HC Deb 02 March 1887 vol 311 cc980-1020

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to 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 he requisite to bring to a decision any Question already proposed from the Chair; and also if a Clause be then under consideration, a Motion may be made (with the consent of the Chair as aforesaid) That the Question, That the Clause stand part, or be added to the Bill, be now put. Such Motions shall be put forthwith, and decided without Amendment or Debate: Provided always, That Questions for the Closure of Debate shall not be decided in the affirmative, if a Division be taken, unless it shall appear by the numbers declared from the Chair, that such Motion was supported by more than Two Hundred Members, or was opposed by less than Forty Members, and supported by more than One Hundred Members."—[Mr. William Henry Smith.) And which Amendment was, In line 1, by leaving out from the word "proposed," to the end of line 4, in order to 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.—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)

Question again proposed, "That the words 'a Motion may be made' stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.

MR. LEAKE (Lancashire, S.E., Radcliffe)

The first Amendment on the Paper stands in my name—namely, to amend the Amendment by inserting after the word "Member" the words "of the Government, or the mover or seconder of the Motion then in Debate, or the mover or seconder of an Amendment thereto." When the Amendment was first placed on the Paper this Rule was in a different position from that which it now occupies. At that time you, Sir, were to be entirely responsible, by your decision for every assent given from the Chair to the closure of debate. It was my wish, acting in accord with a considerable number of hon. Members, that the Chair should be shielded from an undue call for the exercise of its judgment. If the House were to assent to the Amendment of the Leader of the House as it now stands, our debates would be liable to interruption from every one of the 670 Members who sit in this House. I am afraid if this power wore entrusted to every hon. Member of the House, judgiug from my short experience in this Chamber, that it might at times be exercised in a somewhat eccentric manner.


I rise to Order. I wish to know whether the House has already resolved to leave out the word "proposed" to the end of line 4. Would the hon. Member's Amendment be regular before the House has had an opportunity of discussing whether the words proposed to be left out by the Amendment of the Leader of the House should be left out, because the leaving out of those words makes a radical change in the Rule as it stands.


The Amendment is accurately stated in the question—namely, to leave out all the words after the word "proposed" to the word "debate," in order to admit the Amendment of the First Lord of the Treasury. The question is imperfectly stated on the Notice Paper, and really is that the words "a motion may be made" shall stand part of the proposed Rule.


I wish before the question goes further, to protest against the leaving out of these words, because their omission will make a radical change to the Rule, and a change which has been sprung upon the House very suddenly. I am altogether opposed to the change, and I wish to have the safeguard which is contained both in the old. Rule and in the new Rule just proposed. A judicial opinion from the Chair that the question is ripe for decision is wholly and absolutely done away with by the proposed Amendment, which provides that any Member may move that the Question be now put; and you, Sir, will have to take upon yourself to decide, not that the question is ripe to be put, but whether the application of the closure would be an abuse of the forms of the House. That, I maintain, is a radical alteration of the position. No doubt there would be power to put down Members who would make Motions of that kind for the purpose of mere obstruction; but unless the Speaker took upon himself a very responsible power indeed, I think it would be very rare that he would feel himself in a position to declare that a Motion made by the Leader of the House, commanding a majority in the House, was an abuse of the Rules of the House or an infringement of the rights of the minority. Therefore, I do not think we should proceed to discuss the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House until we have first resolved whether we are prepared to make this radical alteration. It is not desirable that the majority should be entrusted with the immense power of overriding minorities which might possibly be applied habitually in rough-riding over small minorities. If the House is asked to accept a provision of this kind, it will probably be accompanied by a further provision that it should not be enforced except with the consent of a majority of two-thirds. In no case will one great Party ever be allowed to crush the other great Party by the exercise of a bare majority. It is small minorities that will be crushed. I am satisfied that the Speaker would continue to act with impartiality; but by this change we will cease to entrust to him the protection of small minorities, and even of considerable minorities. It has been pointed out more than once, and the sentiment has been cheered, that to the persistence of small minorities we owe all our great reforms. It is because I am satisfied that small minorities will be crushed if the Amendment is accepted as it stands, that I offer a most strenuous protest against it.

MR. SCLATER - BOOTH, (Hants, Basinstoke)

On Friday last the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) informed the House that he was prepared to accept the Amendment I had placed on the Paper, or rather he said that if the language were slightly modified he would accept it in spirit. Now, I am bound to say that the Amendment now put on the Paper is anything but that which I proposed to submit. It entirely reverses the presumption as it stood before. The presumption now has been that the Speaker will intervene, and exercise his judgment whether or not it is reasonable that the closure shall be applied. But the responsibility of the Speaker, which I desire to strengthen and establish, has now been entirely taken away, and a great advance has been made towards the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), of which I disapprove. I desire to strengthen the hands of the Speaker rather than to weaken them. The Speaker is now only to have a veto if he finds an unusual thing is being done—that is, if he finds that the Rules of the House are being disobeyed. The person who makes the Motion will, in nine cases out of ten, be a Member of the Government in charge of the Bill, or Order of the Day, or Motion that is before the House. As was pointed out yesterday, by the operation of fixed time for closing debate on every day in the week, the closure will become a matter of every-day occurrence. It is not to be supposed that the Government will be guilty of anything which can be recognized by the Speaker as an abuse of the Forms of the House, or that they will unduly exercise their power in the direction of applying the closure day after day; but I apprehend that under this Rule the Speaker will not only be deprived of the wholesome and desirable discretion I, for one, wish to entrust him with, but, as a matter of fact, he will be obliged to apply the closure whenever anybody rises in his place to demand it. That is a very great change, and I must say that the Amendment now proposed is quite different from that which I ventured to place on the Paper.

MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

I quite agree with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) that the Amendment proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House makes a radical change in the Rule. The Amendment uses these words— 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. Now, it seems to me that it would be impossible to ascertain whether the rights of the minority are properly recognized without inserting some words such as were proposed by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), to the effect that an opportunity should be given for discussion. How could it be possible to ascertain the rights of the minority until the minority have had an opportunity of stating their objections to any proposals that may be made? It seems to me that the First Lord of the Treasury would be able to make this part of the Rule acceptable to all hon. Members of the House if he would introduce words which we were in the belief he was willing to introduce to provide that some fair and reasonable opportunity should be given for discussion. The Government have stated over and over again that they are willing and desirous that minorities should have an opportunity of stating their views to the House. We have, in the old Rule, certain regulations which must be observed in closing a debate. Those regulations have been removed, and by this proposal it is intended to make a new departure, and to enable the closure to be applied without debate. I think that the liberties of this House depend upon a reasonable opportunity being afforded for debate; and I cannot see why the Government should decline to accept the very fair words proposed by the hon. Member for Cork. I have myself no faith whatever in the closure as a means of expediting the Business of this House. I think the good sense of the House, and the duty of Members to those who send them here, ought to induce them to co-operate together for the better conduct of the Public Business. If that is not done I have no hope that any artificial means we can employ will help us very much. I take it that it is the sense of the House to have a closure of some kind, and I would appeal to the Government to make it so clear that there should be no room for doubt that any minority, however small, who come here with a mandate from their constituents, cannot be put to silence by the majority until a fair opportunity for discussion has been given.

THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)

I think there is some misconception as to the bearing of the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down speaks of this Amendment as if it were the only possible protection of the rights of minorities. I think the hon. Gentleman cannot have studied the proviso at the end of the Rule, which is a real protection for the rights of minorities. That proviso, which is borrowed from the existing Rule, is in these words:— Provided always that questions for the closure of debate shall not he decided in the affirmative, if a Division he taken, unless it shall appear, by the numbers declared from the Chair, that such Motion was supported by more than 200 Members, or was opposed by less than 40 Members and supported by more than 100 Members. Therefore, any Members who number less than 40 will be able to insist upon continuing the debate unless the majority should consist of at least 100 Members. Now I think that if a small minority requires protection, it could hardly be more efficiently protected than by that proviso. Then, again, it is provided that if the minority exceeds 40, the Motion for Closure must be supported by 200. I have no doubt this proviso received very careful consideration from the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) before he proposed it; and, in my opinion, it gives an effective and adequate protection to the rights of small minorities. Does the hon. Member require, if the proposal is supported by 20 Members, that it should be necessary for 650 to outvote them. I think the House will be inclined to feel that small minorities are sufficiently protected by the existing Standing Order, and by the proviso which it is proposed to re-enact in this clause.


May I explain? I do not see how 40 Members are to protect two. They might have no desire to do so.


The hon. Gentleman is labouring under a misconception. What I say is that if the hon. Member and the hon. Gentleman who sits next to him were to object to the closure of debate, they would be able to insist on the debate being continued even if there were 99 Members opposed to them. Any minority, however inconsiderable, would be able to insist on the debate being continued unless there were 100 or more Members in the House who wished to close it. I do not think that a more complete protection of the rights of minorities could be afforded than is provided by this Rule; and when the minority exceeds 40, if it be only 41, it would require 200 or more Members to enforce the closure. That will form part, if this Rule is carried, of the written law of the House. It will not be a question left to the arbitrament of the Chair, but will be embodied in our Standing Orders, and will afford complete protection to small minorities. But another matter of importance is the protection of large majorities. Under the Standing Order unless some alteration is made it will be possible for a bare majority to prevail. Thus 202 Members might close a debate, although 201 wish to continue it. That is one point it is proposed to meet by the Amendment we are now discussing. We propose in those eases where the minority and the majority are both considerable—that is to say where the majority exceeds 200, and the minority also exceeds 200—to leave to the Chair the responsibility of deciding whether the question is or is not to be put; and we propose to afford that protection to large minorities which has been already provided for small minorities by the existing Standing Order. That being so, we come to the terms of the Amendment proposed by my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend proposes to leave two points only to the discretion of the Chair. Some objection has been taken—notably, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), to what he regards as an extension of the responsibility of the Chair. I think the gist of his argument was to show that the position of the Chair would be more embarrassed and extended than it is now, by the substitution of the new Rule for the Rule now in existence. An endeavour has been made by my right hon. Friend to meet that objection. He has endeavoured to define, as far as the matter can be defined, the responsibility of the Chair in dealing with questions of this kind. It is sought by the Amendment to point out what are the two grounds upon which the Chair may decline to allow a Motion for closure to be put; and those two grounds are, firstly, an abuse of the Rules of the House, and secondly an infringement of the rights of minorities. On those two points only the Chair is to judge, and I venture to think that in defining those responsibilities we are only acting in accordance with the unwritten law of the House and ancient usages. The Speaker is the only judge of Questions of Order, and the Speaker, therefore, is the right and proper person to decide whether or not a question of this sort is an abuse of the Forms of the House. Not only is the Speaker the recognized arbiter of questions of Order, but he is also the recognized protector of the rights of minorities, and this Resolution merely defines his position with regard to that, and, I think, strengthens it by recognizing what is to be the written law of the House, and pointing out that he may also exercise his veto in the matter of closure in his capacity of protection of the rights of minorities. I hope I have made the situation perfectly clear. If the Amendment is carried and embodied in the Rule, hon. Members will have not merely the protection afforded by the proviso, not merely that which is an adequate protection for small minorities; they will have extended to the larger minorities the protection of the Chair—minorities which, when the House is not full, might be voted down by a bare majority.

MR. A. R. D. ELLIOT (Roxburghshire)

The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) has put before the House in a perfectly clear manner what is intended to be the effect of the Amendment; and, for my part, it appears to me that the Rule with this Amendment would carry out the object satisfactorily. I regard the Rule much more from the point of view of restoring the efficiency of the majority of the House rather than the preventing the danger of infringing the rights of minorities. From what I have seen during the seven years I have sat in Parliament there appears to be a growing difficulty for the Government representing the majority of the people of the country, to give effect to the will of the people who send them here. I agree in that matter with the remarks I have heard on several occasions from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). I am not in the least afraid of what is called closure by a bare majority. If hon. Members are afraid of that sort of closure surely they cannot object to an Amendment which places restrictions on the Rule. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) has an Amendment to omit from the Rule the words which require the consent of the Chair to a Motion that the Question be now put; but I would ask my hon. Friend whether, under the circumstances, it is worth while to have a prolonged fight over his Amendment, seeing how far the Government have gone towards meeting his views. What I desire to see is a closure that can be easily applied. In the United States there is a closure by a bare majority, and I understand that it answers very well. It is never unfairly applied, and the fact that it can be applied easily when necessary renders its application very unfrequent. As a matter of fact, there is a fear of it. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Esslemont), who seems to think that the Rule would be of little use in restoring the efficiency of the House. My opinion is that the Rules already in existence have done good; but they would have done more good if they had gone further. For instance, much obstructive delay in the Business of the House has been got rid of by the adoption of the Rule which relates to the moving of Motions for Adjournment at Question time. Therefore, I ask the House not to listen to those who say that no good can be obtained from these Rules,

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

I believe that the discussion which is now taking place is entirely irregular, and that if it had not been for the intervention of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) we should have been placed in an absolutely false position. The Question proposed last night was a Motion to leave out the words, "A Motion may be made;" but the Question sought to be put the first thing this morning was, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question." We have not yet arrived at the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, and it ought not to be before the House at all.


Order, order! I put the Question to the House in a perfectly regular way. I have put the Question that the words, "A Motion may be made" stand part of the Question, and the object in putting the Question in that way is to get rid of all the words down to "Amendment or debate" for the purpose of substituting the words proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. Technically, therefore, the words proposed to be left out, to which objection is taken, are before the House as well as the Amendment it is proposed to insert in their place. I only put the Question, that the words "A Motion may be made" be omitted in order to enable the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) to come in. Therefore, instead of being irregular, the way in which the Question was put is perfectly regular.


I did not say that the proceedings were irregular; but what I said was that the discussion was irregular quoad the Amendment of the First Lord of the Treasury. My contention is, that before we come to the discussion of that Amendment we must first have disposed of every Amendment on the Paper, and we may prefer the Rule as amended by those Amendments to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. I respectfully submit that the Amendment of the Government should take its regular turn; and in that case it may probably not be reached until the day after to-morrow, or even the following week. I would respectfully ask, Sir, for your ruling on this point.


The hon. Gentleman is under a misconception. The Question now before the House is whether the words of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury are to become a substantive matter of discussion; and the Question I have put is whether the words, "A Motion is made," shall stand part of the Question. If those words are omitted the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman becomes the substantive Question, and it may be amended in any shape before it is inserted in the Rule.

MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)

The Amendment certainly contains some very ambiguous phrases, owing, I presume, to the haste with which it has been prepared. For instance, "the rights of the minority" is an entirely new Parliamentary phrase, which will have to be defined, because I think we cannot be too guarded in the use of new phrases. We are, as a matter of fact, imposing a task upon the Speaker which he cannot perform. How is the Speaker to ascertain whether the rights of the minority are being infringed? First of all, what are the rights of the minority? I suppose that, being a new Parliamentary phrase, it would have to be reconsidered; but I understand that one of the chief rights of the minority is to be able to get up in this House and speak upon any question. If that is so, how is the Speaker to ascertain whether the rights of the minority are being infringed, unless hon. Members have already exercised that right? How can the Speaker possibly ascertain on Irish or Scotch questions whether any Irish or Scotch Member desires to be heard?

MR. SALT (Stafford)

The proper time to discuss the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment in detail will be when he moves it, but following what has been said on the other side, I must say that I regard with considerable anxiety the introduction of these new phrases, "the abuse of the Rules of the House," and "an infringement of the rights of the minority." I am afraid that the introduction of these new terms—especially that of "rights of the minority"—will create new difficulties in regard to a matter which is already sufficiently complicated and difficult. Personally I should prefer that the matter should be left entirely to the discretion of the Chair, and, if any kind of restriction is necessary, to the old Parliamentary phrase that the Chairman should be guided by the evident sense of the House.

MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

I presume that the Government brought forward the proposed Rules after careful consideration. Yet they now spring upon us a very important change, and we have no security that it has received the deliberate judgment of the Cabinet. If that be so, I do not see why the Amendment of the Government should carry more weight with it than the Amendments which have been put down by independent Members of the House. I hold that it is of the greatest possible importance that the Speaker should be consulted, and should give his assent, before the closure is applied. It is now proposed to reverse the whole order of things, and it is left in the power of any hon. Member of the House to proceed to put the closure in force unless you shall intervene. I wish to know in what way it can be said that a Member who moves the closure of the debate is abusing the Rules of this House, and I can see no security whatever in the use of the phrase, "the rights of the minority." Right hon. Members opposite have completely changed their front upon this question, and they have altogether departed from the pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, that the Rules of Procedure should not be treated as a Party question. I strongly object to the disappearance of the substance of five lines of the proposed Rule in order that a new proposal may be taken of which we know nothing.

MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)

I am as anxious as any hon. Member to cure the creeping paralysis which is said to have come over the Business of this House. I say nothing as to whether the Speaker should be called upon to decide a Motion would be an abuse of the Forms of the House, but I think it would be an extremely difficult and delicate duty to call upon the Speaker or Chairman of Committee to decide whether there had been an infringement of the rights of the minority or not. I want to know the meaning of the words "rights of the minority." It is entirely new in a Parliamentary sense; indeed, I should like to know what is a minority. It may be anything from two to 300, and it is obvious that the rights of a minority would not depend upon its numerical strength, but on its relation to the majority. Surely the true solution of the problem would be a simple closure, to be moved either by a Minister or by a Member of the majority, upon whom the odium should rest if they attempted to use their power oppressively.

MR. W. H. JAMES (Gateshead)

I have always been of opinion that our Rules of Procedure require strengthening, but I am disposed to think that with every desire to strengthen the authority of the Chair, the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman is far from carrying out that object, and that it will, unintentionally no doubt, to a certain extent tend to weaken it. There is an impression out of doors that the object of these Rules is to enable the Government to carry measures in the teeth of hon. Members who sit below the Gangway on this side of the House. They are now in a minority, but no one can tell whether they are not, in conjunction with the constituencies, actually at this moment in a majority. In the event of this Rule being carried, I am afraid that the Speaker will be placed in a position which I may almost describe as intolerable. If the Speaker attempts to apply the Rule in the case of a Coercion Bill which may be acceptable to the Party in power, he may find that his authority is greatly weakened in being at variance with the general view of the constituencies. On the other hand, if the Speaker acts in direct antagonism to the Government of the day, his position may be made both odious and uncomfortable, and I think it would be very doubtful how long he would continue to hold it.

MR. GEDGE (Stockport)

This discussion is surely premature and irregular. I understand the question to be simply this. Shall the Chair initiate the closure and be followed by a Member moving it, or shall a Member first move it, and the Chair give or withhold assent to his doing so? The considerations which are to guide the Chair in the exercise of this discretion are not at present before us, and I hope we shall not now waste time in discussing them, as they certainly must be fully considered when we come to the next part of the clause. I shall support the Amendment, as it seems to me best for the Motion to be first made, and then for the Chair to have a veto on its being put.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 85; Noes 190: Majority 105.—(Div. List, No. 37.)

Question proposed, That the words 'A Member rising in his place may claim to move, 'That the Question he 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' be there inserted."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)

MR. LEAKE (Lancashire, S.E., Radcliffe)

I rise to move as an Amendment to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) to insert after the word "Member" the words— Of the Government, or the Mover or Seconder of the Motion then in debate, or the Mover or Seconder of an Amendment thereto. When I was interrupted by an appeal to the Speaker a short time ago I was endeavouring to explain that when my Amendment was put upon the Paper it was intimately, though, not indispensably, connected with the relief of the Speaker from all interference with the closure of debate. At that time, under the proposed Rule of the Government, the Speaker's active interposition would be at the call of every hon. Member of the House, and his decision would probably be required many times during our proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) has expressed the apprehension that it would be required every day. It is true that by the Amendment of the First Lord of the Treasury the interference of the Speaker is reduced to a veto, and that on the initiative, so to speak, of the Member proposing the closure. I do not think that the introduction of this initiative relieves the Speaker in any essential particular; in fact, it rather calls upon him to act when, if he were left to his own initiative, he might choose to remain silent. I admit that this Amendment is a judicious curtailment of embarrassing and unnecessary functions; but in its curtailed form the Speaker's interposition is unnecessary. I will not, however, dwell on this. The discussion of this point will be better taken on the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford. We shall do well to exclude the Speaker altogether from our Party conflicts. But if the Speaker be relieved of all responsibility in respect to the application of the closure, we are, by the proposed Rule of the Government, brought face to face with the action of every individual Member of the House. There are many natural defects in Members' characters which come to the front in the heat of debate; there is irritability, eccentricity, and even something of the playfulness of youth left in many mature Members of the House, and it may happen that a Member sitting in some dark corner may move the closure for the purpose, ostensibly, of promoting Business, but really for the purpose of retarding Business. I would remove the temptation of hon. Members to take such irregular action as this. There is another consideration which has influenced my judgment, and I trust it will have some weight with the House generally. In taking such an important step as moving the closure, the instigating interest, the animating spirit, ought to be plainly revealed. In my opinion, the independent Member rising to propose the closure of debate would, as a rule, be a Member with very little responsibility—possibly the mere catspaw of the Government, or of the Opposition, or of a Party or of a small section of the House. I have endeavoured in my Amendment to meet this objection by what appears to me to be a very orderly provision. I would dismiss the 670 units of this House—or "items," as an hon. Friend of mine prefers to call them—from a self-imposed duty which might be grossly or foolishly abused. This House should, in the interest of debate and for the promotion of Business, act through responsible agents for the time being. Who ought to be these agents? In the first place, it cannot be denied that the Members of the Government for the time being would be most proper agents; in the second place, the Mover or Seconder of the Motion before the House; and, in the third place, the Mover or Seconder of an Amendment to the Motion before the House would be very fitting agents. Under these heads all the conflicting interests in the debate or its closure would be represented. Take the Members of the Government. They include, naturally, the Leader of the House. The interests of the Government would, in the first place, by this agency, be promoted and attended to. But the Leader of the House has a double function. He has not only to secure and promote the interests of the Government, but he has to watch over the humours and temper of the House, and to promote by his management the progress of Business. Action from that source could not fail to be most responsible. I cannot imagine that the Members of the Government would do a foolish thing, though they might occasionally act in a somewhat arbitrary manner. In the main, Members of the Government would shrink from any unfair use of the power which, by my proposition, would be entrusted to them. The Government would not, and ought not to be able to, hide itself behind an individual Member. Then I turn to the Mover or Seconder of the Motion before the House. Under this head hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Opposition Bench would generally find a fitting and orderly place. If it became necessary in their judgment that a debate should close they would always be enabled to put themselves in a position to promote that closure. It may be urged that the Leaders of an organized Opposition would have no particular interest in closing a debate or even in promoting Business. Hon. Members generally will concede that that is but a superficial view to take of the position of the ordinary Leaders of an organized Opposition and unjust to them. The Opposition Leader may wish as much as the Government to obtain the expression of the views of the House upon a matter before it, not necessarily to secure a victory, but to resist the shelving of an important proposition, and to promote its ultimate acceptation. If we permit the Mover or the Seconder of the Motion to move the closure of a debate upon the Motion we shall secure an expression of the opinion of the House which often in times past has by one means or another been prevented. By such a provision the independent Member, recently so much suppressed, may once again assert a power to exist and act in legislative matters. We must not forget that the Mover or the Seconder of a Motion before the House will not only represent himself, but a large section and interest in the House. Both the Mover and Seconder will, in all probability, be eminently representative men. I may, perhaps, remark that the introduction of the Seconder into my Amendment is to provide against a contingency which may arise; if the Mover is unavoidably absent we shall have the Seconder to take his place. But if we left the initiative under these two heads we should not do justice to an important section of the House—namely, to the section antagonistic to the question under debate; and therefore it is I propose that the Mover or Seconder of an Amendment to the Motion before the House shall have equal right to the Mover or Seconder of the Motion to propose the closure. The Mover and Seconder of an Amendment will also be representative men, and through them large numbers in the House would be acting in an orderly manner. The practical value of this proposition is that you bring into play the conflict of interests, and only by such conflict do we obtain substantial justice either in this House or in the world outside. The action of the Mover or Seconder of an Amendment would be called for when the Mover or Seconder of a Motion was unduly estimating the importance of the Motion or unduly prolonging the debate. It would be unwise to place the responsibility of moving the closure of every such debate upon Members of the Government; it would be calling upon them to act most invidiously. Doubtless, it will be urged that in all other Legislative Assemblies we know of, or in most of the other Parliamentary Bodies, the initiative for closing debate dwells in every Member of those Bodies. Well, but if it were not for the peculiarity of our position we should not be engaged upon revising our Rules of Procedure at this moment. I question whether in any foreign Parliamentary Assembly such a justifiable diversity of opinion exists as exists in this House. There is no disguising the fact that we have an irreconcilable Party—in the opinion of many hon. Members of the House a justifiably irreconcilable Party in this House—and when we are engaged in making New Rules to promote the orderly conduct of debate and the promotion of Business we should take care we do not open the door for evils still greater than those from which we now suffer. It has been objected that by many propositions before the House, including my own, the Members of the Government will receive an undue preponderance of influence. My Amendment does not give the Government a greater preponderance of influence than they would enjoy under the Government proposition. The greater contains the less, and the 670 Members of this House include the Government. But my proposition fixes upon them a distinct responsibility. I would, by my proposition, keep the Government strictly to its responsibility, and deprive it of any chance of sheltering itself behind the action of a private or so-called private Member. By the adoption of some such Resolution as I propose, and by absolving Mr. Speaker from all responsibility for our debates and quarrels and differences, we shall restore Parliament once more to an Assembly of straightforward men, desirous to promote the Business of the country. Neither the Government nor a Party will be able to shelter any action of its own under the mantle of Mr. Speaker, or under the guise of any independent Member who may be ready to move the application of the closure. With a full and hearty desire that such Rules may be adopted by the House as will effectually safeguard its interests, while permitting full and fair and reasonable debate, I beg to move the Amendment which I have placed on the Paper.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, After the word "Member," to insert the words "of the Government, or the Mover or Seconder of the Motion then in Debate, or the Mover or Seconder of an Amendment thereto."—(Mr. Leake.)

Question proposed, "That those words be inserted in the proposed Amendment."

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Radcliffe Division of Lancashire (Mr. Leake) has made a very interesting and exhaustive speech on his Amendment. It is one in which I know he takes a very great interest; but he will not be surprised to hear that in the opinion of the Government it is not desirable a distinction should be made in this matter in favour of Members of the Government, or in favour of the Mover or Seconder of a Motion or Amendment. I am not aware that at the present moment Members of the Government possess any exclusive privileges as such which places them in a different position from that of any other Members in the House, nor should I be willing to clothe the Mover or Seconder of an Amendment with any privilege which is not possessed equally by hon. Members generally. The hon. Gentleman said that the Movers and Seconders of Amendments are, as a rule, eminently representative men—that they have attained a position which justifies them in speaking for a considerable portion of the House. I recognize the fact that Movers and Seconders of Amendments are frequently eminently representative men; but if I turn to the Order Book, I find that the Movers of Amendments, in the greatest proportion, are Members like the hon. Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner), who takes a great interest in the progress—or possibly the reverse of progress—of Business in this House. The hon. Member for Mid Cork stands, I believe, in the most eminent position of having given Notice of more Amendments than any other hon. Member; and he would, therefore, under the Amendment of the hon. Member for South-East Lancashire (Mr. Leake), have the right to move the closure oftener than any other Member except Members of the Government—he would have the opportunity of moving the closure on every Bill to which he has given Notice of objection. The clôture is an unfortunate necessity in order to regulate the Business of the House, and in order to assist the House to arrive at a decision upon important matters; but I maintain that the course which we have suggested is the course best calculated to prevent an abuse of the power of closure. It would be most unsatisfactory, most undesirable, to make an invidious distinction between one hon. Member of the House and another hon. Member. It would certainly lessen the authority of the Government if a power was entrusted to Members of the Government which was not equally entrusted to all Members of the House. I fail to see how the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Leake) would in the least degree prevent the mode of interrupting Business which he wishes to obviate. He proposes that the Mover of an Amendment shall have the power to move the closure. What is more easy than to suggest to an hon. Gentleman, on either side of the House, that he should move an Amendment for which a responsible Leader would not be responsible, but which would attain the object in view? I regret it is necessary to restrict the liberties of Members of this House; but I decline to be a party to any arrangement which distinguishes any Member of the Government from the rest of the House. Let us be, as far as possible, equal in our rights and privileges. If the time ever comes when it may be necessary to introduce other restrictions in order to save Parliament from the destruction which may threaten us if Members are not conscious of their duty to the country, the Government of the day, I am sure, will not shrink from proposing them.

MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)

I desire to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for South-East Lancashire (Mr. Leake), because, unless we put some such restriction as that proposed upon the power of moving the closure, the exercise of the power will become one of the most common modes of Obstruction in the House. We have found recently how rapidly means of Obstruction are developed and applied; and when it is found that any irresponsible Member may, at anytime, move that the debate shall close, we may have 20, 30, or 40 Members rising to have the closure applied in the course of an evening. If the power of veto is taken from the Chair, as some wish, it will be open to any hon. Member to propose the closure, and the Chair will have no option except to take a Division on the subject. It may be that the form in which my hon. Friend (Mr. Leake) has proposed his Amendment is not a very perfect one; but the object of the Amendment is a good one—namely, that the moving of the closure should be restricted to responsible persons. Above all things, we must take care we are not opening the door to a new form of Obstruction as troublesome as any we have hitherto experienced.


This is a subject which was discussed in the Committee upstairs. At that time I was representing the Government, and I must say I agreed with the view the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) has expressed. My hon. Friend (Mr. Leake) did not get a great deal of support for his proposal in the Committee. There is great danger in departing from the traditions and constitution of the House; and certainly there is nothing more fundamental than that the Government are not regarded for the purposes of the Rules of this House as something apart from the rest of the House, except so far as particular duties are given to them. It would be extremely dangerous to set up the Government as an authority over this House at all. The House is naturally jealous of the Government, and very properly so. We cannot be expected to have unlimited confidence in a Government, especially a Government to which we are opposed; and it would not ease the thing at all to suppose that this Vote would be exercised from the Government apart from any other section of the House. I do not see we should gain any particular advantage by these limitations; and, therefore, as I could not support this proposal in the Committee upstairs, I cannot support it now.

MR. CALEB WRIGHT (Lancashire, S.W., Leigh)

I have listened to this debate in the hope that a scheme may be arrived at which will meet with the approval of both sides of the House. So far there seems to be great hesitation in the minds of hon. Members as to what the scheme should be. The object of the Amendment is to secure fair discussion of all questions brought before the House. It is generally admitted that the arrears of Business increase year after year. The increase of population in the country, the development of our Colonies, and other important causes, have tended to increase the wants of the country. Why has this House failed to do its work? One great cause is that a large portion of hon. Members cling to laws which are totally unsuited to this age.


I must interrupt the hon. Gentleman. The Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Leake) is before the House, and we are not now on the general question which the hon. Gentleman is referring to.


I apologize if I have strayed from the question. I hope the Government will see its way to adopt some measure of closure which will disarm any opposition from this side of the House.

MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)

The Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Radcliffe Division of Lancashire (Mr. Leake) is one of an important character, and I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) could not see his way to support it. The Motion of the Government means that if the Government desire to enforce the closure and to shirk the responsibility of its own action, it can get one of the juvenile Members sitting on the Tory Benches to move that the closure be imposed. If the clôture is imposed in the course of a discussion, it is quite evident it can only be imposed by the most responsible authority in the House—namely, the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has constantly said it is the duty of the Government to see to the conduct and progress of Business. Surely, therefore, the responsibility of applying the clôture ought to rest with the Government. In my opinion, the Amendment goes a little too far. I would leave the entire responsibility upon the Government.

MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

I must protest against the manner in which the present proposition of the Government was sprung upon the House. The proposition makes a change of a drastic description in the original proposal of the Government. No reasons were given last night why the House should support the present proposal, and to-day the conspiracy of silence has been maintained. We fully admit the right of the Government to change its mind from time to time; but when it does submit a new proposal, we are entitled to claim that we should have an ample opportunity of considering it. It is said that these proposals are rendered necessary by the obstruction offered by private Members; but I have calculated that if the House sits 40 hours in a week, that would only allow each of the 670 Members four minutes a week in which to address the House. The attitude which I take up towards these Rules is one of complete and uncompromising hostility. The Government ask the House to enable a debate to be closed whether there has been adequate discussion or not. Moreover, when such a change in the position of the Chair is being made, we are entitled to know whether the change is to be permanent, yet the Government have not yet told us whether the Rule will be made a Standing Order.


The hon. Member is not confining himself to the Amendment before the House.


I bow to your ruling, Sir. I was proceeding to discuss the question why this Amendment should be carried, and why the Government, as the result of the carrying of this Amendment, should undertake direct responsibility for the clôture. I consider the clôture a degradation to this House, and I, therefore, think that those Gentlemen who desire the use of such a weapon should keep the use of it in their own hands. I think that instead of the clôture some process of devolution of business is necessary, and since the Government have taken up a decided stand against all devolution of business I ask the House to compel them to adopt the logical alternative of taking into their own hands the power of muzzling Members.

MR. HENRY GILL (Limerick)

I think this Amendment is a very valuable one, because I think that if Members generally had had the power of moving the clôture it would be an effectual weapon in their hands to prevent the bringing on of certain Bills. Blocking Motions will be put down to prevent Bills coming on before 12 o'clock, when three or four Members will be able to combine together so as to delay the House with Clôture Motions beyond the time when Opposed Business can be taken. It will take some minutes to move the clôture, for if it is an obstructive Motion, you, Sir, must give your reasons why you think it is against the Rules of the House, and not within the rights of the majority to enforce it. In that way some minutes will be consumed, and then there is nothing to prevent other Members rising up at short intervals and doing the same thing. In this way a deal of time may be consumed, and Members may prevent Business of a contentious character that is blocked from coming on. There are at present very few opportunities for carrying through private Members' Bills, and I maintain that this Rule will be a great encroachment upon the power they already possess. The Government will be able to clôture any debate they like before midnight, in order that they may be enabled to bring in Bills that have been blocked. I think these are considerations which should weigh with the Government and with private Members, who have very little chance at present of getting anything done. It seems to me that this clôture, which is said to be brought forward for the purpose of putting down Obstruction, may itself be made a very formidable weapon of Obstruction. As a choice of evils I think the power of moving the clôture should rest with the Government, as proposed by the Amendment, because I hardly think any Member of the Government would take upon himself the responsibility of doing anything to prevent a private Member from proceeding with the Business he has on the Paper.

MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)

Having regard to the way in which the most reasonable and moderate Amendments have been met by Her Majesty's Government we cannot feel very sanguine with regard to this one. It may be said that the Government, in opposing the safeguards which we desire to put on the Statute Book for the protection of the minority and of individuals, are inconsistent with their former action; but I do not think we can expect to find consistency in the present Government, seeing that at one time they opposed coercion for Ireland, and that now they are proposing it. I think we should fasten upon the Government some responsibility for the imposition of this clôture. If the Amendment is not carried they will be able to impose it without being responsible for it, because we know that often when they do not wish to take particular action themselves they are quite willing that followers of theirs should adopt the course of which they themselves appear to disapprove. I think that such liberty is not advisable, and that we should saddle the Government with the responsibility of putting the clôture into operation. The House will remember when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) was a Member of the Cabinet—


The remarks of the hon. Gentleman are utterly irrelevant.


Then, Sir, I will endeavour to make my remarks more relevant to the subject. The great objection we have to the Government proposal is that it will enable Ministers to do that of which they do not appear to approve.

MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)

It would be a matter of great surprise to us if the Government adopted any suggestion coming from these Benches with a modicum of reason in it. Their attitude throughout has been one of flagrant persistence in unreasonable hostility to every proposal made by the Irish Members. If the Government proposal is adopted as it stands we shall in the future have another Mr. Warton sitting behind the Ministry rising up continually like a jack in the box to move "That the Question be now put." If the Amendment be adopted, it will put the responsibility for moving the clôture on the right shoulders. We desire to take away from the Chair all responsibility for putting the Question "That the Question be now put."

MR. T. C. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)

If the Government do not see their way to accepting this Amendment, we shall find that next Session will commence with the discussion of another set of Procedure Rules which the Government will find it their duty to embody with the present ones. What is now being done will create new opportunities of Obstruction. We know how easy it is at the present moment for Mr. Speaker to cut short speeches which he does not consider relevant; but in the future we are likely to have a great many Motions made which have no legitimate aim whatever and which in no way advance the Business of the House. The country, I may point out, will watch the application of these New Rules very narrowly, and will, no doubt, carefully note how the Government permits the application of the clôture by Members of the Conservative Party when they themselves shirk responsibility in the matter. It seems to me, therefore, that it would be a greater security to this House and to the public if the application of these Rules were left to the responsibility of the Government.


Have the Government got it into their minds that private Members should be allowed indiscriminate use of the power of moving the clôture, or do they intend that the spirit of this Amendment shall be carried out by fixing responsibility for the application of the clôture upon responsible Members? It seems to me that all the Amendment proposes to do is to place a restraint upon the power of Obstruction and of abusing the Rules which is sought to be given to the majority. I must protest against the attitude of the Government whilst this important question is under discussion. I venture to think that this Amendment is worthy of the consideration of the House; but the Government sit still and mute on their Bench, and do not condescend to open their lips at all with regard to it. I have very little doubt that if the clôture were now in operation the Government would apply it to shut off the argument at once. It is time for the Government to rise and say whether they consider this Amendment complete nonsense, and, if they do not, what is their objection to it.

MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)

I must say I think the hon. Member is justified in the protest he has made against the conspiracy of silence entered upon by the Government. They have not stated the grounds upon which they object to this Amendment. The Leader of the House has appealed to the abstract theory of the equality of Members; but that one is not an appeal which hon. Gentlemen opposite made in the past. In 1882 the noble Lord the Member for Ealing (Lord George Hamilton) proposed an Amendment similar to that now under discussion; and I would point out that what we have to take into consideration is not the abstract theory of equality of Members, but the practical working of the Rules of Debate. How would this Rule work, passed in its present form, if 10 or 15 Members should rise and, under the cloak of wishing to prevent undue debate, should themselves protract debate by making constant appeals to the Chair? Instead of the Amendment providing for the interference of a Member of the Government, I think it might be altered so as to provide for the interference of a Member of Her Majesty's Privy Council. This would cast the initiative on Members sitting on the Front Opposition Bench equally with Members sitting on the Treasury Bench. It is desirable that the Government should state to what extent they are prepared to meet the objections raised, and whether it is desired, under this Rule, that power should be established without responsibility.


After the direct, intelligent, and weighty appeal addressed to the Government by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, do they still think it their duty to sit silent without making any response to the arguments which have been addressed to them in support of this Amendment? If the Leader of the House has been in any way impressed by the arguments addressed to him, and if he wishes to indicate that these arguments have influenced his mind to some degree in the direction in which we wish it to be influenced, some junior Member of the Government might now get up and indicate to the House that altered state of mind of the Government. There are times when we must lose sight of the equality of Members, and when allowance must be made for an individual possessing special knowledge of a subject, or of the wants and wishes of a particular locality. The humblest Member may at times be, for the purposes of a particular debate, on a higher level than any occupant of the Front Benches; and yet a Member rushing in from the Smoking Room, without having heard a word of his speech, may at once move the clôture of the debate under the Rule as it at present stands. I, therefore, support this Amendment, which will tend to put responsibility on the shoulders of responsible Members of the Government. Why, if the Clôture Rule were now in operation, and a Conservative Member were to stroll in here from the Smoking Room, the very fact of his seeing me on my legs would be enough to induce him to declare that the debate had proceeded far enough. With regard to the size of minorities, the time may come when a single individual may be a minority. A single individual, may have a special grievance to ventilate—and a time may come when it will be desirable that you should extend to him the protection which you are to be asked to extend to "the" minority. Hon. Gentlemen opposite deliberately yawn—


I must caution the hon. Gentleman that he is not speaking to the Question before the House.


I bow to your ruling, Sir. I wish to second the appeal which has come from this side of the House that some Member of the Government should rise and tell us whether it is the intention of the Government to give some security in the direction which we demand. I admire the inflexibility of hon. Gentlemen opposite—


I must again caution the hon. Gentleman that he is not speaking to the Amendment before the House. Debate on these terms is impossible.


Then, Sir, I will conclude. I intended to appeal to the Government to accept the Amendment before the House, and I thought that that appeal was in Order.

MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)

If the ancient rights and liberties of this House were given power of utterance, I think they would state that they have been badly treated by right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench. They would complain that within less than a year they have been beloved, betrayed, and abandoned by the Treasury Bench. We, Sir, on our part, have stuck to these privileges through thick and thin. The object of this Amendment is to saddle the right parties with responsibility. We say that you are accustomed to use these privileges; we say that the whole foundation of our representative Government rests upon responsibility; and, therefore, if the Government ask for exceptional powers, we claim that they alone must use them.


The hon. Member is not speaking to the Amendment. I must caution him to be more relevant.


Very well, Sir; then I will merely say to the Government all we ask is that the privileges for which they ask they should exercise in person, and not by deputy.


I protest against the course the Government have adopted in putting on the Paper an Amendment five lines long, displacing thereby two and a - half lines of the original proposal, and only giving the House 11 and a-half hours' Notice. It would seem as if the right hon. Gentleman thought he was going, by a short cut, to get rid of the Amendments on the Paper to the two and a-half lines of the Resolution he has struck out. If the result of his wonderful management is that the House finds itself in a difficulty in considering his Amendment, and is unable to concentrate its scattered energies, and Business does not progress, he has no one but himself to blame. What does the Amendment immediately before us seek to provide? Why, that since it is the Government that asks for this power, they themselves shall exercise it in common with the Mover or Seconder of a Motion or the Mover or Seconder of an Amendment thereto. I submit that this covers the whole field of requirement with regard to the exercise of such Clôture Resolution as that which it is proposed to pass. If you do not leave the initiation of the closure to the Speaker—and you expressly take it away—if you do not follow the recommendation of the Select Committee of 1886, and have an automatic closure every day; if you leave it to a Member of the Government to ask to have the closure applied, then, I say, the whole field of requirement is covered by adopting the Amendment of the hon. Member. Of late years the Leader of the Government has come, by common consent, to be called the Leader of the House. Is it, therefore, not proper to ask that to the Leader of the House should be left the duty of applying the closure, and not to some maid-of-all-work, or some general-utility man, who will be willing to do for them what they are ashamed to do for themselves? With regard to the Mover and Seconder of a Motion, it is only reasonable and legitimate that they should have this power given to them. The Leader of the House does not often condescend to argument. He generally takes his stand on some lofty pinnacle all by himself; but, on this occasion, he has condescended to some argument. I feel bound to say that I have seldom heard such puerilities in the shape of argu- ments come from any Member of the House—arguments so much beneath and below the necessity of the case. He told us that it would not do to allow the Mover or Seconder of a Motion to move to apply the clôture, because the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner) had put down such a large number of blocking Notices. The right hon. Gentleman must have known that there is great difference between such a Member and the Mover or Seconder of a Motion. In 999 cases out of 1,000 the very fact that a block is put down against a Motion or a Bill is a certain safeguard that there will never be any Notice of Motion or Amendment either proposed or seconded with regard to it. The objection taken by the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, is entirely illusory. I maintain, again, that the Mover or Seconder of an Amendment to the Question before the House should have the right to ask that the debate should cease. The proposers and the opponents of a Motion, should have equal rights and equal fair play in regard to putting this Rule into force. The Amendment of the Leader of the House, however, provides for something entirely different. Under the pretext of fair play and equal rights of Members, and leaving it open to every Member of the House to move this Motion, it is practically put in the power of the Government, and the Government alone, to move this Motion. That is why I object to it. I want to give the minority the right of asking that the clôture shall be applied where it is found that the majority are using the right of debate to obstruct the minority. You have been proceeding up to the present, in the discussion of this Rule, from the point of view that everything should be done for the majority and nothing for the minority. I say you should give a fair and equitable right to a minority, and a small minority if need be. Let us put responsibility in this matter upon the Government—let the Government act openly; and let the power contained in this Rule be extended to the minority.

MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN (Mayo, S.)

I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House means by giving to every Member of the House what he refuses to give to the Mover or Seconder of a Motion? The action of the right hon. Gentleman ought to be carefully watched. With his innocent smile no one would imagine he could be capable of a trick or a stratagem; and yet, on Monday night, he induced us to agree to the Bankruptcy Vote, on the understanding that no other Business would follow. Yet he immediately after endeavoured to force on further Estimates. Confidence in the right hon. Gentleman was considerably shaken by that proceeding. This Rule that he proposes seems to me to be improperly described by the term "closure." The word "garotte" would be a much better term. There is one great evil for which the House is not going to find a remedy—


The hon. Member is not speaking to the Amendment.


If this Amendment be not accepted the liberties of the House will be destroyed. In trying to gag Irish Members you will be destroying your own liberties.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

I understand that the First Lord of the Treasury, in my absence, referred to my having put down a great many blocks to Notices of Motion. The right hon. Gentleman cannot secure for the Party of which he is the Leader the privilege this Session of a monopoly of opposition to Notices of Motion. Last Session, as the House is aware, the hon. Member for Wigtonshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell), who now occupies some subordinate position in the Government, was, practically speaking, the blocker of the Government. He blocked every Irish Bill brought before the House. Then there was the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Colonel King-Harman), who, in his anxiety to block Irish Bills, has, within the past few days, absolutely gone to the extreme of blocking a Notice of Motion which has emanated from a Member of his own Party—namely, the Municipal Government (No. 2) Bill. When things like this are done by Gentlemen opposite I think the right hon. Gentleman has no right to individualize me in connection with this question of blocking. As Leader of the House, in all fairness, he should not have singled out one Member for attack; and, further, he should not have attacked anyone without giving Notice of his intention. I always thought, when living in England, that it was un-English to attack a man behind his back, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will avoid doing so for the future. As to the proposal of the Government, it appears to me to be an attempt—to quote a famous American word—to "bulldose" the minority in this House. I cannot altogether agree with the notion that a Mover or Seconder should be allowed to move the clôture, because, being the initiators of a Bill or a Motion, they would naturally be intolerant of prolonged discussion.


I must call the attention of the House to the tedious repetition of the hon. Member, and must ask him to resume his seat.

MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)

Sir, it seems to be the opinion of the Government that the Members of this House are elected collectively; but that is not the case. They are elected individually, and as such they have certain rights, and an attempt is now being made to deprive us of those rights.


The hon. Member is not in any way referring to the Amendment before the House.

MR. O'HANLON (Cavan, E.)

I have very few words to say before the House goes to a Division. The Amendment of the hon. Member above the Gangway (Mr. Leake) ought, in my opinion, to have been accepted by the Government. I think the Government in power should be held responsible for the application of the closure to any question before the House. That power should be vested in a responsible person, and not in some young Member, like myself for instance, or an individual who might become a tool of the Government. Now, I think that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury will have the effect of placing great power in the hands of individual Members, which is liable to be abused. On the other hand, it is likely to benefit no one, and therefore I shall support the Amendment before the House.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 119; Noes 291: Majority 172.—(Div. List, No. 38.)

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

Sir, I propose that for the words used in the Amendment of the Government we should substitute the words "That the Question has been adequately discussed." I think, Sir, that that is a more decent form of expression, and it will not affect the Amendment of the Government so far as its sense is concerned. I desire that a Member, rising in his place, should at least go through the formality of proving that the question has been adequately discussed; and my Amendment is to provide some little clothing, so to speak, for the naked form of the closure. It in no way prescribes that any adequate discussion should be had; and, under the circumstances, I trust it will be open to the Government to accept the Amendment which I beg to move.


I have listened to the hon. and learned Member, in order to hear what he might urge in respect of this Amendment, which I have come to the conclusion cannot be put, inasmuch as it is irregular. In the first place, the hon. and learned Member proposes to substitute words for the well-known form that is familiar to the House. Further than that, he proposes that the expression shall be used, "That the subject has been adequately discussed." But the House has already decided against the words "after an opportunity has been afforded for debate thereon."


I submit, Sir, that when that Amendment was negatived it was upon the form of the words only.


As the Rule now stands, the words which the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes would have no operative effect whatever.


Sir, I wish I could bring to the mind of the First Lord of the Treasury and those who sit near him words which were used at the beginning of this long debate. The Government were then prepared to give candid consideration to the suggestions which might come from any quarter of the House. I am afraid their mind has a little altered since then. I am ready to admit that in the debate we have had, some of the objections which I raised have been met, and I am ready to admit also that on some of these questions the proposals of the Government go as far as we can reasonably expect them to go. But on this question of closure we contend that the Government have gone beyond the necessities of the case; and, further, that they have travelled in a dangerous direction. This subject was fully discussed in the debates of 1882, and I should think that if these debates have taught us anything it would be that we should have a little more confidence in the House of Commons. Where are all the fears that were conjured up about the closure in 1882? Why, we are told now by a supporter of the right hon. Gentleman opposite that there is a voracious appetite for the closure. But, somehow or other, the dish cannot be swallowed without the sauce of guarantee and safeguard. What is the object of asking this House to give such securities for good behaviour and guarantees against itself? Is political self-restraint and moderation less in England than it is in all the other countries of the world? One would have thought that if the closure could have been adopted safely anywhere, it might have been so in the House of Commons long before it became the rule in other Assemblies. But it comes to this—that the "mother of Parliaments" is unable to trust herself with a power which her progeny, scattered over the face of the globe, have long been able to use with impunity. I think it is much better to make Rules of Procedure, and especially that regulating the closure, as simple as possible. If you are not prepared to grasp the nettle, it is far better not to touch it at all. On the delicate question of the interposition of the Chair, I should like to remind the House of the words of the late Lord Iddesleigh in the debates of 1882. He warned the House to consider not only the position of the Speaker, but the position of the Chairman of Ways and Means; he warned the House in considering this question to have before them not the position of the Speaker alone, who was removed from our ordinary political conflicts, but that, on the other hand, of the Chairman of Ways and Means, who may have often taken an interest in a measure and voted for its Second Reading, and who in Committee may be called upon to exercise the closure. We ought to recollect that we are giving these powers to the Chairman, equally with the Speaker. Let me ask the attention of the House to this:—What would be the position of affairs if the right hon. Gentleman accepted my Amendment that the intervention of the Speaker should not take place? The first thing which strikes the mind of everyone is that there are three objections to the simple use of the closure by the House without any guarantee from the Speaker's intervention. These three objections are—first, that, it might be used as a means of Obstruction; secondly, that it might be used tyrannically by the Government or the majority; and, thirdly, that it might lead to surprise. With regard to the first objection, it seems to me that those who wish to obstruct have already much more powerful weapons in their hands. They can move the adjournment of the debate, and then the adjournment of the House, and so on, alternately; and not only can they make those Motions, but they and their Friends can speak upon those Motions. But the Motion for the closure is one which cannot be debated. It must be decided on the instant, and on the spot, and is, in that respect, analogous to the Motion for a Count. Surely, then, if hon. Members want to waste the time of the House, they will take the weapon best suited for their purpose and not the weakest. I will go a little farther and make this admission, in connection with the right hon. Gentleman's own proposal, that if you fear that the Motion for Closure would be used as a means of Obstruction or as a means of provoking disorderly debate, then I, for one, do not object, if it were confined to that alone, to confide the matter to the interposition of the Chair. I have the greatest objection, on the other hand, to placing on the Speaker the heavy duty which I think it is almost impossible for him to perform, of saying that the time has come for the termination of debate. One sentence more from this point of view. It seems to me that the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means already possess, or nearly possess, that power. I believe it has been held by different Speakers that where a Rule is being used manifestly for a purpose for which it is not intended, there the authority of the Speaker comes in, and the Speaker has the right to interfere. So much for the objection as to Obstruction. With regard to the objection as to the tyrannical use of the closure by the majority, I suppose by that is meant the tyrannical use of the closure by the Government representing the majority ordinarily in the House. Well, Sir, I absolutely discard that objection. As a Member of a minority, I have no fear whatever of that, because I am confident that no Government dare use the closure tyrannically. It has been admitted on all sides, by the occupants of the Treasury Bench, by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington), by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), and others. We all of us feel that if the Government were once to endeavour to use the closure tyrannically retribution would be sure and swift. If I were a Member of a minority anxious to displace a Government, there is nothing in the world which I should like to see more than that Government endeavouring to prevent free discussion in this House by using the closure in a tyrannical manner. Therefore, I say, that does away with the second objection. But there is another use which may be made of the closure, so it is said, and that is that it might be used to take the House by surprise. I do not think that could happen. We know that there is, and always will exist, between the House and the Government, communications and unofficial agreements as to the times of Divisions, and that they are faithfully observed; and, therefore, I say there is no danger whatever that the Government would, on an important question, take the opportunity of dividing at an earlier hour than that at which it was understood that the Division would take place. But there is the question of surprise which might take place if those who are ordinarily in a minority were suddenly to find themselves in a majority. But I submit to the House that the Rule, as it stands, amply guards against that kind of surprise. Now, what is that kind of surprise? I must suppose that, from some cause, the ranks supporting the Government have been very much thinned, and that those who are ordinarily in a minority are present in some force. I submit, then, that surprise under these circumstances is absolutely guarded against by the Rule as it stands, because it would require more than 200 Members, if the minority were more than 40, to defeat the Government in any such Division; and it is perfectly well known that those Gentlemen who look after the business of Parties in this House would take care that 200 Members did not assemble without their Leaders and their supporters having due warning. This Rule is being gradually elucidated by Amendments, and by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman himself. When the Rule was first put on the Paper, it was almost impossible to make out how the closure was to be enforced—whether the Speaker was to be asked openly by a Member rising in his place, or whether he was to be asked by a Member going to the Chair. Then, there were no directions to the Chair that anything should be taken into consideration, and there was no direction as to how the Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means was to use discretion in the matter. But now we know that it is the intention to put the Question openly. Well, I think that is a little better than putting it privately, but I am not sure that there are not grave objections to it notwithstanding. I, of course, assume that there has been no private understanding before the Question is put openly. I think the idea of a Member rising in his place, and openly moving for the application of the closure, entirely negatives the idea that any suggestion is made beforehand to the Speaker or Chairman that it is desirable to move the closure. If you do not keep clear of that, what becomes of your security that the Speaker or Chairman of Ways and Means would ever be found deciding in favour of the minority? Supposing there is no previous communication with the Chair, then you place suddenly, without any warning, upon the Chair, the decision of a most difficult and delicate question. You ask the Speaker to make up his mind on the spot whether the rights of the minority have been fully observed, and, practically, as to whether, in his opinion, it is a fair and just use of the closure at the time. Now, that seems to me to be a very hard task. Those who have watched the proceedings in this House know how much time has been taken up in many debates by hon. Members who are always applying to the Speaker for assistance with regard to Motions which they are about to put on the Paper, and asking the opinion of the Speaker on very difficult questions of Parliamentary Procedure; and now you propose that, besides that, he should be always in such a frame of mind that he shall at any moment be able to say that the closure can be properly moved, and whether the rights of the minority, whatever that may mean, have been fully regarded. It seems to me that in this we are putting upon the Chair a burden almost impossible to be borne. And of what burden or responsibility do you relieve the Chair by this proposal? I say, absolutely, of none. You call upon the Speaker to make up his mind and to give a judicial decision, whether in the negative or affirmative; and, if he gives that decision wrongly, you say you will not shield him. If the decision is wrong, the Speaker and Chairman will share in the defeat. Into the already difficult position of the Speaker you import political pressure. You do not leave it absolutely to his unfettered discretion to tell us that his opinion is that the debate has proceeded far enough; but you bring in a prompter; you urge him to give a decision; and, at the same time, you leave him the full responsibility of the decision. I, for one, dislike this divided power. I am prepared, as a Member of a minority, to face closure by the majority; but I say that I would rather face it alone. I want to see the responsibility of bringing the closure into force cast upon those who promote it. I do not conceal from myself—I admit—that, as long as the present state of things continues, you may be obliged to use the closure, and that you may be obliged to use a drastic form of closure in order to prevent things being brought to a dead-lock in this House; but I say you have no right to shelter yourselves behind the Chair. Come out, I say, and let us see where the responsibility lies. Let the country see what is the result of this policy. Do not go to the country and say—"We proposed the clôture; it is true that we carried clause after clause of Bills without amendment or discussion; but we had the sanction of the great and impartial authority of the Speaker of the House or of the Chairman." You have no right to shield yourselves by treating the Speaker and the Chairman in that way. If I were a Member of the majority and a supporter of the Government, I should like to see the Government I was supporting coming forward and placing the burden of this on shoulders where it ought to lie—I would remind hon. Members that the authority of the Speaker is the one thing which now stands in this House between order and absolute confusion. That position depends, I might almost say to a vital degree, on the belief in the absolute impartiality of the Chair. Do not tamper with that authority. It is one which you may easily destroy. If you once destroy the belief in that impartiality, you will have gone far to pull down that bulwark which is the one thing that stands between us and confusion, and you will never have it in your power to rely on it again. You make a great deal of the doctrine of protection of minorities. I have no doubt that the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means would exercise great impartiality and intelligence in coming to a decision. I have no doubt that if, in their minds, the two sides of a question were so evenly balanced that it was difficult, and, indeed, almost impossible, to arrive at a judgment of what is right between the two parties, their minds would be found leaning towards the apparent or supposed minority. I do not doubt that; but I say it is not only necessary that there should be impartiality and justice, but that justice should be seen to be justice. I am afraid, as it has hitherto generally been, that the Motion for Closure will come from the majority and be supported by it; and as, if it is granted by the Speaker, it will be granted in favour of the majority, I am afraid that justice will not be seen, and that slowly and surely the belief and confidence in the absolute impartiality of the Chair will run the risk of being very much lessened. How will you be in a better position with the proposed Rule than under the Rule now in force? You cannot expedite the action of the Speaker without asking him to force his judgment. What do you gain by that? It seems to me that, when we come to the end of it, the result will be that the Speaker will be left with the same responsibility, and with the same necessity for being slow in putting the Motion for the closure into execution, and that the only thing you have done is to prevent him acting on his own independent judgment, and to compel him to wait until someone prompts him. I do not object materially to the words about "abuse," but I do object to the words about "the minority." That is a phrase we are often using in this House; but when we come to the interpretation of them, and get a decision upon them hereafter, it will be a very different story. Who is this minority? It is a term of which we have no Parliamentary inter- pretation. I know of no minority in this House until the numbers are declared at the Table. There are minorities sitting on this side of the House which oppose, and one minority which supports, the Government. Then, what are the rights of minorities which Mr. Speaker has to regard? I am very much disposed to question whether those rights can be interpreted in any other way than this—"Has there been sufficient discussion?" Now, under the old Rule, you gave the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means two directions—first, that there should be adequate discussion; secondly, that the evident sense of the House should be that the debate ought to be closed. Upon both these questions the Speaker or Chairman had evidence before him upon which he could act, and the chief difficulty he had was in ascertaining the evident sense of the House, because the House before him is not necessarily the House which goes into the Division Lobby. Is it the minority sitting in the House that is to be only regarded, or is it the minority which may be elsewhere? It seems to me that you are giving here vague power which it is impossible to define. Our contention is, that the Speaker has enough to do, and that the Chairman of Ways and Means has enough to do, without the departure of these New Rules. When I consider the strain upon the occupant of the Chair, the long hours, the constant, keen watchfulness, and the alertness of intellect and observation which is demanded and has to be exercised, I sometimes wonder that the strain can be supported. Instead of thinking that he has not enough to do now, in my opinion he has almost more to do in these days than he can support. I do not think this is likely to be lessened. There is a habit of evil omen growing up in this House of putting upon our Rules a pressure which they will not and are not intended to bear—a habit of testing them to a breaking strain. No sooner is a decision given from the Chair than it seems as if there were active wits consulting together in order to see whether it is possible, by proving the decision to an extreme point, to bring the ruling ad absurdum. I entreat the House to pause before it casts upon the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means an addition to that which they have already, a responsibility almost too grave to be supported. We feel that, after all, it is necessary to have some Rule of Closure of Debate; we desire to make it as simple as we can; and we know that we must not expect too much from it, because it seems to me that the House is engaged in dealing, not with causes, but symptoms only, and that no Rules of Procedure can restore efficiency to a Parliament which is wanting in the fundamental conditions of efficiency. In moving this Amendment, I am, at any rate, happy in one thing—namely, that I cannot be supposed to have the faintest suspicion of the fairness, ability, or integrity either of the occupant of your Chair, Sir, or of that at the Table of the House. I hope that I, and those who agree with me on this question, will always be found anxious and ready to strengthen the hands of the Speaker for the heavy burden he will have to bear, and to uphold his high and necessary authority; and it is because I entertain the deepest conviction that this proposal will have a certain tendency to weaken those hands, and sap that authority, that I beg to move the words of which I have given Notice.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "unless it shall appear to the Chair."—(Mr. Whitbread.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment."

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. William, Henry Smith.)

Motion agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Friday.