§ ADJOURNED DEBATE. [FIFTH NIGHT.]
Order read, for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Amendment proposed to the Main Question, as amended,
That, 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.)
And which Amendment was,
In line 1, by inserting, after the word "Question," the words "other than a Vote in Committee of Supply."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
I was much, interested in the arguments used on the Tory Bench last night against the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), and I propose to give the House the benefit of the opinions that were expressed by various Members on that same Bench in 1882, when this very Motion was before the House. At that time new Rules of Procedure had been introduced into this House by the then Liberal Government, and they were opposed by the then Opposition, which now constitutes Her Majesty's Government. The opinions which right hon. Gentlemen opposite then expressed were identical almost in the very words with the objections which have been raised on this side of the House against the Rules now proposed. One of the Rules was to the following effect—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 Question be now put, he may so inform the House or the Committee, and if a Motion be made "That the Question be now put," Mr. Speaker or the Chairman shall forthwith put such Question, and if the same be decided in the affirmative, the Question under discussion shall be put forthwith. This is followed by a proviso which it is not necessary that I should read at present. An Amendment was proposed by Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, then an active Member of the Conservative Party, and a Gentleman who received a high official appointment when the present Government came into Office. His Amendment was to leave out the words, "or to the Chairman of Ways and Means in a Committee of the Whole House;" and that was practically the proposition under the consideration of the House last night. I should like now to call attention to the Gentlemen who supported Sir Henry Drummond Wolff's Motion. One of the principal supporters of that Motion to prevent the clôture from applying to Committee of Supply was the present Under Secre- 588 tary for India (Sir John Gorst), who made a powerful speech against it; Lord Ashbourne, then Mr. Gibson, made one of his strongest speeches in support of the Amendment; and on that occasion the Liberal Government entered into a conspiracy of silence, just as a conspiracy of silence has now been entered into on the Conservative side of the House. Mr. Gibson said—He was very glad that at last they had had a speech from the independent Benches on the opposite side, for if there was not a conspiracy of silence, or a confederacy of mutes on the other side of the House, there was, at all events, an extraordinary coincidence which brought forth no debate."—(3 Hansard,  225.)That is the position of the opposite side now. That Amendment was lost, and then I find, from Hansard that another Member of the Tory Party proposed an Amendment. This is what Hansard says—Mr. Sclater - Booth then moved as an Amendment of the proposed 1st Resolution in line 2, after the word 'House,' to insert the words 'not being a Committee of Supply.'"—(Ibid. 252.)That right hon. Gentleman was at the time an ardent Member of the Tory Party; and it is as a staunch supporter of the Government that I presume he now opposes the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork to exclude Committee of Supply from the process of the clôture.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH (Hants, Basingstoke)
What I said last night, in so far as I said anything at all, was rather in support of the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork.
§ MR. MOLLOY
I quite understand that; but I was referring to the Amendment proposed in 1882. I am not at all finding fault with the right hon. Gentleman, who, if he is consistent to-day, is about the only Member of the Tory Party who is. What did the present Chief Secretary, then speaking from the Benches, say? He spoke of the right of free discussion in Committee. He called "the privilege of debate in Supply the proudest privilege of the House," and in a long speech he supported the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and spoke in the strongest terms against the Resolution to include Committee of Supply in the Clôture Rule. Then Hansard gives us a long speech from the hon. and gallant 589 Member for Horsham (Sir Walter Barttelot), who also spoke strongly in favour of the Amendment; but I need not quote his remarks. I come now to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury and the Leader of the House of Commons. He said that—It was certainly the case that less time had been occupied in the consideration of Supply during the last two Sessions than at any former period within his experience of 14 years of that House. Was this, then, the time to take away opportunities from Members of considering Votes in Supply? He could not imagine anything more likely to increase delay than the operation of that Rule.I ventured to make the same assertion; but my words had no effect. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say—The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) had taken the illustration of a Vote of Credit, upon which might depend peace or war."—(Ibid. 298.)The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that a free discussion upon a sudden declaration of war might become impossible, because it might be regarded as an act of patriotism and loyalty to put in force the clôture. A similar argument was used last night from this side of the House; but it had no effect upon the right hon. Gentleman, although it was simply a repetition of the argument he himself had used in 1882. But this is not all that the right hon. Gentleman said. Again quoting the words of the right hon. Gentleman from Hansard, I find that he went on to say—He believed that the proposal before them was totally unnecessary. Instead of discouraging discussion in Supply, it was the duty of the Government to encourage it. He believed that the Secretary to the Treasury would far better discharge his duty if there were more discussions than there had been. In his opinion, the result of checking these discussions would lead to a larger waste of public time than was at present the case. If a discussion was closed on one Vote, it would provoke retaliation on others, for it was not in human nature that men should have their mouths closed without finding some other opportunity to bring forward their grievances."—(Ibid. 298.)Those are strong words coming from the right hon. Gentleman, and yet he now proposes to include Committee of Supply within the power of clôture. I will ask the right hon. Gentleman when, where, and how he found a new salvation which enables him and his Colleagues to swallow all their old convictions? These were their convictions in 1882; where are those convictions now? The right 590 hon. Gentleman has given up the whole of them on this subject. Has anything happened since which accounts for his having found a new salvation? If it was wrong in 1882 to close the mouths of this House in discussing the Votes in Committee of Supply, why is it not wrong now? The right hon. Gentleman spoke then in favour of free discussion. He said that not only was discussion right, but he suggested that still more discussion should take place, and the work would be more efficiently conducted. Surely this is an extraordinary change of mind for the Government to have made on such a point. Every Member of the Front Bench opposite, except the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews) and the Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster), who were not Members of this House in that Parliament, strongly opposed the attempt to include Committee of Supply in the Rule of Procedure which enables the clôture to be applied. The late Lord Iddesleigh, then Sir Stafford Northcote, and Leader of the Conservative Party—holding the position which the right hon. Gentleman opposite now occupies—made a long speech, and adduced strong arguments in favour of the exclusion of the Committee of Supply. Sir Stafford Northcote said—Surely the Liberal Party ought to be content with achieving such advantages as those without seeking to prevent free discussion in Committee of Supply. He had certainly been surprised—although people were ceasing to he surprised at many things now—at the action of the Government in this matter."—(Ibid. 302.)I have given quotations from the speeches of the chief Members of the present Conservative Government, who strongly opposed the proposal to close free discussion. If I were to speak for all the evening I feel that I could not add anything to the strength of the arguments then used by Members of the Tory Party. Nothing has since transpired which can alter that opinion. It was admitted on that occasion that discussions occasionally took place upon trivial matters, and that such discussions were sometimes carried to an inordinate length. They admitted all this and a great deal more; but, nevertheless, they maintained and supported, and all of them spoke in favour of, full and free discussion in Committee of Supply. The Rule submitted then was identical with the Rule proposed by the Government now; and the 591 Amendment then was identical with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork now. There is no change whatever in the position; no change except in the convictions of the Government, who are now willing to swallow all their old convictions, and to endeavour to impose still more binding fetters on the freedom of discussion in Committee of Supply.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
The hon. Member who has just sat down says that nothing has occurred since 1882 to justify the change of view of those who in that year opposed a Motion very similar to that now proposed by Her Majesty's Government. That is not the view of those who sit on these Benches. They think that a great deal has happened since 1882, and that the additional experience gained in the intervening time leaves no room for doubt that it is necessary to make the clôture applicable to Committee of Supply; not, as has been already said several times from the Benches opposite, for the purpose of stifling discussion, but in order to secure a more satisfactory distribution of the time available for discussion over the various items brought under the notice of the House in Committee of Supply. Hon. Members from Ireland never tire of repeating that the proposals of the Government are intended to act as a gag. [Cries of "Hear, hear !" from the Irish Members.] Yes; that is what hon. Members opposite say. Parliament, however, will probably sit for precisely as long a time as it does now after the Rules shall have been agreed to. What is hoped, not merely by hon. Members on this side of the House, but, I believe, by the great majority of hon. Members opposite, is that by the operation of these Rules the House may make better use of the time at its disposal. I should be very much surprised if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not take that view. We certainly should not make much progress in the direction in which they desire to go if the closure were not made applicable to Committee of Supply as well as to the proceedings of the Whole House. The Government have been accused by hon. Members from Ireland of introducing the Rule merely in order to facilitate the progress of certain prospective Bills relating to the Criminal 592 Law in Ireland. [Cries of "Hear, hear!" from the Irish Members.] Yes; but the injustice of this charge is manifest now that it is seen that the Government is determined to apply the Rule to Committee of Supply as well as to any particular Bill that may be submitted. Last night the House was left in this position. We were debating the question of applying the clôture to Committee of Supply, and also the special point raised by the Irish Members as to the effect of the clôture. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) is not in his place at this moment; but he will admit that the Government were challenged to explain the full meaning of this Rule. I will, therefore, explain what the effect of the Rule is. The Motion is—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.That means to say, the Original Question upon which an Amendment has been moved.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Yes; I am endeavouring to explain the effect of the Motion we are making, and the Rule we now propose. The Rule proceeds in these words—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 of, or be added to, the Bill, be now put.' Such Motions shall be put forthwith, and decided without Amendment or Debate.Theoretically, the clôture being applied, and the whole Vote being put, it would be in the power of the House—not of the Government alone—with the consent of the Chair, when an Amendment had been moved to the original sum. Theoretically it may be argued that all further Amendments may be excluded. That is so. But it was pointed out last night by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) that that power is already possessed by the 593 Chairman of Ways and Means. He is perfectly competent at the present moment to decide in that way, if he thinks that it would be the proper course to take. I have explained what would be the theoretical power given under this Rule to the majority backed up by the Chairman. And now let me put before the House the other alternative. What would happen if, frightened at this theoretical possibility, the House were to refuse to pass the Rule in its present form? It would be within the competence of hon. Members to propose, with an obstructive purpose, any number of Amendments for the reduction of a Vote. Supposing, for example, that a Vote of £100,000 were proposed to be granted by the Committee for a particular purpose, it might be proposed successively to strike off £10,000, under a certain sub-head; and if that proposition were defeated, it would be possible to go on moving that it be reduced by £9,000, £8,000, £7,000, and so on. There might be no end to such Amendments. Hon. Members below the Gangway opposite will probably argue that the course which I have sketched is not one which even obstructives are at all likely to take. The reply of the Government is, that still more improbable is the fulfilment of the allegation that the Chairman and the Government would, by a rigid application of the closure, prevent a Committee from legitimately discussing the items set down in particular Estimates. We have to choose between two extreme theoretical views, and the House must come to a conclusion, looking the danger on each side fairly and fully in the face. Hon. Members below the Gangway opposite have argued that it would be possible by this Rule to suppress discussion upon particular items altogether. But we have had an emphatic warning as to what would take place if that were ever done. A majority which should so attempt to use its power would be shattered in a very few weeks, and it is hardly conceivable that such action would ever be attempted even in acute Party warfare. It is scarcely to be conceived that it would ever be the wish of the majority, not only to shorten discussion, but to refuse discussion altogether on particular items. But suppose that it were so. In that case, again, you have the protection of the Chair; and what would be the posi- 594 tion of a Chairman of Committed if he were to refuse to the House the opportunity of discussing a matter to which serious attention had been called? If hon. Members opposite are capable of believing that it would be possible for the Chairman to rule out altogether and suppress Motions in Committee of Supply relating to important objects, I do not know that I can add anything to the explanations I have given. I want the House to consider the issue really before it. It is this—in what direction does the danger lie—does it lie in the abuse of the power of the Chairman of Ways and Means, or the abuse of the means of Obstruction which would exist, if no such Rule is passed? I fully recognize the power which is theoretically placed in the hands of a majority, and of the Chairman of Committees, by this Rule. I do not believe, for a moment, that such a case could possibly arise; but upon the balance of argument we think it wise for the House to adopt this form of clôture. If not adopted in this form it would be of little use to apply the clôture in Committee at all, because the whole power of Obstruction would still remain. Supposing an abuse were attempted by the Government, would the Chairman be likely to assent to it? The House must decide which is the more likely—a gross abuse of power by the Chairman of Committees and the Government, or a revival of that Obstruction which has been so effective in the past. If it is held that the former is the less likely, then the applicability of the Closure Rule in Committee of Supply ought to be affirmed. If there is a real desire to baffle Obstruction and to proceed regularly to work, in order to secure freedom of discussion, I trust the House will see its way to accept the proposals of the Government.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
The answer of the Postmaster General last night, and the explanation which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has just given, require, I think, a little clearing up. I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that the Rule, as proposed, is theoretically unjust.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
What I said was that this is, of course, an extreme power 595 —theoretically an extreme power—put into the Resolution in order to meet the possibility of obstructive tactics, which we do not think can be regarded as impossible.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
May I be allowed to put, in a few words, how far that extreme theory will go. Suppose we have a Vote of £500,000 for a certain service under discussion, the Question would be that a sum of £500,000 be granted to Her Majesty for that service. That would be the Main Question put from the Chair. But the particular Vote is divided into sub-heads, and there is an Amendment to reduce it by a particular item relating to one of the sub-heads. The discussion is directed to that item, and not to the Vote generally, and the Chairman of Committees allows it to go on upon that item, which may be very small and unimportant, and altogether separated from every other item of the Vote, so that the discussion of the Amendment to omit that particular item might have no reference whatever to any other item. Suppose that a Member intended to obstruct purely for the purpose of obstructing other items in the Vote which hon. Members might legitimately desire to discuss. I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Postmaster General to convey that such a step will be possible under the proposed Rule; and, therefore, the proposed Rule will be more open to wide abuse. We have had experience more than once, and even recently, of hon. Members having put down Notices admittedly for the purpose of preventing discussion on kindred matters. I believe that hon. Gentlemen on the other side have already suffered since the Session commenced from tactics of this kind. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Postmaster General say—"You will be in no worse position if this Rule is carried than you were before. The Chair has the same power now." Now, that is not the fact. What is the Rule? It is that at any time after the Question has been proposed a Motion may be made that the Question "be now put;" but, as the Rule stands on the Standing Orders at present, no such proposition can be made until the Speaker or Chairman shall be of opinion that adequate discussion has already taken place; and he is also to judge of what the evident sense of the House is. It is put to us— 596 Can you suppose the occupant of the Chair being guilty of such an improper practice as forestalling the consideration of a matter which would otherwise come on? I deeply regret that the Government should have put the Chairman in a position in which he can possibly come under considerations of that kind. I should be the last to suggest or imply that the Chairman would be guilty of colluding with anybody. Let me put a case. If the Chair is satisfied that a Member has been unduly prolonging discussion, and, therefore, permits a Motion to be made that "the Question be now put," having done that, he subjects other Members and other Amendments to the clôture, the whole matter will be at an end. ["No!"] Then it is a pity the Government do not say what it is they really mean. Of course, the words may have, and perhaps do have, an entirely different meaning. If so, it is to be regretted that they do not say what they mean. I only desire that the House should know exactly what it is doing if it votes the Rule in the way in which it is now proposed. I maintain that it would be possible for any Member to prevent a discussion on the real Question and the Original Question by raising a sham and tiresome debate on a matter of no importance at all. At any rate, the effect of this New Rule should be made plain, definite, and clear.
§ MR. SCLATER - BOOTH (Hants, Basingstoke)
I have been reminded that some years ago I certainly did express the opinion that the closure ought not to be applied to Committee of Supply. I have now, however, though with some reluctance, arrived at the conclusion that some restriction must be placed upon discussion in Committee of Supply; but I own that I was not prepared for so great an extension of the Resolution as the Chancellor of the Exchequer now candidly admits to be intended by the language of the Rule. No one who heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman can doubt that the issue is a clear one, and that if the Rule is adopted without Amendment it will allow of the Leader of the House, by putting the closure in force against one Amendment, sweeping all other Amendments away. If this power were only to be exercised as at present, after the Chairman has declared that the question has been ade- 597 quately discussed, I might be satisfied. But the Rule is changed in this respect; and who can doubt that under pressure of Committee of Supply there will be a great desire on the part of the Government to adopt this compendious mode of disposing of Amendments? I should have preferred that the Rule should have been left as it was last year— namely, that the Speaker or Chairman would alone have authority to state that the time had arrived for the clôture to be put in force. With that limitation I should have been satisfied; but now we have a double function—the function of the Chair and also the function of a private Member. We are giving the Government a very dangerous mode of disposing of Amendments if they desire to make progress with Supply. If the Government really desire this power let them, say so; but it certainly shows a very voracious appetite for closure, which is the more surprising to me because five Members of the Government were on the Committee with me which sat last year, and they then displayed no such, voracity. I think that some words of limitation ought to be inserted in the Rule, so that the closure when applied should only apply to the Amendment then under discussion, and not prejudice the others. If these others were frivolous, then they could each be successively dealt with by the closure; but to provide this limitation some alteration of the language of the Rule will be necessary.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
I am afraid we are discussing the question without clearly understanding in our own minds what is the existing Rule presuming that no change whatever were proposed by the Government. Do not the evils already exist which my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) and the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) have alluded to? I listened attentively, last night, to the statement of the Postmaster General, who was formerly Chairman of Committees, and I am bound to say that I think he stated the case not only with great clearness, but with great accuracy—namely, that under the existing Standing Order, no change whatever being made in it, it is in the power of the Chairman, if he thinks fit, to apply the clôture to the whole of a Vote of Supply, and at once 598 to put the Question. Take the case which the hon. Member for Northampton put just now—that there was a Vote of £500,000 before the House, divided into a number of sub-heads, and that an Amendment was made to omit the first sub-head and so reduce the Vote. After the debate had proceeded for some time, if it came under the description of an obstructive debate, and the Chairman put the Question, the Question put would be "that the sum of £490,000 be granted to Her Majesty." If that were negatived he would then put from the Chair the Original Question—namely, that the sum of £500,000 be granted to Her Majesty; and, accompanying the Question with the statement that in his opinion the Question had already been fully discussed, the Leader of the House would move that the clôture should be applied, and the Division would be taken on the sum of £500,000. The Postmaster General was perfectly right, last night, when he stated that there would practically be four Divisions, and that in those four Divisions the whole Question would be put. No doubt, the existing Rule provides that the initiative should rest with the Speaker, whereas the present Rule does not. But this is not the point upon which the discussion now turns. It appears to me that there is no danger of any Speaker or Chairman or majority abandoning all rules of fair play. There is also the protection afforded by the fact that every Vote passed in Committee of Supply has to be re-voted on the Report with the Speaker in the Chair, so that the whole question can be fully discussed the very next night, and again upon the Appropriation Bill. There is thus very little chance of this Rule being abused. I do not believe that there is any intention of gagging hon. Members, but simply of promoting full and fair and free discussion. If the closure is ever used in any other way there will be such a tempest in the country that the repeal of the Rule would become inevitable. If you are to have closure at all it should certainly, in my opinion, be extended to all Committees of the House and to all proceedings of the House.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I believe that it is absolutely necessary to the dignity of the House that the Rule should extend to Committee of Supply; but, at the same time, I 599 am bound to say that I agree with, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) that it would not be fair to give to the Chairman of Committees the power to close all further discussion upon a Vote when one item has been clôtured. The Chancellor of the Exchequer put this illustration—that a proposal might be made to reduce a Vote by £10,000, and if that were rejected one of £9,000 might then be moved, and then of £8,000, and so on. In that case it would be quite clear that the same discussion was taking place upon each Amendment. But then the Vote might include a number of items totally distinct and separate from the one on which an Amendment had been moved. In that case it would be manifestly unfair, by the application of the clôture, to shut out the consideration of such items. I appeal to the Government carefully to consider this point and see whether some Amendment cannot be introduced into the Rule, so as to enable the different items to be taken one by one. Subject to the introduction of some such Amendment as this, I strongly support the proposal of the Government to extend the closure to Committees of Supply. It would allow the time to be devoted to more important items which is now given to trivial ones, although, perhaps, a Government is not always sorry that the time of the House should be wasted on smaller items, because more important ones which would be likely to call forth full discussion are thus relegated to the small hours of the night. When no proper consideration can be given to them, I think it is to the interest of the public service that some effort should be made to stop immaterial discussions upon the less important items in order to secure greater attention being paid to those which are more important. With this understanding I shall give my support to the Rule as it stands.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I ask the indulgence of the House to enable me to promise that the Government will carefully consider whether it is possible to introduce any words to secure the object which has been referred to. The Government desire that there should be full discussion upon every important item.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Will the right hon. Gentleman also endeavour to 600 secure that some words are introduced into the Rule so that there shall be a discussion allowed upon the Main Question as well as upon the subsequent items?
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
I think there would be a considerable amount of dereliction of duty on the part of this House if it failed to make ample provision for the discussion of the Estimates in Committee of Supply; and I, therefore, wish to point out the circumstance which, to my mind, gives force to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell). Since the Government came into Office two very distinguished Members of it have seen reason to tender their resignations, and the reasons they have assigned for the step they took has been that an unjustifiable and unnecessary expenditure was being incurred in connection with the different Departments of the State. With this knowledge before them, and also the fact that the present Government are responsible for having secured the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into what the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lord Randolph Churchill) described as a series of Departmental scandals—taking those things into consideration, together with the language of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen), declaring that he would refuse most emphatically to give a blank cheque to Lord Salisbury, I think the present Leader of the House should take no step which would prevent the discussion of any Vote in the Estimates when the House is in Committee of Supply. My own opinion is that, when the Votes are under discussion, every hon. Member should be at liberty to call in question every single item of expenditure which shows an increase.
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
I think the House ought to choose the least of two evils. One thing is certain—that, if this Amendment is carried, there will be no use in having any clôture at all. I would appeal to the experience of hon. Members to say whether a good deal of the time occupied in Committee of Supply is not absolutely wasted? I do not say that much of the criticism given to the Estimates is not valuable; but I am bound to assert that it has very little practical effect, because, during the 19 years I 601 have been a Member of the House, I do not think that upon more than one, or, at the most, two occasions any Member who ever moved to reduce a Vote succeeded in carrying his Motion. I have been struck by the observations which were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) as to the effect of this Rule in closing discussion on each item on a Vote; but that danger—as far as it is a danger—exists at present, because the present practices will not be changed by the proposed Rule. In fact, we must come back to this—that we must trust to the Chairman and to the justice and to the sense of the majority of the House. Indeed, I cannot conceive how any Minister or any Member of the Government could be so foolish as to bring down upon his head the odium and unpopularity which the oppressive use of this Rule would entail. What better weapon could the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) have than such an abuse of this Rule as would enable him to go back to Ireland and say that a question of vital interest to Ireland had been brought forward in Committee of Supply, and that the Chairman, and a majority composed of English Members, had refused to allow it to be discussed?
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
The right hon. Gentleman asks what would be said in Ireland if the hon. Member for Cork went there with a story that the Irish Members had been refused a discussion of their grievances in Committee of Supply? Now, I think that the Irish people are somewhat familiar with complaints of that kind, and it would be futile to go back to our constituents with that old and threadbare story. All we desire is that we should have such opportunities of discussion as we enjoy now, and that we should not be controlled by the Chairman of Ways and Means when the House is in Committee of Supply. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has said that he will carefully consider whether it is not possible to introduce words into the Rule which will prevent the clôture upon one item of a Vote from shutting out a discussion upon other items. Now, we had a discussion last night upon that point, and we received an explanation from the Postmaster General, and since then there 602 has been plenty of time to elaborate the right hon. Gentleman's explanation and re-draft the Rule. I am afraid we have no guarantee at the present moment from the Leader of the House that, if we accept the assurance he has given, he will consider the matter in a manner that will be at all satisfactory. I should like to know any instance in which a discussion upon a Vote in Supply has not been fairly and properly conducted. What we object to is that, as the Rule stands, as soon as it has been applied to the discussion of one item in the Vote, it can be applied to the whole Vote, and the discussion of other items prevented; and it is only reasonable that this result should be guarded against. I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) does not see his way to vote with us on this question. In 1882 the right hon. Gentleman uttered words upon this very question which are so applicable to the present situation that I will venture to quote them. He proposed that well-known Amendment to exclude Committee of Supply from the operation of the Clôture Rule, and one of his reasons in support of that proposal was—That everyone knew what the proceedings in Committee of Supply were. They came on generally at a very inconvenient hour—at an hour of the day, sometimes, when the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. W. M. Johnson)declined to make a speech or address the House at all." —(3 Hansard,  253.)If we are to place full confidence in the Chairman of Committees there is no need to pass any Rule beyond one placing absolute power in his hands. No doubt the regular Chairman of Committees may be above Party or other improper influences; but it must not be forgotten that he is always a strong political partizan. The present Chairman of Committees, who is a Gentleman above influences of that kind, made a very strong speech last night on this very question. But if the regular Chairman of Committees becomes ill, what happens? We may have a succession of casual Chairmen—perhaps four or five in the course of a single evening, who are generally selected from the Government Benches—minor officials, who would naturally be only too delighted to do anything that would please their own Party and their own Colleagues and serve the interests of the Government of the day. Therefore, with respect to 603 such casual Chairmen, the House could not have the same confidence in them as to their impartiality. It is against that sort of abuse we are anxious to provide; and I think the Government ought to have no objection to state now what is the nature of the change they propose to make in the Rule so as to meet our wishes. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last said that he did not remember an instance in which a private Member had succeeded in obtaining a reduction of a Vote.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY
And a very important instance, too. Not only are the Estimates considered in Committee of Supply, but also Votes of Credit. Some time ago a Vote of that kind, involving to some extent the question of peace or war, was brought on when the Chairman was in the Chair, and a proposal was made to grant a sum of £4,000,000 at 2 o'clock in the morning. A case of that kind might happen again, and matters of most vital importance to the country may be discussed at a very early hour in the morning when this Rule may be made the pretext for closing discussion. Debates have been prolonged because Ministers, including the Attorney General for Ireland, have declined to speak in the dinner-hour. As a consequence of such refusal and the necessary prolongation of the debate to a late hour, the length of a debate and the lateness of the hour may be pleaded as an excuse for the closure, the application of which will effectively stop debate upon Ministerial explanations. I think these are reasons which ought to induce the Government to make some alteration in the Rule. When the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) first introduced the Rule, and an Amendment was moved by the right hon. Member for North Hampshire, the right hon. Gentleman distinctly stated—He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, and would be most careful of the Privileges of the House in regard to Supply; and, anxious as he was to see efficiency restored to their Procedure, he should be most jealous of limiting the right of any Member of the Committee to speak as often as he thought necessary."—(Ibid. 259.)That was the language of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, who was originally responsible for this Resolution —namely, that he was anxious to guard 604 the rights of Members in this House to discuss Votes in Supply and Votes of Credit. I think that also forms a strong reason why the Government should assent now to insert some provision in the Rule to preserve the rights of Members. In the former debate the right hon. Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth) urged the House to carefully guard its Privileges in Supply, jealously preserving the right of Members to speak as often as they desired, and it is to be regretted that the right hon. Gentleman is not now prepared to maintain his former attitude.
§ MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)
We have been reminded that Votes in Supply have to be reported to the House, and that the stage of Report, and also the Appropriation Bill, afford further opportunities for debate; but there is a great difference between those opportunities and a discussion in Committee of Supply; and what I want is to preserve the privilege of discussing in Committee all the items of a particular Vote. It may be possible, when the Committee are discussing the Estimates in Supply, for the clôture to be applied to one Amendment, and then to preclude any discussion upon the remaining items of the Vote. That is what we have to fight against, and I think we are bound to do so as Representatives of the people desirous of taking care of the public purse. I have handed a form of words to the Leader of the House, which may, perhaps, meet the difficulty; and it will be a satisfaction to the House to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what is the result of his consideration of the matter since the adjournment of the debate at the former Sitting.
§ MR. LANE (Cork Co., E.)
It has been pointed out that, in the year 1882, right hon. Gentlemen who now form, part of Her Majesty's Government took the same line of argument against this Rule for closing debate as we are pursuing now—namely, that Committee of Supply should be excluded from it. I think it is incumbent on right hon. Gentlemen to give some explanation of why it is that to-day, sitting on the Treasury Bench, they are endeavouring to enforce upon the Members of this House Rules which they formerly strongly opposed. The only explanation which the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave on behalf of his Colleagues for their change of 605 opinion was, that a good many things have happened since then. What I maintain is, that we ought to do all we can to induce the Members of the Government to accept some modification of the Rule as applied to Committee of Supply, even if we cannot induce them to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) altogether. If that were done it would carry out, to a considerable extent, the object which we have in view. At present we Irish Members get very few opportunities, and I am afraid we shall get still fewer in the future, of bringing important matters under the notice of the House. Under these circumstances we are bound to leave no effort untried in order to secure the continuance of the opportunities we now possess for bringing Irish grievances, and cases of injustice and maladministration on the part of the Irish Departments, under the notice of the House. Allow me to state what occurred to myself last year. I desired to bring forward a question of very great importance to my constituency when the Navy Estimates were under discussion; but an hon. and gallant Admiral, and one or two other gallant Members opposite, took the Navy Estimates into their own hands night after night, and occupied the attention of the House hour after hour. I sat here for three or four nights waiting for an opportunity of speaking upon the matter which so deeply concerned my constituents. One evening I left the House for a few moments, and while I was away the subject in which I was interested was put from the Chair and disposed of, and I had no further legitimate opportunity of directing the attention of the House to it. Now, I contend that there is no pressing necessity for including Committee of Supply in the Clôture Rule, and I will remind the House that last year there was actually less discussion in Committee than had taken place for many years previously. I would ask the Government to devise some means by which the phraseology of the first Rule may be altered by giving the Chairman power in Committee of Supply to put the question in regard to any particular item without bringing the entire discussion upon the whole Vote to a close. I should strongly object to the discussion of the whole Vote being stopped by closure on one item. I think that is a 606 very small concession to ask for in the event of the Government refusing to give us the whole of the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Cork.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
The discussion has proceeded on the line of the money voted by Parliament. Certainly, the voting of money is the most important function of Parliament, and over that a right of bringing forward grievances before granting Supply many of the greatest struggles which are recorded in the history of Parliament have occurred. I protest against the passage of a Rule by which the cloture might be brought to bear upon a whole Vote or any single item contained in it. It was my duty, last Session, to bring under the notice of a Committee of the Whole House, certain cases of hardship in the county I represent, and I made accusations of maladministration against certain officials in Ireland. Since that time many things have happened. Other chapters have been written of the history of Parliament, and I may find it my duty next Session to bring forward such cases of hardship and tyranny, and of maladministration, as may shock the ears of the British public. Now, the right of inquiry and of punishment is inherent in Parliament, and yet the First Lord of the Treasury and the Government seem to be prepared to vote away that inherent right of Parliament with a light heart. I beg most respectfully to point out that in doing so they are violating the Constitution itself. Charles James Fox said on one occasion in this House that Parliament might forbear the exercise of this right of inquiry and punishment, but that they could not divest themselves of it, because it was the very essence of Parliament itself. Nevertheless, the First Lord of the Treasury comes down here with a light heart and proposes to vote away the inherent right of Parliament and to violate the Constitution. I am surprised to find that the right hon. Gentleman opposite is so light-hearted and gay over the matter. I should rather have thought that he would be in the position of Richard III. in the play, when he found himself haunted by the ghosts of those he had murdered. I should have thought that the apparitions of all the great men who have figured in history as the cham- 607 pions of the rights of Parliament, such as Hampden, Pym, and Somers, would have troubled his dreams last night, and that he might have heard the exclamation— "Let me sit heavy on thy soul to-morrow." It seems, however, that the right hon. Gentleman is not so superstitious as to believe in ghosts and dreams, even although he tears the British Constitution to rags. I maintain that it is our right to bring forward grievances in this Parliament before voting Supply. That right is a most ancient one, yet it is about to be stifled. There was one occasion in the Constitutional history of the country—in 1636 I think—when Charles I. demanded money from his Parliament, and their reply was that it would be granted when Members had settled their grievances and had received His Majesty's Gracious Answer thereto. If this clôture, however, is passed, it would be in the power of any Government who sits on the Front Bench to deny the right of Parliament to state its grievances, and by the exercise of the power which you are about to place in the hands of the Chairman of Committees and the Speaker of enforcing the clôture they will not be afforded an opportunity of stating their grievances. We have heard from the First Lord that neither the Government, the Speaker, nor the Chairman of Committees, will exercise this great power even if we should confer it upon them. Well, Sir, we have not yet had the sacred word of the King, but only the assurance of a Prime Minister who may be relieved of Office upon 24 hours' notice. I mentioned the reply of Parliament to Charles I. just now, and the rejoinder of the King was this—Remember that Parliaments are in my power for their calling, sitting, and dissolution, and therefore, as I find the efforts of them to be good or evil, they are to continue or not to be.Are we, in this case, to be bound by what the Leader of the House may consider to be good or evil? I say that it is a violation of the Constitution to invest any Speaker or Chairman of Committees with power at the instigation of the Government, of the First Lord of the Treasury, the Lord Chancellor, or the Prime Minister, to put a stop to full and free discussion, and thus deprive Members of this House of the first rights they enjoy under the British Constitu- 608 tion. As a Representative of a country which has many grievances to rectify, I desire to protest in the strongest way against the Chairman of Ways and Means being entrusted with the power of closing a discussion on any single Vote, and by that means of preventing the discussion of the remaining items of that Vote. I shall ever offer the most strenuous opposition to that proposition; but I trust the Government will see their way to the adoption of some reasonable concession. Before I sit down, I should like to call attention to the state of the Front Bench. Night after night we have complained here of an empty Front Government Bench. To-night, Her Majesty's Ministers do not feel it worth their while to keep in the House the veriest tyro among them to reply to us. They ought to remember that they may not always be sitting on that side of the House, and that the time may come when they may find the Rules which they are now passing with light hearts exercised against themselves. They will then in vain protest against the exercise of this power; they will struggle against the fetters they are forging to-day, and will regret the day when they were induced to pass Rules and Resolutions to bind up freedom of speech, and to spoil the beauty and symmetry of their own boasted British Constitution. For these reasons I strongly oppose the passing of this Rule, and I protest against it emphatically as one who has personal and general grievances to lay before the House.
§ MR. PICKARD (Yorkshire, W.R., Normanton)
I do not rise for the purpose of making a speech, but I wish to call attention to the fact that there is not a single Member of the Government present on the Treasury Bench. I do not think that we ought to go to a Division in the absence of every Member of Her Majesty's Government. It is somewhat unfortunate that the Government do not appear to consider it necessary even to hear the suggestions and arguments proposed in the course of the debate. Perhaps I may be allowed to suggest that it is also important to except Amendments to the clauses of a Bill from the clôture as well as discussions in Committee of Supply.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 92; Noes 261: Majority 169—(Div. List, No. 24.)
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I rise to propose the insertion after the word "Question" of the words "not being a Question relating to the Procedure of the House." So far as we have proceeded in the discussion, the Government have steadily refused to modify in any degree the rigid application of this Rule. It is one thing, of course, to apply to discussion all the Rules which have been carried by the Government, but it is altogether another thing to apply the first of a series of Rules to check discussion on the remainder. This is not the first time that we have been engaged in considering Rules of Procedure here. When the Tory Party were in power in 1880, they passed certain Rules, and while they were under the consideration of the House there was no attempt made to restrict freedom of debate with regard to any of them. I, therefore, appeal to the Government, on their own action several years ago, to assent to the proposal I make. Again, in 1882, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) was at the head of the Government, an elaborate Code of Rules was passed, the first of which was the Rule of Clôture; and I believe I am accurate in saying that during the discussion no attempt was made to apply that Rule to the discussions on the rest. We have now come to the third occasion on which the House has been engaged in the consideration of Procedure Rules, and I ask the Government to apply to the present discussion the principle which was applied on former occasions; and, so far as this House can determine it, that it shall apply in the future. Some of the Rules will abrogate the usages and customs of the House which have stood the test of centuries; and when we are engaged in digging up what has struck its roots so deeply into the past, and replacing it by what may strike its roots so deeply into the future, I think we are justified in asking that this Rule may not be adopted without due consideration. I venture to point out that the rights of private Members who constitute the great body of the House are 610 very valuable to the country; and that if Governments manage the Business of the country, the private Members are sent here to look after them. Some of these Rules enlarge the powers of the Speaker, and as I am sure that the Speaker would be slow to stop any debate that was taking place upon his relation to the Procedure of the House, so I think that the Government should also be slow to object to the full discussion of the Rules which relate to the conduct of Public Business. Further, I propose this Amendment on the ground of public expediency; for it is desirable that the discussion of Rules so far-reaching in their character should be absolutely free. I venture to say that the debates, so far, have been conducted at a reasonable length and with moderate temper, and I submit that the best way to induce a reasonable attitude of hon. Members would be to satisfy us that no attempt will be made to impose upon us, when we are upon the subsequent Rules, the drastic Rule which stands first on the Paper. With regard to those Rules, allow me to assure the Government that if when they are passed there remains the impression that they have been unfairly pushed through, it will not tend to the amicable reception of the Rules hereafter. For these reasons—on the ground of public expediency—I ask the Government to accept the Amendment which I propose. There is a French saying, that nothing is sacred from the sapper; the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is the sapper of the Constitutional Rules of this House, and I make this appeal to him to reserve one sacred spot in the undermined arena of public debate.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1, by inserting, after the word "Question," the words "not being a Question relating to the Procedure of the House."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
The hon. Member for Belfast has made an appeal to me the spirit of which I am inclined to agree to. I think this Rule should not be put in operation so as to suppress adequate discussion and check any fair opposition 611 to those which have not yet been considered. I should be sorry if it were supposed possible that the Government should seek to put in operation a Rule of this kind unfairly. The hon. Member has said that the Government were about to change the usages and customs of centuries; but, Sir, I submit that what we intend to do now is rather to revert to the usages and customs of the past, and that with the desire to restore to this House freedom of discussion. With, regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member, it would be impossible for the Government to make any distinction whatever in the operation of the Rules with regard to time; but, Sir, the Chairman of this Assembly would, I am confident, intervene to prevent the undue application of this Rule, if a Member of the Government should seek to put it in force so as to prevent the due discussion of a question that ought to be discussed by the House. We regard the authority of the Chair as the most valuable check upon the application of the Rule; we regard it as a perfect security to the House; and although it is proposed, Sir, to invest you with larger authority, I believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite and below the Gangway are satisfied that the traditions which surround the Speaker of this House will prevent him at any time exercising the authority with which he is clothed to the disadvantage of the House, to the injury of the privileges and rights of private Members, or to the prejudice of any question which might be of interest to hon. Members in that or any other part of the House. The proposal we make will not admit of any exception. We believe that the authority with which we propose to invest the Speaker is necessary in the interest of the House, necessary to protect discussion, and necessary to prevent injury to the Public Business of the country.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Sir, I think that this is one of those questions on which the right hon. Gentleman might have shown his tact, by yielding to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast (Mr. Sexton). It is not an Amendment which could have a very extended application, and it seems to me that where the Government are asking the House to fetter themselves for all time, the House may in return petition the Government for a little delay so that some oppor- 612 tunity may be given the House to exercise its remaining energies without the application of the very stringent Rule of the Closure. It has not been contended by the right hon. Gentleman that so far there has been any undue discussion or prolongation of debate on this question of Procedure; it has not been contended by him that there exists any pretext for the application of this First Rule in the discussions which have yet taken place on this Rule and the Amendments thereto. Why does the right hon. Gentleman, if he is desirous of meeting his opponents, I will not say half way, but part of the way, not seize the opportunity of making a graceful concession which would be appreciated by the House, and which undoubtedly would be reciprocated by the House? I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman is maintaining a stubborn opposition to all suggestions which are being made for any alteration or amendment of these Rules of Procedure; that he has set before himself the duty of appearing firm and steel-like in his manner and action; and that he has resolutely made up his mind to decline all amendment in order that he may build for himself a reputation as Leader of this House upon the prostrate bodies of his political opponents. I do not think such a desire will be satisfied, or that it will lead to a desire on the part of all sections of the House to forward the proceedings of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman has announced that the Government are determined to apply this Rule of Closure to the discussions on the remainder of the Rules. But will the right hon. Gentleman accompany me a little further, and consider what will be their position after having rejected this Amendment? This Rule will apply not only to our discussion of the present Rules, but also to any changes which the successors of the present Government may propose in reference to these Rules. It is known that it is the policy of the Liberal Party to make these Rules as drastic and as stringent as possible. I should have been willing to second the Liberal Party in that undertaking were it not for the fact that we have a Coercion Bill in prospect which biasses my thonghts, and sets me against Rules which otherwise I should have been glad to assist in making more stringent. I am like other men—willing to sacrifice something for 613 an ultimate good, although I am not sufficiently weak to fall into the trap laid for us by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It may happen that the Liberal Party will seek to improve on these Rules hereafter and make them more drastic still; and if the Conservative Party were now to adopt my hon. Friend's Amendment they would be precluded from using this Rule for the purpose. How will it be if the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian should come into Office and try his hand at further reform in this direction in order to carry out great measures for the alteration of the Constitutional arrangements between England and Ireland; or when some great Radical at present not in a position to become an occupant of the Treasury Bench shall propose Radical measures with regard to the ownership of land? Would you not then wish that you had hearkened to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, and thereby prevented the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian and others from using the weapons against yourselves which you are now forging for us? It is a fact that when hon. Members get upon the Treasury Bench they appear to forget all those traditions of which they thought so much when they were in Opposition. These sudden changes of opinion have done much to sap my belief in the integrity of those who have governed this country; and they make me believe that there is something deteriorating in politics, and something which takes away the sense of what is fitting and due to one's self. In October, 1882, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, in speaking on the then proposals to amend the Rules, said it was better to bear patiently with Obstruction rather than make the Rules too stringent—a course that, he said, would only increase the delay in the progress of the Business of the House. The right hon. Gentleman added that he felt that the old ways were better than the proposed Rules. Not only has the right hon. Gentleman turned his back on what he said in 1882, but he has turned his back upon the proceedings of his Party before the Select Committee appointed to consider the Procedure of the House, so recently as last year. Why, then, have these changes come over the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman? 614 There has been no exhibition of continuous Obstruction since then which calls for that change of ground. I appeal again to the right hon. Gentleman to meet my hon. Friend in this matter. Surely, this is not so great a concession in the face of a discussion which he admits has been so fairly conducted, and which I have no wish to exceed. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman, admitting that the proceedings have been fair and within limit, and that he could not fairly have asked for the application of this Closure Rule up to the present time, will show, by his acceptance of this Amendment, that his spirit is not an obstinate and unyielding one, and that he is willing to adopt the suggestions made by hon. Members, where there is no public injury or inconvenience attached to them.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
Sir, I do not think the hon. Member for Cork has dealt quite fairly with the conduct of the Leader of the House with regard to these Rules. The hon. Member has said that the right hon. Gentleman is possessed of an unyielding and obstinate spirit, and that he has refused to accept all Amendments proposed to these Rules.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON
I accept the correction of the hon. Member. At the same time, I wish to point out to the hon. Member that the right hon. Gentleman has, before we have passed the first line of this Rule, accepted two Amendments. Having regard to the decision at which, the House arrived last night, I think we should be stultifying ourselves by accepting the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). After refusing to exclude questions which might affect the personal liberty of all the citizens of this country, I do not think Her Majesty's Government could assent to the proposal to exclude from the operation of the Rule questions which affect debate in this House. It is perfectly natural for the hon. Member to propose, and for the whole of the Irish Party to support, such an Amendment; but the argument by which it has been pressed on the Government that the Tory Party might soon be in Opposition, and have the closure applied to themselves, although 615 ingenious, supplies the very reason which compels me to vote against its adoption.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
The right hon. Gentleman has declined to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Belfast, and he has done so on grounds that are untenable. The most curious point about the statement given by the right hon. Gentleman is that it is diametrically opposed to that which he has said on former occasions. In the debate in 1882, the Tory Party supported the very Amendment which they now reject. That Amendment was proposed by one of the Members for Ireland, and it was, as I have said, supported by the Tory Party. Lord Ashbourne, then Mr. Gibson, dealing with the Amendment, said that—It was very advisable that they should ensure for these discussions the most perfect freedom of debate;and, speaking on behalf of the Tory Party, that—he must therefore enter a grave protest against that 1st New Rule passing in a shape that would enable it to be applied so as to fetter the absolute freedom which they ought to enjoy in the discussion of the remaining Resolutions.I am reading from Hansard, vol. 274, pp. 314–15, and we have an instance of the Tory Party sitting on this side of the House in 1882, and supporting this identical Amendment; now we have the spectacle of their opposing that Amendment on the ground that it would be no infringement of the Privilege of the House to put the 1st Rule in force to close discussion on the remaining Rules.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal)
I am sure the First Lord was speaking in all sincerity when he disclaimed the intention of putting this Rule in operation during the discussion of the other Rules.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I did not say it would not be put in operation. All I could say was that the Government were anxious to secure full, complete, and adequate discussion.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
I do not, of course, wish to misrepresent the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. I gathered that he disclaimed the intention of putting this Rule in force, at any 616 rate, arbitrarily or unreasonably. No doubt, that is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman; but the right hon. Gentleman will, in consequence of passing this Rule, have in his hands a very exceptional power, and at a time when the temptation to abuse it will be very strong. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has carefully taken stock of the position of the Government with regard to Public Business. We are getting towards the end of the financial year; the Government have introduced Supplementary Estimates; it is necessary to pass an Appropriation Bill, which requires a certain number of days, according to law. But before you can have the first stage of that Bill, you must have the first stage of Committee of Supply, for the opening of which, however, the Government have made no arrangement. Are we to pass these Rules before Supply is brought forward, or are they to make way for Committee of Supply? I think I hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer say "Yes;" but if that be so, it is a modification of the plan originally proposed by the Government.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I think the hon. Gentleman is in some error on this point. The hon. Member is possibly not aware that it was stated earlier in the evening by my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury that Supply would be taken on Monday.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
I regret my absence from the House when the statement was made. But the argument remains unaffected by it—that the Government will have in their hands an exceptionally strong power just at a time when they are under the strongest temptation to use it. We have not only as much, but a great deal more interest than English Members in seeing good Rules passed for the guidance of this House, on which we desire to model the new Chamber we hope to have in Ireland, and where we do not want to try experiments in Procedure. The passing of this Rule, in its present form, would be to place the Government in an invidious position, for the result of yielding to the temptation which will be inherent in the position will not only be discreditable to the House, but disastrous in its consequences. For these reasons, 617 I hope the Government will consent to adopt the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton).
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
Sir, the fact that there will be opposition to these Rules, and the feeling of irritation that will exist owing to the necessity of interrupting the proceedings for the purpose of taking Supply, is one reason why we should set ourselves against any possible action of the Government in the application of the closure. These Rules mean in reality, notwithstanding that the right hon. Gentleman has said that they are to effect a return to ancient usage and custom, a total revolution in the Procedure of this House. The conduct of the Government is in direct opposition to their conduct when Rules of Procedure were formerly under discussion. The arguments in favour of the Amendment of my hon. Friend are not new, for in 1882 the present Secretary for Scotland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) proposed to defer the consideration of the 1st Rule until the others were considered. That was made in order to prevent the Government using the closure for the purpose of forcing the other Rules through the House. Well, Sir, we are now profiting by the example of the right hon. Gentleman, and I trust that in proposing so fair and reasonable a thing, we are putting forward what the Government will be able to accept; or at least, that we shall have from the right hon. Gentleman a little stronger assurance than we have yet received that there will be no undue enforcement of the Rule. Everyone knows that the Rules will not at all meet the great requirements of Parliament, and that we are only taking some short steps towards the goal. It is, therefore, well to have it established now as a principle that the discussion on Rules of Procedure when they come to be considered hereafter shall not be subject to any interference, but that there shall be free and ample debate. That is the reason why I especially press for the Amendment of my hon. Friend. I believe that the discussion on these Rules would not be unduly prolonged through the adoption of this proviso; we have certainly no such wish. Our desire is to have everything fully explained as we go along, and to see that the House makes no alteration which will press in any un- 618 fair way upon the Members of this House.
§ MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
Mr. Speaker, we must all acknowledge that in the conduct of debate in this House the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) has had considerable experience, and that since he became the Leader of the House he has managed affairs with great tact. But we must remember that whatever his tact and discretion is he is not altogether independent; he is to a great extent at the mercy of his followers, amongst whom there are many ardent spirits. We believe that if this Rule is passed, and any discussion is somewhat prolonged pressure will be brought to bear upon him to put the clôture into operation which he will find it hard to stand against. We consider it to be our duty to offer a certain amount of opposition to these Rules, and particularly to the application of the 1st Rule to the discussion of the remaining Rules. We know that were you, Mr. Speaker, left to your own discretion you would be very slow to exercise arbitrary powers, but we maintain that if these Rules are passed the independence of the Chair will, to a great extent, be destroyed. We know, also, that influence will be brought to bear upon the Chair to induce him to sanction the application of the 1st Rule to the discussion of the subsequent Rules. Now, if it is necessary that there should be freedom of discussion at all, it is particularly necessary there should be perfect freedom to discuss resolutions such as these.
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
MR. P. J. POWER
, resuming, said: If the Government assent to the gagging of Members, and to the passage of these Rules without full and free discussion of these Rules, they may find that they have acted unwisely. If, on the contrary, ample discussion is allowed, and the clôture is not applied to the subsequent Rules, hon. Members will not resent the application of the clôture to the extent they otherwise will. The Government themselves are, by the contents of Hansard, pinned to the sentiments we now express. The substance of this Motion was pressed with vigour by the present occupants of the Treasury 619 Bench on the Government in 1882. We believe that these Rules are unwise. We believe that the Amendment which the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) has proposed is one which ought to commend itself to all sections of the House. It has not been proved that since Her Majesty's present Government came into Office, any undue prolongation of debates, either in Committee or when you, Sir, have been in the Chair, has taken place. No doubt, when the Rules of Procedure were under discussion in 1882 there was very prolonged discussion, and then the Members of the Treasury Bench occupied the Front Opposition Bench, and were anxious that the Clôture Rule should be put off to the very last. We claim to be consistent on this point, as on all other points, and we certainly think that it would greatly expedite Business if the Government would grant our present request.
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
said: I rise to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast, and in doing so, I do not think I am stultifying myself in the least. If the House were to pass the Amendment of my hon. Friend, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson) that the House either would stultify itself. Considering that no attempt has been made to restrict the scope of the debate up to the present; considering that you, Sir, have had no occasion whatever to exercise the authority that is already vested in your hands; and considering that the liberty of speech that Members of the House already enjoy has not been abused, I do not think the Government are wise in declining to accept this Amendment. When we entered upon the discussion of the Main Question a few days ago, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) stated that he expected a very long debate. I do not think that the scope or extent of the debate has exceeded, if, indeed, it has come up to, what the right hon. Gentleman expected. You, Sir, have ruled that if this first Rule is passed it will immediately become an Order of the House. That decision of yours, Mr. Speaker, is 620 emphatic, and the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton) is designed with a view of relieving the Chair of the difficulty under which it labours by reason of that ruling. I have no doubt that your ruling is consistent with precedent; and therefore there is all the more reason for the proposal of my hon. Friend; and all the more reason for its acceptance by the Government, if they wish to give legal and constitutional effect to the practice observed during the course of this debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has stated at much length—and the most wearisome repetition—that the object of these Rules is to restore to the House the power over its own Business. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly sincere in his statement. But with every respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I maintain we ought to be suspicious of him. We believe that the effect of this Rule will be to repose the power over the Business of the House in the hands of the Government, and we have reason to suspect, by our knowledge of human nature in general, and British Governments in particular—
§ MR. SPEAKER
In the exercise of the discretion vested in me I shall decline to count the House. I have recently satisfied myself that there is a quorum of the House present.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
Now, Sir, it requires a great stretch of credulity to trust the Government, or to trust any institution in this House in connection with the Government. It requires a great amount of confidence, a confidence which may be reposed in a Government by its natural supporters, but a confidence which cannot possibly be expected of the political opponents of the Government; and there are times when confidence of the character the First Lord of the Treasury expects from us becomes a crime, and when jealousy itself becomes a virtue. I believe that this is one of the cases in which confidence of the kind expected from us would be a crime, and in which jealousy becomes a virtue. We would fritter away our rights and privileges if we acceded to the request, blandly expressed by the First Lord of the Treasury, to trust the Government, to trust the Chair, 621 to trust the Chairman of Committee of Ways and Means; not to apply in a harsh manner the Rule that is about to be passed. Now, this Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton) is most reasonable, because it seeks openly to give effect to what the Government is already professing. Its object is to prevent the application of the first Rule to the discussion of the subsequent Rules. We have the assurance, no doubt, from the First Lord of the Treasury, that the closure will not be applied harshly, but that greatly depends upon your action, Mr. Speaker. I have not the least doubt but that the great powers which this Rule will confer upon the Chair will be exercised with that moderation and good sense and good feeling that have already characterized your rulings; but still, Sir, when we remember that there are such important Rules to be passed as those affecting the hours of the Sittings of the House, and Motions for Adjournment at Question time—that cherished privilege of Members of the House which enables hon. Members to bring forward the different grievances under which their constituents labour—when such Rules have still to be considered, and when, if the first Rule is passed in its present form, the clôture may be applied to the remaining Rules before they have been adequately discussed, we have every right and reason to look with jealousy upon the power thus given to the Government. The limitation of debate will have a considerable effect upon the future of these Rules, just as the limitation of discussion upon the grievances of a country, or the limitation of the discussion of a Bill that may be brought forward by private Members, will have a considerable effect in the country, and will diminish the force of any law that may be passed by Parliament for the government of the people at large. If the clôture be applied to these Rules, there will not be that respect for the Rules and that obedience to the Rules that there would otherwise be. That is a good and sufficient reason why the Government should accede to the request contained in the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton). It is an absolute waste of time to propose Amendment after Amendment, and to make speech after speech if the ears of the Government are closed. I support the Amendment, 622 and I regret that the cogent reasons and arguments urged on behalf of its adoption by its proposer and supporters have produced no effect upon the Government.
§ SIR ROBERT FOWLER (London)
Mr. Speaker, many things have happened since last we discussed the Rules affecting the Procedure in this House. It is quite true that in 1882 the Conservative Party opposed the clôture. At that time we had the greatest confidence in the impartiality and the dignity of the then Speaker, Sir Henry Brand, but we had some fear as to what his Successor might be. We believed Sir Henry Brand was superior in dignity and in impartiality to many of those who had preceded him in that Chair; and knowing that he contemplated retiring at no very distant date, we feared his Successor might not be equally impartial. Since his retirement we have had the great advantage of sitting under your presidency, and all hon. Members who have been some years in the House will bear me out when I say we have the utmost confidence in your decisions. It is not very often I am able to speak in praise of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), but I am very glad to avail myself of this opportunity to say how much I think the country owes to him in having nominated you to fill the Chair. Those who recollect the House of Commons at the time Sir Henry Brand retired, know that it was in the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. W. E. Gladstone's) power to appoint the new Speaker as he could appoint a Junior Lord of the Treasury. We had the fear that a partizan Speaker might be appointed, but the right hon. Gentleman did not seek amongst his supporters for anyone who was likely to fulfil that position in a partizan spirit; but selected a gentleman who was generally looked upon as one admirably fitted for the position of Speaker of this House, and who, I am sure, has discharged the duties of his Office in a manner which even exceeds the very high expectation we had when he was placed in that Chair. The fact that we have added another Gentleman to the illustrious list of Speakers is a reason why we may with consistency extend somewhat the Rule we made some years ago. I shall have pleasure in voting with the Government on the present occasion.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided—Ayes 80; Noes 170: Majority 90.—(Div. List, No. 25.)
§ MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)
Mr. Speaker, I beg to move after the word "Question," in line 1, the insertion of the words—Other than the Question, on going into Committee of Supply, 'that Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.'The effect of my Amendment is that the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair be excluded from the operation of the clôture. The right to raise discussions on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, is one of the oldest privileges which Members of this House have ever claimed to exercise. There is an ancient Parliamentary maxim that discussions upon grievances shall precede the granting of Supplies. A debate upon the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair is an older form of considering Questions raised in Supply, than even the discussion upon the details in the Votes of Supply; and it is a far more effectual means of reducing the Estimates and of bringing public attention to the expenditure of the country, than a discussion raised upon individual Votes, and individual items in Committee of Supply. On going into Committee of Supply, questions are often raised upon principles that involve great expenditure. Having regard to the European situation and the part that England seems in danger of playing in European affairs, the House ought to be much more jealous of parting with the privilege I speak of than it might be at a less perilous time. Any day we may be asked by the present Government to consider a large War Vote, and if we part with the privilege of discussing questions of expenditure upon the Motion to go into Committee of Supply, we shall part with a very important weapon, and a very important engine of reform. Another reason for excluding from the operation of the clôture this privilege of the House, is the fact that besides the more irregular form of Motions for Adjournment, the going into Committee of Supply is really the only occasion upon which matters of urgent public importance can be discussed. If you take away this privilege, or if you limit it or restrict it in any way, Members will have to fall back upon Motions for Adjournment, and even the 624 latter privilege some of the Rules in this scheme of Procedure are threatening very seriously. If you have the right of moving Motions for Adjournment and the right of raising debates upon going into Committee of Supply restricted by these Clôture Rules, you will have one of the most dearly cherished privileges of free debate wrested from the hands of Parliament. The whole tendency of these Resolutions, and it is nowhere more manifest than in the operation it will have upon this particular privilege, is to increase the powers of the Executive Government at the expense of the liberties of Parliament. It is rather significant to see that it is a Tory Government that is urging these Resolutions forward. The functions of this House do not merely consist in making laws and in passing Votes in Supply. There is another function that this House possesses, and which it exercises at no time more conspicuously than upon the occasion to which this Amendment refers, and that is the function of free debate—of free speech. With the permission of the House, I will read what Lord Palmerston said in 1861 upon this very point. He said—This House has another function to discharge, and one highly conducive to the public interests—namely, that of being the mouthpiece of the nation; the organ by which all opinions, all complaints, all notions of grievances, all hopes and expectations, all wishes and suggestions which may arise among the people at large, may be brought to an expression here, may be discussed, examined, answered, rejected, or redressed. That I hold to be as important a function as either of the other two." (3 Hansard,  1492)Well, Sir, I think the prominence which this Parliament enjoys amongst the other Parliaments of the world is due to its debates rather than to its capacity for making laws, or to any other function which it exercises. It has been urged by several of the supporters of these Resolutions that every other Parliament in the world but this is possessed, in some form or another, of the clôture. This Parliament has been possessed of the clôture since 1882, but we may take it that this is the occasion upon which the clôture is to be formally and actively inaugurated as a working institution of this House. But, Sir, is there no other respect in which this Parliament differs from other Parliaments besides clôture? I say these debates wield an influence upon the affairs of this country which the 625 debates of no other Parliament exercise upon the affairs of their particular countries. Foreign papers do not think of reporting at any length the proceedings of Parliament.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the House is discussing the question of the application of closure on the occasion of debate on the Motion that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair.
§ MR. T. P. GILL
I bow to your ruling with the greatest respect. All I want the House to do is to preserve this one occasion on which there can be free discussion of the grievances which may call for public discussion. Let us retain this as an axiom of Parliamentary Procedure that the discussion of grievances shall be the immediate preface of the granting of Supply. It strikes me as an extraordinary thing that the pride and the sentiment of this House is not more evoked than it is upon the occasion of the discussion of these Rules. You sit mute; one after another of the dearest privileges for which your ancestors struggled is being struck away. One side of the House vote away, without demur, Constitutional principles for the sake of a passing convenience. I will not detain the House any longer with my views on the subject, but simply express my hope that the Government may see their way to exclude from the operation of the clôture the ancient privilege of the House to raise discussions on the Motion to go into Committee.
§ Amendment proposed in line 1, after the word "Question," to insert the words "other than the Question, on going into Committee of Supply, 'That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.'"—(Mr. T. P. Gill.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY(Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I regret that it is not in my power to accede to this Amendment, and I do not apprehend that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Louth (Mr. T. P. Gill) has much expectation that I shall. The hon. Gentleman asks that in going into Committee of Supply special exception shall be made to the operation of the Rule. There are only three occasions in the course of the Session on which, with regard to operative 626 Supply, it is possible to move an Amendment on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair—that is to say, on the first occasion of going into Supply on the Army, Navy, and Civil Service Estimates.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
Yes; and on Friday nights. The hon. Gentleman proposes that on these occasions the debate shall be continued just as long as it may be in the power of hon. Gentlemen who take part in it to speak. Now, if it is necessary that grievances should be stated in this House, I should be the last person in the world to say that they should not be stated before going into Supply; but the effect of this Amendment, if adopted, would be, in all probability, to prevent debate on all questions but one. That one question would hang round Supply until at last it became absolutely intolerable, and would prevent the discussion of questions which might be of the greatest importance. It is utterly impossible for the Government to accept the proposal. The hon. Gentleman desires to have unlimited discussion for one particular topic, and if that were conceded, as I say, it would prevent the discussion of other matters which hon. Members might, from time to time, desire to bring before the House. It is the duty of the Government, whatever their individual feelings may be, to endeavour to conduct the Business of this House so that the affairs of the country will be conducted with advantage to the country. It is only in the discharge of that duty that they undertake the very unpleasant task of recommending these Resolutions to the House; and it must be clear beyond doubt that they cannot accede to any restriction being put upon the power of exercising the clôture in a case where a subject has been adequately discussed, and the Chair itself feels that the debate should terminate. What the hon. Member proposes to do is to place a restriction on the power of the clôture that already exists. The Speaker now has the power to represent to the House that there has been adequate discussion on a question before the House, and that power can be exercised with regard to any Motion that may be under debate, or any stage of any Bill. I think the experience of the House is distinctly in favour of the extension, 627 rather than the restriction, of that power.
§ SIR EDWARD REED (Cardiff)
As the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) says, if this Motion be carried it will enlarge the powers of the House; and I really must protest against the assumption put forward by the Treasury Bench that when we have placed ourselves in the hands of the Government of the day—for that is what I consider the passing of such Procedure Rules as these amounts to—we shall always be treated with the utmost fairness and consideration, and that the power we have given to the majority will never be used to our disadvantage. Sir, that is a fundamental proposition to which we take the most complete exception. Why, only last night, when we were discussing whether or not there should be freedom of discussion in Committee of Supply; and when we had only been considering the matter for about an hour, the noble Lord opposite the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord John Manners) rose and said that, in his opinion, it was pretty evident that the subject—perhaps the largest subject we shall have to discuss in connection with these Rules —had been discussed enough. But, there is another assumption which is even more objectionable to me—namely, that while we are always to assume that these Clôture Rules will be put into force with the greatest consideration for Parliament and all its Members—if on any subject whatever the House retains freedom of debate, it is certain as a House to abuse the liberty which it possesses. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. W. H. Smith) with, to my mind, astounding confidence of assumption, represented that if—even on the only three nights of the Session when we are allowed to discuss grievances on going into Committee, we retain freedom of debate—it will be used to bring about useless and unnecessary discussion and endless obstruction. I object in the strongest manner to this repeated assumption that the Government are deserving of all trust and confidence, and that this House is deserving of none at all. I think the doctrine is most monstrous, and I think the time is coming when it will be understood and appreciated. I would ask that we may, at 628 least during the continuance of these debates, be spared the assumption that the House itself is undeserving of all trust and confidence, that its Members, as a body, require to have their mouths closed; but that when we have given the majority of the day power to close our mouths, we may then depend on all consideration and courtesy. I am prepared to say that if there be any hon. Member of this House who is entitled to claim from it confidence that in so far as he is concerned, he would exercise any power that he might possess as the Leader of the House with discretion and courtesy; I think the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) is entitled to claim it. I think he deservedly stands very high in the confidence of the House generally on all sides; but I am bound to say that if the right hon. Gentleman were tenfold as trustworthy as he is, I should utterly distrust his action when he became master of this House. I object to any set of men becoming the masters of the House. I know I speak under great disadvantage, because I speak at a time when there is a very justifiable anxiety in the House and in the country that Public Business should be proceeded with with greater despatch than it has been. I am perfectly sensible of the necessity, and I wish we could see a way by which we could pass Rules of Procedure that would really tend to facilitate Public Business without sweeping away the liberties of the House. I cannot help feeling that these Rules of Procedure—both those which now exist and those that are now being passed—have been introduced into the House at the sacrifice of many of its rights and privileges, in order to meet a deplorable but a passing state of circumstances. Having known the House long before Obstruction was initiated by the Conservative Party, I do not forget that in years gone by hon. Members of this House used to come down night after night to hear one set of hon. Gentlemen on that side, and another set of hon. Gentlemen on this side, talk needlessly and endlessly. We had a worse state of things then than has ever existed since. It is hopeless to expect the Government to accept the Amendment; and I can only say that the policy of denying all freedom to the House generally is a policy so fraught with 629 evil and disaster to Parliament in the future that I enter my protest against it. I am not one of those who look with any particular adoration at Ministers. I believe myself that they are very often wanting in many ways, and I am very pleased indeed to take my stand with any set of hon. Members who make any kind of fight on behalf of the general freedom of the House in this time of trial.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) has, I think, been answered very fully on the general question by the hon. Member for Cardiff (Sir Edward Reed); but I should like to say a word about the most technical portion of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. I understood him to argue that on the three nights when private Members are able to bring subjects before the House, the clôture may be desirable on the first Motion in order to give an opportunity for Motions numbers two, three, and four. I think, however, that by clôturing the first Motion you will prevent subsequent Motions from coming on at all unless you amend the Rule. The question on a Friday night, for instance, will be "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair;" there may be three Notices of Motion—one by the hon. Member for Cardiff, drawing attention to the state of our iron-clads; another by some Irish Member—perhaps myself—in reference to the Arterial Drainage Commission, which has not yet reported; and a third by some cavalry general dealing with some reduction in the Cavalry Forces of Her Majesty. The clôture will operate in this way—having stopped the Motion in reference to iron-clads I shall be prevented from dealing with arterial drainage; and the cavalry general will be unable to call attention to the fact, perhaps, that the Artillery has been reduced by a half or a tenth. I do not know, Sir, that you will rule that the application of the clôture to the first Motion stops the second and third Motions; still, you may do so. I should like to have that point decided. You will hardly give a ruling on a hypothesis, I know; therefore, I would urge the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury to insert in the Resolution to show that after a first Motion has been disposed of under the circumstances 630 I have described, the second, and third, and fourth may be taken; each one requiring—if it is thought necessary to stop it—a separate application of the clôture. I say, Sir, that, as the Rule stands, it may be technically impossible for you to permit that; for, according to the Standing Orders, it is impossible for you to put the Question, so as to take a Division on it, that you do leave the Chair on any but the first Question. If the First Lord of the Treasury cannot speak again on the subject, I would ask that some other Member of the Government reply to the technical point I have raised. On the general question, I desire to say I look with the greatest horror upon the prospect of these opportunities of expressing grievances being taken away from private Members. For a great many years there have been many small grievances existing in Ireland. I do not refer to the question of Home Rule, or to the Land Question, because those are big questions which force themselves to the front. But owing to our being ruled in London and not in Dublin, we have a great many grievances that are never redressed, and that we have no opportunity of bringing before the House except in Committee of Supply, or on those nights when the Question is formally put that you, Sir, do leave the Chair. Our attempts to obtain redress in Committee of Supply may be clôtured; but we still hope that if we are successful in the ballot we may be permitted to bring forward Questions on the Motion that you do leave the Chair. We desire to ventilate our grievances in this House, because although we are only briefly reported in the London and the English provincial Press, still a little of what we say does get into the Press of this country, and the people of this country have some means of seeing that we have grievances unredressed. When this Clôture Rule is put in force, it will be found that the British Constitution is working in a different manner to the manner in which it has been working for the past two or three centuries. I do not say whether the new mode will or will not be better than the old; I do not set up to be a prophet, but the whole thing will be changed. You are closing the mouths of hon. Members in many different ways. You are providing yourselves with arms by which you can close our mouths. 631 You say—"Trust us—wo will not use these arms against you." You say— "You always have this great protection in the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) and his Party, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham(Mr. J. Chamberlain) and his Party. They will come to your rescue, and the Conservatives will be beaten." But I would rather not trust to that. I believe it is a vanishing Party. In a short time it will either become Conservative—and we should not very much object if it did—or will join us, or divide between the Conservatives and Radicals. There is no guarantee that that Party would prevent the exercise of the clôture. A despotism works well so long as you have an intelligent Administration, and so may these Rules; but directly a despotism is worked badly, it becomes very bad and very wicked. I say it is necessary for us to have good Rules—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must call the attention of the hon. and gallant Gentleman to the fact that he is not speaking to the Amendment before the House.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
I spoke very technically at first; but I am afraid I was betrayed into departing from the technical part of the question by the remarks of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I stuck very strictly to the Amendment until I was so betrayed. I think the proper course to pursue will be to put into the Resolution words to the effect that second, third, and fourth Motions may be taken on private Members' nights unless they are specially clôtured.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
So far as I can see, there is nothing in these Resolutions to repeal the existing Rules, and, if the Amendment were rejected, the Chair would have the closing power it already possesses. There is nothing in the Rule to guide the Chair as to how it is to proceed in giving its consent. The Rule says—"If the consent has been previously obtained." It does notsay—
§ MR. SPEAKER
This Amendment is to exempt from Closure Motions on going into Committee of Supply on the question that I now leave the Chair. We are not now discussing the general question of the closure.
§ MR. MAHONY
I bow to your ruling, Sir, but I was merely answering the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of 632 the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith), who gave that as the reason why this Amendment was unnecessary. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury also told us that the object of all the Rules is to ensure the progress of the Business of the country; but the power private Members have of raising special local grievances on going into Committee of Supply is a power that we should be unwilling to part with. Topics may be referred to here that may be of great importance to a particular locality, though some hon. Members may think their discussion antagonistic to the general Business of the country, and calculated to delay it. It appears to me, Sir, that it would be very reasonable to reserve to hon. Members one opportunity, at any rate, on which they might still have full opportunity to discuss special grievances that affect localities and do not affect the country in general. We are told that in regard to all these Rules of Procedure we may trust to the fairness of the House. Sir, the fairness of the House means the fairness of the majority of the hon. Gentlemen who support the Government. Well, I was very much struck by what occurred last night. Whilst we were discussing an Amendment that would have had a very far-reaching effect as regards Ireland, we were met by constant interruptions from hon. Gentlemen opposite—by cries of "Divide, divide, divide!" If it is in that spirit we are to be met, it certainly would induce me to offer all the opposition in my power to these Rules. There is, however, in the passage of these Rules, a certain amount of satisfaction. There is satisfaction in the prospect that at no very distant date we shall have the opportunity of seeing hon. Members on the Government side of the House writhing under the lash themselves.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
Year by year it becomes more important than ever to preserve those few opportunities that now are left to private Members for bringing forward grievances. Some years ago, a Standing Order was passed by which the opportunities of discussing grievances before going into Committee of Supply were considerably curtailed. By the 21st Standing Order of the House of the year 1882, it was laid down that whenever Supply was put down as the first Order of the Day on Monday or Thursday, the 633 Speaker should leave the Chair without any question put or debate allowed, except on the first occasion, on which either the Army or the Navy or the Civil Service Estimates were proceeded with. Well, since that date the terms of the Resolution were ruled by the late Speaker to include even Supplementary Estimates. The consequence is, that there is only one day in the whole year on which a discussion of a general character can be raised. No doubt in this particular year there are a large number of hon. Members who, properly enough, are anxious to address the House with regard to matters concerning the Army Estimates. We should have ample opportunity for several days of discussing thoroughly the condition of the Administrative Department of the Army, especially with regard to guns and arms generally—not only their manufacture and quality, but the administrative system under which the Army is supplied with them. It will be in the recollection of everyone that some months ago the country was startled by a letter written by an eminent naval authority in reference to the construction of the Navy. That alone would supply material for a careful and close debate, to the exclusion of all other subjects whatever. But with regard to the Civil Service Estimates, the question is still more urgent and important. There is Sir Henry Drummond Wolff's Mission; the grievances of British subjects in the Pacific; and a whole host of subjects which it is plain the opportunities of discussing under the New Rule will be attenuated almost down to vanishing point. It is proposed to enable the Government to close the debate as soon as they have been able to wake their followers up to a sufficient degree of warmth to keep up constant interruptions and cries of "Divide, divide, divide!" The question of Army administration—which has been referred to I do not know how many Commissions and Committees— is one, and cannot be properly and adequately discussed at a single Sitting of the House; but now it is proposed that even that Sitting shall be curtailed whenever the Government are able to manufacture the appearance of a strong sense on the part of a large section of the House that the debate ought to close. I think that if any Amendment is justified by the circumstances of the case it is that 634 under the consideration of the House; and I fail to see that the answer of the First Lord of the Treasury in any way explained any point which I have made. I do not know whether the Government intend to pursue the same policy that was witnessed in an earlier debate when, in spite of repeated representations—in spite of the fact that numerous substantial points were adduced to contest their general position—no answer was made by any one of the considerable number of Ministers sitting on the Government Bench. I hope we shall have some answer to these points—which I submit are substantial ones—that I have ventured to lay before the House.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 78; Noes 210: Majority 132.—(Div. List, No. 26.)
§ MR. SPEAKER
Next on the Notice Paper stand two Amendments of a similar character—the one in the name of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and the other in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan). The first of these Amendments is to insert in Rule 1, line 1, after "proposed" the words "and debated in the House for six hours, or in Committee of the whole House for one hour;" and the second is to insert after "proposed" the words "and has been debated for two hours in the whole House or for one hour in Committee." I would suggest to the hon. and gallant Member for North Galway that he should move his Amendment as an Amendment to that of the hon. Member for the City of Cork by moving to leave out "six" and to substitute "two."
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
After the discussion on my hon. Friend's Amendment I will either adopt your suggestion, Sir, or withdraw my proposal altogether.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
The Government have repeatedly, during the discussion of these Rules of Procedure, asserted that it is not their intention unduly to limit debate or trespass upon the rights of minorities. Now, Sir, if I had had the gift of prevision, and had been able to foresee, or rather to hear, in advance before they had been uttered, the arguments of Her Majesty's Government I could not have better fallen in with those arguments, and met them in a more fair and candid spirit—not in. 635 opposition, but in agreement—than I have done by putting down this Amendment. Either we are to be allowed to debate questions fully and freely under this proposed New Rule, or we are not. If we are to be allowed to debate them, surely it is reasonable that there should be some limit of time accorded for it. The House will recollect that I am not now dealing with the limit of an individual speech. I am dealing with the question of the limit of a whole debate composed of several speeches, when I ask that there may be time given within which it may be permitted to debate the question, and Ministers will not be allowed to intervene with the clôture. Now, Sir, I like my Amendment better than that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Gal way (Colonel Nolan); and your suggestion that the latter should be taken as an Amendment to my proposal I should like to consider for a little while and judge of in accordance with the nature of the debate, and the reply that we may receive from the Government. Though I prefer my Amendment, if it were a question of half-a-loaf being better than no bread, I should be willing to accept the half-loaf in the shape of the Amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. I have placed my Amendment on the Paper without consulting my hon. and gallant Friend, and he placed his on the Paper without previous consultation with me, and without knowledge of the Amendment I intended to move. The fact that he has chosen a margin of two hours, and I have chosen a margin of six hours, is a clear indication of the different characters of our minds. As the Rule now stands, it cannot be too much impressed upon the House that it will be in the power of the Government to move the stoppage of the debate before there has been any debate at all. It will not even be necessary for them to initiate a debate or carry on a debate on their own part. We had a little discussion last night about the necessity of securing that there shall be power to speak on an Amendment; but under this Rule not only will there be no power to speak on an Amendment, but there will be no power of proposing one or of voting on one; and more than that, if Ministers choose to prevent it, there will be no power of speaking on the Main Question at all. A more abso- 636 lute Rule than the one under consideration has never been placed on the Standing Orders of any Legislative Assembly. You may search the Records of other Parliaments, and you will find that nowhere does there exist a Rule of Clôture of so abrupt, unrestricted and wholesale a character as the one we are now proceeding with. How does it read since it has been Amended? why, that the clôture may be applied after the Question has been applied; it need not be after a debate. It may be that a Minister of the day will come down and propose a Vote, and then, confident of his majority, without argument, may consider himself entitled to ask the Chair to allow him to propose "That the Question be now put;" the Question may be put, and then the Vote may be passed without opportunity having been given to move an Amendment. Sir, we cannot rely upon general declarations—we cannot rely upon the general declaration we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury that it is not his intention to adopt the course I have pointed out. We have had some experience of the brevity of Office of the right hon. Gentleman. We have had, for example, his celebrated 24 hours' tenure. Though we were glad the right hon. Gentleman was enabled during those 24 hours to make the practical acquaintance of the green shores of our own country; still, while not exactly thinking that it may be an example of the brevity of his present tenure of Office, at all events it is a reminder to us of the change of character and mutability of all human affairs. Though we value very highly the right hon. Gentleman's statement that it is not his intention to act harshly, or to unduly shorten the scope of the debate, yet we have to anticipate the time when even a more formidable Bismarck than the right hon. Gentleman may come upon the scene; and when we may have to encounter a foeman who may do that which the right hon. Gentleman says he never means to do. I remember what happened on one occasion. A number of Irish Members were suspended for unduly prolonging the debate and wilfully disregarding the Chair, who had not been in the House at all during the progress of the debate. I think nothing could show more clearly than that the necessity of avoiding hasty action, and of inserting in this Resolu- 637 tion such words as will secure that the expressions of opinion which we hear from the Front Bench will be practically carried out by the Successors of right hon. Gentlemen opposite.Will you walk into my parlour?Said the spider to the fly.But, Sir, we hope there will be some mode of escape for us from the parlour of the Government. Is the Amendment which I ask the House to adopt an unreasonable one as regards its extent? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman may think that these hours would be too long a time for some purposes, and too short a time for others. I will not pin myself down to any specific limit of time. I do not ask hon. Members to vote for these six hours then; I will ask them to vote for the principle that there should be some limit, say of four, three, or two hours, before this summary Rule can possibly be enforced. We have had debates on Irish coercion, and we have been beaten on that Question; and that, I think, is perhaps the strongest claim we have made yet for the adoption of a limit. The right hon. Gentleman will probably admit that the minority should have the right of expressing their views on the policy of the Government; two hours is not an excessive period, and I submit that the right hon. Gentleman should consider the proposal. These points, I believe, were raised four years ago by the right hon. Gentleman in the interest of his own Party when these Rules were first discussed; yet still the right hon. Gentleman may fairly say that as a Minister, that his mind—his Ministerial mind—has only just been attracted to the consideration of this question; and I should be glad to withdraw my Amendment if I had the assurance that he would favourably consider the proposal that a limit of the time should be given as an absolute right to the minority if they choose to exert it, for the discussion of a question before the clôture can be applied, either with or without the consent of the Chair.
In line 1, by inserting, after the word "proposed," the words "and debated in the House for six hours, or in Committee of the Whole House for one hour."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."638
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (MR. W. H. SMITH)
I am exceedingly sorry so often to advise the House that I am unable to accept Amendments. I fully appreciate the tenour of, and the kindly feeling expressed in the speech, in which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has proposed his Amendment to the House; but I am almost tempted to imagine that he can hardly be in sober earnest in making this proposal. Its meaning is that upon every Motion and every Order of Debate six hours of discussion is to be permitted; and that upon every Motion and every Order the closure would be considered a fitting and proper thing after six hours' debate. I wish to point out that any limitation of this kind might be too long a period of debate or too short a period. The truth is that it is impossible to regulate the period during which a debate should last, which must always be checked by the control and judicial opinion of the Speaker or Chairman; it is impossible to lay down beforehand the limits within which a debate would not be excessive, or to say to what extent it should be prolonged. It is impossible to judge the amount of debate which may be necessary, or to say what question may remain behind with regard to which the time of the House should be occupied. Reference must be had to the proportional importance of the question under consideration, and to the questions which will succeed it. Now, the time of the House is only a limited quantity, and one most important consideration for the House will be whether there will remain sufficient of the time of the House after the debate has taken place. For these reasons I am unable to accede to this proposal of the hon. Gentleman. I trust the hon. Gentleman will feel that the House, having by a considerable majority affirmed the principle of closure, ought now to proceed to the grave and important questions which remain for its decision. Further, I think the hon. Gentleman will have attained his object by making a protest in this House, and calling public attention to the course we have thought it our duty to pursue. We wish to represent to him that very little can be gained by insisting on principles which a little consideration must satisfy him cannot be agreed to by the present Government 639 or those who think it necessary to bring these Rules under the consideration of the House.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) says, no doubt sincerely, that he is desirous to meet us in an amicable spirit, but that hard fate prevents him from carrying out his wish. The right hon. Gentleman says that if this Amendment were carried every question might occupy the House for six hours, or the Committee of the Whole House one hour. If so, there is greater force in the complaint of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) that on any question which comes before the House we may not be allowed one hour or one minute for discussion. Does the right hon. Gentleman forget that the Old Rule is still in existence whereby the Speaker will still be able to declare to the House that the question has been adequately discussed, and that it ought to be put? The New Rule absolutely excludes all question of time. You are not at liberty, Mr. Speaker, under the Old Rule to suggest the closure of debate unless you are satisfied of two things: first, that the question has been adequately debated; and, secondly, that the House has manifested its sense "that the Question be now put;" now you will be asked to satisfy yourself that a question has been adequately discussed before it has been discussed at all. The moment you have put the Question that a Bill be read a second time, for instance, a Minister may follow up that Motion by another "That the Question be now put." In those circumstances I maintain that there is a total absence of security for any minority in this House, and if that is so when you are in the House, Mr. Speaker, how much more will it be so when you have left the Chair and it is occupied by others; and whena Minister of the Crown suggests to his own nominee that the Question should be put—a proceeding which will very much resemble the head of a commercial firm asking one of his junior clerks if he may take a holiday? The Select Committee of last year—one of the strongest that was ever appointed—adopted, after long consideration, what practically amounted to a Time Rule. They recommended not a closure which should be applied at any time, but a closure which should be applied five times a week and on no other 640 days—namely, at 12 o'clock on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and at half-past 5 o'clock on Wednesday. Now, as the House meets at 4 o'clock on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and as Public Questions usually come on for consideration at half-past 4; the Select Committee of last year recommended a Rule which would give half an hour longer for debate than that which is proposed by my hon. Friend. Well, Sir, there are four Parties in the House—the Party led by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), the Irish Party, the Government Party, and that nondescript Party which sits on one side of the House and votes on the other. None of these Parties will know how to act if the closure can be applied at any time; they would not—unless they know how long a debate is likely to last—be able to put forward their strongest men, and the debate could not therefore be effectively conducted. My hon. Friend has asked for the concession of a point essential for due and intelligent discussion; and if the Government reject the proposal they will turn debate in this House into hopeless chaos and have cause to regret so doing hereafter.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
There is not a single Amendment proposed by hon. Members on these Benches which has not in an exaggerated form been supported by hon. Gentlemen now occupying the Treasury Bench. I am now quoting from Hansard, and I see that in 1882 the noble Lord the present First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord George Hamilton) moved an Amendment to the effect that when it appeared to Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means in Committee of the Whole House at any time that the subject had been adequately discussed, and that the discussion had been prolonged for the purpose of obstruction, he might so inform the House or Committee. The Amendment was supported by the noble Viscount, now the Secretary of State for India (Viscount Cross), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maidstone (Captain Aylmer), the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), the hon. Gentleman the present Under Secretary 641 of State for the Home Department (Mr. Stuart Wortley), the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Oswestry Division of Shropshire (Mr. Stanley Leighton), and by the then Leader of the Tory Party (Sir Stafford Northcote). Now, the Amendment which was then proposed is that which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has rejected to-day—it is the identical Amendment which the whole of the Tory Party supported in 1882. Further, I point out that the arguments now used by my hon. Friends are the same as those used by the Tory Party on the occasion. I think we may leave the public to judge of the conscientiousness of the Tory Party.
MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)
I take great interest in this question, because I feel that I am exercising for the last time the right of free speech, in this House. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) wishes to give to the people of these Kingdoms a new reading of the expression—"Silence is golden." This change of front on the part of the occupants of the Treasury Bench is most remarkable. It will remain for the historian of this century to describe the Party opposite as men who got into power by preaching certain principles and retained it by abandoning them. Throughout the course of this debate we have heard the tyrant's plea—"Give me power and I will not use it." Again and again has the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House used that argument; but let me say, while I am permitted to speak, that I prefer the shield and protection of the ancient liberties of this House to the contingent good nature of the right hon. Gentleman, who is assuming, with indifferent success, the character of firmness and resolution. I ask for some assurance that the freedom of debate shall not be greatly curtailed. The right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind on this subject, and he may change it again. I hope he will change his mind even a third time, and consider that it may be better for a Government to protect the privileges of a minority than to break up the Constitution and pelt them with its fragments.
§ MR. W. A. MACDONALD (Queen's County, Ossory)
I think it is rather hard that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. 642 Smith) should place a construction on the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) which that Amendment does not bear. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to speak as if it were implied that if the debate had lasted for six hours in the House, or for one hour in the Committee of the Whole House, that the closure should be applied. My hon. Friend intends nothing resembling that. He simply argued that it was only reasonable to ask that this power, which is absolutely new in the form in which it is now presented to the House, shall not be exercised until there has been reasonable discussion. I would ask the House to consider whether that is not a perfectly reasonable suggestion, and whether Her Majesty's Government, on their own principles, ought not to accept it. I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the closure will not be used arbitrarily, unjustly, or unfairly, or without full, ample, and reasonable discussion. Why, then, do they object to the particular Amendment before the House? The right hon. Gentleman will find that it requires more than his logic to answer that question. The hon. Member for Cork has said that he would actually withdraw his Amendment if the Government would consider the proposal; and that he will be disposed to accept not six, but four, or two hours, if they would meet him half way. Is the Government prepared to say that they will not do this? If so, they will show their unfairness towards us, and increase their own difficulties hereafter. If you refuse this Amendment, and if it goes forth to the public, as it will, that you have not been willing to allow, without closure, six hours' discussion in the House, or one hour in Committee; the effect will be to produce in the minds of the people a conviction, which every action of the Government will only confirm, that you are animated by an animus—a bitter and unreasoning animus—against my hon. Friends and myself. If a proposal of this sort had been made by an English Member guarding the interests of England, it would have been considered in a very different spirit to that which was manifested by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) to-night. It is because this Amendment is moved by the Leader of the Irish Party and of the Irish people, that it is treated with con- 643 tumely and condemned by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. We have, by this Amendment, strengthened our position in the country. We have proved that we do not want any powers of Obstruction, but simply a reasonable opportunity of debate. Such opportunity is denied by the Gentlemen who now hold Office. It is quite evident they are anxious to obtain this Rule, that they may gag the Irish Representatives and pass an Act which will destroy the liberties of the people of Ireland.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
Mr. Speaker, we have been informed in solemn tones by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) that, notwithstanding the existence of this Rule, full and free discussion will be obtained on all occasions. The present Amendment brought forward so moderately and clearly by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) puts the sincerity of the Government to the test. If they will not accept it, we may take it that very little reliance is to be placed on the promises of the Front Bench. The arguments with which they meet the contentions from this side of the House are arguments showing the docility and submission of the majority. Hon. Members opposite have been reminded of speeches they made in 1882, speeches directly opposite to the present Amendment, the very terms of which are identical with it, but notwithstanding that, they meet us by trooping in when the Division bell rings and outvoting us. The soft words of the First Lord of the Treasury are very little consolation to the minority in this House if the arguments of the minority are met with a decided non possumus, and met withou any reference whatever to the relevancy or reasonableness of arguments. The Government are going a little too far in this matter. We can all understand the discipline of Party; but the discipline exhibited on the other side has become degraded to that of the merest subservience. No matter what the professions of hon. Gentlemen may have been years ago, no matter how eloquently they may have inveighed against the tyrannical Rules brought forward by the then Government, not one of them has the manliness to stand up now and make a protest on behalf of liberty of speech. I have no doubt we shall be outvoted on this Amendment as we have been on 644 others; but though that may be the case the lessons to be drawn from these Divisions will live long after the present day. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are now content to lounge idly on the Benches opposite, and make no reply to these reasonable and moderate propositions will come, in the days of their darkness and adversity, to regret that they do not associate themselves with a course of Procedure, which, in the future, will be their only safeguard, and their only protection.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
My hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) has shown that the Chair has large powers under the existing Rules, and that these New Rules are not necessary for what the Government profess to want. Another hon. Friend of mine has said we are asked to trust in the good nature of the Leader of the House. That may be very well, especially when it is described as contingent good nature. I will not quarrel with the description, but it does not appear to be contagious good nature. Another hon. Member said that the Government had given a new interpretation of the proverb, "Silence is golden." They have given a still newer one, and one which they will carry into effect, as will be seen. Silence will be golden with them when, on nights of Supply, they will, without voice being raised, absorb the golden millions paid by the taxpayers of the country. I do not think we have asked anything unreasonable. We have asked that there should be a limit to the brevity of the time within which a Minister can move the closure of a debate. It would be becoming in hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and conducive to the closure of this portion of the debate, at least, if they would endeavour to answer the arguments which have been addressed to the House by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). There is no use in saying that the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) has answered those arguments. The right hon. Gentleman has answered nothing. I protest on behalf of those who seek to preserve to this House some remnant of its inherent right, and some vestige of the liberty that belongs to it, against reposing all our trust and confidence in the Minister of the day or even in the Speaker, or Chairman of Com- 645 mittees. Without desiring to be at all discourteous to the Chair, I must point out that under these Rules there would be a great temptation to a Government who are anxious perhaps to enter into war, or to carry drastic reforms, to elect a Party Speaker, so as to work him as a mere puppet for the purposes of carrying out their objects.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I rise to protest against the manner in which all the proposals emanating from these Benches have been received by the Government. We have been met all along by a steady system of refusal. This is one of the Amendments which the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) may very fairly accept, and thereby show that he is not disposed to offer a steadfast refusal to every proposal coming from these Benches; and the more especially when I remember that the proposals we made in 1882, which were similar to those we now make, were supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I recollect that Mr. Disraeli once described the Front Bench as a row of extinct volcanoes. We might compare the present Front Bench to a row of extinct Obstructionists; because, on this very question in 1882 many of the right hon. Gentlemen who now sit on the Government Benches exhausted all the resources of the House in opposing the proposals of the then Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House said that six hours might be too long, and too short a time to allow. That is the very reason why we ask that this Amendment should be accepted. At present there is no outside limit, and we only ask for the limitation of six hours when Mr. Speaker is in the Chair, and one hour when the Chairman of Ways and Means is presiding, as an irreducible minimum within which the freedom of discussion should not be interfered with, but beyond which the Speaker and Chairman should exercise the discretion with which they are vested. If the Leader of the House does not see his way to accept the present Amendment we shall be obliged to go to a Division.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
, who rose amid cries of "Divide!" said: I should like a second Division to be avoided; but, of course, if hon. Members intend to put the clôture in force against me, I must avail myself of the 646 advantage of having a Division. What I wish to do is to put it to the Government whether they will accept my Amendment as a compromise? The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) proposes that there should be six hours' debate certain for every question before the House, and one hour's debate certain for every question before the Committee. It so happens that my view as to the debate which should be allowed in Committee coincides with that of my hon. Friend; but for a debate in the House my Amendment proposes that there should be at least two hours allowed. If the Government will agree to my Amendment, I have no doubt the hon. Member for Cork will agree to its substitution for his Amendment. I really do not think that anything ought to be allowed to be proposed in this House which is not worthy of two hours' debate. If the Government will not agree to the substitution of my Amendment for that now before the House, I suppose a Division had better be taken on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 82; Noes 268: Majority 186.—(Div. List, No. 27.)
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I now propose to ask the Government and the House, since they have refused to agree to a margin of time, at least to agree to a safeguard that there shall be some number of Members heard in reply to any proposition which may be made—I assume by the Government—before the Question is put. Under the Rule as it now stands a Question may be put without debate; it may also be put after debate by those who propose the Question, and without hearing the voice of those who oppose it. I do not know how far Her Majesty's Government have got in determining the safeguards to be hereafter inserted; but we may assume that they are considering the advisability of the insertion of some safeguards. We are coming to the part of the Rule, the turning point, if I may so express it, in the Amendment of the Rule, when it will be necessary for Her Majesty's Government to declare what modifications they intend to allow the House to adopt in reference to this matter. I would not persevere in moving Amendments of this kind, if I supposed that the Government 647 meant, of their own accord, to propose some satisfactory modification of the Rule. I cannot help thinking it is a mark of the extreme haste with which the Government have drafted this Rule, and of the firm support they had relied upon getting from the Liberal Unionists in its consideration, that such a very important point as this should have been overlooked—that they should have been obliged to admit, as they have done, that some provisions should be made for the expression of the views of the minority before the closure is applied, am not asking that any limitation should be put on the Closure Resolution passed in 1882. Nothing of the kind. That Closure Resolution will remain in full force. This Closure Resolution will be one in addition. It is not proposed to repeal the old Closure Resolution; and no modification may be inserted in the present Closure Resolution to modify or counteract the old one. Therefore, let not the House suppose, for a moment, I am doing any unnecessary thing in asking for some modification. The present Rule comes before us marked by hasty and ill preparation—marked by a most remarkable change of front on the part of Her Majesty's Government. It is not even sanctioned by the Report of the Select Committee which sat on this question last year. It is not sanctioned by any recommendations made by the minority in that Select Committee, which was composed of the Representatives of the present Government. The Representatives of the present Government on that Committee took a line entirely different to that the Government are now taking. They took the line I am taking; they asked for safeguards. What was the result? Not a Resolution requiring additional safeguards, cheeks, balances, and controls at every line, as this one does; not a drastic, stringent, and unheard-of measure of closure, but a closure which could only be put into force at midnight on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and at half-past 5 o'clock on Wednesdays. That was the outcome of the Select Committee of 1886, an outcome which was strongly opposed and resisted, as being too stringent and too hard and dangerous upon minorities; and, yet, we now find that in the short interval which has elapsed since then, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) and his Party have 648 turned their backs upon everything they said and did, not only in 1882, but so recently as 1886; and have come before the House of Commons and the country with a Rule of this kind, requiring, as I say, limitations, checks, safeguards and balances at almost every line. I trust the House will consider this matter fully, fairly, and candidly. The Resolution is a very stringent one; it is unprecedented. It is one which provides for the absolute closure of all debate, whether in the House or in Committee of the Whole House. The further we go, it is like a chain dragging increased weight behind it as it is payed out. The further we go, the more Amendments that are rejected, the more words that are passed under the law of Parliament, the more dangerous the Rule becomes, and the more necessary it becomes that the Government should be acted upon in some way, and induced to consider the question of the rights of minorities. I submit we have now arrived at a period of the debate and of the Resolution when it would be fair to ask the Government for some more definite expression of opinion with regard to this matter than they have given us up to now. The right hon. Gentleman announced, at an early period of the proceedings to-day, that he would carefully consider this subject, and I shall be glad to know how far that process of consideration has gone. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that all that I am fighting for is that there shall be some safeguard inserted in the Resolution; that there shall be the right of adequate and sufficient discussion to minorities. The House has just rejected, by a large majority, the claim that I made that there should be a margin of time. The claim that I now make is one of a different character. My Amendment simply asks that some Members, four in number, shall be allowed to express their opinion on the part of the minority. Is that out of the way? Will the right hon. Gentleman say that any question can ever arise on which four Members ought not to be allowed to talk? He objected to my last proposal, on the ground that some questions might arise on which six hours' discussion would be too much. I was willing to concede that point to him; but I cannot concede that, with the power you have already got under the 649 Clôture Resolution of 1882, with the powers which the Speaker possesses of silencing a Member who talks irrelevantly, by calling on him to resume his seat—that any question can arise on which it could be said that it would be excessive debate if four Members exercised the right of speaking. I shall be surprised if the Conservative Party refuses to agree to this Amendment, or to some limitation of the power of clôture.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1, by inserting, after the word "proposed," "and has been replied to by at least four Members."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I think the hon. Gentleman must anticipate the answer that I am obliged to give him. This is really an Amendment which we have already considered in another form. ["No, no!"] Yes, precisely the same. The hon. Gentleman has many Friends on his side of the House who would find no difficulty whatever in occupying six hours in making four speeches. The proposal of the hon. Member is both too much and too little; for it implies that four Members shall speak, and it implies also—or may be held to imply—that no more than four Members shall speak. Under those circumstances, Sir, it is impossible for me to accept the Amendment.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
The right hon. Gentleman's argument against all the Amendments proposed seems to be that the House should entrust Ministers with large powers, and feel assured that they will never take advantage of them. I could trust the right hon. Gentleman himself, personally; but I have a high authority for refusing to trust in the action of any Ministry. When this Amendment was moved in 1882, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) put the question to the Tory Party then in Opposition, whether they thought the Liberal Government would use the powers placed in their hands unfairly; and he went on to justify his refusal of the Amendment by declaring that the Liberal Government would not use the powers unfairly. 650 The authority I would quote is no less a person than the late Sir Stafford North-cote. Alluding to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, he said—The right hon. Gentleman asked whether they really could be of opinion that the Liberal Party would never interfere so as to stifle discussion on the expenditure of public money. He hardly ventured to stand up and say what the Liberal Party were capable of, or what they were not capable of; but, so far as his own experience went, he was inclined to say that the question must be answered without reference to the side of the House on which the Liberal Party were for the time being seated."—(3 Hansard,  300.)That is our position to-night. We say— "Whatever your promise may be, we will put no more faith in it than you were prepared to put in the promise of the Liberal Government when this identical Amendment was moved in 1882." All the Amendments that have been moved from this side of the House to-night were Amendments supported by the Tory Party; all the arguments used are identical, therefore I have no great inclination to put great trust either in the Tory or any other Government.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
Hon. Members on these Benches extremely regret the continued tone of negation adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith). It is true that this Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell) is analogous to his last Amendment, but they are by no means similar. They do not cover the same ground. When the right hon. Gentleman said that it would be easy to find four Members on this side of the House who would occupy six hours in making their speeches, he laid down a proposition which I am not disposed to dispute; but he must remember that this is a provision intended for the protection not so much of the Irish, as of the English Members. My hon. Friend comes forward and proposes this Amendment, well knowing that the time will come when it will be necessary for English Members to have some safeguard against the abuse of the rights of the clôture by the Government of the day. For our own part, Sir, our interest in the affairs of this House is but of a passing and transient character. We do not expect to be here much longer, and we, with the greatest readiness possible, 651 will allow you to recast your Rules as soon as we have left; but, in the meantime, while we continue to take a part in the deliberations of this House, we are also entitled to take a part in the framing of the Regulations which govern debate; and I think the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury might see his way to make a gracious concession; because, after all his refusals, any concession would be gracious. It is time to make a concession of the kind indicated by my hon. Friend. We feel sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish, on this occasion, to meet us with a refusal. The Amendment simply ensures that there shall be no immediate and improper exercise of the right of the clôture. As the Rule now stands it is possible for the Question to be proposed, and then for the Leader of the House to stop discussion, and the danger will be greatest when Mr. Speaker is out of the Chair. I do not believe we should be likely to see anything so indecent as an appeal being made to Mr. Speaker to apply the clôture before any discussion has taken place on the Question before the House; but when Mr. Speaker is out of the Chair, and we have, perhaps, a casual Chairman presiding, a Minister may be anxious to get money, there being only two or three days before the end of the financial year, and it being desirable to push through the Appropriation Bill, and we may find ourselves silenced without discussion. It is to guard against the improper pushing forward of Money Bills that we are anxious to have this Amendment. If it is accepted, it does not follow that the four speakers shall be all on one side of the House. I altogether dispute the construction put on the Amendment that it would have the effect of confining debates to four speeches. Such a question would never arise.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
[Cries of "Divide!"] I must say that a great deal of the time of this House is wasted in unnecessary interruptions. The impatience which is frequently shown by hon. Gentlemen opposite, even whilst speakers are endeavouring to address the House for the first time in the Session, accounts for the prolongation of discussion. It is in human nature to resent such interruption. If it were a Rule of the House that the clôture could 652 not be imposed until at least four Members had spoken in opposition, there would be no impatience shown until four Members had addressed the House. The House should remember that questions arise which are of great importance to particular districts, but which the majority of the House may care nothing about. In such cases the majority will become impatient, and will, in a very short time, think that the debate has lasted long enough. I maintain that it would never be possible to bring out grievances affecting particular classes and particular districts, under the Rule as at present laid down. I think there should be some protection for these classes and districts, therefore I beg to support the Amendment.
§ MR. PARNELL
As the principle of the present Amendment and that which has just been decided are somewhat alike, I will not put the House to the trouble of a Division, but will ask for leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question, as amended, proposed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Esslemont.)
§ MR. PARNELL
I admit that the progress we have made may appear somewhat slow, if you measure it by a foot rule; but I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite will admit that you cannot proceed in that way in estimating the progress which has been made. Our progress has been real and considerable. We have decided many points of principle which will not be again raised. What has been done and said has tended to clear away subsequent matters. I think we have reached a point at which we might very profitably adjourn. The Amendment which the hon. Gentleman who moved the adjournment has to propose raises a very important question that the Government have undertaken to consider. Very possibly they may be able to agree to these words. We can scarcely come to a decision to-night, and an adjournment will afford the Govern- 653 ment an opportunity of considering the matter.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I am sorry I feel it my duty to press my objection to the adjournment. I am of opinion that the Amendment next on the Paper may be disposed of in a very few minutes by a statement I have to make. If the hon. Member wishes to persevere with that Amendment, we may, at least, enter upon it and take the pleasure of the House after the statement I have to make.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
I anticipate that the answer the First Lord of the Treasury will give to my Amendment will tend very much to limit the discussion. I would call your attention, Sir, to the Rule passed in 1882. It will be there found that the clôture is to be applied to end any debate for the reason that the subject has been adequately discussed, and that it is the evident sense of the House, or of the Committee, that the Question be put. In proposing my Amendment, I do not anticipate as to who is to take the initiative in proposing the clôture, that point having to be discussed upon another Amendment. But I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he and those of his Colleagues who have spoken on these subjects have declared, with one voice, that it is not their intention to stifle discussion; and that it is not probable that the clôture will be applied until the House has had ample opportunity of discussing the question before it. Now, I submit with confidence to the House that, in future, the House will look at this question of the clôture in the light of the Rules of Procedure of 1882, and they cannot look at these Rules without taking into account that an important change is proposed on the present occasion. It seems to me that the removal of the words after "adequate debate," will imply the probability that the House anticipates the possibility of putting the Question without any discussion whatever; because, if that is not the intention, there can be no motive in removing the words. I will, therefore, without discussing the matter further, assume that the assurances we have received from Ministers imply that they are going to concede the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. 654 Storey). As so young a Member of the House, I should not have interposed, had I not considered this Amendment of such great importance, and had I not believed it to be one which ought to be submitted to the sense of the House.
§ Amendment proposed in line 1 by inserting after the word "proposed," the words "and after adequate debate."—(Mr. Esslemont.)
§ Question proposed "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I have frequently stated that there is no desire on the part of the Government to prevent debate on matters before the House. The House itself must be the judge of the adequacy of discussion. There is an Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) which proposes to strike out the consent of the Speaker, and when that is disposed of—and I hope the House will not accept the Amendment, however great the authority of the hon. Member may be—if disposed of in the negative; my right hon. Friend the Member for Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth) will move the Amendment he has on the Paper in which he says that the Speaker or Chairman shall have regard to the general sense of the House or of the Committee, and likewise to the fair and reasonable Privileges of the minority. There is no intention on the part of the Government to interfere with the full liberty of the House, provided licence is not the interpretation of the word "liberty." The object the Government have in view is simply to regulate Business.
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
After the statement made by the Leader of the House it will, I think, be desirable for my hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment for the present in the view of the possibility of the Government, after all, being persuaded to accept the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Cork and myself. If that should be accepted, on the right hon. Gentleman's own showing, I think it would be desirable for some words like those just moved to be inserted in the Resolution. There will be no cause for the declaration of the House, that it is the intention of the House that adequate discussion should take place. If the present Amendment is now pressed 655 to a Division, the point would be decided against us, and it would not be in Order to make the proposal again.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
If it is understood that we shall have another opportunity of discussing this point, I withdraw ray Amendment at the solicitation of my hon. Friend.
§ MR. PARNELL
Without prejudicing the Amendment of which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has expressed qualified approval, I must say that I must not be taken as in any sense agreeing with its adequacy. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Esslemont) must withdraw his Amendment without prejudice to the discussion of the point which his Amendment raises. I think, also, the debate should be adjourned now, in order that we may hare an opportunity of considering the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. I should like to know whether the Amendment now before the House can be moved hereafter—after the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Bedford has been disposed of. The Amendment the hon. Member for East Aberdeen has moved is in Order where it is; but I am not certain that it would be in Order after the hon. Member for Bedford has moved his Amendment.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I could not say at what particular point it could be introduced; but, no doubt, the substance of it could be moved hereafter.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at One o'clock, till Monday next.