Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on 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.)
§ Main Question, as amended, again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I beg to move, as an Amendment, in Rule 1, in line 1, after "proposed," to insert—Arising out of the first or second Order of the Day, or a Motion standing first or second on the Notice Paper of the House.The reception which, the Government give to this Amendment will enable the House to see whether they will be really satisfied with anything less than the most arbitrary power. It will be apparent that, even if the Amendment is accepted, the Government will be able, at any time, to apply the Rule of Closure to any subject which they may consider so urgent, or so important, as to entitle them to favourable consideration at the hands of the House. This Amendment will not prevent them from applying the closure to the Rules of Procedure, or to an Order, or Coercion Act, or any other subject or Bill on which they may represent the Government opinion of the House. Upon Fridays, if this Amendment is accepted, it will still be possible to apply the closure to any proceeding, even in Committee of Supply. Looking back at my experience of the House, I should be surprised, indeed, to find it contended that after two Motions have been disposed of on a Tuesday, or two Bills on Wednesday, any Member would feel inclined to apply the closure upon a third Motion or Bill. And I should also be very much surprised to hear any argument put forward to convince the House that an effective majority should have the entire control of the Business of the House, and that no Amendments should be debated that was not favoured by the majority. I maintain, further, that on the merits of the question I have a conclusive case. The development of the mind of the Government on the question of closure 918 has been curious and instructive. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) in his place. Very little more than a year ago the right hon. Gentleman was personally responsible for bringing forward a series of Resolutions on the part of the Government, in which no proposal whatever for closure was made. What has happened since then to effect so complete a change in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman? Is it because the Irish Members put him into Office a few months before, and because they turned him out when they found that the goods were not according to sample? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) also brought forward Resolutions, and he proposed a closure which was not to take effect at any time, but only at certain times. The draft Resolutions proposed by the right hon. Gentleman when Chancellor of the Exchequer in March last contained the following proposal:—At half-past 6 of the clock at Morning Sittings, and at midnight at Evening Sittings on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and at half-past 5 of the clock on Wednesdays, the proceedings on any Business then under consideration shall be interrupted, or the House shall, if in Committee, receive the Chairman's Report; and such Business shall, in the case of Morning Sittings, except on Wednesdays, stand adjourned until the Evening Sittings on the same day; and in the case of the Evening Sittings, and on Wednesdays, shall stand adjourned until the next day on which the House shall sit, unless at the times before-mentioned a Motion shall he made that the Question then under consideration he now put, which Motion shall be decided without Amendment or Debate.Now, in the first place, we find that the Chief Secretary for Ireland, when putting forward Resolutions on behalf of the Tory Party, made no proposals whatever for closure, and the right hon. Member for Derby proposed, on behalf of the Liberal Party, that there should at certain times be a closure. The Select Committee in their Report amended the proposal of the right hon. Member for Derby, and this is the form in which they put it—That at midnight on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and at half-past 5 of the clock on Wednesdays, the proceedings on any Business then under consideration shall be interrupted, or the House shall, if in Committee, receive the Chairman's Report; and such Business shall stand adjourned until the next day, 919 when the House shall sit, unless the Business under consideration at the times before mentioned, shall be the first or second Order of the Day, or a Motion standing first or second on the Notice Paper of the House, and a Motion shall be made that the Question then under consideration be now put which Motion shall be decided without Amendment or Debate.I wish to call attention to this curious and remarkable fact. The proposal of the right hon. Member for Derby was that at certain times a Motion for putting a Question should be put, and that Motion was limited by the Select Committee to a proposal that the Motion should not be put unless the Business under consideration at the time should be the first or second Order of the Day, or a Motion standing first or second on the Notice Paper of the House. How was that Amendment dealt with? Three of my hon. Friends who sat with me on the Select Committee supported it on the 13th of May last. Has anything happened since then to induce the Government to change their mind in reference to the question then before the House? The Motion made in the Select Committee was that the Question should not be put unless it related to the first or second Order of the Day, or to a Motion standing first or second on the Order Book of the House. By whom was that proposition made? On referring to the Records of the Committee, I find that it was made by Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, and that it was carried in the Committee by a majority of 1. Among the 15 Members of the Committee who carried that Motion I find the names of Sir Walter Barttelot, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Sir James Fergusson, Sir William Hart Dyke, Sir John Gorst, Sir John E. Mowbray, Sir Richard Paget, Mr. Raikes, Mr. W. H. Smith, and Mr. E Stanhope; so that among the 15 Members of the Select Committee who carried the Amendment, which was the same as that which I now propose, will be found the names of nine Members of the present Government. Therefore, I think that unless the Government can show some conclusive ground for changing their minds, I am entitled to say that they are bound now to accept from me the Amendment which a few months ago they themselves introduced in the Select Committee.
In line 1, by inserting, after the word "proposed," the words "arising out of the first or
second Order of the Day, or a Motion standing first or second on the Notice Paper of the House."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH) (Bristol, W.)
As the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) has done me the honour to quote me, it is desirable, perhaps, that I should address a few words to the House in regard to the Amendment. The hon. Member asks me, in the first place, if I did not, in the proposals I submitted in February, 1886, abstain from proposing the closure. I certainly did not propose the closure on that occasion. At that time I thought that the existing closure would be quite sufficient; but subsequently, when the proposal was made to the Select Committee that there should be a fixed hour for adjournment, I recognized that arrangements must be made for the possible application of a thoroughly efficient closure at that hour. Therefore, when the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), acting on behalf of the late Government, included this proposal in the New Rules, I accepted it in principle, but endeavoured to limit its application, so as to guard the rights of minorities. What was the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman? It was not only to institute a fresh kind of closure at any moment during the ordinary period of our debates, but it was also to introduce a special closure at the time fixed for the termination of Business. It appeared to me and to my right hon. Friends who acted with me on that Committee that, in order to guard against surprises, there ought to be some check upon the application of the closure at the hour fixed for the termination of Business. We thought it was perfectly possible that if the first or second Order or Notice of Motion had been discussed for a certain time in the course of the Sitting of the House, that at no more than half-an-hour before the termination of the Sitting some fresh Order or Notice of Motion might be brought under the consideration of the House, and that the closure might be demanded upon that Motion or Bill, and applied without an opportunity being afforded for reasonable discussion. In fact, the closure might, under such circumstances, be applied without hon. Members, who did 921 not happen to be in the House at the moment, having had any reasonable notice, either that such Motion or Bill would come under consideration at all, or that, if it did, the closure would be applied to it. Therefore, I proposed to the Committee that the application of the closure should be confined to the Bills or Notices of Motion standing first or second on the Order Book. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) asks me why I and my Colleagues have changed our opinions in the matter. I will tell him. The explanation is very simple. The Government think that they have discovered a still better safeguard against surprise than that provided by the Amendment which was moved in the Committee, and that safeguard consists in the necessity of obtaining the consent of the Chair before the closure can be applied. That, Sir, is the reason for our change of opinion. Believing it to be better than the proposal adopted by the Select Committee, we have withdrawn that proposal and substituted for it the present one, which requires the consent of the Chair.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I think the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland is altogether unsatisfactory, and in no sense the explanation we might have expected. The whole system of divided responsibility between the Speaker and the Minister of the Crown as to enforcing closure is here brought out in the worst shape. The right hon. Gentleman says that we shall have a safeguard in requiring the previous consent of the Speaker to be obtained before the closure can be applied. But the Speaker or Chairman of Committees will be able to get up the moment it is proposed to be applied, and the consent of the Chair can thus be given to its application at once. That will give the Leader of the House a means of escape and a running away under the shelter of the Chair from the censure of the House. One reason which is given in justification of this proposal of closure is that there is no further necessity for the provision introduced by the Chief Secretary in the Committee on Procedure last year, and which my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) now submits to the House for its acceptance, because it is asserted that the Speaker and the Chairman of 922 Committees will always be proof against Ministerial influence. It is because I am afraid that that may not always be so, and that such a danger may arise, and because I feel strongly of opinion that the whole reference of the question of applying the closure should be taken away from the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees, that I and my Friends insist now that proper safeguards should be placed on this Rule, so as to protect persons who have introduced Bills placed far down on the Paper, and for the purpose of preventing a measure being rushed through the House without adequate discussion, and forced into law without the opinion of the House having been practically taken upon them. I think the Amendment of my hon. Friend is one which deserves the favourable consideration of the House, because we shall be called upon to discuss most important Amendments further on which will throw the whole responsibility of the closure on the Leader of the House, or some Member of the House who is not the Speaker or Chairman of Committees. That being so, it will be necessary for us to take care that no unfair application of the closure is made by the Ministry of the day, and there is no means we can think of which will have a better effect in securing a fair discussion of all Bills brought before the House than placing beyond the operation of the closure those Orders of the Day which cannot possibly be reached in time to allow the House to discuss them at fair length. Take the case of Wednesday Sittings. There may, perhaps, be 10 Orders of the Day, relating to Bills standing for Second Reading. We know very well that rarely on a Wednesday more than two Orders are reached; generally the whole of the day is occupied in discussing the first Order; and frequently we have experienced in this House the obstructive operation on the part of certain hon. Members of talking out a Bill on a Wednesday. What would happen if there is no such provision as my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast suggests? We might go on discussing the Second Reading of a Bill from 12 o'clock on Wednesday until a quarter past 5; a Division would then be taken which would take about 15 minutes; the second Order would consequently be reached at half-past 5, and having only 15 minutes to discuss it in, the closure 923 might be moved and the Question put, and the Bill forced through the House without the slightest discussion having taken place upon it. I have been told by a gentleman from South Australia how the application of the closure in the South Australian Legislature works. On one occasion a question of some importance, which was made the means of turning out the Ministry, was raised. A Motion was brought forward in a speech of considerable length by the Gentleman who I moved it, and immediately upon the conclusion of that speech a Member of the Legislative Assembly got up to make a reply. But not one word of that reply was allowed to be heard, and a Division was taken without any remarks from anybody except the Mover of the Motion. Now, I maintain that the same thing might happen in regard to any objectionable matter introduced into this House by some hon. Member whose Friends are in a majority, and who introduced it on a Wednesday with the consent of his Friends. As soon as the speeches of the Mover and Seconder were finished it would be possible to put the Question and to close the discussion. This would be prevented if the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), to afford opportunities for debate on all Motions that may be moved, is accepted; but otherwise I am of opinion that we must fall back on something of this kind. I trust that my hon. Friend will persist with his Amendment, and that he will take the sense of the House upon it by a Division.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I have listened attentively to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and his explanation of the change of front on the part of the Government is certainly of a somewhat singular character. But, in my opinion, I do not think it a proper principle to substitute the personality of the Presiding Officer of this House for the written law. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman who presides in the Chair is always a man of high character and experience; but I cannot see how we can have from him personally the same guarantee in regard to the performance of his duties in the Chair as we should have by the written words of the law. I maintain that the principle favoured by the Government—this golden principle of the personality of the Speaker—is of a 924 highly invidious and dangerous character. Let me remind the Government that all the privileges of this country have been fought and won by opposition to this principle of personality. If the principle of a Sovereign is to be entertained at all it would be as well to dispense with this House altogether, and go back to the good old times when the Sovereign had complete control over the State. The Tory Pary, when not in Office, proposed that on a first Motion, or Order of the Day alone, no clôture should be applied. The Tory Party were then in a minority in this House, and that was the proposal they made in the Select Committee. Now, however, they turn round and say—"We have discovered a much more splendid principle—namely, that the Speaker shall be the judge whether the Question has been adequately discussed or not." I would ask what the opinion of the right hon. Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin)—who always opposed the clôture—is with regard to the proposal of the Government? I do not think he was a Member of the Select Committee; but I should like to point out to him what may happen under this proposal of clôture. A debate upon a first Order may have been carried on up to 10 o'clock at night, when the Order is disposed of and the second Order reached. We may have an excited Speaker in the Chair, although I am far from saying that the Speaker would ever be excited. Then suppose that at 11 or half-past 11 o'clock the Speaker was of opinion that the second Order of the Day had been adequately discussed, and he was prepared to take a Division, a proposition to apply the clôture would then be made, and by this means you would secure the manufacture of what is called "the evident sense of the House." That would be very easily manufactured by a number of Tory Members—Hallobolooists I think I may call them—coming for the special purpose of getting up a row. With a man of excited temperament in the Chair, a most unsatisfactory state of things might be brought about. Take, for instance, the Judicature (Ireland) Bill, which was on the Paper last night. It is a measure of great public importance. Suppose it had been down as the second Order of the Day, and suppose it was ripe for discussion at 2 o'clock in the morning, which was the hour at which 925 it was reached. I would put it to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury whether he can believe that proper justice would have been done to the Representatives of Irish opinion by taking that measure at 2 o'clock in the morning, providing that the Government were anxious to push it forward and we were desirous of resisting it? Would it have been fair, in such a case, to have imposed the clôture? Yet that is what may happen, and you will either have Gentlemen on the Tory Benches getting up an altercation with the Speaker, or whispering in his ear. I do not say that you will have that state of affairs; it is altogether foreign to our present mode of Procedure; but what I maintain is that you may have it, and in the year 1900 it might be most unfortunate for the Parliament of the day to have men going behind the Chair and whispering in the ear of the Speaker. When once you have begun this unfortunate system you will open the door to a great deal of abuse, and. you may constantly have the Speaker pronouncing an opinion that a state of things has arisen which would justify the clôture. Therefore, the only safeguard we can have is that the clôture shall only be applied to the first and second Orders of the Day unless the third Order shall have been taken up at a reasonable hour of the night. My hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) has proposed an Amendment to this Rule in terms of great moderation, and he said very little as to the change of front which has been made by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and which shows so strong a contrast between their present attitude and that which they took up last year. But the moderation of my hon. Friend ought to lead to a greater desire on the part of the Government to accept the principle of his Amendment. If they are unable to accept its exact terms, I think I can suggest a method by which the proposition of my hon. Friend can be carried out, not, perhaps, with the same effectiveness as if it remained unmutilated, but in a form which he might not be unwilling to accept. My suggestion is this—to add after the word "debate," at the end of the first clause, the words—Provided, That the clôture shall not be applied to any Order of the Day or Notice of Motion after 10 o'clock, after the first Notice of Motion or Order of the Day has been under discussion.926 I think that would meet the view which my hon. Friend has in proposing this Amendment, and at the same time remove some of the disabilities which have been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Having been a Member of the Select Committee, I am able to say that nobody worked more hard upon it than my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast, except, perhaps, the First Lord of the Treasury. Everybody admired the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman attended to the discharge of his duties, and watched with assiduousness, for the benefit of his Party, every proposal that was submitted. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has left out of his mind the fact that the Conservative Party may some day or other be out of Office again? Perhaps he expects that the transcendent genius of the Tory Party will enable them to keep the ship afloat for an interminable time. We were struck with the business capacity of the right hon. Gentleman in the Committee? Why, then, does he not display the same business capacity in this House? There was a Whip issued when this particular Amendment was proposed in the Committee. The Tory Party were exceedingly anxious that it should be adopted. So anxious were they that the Irish Members were whipped up, and the Amendment was carried by our votes. As a matter of fact, it was only carried by a majority of 1, and that one was myself, for I undertook a long journey in order to vote for the proposal of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. My labours seem now to have been altogether thrown away, and we appear to have wasted our sweetness on a desert Committee. Having enabled right hon. Gentlemen to effect all they desired, now that they are in power they fling us overboard. I trust that under the circumstances the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury will be prepared to meet us in the same spirit as that which he manifested in the Committee. The Irish Members were then acting as an auxiliary of the Tory Party against the right hon. Member for Derby. We knew that that right hon. Gentleman was extremely anxious for more stringency than the Tory Party were willing to assent to. We were then opposing even a mild form of amendment of our Rules. Perhaps we 927 were wrong. It might possibly be desirable that we should have greater stringency in the Rules of this House when we get into power, and then right hon. Gentlemen opposite may find that a very unfortunate state of things exists. I am afraid there will be no more convenient manufacturers of the "evident sense of the House" than the Irish Party under a Home Rule Government. I can well conceive, if this Amendment is rejected, the vehemence which on some other occasion my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast and other Irish Members will exhibit, and the turbulent spirit they will display in shouting down some rising Member of the Tory Party and calling for the clôture. I can imagine my hon. Friend the Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), or some other experienced Member of the Irish Party, sitting in the Chair and dealing with the Amendments which may be proposed by the Tory Party.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. and learned Gentleman to keep strictly to the Amendment, which is to confine the closure to questions proposed in reference to the first or second Order of the Day, or a Motion standing first or second on the Notice Paper of the House.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I have no desire to detain the House longer. All I have attempted to point out is the desirability of securing full and complete discussion, by whatever means it may be effected. What I wish to see is the adoption of the proposal of my hon. Friend in principle—that without adequate debate no clôture shall be applied, except to a question arising out of the first or second Orders of the Day and Notices of Motion. I trust that the First Lord of the Treasury will endeavour by some means to indicate what his views on the matter are.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
The hon. Member for North Longford, who has just sat down, has described how my unfortunate proposals for the clôture in the Committee upstairs were defeated by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, who, when he found that it was impossible to exclude the clôture altogether, adroitly introduced into it limitations which made it utterly worthless and unworkable. Hon. Members from Ireland have always been openly and altogether opposed to the clôture, and of course they would natu- 928 rally support any Amendment proposed by the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, the object of which was to destroy the working efficiency of the clôture as proposed by the late Government. I am very sorry they succeeded in the Committee in, practically speaking, making the proposal which was intended to facilitate the Business of the House, I will not say absurd, but at all events unworkable. Having, for my own part, a desire to institute a sincere and workable closure, I did my best to resist that proposal; but the alliance of right hon. Gentlemen opposite with the Irish Members was too strong for me, as it had been on a former occasion. An alliance of this kind has on more occasions than one upset Governments, and therefore it was quite possible that it might upset the closure; and that was really what they succeeded in doing about a year ago. But I adhere to my former opinion on the subject. I think the Amendments then introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland were very bad Amendments, and I opposed them. Hon. Members from Ireland were consistent in supporting them, and they are consistent in supporting a similar Amendment now. I am consistent in opposing the Amendment now, and the only persons who are absolutely inconsistent are Her Majesty's Government, who are abandoning their previous proposals.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 83; Noes 209: Majority 126.—(Div. List, No. 32.)
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) I beg to move the Amendment which stands in. his name—to insert after "proposed" the words "and opportunity afforded for debate thereon." The object is to provide that whenever a Question has been proposed in the House it shall not be in the power of this, or any future Government, to close the discussion without allowing any opportunity for criticism to those who may feel disposed to make it. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith), in the course of his observations the other night, stated frankly that it was not his intention—and he could not believe that it would be the intention of any Government—to exercise any power placed 929 in their hands in an arbitrary manner. The right hon. Gentleman subsequently stated that he intended to look into the matter and see what words could be introduced as a safeguard upon a point which we looked upon as one of the greatest dangers of this Rule. Such words of limitation have not yet been introduced into the Rule. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has had time to consider the qualified assurance which he gave to the House on the subject or not. Of course, if he is in the position to say that after the remarks which have been made in the House on this particular point he sees the value of the criticism which has been offered, and is prepared to insert some such qualification as is stated in this Amendment, I should have no object in pressing the Amendment further; but the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman was not absolutely definite, and, therefore, I move the Amendment in order to afford him an opportunity of explaining the course he intends to pursue. In future it is quite possible that this enormous power may be in the hands of a Government who may be less generous and less just in their action than the present Government. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say that he is prepared to carry out substantially the qualified assurance he gave the other night, so that I may be spared the necessity of going further with this Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1, by inserting, after the word "proposed," the words, "and opportunity afforded for Debate thereon."—(Mr. Molloy.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I have no hesitation whatever in giving the assurance which the hon. Gentleman asks for—that there is no wish on the part of the Government to stifle debate, or to prevent adequate discussion, on any question which may be brought before the House; but I am of opinion that if these words are inserted they will tend still further to delay and hinder and protract the progress of Public Business. The Government will undertake to introduce words which will fully protect freedom of debate. It is their intention to make 930 a proposal based very much on the suggestions of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Wells Division of Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget), and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth), who desires to provide that there shall be such discussion secured for the minority that in the opinion of the Speaker and Chairman of Committees is necessary to preserve the privileges of hon. Members of this House. There is no desire to interfere with them in any shape whatever. I have so strong an opinion on the subject, that if I felt that those Rules could be used by any Government to put a stop to proper discussion so as to enable them to pass a measure by a simple majority, I would be no party to it. I do not believe, however, that these proposals involve anything of the kind. They are framed solely with a view to forwarding the Business of the House in a reasonable and practical manner, and I believe their operation will be to secure time for the discussion of questions that are now wholly neglected, and to facilitate the progress of Business which cannot at present be undertaken at all. I trust that after this assurance the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Amendment, and allow us to proceed with the further Amendments that remain on the Paper. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House that I should read the Amendment now standing on the Paper in the name of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire. It is as follows:—A Member rising in his place may move 'That the Question be now put,' and if it shall appear to the Chair that, having due regard to the rights of the minority, it is proper that the sense of the House, or of the Committee, should be taken, as to whether or not the subject has been adequately discussed; he shall so inform the House or the Committee, and, in such case, shall forthwith put the said Question 'That the Question be now put,' which shall be decided without Amendment or Debate.I do not bind myself to accept those identical words but I will bind myself to accept the spirit involved in them, and also in the Amendment of the right hon. Member for North Hants—That, in giving the consent of the Chair, the Speaker or the Chairman (as the case may be) 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.Our only object is to secure that there 931 should be such an amount of discussion as in the judgment of the House will secure a reasonable and fair elucidation of any question brought before us.
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
I am afraid we are going on too rapidly. The right hon. Gentleman says he is prepared to adopt substantially the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire. I think it now becomes necessary for the Government to tell us what are the words they intend to adopt, because the words proposed by the hon. Baronet and those proposed by the right hon. Member for North Hants, which the Government also intend to adopt, are very different. As the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has just told us that he intends to accept the spirit of both, I think he ought, in fairness, to give us the exact words.
§ DR. COMMINS (Roscommon, S.)
We enjoy at present the right of debate—a right not depending on any casual Member standing up in his place and moving that the debate be closed, but a right depending on the grant of liberty of speech in this House which we have enjoyed from time immemorial, in conjunction with a wise discretion exercised by the Chair in regard to the manner in which everybody may exercise that right. It is now proposed to take that right away from us, and to leave the liberties of individuals; nay, more, even of Parties, in this House, entirely at the mercy of the First Lord of the Treasury, or somebody else who may bring forward a Motion for the prevention of further debate. I should like to know, if we are to be allowed adequate debate, what means of securing it can be suggested better than those proposed in the Amendment which has been placed upon the Paper by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell). Is it desired to take away all opportunity for debate? If it is not intended in any circumstances that may arise to take away all opportunity of debate, and to deprive Members, practically, of all liberty of speech—if it is not intended to be a weapon to silence hon. Members, and take away all the ancient Privileges of this House, what objection can there be to the introduction of these words? The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury says—"Trust me with this weapon for closing your mouths; trust me with this gagging apparatus; but 932 you may be sure that I shall never put it in force unless the circumstances are such as to require the use of some such stringent measure? If it is not intended to make use of this gag, why should we hand it over to the right hon. Gentleman or to any other Government? If it is not intended to stop discussion before there has been an adequate debate, why ask for power to do so? There was never a tyrant in the world who did not maintain that the tyrannic power he exercised was for the benefit of the people he ruled. From Nero downwards I never heard of any tyrant who did not assert that the most severe of his measures were measures that were forced upon him by the exigencies of the case; and if we pass these Rules, we shall have no security that they will be exercised in a rational and proper way, and without injury to the liberties of those whom it may be desired to over-ride. Her Majesty's Government say they will never use such a power at all; but what may happen when there is strong political feeling and great Party heat upon some great measure before the House—a measure, perhaps, endangering the existence of the Government, or some measure which the Government are earnestly bent on pushing forward against the wish of a large minority of the House? It is not in quiet days like these, and in comparatively unimportant circumstances, that a Rule of this kind is wanted; but it may be found desirable to use it on an occasion when the heat of debate is greater than usual, owing to the deep national importance of the question under consideration. We want an explicit declaration on the Rules of the House to which we can appeal, and ask the judgment of the Chair. We are prepared to trust your impartiality, Sir, and we wish to have this declaration; otherwise the liberty of the individual may be taken away, and the liberty of this House. We desire the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury to exhibit in something more than general professions of good-will and respect for our liberties that he intends to carry out what is proposed by this Amendment, either by accepting it now, or stating that he is prepared to accept something equivalent.
§ MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)
I should like to hear some explanation of the 933 effect of the acceptance by the Government of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Wells Division of Somerset (Sir Richard Paget).
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
The Amendment of the hon. Baronet will require some modification, but I will give the House the full meaning of the alteration which we propose to make. It is intended to give the Speaker and the Chairman a complete veto on the Motion made to put in operation the clôture, on the ground that it may be an abuse of the Rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority; and in order to provide that the Chair shall inform the House that in the opinion of the House the subject should no longer be discussed. In this way the closure will be put on the responsibility of the mover, subject to the veto of the Speaker or the Chairman, who will be able to say that that veto is given on the ground that the Motion is either an abuse of the Rules of the House or an infringement of the rights of the minority, and that the subject should not be further discussed.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
Would not the words of the Amendment proposed have the effect of excluding the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), which is a little further down on the Paper, and which proposes to leave out the words "If the consent of the Chair has been previously obtained?"
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury finds himself unable to state to the House offhand the terms of his Amendment, and that being so, a fortiori, it must be extremely difficult for other hon. Members of the House to understand his proposal. Everyone must feel the preponderating importance of the Amendment we are discussing. Let me call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the position in which he has placed the House. An Amendment is moved in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), which Amendment, as well as that of the hon. Member for Bedford, raises the distinct question of whether the consent of the Chair shall or shall not be required. These two Amendments have been on the Paper for some days in succession, 934 and to-day, for the first time, we see on the Paper an Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somerset (Sir Richard Paget). We have had hardly any time to consider that Amendment, although it may absolutely exclude us from discussing the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford. Then, whilst we are endeavouring to find out the meaning of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet, down comes the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury and proposes an Amendment to the Amendment, the terms of which he cannot give to the House. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is the last man in the world who would wish to take an unfair advantage of a political opponent; but if he desired to take advantage of the natural lack of alacrity of his opponents to understand an Amendment not on the Paper, he could not have done more than he has done. One of my hon. Friends proposes that we should adjourn for an hour. If the right hon. Gentleman will consent to such adjournment, and will undertake, at the expiration of an hour, to understand his own Amendment and explain it to the House, our position would be clear. At the present moment we are in a perfect fog.
§ MR. SCLATER - BOOTH (Hants, Basingstoke)
I confess I should prefer the Amendment as I originally put it on the Paper. The Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somerset does not appear to me particularly happy or complete, and even if that objection could not be taken, they are not the words the Government are finally prepared to adopt.
§ MR. SPEAKER
There is great inconvenience in discussing an Amendment on a subsequent part of the Paper, and I would suggest to the House that the discussion should now be taken on the first words of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Wells Division of Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget)—namely, "A Member rising in his place." That would not preclude the subsequent Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I appeal to the hon. Member who has moved the Amendment now before the House and intimated his willingness not to press it on to-night on my being prepared to give 935 an undertaking. I have not moved anything, nor has the hon. Baronet (Sir Richard Paget) yet moved anything, and I, therefore, do not know that I am quite in Order in referring to what we may subsequently propose, but if the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) will withdraw his Amendment we will meet him in the sense I have described, and this undertaking, I think, will fully meet the engagement I have entered into. We shall then approach the first words of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire, which practically raises the question in the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford. I understand that the hon. Gentleman objects to the interposition of the Chair. Well, the words of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet are, "if it shall appear to the Chair;" and, if the Amendment of the hon. Baronet precedes that of the hon. Member for Bedford, the latter will be able to obtain his point by challenging these words I have quoted. I should be prepared, if it were in Order to do so, to postpone the Amendment of the hon. Baronet until we have taken that of the hon. Member for Bedford; but that is a matter for the House to consider, and is a matter concerning the Order of Procedure of which you, Mr. Speaker, are the best judge. I would point out that I am not entirely responsible for the difficulty that has occurred. When the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork is removed we shall be in a position to deal with the greater question that has been raised.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman suggests that the general discussion as to the interposition of the Chair should be taken on the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford, and I must say that that appears to me the natural and proper course. If the House agrees with, the hon. Member, there is an end of the question; but if, on the other hand, it differs from him, then would be the time to consider what modifications should be introduced into the Rule as at present proposed.
§ MR. MOLLOY
On the question of the withdrawal of this Amendment I am placed in rather a serious difficulty. I said I would withdraw it if the engagements of the right hon. Gentleman 936 were fulfilled; but I naturally meant fulfilled in the sense of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. If I were to withdraw the Amendment, it would be altogether gone, and I do not know what the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would be. It is now a quarter past 8 o'clock, and you, Mr. Speaker, will in a short time be leaving for the usual interval. I think in that interval the terms of the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman should be shown to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford, in which way some conclusion might be arrived at. If I were to withdraw the Amendment now I should be guilty of the foolish act of giving up a bird in the hand for two in the bush.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN)
There are three proposals before the House—that of the hon. Member for Cork; that of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire; and, finally, the largest question of all, whether there is to be any interposition of the Chair at all. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend opposite that we shall gain time by deciding first whether the Chair is to interpose at all. After that is decided we could proceed to consider what other safeguards might be put in. We could leave the subject of adequate discussion until the question of the interposition of the Speaker is decided.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The proposal is that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford should be moved as an Amendment to the proposal of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The most simple course would be to go on with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Somersetshire, formally raising the question contained in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford on the words "and if it shall appear to the Chair."
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
The hon. Member's Amendment is an Amendment in itself, and, if that is taken, I shall not have an opportunity of raising my Amendment at all. The Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire raises a variety of issues; but I only desire to raise one, and it would be a much more simple 937 course to allow my Amendment to be put as it appears on the Notice Paper.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
It is impossible to take the Amendment of the ton. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire in a different order to that in which it appears on the Notice Paper. If the hon. Baronet is not here when his name is called, the other Amendments can be proceeded with.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
As the House has got into an inextricable entanglement, I would ask you, Sir, if you would be kind enough to follow a practical suggestion and, as this is about the usual hour for you to retire, now allow the House half-an-hour of recess?
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
The Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget) will include so much new matter that I think it would be well for the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to move the adjournment of the debate. If we do not adopt such a course but deal with the Amendment in a haphazard manner, we shall get into a state of interminable chaos.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
It seems to me there is more misapprehension than real mistake in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Amendment before the House is that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cork. When that is disposed of, the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford will come on for consideration. He will not move it in the form in which it stands on the Paper, as that would now be impossible, but I would give him a fair opportunity by moving the Amendment of the hon. Member for Somersetshire as far as this—A Member rising in his place may claim to more 'That the question he now put,' and unless it shall appear to the Chair that such Motion is an abuse to the Rules of the House.What we desire to affirm is that the Chair shall have a positive duty to discharge in connection with putting the clôture to the House. That is the position of the Government; but the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford wishes to dissent from that view, and it appears to me that he will be able to do so, and to move his Amendment when we arrive at the words "unless it shall appear to the Chair." The hon. Member can move to leave out these words, 938 and such Motion will be equivalent lo that he has put upon the Paper—namely, to strike out the words "if the consent of the Chair has been previously obtained." I may say to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite that I undertake to bring up words to meet the case of the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somerset.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I would suggest that the simplest way out of the impasse would be for the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury to use his influence with, the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire to get him to withdraw his Amendment, so as to enable that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford to be proceeded with. That will be the most natural course to take, for the reason that anything the hon. Baronet desires to do can be equally well done if the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford is defeated. It seems to me that we have here an ingenious manœuvre on the part of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire to obtain precedence over the hon. Member for Bedford.
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
I object to the right hon. Gentleman imputing motives. He says this is an "ingenious manœuvre." I can assure him that I contemplated no such thing. I saw a difficulty, and this Amendment suggested itself to my mind as likely to overcome it. I framed my Amendment myself and put it down myself, and it should be decided on its merits. I am not prepared to withdraw my Amendment, at any rate without further consideration.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It might, perhaps, be convenient for me to make a suggestion, though I do not say that what I propose will be sufficient. If the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire were moved as a substantial Amendment, any Amendment could be moved to it, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford could move to strike out of the Amendment words similar in effect to those he proposes to strike out of the Resolution—the words "unless it shall appear to the Chair." That would raise the whole question of the intervention of the Chair—the whole point in dispute.
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
But, Sir, the Amendment I should have to 939 move to amend, it seems, would not be the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire, but that Amendment coupled with one by the right hon. Gentleman who sits behind him (Mr. Sclater-Booth). The Government put this before us, and ask us to discuss it at a minute's notice, without seeing the words. The most convenient course, it seems to me, would be for the hon. Baronet to postpone his Amendment, and allow me to move the one I have had on the Paper for a long time. It is not unlikely that we should finish the discussion on that to-night, then tomorrow the hon. Baronet could put his Amendment on the Paper, and we should be in a position to give it proper consideration.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON (Lancashire, Rossendale)
The difficulty in the way of adopting that course is that we cannot get to the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford without passing the words, "a Motion may be made," which were in the original Rule, but which will not be in the Rule as the Government propose that it shall stand. If we take the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford, and it is negatived, the words "if the consent of the Chair has been previously obtained," would stand part of the Rule. That is not the present proposal of the Government. I am afraid there is no possible alternative but to adopt the usual course of taking the Amendments as they stand on the Paper.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY
Would it not be possible to postpone the Government Amendment, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House just now suggested? It would be found very easy to bring it on after the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR) (Manchester, E.)
There is a difficulty in the way of the course proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. M. J. Kenny), whereas there is none in the way of the course suggested by you yourself, Sir, and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. The plan proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House would enable the hon. Member for Bedford to raise the whole question he desires to 940 raise. The words the Government would propose to move are—A Member rising in his place may claim to move 'That the Question be now put,' and unless it shall appear to the Chair that such Motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority, and the Chairman shall so inform the House or Committee, thereupon the Question, 'That the Question be now put,' shall be put forthwith, and decided upon without Amendment or Debate.The whole question of whether or not the Chair shall be allowed to interpose can be raised on that.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
What is it we are going to amend—the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire on the Paper, or some shadowy Amendment to be substituted for that, to be evolved out of the inner consciousness of the Government? We cannot carry the words of the Government Amendment in our memory.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I should be glad to take the Division on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford were it possible; but Mr. Speaker has ruled that it cannot be taken. Let us then proceed to dispose of the Amendments which remain on the Paper in their natural order; and then, if it be possible to meet the views of the hon. Member for Bedford, and to give him the clear issue he wishes to raise, I can only say that I shall be most ready to do it.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
Would it not be possible for me to move to omit all the words of the Resolution down to the words, "consent of the Chair having been previously obtained?" That would leave a door open for the hon. Baronet's Amendment, and allow me, in the first place, to raise a clear issue.
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET
I have no desire to prevent a clear issue being raised; but it can be done in the way that you, Sir, have already pointed out. If the Amendments are taken in the sequence in which they are on the the Paper, the hon. Member for Bedford can take issue on my Amendment at the point where it breaks away from his own.
§ MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
Any confusion that may have arisen is altogether owing to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House himself, for a more clouded statement than that which has fallen from him I never heard. He proposes to amend the Amendment 941 of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire, and then to invite Amendments to his Amendment from this side of the House. The more the subject is considered the more it will be seen how necessary it is to have the words of the Government proposal on that Paper. With regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork, I should think it would commend itself to anyone who cares for the freedom of debate. If the Rules are passed as they are the independence of the Chair will to some extent suffer, and we shall be unable to look to it for protection, as we have been accustomed to do in the past.
§ MR. SEXTON
The Amendments of the hon. Member for Bedford and the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire could be brought abreast by allowing the words of the original Resolution to stand down to "made," in line 2. After that word it would be competent for the hon. Baronet to move, "by a Member rising in his place." The hon. Member for Bedford would then be able to move first.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
If a majority of the House voted for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford we should not be able to take a clear issue on the other point. The issue the hon. Member desires to raise could be taken on the words, "unless it shall appear to the Chair," in the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the Amendment now before the House were withdrawn, I should call upon the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury to move his Amendment, and on that the hon. Member for Bedford could move his Amendment. I now leave the Chair for the usual time.
§ MR. MOLLOY
Mr. Speaker, I hardly know what position we are in. I proposed an Amendment, and thereupon certain suggestions were made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. In fact, I appealed to the right hon. Gentleman not to put me in a position of discussing an Amendment if the assurances he had given to the House were going to be fulfilled. The right hon. Gentleman then rose, and we have been occupied nearly an hour and a-half upon an Amendment which he is about to introduce. So far as I know, the last proposition was that of the hon. Member for Bedford.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The course that has been pursued has been somewhat irregular. The only course now is to proceed with the Amendment on the Paper until we reach the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somerset.
§ MR. MOLLOY
I cannot withdraw the Amendment I have proposed, because no agreement has been come to concerning the safeguards which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has announced his intention of introducing. The power which is given under the Rule as it now stands is the power of crushing out debate altogether. It is a matter for the serious consideration of the House whether they are prepared to give, not only to this Government, but to future Governments in this House, the power and the right to prevent all discussion. It must be remembered that we are not passing a Rule which is to obtain during the present or the next Session only; we are now legislating for the future.
§ MR. SPEAKER
This is a second time the hon. Gentleman has spoken on his own Amendment. It is quite irregular for him to do so.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I called upon the hon. Gentleman because I thought he was going to withdraw the Amendment.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork, City)
I desire to say, Mr. Speaker, that in my judgment the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is entirely insufficient and illusory, and not such a one as would justify me in withdrawing any of my Amendments which propose to go in the direction of seeing that there shall be ample discussion. This Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Birr (Mr. Molloy) has moved for me becomes, in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the safeguards which the right hon. Gentleman intends to propose when the time is reached, more than ever necessary. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he does not object to affording opportunity for debating before the closure is applied; but if he does not so object, why does he not put it in his Rule. We examine this Rule from top to bottom and we do not find a single safeguard in it; we simply see the Members of the House 943 of Commons and the rights of minorities left, or proposed to be left, at the mercy of the Ministry and the majority of the day. Sir, if this Rule is passed, and if we are beaten in our Amendments, we shall die fighting hard. The right hon. Gentleman has not met us in the way we might have expected he would have met us from his antecedents and from his courteous demeanour. I fear the right hon. Gentleman has been led away from the paths of conciliation and concession to his political opponents since the advent into this House of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen). I can only liken the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury to Faust, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Mephistopheles; and I fear very much that the counsels and seductions of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer have already produced their effect upon the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury; short as has been the time since the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has occupied a seat at the elbow of the First Lord of the Treasury. If the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had been told five years ago, or even last autumn, that he was going to agree to such a Rule as this, much less that he was going to propose it himself, his hair would have stood on end in horror at the suggestion. But, Sir, when Members of Parliament get into Office their old nature foresakes them and they become different beings. They seem to forget that a time may come when they may be in Opposition, and when they will bitterly regret that the love of power prompted them to throw away the safeguards of the rights of minorities. The minorities in the House ought to strive for such protection as I propose; even the so-called Unionist Party, those who have announced that it is above all things their intention to have one Parliament, and to have Irishmen represented, and fully represented, in that Parliament—have shown that they look upon Irish Members as being not so good as themselves, as being unworthy of having the same measure of justice meted out to them as ought to be meted out to an English Party in Opposition. I have seen that the fair play, and the justice, and the toleration which 944 you extend to your British political opponents are not extended to your Irish political opponents. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members will have full opportunity of debating this question, and I think that if they have got anything to say against the reason and justice of what I am urging they ought to say it when the proper time comes, and address observations to the Chair instead of making inarticulate noises. So far during the course of this debate they seem to have engaged in a conspiracy of silence, and therefore they are not entitled to interrupt me, I maintain that in consequence of the attitude always maintained towards the Irish Party, it is our duty to leave no stone unturned in trying to impress the conscience of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House as to the necessity of inserting suitable safeguards in this Rule. We know how this Rule will operate. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will bring in a Coercion Bill, and push it through the House by main force regardless of our protests. Now is our time, before we have been gagged and silenced by the action of the Front Bench and the tyrannical power of the majority, to rise and struggle, and to strike and resist with all our might and main before this Rule is passed. I should like to know once more where is the urgency of or necessity for this new Rule; for I must confess I am totally ignorant on the subject. I trust that, in view of the fact that the Amendment as announced by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House contains no single word or suggestion whatever that there should be adequate debate, the right hon. Gentleman will see the necessity of agreeing to the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Birr; and of modifying his subsequent proposal in such a way as to secure that fair play for minorities, which is entirely absent from the Rule as it stands.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that the Government are logically committed to the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) by the words which they propose to add guaranteeing the rights of minorities; though, it is also apparent that while there are some minorities they will protect, there are other minorities they will not protect. 945 The Government have made great strides in respect to closure; last year they were only favourable to its application at half-past 12 o'clock at night, and at half-past 5 on Wednesday afternoons, and only at these times upon certain Motions. But the advance which has been made since last year absolutely amounts to this, that the closure may be put in force at any stage or moment, and almost upon any subject before the House; after one or, perhaps, two persons have discussed a subject the closure can be applied. It seems to me, therefore, that the words suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Cork are perfectly consistent with the spirit evinced by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, and in my opinion would carry out the right hon. Gentleman's object better than his own words.
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
The Amendment which has been proposed by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) is a very simple one, and I think may be discussed by us now without regard to the controversy which may follow as to the action of the Speaker. I, therefore, treat the Amendment as one proposed in reference to the proposed Rule as it now stands, and I am bound to say that it appears to me, looking at it calmly in that way, that the Amendment expresses a true principle. The object of the Rule—as I think it will be agreed by both sides—is this, that when a question has been fully debated it should be in the power of the House, with or without certain safeguards, to close debate. If that is the object, it is only right it should be stated that the closure may be applied only after the question has been so debated. It should not be, at any rate, the effect of the Rule that the closure should be applied when only, perhaps, one speaker had spoken, and when, clearly, there has been nothing which could possibly be called debate. If that be so, surely it is well, in providing for what we mean, to introduce some such words as are now proposed. They cannot possibly do any harm; I think they express really what is the intention of the House, and that intention ought to be expressed if this Rule is to be accepted by all Parties in the House. I am certainly disposed to say that the words proposed by the hon. Member for 946 Cork are fair and reasonable, and that we should do well to accept them.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
As we understand these Rules they are intended to act against deliberate obstruction, and against undue prolixity. But the silence of hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial Benches, and the refusal on their part to discuss this Amendment, very clearly shows what is the intention of the Government. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite whether they contend that a decision ought to be taken without due opportunity being afforded for debate? That is practically what they say by their silence. If they think so, let them have the courage of their convictions. This is how we understand the refusal of the Government to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell). I trust my hon. Friend will go to a Division. If we are beaten, we shall be beaten, but at least we shall have an opportunity of protesting, not only against this new theory or doctrine which is set up, but against this conspiracy of silence which refuses even to discuss it. It is all very well to talk about safeguards against obstruction and prolixity, but we want safeguards against the majority riding roughshod over the minority.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
We also want a safeguard, and we find a safeguard in the words of the Rule, "If the consent of the Speaker has been previously obtained." I put it to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) whether he really believes that any Gentleman who maybe elected to the Speaker's Chair will arbitrarily allow this Rule to be put in force in regard to a subject which ought to be debated?
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)
It seems that what we require is that in some form or other there should be safeguards for adequate and sufficient debate. I do not express an opinion with regard to the wording of the clause, or as regards the question whether this is the proper point at which such a clause should be introduced; but I do desire to express my opinion that in principle the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) is right. We should put it in such words as imply that when the Speaker gives a decision that decision shall be that in the opinion of the 947 Speaker sufficient debate has been had.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (Lord JOHN MANNERS) (Leicestershire)
I think the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) can hardly have been in the House during the discussion earlier in the evening, or else he would know that the views of the Government were fairly expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. There is no disposition on the part of the Government to shirk this question. The view of the Government has been stated most clearly and most distinctly. We admit that safeguards are required, and the safeguards which we propose have been clearly indicated, and in the opinion of her Majesty's Government the intervention of the Speaker is most certain to act as a safeguard of a proper and most legitimate character, and one most certain to be exercised for the due protection of minorities in the debates of this House. I have noticed in this debate that several hon. Gentlemen have insinuated that occasions may arise when Speakers may be unduly influenced, and that the rights of minorities will be sacrificed by the Speaker. I have to speak very frankly on this subject. I have sat now in this House more than 45 years, and I have sat under the Speakership of four different Speakers, every one of whom was selected from the Party with which I had no connection, and against whom I was opposed. Looking back, I say distinctly that—so far as my memory serves me—I have no complaint whatever to make against the impartiality and fairness of any one of those Speakers. I repose the most implicit confidence in the fairness and impartiality of any Speaker who is likely to be selected by the great majority in this House to fill that Chair; and my deliberate conviction is that in the consent or the refusal of the Speaker to permit the closure to be put in force, the minority in this House has the best security which it can have for a fair and legitimate discussion of a question in which it may be concerned.
§ MR. T. C. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)
I can only account for the statement of the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord John Manners) that the views of the Government were clearly stated by the 948 right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, by the fact that the noble Lord was not in the House when the views of the Government were made known. I venture to say that the noble Lord is the only person in the House who will stand up and declare that the views of Her Majesty's Government upon this question have been made clear. It is quite evident that everyone was completely muddled by the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, and that the right hon. Gentleman himself was not able to read the notes he had written for the purpose of enabling him to state the views of the Government. The noble Lord has said that guarantees were given by the Leader of the House that the Chair would intervene for the purpose of securing due debate on any subject. Now, that was not at all the promise made to us by the Leader of the House—it was quite of the opposite character to that. It simply went to save the Government from the obstruction which might naturally arise out of a Resolution of this kind if individual Members or minorities in this House had recourse to a practice which the Government wish to retain only for themselves—namely, if minorities should take it into their heads to exercise the privilege of getting up and moving "That the Question be now put." Of course, we have no such guarantee as that which is proposed by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), which, upon the very face of it, is a reasonable guarantee, and one which no argument can be advanced against. So far as I can see, it is quite possible that the very moment that a Question is proposed in this House any hon. Member may stand up and move "That the Question be now put," and the concession which the Leader of the House wishes us to believe he has made to the House as an equivalent for the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork is simply this—that where it appears to the Speaker that the Motion is an abuse of the Privileges of the House—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is not confining himself to the Amendment before the House, but to an Amendment to be proposed another day.
§ MR. T. C. HARRINGTON
I will only say, in conclusion, that if the Government have any real intention of as- 949 suring to hon. Members of this House the right to debate subjects brought forward, I fail to see why they should have any objection to the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Cork.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) can be aware of what was said earlier in the evening, because if he had he would not have said, in answer to my Colleague, that we have the safeguard that an opportunity will be afforded for debate in the terms of the Rule as proposed, inasmuch as it is necessary to obtain the consent of the Chair before the closure is applied. [Mr. CHAPLIN: I was not here.] The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, in the course of the somewhat irregular conversation, had promised to amend so as to do away with that consent. The right hon. Gentleman himself did not seem very clear as to the course he intended to pursue; but, at any rate, the only guarantee which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) relies on has clean gone, and therefore I trust we shall have his support in the Lobby.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
I congratulate the House on having escaped from a very serious dilemma, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) upon the firmness he showed in demanding to see the Amendment of the Government in black and white before we proceed to discuss it. We are assured that the Rule if allowed to stand as originally drafted, will not be put into execution to the disadvantage of minorities. Upon what grounds are we to trust it will not be put unduly into operation against minorities? We have the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith). I am prepared to attach some importance to the assurances of the right hon. Gentleman, judging from the urbanity he has displayed in the conduct of the Business of the House. I have no doubt, so long as the present First Lord of the Treasury occupies his present position on the Front Government Bench, that this Rule will not be unduly put in force against minorities. Now, we are also asked to trust to the Speaker, and we are told that, judging from the impartiality and fairness which you, Mr. 950 Speaker, and your immediate Predecessors have shown, the Rule will not be improperly enforced. But we must remember that neither the First Lord of the Treasury nor yourself, Mr. Speaker, will occupy your respective positions always. It has been found necessary in the past for this House and the country to place restrictions upon kings and upon people in high stations, and therefore it is absolutely necessary for the present generation not to abandon their liberties into the hands of any individuals whatever. The noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord John Manners) has said he has had experience of four Speakers, and that they have always been selected from the Party to which he was opposed. But the noble Lord has never had experience of a Radical Speaker; and it is quite possible that in the near future the Radical Party, numerically small at present, may be in a position to elect the Speaker. We have received the assurance that there will be adequate discussion permitted before the Question before the Chair is put; but I hold it does not rest with the First Lord of the Treasury or the Speaker to say when adequate discussion has taken place. It is provided by the Rules that the evident sense of the House should control both the Government and the Speaker. What is the evident sense of the House? Is it the opinion expressed by hon. Members who, when the bell rings, rush in from the Library or the Smoking Boom to outvote those who have paid attention to the course of the debate? Or is the evident sense of the House the opinion of those who return from convivial dinner parties, and with their full-dressed imaginations declare they know more about the subject than those who have been sitting through possibly a wearisome discussion in order to arrive at a just conclusion? The Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork is a very reasonable one, and we can do no better than discuss it to its fullest extent, and then take by a Division what will be the evident sense of the House in regard to it.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
I think that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has, at any rate, the advantage of being exceedingly opportune. If the object to be attained is that there should be 951 adequate debate, it is absolutely necessary that words like the hon. Member's should be introduced in the Rule. There is nothing on which the House can better exercise its talents than the protection of the rights of minorities. I cannot imagine why the Government should object to the addition of these words if they really desire that there should be adequate debate allowed. It appears to me that one of the reasons why the Government are so anxious to prevent the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork being adopted is that they are very recent converts to the closure, and being very recent converts, they are in a fog as to how to put the closure in motion. I hope that even at the last moment the Government will listen to the arguments used and accept this Amendment.
§ MR. E. HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
Mr. Speaker, it is a notorious fact that many hon. Members who will take part in the Division have not heard one word of the argument. The question at issue is simply whether the House of Commons is going to retain for itself the privilege of discussing any question that is brought legitimately before it. Now, the words of the Amendment are sufficiently elastic to give the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench ample opportunity of applying the clôture, while, at the same time, they preserve to us some semblance of the rights for which we covenanted when we became Members of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) adopted a very singular course in regard to this Amendment. He had not one word of intelligible argument to offer against the spirit of the Amendment, and yet he said he could not adopt the Amendment. Why? Simply because it was proposed by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell). The right hon. Gentleman went on to say the Government would adopt the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Somersetshire (Sir Richard Paget), but in the form they themselves preferred. He got fast in his elucidation of the intentions of the Government, and left the House in complete ignorance of what he really proposed to do. Now, will the House assent to the principle that there must be an opportunity of debate afforded before a Question is put from the Chair? It is all very well to talk about the pro- 952 tection that is afforded in the fair dealing of the Speaker or Chairman of Committees. That is a most illusory protection, because there will be the greatest possible temptation to future governments to elect a Party Speaker and a Party Chairman, in order that they may rush their own wishes at a gallop through the House. There can be no reasonable objection to the insertion of the words proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cork. What is the alternative of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to this Amendment? It is that words be inserted, providing that due regard be had to the protection of "the minority." I ask the House to particularly mark the words "the minority." There is no body recognized in the House but the Government and the Opposition. Indeed, I think we should be asked to adopt the words, "minorities and Members of the House," so that "the minority" and the "Government of the day" shall not be the only elements of consideration. I maintain that every hon. Member has inherent rights in the House of Commons. I look upon every Member as a possible minority in the House, and I therefore consider that the rights of individual Members ought to be protected. We do not ask, by this Amendment, that the words "after debate, "or after adequate debate," should be inserted; but that the words, "and opportunity afforded for debate thereon," shall be inserted. The House will make a great mistake if it omits to insert these words, which will secure ample opportunity for free debate.
MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)
This is the third time I have listened in the hope that a gleam of probability would appear that the right of speech in this House would be fenced around with some kind of safeguard. And again we have been met with what I may call the sole energy of the Government—the energy of silence. The Government are silent. I ask if they are simply mutes following with pretended sorrow the funeral of Constitutional privileges. A time may come when, possibly in this House, we may look above the Gangway and see disastrous incompetency enthroned as statesmanship; while below the Gangway we may see faction take the place of loyalty to Party. I ask where then will be the 953 Party who will protect freedom of debate and the expression of opinion? If this opportunity for debate be not given, it is possible that measures of great importance may be passed whilst our mouths are shut. The Ministry of the day may think discussion in this House in times of great international complications is not proper; but I ask if discussion is to be stopped for such a reason. Are the Government in such times to be not merely the libertines, but the autocrats of debate? If that is not the intention of hon. Members I call on them to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend.
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
I rise, Sir, to express a hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will expedite the Business before the House.
MR. T. M. HEALT (Longford, N.)
I desire to say a few words with regard to the position in which this House is placed by the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. H. Smith). The only position in which the right hon. Gentleman has left us after a debate of two hours, in which the Irish Party have unselfishly stood up for liberty of debate in this House, is a position of absolute darkness. We shall ourselves very soon be out of all liberty of debate, so that it matters very little what we do; but, at the same time, we are bound to make a certain stand even though in doing so we show undue devotion to the Conservative Party with whom we have been foolish enough to act in the past, and from whom we have met with a base return. The Government seem to suppose that being on the Treasury Bench they will remain there for ever—such is the state of beatitude of the First Lord of the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman is now lying on a bed of roses; last May when he was out of Office and a Member of the Committee on Procedure, he was upon a bed of thorns, and then he was extremely anxious to maintain the rights of minorities, and that nothing should be done to cripple freedom of debate. Again, in 1882, he was asking what security we had in simply appealing to the authority of the Chair. Now he tells my hon. Friend the Member for Cork that he need have no fear, because everything will be safe in the hands of the Speaker; 954 we are to place full confidence in the authority of the Chair. The noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord John Manners) seems to suppose that because we have full confidence in the authority of the Chair, we do not need the Amendment of my hon. Friend. But we have no voice in the Election of the Speaker; if we had, we should perhaps have the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) in the Chair. Not that I say, Sir, for one moment that you do not make an excellent substitute.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I shall certainly be most happy to abide by any ruling you may give, Sir. It is suggested by the Government that we should rely upon the authority of the Chair instead of something stated in the written Rules. I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is his objection to import something which will correspond to this into the Rules? It is surely desirable that when Rules are proposed by the Government they should know exactly what they mean; and by refusing to express this in the Rules, they leave open a point which will lead to interminable conflict with regard to matters of the utmost importance. Instead of that confidence which all Parties in the House have in the authority of the Speaker, you will hare conflict with the Chair, and a spirit of criticism with regard to the Chair such as at the present moment we have no idea of. The state of our relations with Mr. Speaker are now of the most happy character, and you propose by refusing to make a written Rule to bring about quite a different state of relations. I hope the Tory Party, however, will remember their Constitutional position in this House, where they have been frequently in minority and will be so again. The Government have not endeavoured to make clear what it is they want; they seem to suppose that we shall infer what that is; but I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to tell us the safeguard he proposes, and to place it on the Paper.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Sir, I do not entirely understand why it is that Her Majesty's Government find it to be their duty to oppose the introduction of these words. I own I should have thought that these words were completely in conformity with the spirit of those Amendments which we are approaching, and with which we have had the distinct intimation that Her Majesty's Government intend to agree. What are these words? They require that there shall be an opportunity for discussion. But that does not imply that there should be discussion. This proposal is simply an intimation to the Chair to the effect that there shall not be that rapidity of action which is entirely to shut out the opportunity of raising discussion if there should be a desire to raise it. It implies that there should be a reasonable pause before the Question is put, in case an hon. Member should wish to discuss any Amendment before the House. The proposal does appear to me completely in the spirit of those Amendments which I hope are about to be settled without any material difference of opinion. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has, I think with very sound judgment, forborne to introduce the obvious wording of "sufficient opportunity or ample opportunity;" all that he says is that some opportunity should be given for discussion, and I am sure that in supporting the insertion of these words we shall be doing no more than supporting a suggestion which is completely in accordance with the spirit of the Amendments which Her Majesty's Government have given us to understand they are ready to admit.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. E. STANHOPE) (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
Sir, I think the right hon. Gentleman, who has been for some time absent from the House, can hardly have any correct idea of the object of the amendment we have now before us. We on this side of the House all desire that, whenever any reasonable proposal is brought forward, an opportunity shall be afforded for its discussion at a reasonable length. But the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) assumes that on an Amendment of any character proposed in this House there shall be a discussion. What does that 956 mean? It means that on every line of every Bill that may be brought forward there shall be discussion; that an amendment may be raised on every item of Supply, and that there shall be a direction to the Speaker that discussion shall be allowed upon every such Amendment. That, Sir, is a suggestion which Her Majesty's Government are wholly unable to accept, and it is one which the right hon. Gentleman and those who think with him have themselves rejected.
MR. ILLING WORTH (Bradford, W.)
Sir, this House has not finally decided as to whether you should be called upon to take part in the question of the application of the closure otherwise than by simply putting the Question. But surely there can be nothing more moderate than the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell). I refuse to admit that there is any reflection on the Chair when it is proposed that there should be some security for the liberty of debate. I think that the highest compliment that can be made to the Speaker of the House is to say that absolute confidence should be placed in him in interpreting the Rules of the House; and I object altogether to the arbitrary power proposed to be given to the Speaker when it is said that there should be no discretion whatever given to him as to whether debate should ensue on any Motion or not. I think the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) is in perfect harmony with the assurance given by the Leader of the House over and over again; and I am amazed that there should be suspicion thrown on the good faith of those hon. Members who have no hesitation in accepting this Amendment. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork is clear enough; there is security given for debate, and liberty for debate; and it will fall upon you, Sir, or your Successors to determine whether that liberty has been abused or not. I should be sorry to pass this Rule without having security given to us that there shall be absolute freedom left in the House to discuss any Question which may come under discussion in the interest of the country. For these reasons, I shall vote with the hon. Member for Cork.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 186; Noes 241: Majority 55.—(Div. List, No. 33.)
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Sir, the Amendment which I now propose to move in this place is intended to provide that there shall be an opportunity afforded for the making of an Amendment before the closure can be applied. As the Resolution now stands, it will be possible, before any discussion takes place on the Main Question, or after discussion has commenced on the Main Question and has proceeded for some little distance, and before any Amendment has been moved to the Main Question, with the leave of the Chair to ask that the Question be now put; and if the House so decide by the necessary majority the Question will be put, and that without any opportunity being accorded for discussion. This will very unjustly affect the right of minorities in two different ways. It will affect it in debate on Bills and abstract Motions, and it will affect it in Committees of the Whole House and in Committee of Supply; but it will more injuriously affect the right of minorities in Committee of Supply and in Committees of the Whole House than in any other way. Let us consider the proceedings that would take place in the case of a Bill in Committee. A clause is moved, the Question is put from the Chair, and the Question "That this clause be added to the Bill" may be put from the Chair; the clôture may be moved on the Question, and the Question may be decided without an opportunity being accorded to any Member of opposing the clause, which may become part of the Bill without any Amendment whatever. Against such an abuse as this it is that I have suggested the adoption of this Amendment. By it provision will be made that the clôture shall not be moved to the original Question, but to the secondary Question. I admit, of course, that all these matters depend very much upon the character, disposition, and feelings of the majority; but those qualities vary month by month and day by day, and they vary also in individuals. You may have a Prime Minister of one sort, and next year you may have a Prime Minister of a different sort; and in the same way, a majority which to-day may be passive, may 958 to-morrow be burning with irritation against its opponents. The nature of man is to be carried away with the feelings and impulses of the moment. That is what we have to guard against in these cases; and it is our object to assure that the Rules we are now considering shall not be unfit for the purpose for which they are intended. What are we to understand is the purpose of this Rule? We have to take it from the declarations of Her Majesty's Government and their supporters; and it is, they say, to prevent excessive and protracted, and too prolonged debate; debate originating in the purpose of obstruction; they say that it is not intended to stop Amendments to clauses of Bills, or to Main Questions of any kind. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has repeatedly declared that he would desire that there should be full opportunity afforded to minorities to move Amendments; and I am sure that that would be the desire of the right hon. Gentleman, although he may change his mind, and we at all events are not obliged to believe that he will be always of the same mind as he is to-night. How do we approach this question of affording to minorities the right of moving Amendments? We approach it in view of the Report of the Committee of last Session. It was carefully provided in the Report of that Committee, which was presided over by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), that there should be no advance upon the power of the closure already possessed under the Rules of the House until the House had been sitting till 12 o'clock at night, and that then the closure should only apply to the Orders which were at the head of the list of Public Business; in other words, it was seen clearly that the power of summary closure, as provided by the Rule before us, was liable to abuse, and the whole right was given to minorities to move their Amendments and speak upon them before the Minister could ask that the closure should be applied. That is the clôture of the Select Committee of 1886, which gave the margin of a whole night to the minority to discuss the Main Question with Amendments. Well, Sir, with all that margin, it was considered to be too stringent and too dangerous by the Party now in Office, and they 959 presented a minority Report in accordance with those views. We may assume, that if the late Government had been able to bring forward that Closure Resolution, with its strictly guarded provisions and its safeguards against abuse, that the Representatives of the present Government, including the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, would have strongly protested, and have spent days, and weeks, and months of the time of the House, as they did in 1882, in protesting against the insufficiency of the safeguards which surrounded the Closure Rule, safeguards which we should gladly welcome as being far in excess of what I am asking for under the Amendment which I have placed upon the Paper. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he is acting fairly towards the Opposition in the stern attitude of non possumus which he has taken up on this question? He must see by this time, that his Rule is more far-reaching and more drastic than he had any conception of when this discussion commenced; and that many Members of the House view with alarm the consequences which may result in the absence of all safeguards. Does he think it is in accordance with the traditions of the Conservative Party that a Rule like this—a two-edged weapon—should be passed without some addition that there shall be power to the minority to move Amendments? Does he think that posterity will hold him and his Party blameless in giving away the rights of minorities? After all, this is not a question of a day or a year. The right hon. Gentleman may suppose it is a desirable thing to pass a stringent regulation in order to pass through a severe time; but when he has got that he may find that he is no better off than he was, just as Governments have found that, having got Coercion Acts passed, they have been worse off than before. The right hon. Gentleman should remember that a Minister is only the creature of a day—a gaudy butterfly flying round the lamp of power, who may find his wings singed by the exercise; but, however that may be, the right hon. Gentleman, as Leader of the Conservative Party, has important traditions to preserve in this matter. He has to remember that his Party has been, for the last 50 years, in five cases out of six, the Party of minority, and that it will be, in all probability, the 960 Party of minority in the future. I invite him to give us a helping hand in the fight we are now making on behalf of minorities. It is not a matter which can affect us for many years. I suppose our time here, however matters may turn out, will be limited; but it is a matter which concerns the Party of the right hon. Gentleman very deeply. This House has many privileges and many rights to guard—rights of property, inherited rights—and I entreat him, while we are on the threshold of this great question, not to turn his back upon this Amendment, but to see that there are inserted in this Rule safeguards for the protection of the rights of minorities such as that which I now beg to move.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1, by inserting after the word "proposed" the words "if no Amendment has been moved thereto."—Mr. Parnell.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Parnell) has made to me a very earnest appeal to endeavour to protect the rights of minorities. I have listened, with very great attention, to the speech of the hon. Gentleman; but I will repeat what I have said in this House on many occasions—that I believe there will be ample security for the rights of minorities in the Rule now before us; and that the Rule is simply directed against that licence of speech which has existed in this House for several Sessions past. I understand that the proposal of the hon. Gentleman will require that the closure should be moved upon every Amendment, however frivolous, however frequently repeated in substance, so that Amendments in Supply on items of the most minute character would necessitate repeated Divisions before the ultimate decision of the Committee could be taken. I say to that what an hon. Member has already said—that no Member of the House would dare to propose the closure of debate arbitrarily without giving the House ample and sufficient opportunity for debate. On the other hand, no one standing in the position which I occupy ought to furnish to those who really seek to turn the Rules and Orders of the House into a means of Obstruction, with another weapon, or 961 means of impeding the progress of debate; which, if this Amendment were adopted, would certainly be the case. We have occupied much, I will not say too much, time with the discussion of this Rule, and I would point out to the hon. Member that having to discuss questions which have been decided on analogous proposals, has only the effect of closing those days which the hon. Member, I believe, wishes, and which I am myself anxious, should be available for private Members. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to consider the principles involved in the Rule before the House. If he will do that, and allow the House rapidly to arrive at a decision on the main principles involved in this Rule, the House will then speedily regain control over its own time, and be able also fully to maintain the rights and liberties of the minorities.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
Sir, I am at a loss to understand how anyone can imagine the speech we have just heard pertinent to the Amendment. It has sufficed, however, to let us see what is in the breast of the Government, and it is in this, that in applying the clôture to an Amendment, we shall also apply it to the Original Question. Strangle the mother, and you strangle the children also. It comes to this, that if you have an Amendment upon an Amendment, by putting the clôture upon that, the Original Question must be put straight away. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury took refuge in generalities, and said that the hon. Member for Cork wished to put the House back again into the position of master of its own debates, and he spoke of vicious licence which had prevailed of late years. Perhaps he would permit me to point out that the Member to whom his words would best apply is the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill); who, with others like him, has flourished under the shadow of liberty which the right hon. Gentleman is now attempting to cut down. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has been rightly interpreted as only a declaratory Amendment, and I myself should be surprised if it were anything else. The hon. Member has given attention to this question of Procedure for many years; in fact, he has had occasion to study it ab initio. It should be conceded, therefore, that he is 962 likely to have a better opinion of the stringency of the Rule than most Members. He brings forward an Amendment declaratory of what ought to be the law of the House—stating that you shall not clôture the Original Question when you clôture an Amendment. I think it a matter of great misfortune that the First Lord of the Treasury, when he sought to reply to my hon. Friend, did not give us his own views as to what would be possible under the Rule he proposes, either with the Amendment of my hon. Friend or without it. No one can contend for a moment that if this Rule is passed the Amendment of my hon. Friend will not be in accordance with its spirit. If you negative the Amendment you will thereby place in the hands of the Speaker an extraordinary weapon. Let us suppose the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech is under consideration. You may have an Amendment proposed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings) on the Question of Allotments, and if that is carried on for an inordinately long period and someone proposes that the clôture should be put on, subsequent Amendments will be out of Order. Will the House allow that for a moment? And yet that would be the state of things if the view of the First Lord of the Treasury is correct. That would be an enormous misfortune, and I beg the young Democratic Members of the Conservative Party, who may hope, with the example of the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington before them, to rise to the position of ex-Chancellors of the Exchequer, to consider carefully the position they will be placing themselves in by supporting the view of the First Lord of the Treasury. [Cries of "Order!"] I would ask hon. Members opposite to preserve some kind of patience, and I would appeal to them to have regard to this Rule as it appears in its hideous nakedness. Are we to be told when we know that Governments are put out of Office by the passing of an Amendment to the Address, that by carrying a proposal for the clôture on an Amendment you kill all other Amendments, and prevent further discussion on the Original Question? It appears to me highly injudicious for the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury by 963 answers confined to generalities to attempt to get rid of an inconvenient debate.
§ MR. SCLATER - BOOTH (Hants, Basingstoke)
I am going to vote against this Amendment as I voted against the last, not because I undervalue the importance of limiting the imposition of the clôture, but because I think the limitation can be more conveniently discussed on an Amendment which will come before the House very soon. I think the House is hardly now sufficiently alive to the importance of some limitation. It is impossible to sever one of these proposals from the other. Recollect that the clôture which hitherto has been in abeyance, having only been exercised once or twice in the course of as many years, will in future be a matter of every night's occurrence. If you are to limit the period of our Sittings—if our Business is to conclude when the clock strikes 12 four nights in the week, you will have the clôture every night that the House sits. It is important, therefore, that the exact conditions of the clôture should be settled, and settled carefully. I hope the House will pass away from the Amendment we have before us, and come to grapple with the question at issue, which will be raised as soon as the controversy is settled between the Government and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). I proposed, originally, that the question of the limitation of the clôture should be put in a proviso at the end of the Rule. The Government desired that it should come in at an earlier period, and, therefore, they proposed to adopt the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Wells Division of Somersetshire, which is practically mine. They do not adopt that Amendment in its entirety, but have adopted variations in its language, and these variations I trust they will put on the Paper before to-morrow morning. We shall then have an opportunity of seeing what they propose; but whatever the alterations in the hon. Baronet's Amendment, I beg of the House to consider the importance of having some limitation that every human being can understand, for this if for no other reason, that whereas the clôture has been only a possible element in our discussions hitherto, to 964 be availed of only in great emergencies, it will be, if this Rule is adopted, a matter that will come before the House, and be present to the House, on every occasion that it sits.
MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)
From the Ministerial Bench has come a voice of warning. I do hope that the voice of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) will not be, to that side of the House, as the voice of one crying in the wilderness. We have heard generous sentiments from Gentlemen opposite, many of whom, no doubt, feel that the principles won by the blood and the genius of their forefathers should not be, like simple gamblers' counters, dissipated to the winds. The First Lord of the Treasury has spoken in terms of deprecation of what he calls the vicious licence of speech. Well, the same observation was made applicable to a great name in English literature—the great name of Milton, when he published his Defence of the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing. We are raising our protest against attacks upon the liberty of unlicensed speech. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that it is his belief that liberty of speech will not be affected by this Rule, as it stands, without the Amendment. We cannot see that through the right hon. Gentleman's eyes. We must look through the eyes of practical experience. From hon. Members sitting on this Bench—many of whom have suffered for their speeches—has come forth much evidence in defence of liberty of speech in this House; consequently I shall support the Amendment of my hon. Friend. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, all through his argument, and the many speeches he has addressed to the House—few, perhaps, in comparison with the voices of warning and entreaty which have come to him from these Benches—says that the powers he seeks will not be pushed to an extreme limit. But the same argument may be applied in curtailment of every liberty we possess. We ask the right hon. Gentleman to meet us in a spirit of compromise as an endeavour to maintain one of the few remaining safeguards we possess.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 116; Noes 302: Majority 186.—(Div. List, No. 34.)965
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Mr. Speaker, I do not propose to move the next Amendment standing in my name, as the principle has been decided by the last Question.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The next Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Tyrone (Mr. M. J. Kenny) is also precluded by what the House has already done. The House has sanctioned the adoption of the clôture while the Speaker is in the Chair, while the House is in Committee, and on going into Committee of Supply. To excludethe Motion for the Second Reading of any Bill introduced on the responsibility of the Government,seems to be based on no intelligible principle, and is in opposition to what the House has already sanctioned.
§ MR. SPEAKER
As I understand, this is a limitation upon what the House has already decided. The clôture is to be applicable when the Speaker is in the Chair, and in Committee of Supply. Now, the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Parnell) proposes to confine the application of the clôture to a special hour. That is in opposition to what the House has already decided.
§ MR. PARNELL
Perhaps I may be permitted to say that my proposal to limit the application of the clôture tomidnight on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and half-past 5 of the clock on Wednesdays,is based upon the Report of the Select Committee of 1886.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Gentleman had moved an independent Amendment to the effect that there should be an automatic closure at midnight, that would be an entirely different thing; but it appears to me that the acceptance of this Amendment would be a direct stultification of what the House has already done. The House has decided that the closure should be applicable at the different stages I have mentioned, and it is impossible to suppose that all these stages could occur at midnight.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
rose in order to move to insert after "proposed" in line 1, "on a Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday."
§ MR. SPEAKER
For the reasons I have just given, it appears to me that the hon. and gallant Member's Amendment is out of Order.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
My Amendment is simply to exclude Tuesdays and Wednesdays from the operation of the closure, and I submit we have done nothing to prevent me moving such an Amendment.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Gentleman might just as well exclude Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
I submit, Sir, that we have done nothing yet as to what days the Closure Rule is to be put into operation, and what days it shall not be applied.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The application of the clôture to a particular day in the week would be inconsistent with what we have already done. After what has been decided, we cannot confine the clôture to any particular hour or night. If Amendments of this sort are to be allowed, they may be carried to any length.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I can hardly think you mean, Mr. Speaker, that if we agree to a principle, we are not to move a limitation of that principle. All I understand my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Nolan) to propose is, that what are called private Members' days should be exempt from the application of the closure.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
I will raise no question upon these Amendments, but for our future guidance I should like to know whether it is possible, by way of proviso, for instance, when we have laid down a general Rule, to resolve that the Rule may, under certain circumstances, be suspended or limited to particular times and to particular days—in fact, whether the passing of a general Rule would exclude altogether the passing of a proviso which would limit the adoption of that Rule in some way or other.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am not prepared to say that a special proviso might not be introduced, relating to Tuesday and Wednesday sittings, inasmuch as private Members' Bills and Motions would be then before the House; but I am clearly of opinion that the ruling I have laid down is a sound one—namely, that the House having sanctioned a general 967 principle, it would be out of Order to attempt to reduce it to a minimum by a series of minute and trivial exceptions.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
Will you allow me, Sir, to alter my Amendment, so as to exempt Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The effect of such an Amendment will be exactly the same as that on the Paper.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The House has agreed that the clôture shall be generally applicable. I think the exception the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to make might be made by way of a proviso, considering the circumstances of private Members.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
Then I will move an Amendment in the shape of a proviso, enacting that the Rule shall not apply to Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I meant, of course, that the proviso should come at the end. A proviso cannot be inserted in the middle of a clause.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
Would I be in Order, Mr. Speaker, in moving upon this Amendment the adjournment of the House?
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
, who had the following Amendment on the Paper:—Rule 1, line 1, leave out from 'proposed,' to end of line 4, and insert 'A Member rising in his place may move 'That the Question be now put,' and if it shall appear to the Chair that, having due regard to the rights of the minority, it is proper that the sense of the House, or of the Committee, should be taken, as to whether or not the subject has been adequately discussed, he shall so inform the House or the Committee, and, in such case, shall forthwith put the said Question 'That the Question be now put,' which shall be decided without Amendment or Debate.said: Mr. Speaker, the Amendment which stands in my name raises a question of very considerable importance. I put it on the Paper with the view of facilitating the Business of the House, and of arriving at a solution of a question of considerable difficulty. In the course of this evening's debate, I understood you, Sir, to suggest that it would be an assistance to the proceedings if the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) were to reduce my Amendment to such words as he 968 thought desirable, and that then it should be open to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) to introduce the subject in which he is specially interested. In view of that suggestion, and having every desire to facilitate the Business of the House, I do not propose to move my Amendment, but to leave it in the hands of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury, so that he may move it in the form that to him may seem best.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
From what the hon. Baronet has just said, it may be convenient to the House that I should read the form in which I propose to move the Amendment. Having regard to the period of the evening (12.20), and to the fact that the Amendment is not on the Paper in the precise terms in which I propose to move it, I will only now read it, and then move the adjournment of the debate, in order that the Amendment may be taken as the first Business to-morrow morning. The Amendment will run thus—To leave out from the word "proposed," in line 1, to the end of line 4, and insert the words—A Member rising in his place may claim to move, 'That the Question be now put,' and, unless it shall appear to the Chair that such Motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority, the Question, 'That the Question be now put,' shall be put forthwith, and decided, without Amendment or Debate.I must express my acknowledgments to my hon. Friend (Sir Richard Paget) for having waived his right to move his Amendment. I believe the Amendment which I propose will substantially accomplish all I have undertaken to the House, and will afford the opportunity to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) which I understand he desires to have.
In line 1, by leaving out from the word "proposed," to the end of line 4, and inserting the words—"A Member rising in his place may claim to move, 'That the Question be now put,' and, unless it shall appear to the Chair that such Motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority, the Question, 'That the Question be now put,' shall be put forthwith, and decided, without Amendment or Debate."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'a Motion may be made' stand part of the Question."
MR. PAENELL (Cork)
I really must protest against the course which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) has thought proper to adopt. Notice was given of this Rule in due course, and it is to be assumed that the right hon. Gentleman knew his own mind. The debate commenced on this Rule, and various Amendments have been proposed. The question, which the right hon. Gentleman has now brought forward to meet this Amendment, was raised several days ago, and since then the right hon. Gentleman has, I suppose, been carrying about this Amendment concealed upon his person, and he has not deigned or vouchsafed until this evening to inform the House of its terms. I submit that it is in accordance with precedent—that it is in accordance with the custom and usage of the House; that it is in accordance with the habits of Members of the House—to give due Notice of any Motion or Amendment proposed to be moved. It is not reasonable that the right hon. Gentleman should come forward with an Amendment of this kind just as the House is about to adjourn, and announce that he will propose it at 12 o'clock to-morrow. How are we to know what attitude to take regarding this Amendment, when we have had no Notice of it? I do not wish to describe the course of proceedings and the negotiations which we may assume have taken place between the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) and his follower (Sir Richard Paget); but we saw that an Amendment was put down in the name of that hon. Gentleman, and that if it was put down for any purpose at all, it must have been to forestall the Amendment which was to be moved by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). When the Amendment has served its purpose, the hon. Gentleman (Sir Richard Paget) declines to move it, and thereupon the Leader of the House springs an Amendment upon the House in its place. I do not know what position we are drifting into in the consideration of these Rules owing to the shiftless and nerveless character of the Leadership of the right hon. Gentleman. It seems to me that 970 we are carrying on this debate with the probability before us that Amendments of an important character may be sprung upon us by the Leader of the House at a moment's notice. How are we to consider this Amendment between now and 12 o'clock to-morrow. There are just 11½ hours left to us for the purpose of sleep and the consideration of this important Resolution, which is to remedy all the defects in this extraordinary compilation in the shape of Rules of Procedure. I submit that the right hon. Gentleman ought to adjourn this Debate until next Friday, in order to allow Wednesday to be devoted to the work of private Members, and Thursday to be taken up with Supply; and in order that we may see what is the nature, tendency, and bearing of this Amendment. It may be that the Amendment will settle everything, and that everybody will be satisfied—that the lion will lie down with the lamb. At all events, the right hon. Gentleman should give his Amendment some chance. The only chance it has at present is that of being misunderstood. I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be adjourned till To-morrow."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ MR. PARNELL
I rise to move, as an Amendment, that the debate be resumed on Friday. I submit that it is impossible for the House to resume the discussion on the important Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman this day. Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not suppose that we can come to a decision on this Question at so short a notice. Does he intend that Members of this House shall have time to move an Amendment to this proposal, or does he come down, like Jupiter from the clouds, and tell us that this is his will, and that we must obey it? Is he the House, or does the House consist of its Members? Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to have everything taken on his own ipse dixit?
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "To-morrow," in order to insert the word "Friday."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word, 'To-morrow' stand part of the Question."971
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
Sir, I must say that the strictures which the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has been pleased to pass on my right hon. Friend are utterly undeserved, and as incoherent as they are undeserved. At one moment, the hon. Member condemns the shifty and nerveless action of the right hon. Gentleman, and at another, he spoke of him as Jupiter coming down from the clouds. As a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has displayed, in the most remarkable manner, qualities of tact, patience, and firmness; and it is because those qualities are beginning to make their mark upon the House, that such burning indignation has been called forth from the hon. Member for Cork, who is generally so placid and calm of speech. Let me observe that the whole of the hon. Member's speech consisted of imputations, for which, I venture to say, there was no foundation whatever. He says, first of all, that this Amendment has been sprung upon the House. I say that the moment the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Wells Division of Somerset (Sir Richard Paget) was reached, it was the absolute and positive duty of the Leader of the House to deal with the Amendment and to state to the House the manner in which he proposed to do so; and, accordingly, in the most open and candid manner, he placed the views of the Government before the House. And not only that, but in order that the House might have an opportunity of considering it, he stated that he would move the adjournment at once and proceed with the debate to-morrow. The hon. Member proposes that the debate should be adjourned till Friday. I venture to say that we have had too many Adjournments already, and that if these Rules are to be carried, as undoubtedly they will be carried, we should proceed with them with the smallest possible delay. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not for one moment entertain the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY) (Longford, N.
I venture to promise the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down the next Cabinet Ministership. Everyone on the Treasury Bench must admit that he has deserved it by the encomium he has passed on the First Lord of the Trea- 972 sury; and, for my part, knowing his admirable qualifications, I should have no difficulty in conferring it upon him. The proposal of the hon. Member for Cork is that we should be afforded time for the consideration of the Amendment which the First Lord of the Treasury has just put forward. That, I think, will not be considered a strong request, having regard to the fact that to-morrow is a private Members' day. There are many points in the Amendment which are difficult to understand. One part of it is ungrammatical, and, although we do not necessarily expect grammar in Amendments, we do expect sense. I ask whether anybody can understand the wording of this Amendment? I say that, for that purpose, time is necessary; and, if we are allowed time to consider the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, we may perhaps be able to knock the bottom out of it. We may have an opportunity of bringing argument to bear upon the Government. One of the great qualities displayed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) is that he is not insensible to argument; and, therefore, in order that he may not be persuaded by argument, he has now left the House. I hope that we shall not be asked to come down to the House to-morrow, and enter upon the discussion of this Amendment, which would be more than human nature could bear.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT) (Derby
Sir, although I cannot support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) at this period of the Session, when time presses, yet I cannot but agree that the Government have placed the House in very considerable difficulty, for no one can deny that, by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, the House is called upon to discuss an entirely new Rule. It is different in principle from the Rule deliberately introduced by the Government some weeks ago. I think it is a very great pity that, when this question as to the part which the Speaker is to take in the application of the closure was raised more than a week ago, the Government could not make up their mind as to what they would do on the subject. The question has been very much discussed both inside and outside the House, and surely the Government, with that before them, ought to have come to a decision 973 as to what alteration they would agree to in the proposed Rule. It will not, I think, shorten or facilitate the Business of the House that the Government, having deliberately placed one plan on the Paper, should now come down and propose a different plan; and I cannot but consider that, in doing this, the Government have taken a very inconvenient course.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
Sir, my right hon. Friend (Sir William Harcourt) has, as usual, been extremely amusing; but I doubt whether he has been, at the same time, extremely fair. He blames the Government for having, as he says, introduced a new Rule—for having considered as we were challenged to do, the various Amendments that have been proposed in different parts of the House. At the commencement of these proceedings we stated that we were not so enamoured of the precise form in which these Rules were drawn, as not to take into consideration suggestions made in any quarter of the House; and I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman opposite would have said if we had stood to the words originally proposed and had refused to listen to those suggestions. The right hon. Gentleman says that he does not think that any alteration of the proposals of the Government will facilitate the progress of Business. I am certain, however, that the rejection of every proposed alteration would not facilitate the progress of Business. There has been the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Stuart); that of the hon. Baronet behind me (Sir Richard Paget), and the Amendments of other hon. Gentlemen, which we have considered, and that with the desire to obtain the greatest amount of acquiescence from the House. We have acted in this matter with the concurrence of Members on this side, and also with the concurrence of many hon. Gentlemen on the other side; and notwithstanding the taunts of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Government will continue to listen to any reasonable Amendments which may come from different parts of the House, believing that by so doing they will promote the transaction of Business.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
Sir, The right hon. Gentle- 974 man the Chancellor of the Exchequer is never very amusing, very rarely fair, and seldom accurate. The right hon. Gentleman has undoubtedly misapprehended the opinions that have been expressed with regard to the Amendment which has been brought forward by the Government. No one has complained—neither the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), nor any of my hon. Friends, that the Government have listened to Amendments which have come from different parts of the House. The burden of complaint is entirely different. It is that the Government have not given the House timely Notice of the Amendment which they intended to propose. Let me state to the House what has taken place. The First Lord of the Treasury after a hurried conversation with a right hon. Gentleman, sprung this Amendment upon the House. I am in the recollection of the House, and I appeal to my hon. Friend to say whether or not the right hon. Gentleman was in absolute ignorance of the words of the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have now the courage and the unfairness to ask the House to consider at once the terms of an Amendment of which they themselves were ignorant a few hours ago. [Interruption.] I shall be sorry to have to move the adjournment of the debate; but if these discourteous interruptions continue, I shall take that course. I point out that the Amendment of the Member for the Basingstoke Division of Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was on the Paper as far back as last Thursday, and last Friday the First Lord of the Treasury announced that he would be willing to accept the spirit of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Shoreditch; but we have not yet had on the Paper the exact words in which the Government said they would carry out the spirit of that Amendment, and I think it is treating the House with disrespect that we should be allowed to spend several days without knowing what were the intentions of the Government.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. T. P. O'Connor.)
And Mr. SPEAKER
, being of opinion that the Motion was an abuse of the Rules of the House, put the Question forthwith.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 110; Noes 243: Majority 133.—(Div. List, No. 35.)
§ Original Question proposed, "That the word 'To-morrow' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I am glad to see the First Lord of the Treasury back in the House. I share entirely with him the desire that Business should be done as rapidly as possible, and the right hon. Gentleman is himself so conciliatory that I do think I shall be able to show him that the most desirable thing that can be done in the interest of debate is to agree to the Motion of my hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell). On Thursday last, or about a week ago, I think the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Basingstoke Division of Hants was placed on the Table. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House then said that he would accept the spirit of the Amendment. Well, I hardly think that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman has sprung on us does accept so absolutely the spirit of that Amendment. We may suppose that since the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman was put down, the Cabinet have consulted together and considered in what way they could receive it. They have had several days to consider it; and we, surely, should have a little more than twelve hours. It cannot be considered extraordinary if we fail to realize and appreciate the Amendment, seeing that we have only just had it placed before us, and that the Cabinet took several days to make it up. It is most desirable that there should be a conciliatory spirit shown, in order that there should be nothing to interfere with healthy debate in dealing with Rules of Procedure. Is it possible that anything will be gained by the right hon. Gentleman insisting upon coming down here at 12 o'clock to-morrow in order to discuss this Amendment? Why, Sir, I am not a prophet; but if I were one, I would say that at 6 o'clock to-morrow no advance will have been made; and why? The reason is this—that anxious as we are to discuss the matter, everyone knows that when Members do not understand a thing they find it difficult to make progress upon it. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it really would conduce to 976 do that which he and I are so anxious for—namely, get us rapidly through these Rules of Procedure, and enable the right hon. Gentleman, as he says on his side, to engage in the Business of the Session, and enable us, on our side, to know what the Business of the Session will be, if he would give way on this point. We are both anxious to make progress, and it really will conduce to our getting to the end of the Procedure Rules if the right hon. Gentleman will concede this point, which I think is a fair and legitimate one—that we should have a day to consider that which the Cabinet itself has taken a week to think over.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I wish always to adopt a conciliatory attitude towards an hon. Member who is so conciliatory himself towards me. The hon. Gentleman has said that no progress will be made to-morrow, and he says he is not a prophet. Why, Sir, I think he has a wonderful gift of prophecy. I can only say I shall deeply regret it if no progress is made to-morrow; but, whether or no, I certainly think it my duty to the House and to the country to persevere in the Motion I have made.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I only just wish to give the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury a practical instance of the extreme trouble he is giving Members of this House, and, perhaps, it may force him to reconsider his decision. I have given Notice of an Amendment to the effect that an hour's debate shall be allowed, leaving out from the words "that the Question be now put." I have not seen the Amendment of the Government, and I have had to hand mine in prepared in a very slip-shod fashion. If we had had the Amendment before us, we should have been able to see the whole of it, and to have put down Notices to it. I now beg to point out the extreme inconvenience caused by the course taken by the Government. We shall all be groping in the dark, and, moreover, we shall be greatly prejudiced by not being able to put down our Amendments to-night.
§ MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
I must protest against the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury that it is to the interest of the country to resist the Motion made. For my own part, I do not believe it to be to the interests of the country that 977 the Representatives of the country should be hurried or flurried in these matters. It is impossible for Members to discuss new Amendments without ample time for consideration. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby has pointed out, the Amendment of the Government contains new principles most fatal to minorities. I think that the proposal of the hon. Member for Cork is most reasonable, and that the House and the country should have between this and next Friday to consider the Government Amendment.
MR. ILLING WORTH (Bradford, W.)
No doubt a considerable length of time has been devoted to the consideration of this Rule; in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, perhaps an undue length of time. But, on the other hand, there may be undue haste in attempting to force through the House a serious alteration in the Rule the Government have proposed. When we meet to-morrow, we shall have had very little time to consider the Amendment which has been deliberately adopted by the Cabinet. Why was not the House taken into the confidence of the Government? Why was not ample time given in order that the House might be able to consider this Amendment as it has had the chance of considering other Amendments? If this Amendment has been hastily adopted, then, for the sake of the Government itself, as well as of the House at large, I think it would be of advantage that we should postpone the debate until Friday. Why is it that the hon. Member for the Wells Division of Somersetshire has withdrawn his Amendment? He has done it in concert with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. If that is so, clearly the right hon. Gentleman had to provide a substitute, and it is evident that he had not consulted his Colleagues as to the phraseology of the alteration of the Rule, for he brought the Paper into the House, and was not himself able to communicate its terms to us. This important modification which has been stated to the House to-night, I think I am right in saying, was hastily put together by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in consultation with the First Lord of the Treasury. To ask the House to proceed in such a hasty and 978 irregular manner is to exact too much from it. It is not an ordinary third class Bill that we are considering, but the most important Rule which can be submitted to Parliament, and one which will influence the proceedings of Parliament for some time to come. If hon. Gentlemen opposite had been sitting on this side of the House, and this trick had been attempted to be played upon them, they would have been loud in their denunciations. We want time to consider the words of the proposal of the Government and the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth). I, for one, venture to think that no anticipation could be more correct than the prophecy of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). Coming hastily as this proposal does, it must appear suspicious; and I think the Government would be adopting the best means of facilitating Business if they postponed the discussion till Friday and took Supply to-morrow.
§ MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I do not think—[Loud and continued cries of "Divide!"] I do not think the House has any right to complain of my rising. This is the first occasion on which—[Cries of "Divide!"] This is the first occasion on which I have interposed in this debate, and it seems to me that if no Members are to speak a single word upon this matter—[Cries of "Divide!"] I have not spoken in this debate before. I am addressing myself to Mr. Speaker and not to you. I think I may fairly ask for two or three minutes of the attention of the hon. Members opposite, who claim to have all the intelligence if not all the courtesy of the House on their side. I only wish to place before the House, in a few words, my reasons for supporting the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) in respect to this matter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) made a pointed reference just now to the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage), and gave that as a reason for the action of the Government in this matter. It appears to me perfectly clear that the Government, finding that some of their Unionist Supporters were likely to go against them, have thrown their political somersault and sprung this Amendment on the House. It is impossible to con- 979 sider, at a moment's notice, this revolutionary change in the attitude of the Government. We are entitled to ask for a little more than eight or 10 hours in which to consider the present proposition of the Government. It is not as if this were a mere verbal alteration; but it is an entirely new proposal, a proposal absolutely different in every particular to that the Government had pinned their faith upon during the last week. I have no doubt we shall be charged with Obstruction; but we are not the real Obstructionists.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I submit, of course, to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I did not mean to charge hon. Members opposite with any offence. I will only—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to the Motion before the House; that is what I was referring to.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I understand your ruling, Sir. I will only say, in conclusion, that we on this side of the House are entitled to as much consideration in respect to this proceeding on the part of the Government as any Members on the other side. The claim we make for only a few hours' delay is really one that we are entitled to press upon Her Majesty's Government. If it were 7 o'clock in the evening instead of half-past 1 in the morning, the case would be different. It is perfectly obvious we have had no opportunity of considering the bearings of this Amendment, and therefore I heartily support the propositien of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell).
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 223; Noes 97: Majority 126.—(Div. List, No. 36.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.