upon a certain subject, for the purpose of preventing other hon. Members, who might feel anxious to bring about a discussion upon that subject, from carrying out their wish. I know that that Rule in former times used to be acted upon. There are innumerable decisions of Speakers which confirm the more recent Rulings that it is impossible to anticipate a Motion set down for consideration. There was an important Ruling upon that matter, for instance, given by Mr. Speaker Brand in the year 1882, and it was given with regard to an effort made by the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington—then the Member for Woodstock— (Lord Randolph Churchill), and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chatham (Sir John Gorst), who attempted to raise a discussion with regard to the Egyptian Question—namely, on the subject of the trial of Arabi Pasha. It so happened that there was a Motion down in the name of the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow (Dr. Cameron), and that 359 hon. Member rose to Order, and stopped the hon. and learned Member for Chatham in his remarks. It was a singular thing that there were three Notices of Motion, on the Paper which covered all the phases of the Egyptian Question, and effectually shut up the noble Lord and the hon. and learned Member. But the hon. and learned Member drew attention to the fact, or, rather, raised the point when called to Order by the hon. Member for Glasgow. He (Sir John Gorst) objected that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Glasgow was not on the Paper; meaning to infer, I suppose, that if a Motion was not on the Paper in express terms, he would have a perfect right to proceed with the subject-matter of his Notice. But it was found that the Notice was down on the Paper in express terms. I think there should be some limitation of the rights of private Members to anticipate discussions in that way, by including in the Rules that, unless a Motion is down in express terms on the Paper, a reference to the subject-matter of a simple Notice should be allowed. A Notice of Motion in express terms should continue for four weeks, while a simple Notice should be limited to a shorter period. At the present time, we see the inconvenient practice resorted to of putting down Notices which it is not intended to proceed with, in order to prevent other hon. Members from dealing with certain subjects. With regard to another matter, I believe the New Rules proceed on totally mistaken lines, and I doubt very much whether they will have greater effect than the Rules of 1882. Nay, I doubt whether they will have as much effect, and I fail altogether to see how they will really improve the chance of more rapid legislation in this House. The present Solicitor General—the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Sir Edward Clarke)—in 1882–3, moved a Resolution to the effect that Bills should be kept alive from one Session to another, unless in the meantime rejected by the House. And if that Motion had been agreed to—subject to certain restrictions—I believe that a greater step would have been taken to facilitate legislation than all the Rules which are now on the Paper put together. I do not know what was the reason for the rejection of that Motion; but I believe the proposal was one of the most reason- 360 able which could have been made to the House. As to the interval which it is proposed to take in the Sitting, at present time is wasted by reason of the fact that certain Business terminates at 7 o'clock, and, when the House reassembles at 9, different subjects come on for discussion, which hon. Members do not consider of importance, and consequently make no effort to fill the House. Under the proposed Rule, however, the same Business which the House had in hand on the adjournment at half-past 7 would be continued at 9, and it would therefore be easier to find a House at that time. But I should like to ask the Government how they propose to devolve Business to Committees which meet at 12 o'clock, and which can only work two hours before the regular meeting of the House? If the Committees are to continue sitting after the House has met, the result will be that the most important Members will be engaged upon those Committees, while the Business of the House will be left to the least important Members. Thus we should have a Parliamentary scandal which would soon bring an end to the devolution. I believe that large Committees, where consisting of 160 or 80 Members, will not be a success if the hour of meeting is altered from the present hour of 4 o'clock, so as to confine the period during which hon. Members can deliberate in Committee to two hours. As to the first Resolution I think it would be much more convenient if it could be placed last on the Paper instead of first. The moment this Rule is passed it comes into operation, and the Government then is in a position to enforce the passage of the remaining Rules without further discussion if they desire. Of course it is not likely that they will adopt that course, but I would point out that in 1882, when these Rules came before us, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Manchester—now Secretary for Scotland—(Mr. Arthur J. Balfour) moved to postpone the closure Resolution, and to place it last instead of first amongst the proposals. It seems to me that it would be convenient to adopt the right hon. Gentleman's proposal on this occasion. The principal feature in the new Rule of clôture is the transference of the initiative from the Chair to the Leader of the House or to some hon. Member 361 of the House; and it seems to me desirable that it should be the Leader of the House who should take the initiative in a matter of this kind. The change will be satisfactory as far as it goes, because if the Leader of the House unfairly utilizes the power given to him, there is greater freedom left to hon. Members, wherever they sit, to attack him than there is to attack anybody else. We know it is utterly impossible and utterly wrong to cast any reflection upon the Chair, whereas greater freedom is left to hon. Members with regard to the Leader of the House, whoever he may be. That is why I, for one, welcome that portion of the change; but I would respectfully submit to the House that it would be much better to omit all reference to the Speaker on a matter of this kind. It would be infinitely better for the conduct of the Business of this House and for the working of the clôture, which now, I fancy, will be put into operation pretty regularly. To put the Speaker in the position of a Referee, so to speak, as to whether or not the clôture should be applied, would be in the eyes of the House to make him a partizan. He would have either to give his consent or refuse it. The application would be made by a Member on the Front Bench. If the Speaker refuse it the Government would naturally be offended, and if he gave it, the hon. Members threatened with the use of the clôture would be forced to the conclusion that he was unfavourable to them or to their interests. That would be an unfortunate thing, especially when we remember that for some years past there has been no contest for the Office of Speaker, but that Speakers have been chosen unanimously, without a Division. The Speakers nowadays are placed in a position of great impartiality, and I think it would be much better not to throw any duty upon them which would give rise to the suspicion of their being partizans. I therefore trust the House will see its way to exclude from the Rule all appeal to the Speaker, and simply let the initiative rest with the Leader of the House. It is rather singular to reflect that in 1882 the Conservative Party were unanimously opposed to the clôture, and are now themselves the persons who propose it. I believe they were perfectly right in their original view, and that the introduction of 362 this comparatively novel mode of Procedure should be viewed with great suspicion; and it seems very strange that the Conservatives should come down now and propose a Rule much stronger than that originally proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). It must be remembered that one of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), succeeded in getting his place there mainly through his opposition to the gagging Resolution of 1882. That right hon. Gentleman made use of language at that time which I am certain he must now lament. He compared the Clôture Resolution to a jemmy, and said he would not mind entrusting an innocent girl with a jemmy, but in the hands of a burglar it would be a different thing; and that as he knew that the person who principally wanted the jemmy was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham—then President of the Board of Trade—(Mr. J. Chamberlain), he was very reluctant to put it in his hands. I believe we are face to face, or very soon will be, with an iron hand that is going to be held over a portion of Her Majesty's Dominions; and I would remind the House that in 1882 the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) expressed his fear lest the closure might be unfairly applied to the Nationalist Members from Ireland, and a safety valve be thereby closed, to the great danger of the Government of that country. Then, again, the present Lord Chancellor (Lord Halsbury), speaking on the question of the clôture, expressed the hope that it would retain its French name, because, as he said, it breathed a French spirit, and because it would inevitably bring about reprisals upon those who put it in force. The Government must remember that as sure as they use the clôture at the present time—as sure as night follows day—the power will be used against them when they are in Opposition. I will close my citation of authorities on Parliamentary Procedure by quoting the late Sir Thomas Erskine May, who stated that the Forms of the House constituted a protection to minorities against the tyranny of majorities, and that it would be most unfortunate if the power of 363 putting an end to debate should be used for the purpose of stifling free discussion. With regard to the number of Members who should be in the House when the clôture is enforced, the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. F. S. Powell) referred to his American experience, and spoke of the Members of the House of Representatives being "summoned" two hours before the clôture was put in force, or before the "Previous Question" was moved, which is the form clôture takes in that country. He spoke of summoning or calling the hon. Members of this House, but I would point out that the position of hon. Members of this House is widely different to that of American Representatives. Members of the American Congress receive large sums in compensation for their Parliamentary services; and if you adopt a system by which hon. Gentlemen will be compelled to come down here at 12 o'clock in the day and stop until 12 o'clock at night, thereby being unable to follow their ordinary avocations, you will have to consider the question of compensating them for attendance. It would not be then as it has been in the past, that hon. Members could come down when they liked, but it would be a question of compelling them to be in the House; and you would have to adopt the system practised by almost every other Legislature in the world of paying Members for their loss of time.
§ MR. J. C. STEVENSON (South Shields)
With regard to the opinion which seems to prevail, that it will be the Party in power who, as a rule, will be anxious to put in force the closure, I would point out that the tedious repetitions and the kind of speeches that are sometimes made on both sides of the House are very often as much an annoyance to the minority as to the majority. Hon. Members have means of escape from tiresome discussions; but you, Sir, being compelled to sit in the Chair continuously, are consequently better able to form an opinion as to tedious repetition than either majorities or minorities, and as to when a subject has been adequately discussed. No doubt the Chair is entitled to stop tedious repetition in a single speech; but I do not know that it has power to put a stop to tedious repetition of a more serious character; that is to say, when one hon. Member 364 after another, in the course of a long discussion, produces precisely the same arguments. I desire to speak on this occasion on behalf of a body of Members who have not hitherto been mentioned in the debate—namely, private Members, who do not, and probably never will, have an opportunity of sitting on either of the Front Benches. I myself am an unfortunate victim in this respect, because I am in charge of a Bill which has excited great interest in the country generally—namely, the Sunday Closing Bill, and have been in charge of it for 10 years; but on only two occasions, owing to the manner in which Business is transacted in this House, have I been able to get a Vote upon it, and that in an indirect manner. Although, nominally, three days a week are devoted to private Members, it is almost impossible for a Member to carry a Bill through, however much it may be desired by the country, and however much the majority may be ready to pass it if they had the opportunity. I am glad, therefore, to find that the same Rules of Closure applying to Government measures will prevail on Wednesdays, and affect the legislation of private Members. That will be a great advantage. Three years ago, I succeeded in calling attention to a Rule of the kind which, unfortunately, was not adopted. I proposed that on Wednesdays, if a Bill had been under discussion for four hours, by the arrival of the clock at a certain hour—I think a quarter past 5—the vote of the House was to be taken upon the measure, and the stage was to be decided. According to that proposal, there was to be no appeal to the Speaker, the clock itself bringing the closure. I am not going to argue in support of that proposal. I merely mention it to the House whilst expressing my gratification at the proposal of the Government to change the existing Rule, rendering it impossible for a single individual to defeat the wishes of the Whole House and prevent a Division being taken. I thank the Government also for having adopted the suggestion I put on the Paper one or two Sessions ago, with regard to private Members' Bills which have passed certain stages. According to this arrangement, those Bills which have made some progress, and have passed the second reading, will not be blocked by others which have no 365 chance of passing. I think by this means—and other measures which are to be adopted—the scandal will be removed of private Members being unable to get any legislation through the House.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I rise, Sir, with much hesitation to take part in the debate, because it may happen, holding the Office which the House has done me the honour to confer upon me, that I shall have to take some share in the administration of the proposed new Rules, and it may be inconvenient in the circumstances for me to criticize beforehand the Procedure I may have to administer. On the other hand, however, the very distinction that the House has conferred upon me places me in a position in which I may be free from any Party bias, and can only have in view the best mode of facilitating the despatch of the Business which the House has undertaken. In the first place, I desire to look at these proposed Rules from the point of view of a political mechanic. The House of Commons is a great political machine, and it is charged with the performance of certain duties which everyone will be ready to admit have been allowed to fall into considerable arrear. The question, therefore, is, in what manner can this machine be best mended or altered, so as to enable it to fulfil the purpose for which it was created? An hon. Member said last night that the House of Commons is not a mere machine for grinding out Acts of Parliament. I am far from thinking that that is the sole function of the House of Commons. The House has to see that law and justice are fairly administered throughout the land; it has to see that the duties of the public services are discharged in an expeditious, easy, certain, and equitable manner; and its next and certainly not inferior function is to express in law what is the will of the electors. The Members of this House, in addition to their other duties, are sent here to introduce amendments of the law. At al elections questions are submitted to the electors with regard to proposed amendments of the law. Nevertheless, it cannot be alleged with accuracy that the amendment of the law is their sole duty. It is, admitted, however, that on the question of the reform of the law the House has fallen into arrear, and has 366 failed altogether to respond in any degree of celerity to what the people of the country desire. The question, therefore, is, why is it that the House has failed to carry out the wishes of the nation? The answer suggested by the proposed Rules to that question is, in the first place, because the House has undertaken too much work, and, secondly, because there is on the part of some hon. Members a disposition to interfere—by unnecessary and prolonged debate—with the discharge of the functions of the House. The remedy for these evils is the amendment of the legislative machinery; but that amendment must undoubtedly be accompanied by due safeguards for securing due and proper debate of the subjects brought before the House. As for the question of the quantity of work which the House is fitted to perform, it is my opinion that, as was recommended by the Committee of last year, there must be a devolution of a portion of that work, by means of the House being divided into four or five Committees, to which all Bills and a certain portion of the Estimates shall be referred before they come before the House as a whole to be finally disposed of. The Government have not seen their way to recommend those proposals of the Committee' for adoption; and I own that the Government are entirely justified in not bringing those proposals before the House just now, because that Committee—although recommending the division of the House into four or five Committees—went on to declare that an essential complement of the proposal was that private legislation by this House should be put an end to. I fully admit that there are considerable difficulties in the way of carrying out the proposal to divide the House into several Committees; but nevertheless, I think that they are not insurmountable. Well, Sir, the next question which, to my mind, is intimately connected with devolution is that of fixing the hour of closing in the evening. It is a very alluring suggestion that hon. Members should be able to get away by half-past 12 o'clock; but I feel much apprehension that, unless there is some great multiplication of the powers of the House, it will not be able to get through its work within the limits of the time of an ordinary Session. Of course, that can only be decided by experience; but I feel 367 grave apprehension that to get through our work we shall have to abandon a fixed time for closing, not constantly perhaps, but very frequently. Even with the assistance of the closure, I do not see how, as an arithmetical problem, we could get the work into the time. Therefore, it would be well to adopt the proposal of the hon. Member for Partick that at the commencement of the Business at any sitting a Motion for the suspension of the Rule as to closing at a fixed hour may be made and decided, without Amendment or debate. With respect to the closure, this is rendered necessary by the abuse of the power of debate in the House. It is not seriously disputed that there must be closure; but it is felt that it ought to be fenced round, in some way or other, so as to secure due debate. Under the existing Rules, due debate is secured by the Chair having to declare that it has been secured, and that it is the "evident sense of the House" that the debate should close. I frankly confess that when the Rule was adopted in 1882, as a subordinate Member of the Government, I dissented from its introduction into the House. The essential thing to consider with regard to the closure is in what degree it is wished to have the power of closure made available. Is it to be available at short notice, or not? I believe that if you wish the closure really to do its work, although you may not desire that it should be often used, it ought to be available at short notice. If there appears in any quarter of the House a disposition to prolong debate, there should also be a consciousness in that quarter of the House that the disposition can be checked almost as soon as it arises. If, therefore, the closure is to be real, and if the machine is to be made efficient, we must have closure of a character that can often be put into operation. It is impossible for the Speaker to put the closure often into operation, and that is one of the great reasons why the Chair should not be a party to it. If the occupant of the Chair is not to be the person to declare that due debate has been sufficiently secured, where are we to find a security? The proposal of the Government finds it in another quarter—by allowing any Member to appeal to the Chair as to whether due debate has been sufficiently secured or not. Any Member may, under the 368 proposed Rule, ask the Speaker for liberty to move "That the Question be now put." I am a little in the dark as to how this will work, and I think the Government should state how they intend it to work, and how they think it will work. Is the Member to whom is to be entrusted this function to rise from his seat in the House and ask the Speaker to put the Question, or to confer with the Chair beforehand? It is not very agreeable to the House to entertain the notion that a Member is to confer with the Speaker beforehand as to what is to be done; and, further, I may say that any suspicion of this kind does not add to the lustre of the Chair. The thing must be done openly; and, according to the Rule, any Member may get up and ask the Chair to put the Question. The possibility of the Chair declining to put the Question must also be considered, and if that happens, it will not leave a good impression; but, on the other hand, if the occupant of the Chair is really to exercise the check he is intended to do, he must now and then decline to put the Question on the application of some adventurous Member. It has been said that the power is only to be exercised by a Member of the Government or the Leader of the House; but there is nothing to that effect in the Rule. A great deal can be said against leaving it entirely to the Government to appeal to the Speaker. It may, for instance, be a private Member's Bill which is under discussion, and I think that, in such a case, the hon. Member in charge of the Bill or Motion before the House should be the person to appeal to the Chair. It is absolutely essential in the interest of Order that the power of application should be limited to some person who holds a responsible position in respect of the Business under discussion; and, if the Rule is to be passed, some such limitation should be put upon it. But I think it will be better to do away with the necessity for the Speaker having anything to do with it, and to secure some other sufficient safeguard for debate being adequately prolonged. The Committee on Procedure unanimously set aside a proposal to adopt numbers as a limitation on the power of closure, because it was felt to be both imperfect and unsatisfactory. In view of that fact, it is very strange that the Government should 369 have brought forward their present proposal to introduce the principle of numbers as a safeguard. This departure from the recommendation of the Committee appears to me to be inexcusable. That the present proposal will be practically inoperative will be seen when it is considered that 180 Members on one side of the House will not put a stop to a debate against the wishes of 50 Members on the other side; and also when it is remembered that in none of the Divisions in Committee of Supply last Session were there 200 Members in the majority, while there were always more than 40 in the minority. For these reasons, I put aside the question of numbers; I put aside also the intervention of the Chair on account of the evils which attach to that method; I put aside closure by a bare majority; and, therefore, I am driven to the conclusion that the only workable and trustworthy method is to be found in the principle of a proportional majority. It may be said that this is a novel proposal; but, in principle, it is not so; and it may be said also that as a simple majority is sufficient to pass an Act, it ought to be sufficient to apply the closure. It is true that Members are sent to this House by their constituencies to vote on alterations of the law, which must be adopted by a simple majority of the House; but, Sir, they are also sent here to speak and act in the interests of their constituents; and if the closure be adopted, they may be prevented from fulfilling the purposes for which they are sent. The action of the House in restricting the privileges of a certain section of its Members is similar to that of a jury; and, by considering the action of a jury, some light will be thrown upon this subject. In England, absolute unanimity is required of a jury for a verdict; and in Scotland the modification of this rule in civil cases still requires a proportional majority. If, therefore, we treat the action of the Members of this House as the act of jurymen pronouncing a verdict, we shall not be departing from, but following the ancient principle of the Constitution, by saying that there shall be a considerable majority in favour of the application of the closure. The proportion proposed upstairs was two to one; but the proportion I propose is half as much again. It is necessary, perhaps, to explain how I came to the conclusion that the prin- 370 ciple of a proportionate majority ought to be adopted in deciding whether a discussion was sufficiently prolonged or not. This matter is sometimes represented as being a contest between the supporters of the Government and the other Members of the House; I think, however, if hon. Members will turn the subject over in their minds, they will see that this view shows a very insufficient appreciation of the facts. In point of fact, it is rather a contest between all who desire legislation, and those who do not desire legislation. I have already referred to the class of questions known as the Liquor Questions. I have no Sabbatarian desire to shut up the public-houses on Sundays, nor am I greatly enamoured of the restrictions which it is proposed to place on the sale of intoxicating liquors; but I cannot help thinking that, if we are convinced that the majority of Members of this House are sent here to carry out the will of the electors, who are behind them, and to get these things done, we ought not to put any obstacles in the way of their being done. Therefore, I hold that this reform of Procedure is not an official, but a democratic question. Some hon. Members may, perhaps, think that the clogs and hindrances put in the way of legislation are useful, not in the way of security for the due consideration of what may be proposed, but in the way of preventing that which they dislike being carried out. I say that those Gentlemen are actuated by the same feelings as hon. Members below the Gangway, and inspired by the same desire to use the Forms of the House to prevent the legislation which they themselves dislike. It is of no use to give the franchise broadly, unless we are prepared to carry the consequences of the extended franchise into the House itself. I do not wish indeed to see the House made too quickly responsive to movements out of doors. We have too much of that already. We know that a foolish sentimental newspaper, or a foolish sentimental clergyman, may get up a cry—a bitter or a nasty cry—and Leaders on both sides of the House sometimes seem to vie with each other to give the most ready assent of the Legislature to the shrieks out-of-doors. But when Questions have been duly considered, and have made their way in the country, when Resolutions have been maturely adopted, introduced 371 into this House, and brought forward Session after Session, hon. Members will not act fairly to those who possess the franchise if they retain the present machinery of the House in order to prevent those Resolutions being legislated upon. On the other hand, if we show the frank spirit in respect of these matters, which, I hope, will be manifested, we shall then have the best answer which can be made to any complaint of Members below the Gangway, for we shall then be showing a readiness to submit to what is the prime principle of Parliamentary government—namely, that when the minority has been heard, and after due and prolonged discussion, the will of the majority must and shall prevail.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH) (Bristol, W.)
Sir, in spite of the ability of the many speeches which have been delivered this evening, and not least of the speech which we have just heard, I confess that, to a listener who compares it to the debate on the subject in 1882, this debate might appear a trifle dull. On that occasion we had great Party debates and great Party Divisions. We had great expectations on the one side, and great fears on the other. Hon. Members opposite seemed to anticipate that, with the adoption of the closure, a kind of Radical millennium would begin, and that obstruction would at once cease. On the other hand, there were not a few Conservatives who thought, in those days, that the passing of the Resolution we are now attempting to amend would be the death-knell of the Conservative Party. We have both learnt wisdom. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to twit us with a change of opinion; they have changed their opinions too. ["No, no!"] There has been a general change of opinion, not only in this House, but in the country as well, upon this subject. There has been a general consensus of opinion among us to deal with this matter in no Party spirit, not timidly, and with the intention of bringing about that result of our discussion to which the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) so properly referred, and yet without any repression of free speech in this House. The debate on the last two nights has turned entirely upon two points, and upon two points alone, to 372 which I will allude very briefly, as they have been so fully discussed that I could not add very much that is new to this discussion. The hon. Member for Bodmin said a good deal upon the question of the Amendment we propose to the Closure Rule. I think it will be universally admitted that the Closure Rule has not been sufficiently applicable to the proceedings of this House. There have been times since its passing when it might have been applied with general approbation, and to the great advantage of the order and usefulness of this House. Why was it not applied? I believe that the reason is simply this—that the initiative has been in the hands of the Speaker alone, instead of what we propose—namely, that it shall be in the hands of any Member of this House. That is the change which we propose to make in this Resolution. Now, objection has been taken to it on the ground of the responsibility we intend to impose upon the occupant of the Chair. It has been already amply shown that whatever that responsibility may be, it must be less than the present responsibility which rests upon him. We have proposed that the consent of the Chair shall be necessary for the application of the closure. What does that mean? It means simply that the Chair shall be able to interfere for the prevention of abuse by the Motion for closure being made in order merely to interrupt the proceedings of the House, for the prevention of surprise, and for the protection of minorities. These three heads, I venture to say, comprise all the circumstances under which the interference of the Chair can be required by our proposal. Let me take the first head—the prevention of abuse of the Motion for closure. That question has been alluded to by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington).The hon. Member for Bodmin argued that his proposal for a proportionate majority, if carried out, would serve the purpose; but it would not prevent hon. Members from interrupting the proceedings of the House. [Mr. COURTNEY: I proposed to limit the class who could put the Motion.] It is true that the hon. Member limited the class to Ministers of the Crown, or any Member responsible for any particular Business before the House. But that very proposal was made by one of the Mem- 373 bers for Lancashire before the Select Committee. It was amply discussed, and it was negatived; if not without a Division, at any rate by an enormous majority. The Committee felt as the Government feel, that it would be better to place all Members of the House upon an equality in this matter, and to give each Member the same privileges as possessed by a Minister of the Crown. I do not believe that when the hon. Member for Bodmin comes to propose his suggestion, if he does propose it—that the closure shall only be applicable on the Motion of certain Members—he will be more successful than was the hon. Member who proposed it in the Committee. Then comes the question of surprise. The hon. Member for Bodmin said that, in his opinion, it was essential that the closure should be applicable at any moment. That is not my view. I believe myself that it would be most unfortunate if the closure could be exercised in the way in which the hon. Member suggests. I agree with what fell last night from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), that almost the principal thing to be guarded against in this matter was the application of the closure by surprise. That, Sir, is amply guarded against by the proposals of Her Majesty's Government. It is in no degree guarded against by that of the hon. Member for Bodmin, because his closure by a proportionate majority may be put in the House at any time. There is another matter to which the hon. Member for Bodmin referred—namely, to difficulties which are inherent in the principles of the existing Rule, and are also included in the Resolution of Her Majesty's Government as to the closure towards the end of the Session. I cannot conceive any greater abuse than would be incurred by the frequent application of the closure in the month of August, when the Government would have a certain majority in this House, and might force through the House, without ample discussion, measures which, if not of first-rate, were, at all events, of considerable importance. These are the three points in which the Resolution is superior, from our point of view, to the proportionate majority recommended by the hon. Member for Bodmin. The hon. Member says that the Committee adopted the proposal of a proportionate majority, 374 and negatived that contained in the Resolution. No doubt they did. I was responsible for proposing the precise figures mentioned in the Resolution, which was negatived; and wishing to impose some limitation on the exercise of the closure, I joined the hon. Members who were in favour of a proportionate majority. But I do not believe that the proportionate majority will have anything like the same chance of success in this House as the figures in the existing Rule, which has this merit—from the point of view of those who wished the closure to be applicable by the majority—that when the numbers on either side are about 200, the closure can be applied by a very small majority. In 1882 I said that I did not believe that it would be possible in fair Party fighting for a Government to put down an Opposition by the imposition of the closure; that the Government would know too well what use would be made in the country of such action on their part by the Opposition, and that the result would be certain vengeance upon the Government for the abuse of their powers. That is my opinion still. Well, Sir, I adhere to every word of that still. I believe that it is important that the right of free speech should be secured to minorities, and that is why we have adopted a proposal which requires the consent of the Chair before the closure can be imposed; and also that a certain proportion of votes must be given in favour of its application. Reference has been made by more than one Member to the subject of devolution. I do not think it necessary to go at length into the subject, because it has been admitted by several speakers that the Government were justified in not attempting to propose the Resolutions which were only half adopted by the Select Committee last year. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Bodmin that this question cannot be settled definitely without the adoption of some system of devolution providing that much of the Business now done in this House shall be performed either by large Committees of the House or by Local Bodies outside. There are, however, two important points to be borne in mind at present. We must not overstrain the powers of the Members, for if we do the result will be that the Business of the country will be badly done. 375 This is why I believe it will be impossible to establish a satisfactory system of devolution until the House has been relieved of its Private Business. The second point to bear in mind is that Members cannot be in two places at once. If they are engaged on a Grand Committee, or a Select Committee, they cannot be taking part in the debates of this House. But it would be perfectly possible, under the Rules now proposed, for the Grand Committees to sit in the morning, and for the Members constituting them to attend afterwards the sittings of this House. The cessation of the work of the House at 12.30 a.m. ought to enable hon. Members to begin Committee work rather earlier than at present. It might be possible, without hardship, for Committees to begin their work at 11 o'clock. They would then have as much time for work as the Grand Committees had two years ago. I do not say that this is a complete settlement of the question; but it is one which can be adopted with advantage until Members can be relieved of the private Business of this House, and until a more comprehensive scheme can be devised for devolving upon a larger number of Committees work which can be properly removed from the House itself. We propose these Rules without any wish to force them upon the House, without any wish to use the majority which a Government possesses in order to compel their adoption. We have placed them before the House for full discussion upon their merits, with, a sincere desire to consider any proposals that hon. Members in any quarter of the House may make for their amendment. If the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) likes to place upon the Paper some proposal for the better devolution of Business; if we can adopt it consistently with the principles to which I have referred, we shall be delighted to consider it with a view to its embodiment in the Rules. That is the spirit in which we approach this matter, and in which it has been approached universally by the House. We all agree upon the principle; we all agree that it is desirable to make this House more efficient in the conduct of its Business. But although we agree upon the principle, we do not by any means agree upon the details of its application. Is not that a reason for 376 thinking that now we may have discussed the principle sufficiently, and that we had better turn to the discussion of the separate Rules? I would venture to hope that, having had a discussion for two nights now upon the general question of the Resolutions which we have proposed—an opportunity having been afforded to hon. Members to express very fully their views upon the points in which they differ from our proposals as well as the points on which they agree with them—the House may now be allowed to proceed with the discussion, line by line, of the first Rule, in order to see what shall be the practical result of the suggestions made to Her Majesty's Government and the House of Commons. I am sure that there has been nothing whatever in the course of this debate which has shown any desire to obstruct the progress of these Rules; I believe the House is anxious to get to their discussion; and, therefore, I would express the hope that the general debate may now be concluded, and the consideration of the Rules seriatim entered upon.
§ MR. LANE (Cork Co., E.)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down commenced his remarks by saying he believed all sections of this House have now come to the opinion that it is time that these New Rules should be adopted for the conduct of the Business of this House. Well, on behalf of the section of the Members of this House with whom I have the honour to act, I must say we have not yet come to the conclusion that the adoption of these, or any other, Rules is necessary, if the Government will only show a disposition to treat the claims of the country we represent with something like common justice and fair play. I have listened to a great number of speeches that have been made since this debate commenced, and I have been struck by the singular unanimity with which all Members have avoided any reference whatever to the causes which led to the introduction of these Rules in the year 1882; and also all reference to what is to be the immediate use to which the Government intend to put the Rules when they get them passed. It is a matter of ancient history now that these Rules were first adopted in 1882, by the Members of Her Majesty's present Opposition, for the purpose of preventing Irish Mem- 377 bers from forcing on the attention of the House and the British people that claim for Irish Home Government which has now become a cardinal point of Liberal policy. I can very well understand, therefore, why the Members of Her Majesty's Opposition did not care to make any reference to the cause of the introduction of these Rules. What is now high statesmanship on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) was then rank obstruction on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). I do not, however, quite so easily understand why it was that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith), in introducing the Rules to our notice yesterday, did not make the slightest reference whatsoever to the fact that there was such a Party in this House as the Irish Party, or such a question before the House as the Question of the crisis which is now occurring in Ireland, and which should be dealt with somehow or another by this Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman never made the slightest reference to our existence here; but, though the right hon. Gentleman is the Leader of this House, he, himself, has got a Leader in the Cabinet, and if we did not hear from the Leader of the House when introducing the Rules, the purpose to which they are immediately intended to be put, we know by the reports in this morning's newspapers that, at a meeting held elsewhere, the noble Marquess at the head of the Government gave a very explicit statement to his Followers as to what use these Procedure Rules should be put to immediately the Government got possession of them. He said that a great many people would blame the Government for not having suppressed the National League in Ireland, and would say that that might have been done long before now. The noble Marquess did not say that the Government were reluctant to suppress the National League, but that they had not suppressed it because they were not in possession of the necessary legal machinery to enable them to do it. He supplemented that by stating that he expected that, immediately the Procedure Rules were passed, the coercive legislation foreshadowed by the Government would be taken in hand, that it would be pushed through with all 378 celerity; and that directly the Government got the Procedure Rules, he and his Colleagues would not be so slow in adopting measures dealing with the National League and kindred institutions in Ireland in the future as they had been in the past. That was a very fair and straightforward declaration of policy on the part of the noble Marquess; and I think if his Colleague, the Leader of this House, had been as straightforward in his declaration in introducing these Resolutions to the House, perhaps we should not have seen this discussion so much confined to the minute details of the Procedure Rules. You would have had the wider question of the use the Resolutions are to be put to discussed; rather than the technical details, which, in my opinion, would have been much better discussed when the separate Rules came under consideration. I, as an Irish Member, decline to discuss these Procedure Resolutions on technical grounds. We came to the conclusion last night that this first debate would have a general scope, and I understand that general scope to refer as much to the necessity for the introduction of these Rules at all, as to the details of them. Other Members who have preceded me—in fact, the majority of hon. Members who have spoken—have satisfied themselves with the discussion of the details of the Rules. As a Representative of an Irish constituency, I prefer to discuss this question from the point of view of whether there is any necessity whatever for the introduction of these Rules into Parliament at the present moment. I will call attention to the fact that though these Rules were under the discussion of a Committee for some time last year and the year before, it was not necessary to introduce them in the last two Sessions of Parliament. It was in the year 1885 that for the first time, owing to the passing of the Representation of the People Act, Ireland was enabled to return 85 Members fairly representing the country. I am free to admit that when we, who were then elected, came over to this House for the first time, we did not enter within the portals of this House animated with the most friendly feelings either towards this House itself or towards what are called its traditions. I would go further and say that we came over here rather with very hostile feelings towards the 379 House and its Rules and traditions, which in our opinion had been always, hitherto marked towards the disadvantage rather than to the benefit of the people we claim to represent. But though those were our feelings when we entered into this House, I would remind the House that we were not very many weeks hero when we learnt that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) entertained the idea of introducing legislation for the purpose of remedying the grievances we suffered under in Ireland.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is not discussing the Question before the House in any sense. He is not speaking to the Resolutions either in their individual or collective capacity.
§ MR. LANE
I was trying to show, with great deference to your ruling, Sir, why it is I hold that if the Government had introduced at the beginning of this Session a policy or anything like fair justice to Ireland there would be no necessity for introducing these Rules or Procedure for the purpose of gagging the Irish Representatives; because, Sir, if you have followed the remarks I have made up to the present—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I have told the hon. Gentleman that he is not speaking relevantly, and if I have to interrupt him again I shall be obliged to take stronger measures.
§ MR. LANE
I rose, Sir, simply to state to this House that I did not think that there was any necessity whatever for the introduction of these Rules of Procedure; and I desire to show if I may be allowed to do so by the ruling of the Chair, that if the Irish Members see that they are about to receive anything like fair play from the present Government, there will be no Members more likely to study the economy of time, or to conform to the Rules of the House, than the hon. Members who have accompanied me here to represent 86 constituencies in Ireland. That was what I was trying to show at the time you, Sir, called my attention to the fact that I was wandering from the subject before the House. If I so wandered I can assure you it was quite unintentional and without the slightest desire to depart from the subject under discussion at the present moment. When the Irish Representatives saw last year that they were about to receive a measure of justice they practically 380 effaced themselves for the time being. During the whole of the discussions of last year except where it was absolutely necessary for them to do so, there was no such thing as obtrusive intervention in the debates on the part of the Irish Members. Well, we fully recognize that we could not expect Her Majesty's Government, elected as they were at the General Election of last year, to come down to this House now prepared with a policy similar to that which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) introduced—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must direct the hon. Gentleman to discontinue his speech in consequence of continued irrelevancy.
§ The hon. MEMBER accordingly resumed his seat.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
It is not unnatural that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) should desire that we should, as soon as possible, get into the discussion of the several Resolutions themselves; and, therefore, so far as I am concerned, I shall do my best to make my remarks as brief as possible. But I am anxious to take this opportunity of calling the attention of the Government to omissions in the Code of Procedure which they have introduced. One of these omissions is that absence of a complete scheme of devolution which has been already adverted to; and another, which has been referred to by no hon. Member who has yet spoken except the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. J. C. Stevenson), is the absence of any provision for better using that part of the time of the House which is devoted to private Members' Bills. Owing to the abnormal condition of things which has prevailed of late years, the Government having in several Sessions taken most of the time of private Members, hon. Members may have forgotten—new Members especially may have forgotten—that private Members ought to have three days of the week for for the transaction of their Business—namely, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and part of Fridays. Now, it is notorious that the time given to private Members in the last Parliament or two has been of little use for the purpose of legislation. The number of private Members who balloted for opportunities to carry forward Bills at the beginning 381 of the present Session was nearer 200 than 100—it certainly exceeds 150. And, of course, the more numerous the Private Members' Bills are the less chance is there for any particular Bill getting such a place in the Ballot as will afford the opportunity of fair discussion. The House has had to choose between a system of choice and one of chance, and in regard to private Members' Bills it has adopted the latter system. Government Business is ordered on the principle of choice, that is to say, Ministers are permitted to arrange their business as they think best; but private Members have to trust to the chance of the Ballot, whether the questions they wish to bring forward for discussion are important or not. Of the Wednesdays many are taken up by the Government, and the chances of private Members' are thus further reduced. Some few Bills, no doubt, coming out early on the Ballot, obtain discussion, perhaps, even second reading, but they are not necessarily the Bills which the House cares most to discuss. It is the fashion to speak lightly of private Members' Bills, and to say that all the important legislation of the country should come from the Government. In my opinion, however, private Members' Bills represent a very important embodiment of public opinion. They are the means by which subjects that are much in the minds of our constituents can be brought forward and tested by discussion. It is all very well to say that the Press and the platform furnish sufficient machinery for this purpose, but a single day's discussion of a Bill brought before the House of Commons in a practical shape is worth many newspaper articles and hundreds of platform speeches. If the House were in this way to secure a discussion of matters which are really important, and not merely of the subject which the Ballot brings up, it would render very considerable service to the public. There are, no doubt, large and important questions—questions of great complexity—which must be left to the Government of the day; but over and above this there are a great many questions out of which no great political capital can be made, and which, therefore, it is not worth the while of the Government to take them up, but which it is worth the while of the House to take up on the proposition of a private 382 Member. If we look over the legislation of the last 40 years up to the time when the practice of blocking became general, we shall see that during many years a great deal of the most useful work of the House has been done by private Members' Bills. A great many small amendments of the law and small administrative questions affecting the social welfare of the people have been carried by private Members' Bills. I should like to see the time of the House devoted to private Members' Bills given usefully, and not wasted upon fads or trivial questions that are very often mere crotchets. It should be given to those questions in which Members and their constituents feel a real interest. There is, for instance, the question which the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields has so properly referred to—namely, the Liquor Traffic Question, which has been hanging round the neck of this House, so to speak, for many years. That should be dealt with, and also the question of the amendment of the Commons and Enclosure Acts, which has been before Parliament for the past seven years, and which very nearly touches the interests of the poor, but which we have not had, during these seven Sessions, an opportunity of discussing, for the reason that it has always come out so low in the Ballot. Several plans have been suggested to meet the difficulty of making a judicious selection among private Members' Bills. It has been thought that the object in view might be attained by giving a preference to those Bills in which a considerable number of Members are interested, as, for instance, by allowing Members to subscribe their names to Bills, and thus to show their preference for particular measures, so as to enable them to obtain a better position on the Order Book. It has also been proposed that some Bills should be taken as what are termed short Bills—that is, with a strict limitation on the length of the speeches to be made for and against them; and I trust the Government will be able, in the course of the debate on the new Rules, to give attention to this matter. I draw their attention to the subject in order to urge upon them the desirability of selecting from the plans suggested that which has the greatest promise of usefulness. The matter is well deserving of consideration, and will 383 become more important as the principle of devolution is extended. With regard to the Rule of Closure, I approve of the initiative in putting it in force being taken out of the hands of the Speaker and given to a Minister of the Crown, or a Member in charge of a Bill. I cannot approve, however, of what seems to be the desire of the Government, to take a greater advantage of the judicial functions of the Speaker. I regard so highly the traditional impartiality of Mr. Speaker, that I do not wish the House to do anything to imperil it in the slightest degree. I believe the Government is now entering upon a course which will imperil that judicial character which the Speaker's Office has hitherto maintained, but of which the imposition of these new liabilities may deprive it. No doubt what they propose will make the Rule easier of application, and, so far, the change will be for the better; but, at the same time, the requirement of consent on the part of the Chair will, when that consent is given, associate the Chair with the action of the Party seeking the closure; will create an impression of complicity between the Chair and one Party, and will inevitably bring the Speaker into the political arena. It seems to me that the true check upon the misuse of the closure is not to be found in any of the safeguards proposed by the Government, but in the action of public opinion. Both many loading Members and the officials in the House of Representatives in Washington, where the closure is constantly used, and where it is regarded as practically indispensable to the conduct of business, have informed me that, substantially, it is not abused; that it certainly does not operate to facilitate tyranny over minorities; but they add that the great safeguard against its abuse is found in the expression of public opinion. I do not cite the case of the House of Representatives as one from which we can learn much, for its circumstances, its work, its composition, are very different from those of this House. I refer to it only for the purpose of remarking that there, where closure is of constant application, the only and sufficient check on abuse is found in the fear of public displeasure. So in this country, also, the sense of fair play on the part of the public will be an ample, and the 384 only adequate, safeguard against the tyrannical use of the closing power by majorities to silence minorities.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
Mr. Speaker, I listened with some surprise to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen (Mr. Bryce). I was at Washington a few weeks ago, and I endeavoured to ascertain what is the opinion of the independent Members of Congress in regard to the working of the closure there. The complaint made daily in America by the Press is that the closure is abused in the Congress at Washington. When a debate takes place in Congress, the Whips of the Parties arrange with the Speaker, behind the backs of Members, who are to be the speakers, and under that system the independent Members have no chance whatever of expressing their views. There is this sort of safety valve to the abuse of the closure at Washington—namely, that if an independent Member rises to speak, by a technical Motion in the House the speech is laid on the Table. The speech has not been listened to, or the arguments contained in it controverted; but it is printed, and a large number of copies of it are supplied by Congress for distribution amongst the Members' constituents. That is the result of an abuse of the closure in the Washington Congress. As to the people of America taking a large interest in what takes place in the Congress, the fact is that the reports of the proceedings in the newspapers occupy only 20, 30, or 50 lines. The whole of the popular interest in America is really centred in the State Legislatures, where all the affairs of the State are managed. The case cited by my hon. Friend (Mr. Bryce), as a reason why the clôture, as proposed in this Resolution, should be not only introduced here, but that it should be strengthened by further legislation, falls absolutely to the ground, from the fact I have just stated. Personally, I am quite in sympathy with the object of the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) in bringing in these Rules. The acceleration of Business I quite agree with; but the method adopted seems to me to be utterly futile. It is quite clear that the object is to put down what is commonly known in the House as Obstruction. Obstruction has been practised in Parliament by every Party. To pass these 385 Rules to put down Obstruction, anybody with two or three years' experience in the House must, after a few moments' consideration, agree with me when I say it is completely futile. If you give me a dozen Members who will do as I tell them—[A laugh.] Perhaps it is presumptuous of me to put myself in the position of a Leader; but if I had a dozen Members who would speak when I desired upon the subjects I asked them to speak upon, I would drive, as we say in my country, a coach and six through all your Rules. I will show you how it is done. [Laughter] I am speaking quite seriously on the subject. Let us take the case of the Private Business of the House. There are frequently six or seven, perhaps a dozen, Private Bills set down for consideration. Upon any one of these Bills any Member is entitled to speak, and no Speaker would venture to prevent a Member exercising such a right. There is not one Private Bill which does not raise questions of considerable importance. Only the other day, I raised an important question upon a Private Bill, and though my Motion was only discussed for three-quarters of an hour, it was passed unanimously. Again, take the Orders of the Day. There are often as many as 40 Orders of the Day. Any Member can speak upon every one of them, and no Speaker would prevent a Member speaking on every one, so long as there marks he made were pertinent to the subject. But as the Rules are to be passed, all I can say is, let them be tried. I hope they will succeed. There is another point to which I wish to draw attention, and that is what I suppose will be called the 2 o'clock Rule. The Government propose that the Business of the House should commence at 2 o'clock. Now, if we consider what the composition of the House is, we shall find that the large majority of Members have some private occupation—they are either professional or commercial men, and to ask either professional or commercial men to attend in the House at 2 o'clock is virtually to ask them to abandon their business. No commercial man can safely leave his business until after banking hours, until after half-past 3. Professional men are in much the same position; and, therefore, if the proposal to meet at 2 o'clock is agreed 386 to, the result will inevitably be to throw back the representation into the hands of the moneyed classes and the idle classes. ["Oh, oh!"] I do not use that phrase discourteously; I wish I was a moneyed man myself. I hope the Leader of the House will take this point into his serious consideration before it comes up for settlement. It must be borne in mind that Members have Committees to attend, and that it is hard enough, at the present time, for those who are on a Committee or Commission to find any time at all for their private business. If, in addition to attending Committees and Commissions, you ask Members to come here at 2 o'clock, you ask that which is simply impossible. As a matter of fact, the Government will have possession of the House from 2 o'clock until 4 every day, and will have it in their power to rush measures through without any interference on the part of men who have had large and long experience in commercial and business matters. Is it possible to adopt such a Rule with any fairness to men who are engaged in commercial pursuits? It is just possible that the alteration would result in the organizing of a system of Obstruction which will keep the Business dilly-dallying from 2 till 4 o'clock, at which time Business men can come down to the House.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Flynn.)
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I cannot help thinking that, at this hour of the night (12.25), it is hardly fair that the debate should be adjourned. A general discussion has been taken for the purpose of eliciting information with regard to the scope of the Rules. A general discussion was not allowed in 1882, and it was only taken now in the hope that it would save the time of the House; when we come to deal with the proposals in detail, I think the feeling of the House will be that this discussion has lasted long enough, and that we should now proceed to the consideration of the Amendments of which the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), and the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Col. Nolan), 387 have given Notice. I trust the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Flynn) will withdraw his Motion for adjournment, and that we may be allowed to proceed with the real Business which is before the House.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I must confess that for two reasons, I am greatly surprised at the way the Motion of my hon. Friend (Mr. Flynn) has been encountered. The first reason is that everyone admits we are engaged in discussing a very comprehensive and far-reaching scheme. This is only the second night which has been devoted to its consideration, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) has reminded us that the consideration of a somewhat similar Rule, proposed a few years ago, occupied 19 sittings. The second reason is, that I am informed that some hours ago, the Government agreed, with a very important Member of the House, to consent to the adjournment to-night, provided there was no effort made to extend the debate beyond to-morrow.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
On the distinct understanding that the general discussion be closed to-morrow, I shall not oppose the Motion for Adjournment. No indication of that character, however, was made by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Flynn).
§ MR. SEXTON
I believe the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) was already aware that on these Benches there was no desire to extend the debate beyond to-morrow. Certainly, so far as the Irish Members are concerned, there is no desire to prolong the debate beyond to-morrow.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till To-morrow.