Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question,
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 decision 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. William Henry Smith.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
, in moving as an Amendment, in Rule 1, line 1, after the word "That," to insert the words "When Mr. Speaker is in the Chair," said, I rise, Sir, for the purpose of moving the first Amendment which appears in my name on the Paper, and I am anxious to state the reasons which induce me to do so. I am afraid that the adoption of the new Rules as they now stand will be likely to injure the character of this House and the character of our Committees. It is much more likely to injure the character of the House when the Chairman is in the Chair than when the Speaker presides, and, therefore, I maintain that these Rules should not be applied in the absence of the Speaker. The character of a Member appointed to the office of Speaker, and of one appointed Chairman of Committees, differs in many most important particulars. When the Speaker is appointed, he may have been a Party man, and even a strong Party man; but this rule has always been observed—in his future career the Speaker is not supposed to enter again into the arena of Party politics, and when he retires from the Chair he goes to a milder atmosphere, where Party devices are not supposed to be particularly strong. Consequently, the Speaker, to a great extent, ceases to be a Party man the moment he receives his appointment. That is not the case with the Chairman of Committees. He is generally a gentleman who may be considered to be an aspirant to Cabinet rank. Of the five Chairmen whom I recollect, one had held in a previous Government the position of Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, two others afterwards became Cabinet Ministers, and the other two, although at the present moment they are not Cabinet Ministers, when their Party comes into power again, will probably both of them 487 fairly expect to be included in the Ministry. When I speak of Chairmen of Committees as Party men, I have no wish to reflect on their Parliamentary character; but I merely say that this House cannot be in the same position when under the guidance of severe and stringent Rules enforced by a Chairman who is a Party man as it would be under the presidency of the Speaker, who is supposed to leave all Party considerations behind him when he is promoted to that position. The fact that Chairmen of Committees have aspirations to Cabinet rank places them in a different category from the Speaker. That is one reason why I think the immense power proposed to be given under the New Rule should not be given to the Chairman of Committees. There is, however, another reason for the selection of the Chairman of Committees—namely, that he may not have got a safe seat. Every Cabinet Minister has to stand re-election, but the Chairman of Committees is often appointed by his Party, because he has not got a safe seat, and his Party would not like to subject him to the test of a re-election. There was one occasion when each Party had a Chairman, and both sat for the same seat, and it was quite a toss-up which of the two was likely to succeed in an election. Now, I maintain that a Member who hopes to be a Cabinet Minister, and who has not got a safe seat, is a man who is practically in the hands of his Party when that Party happens to be in power. Therefore, these powers, however severe they may be in the hands of the Speaker, are likely to be more severely administered in the hands of a Chairman of Committees. Then, again, I have another reason. The Speaker is appointed after full notice and great deliberation. There is not much show in the House of Commons; but whatever there is surrounds the Speaker. We have every guarantee for publicity in the manner and method of his appointment, and every person has an opportunity of challenging that appointment. Contrast that with the manner in which the Chairman of Committees is appointed. I have been present at the opening of more than one Parliament, and on each occasion a Chairman has been appointed; but I have never known, or been made aware, when the appointment was made. I have 488 made some inquiry on this subject, and I am told that he is not appointed at all. That is wrong, I know; but there is a general impression among Members—a sort of legend—that he is appointed in this way—On the second night of the Session Members have Bills down on the Paper, and some of them have to go through the antiquated form of being introduced in Committee before they can be read a first time. Consequently, on the second night of the Session, the Speaker is moved out of the Chair for the first time, and whoever is put in the place of the Speaker becomes the Chairman of Committees. [Mr. DILLWYN: Hear, hear!] I am glad that the hon. Member endorses that statement, and I think it ought to be generally known. I contend that the man who is appointed in this way is not a man to whom we ought to entrust this enormous power. There is a still further reason. The Chairman of Committees has a duplicate capacity. He not only presides here when the Speaker is out of the Chair, but he has an enormous amount of work to do in connection with Private Bill legislation, and in regulating Procedure in regard to Private Bills. A Chairman of Committees has not only the power of controlling the House when in Committee, but he is also appointed for his knowledge of Private Bill legislation. It frequently happens that when the House goes into Committee the regular Chairman of Committees is not in his place, and the Speaker is replaced by some other Member of the House. Now, Sir, when you leave the Chair you are replaced by an efficient substitute; but who replaces the Chairman of Committees when he leaves the Chair? He is generally replaced by some great Party man who sits on the Treasury Bench, and sometimes, perhaps, out of compliment, by a Member who sits on the Front Opposition Bench, from whom I am afraid the minority would have still less to expect than from a Member of the Government. Who is to replace the Chairman of Committees when he is sick, or absent in consequence of having to attend to the Private Business of the House? The absence of the Speaker is most unfrequent; it rarely occurs, Sir, that your place is supplied by the Deputy Chairman; but the absence of the Chairman of Committees is much more frequent, and I think the House 489 ought to pause before it places in the hands of any substitute, who is a mere Party man, this enormous power. I would remind the House that my Amendment is not in favour of no closure at all; but what I am contending is that the existing closure by two-thirds should not be superseded by closure by a mere majority. When we are in Committee I should prefer no closure at all; but I maintain that when in Committee, if we are to have this severe and stringent Rule, a bare majority should not be able to outvote the minority and put them to silence. I have pointed out the difference between the Speaker of the House and the Chairman of Committees. Let me say a few words on the matters that are brought before the House in Committee, as compared with those which are before the House when the Speaker is in the Chair. The work in Committees may be practically divided into two parts—namely, the Votes in Supply, and the clauses of Public Bills. That does not comprise all the work of Committees, but it does include the larger portion of it. Now, I think it is most invidious that we should have these regulations with regard to clôture when in Committee of Supply, and I will give my reasons. In the first place, instead of Members speaking too much, or paying too much attention to Supply, it is well known that they do not devote sufficient attention to it. If Members would attend more regularly and pay more attention to the work in Supply, I believe that they would be able to save the country a large amount of money. There is nothing that officials of the Government are more afraid of than the discussion of increased expenditure in the House of Commons. What makes at the present moment the control of the House of Commons so efficient in Committee of Supply, is the way in which the Departments have prepared the Estimates. The Departments are afraid to put an additional Estimate upon the Votes. They know how new items will be challenged, and they are positively timid in putting them in. But when an expenditure has gone on for a few years the officers of the Department know that the House of Commons will confirm the Vote year after year, although it might have been struck off without detriment to the Public Service. In Committee of Supply a Member gets up and asks a question, 490 and having directed attention to an unsatisfactory Vote, it is generally found that it is struck off next year. How much more satisfactory would it not be to Departments generally, and how thankful the Northern Lights Commissioners in particular would be, if they could have their dinner bill discussed quietly anywhere, rather than in Committee of Supply. I fail to see how it will be possible to protect the expenditure of public money by the clôture. It is bad enough to have to vote away the public money at 1 o'clock in the morning; but to say that by a bare majority you are to put the clôture into effect will, I think, make the ratepayers not only indignant, but impatient of taxation. It has been said that some members have constantly over-discussed the Estimates. I do not say for a moment that there has not been some abuse of Supply, and an abuse which I am anxious to guard against. But these Rules do not deal with them. The abuse of Supply is long speeches which shut out other Members, and if we were to adopt a 10 minutes' rule, limiting the length of speeches, I think a great deal of good would be done; but by adopting the clôture you will only prevent practical men from being heard. How will you work the cloture? If there has been too much discussion upon one Vote, are you to close all discussion upon the remaining Votes during the rest of the evening? What are you going to do next? Are you going to clôture all the other Votes? If at the end of the evening you say "We will now apply the clôture, and having passed Vote 2 we will now pass Votes 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7." Without any debate at all, you will be doing great injury to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for people will be unwilling to pay taxes, and an enormous injury will be done to the Public Service. I think it is foolish that we should attempt to keep on the Standing Orders of the House a Rule that can only work injuriously. Let me mention a case in which it was alleged that there was an obstruction in Supply. I refer to the Volunteer Vote. Serious objection was taken to the passing of that Vote, and the Government said that it was a great shame that after the Vote had been discussed for two or three hours, it should not have been passed. The opponents of the Vote were anxious to state their reasons against it, 491 and they considered that it was hard upon them to have to state their reasons at 2 o'clock in the morning when they could not be reported. The objections came from the Irish Members; English Members were not likely to oppose the Volunteer Vote. In consequence of the discussion which took place, so violent were the objections taken to the Vote that it would have been absolutely impolitic to have stopped the discussion. Then it is said that the Irish Members took up too much time over the Constabulary Vote. Now the Constabulary Vote means the whole question of the Government of Ireland. It is said that the defection of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) had reference to the Constabulary or some kindred subject in Ireland, so that this is a matter of the most vital importance, and even if we take up one or two days in discussing a question of such enormous importance, surely it is far better that we should be allowed to speak at length, than that majority should place us under their control, and not only outvote us, but close our mouths. I do not know who is responsible for the Estimates. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible for the money; but I do not know whether the First Lord of the Treasury is responsible for the management of the Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has reminded us, that on one occasion after the House of Commons had made a protracted fight upon a Vote of £30,000 or £40,000, a number of Votes involving millions were passed without comment. I believe that the House would Vote money away freely, if hon. Members were allowed to have their way. I have spoken of the impolicy of imposing this clôture upon the Estimates. I should like to say one or two words as to the impolicy of having the clôture enforced when the House is in Committee upon Public Bills. I will separate the Public Bills into two classes—English, Scotch, and Imperial Bills, and Coercion Bills for Ireland. In regard to the first class, it is rare indeed that there is anything approaching Obstruction in this House. It was certainly the fact that one clause of the Mutiny Bill was hotly contested by the minority—a small minority, at the commencement of the discussion; but which became a large majority at 492 the end of a few days, and rendered it necessary for the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) to reinforce his big battalions. It was owing to the staunch manner in which a small number of Members sitting on this side of the House held out for two or three days that they were enabled eventually to abolish flogging in the Army. And what was the reason? It was because the speeches made in this House were published in the papers, and public opinion was brought to bear upon hon. Members and upon the Government, so that at length the Government had to consent to the abolition of flogging. If you had had the clôture at that time, the Government would have been able to silence the minority, and, at the present moment, the Mutiny Act would probably have remained unchanged, and that horrible punishment would still have existed in the British Army. Now, I come to another point, in regard to which I acknowledge that there was something which our opponents were justified in calling Obstruction. I refer to the category of Bills called Criminal Law Amendment Bills, but which we call Coercion Bills. In that case, I admit that the whole of the Irish Members opposed such Bills strongly and determinedly. You might even say that we did so in a manner which you call Obstruction; but what does it amount to? It means one nation governing another—the English nation governing the Irish nation, and the Irish nation protesting against having coercion applied to them, and protesting, through their Members, as loudly as they can against it. On such occasions, what is it that engages the attention of the House? You are simply passing a law which you know to be disliked and hated by nine-tenths of the Irish Members; but, if you had this Rule of Closure, you would not allow them to talk or protest against it. If you had stuck to your old Rule with a two-thirds majority, it would be necessary to secure the votes of two-thirds of the English Members before the clôture could be enforced. Upon our part, it would be necessary to bring up our 86 Members, including the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), as an Irish Member—from the Bar in Dublin, from their farms, and, in order to 493 obtain a full muster, it would be necessary even then to go to the Colonies and to the United States, where there are some Irishmen who occasionally like to hear the voice of an Irish Representative. It would require 160 Members at least to make up the two-thirds which would be necessary to apply the clôture, and the only question to be decided would be whether the Irish Members should be allowed to talk for another day or two upon a matter of the utmost interest to the Irish people. You are going to say—"We will not only strike you with a Coercion Bill, but we will muzzle you, and prevent you from being heard." I have ventured to bring these questions before the House. I have pointed out that there is an essential difference between applying the Clôture Rule in the Whole House when the Speaker is in the Chair and applying it in Committee when the Chairman of Ways and Means is presiding. I am willing to admit that there ought to be some restriction upon the debates in Committee; but I think it ought to be levelled against long speeches. I entreat the Government to reconsider their position, and at least to say, if they insist upon having this Clôture Rule at all, that it shall only be put in force by a two-thirds majority.
In line 1, after the word "That," to insert the words "when Mr. Speaker is in the Chair."—(Colonel Nolan.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I wish to point out that the hon. and gallant Member is in error in supposing that there is a two-thirds closure at the present time. There is a closure at the present moment in existence which gives to the Chairman of Committees precisely the same powers as those possessed by the Speaker. The hon. Member seems to think the Rule gives him a power which he does not possess. Allow me to read the Rule. It is as follows:—That when it shall appear to Mr. Speaker or to the Chairman of Ways and Means in a Committee of the Whole House during any debate that the subject has been adequately discussed, and that it is the evident sense of the House or of the Committee that the ques- 494 tion be now put, he may so inform the House or the Committee.So that at present, therefore, there exists a power of enforcing the closure by the Chairman in Committee, without any Motion being made by a Member, and all that it is intended to do by this Rule is to give the Chairman that power on the Motion of a Member. It is desirable that the Chairman should have, with regard to a Private Bill in Committee, the same power which he now possesses in the case of a Public Bill of declaring that in his opinion the discussion has gone far enough. If he has that power now, it does not seem to me that the proposed New Rule will do more than continue it, subject to the alteration we propose. I do not hesitate to say that a measure which restricted the power of closure to the Speaker alone would be a measure that would fail altogether in accomplishing the object we have in view—namely, to give to the House and to a Committee of the House, under all circumstances and all conditions, the power of regulating and of controlling its own procedure. The hon. and gallant Member has suggested that, under the Rule as framed, it would be possible for the Government of the day to rush a measure of the highest importance through the House with great rapidity and without adequate debate being had, and that material injury might be inflicted upon the State by the absence of discussion. But, Sir, that has not been the case hitherto. Notwithstanding the fact that the power of the closure had vested in the Chairman in Committee for now some considerable time, none of the ills which the hon. and gallant Member forbodes in the future have happened in the past, and no suggestion has been made that measures have not recently been adequately discussed. Even the hon. and gallant Member himself has admitted that there has been excessive and prolonged discussion from time to time upon Estimates of a comparatively unimportant character, and that an item involving the sum of £30,000 or £40,000 has been discussed for several hours, while, on the other hand, millions have been voted in a few minutes. The hon. and gallant Member in making that statement could not have furnished me with a better or stronger argument in favour of some system of control being exercised over these dis- 495 cussions, having regard to the comparative importance of the subject under consideration. No Government, no Member of this House, and no Committee would ever sanction a mode of dealing with Public Business of great importance otherwise than with the utmost consideration in relation to the importance of the subject being dealt with; and I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member need be under any apprehension that in the future this House will move too fast under any Rules which we may adopt for our own guidance, or that any Ministry will dare to push forward, without adequate discussion, important measures which involve considerations of the highest importance, and are resisted by a considerable or even by a small minority. I do not think any Minister would be prepared to push forward proposals of this kind so as to prevent that adequate discussion which the circumstances of the case would demand. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will, I am sure, excuse me, and will believe that I am not treating him with any want of respect, if I fail to answer him at the length with which he has himself addressed the House. I am anxious that we should proceed as rapidly as possible with the consideration of these Rules. The question before us is this—Does the House desire to prevent the reasonably rapid, but not too rapid, transaction of its Business in Committee? Is it determined to leave Obstruction in full force and vigour, so that the Business of the country cannot be conducted by reason of the delay which occurs in Committee? Is it determined that in circumstances such as the hon. and gallant gentleman has referred to of prolonged discussion over an unimportant Vote shall prevent adequate discussion on the most important Votes the House can entertain? If we do not desire that such should be the case, then we must take care not to leave all the powers of Obstruction in full force and vigour. It is most undesirable that a discussion on the amount to be voted for the Queen's Plates in Ireland should occupy several hours, and that £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 should be voted in a few minutes. These are considerations which the House must be prepared to deal with at once, if they really desire to put a check upon unnecessary pro- 496 lixity, which is nothing less than obstruction and a desire to prevent the Business of the country from going forward. In those circumstances I believe that the House will be prepared to maintain the Rule which now exists, and to continue to the Chairman the same power which he now exercises.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I must say that I think the hon. and gallant Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan) has made out a very strong case for the Amendment he asks the House to adopt. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury rather excused himself from following the hon. and gallant Gentleman in the arguments which he has put forward. I do not know whether his unwillingness to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman was due to the strength of the case and the feeling that it was impossible to reply to the arguments which have been adduced. Certainly the case made out is a strong one. During the time the old Closure Rule has been in existence there has not been a single attempt or desire on the part of any Chairman of Committees to apply the clôture; so that, as far as experience goes, there has been no need for the clôture in the minds of the different Chairmen during the years which have gene by, and I think the Government ought to have shown some reason for continuing what is evidently an unnecessary reason for checking and stopping adequate debate in Committee. I entirely agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the clôture is not a desirable or a useful weapon for the purpose of facilitating the Business of the House or of Committee, because from the nature of the case it would take more time to repeatedly enforce the closure in Committee than it would to allow the free discussion of a subject. Debates in Committee frequently turn upon details, and an indignant minority, feeling that they had been unfairly treated, would be able to multiply the questions raised in Committee indefinitely, and you will find that if you use the closure weapon you will be in a worse position than you were before it was used. This has evidently been the opinion of the distinguished Gentlemen who have filled the Chair since the Closure Rule was passed. It has never been used in Committee, nor has any anxiety been expressed to 497 apply it that is contrary to the Procedure in the Whole House, because the clôture has been applied twice, and the Speaker has been anxious to use it on other occasions, but has been restrained, because there was not the necessary majority to enforce it. In the course of a debate I have often seen important questions unravelled by a speaker which would not have been unravelled if there had been any haste to close the debate under the Rule which is now proposed for our adoption. It must be recollected that the New Rule will not be put in force by the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees, but it will be necessary to put it in force on the initiative of some Member of the House. That is a very different state of affairs. Consequently we may have hon. Members endeavouring to enforce the closure who do not possess that knowledge of the exigencies of debate as is necessary in dealing with a Rule like this in the midst of numerous technicalities. I have an Amendment down on the Paper later on to except the proceedings on Votes in Supply from the operation of the Rule, which I shall certainly press if the House should reject the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member. I shall not refer to that subject now; but I could, if it were necessary, enlarge on the inadvisability of permitting a Government to have the power of stopping debate on questions connected with the supply of money to the Crown. On the whole I think the proposal which has been made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman is one which may be very fairly accepted by the Government, especially in view of the strong case he has made and the fact that this closure power has never been used in Committee since the passing of the original Rule, and that therefore it may be reasonably supposed that there is no necessity for it.
§ MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
I desire to say a few words in support of the Amendment. I entertain very great respect for the Chair so far as the Speaker of this House is concerned; and I have no doubt that in conferring this power upon the right hon. Gentleman by these Rules, he will be guided in exercising it by that character for common sense and fair play which he very justly bears. I also believe that the increased power which the Speaker 498 will be entrusted with will be exercised with a due appreciation of the responsibility placed on him by the House. But the case is different with the Chairman of Committees, who would not exercise his power in a judicial character; but would be made by the action of the Government a political partizan. We have confidence in the Speaker, because we know that when he rules he rules with a judicial mind, and acts as the interpreter of the will of the House. I congratulate myself that I have not yet felt the weight of the Speaker's heavy hand. But, however much confidence I may have in the Speaker, I do not think I should be justified in reposing the same amount of confidence in the Chairman of Committees for the reasons which have already been stated by my hon. and gallant Friend. In Committee of Supply, hon. Members not only have the opportunity of pointing out irregularities in the administration of Departments; but they have also the power of exposing the tyranny of officials in the various parts of Her Majesty's Dominions. We have, on more than one occasion, taken advantage of the opportunity afforded to us by discussing the salaries of officials in connection with the Administration and Government of Ireland, to point out the tyranny of those officials. It would be to the advantage of the Government, and perhaps it would be their desire, whether Liberals or Tories, to shut up and close any discussion that might arise on the evil acts of any official in Ireland, from Dublin Castle down to the lowest policeman. Freedom of debate is a matter of the highest importance, whether it be in Committee of Supply or in the full House. During the debates which took place in 1882, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott) said he had heard it stated that if there had been freedom of debate in America the Civil War would have been avoided. I do not think we have any reason to apprehend civil war in this country; we are at peace with all the world; but I do think that if discussions on the conduct of officials in Ireland are restricted in any way, the conduct of those officials would very quickly drive that country into a state of civil war. The question of Obstruction has been very frequently referred to, not only in discussing the general question, but 499 also in the speeches of my hon. and gallant Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for the city of Cork (Mr. Parnell). Obstruction will continue to be alluded to during the whole discussion of the Rules of Procedure, and I have to endorse the statement made by the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) yesterday, when pointing to the action and conduct of hon. Members on this side of the House below the Gangway, he said it was evident that the policy of Obstruction had been abandoned by hon. Members who came from Ireland. Obstruction has had its day, and it has now passed away. It has served its purpose, and no man would now be so foolish as to think of resorting to that rusty, played out, and inefficient weapon. The right hon. Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin) said, a few days ago, that when he first entered this House it was the object and the ambition of a young Member to catch the ear of the House, and to conciliate the House. I believe that our Predecessors in the representation of Ireland did secure the ear of the House. They endeavoured to conciliate the House, but to what purpose? The claims of Ireland were ignored, and it was found necessary to adopt other means. I am happy to say that those means were successful, and that they not only caught the ear of the House, but the ear of the whole world. That policy has now had its day, and has served its purpose; and I defy any hon. Member to say that for the past year or two he has witnessed any act of deliberate obstruction of the Business of this House. I listened carefully to the statement of my hon. and gallant Friend, and also to the attempt to reply to it which was made by the First Lord of the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman altogether failed to grapple with the arguments of my hon. and gallant Friend. I think it would be a fatal mistake, in the proper discussion of the Estimates, and the proper conduct of the Business of this House, if any power, such as that proposed to be conferred on the Speaker, were also conferred on the Chairman of Committees, who is not removed from the influence of the Government, and who may possibly be a strong political partizan. Such, a step would destroy the confidence which the country now reposes in the management of the Business of this 500 House. There was an argument used by the First Lord of the Treasury with regard to Queen's Plates in Ireland, in which I beg entirely to differ from him as to the time the discussion lasted. But what does it prove? The right hon. Gentleman says that millions were subsequently voted, with little or no discussion, for the Army and Navy. It only shows that the House is like the celebrated Nasmyth hammer; it is capable of crushing a large amount of solid metal, and, yet, at the same time, is so much under control that it will descend upon an egg without breaking the shell. This House represents that famous machine, and while it is capable of voting immense sums of money for the proper conduct of the affairs of the nation, it will, at the same time, quarrel over the improper expenditure of sixpence. It is this peculiar character of the House of Commons that has gained for it the confidence of the English people; and now, by a new Rule of Procedure, you are proposing to destroy that confidence which has hitherto been its greatest strength. For these reasons I have much pleasure in supporting the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
Sir, the most dangerous feature in connection with the threatened application of the closure presents itself in the case of the Votes in Committee of Supply; because it is really then that the Members of this House run the most serious danger of having their rights interfered with. The most important Business in the course of the year is the consideration of the Budget. The Budget of the coming year promises to be more than usually interesting; it is one which will be very vigorously fought, and nothing would be easier than for the Government to obtain the consent of the Chairman of Committees, whoever he may be, for the purpose of entering into a conspiracy to silence those who stand up to criticize the Budget. We know that it is impossible at the present time to get the Chairman of Committees to engage in any conspiracy of the kind; because the Gentleman at present in the Office occupies a somewhat peculiar position. But I have known cases where the Chairman has been audibly prompted to use his authority to compel Members to resume their seats. I have seen as many 501 as three or four Members of the House occupying the Chair in the course of a single sitting, and that, Sir, exposes Members to considerable risk; because a Member moved hap-hazard into the Chair might easily be induced to consent to the application of the closure, if that application were made by a Leader of his own Party; and, inasmuch as he would be in the Chair for a short time only, Members who were anxious to continue the discussion would have no possible redress. It is extremely unreasonable to insist that the Chairman should possess this power. There is no right which is more valuable in this House than that of the discussion at great length of questions in Committee of Supply. There has been a great tendency on the part of the Government to come down and ask for large Votes on account, sometimes to the amount of £10,000,000, which they obtain practically without discussion. Well, Sir, nothing could be easier for the Government to arrange a series of Votes of £10,000,000 each and get them, and then when we want to discuss the details, to say—"Oh, it is of no use to discuss them now;" whereupon the Chairman, drawing a logical inference from the position, will declare that it is useless to discuss the question any longer, and so terminate the debate. The Government of the day could thus silence discussion in this House upon the most important Business on which we come here. These, Sir, are the considerations on which I support the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan), who I hope will press its acceptance upon the House as far as possible.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
Sir, it is very difficult for us to gauge the manner in which the Government will enforce the closure, and we can only do so by the remarks which, from time to time, fall from the Treasury Bench. I take it, from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, that the Government would be very adverse to the discussion of the Votes of comparatively small sums of money. If I am right in my recollection, the Queen's Plates have been objected to by Members of this House on grounds of principle—the very reasonable one, that public money ought not to be expended on horse racing. But the right hon. 502 Gentleman complained that not only a large portion of time had been spent on the question of these Plates, but that a short time had been spent on the Army Estimates. That, however, is a ground of complaint which the Government will be able to remove at a future time. By your ruling of last Thursday, Sir, it would be exceedingly difficult for Members to bring forward matters for discussion, however important they might be; but in future their opportunities would be greatly restricted, if not altogether done away with. We must not judge of the importance of a principle by the smallness of the Vote in which it is contained; there is no relation between the two; and, therefore, on the grounds I have stated, I shall support the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's County, Birr)
Sir, it was stated in the course of the general discussion that the object of the Rule was that the Speaker should share the responsibility with the Chairman, and that statement carried great weight with the House. But the right hon. Gentleman opposite has to-night given us a totally different explanation. Under the New Rule the Chairman can put the closure in operation, which means that the Government will come down with the Estimates, which always give rise to opposition in the House, and in order to prevent continued opposition, the Chairman will get a a hint to make a Motion for the clôture. It seems to me that we are transferring the power of the clôture from the Chair to the Government of the day. We are adopting the American system; I admit we are only beginning it; but the moment you give the Party in Office the power of moving the "Previous Question," it will be impossible to stop at this point. Again, whenever the Chairman has left the Chair, the Vice Chairman has been taken from the Government Bench; he has never been a private Member of the House, and thus we have a man who owes his appointment to political considerations; and so the Minister in charge of the Estimates is often the very man who shall give the hint to the Chairman to close discussion. I do not believe this Rule will be of any more use to the House than the Rules now in existence; but it will, in time, put it in the power of the Minister, through the Chairman, 503 to put an end to all discussion on the Estimates. The First Lord of the Treasury has given us the true explanation of the Rule to-night. What we are going to vote for on this Amendment is, the question whether we shall place the power of the clôture in the hands of Ministers, or leave it in the hands of the Speaker; and, that being so, I shall support the proposal of my hon. and gallant Friend.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 82; Noes 204: Majority 122.—(Div. List, No. 22.)
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Sir, I rise to move, as an Amendment, the omission from this Resolution of the words "at any time" in line 1. After much contemplation and study, I have not been able to make out why these mysterious words should appear in the Resolution. There is a summary aspect about this Rule as compared with the Old Rule, which was that, after a question had been proposed, Motion might be made, with the consent of the Chair previously obtained, "That the Question be now put." I must direct the attention of the House to the fact that, on the Rule as it now stands, Motion may be made before there has been any debate on a Question at all. A Minister may come down to the House, and say that Lord Salisbury had declared war against Russia, that he wanted so much money at once, and he may ask and obtain leave of the Speaker to the making of a Motion, "That the Question be now put," before there has been a word of debate. Sir, I ask what is the meaning of these words; what is the meaning of this arbitrary change in the direction of the summary and abrupt aspect of the Rule which now presents itself as compared with the Old Rule? The Government have swept away the three limitations which were in the Old Rule; they have got rid of the reference to the Speaker, of the necessity that any debate whatever should take place, and of the necessity that the subject should be adequately discussed, and that that should be the evident sense of the House. By the adoption of this Rule as it stands, you will have an instrument of such an arbitrary and summary character as I venture to say the Leader of no other Legislative Assembly has in his hands for checking debate, and pre- 504 venting any sort of debate whatever, if it seems fit to the Minister of the day. I shall be glad to have an answer from the Government to this question—What is their motive in putting in these words? Do they attach any importance to the words; and, if so, what is the extent of the importance they attach to them? In fact, I should like Her Majesty's Government to make a clean breast of it, if there is anything lurking behind these words. I am inclined to think, from the point of view of the Government, that, unless there is some hidden and deeply written intention in the introduction of the words, it would be better to leave them out until the matter has been fully considered, or until we see how far they carry us. Surely, it cannot be the intention of the Government that a Minister of the day, in Committee of Supply, or before any consideration or discussion of a Bill has taken place, is to ask the House to agree to a Motion "That the Question be now put." If that is not the intention of the Government, why are the words here? The right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, admit that the summary character of the Rule has enormously enhanced its claim to the scrutiny of the House; and I hope he will agree to the Motion which I now beg to move.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1 to leave out the words "at any time."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'at any time' stand part of the Question."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) Strand, Westminster)
Sir, the hon. Member has asked me to make a clean breast with regard to these words. If the hon. Member will again look at the Rule, I think he will agree in the judgment I have formed—namely, that the Rule will be stronger without the words than with them. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that the aim of the Rule is to prevent discussion; but, Sir, that is not so; its aim is to secure adequate discussion of all Business that may be brought before the House. The words which are the subject of the hon. Member's Amendment are of so little importance, from our point of view, that we are quite ready to accept the proposal to strike them out.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's County, Birr)
; As the right hon. Gentleman has stated his willingness to agree to the Amendment of my hon. Friend, and as he says that the Clause will be stronger for the omission of the words "at any time," I think he ought logically to go farther, and admit some such words as I propose to move in an Amendment when the proper place is reached.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity of discussing that Amendment when it is reached.
§ MR. GEDGE (Stockport)
If we omit these words, it would rather imply that the Motion must be made immediately after the Question has been put, or not at all. I therefore hope the Government will not give way on this point.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
The right hon. Gentleman has made "a clean breast of it" by saying that there is no virtue in these words. It would be a great pity if we did not adopt reasonable precaution, however, to prevent a result which we all regard with some amount of alarm. I, therefore, suggest to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it would not be advisable to introduce some modification of the words which would not militate at all against the efficacy of the Rule. I suggest that the words "at a reasonable time," would, at any rate, give us the assurance that discussion would not be improperly burked before it had reached a reasonable stage.
§ MR. PARNELL
Sir, I ask if the hon. Member for Camborne is in Order in discussing a specific Amendment of his own, when the Government have assented to the Amendment before the Committee.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It has to be decided by the House whether the words "at any time" shall stand part of the Rule.
§ Question put and negatived.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
The Amendment which I now rise to move is one of a series of Amendments consequential upon the adoption of that which has just been agreed to by the House; and, Sir, the adoption of the last Amendment immeasurably strengthens the grounds of the claim I make for each of the subsequent Amendments which it will be my duty to press upon the House. I propose to insert after "Ques- 506 tion" the words, "other than a Question arising in any Bill for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland." As the Rule now stands, as has been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, it would be possible for a Minister to come down and move the Second Reading of a Bill of the nature of the Crimes Act. If that is moved, and the Motion is put from the Chair, "that the Bill be now read a second time," it would be possible for him to claim (as he would claim, and as has always been claimed with reference to such Acts for Ireland) urgency, and he would be able to get up and make the Motion "That the Question he now put." In that way it would be possible for him to carry the Second Reading of a Coercion Bill without debate. The House will perceive that the Rule constitutes a very startling and alarming alteration of Procedure. Under the old system it was necessary that the sense of the House should be manifest; and it was also necessary that the Speaker should be of opinion that the question had been adequately discussed. We have hero nothing about the sense of the House, and there is not a word about adequate discussion. We may have to look forward to a time of great public excitement in this country, when Ministers may think it their absolute duty to get Acts of Coercion through the House without delay; and it used to be the custom to pass Coercion Bills through both Houses of Parliament in a single day under a suspension of the Standing Orders. That has not been the case since the Ballot Act, and other Acts connected therewith, have returned to this House more popular and more democratic Members. What you do now, is to put it absolutely in the power of Ministers controlling the majority to carry the second reading of a Coercion Act after a single night's discussion, without its being in the power of anyone to put forward any arguments against the Bill—it will leave the matter entirely in the hands of the Minister of the day. That, Sir, is a result which we are bound very strongly to protest against. The right hon. Gentleman says it is not the intention to use this Rule in an arbitrary way. But, Sir, the road to a certain place is paved with good intentions, and we know very well what becomes of the good intentions of 507 Ministers speaking in quiet times, from which we may judge what will become of such intentions in times when Ministers lose their heads and propose that Bills should be carried in the excitement of the moment. We should fail in our duty if we were not to protest strongly against the possibility of such a contingency as I have suggested. Ministers are always exceedingly anxious to get Coercion Acts through the House rapidly. I have never known a Minister having a Coercion Bill in hand who did not plead that the powers under the Bill should be given to him without an hour's delay. But under the Rule, as it now exists, 85 Members who come here pledged to oppose coercion for Ireland, with 200 English Liberal Members on these Benches pledged also to oppose coercion, and with many Conservative Members, followers, and supporters of Her Majesty's Government pledged also to oppose coercion for Ireland, I ask if it is not right that we should test the opinion of the House in regard to this matter? While we have time, ought we not to insert some safeguards in this Rule, which will prevent a Minister having charge of a Coercion Bill acting in an arbitrary fashion, and preventing that due discussion which, above all things, is necessary and desirable in the case of such measures? Do the Government object to some limitation of this Rule? It will be admitted that when the Irish measure is introduced it will be of an exceptional nature. I do not intend to anticipate what its nature will be; but how do you suppose the Irish Members and English Liberal Members will feel, if one of the first examples of the application of this Rule is its arbitrary exercise for the prevention of discussion on a measure for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland? Do you think we shall believe we have been fairly treated under the circumstances? Do you think it is the way to make your Business progress, that you should use these weapons of closure against the Irish people and their Representatives, who are vainly struggling to mitigate the rigorous application of coercion to Ireland? I think we have a strong case that the Government should accept this Amendment, which contemplates measures of an extreme nature with regard to Ire- 508 land. If they do not, their steps will be haunted throughout the rest of the discussion upon this Rule, and subsequent Rules, by the belief on the part of Irish Members that the Government have obtained the Rule for the certain purpose alone of hurriedly carrying through the House the approaching measure of coercion for Ireland. If that is not your intention—if you only desire in the hands of the Leader of the House the means of facilitating the general public Business of the nation, then why do you not agree to this very reasonable proposal? Why not make an exception in the case of such a measure as I have indicated? Is it not desirable that there should be free discussion, above all things, of a measure of coercion? I ask you to insert this safeguard then, to provide that under no temptation whatever shall it be possible for the majority of the House, or the Minister, or the Chair, in the excitement of the moment to prevent Members from Ireland fully and freely stating their views in opposition to coercive measures for their country. I think the grounds for excepting coercive measures for Ireland from this Rule are of unexampled strength. It is the belief of some that the aim of the Government is to obtain this stringent first Rule and then drop all the other Rules. We shall be confronted with your new and keen weapon, and you will proceed with your congenial policy of coercion. I beg to move to insert after the word "Question" in line 1—Other than a Question arising in any Bill for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland.
In line 1, after the word "Question," to insert the words "other than a Question arising in any Bill for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH) (Bristol, W.)
The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has recognized that these Rules were brought forward to sccuro the better conduct of the Business of the House, and yet he has brought forward this Amendment in favour of which he has not adduced anything that can be regarded as a reasonable argu- 509 ment. Why should this House decline to apply such Rules to proposals for strengthening the Criminal Law in Ireland while they are made applicable to proposals for strengthening the Criminal Law of England, Scotland, or Wales, or to any other proposals that require to be fully and freely discussed? The hon. Member (Mr. Parnell) has answered his own argument, for he has mentioned that there are 85 hon. Members from Ireland and 200 hon. Members from the other parts of the Kingdom who are pledged to resist proposals of this kind. Does not the hon. Member really think that that is enough to secure full and free discussion for such measures? Why, then, should such proposals be specially excepted from the Rule while all other Business is not? With all deference to the hon. Member, this is a proposal so extravagant as to be almost absurd. The Government ask for no exceptional facilities for any legislation that it may be our duty to propose with the view of increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland. We only ask that such legislation should be considered under the Rules which we propose should be adopted for all the Business of the House. Circumstances might arise—as they arose a few years ago—when the House may be asked to adopt immediate Urgency Rules; but that is not the case now. The Government at present ask the House to adopt Rules for the ordinary Business of the House, and in that ordinary Business any proposals for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland will be of course included. Sir, we simply decline, with all respect to the hon. Member, to accept the proposal he has made, and which I cannot think he has made with any anticipation of its being agreed to.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
Mr. Speaker, I was somewhat surprised at the tone the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) adopted in reply to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for the city of Cork (Mr. Parnell). The Amendment which has been proposed is one of very great importance indeed to us, and for the right hon. Gentleman to characterize it as absurd is not the way which will carry conviction to the House, or tend in any way to facilitate the course of the debate. Having cast his shot, and made use of this not very 510 courteous phrase, the right hon. Gentleman disappears from the House. We ought to take a lesson from the fate of the late Mr. Forster's Coercion Bill, for which urgency was demanded and obtained. Before the legitimate debate on that Bill was finished, and when the clock had marked a certain hour, the clauses which had not even been reached were taken in globo without any further discussion. Such a thing is very likely to happen again under these Rules. Mr. Forster's Coercion Bill did not in the least attain the object its promoters had in view, owing no doubt to the fact that it was never properly discussed. Of course on certain occasions, I admit, the discussion on that Bill lasted a considerable time, and may have been even wearisome to the Government; but, as I have said, the complete failure of the Crimes Act was due to the fact that many of its provisions were not duly considered. In olden days Coercion Bills were passed by this House in the course of a few hours, but there is no one to-day who will say that the passage of those Bills was fraught with anything but evil to both countries. Formerly, a Minister in a state of frantic excitement, and animated by unnecessary fears, brought down an ill-considered Bill, the clauses of which he scarcely understood, and which were drafted possibly by order by lawyers who were not in the least acquainted with the necessities of the country, or with the people, or with the circumstances under which the Bill was passed; and therefore it was not unreasonable that, as a rule, such a Bill did a great deal of injury. What are we doing now? According to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, the Rules we are introducing into this House are for the purpose of accelerating the ordinary Business of the House. I should have thought that the Chief Secretary for Ireland would not have had the courage to get up in his place and speak of a Coercion Bill as the ordinary legislation of this House. The whole point of the Amendment and arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for the city of Cork is that coercion is not the ordinary Business of the House of Commons. What is a Coercion Bill? We are accustomed to Coercion Bills in this House, and I do not wonder that some hon. Members look upon coercion as the ordinary Business 511 of the Tory Party. Coercion means the suspension of Habeas Corpus. When we speak of the Habeas Corpus we are supposed to refer to the foundation of civil liberty. Courts of Justice give the most generous hearing, and stretch the Rules of the Court to the very utmost in the endeavour to give a just amount of consideration to anything which trenches upon the foundation of the civil liberty of the subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland asks the House to refuse this Amendment because, forsooth, the Rule is brought in for the purpose of accelerating the ordinary Business of the House, and asks how can we make exception in the case of one portion of the ordinary Business of the House? I cannot compliment the right hon. Gentleman upon his experience as Chief Secretary. He will find that before very long that coercion is far more than ordinary and stronger than extraordinary Business. Great advances have been made of late in the views entertained in this country upon the question of coercion. There are hon. Members sitting opposite who three or four years ago looked—as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary does—upon coercion as the ordinary legislation of this House, but who we shall find pledged themselves at the last Election never to support coercion again. There is a further reason why we should have full liberty to oppose such Bills as the Government promises relating to the Criminal Law in Ireland. Diversified in character as Coercion Bills have been, they have proved a succession of failures, and it is for that reason we think we are entitled to have a full and free discussion upon the new Bill that is promised. We do not ask to be allowed to debate the measures for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland for weeks and months. That would be unreasonable. Our demand is a very simple one. It is that we shall not be deprived of the civil rights which are given under what you call the glorious statute of liberty, but that we shall have full and ample time to discuss the coercive proposals which the Government have in contemplation. I cannot compliment the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary upon his effort to-night. I think it would have been wiser of him to have held his tongue altogether, and left it with the First Lord of the Trea- 512 sury (Mr. W. H. Smith) to answer the arguments which have been advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for the city of Cork to have answered them, as I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman would, frankly and courteously, and with an endeavour to give some arguments why he could not agree to the Amendment.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I feel it my duty to join my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Molloy) in expressing regret and disappointment at the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) in replying upon the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). The speech of the right hon. Gentleman is one of ill-omen for the future. The position of the hon. Member for Cork as Leader of the Irish Party in this House, and also as the recognized Leader of the Irish people, merited, especially at the present critical stage in politics, some better attention than it received in the firm, curt, and discourteous words the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary uttered. My hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell) desires that any proposal brought before the House to increase the stringency of the Criminal Law of Ireland shall be excepted from the operation of this Rule. Will the House allow me to point out for a moment that up to the present time, although we have had regulations of closure in force, we have had at least some nominal and ostensible protection in the nature of the Rule in force; for the initiative lay with Mr. Speaker, and Mr. Speaker was bound according to the Rule to have regard not only to the question whether the matter in debate had been adequately discussed, but also to the evident sense of the House. We of the minority felt there must be some protection in this provision for, at any rate, the closure could not be ordered until there had been some debate, and until the majority in the House had made some such manifestation of opinion or feeling as to enable the Speaker to decide that the sense of the House had been manifested in a certain direction. In the present Rule these securities have disappeared. No doubt an hon. Member has still to consult the Chair, but in what manner has he to do it. It is clear, Sir, that any hon. Member can 513 go to your side and say to you in private "I desire that the Question be now put;" and it appears under these Rules that you would be entitled to say, "Very well, move it," and thus wash your hands of all responsibility in the matter. The Rule merely says you, Mr. Speaker, are to give your consent. Therefore, as it now stands, the Rule deprives us of any security we may hitherto have had. Now, I consider that if at any moment the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland should have been particularly careful in replying to such an Amendment as that of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), it is the present moment. We all know that the proposal will presently be made for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland; we have learned that from the Queen's Speech. The House is well aware that at the present moment, and under the existing system of the administration of the Criminal Law, a great proceeding of State has closed in the disagreement of the jury, and in a disagreement of the jury which left half on one side and half on the other. If that is so, is it not apparent that the Government in Ireland can put no confidence in the class whom they have hitherto singled out for the due administration of the law? It is, therefore, more essential than ever that the circumstances attendant upon the passage of measures affecting the Criminal Law in Ireland should not be such as to excite the indignation of the people. The future administration of the Criminal Law in Ireland is, from the point of view of those who desire effective administration, a black and gloomy future. If a Criminal Law is to be enacted in this House under circumstances which forbid a full and free expression of the opinion of the Representatives of Ireland, what is the first effect in this House of the application of the closure to a measure for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland? It is, as you know, to beget a spirit of resistance in the minds of the Irish Members. The House is aware that if the Irish Members are allowed full and free discussion upon a measure as to which they feel strongly and acutely—a measure in which the rights and liberties of the Irish people are concerned—a measure involving the deprivation of the ordinary rights of the Constitution in Ireland— 514 that measure is likely, in the long run, to go through more smoothly than if the Irish Members are debarred from discussing it. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) in his place, and I would like to ask him whether his experience in the House teaches him that, upon a measure for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland, it is at all likely that the time of the House will be saved by the application of the closure—one application of the closure to one Amendment, or to one Clause, is likely to lessen the ingenuity or to decrease the resistance by which subsequent clauses will be met by the general body of the Irish Members? The application of the closure to an Irish Coercion Bill has the effect, not of economizing time, but eventually of dissipating it. We claim full debate. We are a minority here. Ireland sends you 100 Members; four-fifths of them are of one opinion upon any such measure as that foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech. We are 80 men among 670. We come from another country, another people, from people of a different race, of a different history, existing now in conditions, socially, very different from yourselves, and with interests of the nature and extent of which no Englishman, except by visiting Ireland, can have any accurate idea. I claim, therefore, that when any measure comes before the House of Commons for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland, for selecting juries, changing venue, packing juries, not only have we a special and indefeasible right to be heard, and fully heard, with reference to the merits of every proposition contained in such a measure, but we are the only persons in this House who are competent, by experience and knowledge of the country concerned, to instruct the House of Commons and the country upon the merits of such a Bill. I remember a few years ago—certainly before the Irish political question assumed so acute a phase as it has taken now—reading a remarkable passage in The Times newspaper. It was stated that, although Parliament refuses Ireland a great many measures, and passed a great many measures Ireland did not like, Irish Members were, at any rate, listened to. I thought that was very inadequate satisfaction. It is something to be listened 515 to if you can have your own way; but you will not listen to what we urge in defence of one class of Bills and against another class of Bills. Not only do believe that any attempt to employ closure in reference to a Bill for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland will be evil in its effects in this House, but I believe it will be evil in its effects in the country. There are millions of people in England, Scotland, and Wales who have come to think that the Criminal Law in Ireland, as at present administered, operates against class. There are millions of people who think that any increase in the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland should be watched with jealous suspicion, because they agree with that distinguished and gallant gentleman (Sir Redvers Buller) that, up to the present time, the law has been administered in the interests of the landlords in Ireland, and they are very unwilling that any increase in the stringency of the Criminal Law should be made without full opportunities being afforded to the Irish Members of expressing their opinions, and endeavouring to influence, if they can, the public opinion of the country. However, Sir, what effect will it have upon the efficiency of the Criminal Law in Ireland if it is felt that such a law has been passed by the agency of gagging the Irish Members? Such a law will go forth from you without authority, and will come back to you without respect. These are the reasons which compel me to submit to the House that the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork deserves a better reception than that it has received at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I believe that the harmony of the House, the satisfaction of public feeling, and the efficiency of the law will be injured by the refusal of this Amendment.
§ MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
I join in expressing regret at the attitude which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) has assumed upon this Amendment. I think that his greatest enemies must acknowledge that if anyone is entitled to speak for Ireland, and to put forward Irish demands, it is the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). He has on many 516 occasions proposed to the House measures which he considered necessary for the good government of Ireland. These measures have been rejected, and I think hon. Members will acknowledge that events have proved that the House has been unwise in the course they have adopted, and that matters would have gone smoothly had the House listened with a little more attention to the very moderate claims the hon. Member (Mr. Parnell) has from time to time put forward. The claim which my hon. Friend now makes is that you should exempt any coercive measure for Ireland which you deem it necessary to introduce from the operation of this Rule. What will be the effect of a Coercion Act which is passed if the Irish Members have not had an opportunity of expressing their views upon the Act? In the past Coercion Acts have produced serious crime; but if you pass a Coercion Act, and at the same time gag Irish Members, you will increase crime in Ireland tenfold. We, who know the Irish people, know that these Coercion Acts, to pass which Ministers will be able to apply the closure, are intended for one class of people only. Many Liberals and even some Conservative Members are pledged to oppose coercion—they will violate their pledges if they facilitate the passing of a Coercion Act by consenting to gag the Irish Members. We are the accredited Representatives of the Irish people, and it certainly is a queer state of things if the Constitutional Party ignores completely the views of the country constitutionally expressed. We submit that if this Rule is extended to the debates which we shall have before long in connection with coercive legislation, you will only aggravate the political situation, you will further irritate people in Ireland, and, so far from making the government of Ireland less difficult, you will make it more difficult.
§ MR. JACOB BRIGHT (Manchester, S.W.)
Sir, it may be impossible for he hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) to carry his Amendment. Still, I think the hon. Member is justified in moving it, as a protest against the way in which we legislate for Ireland. I am prepared to assert the principle that we are extremely unwise in endeavouring to legislate in the manner suggested by the Amendment—to increase the stringency of the Criminal Law in one of the 517 Three Kingdoms—if the Representatives of the people of the Kingdom to which we are going to apply this increased stringency entirely object to it. Parliament has the power to override the wishes of the Representatives of the Irish people, and it not only has the power, but it exercises that power. We have been accustomed to exercise it in the most flagrant manner, and the most conspicuous instance of the exercise of that power of late years was in 1881, when almost the whole House, in a sort of passion, suspended the Habeas Corpus in Ireland, in the teeth of the opposition of nearly every Irish Representative—not only the Irish Representatives following my hon. Friend the Member for Cork, but also the Ulster Representatives. Seeing, then, we have that power, and are accustomed to exercise it, I am willing to arm Irish Members with as much authority as possible to resist it. Some five years ago the legislation in which we are now engaged was described by hon. Members opposite as the "gagging legislation." Well, I am not unreasonably opposed generally to the legislation in which we are now engaged; but I am unwilling to apply the gag to enable you to increase the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland without consulting its Representatives. That being so, I shall willingly vote with the hon. Member for Cork.
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
I rise to support the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell); but in doing so I venture to suggest a slight verbal alteration. I would suggest the insertion of the words "Great Britain and" after the word "in" in the second line of the Amendment, so as to make the Amendment apply to the whole of the Three Kingdoms. It appears to me that the real union of the Three Kingdoms would be best promoted by making not only the Criminal Law alike, but the practice of the Criminal Law alike in the Three Kingdoms. We have heard since this Parliament met from a very high authority on the Benches opposite—the then Leader of the House—the noble lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), that the key-note to the Government policy in regard to Ireland was equality and similarity over the United Kingdom. We have had that view confirmed by hon. Mem- 518 bers on those Benches within the last few weeks, and I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), earlier this evening, made some such suggestion as I now make. It does seem to me that if there be any freedom of speech in this House it should apply to any proposal with regard to the Criminal Law. Twice within the last 14 months we have heard you, Sir, as our Speaker, lay claim at the Bar of the House of Lords for freedom of speech in debate that has been allowed, as it has been for generations, by the Crown. I think we who sit on the Opposition Benches are only fulfilling the highest duty which is cast upon us in saying that when any Government comes forward to increase the stringency of the Criminal Law the utmost freedom of speech and debate shall be granted. I therefore beg, Sir, to move the insertion of the words I have mentioned.
§ Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, after the words "Law in," to insert the words "Great Britain and."—(Mr. J. E. Ellis.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be inserted in the proposed Amendment."
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I think there will be no objection on the part of the Irish Members to include the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham (Mr. J. E. Ellis) in the Amendment of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). What I and my hon. Friends complain of is that other nationalities refused to Ireland the privileges they enjoyed. We know that coercion is coming, and all we claim is to be assured by a vote of Parliament that no unfair use will be made of the Forms of the House to stifle discussion on the Coercion Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), some years ago, was one of the most eloquent opponents of closure, and he opposed it expressly on the ground that it might be used unfairly against Irishmen, and might make the task of governing Ireland more difficult than it was. The Chief Secretary had better beware that he does not find his own words come true. If the Chief Secretary beat the Irish Members 519 down in a Division, and make unfair use of the Rule in forcing on coercion, he will find the ultimate task of governing Ireland not more pleasant than it would otherwise be. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has had the opportunity of giving us an assurance that the Rules will not be unfairly used; but he only took the opportunity to make remarks not very complimentary to the hon. Member for Cork. There never has been any unfair obstruction carried on by Irish Members. ["Oh, oh!" and laughter.] Those hon. Members opposite who laugh know nothing about it—many of them were not in the House at the time. Mr. Speaker Brand, who was a most Constitutional Speaker, laid down in July, 1877, a definition of Obstruction when he declared—That any Member wilfully and persistently obstructing Public Business without just and reasonable cause is guilty of contempt of the House.I maintain that the Irish Members have never conducted a prolonged discussion without "just and reasonable cause," and that, therefore, they are altogether free from the charge of Obstruction. But I remember that Obstruction, or something approaching Obstruction, has been carried on by hon. Gentlemen who now occupy the Treasury Benches, and I do not suppose that they will be found to repudiate altogether the tactics which greatly assisted in carrying them to the Ministerial Benches. The right hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Marriott), who has so distinguished himself by his former opposition to the closure, once said that if ever there was a time when a vigorous and sustained opposition to the proceedings of a Government was justifiable, it was when that Government was holding the iron hand over a portion of the Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman was then referring to the policy pursued towards Ireland by the Party which he has since left; but it is to be hoped that he still now adheres to the spirit of that declaration. If ever there was a time when it is necessary that great freedom and even latitude of discussion should be allowed, it is on proposals intended to increase the stringency of the Criminal Law; more especially when those proposals, as will probably be the case in this instance, are to be of a permanent and, not like most previous Irish coercive measures, of only a temporary nature. 520 On one occasion, when the freedom of the Press was being defended in this House by the Whig Party, and no fewer than 23 Divisions were taken in one night, Mr. Burke said that posterity would bless the pertinacity shown on that day. The Irish Members feel that the liberties of their countrymen are as important as the freedom of the Press; and they now ask not to divide the House 23 times in a single night, but that there may be a full and fair discussion on a question of such momentous importance as the Criminal Law.
§ MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN (Mayo, S.)
I think that any alteration of the Criminal Law for England, Ireland, and Scotland ought to be fully and fairly debated, free from the restrictions imposed by the Rule under consideration. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) appears to gloat over the powers sought to be obtained, as if they were already in his hands; but the right hon. Gentleman may not find it so easy to get the Coercion Bill that he is so anxious for. This Rule may be passed in spite of the opposition of the Irish Members, and there is no reason to doubt that the Government will use it in the tyrannical spirit that is always manifested towards my section of the House from the Benches opposite. The Government may succeed in driving Irish discontent under the surface, they may succeed in driving the Irish Members out of the House—a result, by the way, which will have no terrors for those hon. Members; but English Representatives ought to take care lest they should realize, when too late, that the powers about to be given to the Government, instead of injuring Ireland, will be used for their own destruction.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
The Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham (Mr. J. E. Ellis) has placed me in some difficulty. I had no difficulty in supporting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell); because, although it reads "the increase of the stringency of the Criminal Law," I assume that every hon. Member of this House understands that to mean that kind of increase of the stringency of the Criminal Law which expressly deals with the suspension of the liberties of the subject, and the application of coercive legislation against persons who 521 are political offenders rather than ordinary criminals. Now, we have not had in England in modern times—not within ordinary memory—such increased stringency of what, doubtless, is Criminal Law technically speaking, but would not be thus ordinarily understood, and I intended to support the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork, very much, in consequence of some words used the other evening by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen). The right hon. Gentleman said that no one could doubt, or no one ought to doubt, the British sense of fair play being properly shown under all circumstances in this House. Well, six years' experience in this House gave me great reason for doubting whether, when any question arises which excites prejudice or Party feeling for the moment, all sense of fair play might not be forgotten. And while I held and do hold the doctrine that Parliamentary Government is only possible and can only be conducted with credit when the minority have been fairly heard, and, if they are an unpopular minority, indulgently heard, still I am of opinion that after that hearing has been given a Parliamentary Government can only be well-conducted by submitting to the voice of the majority. But we have had, without doubt, over and over again within the past few years, instances in which there has been no sense of British fair play towards one portion of these Kingdoms, and I should have voted without hesitation for the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork. I feel now, however, in this difficulty. There is no kind of Amendment of the Criminal Law of the United Kingdom that could not be included under the construction that might fairly be put on the wording of the amendment last proposed. While, therefore, recognizing the spirit which has prompted the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rush-cliffe Division of Nottingham (Mr. J. E. Ellis) in making his proposal, I shall vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork as a protest against unfair play, which, I think, has been shown in the past, and which may be shown again when passion is roused. I do not think the English people have need of this protection. English Members have a strong backing of public 522 opinion behind them, which can make itself felt on the occupants of the two Front Benches; but experience has shown that there is not that protection for Members from Ireland.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I shall give all the support in my power to the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). I had it in my mind to propose an Amendment to the Resolution; but I find that, in my absence, it has already been proposed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham (Mr. J. E. Ellis)—I refer to the Amendment which would apply the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork to Great Britain as well as Ireland. I vote for an Amendment of this nature upon the broad and general principle that no extraordinary legislation in the direction of destroying the liberties of the subject should be permitted in this House without the fullest deliberation and consideration. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), in what I may call his curt rejoinder to the hon. Member for Cork, said he certainly could not think of permitting the Amendment to pass, seeing that the Government were only asking for the passage of these Rules for the conduct of the ordinary Business of the House. Well, either the right horn. Gentleman considers coercive legislation as a part of the ordinary Business of the House—and I am not sure that that is not the general view of Tory Governments—or he must admit that coercive legislation for Ireland is not part of the ordinary Business of the House, in which case his argument in favour of passing this Rule without the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork goes for nothing at all. I should have felt surprised at the somewhat cynical tone adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary in this matter, were it not that the experience of those who have fought in past years against coercive legislation for Ireland proves to us that it is no uncommon feature in the manner of the occupants of the Treasury Bench, whenever such coercive legislation is in question. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think it a very impudent thing to suggest that such an Amendment as this should find 523 any approval at all in the minds of the Government. But it seems to me that it is the most proper thing in the world that hon. Members from Ireland should make a stand on behalf of the liberties of their fellow - countrymen. I go further, and say it is a most proper thing that we who, it is true, do not represent Irish constituencies, but are sent here by English people, should side with our Irish Friends, and insist that no undue curtailment of the liberties of the subject shall be permitted, either in Ireland or this country. The Tory Government and their supporters are constantly reminding us—ad nauseam—that the country, at the last Election, decided peremptorily and finally against anything in the way of Home Rule. We have our own opinion upon that; and probably, if hon. Gentlemen opposite were to enjoy the popular meetings that are being held all over the country, they would have cause to agree with us; but if the country decided against Home Rule, it also decided against the return of the exploded policy of coercion for Ireland.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the principle of coercion is not the subject of discussion, but the question of the application of the clôture when coercive measures are introduced.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I was endeavouring, Mr. Speaker, to lead up my argument, and to explain and justify my opposition to the application of the clôture to this subject of coercive legislation; but, of course, I submit at once to your ruling. I am here to perform my duty as a Member returned against any coercive legislation for Ireland; and I am, therefore, bound to take this earliest opportunity of protesting against any modification of the Rules of Procedure which would make such a policy, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, more easy to carry out than it is to-day. We, on this side of the House, cannot regard with any favour any Rule which will enable a Government to throttle freedom of discussion, and rush through the House coercive legislation. There may be cases where it may be necessary to take stringent measures in the shortest possible time. I do not think they are likely to recur—at any rate, I think 524 that if we are to err at all it is very much better to err on the safe side rather than upon the danger side, and to give public opinion time to form and declare itself before rushing through coercive legislation. If, as I say, a great crisis arises when it is necessary to pass a Bill through in a single evening—a Bill such as that relating to explosives, consequent upon certain dastardly attempts of the dynamite party—would it not be possible to deal with the matter by special Resolution of urgency, and would such a course not be better than running the risks which the adoption of this Clôture Resolution would involve? The Conservative Government in 1885 threw away the weapon of coercion; and if, therefore, the re-enactment of coercive measures is to be considered as extraordinary legislation, I maintain that to the Clôture Rule we require such Amendment as that proposed.
MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)
We have, Sir, not only the Constitutional liberties of Ireland to protect, but also the privileges of the House of Commons. The Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) would protect both these privileges. I therefore desire to support that Amendment, and I may say I should not consider that I was discharging my duty to the 4,600 Irishmen who sent me here to protect those liberties if I gave any other vote. I think we on this side of the House have a right to complain of the conspiracy of silence on the Treasury Bench in regard to this Amendment, many hon. Members having risen on these Benches without eliciting a response from right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We, Sir, on this side are endeavouring to secure the freedom of discussion, and likewise the rights of minorities. So long as we sit in this House we shall always be in a minority, and our only hope is to take every opporutnity of informing the English mind, which is now open to our demands and sympathizes with our interests. I consider that the Amendment should be carried for this reason—it protects the Privileges of the Chair and of the House. No higher definition of the Privileges of the Chair is given than that of Mr. Speaker Lenthall, who said— 525I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.But what does the Speaker become if the Clôture Rule passes? Does he become the protector of the House and the guardian of its liberties? On the contrary, those Privileges will be left in the hands of the Whip of the Government Party. The moral force of the Speaker will be lessened—his moral power curtailed, and instead of being arbiter and judge he will become simply the registration machine of the Whip of the Party in power. Therefore, although it may be supposed that I have had less regard for the Privileges of the House than some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, I say we on this side are the truest friends of liberty of speech and the Privileges of the House and the Chair when we demand and implore for our country the right to have her faults stated and her grievances discussed. It has been suggested that this proposal with regard to coercive legislation should apply to England as well as to Ireland.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I must remind him that the subject before the House is not coercion, but whether the clôture shall be applied to coercive measures.
MR. MAC NEILL
I beg to be excused on the ground of inexperience of the Rules of the House. I shall possibly have an opportunity of speaking elsewhere on these points. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) has said that it would be impossible to rush such a measure as one for coercion through the House with 86 Irish and 200 English Members pledged against coercion. The best reply to that is the reply previously given—that in 1866 a Habeas Corpus Act for Ireland was rushed through the House when there was no one here to protest against it. Before the existence of the Irish Party and a sympathetic Liberal Party, it was quite usual to re-enact coercion for Ireland in the Expiring Acts Continuance Bill at the end of the Session. The subject was not then discussed; but clôture is now deemed to be necessary, because the Irish Members are determined to discuss the subject, and deter- 526 mined to tell the English people what it is, so that, at all events, they will not act in ignorance. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) has cited his own ease for an illustration, that in the heat of political and religious passion fair play is not shown in this House. That is undoubtedly the fact with respect to the question of coercion. Fair play is not shown, because political feeling is heated to such an extent as to preclude the exercise of calm judgment. In support of this statement I would refer the House to the case of Mr. Floyd, which occurred in the time of James I., when human nature was the same as it is now. Mr. Hallam, in his Constitutional History, cites the case of this unfortunate gentleman asAn unhappy proof of the disregard that popular assemblies, when inflamed by passion, are ever apt to show for those principles of equity and moderation, by which, however the sophistry of contemporary factions may set them aside, a calm judging posterity will never fail to measure their proceedings.If this Resolution is passed in its present form it will assail the liberties of minorities, the Privileges of Parliament, and also the Privileges of the Chair—the very gist of our political existence. As I understand it, the function of the Irish Members is to inform English opinion. I do not care to introduce personal matters in connection with such a grave subject as this; but I would ask who turned out the Liberal Government on the question of coercion in 1885?
MR. MAC NEILL
I would again warn the Government that their political existence is not likely to be continuous, and that the very instruments which they are now making may possibly be used against themselves, when they will be unsupported by the sympathy of the friends of liberty, and when they will be allowed to feel themselves the measures which they mete out to others.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I do not intend, Sir, to go into the question of coercion, but to confine myself strictly to the question at issue; that is, I understand, of approval or disapproval of the insertion in the Resolution, in accordance with the Motion of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), of the words— 527Other than a question arising on any Bill for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Ireland.I understand that the hon. Member for Cork will not be unwilling that his Amendment should be amended in the sense of the omission of the words "in Ireland." I shall vote for the insertion of the Amendment, whether the words "in Ireland" be included or not; but I shall vote for them more heartily and with greater satisfaction if they end at "Criminal Law." One of the main arguments that I must urge in favour of the addition of these words is that any questions that relate to the Criminal Law are questions of a peculiar and isolated character in our legislation. It is, perhaps, unnecessary for me to make any quotation as to the importance of our Criminal Law; but I will make three, and only three. Montesquieu, in his Esprit des Lois, says—It is upon the excellence of the Criminal Laws that chiefly the liberty of the citizen depends.Blackstone also, in reference to the system of English Criminal Law, says—A Constitution that I may venture to affirm has under Providence secured the liberties of this nation for a long succession of ages.And Mittermaier concludes his work on the Penal Process of England, Scotland, and the United States by saying—It will be more and more acknowledged how true it is that the penal legislation of a nation is the keystone of that nation's public law.It is for that reason that I desire to exempt any question of the Criminal Law from the operation of the Government Resolution. If there be anything that distinguishes the English nation from other nations, it is its great and remarkable respect for law, and especially for Criminal Law. I have even heard it stated that evil laws might be enacted in this country which are not enacted elsewhere, owing to the habits of obedience to the law which are so universally diffused among the people of England. I would here quote a few remarks that were made on a very remarkable Bill. In 1736 there was proposed in this country a Bill for the prevention of smuggling, and I would call attention to some of the sentiments uttered in the debate on that measure. Lord Chancellor Talbot said— 528For this reason we ought to he extremely jealous of loading our people with pains and penalties, or subjecting them to a multitude of penal laws; for oppression may be easily cloaked under colour of an Act of Parliament, and many may be hanged or transported under pretence of their having been guilty of some action made penal by statute, without raising any general murmur among the people, or giving the alarm to those who do not then think themselves in danger of any such prosecution; whereas the least act of oppression, without any such pretence, would raise a general murmur and give an universal alarm, because every man in the kingdom would think himself in danger.…No law can be proposed, for the necessity of which some reasons may not be urged; even the most tyrannical laws have been made under the pretence of preventing or punishing some real abuse."—(Parliamentary History,  1254–5.)The whole force of these words rests and lies in this—that the people of England obey readily the law enacted by this Parliament, and that the Criminal Law of England, when it is law and not discretion, is a law which the people of England obey. Why, Sir, is it that the people of England obey so readily the Criminal Law? Is it not because it has been well known to be a very stable law, a law not readily changed, and, above all things, because it has been recognized as in no sense tainted with a Government flavour, but the law of the General Parliament of this country? There can be little doubt, I think, that when we have established this closure the laws which we pass in this Parliament will be to a certain extent—however little—tainted with a Government flavour. I do not, for one, object to that in general; but there is one point at which I do certainly object to it—that point is wherever we touch on the Criminal Law. I feel sure that everything connected with the Criminal Law, whether it be in England or Ireland, ought to be subjected to the minutest, even, I will venture to say, the obstructive investigation of this House, so that there may be no doubt whatever that there is no special Government flavour given to anything connected with the Criminal Law. I am speaking simply of the application of the clôture to subjects affecting the Criminal Law, and, to use an old phrase, I say let there be "hands off" on this matter. No doubt the apology for the clôture as affecting other questions will be that if the majority exercise it unfairly the country will rebel, that 100, perhaps 1,000, newspapers will at once 529 call upon the country to notice what the Government have done, and that those who so readily sympathize with the oppressed would readily respond in the matter. On this point I would quote a great Constitutional lawyer, De Lolme. He says—When the rulers see that all their actions are exposed to public view, that in consequence of the celerity with which all things become communicated, the whole nation forms, as it were, one continued 'irritable body,' no part of which can be touched without exciting an universal tremor, they become sensible that the cause of each individual is the cause of all, and that to attack the lowest among the people is to attack the whole people.That, Sir, is the exact position from which we in England view this Clôture Resolution, and we feel firm and secure in its enactment. But I ask the House whether the whole body of the English people have so readily responded in the past to acts of injustice and oppression when they have been committed against Ireland? We do not read Irish newspapers; we hear little of Irish complaints—though happily we on this side of the House, at any rate, are now sensible of the oppression in Ireland. But the time has been when the oppressed in that country did not find very ready sympathy in England. There can be no doubt that we have become accustomed to violations of the Criminal Law in Ireland, and to neglect the protests of the Irish people; and I conceive, therefore, that if the Irish minority be overruled in this country by the majority the voice of this country, ignorant as it is of the circumstances of the Irish people, will not so readily respond as it would in the case of England to vindicate their rights and to claim their due position before the law of this country. It is, therefore, not only on account of the great importance of the Criminal Law itself that I support this Amendment, but with respect especially to Ireland, because the very apology for your closure does not exist in its full force in regard to that country. I and many hon. Friends around me are determined not to support coercion in Ireland, or to lessen the difficulties which surround the adoption of a coercive policy. It may be said that to be consistent we should propose the exemption of all Irish questions from the operation of the clôture. That may be so; but the real difficulty in Ireland is that there is no trust in the 530 criminal administration of the country, and it is because I desire to see the Criminal Law of Ireland framed in accordance with the sentiments of the vasty majority of the people that I desire that the Irish Representatives should have on any question affecting an alteration in the Criminal Law the fullest and amplest opportunity of expressing their opinions, Though I am in favour of the clôture, of shortening debates, and of more rapid Procedure, I desire at this moment to vote for the exemption from the clôture of all matters affecting the Criminal Law both of Ireland and England.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I am glad to be able to support the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham (Mr. J. E. Ellis) to amend the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), although I am bound to say that the wording of it is not altogether apt. While the Amendment would exempt from the operation of the Rule measures for England and Ireland it would possibly cover the admission under the Rule of several measures of coercion for Ireland alone. Under the present circumstances it appears to me an extraordinary thing that there should have been a succession of speeches from this side of the House and an obstinate and continued silence from the Ministerial Benches; and I cannot help being particularly struck with the demeanour of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I have witnessed the urbanity of the right hon. Gentleman through a series of years in this House, and I must say that his curtness towards the hon. Member for Cork this evening has astonished me, and those who observed it must have concluded that some very strong pressure has been put upon the right hon. Gentleman to cause him to depart from his usual bearing. I think it is incumbent on the right hon. Gentleman to give us some idea of the reason for the position which he has taken up. There is a remarkable omission from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. We have been led to believe that the Rules are not particularly directed in any way to the furtherance of coercive legislation, and I expected to hear from the light hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland 531 an explanation of the fact that when he put his hand to the drafting of Resolutions for the despatch of Business not long ago he never bethought himself of such Rules as we have now before us. I was a Member of the Committee before which the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman came, and there was nothing in them which at all resembles the Rule we are now discussing. We have all expected that the right hon. Gentleman would give some explanation of the ground on which he has so strangely altered his original position. What has occurred since the right hon. Gentleman drafted his first Resolution? The construction of it is strangely altered for the worse, because since then we have had it announced to us in the Speech from the Throne that it was the intention of the Government to urge forward coercive legislation for Ireland. We are not told anything about coercive legislation for Great Britain. I am prepared to maintain that it is not possible to adduce an instance from the history of this House that such proposals have been unduly obstructed. In April, 1883, after an explosion of dynamite in the neighbourhood of the House, a Bill was carried through all its stages in a single evening by the right hon. Gentleman the then Home Secretary (Sir William Harcourt). If you had had obstruction applied to the criminal measures brought in a year or two ago in consequence of the proceedings of a certain portion of society in London, do you imagine that if closure had been in force the Bill which then passed into law would have been improved by it? Certainly not, Sir. You propose this measure for the purpose of getting rid of the resistance of hon. Members to the Bills for coercion in Ireland. But coercion in Ireland has never attained the end for which it was devised, and in this House it will be precisely the same. You began with coercive Rules against the freedom of hon. Members several Sessions ago; those Rules have disappointed your expectations, and the present Rule will in due time also disappoint your expectations. It will be in the recollection of many in this House that Jeremy Bentham, in speaking of this Assembly, especially dwelt upon the fact that freedom of discussion was here unfettered; he compared it with the Assemblies of 532 other countries where there are devices for urgency and the closing of discussion, and he particularly contrasted the French system unfavourably with the system of this House. If you go on forging new fetters for hon. Members of this House you will soon forfeit that character, and you will find that the strictures passed upon the Procedure of other countries will not only be applied to your Procedure, but eminently deserved.
§ MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
I welcome the addition proposed by the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham (Mr. J. E. Ellis) to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), because the effect of the alteration will be to include coercive legislation for England; and, that being so, it will probably tempt hon. Members opposite to depart from their conspiracy of silence on this question. We have had many speeches in favour of my hon. Friend's Amendment, and, with the exception of the curt and unhandsome reply from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, we have had no reply from the Government Bench. I think the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) stated that the fact that there were so many hon. Members opposed to coercion for Ireland was a good reason why the clôture should be applied—that is to say, that it should be applied to the 280 Members who are sent here to oppose the facilitation of coercion for Ireland. If that is the law with which the right hon. Gentleman is to rule the country, the sooner the House knows it the better. There is one reason, besides others, why this Amendment should be passed. There is no doubt that Parliament has been frequently carried away by passion. Now, if full discussion were allowed, there would be time given to the country to draw breath, and recover from the panic that may seize it, and then put forth its voice to prevent the House plunging into measures which in calmer moments it would not take. This House is asked to have some limitations of the Rules that have been proposed; and we who know the effect of the adoption of hasty proposals, and have experienced the effects in our own persons and families, are inclined to interpose our most strenuous efforts to the proposals of the Government.
533 I remember in times past, when the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended from time to time, the feeling of gloom which was spread over Ireland through the undue haste with which this Parliament had acted. The way in which our families were disturbed and our homes broken up is still strong amongst us; and if hon. Members had the same experience as we have, I am sure they would hesitate to afford any facilities for the increase of the severity of the Criminal Law in Ireland.
§ MR. NOLAN (Louth, N.)
It would, in my opinion, be more dignified for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to stand up and move the closure of this debate than that hon. Members should come trooping into the House to drown the voices of Irish Members who are speaking in the interests of the constituencies which they represent. If hon. Members could be induced to act intelligently, and in a gentlemanly manner—
§ MR. NOLAN
I withdraw it, Sir. I was about to say that were I an English Member of this House I should certainly resist any attempt to introduce the closure. It is not hard to discover the object which the Government have in view in introducing this Rule from the utterances of right hon. Gentlemen in this House. It is their intention to apply the Clôture Rule to hon. Members from Ireland, because the charge has been made that they are in the habit of obstructing the Business of the House. But that charge I beg leave utterly to deny. In 1866 an important measure of coercion was passed in this House in a very short time; since then matters have gone from bad to worse in respect of crime, although, happily, a change in that respect has recently come over the country. It behoves Her Majesty's Government, therefore, to take into consideration that coercive measures in the past could not bring the people of Ireland within the tyranny of a class. I beg to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend.
§ DR. COMMINS (Roscommon, S.)
To the clôture in the abstract I have no objection whatever, and I will admit that a good measure of clôture would not only be rational in itself, but conducive 534 to the acceleration of Business as well as to the better performance of its functions by this legislative machine, as it has been well called. But will this be so? There is no doubt that this Rule is introduced for the purpose of accelerating the passage of a Coercion Bill for Ireland. Will anyone get up and deny that it is not intended to apply to the discussion of any of the measures introduced this Session with the exception of one? It is that one measure of coercion to which it is intended to be applied. I think English Members should pause before introducing a measure with such an object, and that hon. Members from Ireland would be recreant indeed if they did not raise their voices in protest against the Rule. We have had Coercion Acts enough for Ireland; some passing in a few hours, some of them occupying weeks of the time of the House, and now we are threatened with another. In Ireland the great object seems to be to make war on public opinion—the Government make war upon public opinion there by proclamations and by prosecutions for conspiracy. We know what has been the effect of that in Ireland; we know that neither prosecutions nor proclamations will stifle public opinion there, and that closure will not stifle the voices of Irish Members in this House who are sent here to give effect to that public opinion. I am glad that the hon. Member (Mr. J. E. Ellis) has enlarged the scope of my hon. Friend's Amendment, and that he has brought us face to face with the fact that you cannot stifle the voice of Irish Members in this House without, at the same time, striking a blow at freedom of speech in this country and raising the voice of the people of England in its defence. For these reasons, I shall vote for the Amendment before the House.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
I am glad to find that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has been amended by the addition of the words "Great Britain and Ireland." There is no hon. Member of the House who doubts what is the intention and practical aim of this Rule. The noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) gave us to understand that it was to be the primary governing principle of the Tory Party and Government that there 535 was to be nothing peculiar in the future in the government of Ireland. We have before us at this moment the request that before this Rule is passed which might in future imperil liberty of debate in this House upon the most vital, constitutional, and heart-stirring questions, as far as possible freedom shall be given us to examine the collateral bearings of the questions which will come before us. The freedom and rights of every citizen in this Realm is affected by the present position. The Front Bench opposite has met the complaints from this side of the House with almost absolute silence. I admire the discretion of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. But a short time ago every man among them was railing against any curtailment of the Privileges of hon. Members of this House, and the adoption in any form of this system of closure. If I were to go over the whole question I could present to the House a spectacle anything but creditable to hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland will excuse me if I say that he is meeting in an unbecoming manner the anxiety which exists in this House with regard to the curtailment of the liberty of debate. I agree with the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) that the question has become one which affects this country; and I think we are entitled to demand from the Government that, at any rate, the new Rule shall not be applied to any Bill to fetter the rights of the subject, or give increased stringency to the Criminal Law. We have the satisfaction to know that we have arrived at this stage—that the object for which this Rule is now proposed is definite and specific. It is impossible to disconnect these two points of consideration. We are asked to alter the Rules of Procedure and further curtail the rights of debate in order that, when a subsequent measure is presented to us, the ancient freedom of debate which has existed in this House may no longer exist. I am exceedingly surprised, Sir, that a Conservative Government should so suddenly turn its back upon its principles as to make such a proposal in this House. Sooner or later I suppose, when these Rules are passed by the present House of Commons, the way will be secure for the further progress of Business, and for the principal measures which the Government now in power are preparing for 536 Parliament, especially in regard to Ireland. I anticipate that, when that time comes, the whole Party on the Opposition side of the House will be sorely exercised. The great majority here on the Opposition Benches will prepare to oppose that measure for which this is a preliminary and a clearing of the way; and even for those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have established for themselves the name of Liberal Dissentients I am afraid the moment will be a very distressing and a sorely exercising one. Be that as it may, I believe that the only object of the Government in proposing this further curtailment of debate is in order to apply a gag to the Irish Members. I am prepared to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell). I see, sitting opposite, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen). I make the admission that I did not notice in great minuteness what he said at his late Election in St. George's, Hanover Square—[Cries of "Question!"]—but at Liverpool he declared himself still a Liberal, though separated from the Liberal Party. [Renewed cries of "Question!"] If hon. Gentlemen will be patient, they will see how very closely the observations I am now making bear upon the question which is before the House. The right hon. Gentleman avowed himself a Liberal, for an exceptional moment identified with, and willing to connect himself with, the Tory Party. Mr. Speaker, the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), who is the most potential force in the House at this moment, made a loan of the right hon. Gentleman as a sort of General of Division to the Tory Party. Well, Sir, loans are sometimes made on easy terms, and sometimes on severe terms. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a loan made to the Conservative Party on rather severe terms. [Cries of "Question!"] I appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is prepared to turn his back upon all Liberal traditions, and stand by the Conservative Party in the curtailment of the Privileges of this House and of its individual Members, while fundamental and Constitutional questions affecting the liberty of the subject are specially involved? After the assurances 537 given to the Government from this side of the House that, so far as the ordinary Business of Parliament is concerned, there is no objection to any modification of the Rules which Business necessities involve, cannot the right hon. Gentleman be appealed to, if he has got a remnant left of that rag of Liberalism with which he formerly covered his political nakedness, to intervene and say that in the most vital question of the increase of the stringency of the Criminal Law, a question which affects Ireland directly, and the mass of the people of this country indirectly, the Law of Closure shall not apply? I sincerely hope that at a subsequent stage, when this Rule is passed, a direct Motion will be made with the specific object of reserving to us our freedom in the discussion of this great and fundamental question of individual liberty.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
The hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Illingworth) has addressed an impassioned appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), by the Liberal principles to which he was attached, to vote against the proposals of Her Majesty's Government. I look on the Front Bench opposite for the Leaders of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Illingworth); I look for the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), and the other right hon. Gentlemen whom the hon. Member for Bradford is accustomed to follow. They are not in their places, and there is no sign that they are prepared to assist the hon. Member in the course which he advocates with so much warmth. I do not wish to seem to make any distinction whatever between Ireland and Great Britain, and therefore the Government will agree to the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham (Mr. J. E. Ellis); but no exception whatever can be made to the operation of the Rule. If it can be shown that increased powers are necessary to enable the authorities charged in any part of the Empire with maintaining law and order, the security of property, and the safety of life, to fulfil their duty, the measures which must be passed to confer such powers ought not to be excepted from 538 any general Rule applying to the ordinary conduct of Business in the House. I refuse to believe that the Liberal Party identify themselves with the protection of crime, and I declare in this House that it is a calumny to say that any men who feel compelled to bring forward measures for the improvement of the law have the slightest desire to stifle discussion, or to prevent the full exposition of the views that can be urged against their proposals. Hon. Members opposite seem to think that it is a pleasure to right hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House to have to propose to Parliament measures which they know must be adopted, but which, in their hearts, they regret, and only bring forward under a sense of positive duty. [Home Rule cries of "Weakness!"] To hon. Members who charge the Government with weakness I would reply that no Government that desires to exist in a condition of peace and ease would propose measures, however necessary, which would be certain to meet with violent opposition and the most searching criticism. The proposals of the Government are not proposals for the limitation of adequate discussion, and there is no intention to interfere with freedom of debate or liberty of speech. Our proposals are made with the intention of restoring to Parliament its rightful authority, power, and influence, and of enabling it to legislate for the benefit of the Queen's subjects, and to transact the Business of the country. The object of the Government is to secure that there shall be real freedom of debate, as opposed to that licence of speech which is valueless in itself and impedes all good work.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I am disposed to agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) in accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham (Mr. J. E. Ellis); and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having at last let the cat out of the bag and disclosed the real motives which underlie the action of the Government in pressing forward these Rules post haste upon the House. From the moment that the right hon. Gentleman adopted the unprecedented course on the first day of the Session of asking for the whole time of the House for the Rules of Procedure, I knew well that the real object of the Tory Party was not to facilitate the 539 general Business of the House, but to obtain facilities for passing coercion, and from that moment I made up my mind that the fight against coercion had commenced. The right hon. Gentleman will find that he has done himself no service when, in an unguarded moment, he, in the speech just delivered, showed what he had up his sleeve. We are not to be deceived by specious pretexts as to maintaining the dignity of the House and the freedom of debate. When did the Tories ever strive for the dignity of the House, or for the freedom of debate, except when they had a Coercion Act in progress? They were only anxious about these points when coercion for Ireland was impending, as when they, in 1882, supported the existing Rules brought forward by the Liberal Government. It was on that occasion that they first cut for themselves the rod that was afterwards fashioned by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian when he brought forward his New Rules, and when those New Rules were passed by the action of the Tory Party uniting with the Liberal Party for the purpose of facilitating the passage of a Coercion Act for Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman opposite will find that he has cut a much sharper and more severe rod for his own back and the backs of his Friends, which will be administered by the Liberal Party, the Radical Party most likely of the future, in the days when the Conservative Party is weak and helpless, and hopelessly struggling for existence.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the words 'other than a Question arising in any Bill for increasing the stringency of the Criminal Law in Great Britain and Ireland' be there inserted.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 155; Noes 264: Majority 109.—(Div. List No. 23.)
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I am not without hope that the Government will assent to the Amendment which I am now about to propose—namely, to except Votes in Supply from the operation of the Rule. The question of Supply is entirely different in its bearing and aspect from other questions, such as votes upon Bills and Motions. Questions in Supply are peculiarly associated and identified with the historical struggles through which our forefathers have passed in wresting their liberties from the 540 hands of the Stuarts. In those days this House successfully asserted its right of controlling Grants of Supply to the Crown. The Ministers of the day, although they undoubtedly did represent a majority of the electors, did, at the same time, represent Parliament; and we ought not to forget, for a single instant, that, under our Constitutional system, they were able to exercise, and did constantly exercise, a power not derived from Parliament, apart from Parliament, without consultation with Parliament, a power of making treaties and making peace, or declaring war, which might be of vital importance. This, therefore, is not a time for the House to relax its grasp upon the control of Supply. When Europe appears to be on the point of conflagration, when, at any moment, the country may be drawn into a war of which none of us may see the end, and when this may happen owing to the want of the control of the House of Commons over Supply, this surely is not the time to relax any of the Constitutional restraints which our forefathers won after years of struggle. The House will, therefore, do well to consider what the bearing and the effect of the new Closure Rule will be as regards its operation in Supply. It will not be the harmless instrument which was fashioned, after discussion, years ago; but it will be one of new and unexampled stringency, which will give power to a Minister to come down to the House to propose a Vote in Supply, and to move the Chair that the Question be now put without allowing any debate whatever. ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen say "No, no!" but what I have stated is, nevertheless, the absolute fact. What I ask is, that safeguards shall be inserted to prevent the abuse of this very stringent Rule, which gives a blank cheque to the Government of a most extraordinary and unlimited character. I therefore claim the support of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, upon whom I look as a financier of most distinguished position and experience. I think the right hon. Gentleman, as a prudent business man, will say that it is not desirable to entrust Lord Salisbury, or the Leader of this House, with a blank cheque of such an extensive character as the New Rules will afford him, and which will enable him, if he is sure that he will be supported by a majority, 541 to secure the Vote of Money to any extent for the purpose of any war, however iniquitous or however opposed to the sense and feeling of the people of this country, without debate.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1, after the word "Question," to insert the words "other than a Vote in Committee of Supply."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
Sir, the hon. Member opposite has forgotten that this question was debated early in the evening on the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan). The hon. and gallant Member founded the greater part of his speech on the power to deal with Votes in Supply, as well as proceedings in Committee of the House with the Chairman in the Chair. It will also be in the recollection of the House that the hon. and gallant Member especially referred at great length to questions of Supply.
§ MR. PARNELL
I wish to remind the right hon. Gentleman that I expressly refrained from speaking on the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Nolan), as I had an Amendment of my own on the Paper.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I did not refer to the hon. Member's remarks at all. I merely referred to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for North Galway, whose principal objection to the proposal of the Government was that it gave to a Member the power now possessed by the Speaker and the Chairman, with the sanction of the Speaker and Chairman. The hon. and gallant Member objected very much to Votes in Supply being dealt with under any power of closure; but I myself think there is probably no portion of the duties of the House in which the closure may be required more frequently than in Committee of Supply. It will be in the recollection of the House that last Session there were debates which extended possibly over many hours on, perhaps, the Queen's Plate, or a charwoman, and the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Nolan) has admitted that in consequence of protracted debates on small questions, later in the evening, millions of money had been passed in a 542 short time, because the exigencies of the country required that they should be so voted. I can only repeat that discussion will not be limited when discussion is necessary, and the importance of the subject requires it; and I will venture to say that if such a question as that of peace or war were raised in the House, and a Vote of Money taken upon it, no Government would propose to take such a Vote without full and ample discussion, nor do I believe that the majority of the House would support them in doing so. It is impossible for Her Majesty's Government to accept an Amendment exempting Committee of Supply from the operation of the Rule.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
Mr. Speaker, I am amazed at the line taken by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith). Because the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Nolan) happened accidentally to make a reference to the question of Supply, that is held to be a reason why the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Parnell), specifically dealing with the subject, should be regarded as unworthy the attention of the Government. What is the case presented by the right hon. Gentleman? Few private Members of this House have attended more assiduously to Supply than myself, and, I regret to say, with precious little advantage. [Ironical cheers.] I can assure hon. Gentlemen that I very much appreciate their ironical cheering. There has been going on lately in this country a most enormous national expenditure. The Tory Party have been the worst sinners in promoting that expenditure. ["Oh, oh!"] Sir, I appeal to the recollection of the House, and. I appeal personally to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith), whether, on every occasion when a Liberal Government has been in power, and has proposed increased expenditure, every unit in the Tory Party has not voted in favour of the proposed increase? There is now a new spirit coming over the Conservative Party, or, at any rate, over an individual or two of that Party, in favour of economy. The right hon. Gentleman has said that, over and over again, small items such as those expended on the Queen's Plates and the Royal Yacht, and what-not, the Committee of the Whole House has fixed upon as instances of notorious extrava- 543 gance, or of a policy on the part of the country that ought to be modified or altogether abandoned; and the right hon. Gentleman says that, after spending many hours over small items such as these, the larger items of expenditure have been necessarily passed without much discussion. I will explain how it is. It is because there has formed in the House a considerable Party prepared to put an end to these small items; but, unfortunately, such has been the state of feeling in this House that we have not been able to rally whenever the Government has come down with proposals of extravagance in connection with the Army or the Navy, and some of us are looking forward with delight to the altered conditions, when the Tory Party, casting its scales, is likely to be of service in the reduction of the large items of expenditure. It is not necessary to tell us we neglect the larger items and fix our attention on the smaller ones. The case of the hon. Member for Cork is this—that, where there may be a wide difference of opinion on a question, there should be at least six hours' discussion in the House and two hours in Committee before the Question is allowed to be put.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
That is what the right hon. Gentleman knows the hon. Member for Cork is claiming. If the hon. Member for Cork is enabled to carry this Amendment, the two subsequent Amendments would not be necessary so far as the Committee of Supply is concerned. After the eminently unsatisfactory reply of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, there is no other course open to those who wish to preserve proper freedom for the Representatives of the taxpayers of this country than to vote with the hon. Member for Cork.
§ SIR EDWARD REED (Cardiff)
It is my intention to vote in favour of this Amendment. [Laughter.] It is quite easy for the supporters of the Government to laugh under existing conditions; but I will ask them to remember that, by rejecting the Amendment, they are casting away the right of the Representatives of the people to discuss the question of Supply, whenever the Government of the day choose not to allow them to discuss it. That is what you are about to give away, and I have 544 only to say this—that I believe that if the Government were now to strike down this Privilege of Parliament in discussing even the voting of Supplies to the Crown they will drive debate from this House into the country, and will bring about a revolutionary agitation. Why, what is it that has made this country safe, but the knowledge of the fact that its Representatives can come here and make themselves heard? And what the Government is doing this night is to declare that, though the Representatives of the people may come here, they will not be allowed to discuss any matters except those which the Government think fit, and not even Votes in Supply. What is the period chosen for such a limitation of the privilege of debate as this? It is a period when the people of the country are awakening to the necessity of closely scrutinizing and discussing the Estimates more than ever they have been discussed in the past. It seems to me that, if this Amendment be rejected, I shall be forced to discuss the Estimates with my constituents at Cardiff, as I shall not be allowed the privilege of discussing them in Parliament. I have not the slightest doubt that, if the House passes this proposal, the time is not far distant when it will have to repeal the legislation it is now about to carry out.
§ MR. LIONEL COHEN (Paddington, N.)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) said that if it was in the power of a Minister to come down to the House and obtain a Vote in Supply without adequate discussion it would result in a wasteful expenditure, and in the country being committed to a course of policy abroad of which Parliament might disapprove. I ask the House, for the very reasons which the hon. Member has himself given, to emphatically reject this proposal. Put the converse of his argument—which is the greater danger, that a servile House might give to an autocratic Minister the resources which he asks, and give them after inadequate discussion, or that demands indispensable for the Public Service might be delayed by destructive and dilatory opposition? There is another point in his argument which I also adduce to the House as a reason for the rejection of the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman quoted an observation of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the 545 Exchequer (Mr. Goschen)—namely, that he objected to give a blank cheque to Lord Salisbury. My commercial training leads me to give a blank cheque to no one; but if I am to choose between persons to whom I would give a blank cheque, I would rather give it to anyone high in the confidence of the Crown, such as a Prime Minister, or anyone else who was at the head of affairs, than to any hon. Member with 85 supporters, who might use it in a way detrimental to the interests of the country. The arguments of the hon. Member I adduce, therefore, as the strongest reasons for the rejection of this Amendment.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cohen) on being prepared to give a blank cheque to a nobleman, rather than to the whole of this House.
§ MR. LIONEL COHEN
I said I would rather give a blank cheque to whoever may be at the head of affairs, rather than to any one individual who might, be able to enlist 85 supporters.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
A nobleman is at present at the head of affairs, therefore, I do not think I misrepresented the hon. Gentleman. It appears that the Prime Minister wishes to transpose the old proverb, for he says we ought to take care of the pounds, and the pence will take care of themselves. If we assent to the proposal of the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), we shall never be able to take care of the pence or the pounds. I have, however, risen for a pacific object. It is to ask some Gentleman on the Treasury Bench to be good enough to explain to me something about this Rule. I want to know whether, supposing a Vote is proposed, say of £100,000, and if it is divided into a series of items, and if, after a somewhat lengthy discussion on the first item, the closure is proposed and adopted, would the Vote be taken upon that particular item, if there is a Motion for the reduction of the Vote by that item, or upon the whole Vote, would the closure preclude other Amendments upon the Vote? That is what I should like some Gentleman on the Treasury Bench to explain.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
The question just put by my hon. friend (Mr. Labouchere) will have to be an- 546 swered, and answered very decisively. I shall repeat the question of the hon. Member, but, before I do so, I wish to say that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) was distinguished by remarkable poverty of fact, and that the right hon. Gentleman made up for that poverty by what I may call an unsuspected force of imagination. He said that we have been occupied in Committee of Supply for several hours in discussing the wages of a charwoman. If that is so, that charwoman would become historical. I challenge, or perhaps I ought to say, I invite the right hon. Gentleman, or Ms Colleagues, to verify that observation, or anything like it, by reference to the records of the House. I have had as much experience for some years past of Committee of Supply as the right hon. Gentleman; and I say without fear of contradiction that whenever the Irish Members have extended the time of discussion of Estimates relating to Ireland principles of vital moment to the liberty of Ireland have been involved. My hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell), in language of great significance, has spoken of the immense importance which the question of Supply acquires from the relation it bears to the present disturbed condition of Europe; and I warn the House that, with a Minister at the head of affairs like Lord Salisbury, who has been called the perturbator of this country, that if it relaxes its grip over the public purse by adopting this Rule without modification, the Government of the day may, at any moment, drag the country blindfold into a European war. I would ask the House to remember that the most conspicuous Member of the Government—namely, the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), lately left them on a question of economy, because he considered that the-Estimates for the year, which are directly concerned in the Amendment, are swollen beyond the demands of public property and the capacity of the country to provide for them. The people of this kingdom at large will think it very strange that the next step of the Government, after having been deserted by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, is to endeavour to gag the Representatives of the people in discussing the Votes in Committee of 547 Supply. Once more, I ask what is the use of loading the Chairman of the Committees with powers—which will not be powers, but burdens—when the fact is notorious that he has not employed those powers already in his possession? The present Chairman of Committees has never had occasion to warn Irish Members for irrelevance or tedious repetition, although British Members have fallen under his lash for both those offences more than once. I see the late Chairman of Committees (Mr. Raikes) sitting on the Treasury Bench, and I would press upon him the inquiry of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), as to how the proposed Rule will operate with regard to Votes in Supply which are generally divided into various sub-heads embracing a great many separate items. If the clôture is applied to one Amendment, it will cancel all the other Amendments to the Vote under consideration. A Division will take place upon the Amendment, then the clôture can be at once applied on the question of the Vote. A Division can be taken, and in that way, in the space of time that would be occupied by four Divisions, the Government can compel the House to grant them millions of money. I submit that the question of the hon. Member for Northampton should be answered not curtly and cursorily, but fully and precisely, before the House proceeds another inch with the discussion of this Rule. At a moment when the question of economy has been brought into prominence, and the Estimates will require fuller and more careful consideration than ever, the Representatives of the people should not have their traditional check upon the expenditure of the country reduced to a meaningless and empty form, but should be able to exercise efficient control over the policy of the Government.
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)
I think that, with all the acuteness the hon. Member always brings to bear upon the unravelling of complicated propositions in this House, he has, on the present occasion, rather failed to make out his case, or to render it sufficiently plain to anyone who has studied the proposed new Rule. The proposal of the Government makes no substantial 548 difference in the existing regulations of debate. It differs, I think, from the existing Rule merely in being a little more particular, definite, and clear. If the new Resolution is used to deal with a particular Amendment the Chair will be appealed to by an hon. Member, and the consent of the Chair having been obtained, leave will be asked to put the Question. This differs from the existing practice in so far as the initiative is not taken by the Chair, but by some hon. Member with the consent of the Chair. The hon. Member has, I think, magnified the danger, not fully recognizing how important an element is the necessary previous consent of the Chair, and I ask the House, whether it is possible that the Chair could be occupied by a public servant who would be guilty of such disgraceful practices as would be involved in forestalling the introduction of any fair Amendment in the manner indicated?
§ DR. COMMINS (Roscommon, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has very cleverly evaded the difficulty which has been proposed, and the arguments which have been offered to elucidate it. The argument is, that under the proposed Rule the Chairman of Committees will have power to deal with a Vote as it stands without discussion or debate. A Minister may come down, and propose to close a debate directly a Vote is submitted, and in that way money might be voted without discussion. That would be a departure from the old principle which has always prevailed in regard to our dealings with Supply, and would, practically, be giving a Minister a blank cheque without allowing the House that amount of control and power of criticism which it has always possessed in money matters. The course the Government are taking amounts to what is known as the "confidence trick." You are to trust a Minister with the money of the country, in order to show what confidence you have in him. You trust he will take good care of it, and will give it back to you; but you find that the persons who are victims of the "confidence trick" in the streets very seldom get back the money they have handed over, and so it will be with this House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. J. Rowlands.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (Lord JOHN MANNERS) Leicestershire, E.)
I put it to the House whether the debate on the present Amendment has not proceeded long enough? Two hon. Members have put precise Questions to Her Majesty's Government; those Questions have been answered; there is nothing new to be said on the subject, and I think that now, after the time that has been occupied on the matter, the House might very well proceed to a Division.
§ MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)
I do not agree with the view of the noble Lord that this matter has been sufficiently debated. A very important question has been raised—whether we should consent to, I will not call it the "confidence trick," but giving a blank cheque to a Prime Minister. The Question put to the Government, if it has been answered at all, has been answered in a very unsatisfactory manner. It appears to me that we are making an appeal to the Government in regard to a trust which the country has placed in our hands, and I hope we shall have a little further discussion on the point.
§ MR. SCLATER - BOOTH (Hants, Basingstoke)
I should like to ask the House whether it is really satisfied with the explanation we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikea). He has great knowledge and experience in the matter, and yet I must own that he did not satisfy me. It seems to me there was something in the question put by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) which was not anticipated by the Government, and which they have not provided against. I have considered the language of this Resolution as it will bear upon the clauses of a Bill. It invites this process—after an Amendment to a clause has been disposed of by the closure, the House will be asked to proceed to decide upon the clause as a whole. Further Amendments of which notice may have been given are not to be proposed, as they will be ruled out; and the same observation applies to Amendments to reduce Votes in Committee of Supply. I have prepared words to make it clear 550 that the effect I refer to shall no be produced as regards clauses, and they—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that we are now on the question of the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
I was endeavouring to show that there is a reason for adjourning, inasmuch, as this question does not appear to me to have been sufficiently answered. I have endeavoured to meet the difficulty so far as the clauses of a Bill in Committee are concerned; but the question also arises in regard to Votes in Committee of Supply. Under the language of the Resolution it will be competent to ask the permission of the Chairman to close a debate on a Vote when the clôture has been put into operation upon one of the Amendments.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
I would support the Motion for Adjournment for the reason that, as I understand it, a distinct question has been put to the Treasury Bench which the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) rose to answer, but did not answer. The question is this—Suppose it is proposed in Supply that so much be voted to Her Majesty for such and such a service, and that the amount is made up of several items against each of which there are Amendments; suppose the question before the Committee be to omit such and such an item, and suppose the clôture should be applied to the discussion on that question, would not that clôture also carry with it the clôture of the discussion on the whole Vote originally put from the Chair? I understand the reply to be that the words of the Resolution proposed would have that effect. If it had been in Order I, at any rate, should have contended that that is a fair construction to put upon these words.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I will not further contest the Motion for Adjournment. I assure the House that a complete answer can be given to the question which has been addressed to the Government by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Parnell); but I am afraid that to give it now would involve rather a long debate.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.