§ ADJOURNED DEBATE. [EIGHTH NIGHT.]
Order read, for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Amendment to the Amendment proposed to the Main Question, as amended,
That, after a Question has been proposed, a Motion may be made, if the consent of the Chair has been previously obtained, 'That the Question be now put.' Such Motion shall be put forthwith, and decided without Amendment or Debate:
When the Motion 'That the Question be now put,' has been carried, and the Question consequent thereon has been decided, any further Motion may be made (the consent of the Chair having been previously obtained) which may be requisite to bring to a decision any Question already proposed from the Chair; and also if a Clause be then under consideration, a Motion may be made (with the consent of the Chair as aforesaid) That the Question, That the Clause stand part of, or be added to the Bill, be now put. Such Motions shall be put forthwith, and decided without Amendment or Debate:
Provided always, That Questions for the Closure of Debate shall not be decided in the affirmative, if a Division be taken, unless it shall appear by the numbers declared from the Chair, that such Motion was supported by more than Two Hundred Members, or was opposed by less than Forty Members, and supported by more than One Hundred Members."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
And which Amendment was,
In line 1, by inserting after the word "proposed," 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.)
§ Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "unless it shall appear to the Chair."—(Mr. Whitbread.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment."
§ Debate resumed.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) made a speech of great interest and great ability on Wednesday. The hon. Gentleman will agree with me that the exceedingly elaborate argument of that speech was an argument in favour of the closure by a fair majority without any check or control on the part of the Chair. The hon. Gentleman dwelt at some length on the promise which I gave in an early part of the debate to give a candid consideration to every proposal that might be made. I have, I think, shown such consideration, and have proved that the efforts of the Government are directed to secure the liberty of the House while we endeavoured to advance the conduct of its Business. The hon. Gentleman asked the Government to place more confidence in the House and in the manner in which the majority of the House would exercise its authority. At the same time, however, he described the present condition of the House in language which I myself will not attempt to approach, so strong, so serious, so alarming was that language. But ought the majority to have the power of enforcing the closure on any occasion? The difference between the hon. Gentleman and the Government is, that the Government seek to interpose the authority and responsibility of the Chair between the minority and the closure. I have always held that the majority should be able to close a debate; that is the guiding spirit of the Rule. But it is equally essential that this power should not be absolutely unchecked except by the fear of retribution. I have resisted Amendments which would merely increase the liberty of obstructive debate. Without the interposition of the Chair the closure might itself become an instrument of obstruction, and would enable any Member to waste 15 or 20 minutes of the time of the House simply to ascertain that there was not a 1277 sufficient majority for the application of the Rule. I am not prepared to agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is no danger of the majority using its power in a tyrannical manner. When power is given to a body of men it is by no means safe to assume that it would always be used in a proper manner. We cannot be sure that the best traditions of the House would always prevail, and there is danger that a time would come when the possession of power would be held to justify its use. I should be betraying the trust which has been confided to me if I, a Member of the present majority, could entrust the majority permanently with the power, at any moment, of putting an end to the debates of the House. I, for my part, am not prepared to undertake such a responsibility unchecked and uncontrolled. It is right that the Moderator of this great Assembly representing its judgment and authority should decide as to what is an adequate and fitting discussion of the questions which come before it. I am justified in referring to the debates of 1882 and to the words of a prominent Member of the advanced wing of the Liberal Party—The Democratic creed was that there ought to he very frequent elections—say, once every three years; that certain measures ought to he submitted to the people at those elections; that there should be a plebiscite with regard to them; and that if the people made up their minds they should pass, the Ministry representing the majority, having received an imperative mandate to carry them through, discussion was, therefore, useless."—(3 Mansard,  680–1.)Then the hon. Gentleman went on—Upon questions which had been threshed out in magazines and newspapers and on public platforms the country had already made up its mind, and upon them he would give Gentlemen opposite a fair half-hour to state their views."—(3 Hansard,  680–1.)That was the language of the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). He objected strongly to put it in the power of a majority to close a debate on some matter of vital importance after a few hours' or a day's or even two days' discussion. A majority entrusted with unchecked power of that kind might easily be conceived as pleading that it had received a mandate from the constituencies which must be fulfilled without a moment's delay. The hon. Member for Bedford argued that if his Amendment were adopted there 1278 would be no danger of surprise in the application of the closure. It is true that the figures in the Rule afford a safeguard against a surprise; but it must not be forgotten that there are now more than two Parties in the House, and that by ingenious combinations it would be quite possible to effect a surprise and convert a practical minority into a majority at a given moment, and then to insist on the termination of a debate. The truth must be confessed that the House is not constituted as it used to be. The traditions under which the House was governed many years ago, and which existed when I first entered Parliament, are no longer observed with equal regard. New powers and new authorities are in existence; the Rules are strained, and order and authority are defied. [Cries of "No!" from the Irish Members.] I am sure that hon. Members will acquit me of any desire to say anything disrespectful to them; but those whose duty it is to attend the debates of the House from the commencement of the Sitting at half-past 4 until the rising of the House at 2 o'clock will agree with me that there has been a vast change in the character both of the House and of our debates—that there is not that respect for the traditions and the authority of those whose duty it is to conduct the Business of the House which formerly existed. The Rules which exist are no longer observed in accordance with the traditions under which the House has been governed; but are abused with the view to the attainment of ends which are considered by hon. Members to be desirable at a particular time. I am not, therefore, prepared to accept the proposal of the hon. Member for Bedford to put unchecked and uncontrolled power in the hands of the majority. The hon. Member says that the proposal of the Government will impose upon the Chair a burden too heavy and a responsibility too great to be borne; but the Speaker and Chairman are at the present moment charged with a duty which is shared by no one else in the House—neither by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, nor by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen sitting on these Benches, nor by any other Member. They have the duty imposed on them of declaring the evident sense of the House that the discussion has proceeded as far as it ought to be 1279 carried, and of determining whether the Question should be put for the closure of the debate. It occurs to me that the proposal we now make is a proposal which will enormously reduce the responsibility of the Chair. I can imagine Sir, that under the existing Rules there have been occasions when, sitting in that Chair, you must have weighed seriously the condition of affairs, and that you may have doubted whether it was not your duty to have intervened when you have refrained from doing so. Under the Rule now proposed you will be relieved from that anxiety, and your duty will only arise when a Member rises in his place and moves that the closure shall be applied and that the Question shall be put. It will then be for you to determine, having fair regard to the rights of the minority whether it is your duty to permit the Question to be put. Your responsibility, under these circumstances, will be infinitely less onerous than it is under the present condition of things. An hon. Member who spoke upon this subject the other night spoke of the "rights of the minority" as a thing altogether unknown in this House, and intimated that personally he did not know what the rights of the minority were, and did not know how to interpret them. I would refer the hon. Member to an interesting speech by the hon. Member for Bedford, in 1882, who supported with great force the Rules of Procedure, on the ground that the action of the Speaker was a protection for minorities. We bring you in, Sir, as a protection for minorities. The Speaker and the Chairman are perfectly well aware what the meaning of a "minority" is in this House, and it is unnecessary to define the expression. The Speaker and the Chairman are perfectly capable of forming a judgment upon the expediency of granting or withholding consent, and I have no doubt they would form correct and honest judgments, which would compel acquiescence on both sides of the House. I cannot help remembering that one of the traditions which surround the Chair is that, on all occasions when a question of importance is before the House, the Speaker invariably gives his casting vote in favour of the further consideration of the subject. The power given to the Chair under this Rule is of a precisely analogous charac- 1280 ter. It may be an element of delay or of procrastination, but at all events it will be exercised in favour of those who are not the majority, and consequently it will not bear a Party or factious complexion. In voting for the Amendment to insert words to the effect that the closure shall not be applied until an opportunity has been afforded for debate, the hon. Member for Bedford has unwittingly supplied me with an argument. He says that before the closure takes place an opportunity shall be given for determining whether the question has been adequately discussed; but who is to say that the opportunity has or has not been afforded unless it is the Speaker or Chairman? If it is to be the Chair, I prefer that the authority should be given in a more direct way. Now, Sir, I prefer to rely upon the judgment, the fairness, and the equity of the Chair rather than trust to the opinion of the majority without the judgment of the Chair. If I believed that I was adding in the slightest degree to the burdens imposed upon the Chair, or that I was imposing a burden which I believed the Chair would be unwilling to undertake in the interests of the country at large, I should doubt whether I ought to propose the closure at all, and certainly I should not propose a closure by a simple majority. We are asked to have a little more faith in the mother of Parliaments, and we are told almost in the same breath, of the uncertainty, confusion, and hesitation which may prevail in the House. I believe that the Speaker and the Chairman are the only persons who stand between that which may become anarchy and confusion, and the proper conduct of the Business of the House. I believe that the proposal we have made will avert the anarchy and confusion which some hon. Members predict will arise if the power of the Chair should be in any way diminished, and that it will lead to greater regularity and rapidity—seemly rapidity—in the transaction of the Business of the House. I believe that under this Rule the Chair will consider, not the interest of the Government or of a Party, but will have regard, in the discharge of his duties, to the interests of the House of Commons and of the country. He will have to consider the importance of the subject under discussion, and to frustrate any attempt at surprise, or to snatch a Divi- 1281 sion when the views entertained upon a particular question have not been fully indicated; he will have to form a judgment as to whether fair and reasonable discussion has taken place, and it will be his duty to protect the rights and privileges of minorities in all sections of the House. It is upon these grounds that I support the Amendment I have submitted to the House, and I am unable to accept the excision of the words which the hon. Member has moved to omit; in the conviction that in giving these greater powers the House will make at least an approach to the better conduct of public affairs which so urgently demands the attention of the House.
MR. GLADSTONE (Mid Lothian)
Mr. Speaker, I was in the hope a short time ago from an expression which fell from the right hon. Gentleman that the field of difference on this subject was about to be greatly narrowed by the action of the right hon. Gentleman. I will not say for a moment that he entered into an undertaking, but I certainly understood the right hon. Gentleman entertained an expectation that he would be able to adopt the substance of the Amendment of which Notice has been given by the right hon. Member for North Hants (Mr. Sclater-Booth.) The right hon. Gentleman, however, has not found himself able to adopt that Amendment. I will not give an opinion at this moment upon that Amendment, further than to say that I think the substance of it very considerably narrows the field of debate and the breadth of the difference of the House. I think I can conjecture at least why it is that the right hon. Gentleman has not adopted that Amendment. I think he has felt that if he had done so he would have been open to be challenged as to why he has proposed any alteration in the Rule at all, because the Amendment of the right hon. Member for North Hants distinctly points out to the Speaker the duty of having regard to the evident sense of the House. So far it is satisfactory in this discussion that there is no reason for mixing with it any polemical or contentious element. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has laboured in perfect good faith for the general interests of the House, and I hope he will give the credit freely and readily, not only to the Front Opposition Bench, but to the whole House, of being actuated 1282 by the same spirit. It is important that we should ascertain what is actually the issue before us. The right hon. Gentleman says that the issue is whether they are to have an unchecked majority exercising the power of closure. Permit me to say that that statement is not quite correct. Undoubtedly the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) has argued strongly for the use of the closure by the majority as against the use of the closure in the manner now proposed. But the right hon. Gentleman has not abolished the existing Rule, and there is an existing Rule which provides that there shall be a check on the power of the majority, which check it may be—I do not say it would—but it possibly may be the pleasure of the House to maintain, whether by adopting the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire or by keeping the present Rule as it stands. We have not come to the question yet as one for direct decision whether there is to be a form of closure at the unrestrained will of the majority, or not. We shall come to argue upon that question, but it is not now before the House, because there is in existence and not yet abrogated a restraint upon the power of closure by the majority. I think the right hon. Gentleman has slightly indulged in a flight of the imagination. The senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), whether in the exercise of the remarkable faculty of dry humour he possesses or otherwise, has proposed to the House that on all occasions half-an-hour and no more shall be allowed to the opponents of a Bill to state their case. The right hon. Gentleman reiterating that opinion, which was probably made in jest, thinks that it constitutes a serious danger when introduced into the present discussion. Let me put this to the right hon. Gentleman. Does he think it probable that such an opinion will spread in this House or be adopted by a large section of the House? I am bound to admit that, although I cannot follow him in the anticipations contained in his speech; he did appear to think that such a suggestion constitutes a serious danger—that the opinion may become contagious, and that there is a possibility of its being adopted by a large number of Members. Let me ask him this question, and I do so with more confidence because I have 1283 anticipated the way in which he would meet my challenge on the first question. If a large and powerful body of Members adopt the view that half-an-hour only should be allowed to the opponents of a measure for stating their views, does the right hon. Gentleman think that any power he could place in the hands of the Speaker could enable him to meet such a formidable organization? Any proposal he now makes or has made would be utterly futile for the attainment of such an object. I do not agree with the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman as to the issue now before the House. In my opinion, the present issue is really this—can we afford to add to the burdens now laid upon the Chair with respect to closure? The right hon. Gentleman says that we are not adding to those burdens, but that the Speaker has now an entirely unshared responsibility; and as he is going to have a shared responsibility, the right hon. Gentleman appears to argue that his responsibility is going to be diminished. No doubt it would be so if the Speaker with an unshared responsibility were under a compulsion to act. But he is under no compulsion whatever to act, if his mind is not satisfied that there is occasion to do so. How is the Speaker to be called upon to act? My noble Friend the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) the other day in correcting an inaccurate statement, very much strengthened my case. He showed that there must be two conditions on which the Speaker must be satisfied before he can act at all. What is the state of the case? If the Speaker is called upon to act not upon his own responsibility or his own view, but upon direct challenge, possibly at a moment's notice; in the discharge of his diversified duties it might frequently occur that he may have been compelled to draw his mind from the subject of debate for the purpose of disposing by the side of the Chair of another question not immediately before the House, but necessary to be disposed of by him. Therefore, in that view the increase of the responsibility of the Speaker is very clear. His responsibility at present, no doubt, is serious, if he does act, but he is under no compulsion to act, and no one can expect him to act, and no one can find fault with him for not acting, if his mind is not clear upon the important 1284 conditions of action. There is one point which I wish to clear out of the way. The hon. Member for Bedford in his admirable speech referred to the question as to the inherent power of the Speaker under the present Rule to exclude an obstructive Motion for the use of the closure—a Motion, that is to say made for the purpose of wasting the time of the House. It has been thought by some—I believe it is thought by my hon. Friend—that if we can suppose a ease in which the proposal of the closure is made for the purpose of wasting time, he Speaker has an inherent power to refuse to put the Motion. But, at any rate, let it be clearly understood that there is no doubt on the subject. I wish to say that I and those who agree with me have no objection, but, on the contrary, shall approve of a clear understanding being come to which shall place it beyond all doubt that the Speaker has it in his power, and that it is his duty to exclude an obstructive use of the power of closure by putting any such Motion aside. I am sure I am speaking the mind of the hon. Member for Bedford, and many others, when I say that on that subject there can be no debate or discussion between us; but if the duty is put upon the Speaker, in the exercise of his veto, of having to take into consideration the question of whether the proposal for closure is an infringement of the rights of minority, that is, in our opinion, a great increase in the burdens which now rest upon the Chair; and I think that the opinion of the hon. Member for Bedford, and others with whom I have consulted, is that the Office of Speaker would not bear that increase. I will not prophesy; but I believe that the Speakership will be additionally weighted by the burden now proposed to be put upon it, and that it cannot afford to be so weighted. I can recollect the days when the Speaker had a surplus of power beyond that which it was necessary for him to exercise; but all the power of the Speakership is now fully employed in its most arduous and difficult duties, and no additional labours ought to be placed upon it. With regard to the power of closure generally, I may say that I have never rated its advantages very high. My noble Friend the Member for Rossendale attaches, I believe, far more value to it than I do. Under the circumstances it is a power 1285 reasonable to be introduced; but I am bound to say that I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House when he supposes that the closure and the other Rules of Procedure will introduce some great and vital change in the facilities for carrying on the Business of the House. Such expectations are, I believe, altogether visionary; and I have the gravest doubt whether the Government will ever, by these Rules, even retrieve or recoup themselves for the time they are now spending in carrying them. For the purposes of comparison there are three methods of providing for the interposition of the Chair in the exercise of the power of closure. There is first the method under the Rule at present in force, and which it is doubtless the intention of the Government to repeal; but it will not give us a tabula raza; and we shall still have a law in force, if we are to have the intervention of the Speaker at all. Let us see what is the form of intervention now. I say that it is the minimum of intervention, because it is hedged about by several conditions. In the first place, the Speaker must be convinced in his own mind that it is his duty to intervene, and unless he is convinced in his own mind affirmatively it is his duty not to act. He may possibly have been prevented from fully considering the question, and it is his duty not to act until he has had an opportunity of fully considering it. His safety is in non-action; in non-action he is secure, and no responsibility can be placed upon him until he has acted, and until his mind has been brought to a proper conclusion. The second condition is that he must be satisfied it is agreeable to "the evident sense of the House." There is no doubt at all, I presume, about the meaning of the words "evident sense of the House." By that phrase is meant what was called by the right hon. Member for North Hants the general sense of the House. I should say myself the overwhelming sense of the House. It does not mean that hon. Gentlemen on the one side of the House are stronger and on the other weaker. That would not be the evident sense of the House; and it was with the intent of excluding any such action that we asked the House to adopt these most important limiting words. The Speaker, under the present Rule, intervenes, if he intervenes at all, 1286 on account of his own deliberate judgment, and as the servant of the House in giving expression to the distinct and overwhelming conclusion of the House. It is in complete conformity with the traditions of the Chair that the Speaker should interpose under the Rules of the House for the purpose of sustaining what he believes to be the general sense of the House. Therefore as far as the responsibility of the Speaker is concerned, I say that that responsibility is now at its minimum, I can hardly conceive a case where the closure in its present form would be used against any combination of Gentleman deliberately associated together in this House in pursuit of a policy founded upon conviction. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of changes that have taken place in the House. I can speak as an eye-witness, and I may say that the main change that has taken place in straining the Rules of the House and opposing its will has no reference to any particular Party, but is due to the fact that the individual Member has not that degree of respect, that degree of veneration—I may almost say that degree of awe—for the general and manifest will of the House which in my early days, I will venture to say without fear of contradiction, used to be universal. It is therefore necessary to have Rules to deal with eccentric and refractory Members and their possible cliques; but that any Party can be put down by such Rules I do not for one moment believe. My confidence in the Rule, however, even as it at present stands has been greatly shaken by what happened on the only occasion when the closure was put in force; and when with one or two marked exceptions the Members of the Conservative Opposition withdrew from the House, and those who remained voted against the closure—among them the present Lord Chancellor, whose business it now is to maintain Order in the other House of Parliament as far as he is allowed a function of that kind. On that occasion the Conservative Party thought it necessary to act with the minority, to the distinct disparagement of the authority of the Chair. Well, Sir, I learned a good deal from that occurrence. It showed me that I could not rely upon the Rules of the House, even to the moderate extent to which they went. I am not prepared to say that I have strong confidence in 1287 the permanent working of the existing Rule of Closure. I will not argue or press that the time has come when it is necessary to repeal it. It might remain for further trial; but, whether that be so or not, one thing I have learned from the action of the Rule is that the weight already laid on the Chair is as great a weight as the Chair can possibly sustain, and that it would be most unwise and most short-sighted to add to the burden. If it is proposed to add to that burden we may not only endanger the dignity of the Chair in the discharge of its functions, but the future efficiency of this House. Other modes of the Speaker's intervention are now brought forward which are not, I think, consistent with sound principle. In the original proposal of the Government it was provided that any Member might move the closure on obtaining the permission of the Speaker. Putting aside the case of the use of the closure for purely obstructive purposes, with which I have already dealt, it may safely be assumed that the Motion for the Closure would always come from a Member of the presumed majority. I object to this proposal, because it gives no indication as to how the Speaker should exercise his power; and because such interference on the part of the Speaker in consenting to the Motion being made would invariably be an interference on behalf of the stronger side. The tendency would, therefore, be that the Speaker would become the champion of the presumed majority, and the antagonist of the presumed minority. But the Speaker of the House cannot afford to be regarded as the champion of one Party and the antagonist of another. The exercise of such a power would tend to set him against the minority, and would likewise tend to set the minority against him. I am not supposing the smallest error on the part of the Speaker; I am supposing him to be interpreting soundly the Rules and acting firmly and resolutely upon them. But the right hon. Gentleman now proposes a different plan—namely, that the Speaker is to allow the closure to go forward unless he thinks fit, in order to avoid an infringement of the rights of the minority, to interpose his veto. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is in the majority. That is new to me. Interpreting the right hon. Gentleman strictly, I am not 1288 aware that that is the fact, although, if he had said, "I am in a position which for practical purposes is equivalent to the majority," I should have taken no exception to the right hon. Gentleman's statement. With delightful modesty he comes forward to shut out his majority from the abuse of power. He would not place confidence even in himself and in those who sit around him not to abuse that power that a general liberty of closure in the hands of the majority would give, and all this for consideration of the interests of the minority. The minority are deeply, it may be hoped eternally, grateful for the genuine, it may even be said the supererogatory, care which is being taken of their interests. But I am bound to say that on the Opposition side of the House we have no wish for that care from the right hon. Gentleman. We have no fear of the intentions and conduct of the majority in a capital matter. We are persuaded that the majority is too just and too rational to commit so gross a crime as to put down liberty of discussion, or so gross a blunder as to attempt to check it by the undue use of the power of closure. At the same time, I would not ask for an abatement of the right hon. Gentleman's consideration for the minority, if in providing for the interests of the minority the right hon. Gentleman was not about to do very serious mischief. In the amended proposal, where the Chair is to interpose a veto, that veto will be sought upon a Motion made in the interest of the presumed majority of the House, and the Speaker is to be called upon by his veto to make himself a judge against the presumed majority of the House, and to establish himself as a check and limitation upon the exercise by that majority of its powers. Now, I would venture to ask those who sit around, in whatever quarter of the House they may be, whether this is not an absolute innovation? Is there a single Rule or tradition of the House which recognizes in a great or small degree the Speaker as a legitimate and wholesome check upon the will of the majority of the House? Of course, no one can have a check upon the will of the declared majority; but is it wise to put the Speaker into collision with the presumed majority? If we require the Speaker to do that it is very likely—almost certain—that he will be extremely cautious in 1289 the exercise of this veto. He will exercise it, if he be a wise man—and he will be a wise man—very rarely indeed, for he will feel the dangerous character of the function which it is attempted to put upon him. I think, then, we should have, as the effect of plating the Speaker in conflict with the presumed majority, in the first place, an innovation of a rather gross character in the whole traditions of his Office; and, in the second place, as regards the practical consequences of the change, the introduction of a great wrench into the position of the Chair which will materially weaken its basis. Let it be supposed, however, that the Speaker exercises the veto pretty freely. Many Members then would feel themselves placed in a rather painful dilemma. Having strong views about the irksomeness of prolonged debate and the necessity of closure, they would be impatient of the interference of the Speaker, but they would feel the importance of maintaining the dignity of the Chair. They would be divided between conflicting sentiments, and conflicting sentiments of that kind, whichever way a private Member might ultimately decide, are not at all favourable to that position which I desire to see the Chair of this House always maintain—namely, a position not only strong, but unquestioned and unsuspected. But suppose that they so far sacrifice their desire for closure and feel themselves, as will frequently happen, under an obligation to refuse the Motion for Closure—suppose that the Speaker has interposed his veto, and that when the closure is put to the House it is rejected by the majority. That would not always happen, but what I am afraid of is that it might happen sometimes. The judgment which the Speaker has passed in these difficult matters is liable to be over-ruled by the House. Who that recollects the first occasion on which it was attempted to bring the closure about under the present Rule will not be conscious that the case which I have put is very far from being an improbable case? Suppose that it happens not only once but twice or thrice that the Speaker having interposed his veto, and having given thereby a presumable sanction to the Motion, is over-ruled, and the closure refused. Who will tell me that the position of the Speaker would be the same as it was before he began to exercise his 1290 power? It appears to me that that lies at the root of the whole question. Even if it were a distant risk to the stability and the dignity of the Chair, I would not for any benefit that I could anticipate from this veto incur that risk. I hold the position of the Chair to be too precious to be trifled with. The right hon. Gentleman seems to think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford is inconsistent, because, while he justly lauded the House of Commons for all its high characteristics, he likewise said the Chair was the one barrier between their debates and anarchy. Of course it is. In every Deliberative Assembly so it must be. But there is no Deliberative Assembly in the world in which the position of its President has anything like the importance of the position of the Speaker. There is no Deliberative Assembly in the world where the Chair is so fortified by long traditions and by recollections that I may even call consecrated recollections. To incur a danger in that quarter is a thing which of all others we should avoid. Let there be a recourse, if there is a necessity to meet, to some other mode of meeting that necessity. Let us not put upon the Chair, already so burdened that it has become a commonplace to say that the calls upon the Speaker are up to the extreme limits of human capacity to meet them—let us not under such circumstances augment those burdens, for the position of the Chair is alike vital to the dignity of the House and to the efficient discharge of the Business of the nation.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (Lord JOHN MANNERS) (Leicestershire, E.)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) has on this occasion surpassed himself in the ingenuity of his argument and the minuteness of his criticism. I hope that the House, which has listened with admiration to the masterly display of the right hon. Gentleman's dialectical skill, has understood fully what it is the right hon. Gentleman advises and what he asks the House to do. When he first began his speech, and asked what was the issue at stake, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was going to suggest that, after all, the Amendment had better be withdrawn, and that the House should be content with the Rule which now 1291 exists. The right hon. Gentleman gave us an eloquent vindication of the origin of the existing Rule; but towards the close of his explanation the right hon. Gentleman also gave us to understand that, admirable as the existing Rule is in its inception, from various causes it has not answered his expectations; therefore, I presume the right hon. Gentleman did not advise the House to maintain the existing Rule of Closure.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I said that I thought the existing Rule should be given a further trial, but that I had not the same confidence in it that I had.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
It appears, then, that the sum and substance of the speech we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman is that he is willing to give a Rule which he admits has not succeeded a further trial, while he has no confidence that it will succeed in the future, and that is the advice which the right hon. Gentleman practically gives the House in his speech of an hour's duration! I confess that I have never been one of those who have taken the prominent part the right hon. Gentleman has taken in advising new Rules of Closure. I admit freely, probably with nearly every Member of the House, that there should be some check upon the prolixity of our debates, and I am willing to concede with the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) that there should be some more effective method of closure. But I really was under the impression, until I heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the only subject of debate was the question what form the closure should take, whether the action of the Chair should be brought into play, or whether it should be altogether excluded in accordance with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). The issue before us is simply that raised by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford. We are not now discussing whether the words which follow this part of the Resolution are the best that could be devised or not. Though the right hon. Gentleman has given us an exhaustive criticism of those words, all we have now to decide is whether the Chair is to be brought into play or not. Her Majesty's Government believe that it would be for the interest of the House, and would preserve the privileges of the 1292 minority, that there should be certain protection afforded them by the action of the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman has warned the House in the most solemn tones of the danger to which we are subjecting the Chair by the imposition of that modified responsibility upon its occupant. Sir, we do not share those fears. We hold them to be groundless; and we do not think the statement the right hon. Gentleman has made in support of those fears would justify us in accepting the Amendment. It has been urged by the right hon. Gentleman that the Chair will not bear the additional burden which the exercise of that veto would impose on it. I, on the contrary, am prepared to contend that the exercise of that veto, limited as it is by the words that follow and by the proportion of Members that must be present, would not add to the responsibility devolving upon the Chair under the present Rules. On the contrary, I maintain that the responsibility thrown on the Chair will be less than at present, and its duties less arduous and less difficult and delicate than they now are. One reason urged by the right hon. Gentleman for regarding the present Rule as valueless is that on one occasion, a year or two ago, when an endeavour was made to put the closure in force, the great body of the Opposition either walked out of the House or voted against it. My recollection of that occasion is perfectly clear, because I did not walk out of the House, nor did I vote against the exercise by the Speaker of the duty imposed upon him. The fact was that there was a certain omission in the Rule as to the mode in which the Speaker was called upon to act. Undoubtedly there was a surprise. Members did not know what was coming; and, being taken by surprise, many of them took the course which the right hon. Gentleman has described. Under the New Rule there is every reason to hope that hon. Members will not be taken by surprise, and that is one of the advantages that we believe will follow the proposed Rule. As he proceeded in his speech, the right hon. Gentleman opposite warmed to his subject, and seemed disposed to support the proposal of the hon. Member for Bedford in its integrity; and, on behalf of those sitting behind him, he declared that he had no fear of the closure by the great 1293 majority of the House alone, and did not desire check or safeguard of any kind whatever. I could not help thinking on whose behalf, and for how many Members who sit behind him, the right hon. Gentleman made that statement. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) seems, by his movements and gesticulations to imply that all the Members who sit behind the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian accept that proposal, and are prepared to vote the closure pure and simple. The right hon. Member for Derby is a very great authority, and has taken an active part in all the discussions on this subject; but even if he be right as to the Members who sit behind him, I can hardly suppose that many of the hon. Gentlemen who sit below the Gangway, instead of sitting behind the Front Opposition Bench, are enamoured of the closure without a safeguard. During this long, protracted, and desultory discussion, how many speeches had been made by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway warning hon. Members on the Conservative side of the House of what may happen to them if they once put their heads in the mouth that is about to swallow them up when they find themselves in a minority, after the closure has been voted by them? It has been asked by the Irish Members if we are foolish enough to suppose we shall always remain in a majority, and we are asked to provide a safeguard for the time when we may be a disheartened and miserable minority. I am greatly obliged to hon. Members from Ireland for their great consideration in regard to our position; but I do not think even their good will would be so eloquent or so vehement if they had not some idea that in pleading the cause of the Conservatives, they were doing their best to promote their own. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, although he assumed to speak for all Parties behind him, was not speaking from what is called a "mandate," which had been given to him, when he said that they were perfectly willing to submit to the closure without the imposition of any check or safeguard whatever. The issue now before the House has been fairly stated by the hon. Member for Bedford, and the House is in possession of all the facts of the case. It is an extremely simple and clear issue—whe- 1294 ther we are to have the closure without any safeguard or check whatever interposed between the majority and the minority, or whether you will interpose between the Member of the House or the Minister—I care not which it is, who asks for the closure—a safeguard for the minority, and for the just conduct of debate in the veto of the Chair.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I greatly fear that the House is about to proceed to a Division on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford upon the wrong words. I had the privilege of addressing the House on the general question before we began to consider the Resolutions in detail; and I said then that it would be extremely undesirable that the Chair should have any real part in applying the closure. I cannot but think that, however it is exercised—and I am sure it would always be exercised with the strictest impartiality and the best judgment—that it would not redound to the strength and authority of the Chair. I am afraid—and I think that experience has already shown the truth—that any attempt on the part of the Chair to discriminate the occasions when the closure should be imposed, having regard to the rights of the minority—must be highly perilous to the dignity and authority of the Chair. I, therefore, regretted, when a Rule of Closure was proposed four years ago, that it was adopted in the form in which it now exists, and I should regret its being adopted in the form now before the House. I am not one of those who have absolute confidence as to what may be the action of a majority of the House. The permanent majority of the House must always be trusted; but the majority of the moment, or the majority of the night, is a power against which all our Rules are devised. Every Rule we have adopted has been adopted by the House at large, to prevent an abuse by a fleeting majority of the night. Having had experience of the action of a majority having been both in a majority and in a minority myself, I am firmly persuaded that it would be extremely dangerous to give to a fleeting majority of the House an absolute and unrestrained power of closure. I never felt that danger more strongly than when I formed one of a powerful majority—when we were sur- 1295 rounded by persons full of power and the consciousness of power, impatient of delay, and anxious to press forward any object they had at heart. It is in such a case as that that the danger lies of giving unchecked power to the majority. Therefore, I greatly desire that some restraint should be put upon the power of the majority by a strong Rule. I would confine it strictly to persons charged with definite responsiblity either with respect to general Business or the Business in hand; and next, that it should only be carried by such a majority as would secure confidence that what was done by that majority would also have been done by the permanent majority. The three dangers which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford desires to counteract are the danger of tyranny, the danger of surprise, and the danger of disorder. If you retain the numbers as they are proposed, or if, as I greatly prefer, you adopt a proportional majority, you will have ample protection against surprise and tyranny. But you must also have some protection against disorder, and the protection which I would lay down against disorder is in not allowing any person to move the closure except he is a person holding a position of responsibility in connection with the Government, or a person in a position of responsibility in respect of the Business in hand. A proposal to that effect, I regret to say, was rejected on Wednesday when it was brought before the House by the hon. Member for Lancashire (Mr. Leake). You must, however, have some protection, or perhaps you will find some speculative Member getting up to try what the effect of moving the closure might be. What would happen if some other authority cannot intervene? The question must be put to the Vote. The hon. Member for Bedford, in answer to that, stated that the inherent power of the Chair would be sufficient to enable the Speaker or the Chairman to disallow the question being put. I was somewhat surprised to hear an old Whig talk of the inherent power of the Chair; and certainly, so far as I am concerned, although I hare no wish to limit the power of the Chair, I have no desire to enlarge the inherent power of the Chair; and I prefer to be governed by the clear and definite provisions of a statute. As to the inherent right of the Chair, it 1296 is a phrase of the measure of which I venture to say we are not always assured, and I doubt whether the Chair has the inherent right now claimed for it. Reference has been made to a Motion adopted four or five years ago, which provided that, if the occupant of the Chair was of opinion that an abuse of the Rules of the House was being committed, he might object to put the Question. But that is not the rule. The occupant of the Chair has a certain power; but what is it? Not to put the Motion aside, or to say that the Question shall not be put; but to declare the Question shall be put forthwith. If the occupant of the Chair has an inherent right of disposing of the matter, if he thinks there has been an abuse of the Forms of the House; what is the meaning of that Rule? If the Chair possesses the greater power contended for, this smaller power would be involved in it. What might be the action of some speculative Member? He comes here late at night, and he finds himself prevented from going away by some stalwart gentleman stationed an outer door. He is not always animated by too much political enthusiasm, and, if desirous of getting away, he would say—"I beg to move that the Question be now put." In such a case as that what power does the Speaker possess? He is bound to put the Question. By that means you may have a closure and a clear abuse of the Forms of the House, and it is necessary that there should be some check against such an abuse. How, then, is this danger to be checked? I think it would be met by the words, "unless it shall appear to the Chair that such Motion is an abuse of the Forms of the House." But the hon. Member is moving to omit those words, and, therefore, I am afraid that he is taking the Division upon a wrong issue. Now, I venture to submit that it is absolutely essential to put in those words, "Unless it shall appear to the Chair that such Motion is an abuse of the Forms of the House." If the hon. Member for Bedford will withdraw his present Amendment, and then propose to omit the words which follow, there will be a fair issue. But it will be entirely misleading to divide on the Amendment which is now before the House.
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
After the appeal of the hon. Member for 1297 Bodmin (Mr. Courtney), perhaps I may be allowed, by the indulgence of the House, to say that I took my stand upon the words on the Paper at the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who thought that the most convenient form of bringing to an issue whether this duty should be cast upon the Chair. I stated, in the course of the remarks I made, that I had no objection whatever to the words relating to the abuse of the Forms of the House, and I should not object to the Amendment which stands on the Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage)—Unless when a Member rises to make such Motion the consent of the Chair be refused, on the ground that such Motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House.Therefore, if the Division is taken on the words I propose to omit, I shall have to ask the House subsequently to take another Division on the words relating to the rights of the minority. I think it would be more convenient if the House would allow me to withdraw the Amendment I have already moved, and give me permission to move the omission of the words, "Or an infringement of the rights of the minority."
§ MR. WHITBREAD
I should like to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Amendment I have moved, and in its place to move the omission of the words, "Or an infringement of the rights of the minority."
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
Some of my hon. Friends have placed Amendments upon the Paper to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford, and I think some arrangement ought to be made for taking the sense of the House upon those Amendments now standing in our names. Certainly the rights of Members who have Amendments to the Amendment which it is now proposed to withdraw, ought not to suffer.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
On the question of the withdrawal of the Amendment, I wish to say that the Leader of the 1298 House is entirely responsible for the confusion into which we have been thrown. It is most unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman did not put his Amendment down on the paper until the time had gone by for proposing Amendments to it in their proper order. As to the proposal of the hon. Member for Bedford to withdraw his Amendment, I think it places the House in a position of some difficulty. I and my hon. Friends object not only to the words relating to the infringement of the rights of the minority, but also to the words relating to an abuse of the Rules of the House. We believe that those words are too vague, and that they leave too large a discretion to the Chair. We believe that in certain cases the minority should have a right of proposing the clôture as well as the majority. If hon. Members will turn to page 14 of the Amendments it will be found that there are two or three Amendments standing in the names of hon. Members for Ireland, and especially one in the name of the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. O'Hea), who proposes to leave out from the Amendment the words "it shall appear to the Chair," in order to substitute an Amendment to the effectthat a Member rising in his place may claim to move that the Question be now put unless 40 Members rise in their place to signify that such Motion is an abuse of the Forma of the House.That may be a right or wrong proposal, but it is certainly a proposal which we have the right to discuss. The only thing I desire to place before the House is the necessity of safeguarding the rights of hon. Members to propose the Amendments now standing on the Paper in reference to the words which are proposed to be left out.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford is withdrawn, it would be necessary to take Amendments which stand on the Paper before the words which he now proposes to leave out are reached. The words now proposed to be left out are "unless it shall appear to the Chair," and the next words of the Amendment of the Leader of the House are that "such Motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House." Any Amendment relating to those words will have precedence over the Amendment the hon. Member now proposes to move, and which is to omit 1299 the words "or an infringement of the rights of the minority." Is it the pleasure of the House that the Amendment be withdrawn? [Cries of "No!"]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
I hope that course will not be taken. It is desirable that we should come to an issue at once, and in my opinion it might be come to at once. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway attach much importance to the omission of the words "abuse of the Rules of the House." As far as I am concerned, I have no objection to those words at all, and I support the Resolution as far as it goes in that respect. I am quite prepared to take issue on the words "infringement of the rights of the minority," which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford proposes to omit. Hon. Members below the Gangway will not be debarred from raising a discussion upon the words "abuse of the Rules of the House "if they desire to do so. But as everybody is prepared to come to a decision upon the main issue, I think it might be disposed of at once.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I do not know whether I am in Order in rising again, but I hope the House will extend its indulgence to me. I believe it is the general wish of the House to come to a decision as to the question whether the Chair shall interpose in favour of the rights of minorities. I think that is the general sense of the House, and I trust that hon. Members below the Gangway will permit that issue to be taken now. It is true that there are Amendments which precede that Question; but hon. Gentlemen must be aware that they are of a character which are certain to be met by a negative by the large majority of the House, seeing that they are not supported by the Opposition generally.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I think the right hon. Gentleman has taken an extraordinary course, and one which will place hon. Members sitting in this part of the House in an unfair position. I see there are on the Paper a considerable number of Amendments to these words—"abuse of the Rules of the House," and we were led to believe that the whole strength of the Liberal Party 1300 would be applied to the erasure altogether of those words from the Rule. Under that supposition we were prepared to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford. We had no choice but to support that Amendment, because it came before the Amendment which relates to the subsequent words. But now a course is proposed to be pursued which is supported by right hon. Gentlemen opposite from one motive only. The hon. Member for Bedford, acting fairly and generously towards hon. Members below the Gangway, desired to withdraw his Amendment in order to give an opportunity to discuss the words "abuse of the Rules of the House." But hon. Members opposite refuse to allow it to be withdrawn, although the hon. Member for Bedford says that he is not desirous of challenging an issue upon it. A persistence in the course now taken will only have the effect of depriving Members below the Gangway of their right to move Amendments. I beg to submit to the House, that as this Rule is manifestly for the purpose of curtailing the rights of the House, it is not fair to the Members of a Party, who are often in a minority here, to refuse to allow them the opporunity of proposing Amendments on the mere intimation that the Government intend to meet those Amendments with a negative. It is a matter in which we are all keenly interested, and we ought to have a fair chance of putting our Amendments before the House and of challenging a decision upon thorn. If this course is persisted in we shall not get a chance of voting as we expected to be able to vote, because it would appear now that the Liberal Party above the Gangway are not going to support us. I think we ought to have a chance of voting for the omission of these words, even if we do not get an opportunity of proposing the whole of our Amendments. The altered change of front in regard to the Amendment is, I think, of the most vital importance to us as a small Party in the House. I am somewhat astonished that the Conservative Party cannot recall the time when these Rules of Closure might have been disastrously applied to them; and I cannot understand why they should not wish to guard against this danger hereafter by supporting the Motion to omit the words "abuse of the Rules of the House." I protest in the 1301 strongest terms against the course it is proposed to take, and I maintain that it is most ungenerous not to afford us an opportunity of laying our Amendments before the House.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I am sorry the hon. Gentleman thinks the course we are now pursuing is ungenerous. We are most anxious to give full opportunity for discussing any substantive Amendment which the House may seriously entertain, I should have been glad if I could respond to the appeal which has been made by the hon. Gentleman. I think it would be of advantage if the Amendment were withdrawn, and we were to proceed at once to the consideration of the words which the hon. Member for Bedford proposes to omit. However, under all the circumstances of the case, I do not think I should be justified in protracting the discussion, and, therefore, I will ask the hon. Gentleman to consent to allow his Amendment to be negatived.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Then the Question I have to propose to the House is, "that these words stand part of the proposed Amendment."
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I understand that the House has refused to allow the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford to be withdrawn, and, under the circumstances, there is nothing left but to continue the general discussion on the Amendment. I feel bound to protest strongly against the inconvenience of a course which has been adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, because he is compelling us to continue the discussion, with a foregone knowledge that we are unable to arrive at anything like a rational result. There is, however, nothing left for me but to follow the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman, and to discuss the proposal of the hon. Member for Bedford exactly as if the conversation which has just taken place had not occurred at all. I strongly object to the manner in which the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) and the Leader of the House have put the question before the House—namely, whether there should be closure, absolute and simple, or closure protected by the intervention of the Chair. I am in favour of the removal and abstention of the Chair from all partizan feeling and partizan action in this House. That is really the 1302 solitary issue at stake—whether we shall leave the Chair in a position of perfect impartiality, or whether we shall drag the Speaker down into the arena of Party conflict. The question is, whether we are to have the intervention of the Speaker in the question of the closure? The Leader of the House maintains that there would be greater temptation to introduce the closure if it were not for the intervention of the Speaker; but that I entirely deny, and I say that there is more chance of his intervention under the present Rule. If that were so, in future the responsibility would rest with the Minister alone. I regret that the Leader of the House has not, in introducing these Rules of Procedure, paid more respect to the authority of the Chair, which he has done all in his power to break down. The right hon. Gentleman says that he wants to preserve the rights of minorities, but the only minority whose rights he wishes to preserve is the Tory minority; in fact, he wants to use the Rule for the protection of the Tory minority, and in order to put down the Irish minority in this House in their attempt to prevent the enslavement of the Irish people. For these reasons, I enter my most solemn protest against the action of the Government in this matter.
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
I wish to pay my humble tribute to the able and lucid manner in which the hon. Member for Bedford has placed this question before the House. The arguments of the hon. Member appear to me to have been in no way disposed of by the First Lord of the Treasury in his speech of this evening. I am of opinion that the vital importance of this matter can hardly be exaggerated. The danger of the intervention of the Speaker in the manner suggested by the Government, was apparent during the debates of 1882 to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when the present Secretary for Scotland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) said that the object of the New Rule was clearly to give Ministers their own way; and he asked how, in such circumstances, could the Speaker "fail to be a partizan?" Again, in 1885 there was a Division on the clôture, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has adverted, but which, I venture to think, will bear further examination. The action of the Conser- 1303 vative Party was very significant on that occasion, and looking at the numbers on the Division, I put it to the House to consider what serious consequences might have ensued had there been eight votes less in favour of the Motion. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby admit the other night that the intervention of the Chair, even in the limited manner it is exercised under the present Rule, had proved full of danger. It seems to me that the proposal of the Government to introduce the Chair in the manner it does constitutes a flagrant violation of the traditions of this House. I should not have used language which I am aware is strong, had I not the high authority of the late Sir Erskine May, who says—That ultimate authority on all points is the House itself, but the Speaker in the Executive officer by whom the Rules are generally enforced.It is much to be regretted that the Committee presided over by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale did not take evidence. But I will refer to the Committee of 1878, before which evidence was taken, and I venture to say that hon. Members will find therein valuable information bearing upon this question. In reply to questions, Mr. Brand, the then Speaker of the House, declared his willingness to undertake any responsibility which the House thought proper to cast upon him; but he added—"I think this is a discretion which ought not to be vested in the Speaker." He also, in reply to Mr. Newdegate, admitted that the peculiarity of the English Parliament is that "the authority in both Houses exists in the House, and not in the Speaker of either House." That, Sir, I venture to think, entirely sustains the opinion I have expressed with regard to the proposal before us. It has been pointed out that the Chair must come in as against the minority. I notice, on referring to the debates in this House, that on the 26th February, 1884, the hon. Member for Bedford, when the House was proceeding to the election of Speaker, and upon whom fell the duty of proposing that you, Sir, should occupy that Chair, used these words—In the Speaker, the minority, however small, should find their friend and best protector in the just exercise of their rights."—(3 Hansard,  20.)1304 And they were responded to by you in your speech to the House. The Rule which the Government propose to ask the House to adopt, therefore, violates the position indicated by you on that occasion. Again, I would point out that this House has always maintained the greatest jealousy with respect to partizanship on the part of its highest Officer; and, as an instance of this, I may refer to the fact that in the year 1835 the House, on the 19th February, took the very strongest step which it could take, by proceeding to elect a Speaker in the place of Sir C. M. Sutton, who had occupied the Chair of this House for 18 years, to the general satisfaction; because it was thought he had not displayed the complete indifference to Party interests which was required of the Speaker of the House. It is a fact that should give rise to reflection that the leading supporters of the Ministerial Rule are, with one or two exceptions, men of much less Parliamentary experience than those who are now opposed to it; the result of which is that a certain confusion of purpose and vacillation of mind is observable in the action of the Government. The Government, in short, are, as has been pointed out in the course of these debates, not dealing with causes, but with symptoms. I listened with great pleasure to the language which fell a week ago from the right hon. Member for Oxford University, who occupies such a high posisition in the House, that it was not to Rules we must look, but to the spirit prevailing among Members for the efficiency of this Assembly. It is because I believe this proposal constitutes a fatal innovation in the constitutional position of the Chair, and that its effect, if carried, will be most disastrous, that I cordially support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford.
§ SIR JOHN KENNAWAY (Devon, Honiton)
Sir, it has been, up to a recent date, objected by the Party to which I belong that the principle involved in this Rule was not in accordance with the traditions of the House, which relied on the good feeling of the Members rather than upon binding down debate by any strict Rule. Time, however, has educated us. The Business of this House has largely increased. Members, at the same time, have been more and more eager to show their constituents that they were anxious to expedite measures in 1305 accordance with the views of those who returned them to the cry of "more legislation." With the increase of Business there has been increased difficulty in transacting it; there has been an increased demand upon the time and temper of the House, on the Leaders, and on the Chair, the result of this being that the House of Commons has grown in disfavour, and there has been a feeling in the country that it is not an efficient machine for legislation and the remedying of evils which are felt to exist. We are, therefore, forced to the conclusion that it is necessary to reconsider our Rules, and give up some old ideas which were once fondly cherished. I think that the Government in leaving it open to any Member of the House to propose the closure, subject only to the decision of the Chair, have effected a very great improvement on the original plan. Let me point out, with regard to what has been said with regard to the position of Mr. Speaker, that his responsibility would not be increased by this Rule, and that, on the contrary, it relieves him from the duty of initiating the closure. He will only have to see that no injustice is done in regard to these three points—tyranny, obstruction, and surprise. We are told that we are to trust the House, and I think Her Majesty's Government have shown by their action that they propose to do so, and that they are not asking a guarantee from the House against itself, but against individuals who might abuse the powers of this Rule. At the same time, we desire that the trust reposed in the House should be tempered with prudence, and we feel that if the Rule were passed in the amended form suggested by the hon. Member for Bedford, it would leave the House in the hands of Members who might move the closure for obstructive purposes. For these reasons, I cordially support the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, which we do not regard as one which will work great wonders, but as one which will facilitate the Business of the House, and meet with the approval of the country.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
Sir, I regret that the hon. Member for Bedford was not allowed to take the course he proposed with regard to his Amendment. For my part, I am always in favour of the initiation of the closure 1306 by the House. I believe that the Member who moved the closure should be responsible for it, and it is for that reason I have put down the words standing in my name upon the Paper. I cannot, however, vote for the Amendment of my hon. Friend, because the words which he wishes to omit are connected with my own Amendment. I entirely agree with regard to there being a strong objection to the words "infringement of the rights of the minority," which are entirely novel, not having been used in the Rules of the House hitherto, and if my hon. Friend moves their omission, I shall vote with him.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House complains that we are occupying too much time in the discussion of these Rules; but I wish to call attention to the fact that in 1882 the Conservative Party occupied the time of the House for 19 days in discussing the first Rule. I shall not follow the example of the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion, but I shall follow it to the extent of making another protest against the position which the Government have taken up with regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), which has met with so much favour, and which, I venture to say, is justifiable in its character. I object to the intervention of the Chair, because it is dragging the Speaker down to the level of the excitement which takes place in debates of this House. I do not support the Amendment of the hon. Member on Party grounds; I support it because I think its tendency is to maintain the dignity of the Chair, and the respect for it which is traditional in this House.
§ MR. THOMAS GILL (Louth, S.)
Sir, the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. J. E. Ellis), a short time since, very clearly and forcibly put the constitutional idea of the Speaker in this House, and he pointed out the difference as between the position of the Speaker of this House and that of the Speaker of almost every other Legislative Assembly in the world. The Speaker of this House occupies a unique position, and the Clause of this Rule which provides for his intervention seems to me to strike at the very foundation of his position. The hon. Member for Bedford asked, if the closure worked so well in other Assemblies, why 1307 it should not work well in this Assembly, which is the mother of them all? Now, Sir, I think it is taking for granted a fact which is not proved to say that the closure has worked well in other Assemblies, and the House of Commons ought to ask itself the question whether that is the case. In America, the work of making laws is carried on by Standing Committees, and the clôture, or, as it is there called, "Moving the Previous Question," has been, it is said, the greatest engine in passing them through the House without due deliberation. An eminent authority on this point says—The reference of Business to Committees saves time, but it also tends to prevent discussion. The Federal House of Representatives has in course of time become the slave of its Committees, who, except in the case of revenue measures, prepare a verdict which the House is compelled to accept without debate by the use of the Motion for the Previous Question.That, Sir, is an instance of the effect of the use of the clôture in the House of Representatives in America, and its result has been to impair in the most destructive manner the functions of debate in that Assembly. What is the consequence, however, of this rapid manufacture of legislation? It is that the legislation is mostly hasty, often corrupt, and that there is far too much of it, and that the President has come to exercise his veto to an extent which places the Parliament in quite a secondary position. In 1885, President Cleveland exercised his right of veto upon an enormous number of Statutes made by the Legislature. With regard to the position of the Speaker in the American Assembly, it is totally different from that of the Speaker here, for while the latter is, correctly speaking, the mouthpiece of the House; the former has gradually got into a position in which he almost wields the powers of an Executive officer of the Government. It is because the Rule of the Leader of the House strikes at the foundation of the Speaker's position in this House, that I shall give my hearty support to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford.
MR. HANDEL-COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
Sir, I think the House has great reason to find fault with the way in which the Government has acted with regard to this Amendment. I am of opinion that if we are to have the closure at all, the House should take the whole responsibility with regard to it upon 1308 itself; and I trust that the intervention of the Chair, and the bringing of the Speaker into collision with Parties in this House, will, in some way or other be prevented, because I feel that otherwise it will lead to very serious consequences. My faith, however, is in the devolution of Business, and not in Rules of Closure. I have a great desire that the object at which the Government aims should be accomplished, although I do not agree with the mode in which they are endeavouring to attain their object. I think we are spending a great deal of time on the Rules of Procedure, when we ought rather to be inviting the attention of the House to those great measures which I hope the Government are going to bring forward for the purpose of removing the difficulties under which the country is suffering. We have not gone very far yet with the first Rule, and, if I may judge from the number of Amendments on the Paper, it will be a long time before we get to the Business of the House. I cannot help thinking that the Government have incurred great responsibility in bringing forward these Rules, which, after all, are only means to an end. My object being to get to the end, which is to remove the evils from which the country is suffering, I shall heartily support the Amendment which the hon. Member for Bedford has proposed in a speech so weighty, and supported by arguments so wise.
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
I have an Amendment on the Paper to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, to leave out line 3 from the word "unless." I should not have spoken on the subject had it not been for the fact that the word "unless"—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say he wishes to move an Amendment? He would not be in Order in doing that.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY
No; I am not moving an Amendment, Sir, but was about to point out to the House how it is rendered impossible for me to move the Amendment I had intended to move. What I object to in the proposal, as it stands, is this—we have already decided that any man may move the clôture at 1309 any time, and we have taken away all safeguards as to amount of debate, or as to any debate being necessary, before the clôture can be applied; and it is now proposed that before liberty of debate in the House shall be killed there shall be a judicial decision by yourself, Sir, upon such argument as will fairly enable you to say whether or not the Motion for closing the debate is obstructive. It appears to me, and to those with whom I am acting, that by adopting that proposal you and the House will have breathing space. All the Amendments which have been decided have been Amendments dealing with what shall take place before a Member shall rise in his place; and we think that the House should now consider whether, between the Motion being made and the proposition being put from the Chair, such discussion should not be allowed as would take place before a Judge. If it is allowed, it would make the intervention of the Chair real, and not illusory. As I read the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, it is that you, Sir, must close the debate, or put the Motion, "That the Question be now put," unless the putting of that Motion would, in your opinion, be an abuse of the Rules of the House. That is to say, the presumption is in favour of the clôture instead of being in favour of the continuance of debate, which is a thing that will have very far-reaching results. If the presumption were still to continue in favour of the freedom of debate, and the onus were put on the Member moving the clôture to show that reasonable discussion had been exhausted, the time which would be occupied in discussing the desirability of enforcing the closure would not be by any means wasted. The House must bear in mind that the temptation to the Government to assent to a Motion for the closure of a debate may be very great; and yet when such a Motion is made many Members may be of opinion that such and such a person, who has a special knowledge of the subject before the House, should be heard. Such an intervention as is proposed, therefore, at such a time, would be of infinite service, and the more so because we have already decided that there shall be no stated time for the duration of a debate, and no proviso that a certain number of Members shall speak 1310 before the clôture is enforced. I object to the sudden springing upon the House of a Motion for closure to be decided by the amount of attention and the amount of care from which Mr. Speaker has followed the debate. There may be many occasions when his attention is diverted with the matter in debate, and when all he has to guide him are those impatient noises which we sometimes hear at a certain time of night. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) pointed out, the intervention of the Chair proposed by the Government will be illusory. It will be invidious to require Mr. Speaker to pronounce solemnly whether or not a Motion for clôture is an abuse of the Rules of the House. In the case of a new Member who might not be very familiar with the Rules of the House, Mr. Speaker would be slow to put upon him the stigma that he was abusing the Rules of the House at a moment's notice, whereas, if the intervention of the Chair is a real, solid, judicial act, after deliberate discussion, then I can understand its intervention whoever makes the Motion. If the intervention is to be illusory, and if freedom of debate is to be killed without a judicial decision, undoubtedly we shall oppose the proposal to allow the Chair to intervene at all.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
I think I am entitled to comment on the inconvenient method in which, owing to the action of the First Lord of the Treasury, this Motion has come before the House. It comes as an Amendment to an Amendment proposed by the First Lord of the Treasury. I should have imagined it would have been a more convenient course for the right hon. Gentleman to have embodied his opinion of what the Rule should be in the Resolution originally proposed; for then it would not only have been competent for the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) to move his Amendment, but it would have been competent for hon. Members to have moved Amendments to that Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman has reduced what is really a substantive proposal to the condition of an Amendment, and confined the discussion before the House strictly to the proposal of the hon. Member for Bedford, having made that the question by which we must stand or fall. The position which the Government have 1311 already taken up in regard to these Rules is one of a very peculiar character; especially when it is viewed in the light of the proposition which they now make that the final arbitrament of this question of the clôture is nominally to remain with the Chair. They have already refused to introduce into the Rule any words by which it will be irregular for an hon. Member to make a Motion for the application of the clôture until, at least, an opportunity for discussion has been given; and they have now rendered it possible for any Member of the House, be he a Member of the Government or not, to propose that a question as to which, not one word has been spoken in debate should be immediately brought to an issue. They have also refused to take on themselves the direct responsibility of proposing any such Motion. Now, Sir, I would at least submit to the House that where the benefit will undoubtedly be there also should the responsibility rest, and that it would be at least fair to the Chair that a Motion of this character should be made by one of the most responsible Members of this House. The unpleasant duty of exercising a veto in regard to a Motion moved by, it might be, one of the least experienced and most insignificant Members in the House, should not be cast upon the Chair. Her Majesty's Govern-are supposed to be in command of a majority of the Members of the House, and I think I am entitled to assume that no proposition to apply the clôture could be successfully carried in the House without their consent and approbation, and without their deriving most benefit from it; yet they seek to divide the responsibility for the making of such Motion, and, it may be, for the putting of a Question without discussion at all—for the House will be able to insist upon that course if this Rule is carried—between whoever makes the Motion and the occupant of the Chair. In what position will that put the Chair? I do not believe the Chair has any inherent power. It is the servant of the House, and is bound to carry out the opinions of the House. Up to the present it has had ample power to do so. If, acting on its own judgment, it believed that further discussion was unnecessary, or was a waste of time, it had power to close discussion—a power which it has exercised on undivided responsibility, and which, 1312 so far as my experience goes, it has exercised in a most impartial and just manner. But that power will no longer remain with the Chair. It will for the future be placed in a position in which it can exercise a negative power—a restricted power. That negative power it may be called on to exercise in three different cases; in the first place, where discussion is undoubtedly proper, and, in the second place, where it is unquestionably improper; and there is a third zone, in which it may be difficult to ascertain whether discussion is proper or improper—in which the question will be a matter of opinion, and the House will be divided. Up to the present it has been the rule to permit the utmost freedom of discussion; but it is now proposed to limit that freedom, and the proposal is not that the Chair should place such limit on discussion as it might think necessary; but that the Chair should be compelled to permit the clôture to be put to the House, unless it is manifestly evident that the putting of the Motion would be an abuse of the Rules of the House. The presumption will now be entirely against freedom of discussion, and in that neutralzone, where it may be difficult to clearly gather the opinion of the House whether discussion should be permitted or not, the Chair will be absolutely powerless. But a more extraordinary position for the Chair to be placed in will be found in the proposition that the Chair to exercise its right of veto should be of opinion that the putting of the Clôture Question might be an infringement of the rights of minorities. As the Rule at present stands it will be competent for any Member of this House to rise in his place and claim to move that the Question be now put, though there may not have been one word of debate on the Question before the House. Such a Member may, unblushingly, require the Chair to form an opinion, either negative or positive, whether this Motion is an infringement of the rights of the minority or is not. Now, I do not think it would be possible for the Chair to form such an opinion unless there had been previous discussion in the House, and we are, then, reduced to the absurd position that the Chair will be asked to make up its mind on a question on which it cannot have an opinion from what has passed in the House; and not having 1313 been able to form an opinion, the hon. Member will be entitled to have the question of the clôture put to the House. I take it that this will be a direct incentive to hon. Members to stand up before a Question which has been put from the Chair, has been discussed; and, having thus deprived the Chair of the means of knowing whether the putting of the clôture will be an abuse of the Rules of the House and an infringement of the rights of the minority, ask the Chair to allow the question of the clôture to be put. The Chair will not then be in a position to exercise its veto so that, by means of this Rule, it will be possible to escape the decision of the Chair by moving that the Question shall be put before any discussion whatsoever has taken place on it. These Rules have been debated for a very considerable period, and we have not made very much progress; but I would draw the attention of the House, through you, Sir, to the fact that in 1882 the first Rule, relating to clôture, occupied the attention of the House for 19 nights. At that time it was proposed that the Rule should be a permanent Rule; but, so far as I know, the Government have not yet given us any intimation as to whether it is their intention to make the proposed Rule a Standing Rule, or merely a Sessional Order.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is now departing from the Question immediately before us, which is the intervention of the Chair.
§ MR. CHANCE
I was led into the mistake quite innocently, Sir. This is a matter which will introduce a radical change in the position of the Chair towards the House; but I do not intend to follow the line of argument which suggested itself to my mind by discussing the question whether such a radical change should be made in the position of the Chair by a Rule that might be merely a Sessional Order. I do not think that the radical change that will be brought about is the only fault that is to be found with the proposal. I am strongly of opinion that this proposition as to clôture is unnecessary and vicious; and, in supporting the Amendment, I do so, not on the ground that it has any inherent merit in it, but on the ground that, in voting for it, I shall be placing on record my protest against the Rule from first to last.
§ DR. COMMINS (Roscommon, S.)
The question is whether the consent of the Chair should be necessary in order that the clôture should be applied. This Rule seems to me to sin against all the traditions of this House. Under our old traditions and our Old Laws and Rules of Debate, the thing most insisted on, and which most struck the observer, was that freedom of discussion and debate were granted, not only to minorities, but to every Member of the House, whether he was in a minority of one or in a minority of one less than the majority. Individual Members were supposed to have freedom of debate, and it was supposed that that freedom would be exercised until adequate discussion was had, no matter what question was before the House. It is now confessed that there is no intention whatever to interfere with adequate discussion and freedom of debate at the same time that the Government put forward an Amendment which practically and literally takes away both. If it is possible to close a debate before a question has been considered at all, then there is an end altogether, not only to adequate discussion, but to entire freedom of debate in this House. There will be nothing to prevent a person knowing least about the Rules of the House, and least about the Question put from the Chair, standing up and proposing, "That the Question be now put." The Question will then have to be put, unless you, Sir, think it would be an abuse of the Rules of the House and an infringement of the rights of the minority, and that you would have no means whatever of knowing. You will be, logically, precluded from forming an opinion on the subject, so that this little shred of seeming freedom is preserved merely for the sake of destroying all the rest. The position will be almost as ridiculous as that forcibly described by a gentleman famous for making bulls, when he said that certain persons were "ready to give up the whole of the Constitution in order to preserve the remainder." Here a microscopic piece of liberty in preserved in order to put it into the hands of irresponsible—though, possibly, inspired—Members to choke off discussion and annihilate freedom of debate in this House. It is said that that cannot happen because the Chair may say that the Motion to apply the 1315 clôture may be an abuse of the Rules of the House or an infringement of the rights of the minority, But how can it be an abuse of the Rules of the House when the Rule expressly gives a Member authority to make the Motion? But from a logical point of view, before you can say it is an infringement of the rights of a minority, you must know the result of the Division, because only in that way can you tell which is the minority. The only test that by the Rules, Practice or Constitution of the House, or even by the exercise of the sharpest faculties you can apply to discover the minority on a particular question, is the test of the Division Lobby. It may be said you will have to form an opinion as to which is the majority and which the minority by the demonstrations of feeling which take place in the House. But the minority are sometimes the loudest and most obstreperous. They sometimes assume the function of the majority, and endeavour to crow down their opponents by inarticulate noises. So that it is not those who make the most noise whom you can assume to be the majority. The majority are very often very patient and long-enduring, and do not make a noise; then are you to assume that the party which does not make a noise and does not indulge in inarticulate sounds and interruptions are the majority? There again you have a source of error, and considerable error indeed. The minority may be quite as quiet as the biggest majority; so that you cannot judge by any sounds that issue from either side of the House, or even by the speeches that are made. The length of speeches is no test—you cannot say whether it is the Members of the minority or the Members of the majority who make them. What is to guide you in the matter? Why you have no guide. You are to act by some unforeseen discretion, and say that some unnumbered and unknown party is the majority or the minority. This test for entirely suppressing liberty of speech in this House, therefore, is a test which it is impossible to apply. The discretionary power which will be vested in you, Sir, it will be impossible for you to exercise in such a way as would satisfy any Member of this House. I doubt, Sir, whether even your unerring judgment would be right in the matter. However wise a Speaker may be, how is he to 1316 decide whether the rights of a minority are being infringed? What are the rights of a minority? That is another question in regard to which we are left without guidance. I object to the Government launching us on this wild career of speculation with Rules to guide us or to guide the Chair. This is a Rule which, while professing to protect the rights of a minority, practically takes away the rights of individuals, and really does not secure to the majority the right of discussion. Even if we have ascertained what the minority is, any Member below the Gangway in opposition to the Government or in opposition to the Opposition, may stand up and make a Motion of this sort, and may choke off a debate on an inconvenient subject. The majority may wish to debate the subject, having strong opinions with regard to it, but a Member of a minority may suppress debate by bringing about a Division, which the Speaker may allow rather than expose himself to odium in the opinion of the friends of the Member moving the clôture. The Speaker may be exposed to odium by the action of individuals representing small minorities and having very little scruple in advocating their views, and in this way his position may become, not only invidious, but intolerable. I maintain, Sir, that we shall keep you in the position you occupy—the position, namely, of being able to interpose with authority and dignity to decide disputes that may arise between hon. Members with regard to the interpretation of the Rules of the House. That is a position we think would be most agreeable to the Speaker, and certainly most conformable to the Rules of this House. You, Sir, are not the master of this House, and if you interpose in these matters you will be exposed to the imputation of trying to make yourself the master of the House. The passing of the Rule in the form in which the Government now present it to us will be, Sir, to make you the servant of the majority, which, I think, would be even a worse position for you to hold than master of the House, because this House would always have strength to get rid of an inconvenient master, whereas if the Speaker became merely a tool in the hands of an intolerant his position would be a vast deal worse and more unpleasant for him, and more dangerous 1317 to the freedom of discussion and the liberty of the House. We ought to save you, Sir, from the danger of appearing in the actual arena of Party politics.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I think the fact of this Amendment having been moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford is a reason why it should receive particular attention at the hands of the House. Every one recognizes the great authority of the hon. Gentleman on all questions connected with the procedure in this House, and unless there can be very clear proof given that it is impracticable, I think the Government ought to have very little difficulty in accepting his Amendment. For my own part I do not hope for much from the wisdom of the Government either on matters of Procedure or any other matters. Their conduct, so far, on this first Rule has been characterized by deplorable shilly-shallying. They came down to the House with one set of Rules, and those Rules were no sooner before the House than they instructed or "inspired" one of their minor followers to set down an Amendment incorrect in its drafting. Another Member took that Amendment in hand, and he—probably with the assistance of some of his companions and colleagues—proceeded to recast the Amendment. That led to a scene of confusion and irregularity such as is very seldom witnessed in the House. That scene was altogether owing to the action of those responsible for the conduct of Business in this House. Then, having found time to consider what they should do, they came down and proposed to amend their original Resolution by the extraordinary Amendment put on the Paper by the Leader of the House. I will not go into the reasons why that Amendment has been brought forward. No doubt in the first instance it was brought forward to forestall the Amendment of which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bedford had given Notice—to make it inconvenient, if not impossible, for him to go on with that Amendment, which would have raised a direct issue as to whether the Chair should or should not have any intervention. Owing to this flank movement on the part of the Government, we cannot take the direct issue we might otherwise have taken. We know that if the Amendment of the hon Member for Bedford is accepted the Amendment of 1318 the Leader of the House will fall to pieces, and will practically have to be abandoned. Sir, from time to time during the progress of this discussion we have referred to the position of the Speaker, and to the impropriety of throwing upon him any burden which would enable a member of the present or any future Government who desired to have the clôture applied to shelter himself from blame behind the Speaker's authority. Now, Sir, we can see plainly that the proposal of the Government is simply intended to shift from the shoulders of those responsible for the conduct of Business in this House any blame or obloquy that might arise from any unfair setting in motion of the clôture. The Government know very well that if they seek at any time to bring forward in an unfair manner the question of the closure of debate, that if the whole responsibility for the action is thrown on themselves, and they cannot cite the authority of the Chair, the judgment of the country and of all right-minded men will go against them in the matter. But they are perfectly aware that if they can cite the high authority of the Speaker and can say that he was the person who authorized the clôture to be put in force, that more than anything else will have the effect of so influencing the case, that, though the judgment of the country may not be given in their favour it, at any rate, will not be pronounced against them. This Amendment of the Leader of the House is in itself somewhat un-Constitutional, because it suggests that the Speaker should have in his mind the rights of the minority, and it puts into writing that the Speaker should have in his mind due regard to the rights of minorities. We know very well that it is the established law of Parliament—according to everyone who has written on the subject—that the first duty of the Speaker in this House is to preserve order, and the second duty is to protect the rights of minorities. Therefore, the placing in the Amendment, in express terms, of an indication to the Chair that it should have in mind at all times the rights of minorities is, in my opinion, a departure from all the previous written Rules of this House, and amounts to a reflection upon the Chair itself. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Roscommon (Dr. Commins) in the speech he just made 1319 referred to the position of the Chair. We know what that position is. The Chair is the master of every individual Member of this House, because the Chair is entrusted with great powers with regard to individual Members. In recent times the Chair has had increased powers placed at its disposal, but with regard to the Members of this House collectively the Chair is not the master of the House. According to the highest authorities he is the servant of the House. Therefore, it is improper to thrust upon the Speaker anything which would interfere with his position as the servant of the whole body of the Members of this House, and would practically make him the judge of its proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) in the speech he made this evening asked what was meant by the "evident sense of the House." I think it is extremely difficult to say what the evident sense of the House is at any time. We had experience here even as late as last night of an effort on the part of certain Members to manufacture what might be called "the evident sense of the House"—to manufacture a feeling by a system of uproar and turbulence that hon. Members who were discussing a question which to themselves appeared vital, and were discussing it in a fair and proper manner, were acting in defiance of the Chairman of Committees. Well, the right hon. Gentleman, so far as I understood him, denned "the evident sense of the House." It is impossible for the Speaker to know what is the current feeling and mind of the House unless that feeling is manifested by scenes of disorder such as we witnessed last night. This Rule is an invitation to hon. Gentlemen to be constantly interrupting the proceedings of the House by making noises and disturbances and crying out constantly to the Speaker to apply the clôture. If the "evident sense of the House" is not demonstrated in this way, how is it demonstrated? It cannot be defined by anything else. In 1882 the present Vice President of the Council (Sir William Hart-Dyke), who was then the Whip of the Tory Party, spoke about having in a previous Parliament been constantly at the elbow of the Chairman of Committees urging him to get on with Supply. I can well understand that proceeding, and in the future I can well understand a Govern- 1320 ment Whip making an unfair use of the Rules in order to push on Supply. We know that in the majority of instances—although that is not so at the presenttime—the Chairman of Committees is a very strong Party man and would very seldom have the courage to resist an application to stifle discussion in this House on the part of his own Leader. We do not know what Speakers may occupy the Chair in future years. In 1882 we had an historical disquisition upon the characters of some Speakers in the past—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is not now speaking at all relevantly to the Question of the veto of the Chair in certain specified cases.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY
I will address myself, Sir, strictly to the more limited view of the Question. I was only showing that it would be unfair of the Leader of the House, or any other Member of the Government for the time being, to seek, when trying to apply the clôture, to shelter himself behind the Chair, and that the responsibility should be entirely thrown on the Member making the Motion; and in the second case I was trying to show—though I will now discontinue that line of argument—that it could be possible at some future time for this proviso to be a sham and a delusion by reason of the fact that some future Speaker might not exercise his powers in the manner that our experience leads us to expect that you, Sir, would apply them. That was my only object in referring to the speech of the lion. Gentleman the Member for Shropshire on the same point in 1882. I would remind the House that there is a Clôture Rule at present in existence, and that whether the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford is carried or not, you will have power vested in the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees to take the initiative. When you pass this Rule, therefore, you will have him either taking the initiative, or waiting for someone to move the clôture. I do not conceive how it is possible, except by adopting the Motion of the hon. Member for Bedford, to know clearly where we stand during the debate. If the Government Amendment is adopted, it will mean that the Government Resolution, as it now stands, will fall through, and that the initiation of the clôture will in one instance rest exclusively with the 1321 Members of the Government or of the House without reference to Mr. Speaker; and in another instance the Speaker may apply the clôture of his own motion. I can conceive nothing more irregular, and nothing more likely to lead to confusion, than that we should have two distinct Rules dealing with the same subject existing at the same time on the Orders of the House. The Rule under the circumstances I have noted might be described as a species of double-barrelled Rule. I hold that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford should be accepted, because it will clear away at least one difficulty, and define the position of Leaders of the House and Members of the Government, and define as clearly as at the present time the position of the Chair. I venture to say, whatever the result of the discussion may be, that the acceptance of the Government Clôture Rule will not in the slightest degree improve the deliberations of this House. It will lead to confusion, and make confusion worse confounded. I think that instead of forwarding discussion, and expediting debate and the transaction of Business, it will make them slower and more difficult than at the present time.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I must say I ought to feel flattered by the Amendment of the First Lord of the Treasury, as it is practically an Amendment which I put down on the Paper myself. But, nevertheless, I shall vote against the Amendment, because the only reason why I put it down was because I thought the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford might not be carried, and then my Amendment would be an alternative. I fully admit that the Amendment of the First Lord of the Treasury is a great improvement on his original draft of the Rule of Procedure, because there is a great advantage between not withholding and giving an assent. Still, if the Chair does not withhold its assent, it does practically express its opinion; and though that opinion would be a tacit one, a great number of Members feel that when the Chair expresses an opinion they ought to abdicate their own, and support the view of the Chair. Therefore, I do not think if the Chair were even tacitly to express an opinion in this matter that the appeal to the House would be perfectly independent. The First Lord 1322 of the Treasury alluded to an Amendment of mine in 1882, as also did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian. I think they were mistaken as to what my Amendment was. They seemed to be under the impression that I proposed that no one would speak more than half-an-hour. That was not my proposal. It was this, that after a debate had taken place and it was thought that the matter had been thoroughly discussed, that instead of the clôture we should adopt, when Mr. Speaker is in the Chair, a 10 minutes' Rule.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the Question before the House is the veto of the Speaker in certain cases.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Well, Sir, if the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman is adopted it certainly does seem to me that some additional words will have to be put into the Rule, because, so far as I can perceive, it would enable any hon. Member to get up at any moment and propose that the debate should close. Well, the probability is that when passions are excited a Gentleman will get up after each Member has spoken and propose that the debate ought to close, and then we shall divide. I shall vote in favour of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford; but I do so thinking that if it is carried we shall have further to amend the Rule of Procedure as it stands, in order to prevent the annoying and troublesome proceeding of a Gentleman getting up and proposing the clôture after each Member has spoken.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 177; Noes 130: Majority 47.—(Div. List, No. 40.)
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
Mr. Speaker, there are two Amendments standing in my name—the first is in line 3 of the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. W. H. Smith) Amendment, after "and" to leave out the words to the end of the line, and insert—It shall be made to appear to the Chair after such discussion as the Chair may permit, that opportunity for debate on the Question has been afforded and that such Motion is not,and the second is to leave out the words—"An abuse of the Rules of the House or" in line 4. I understand the second Amendment is the one you will receive at this stage.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is competent for the hon. Gentleman to move to leave out the words—"An abuse of the Rules of the House or."
§ MR. O'DOHERTY
So I presumed, Mr. Speaker, and it was that Amendment I rose to move. The effect of the Amendment is, that after a Member has risen in his place and moved the clôture, a discussion may be addressed to you in a judicial capacity; and after such discussion, which may be as long or as short as you think fit, you shall decide whether or not the proposition, "That the Question be now put," shall go. I propose that the question for your judicial decision shall then be, not whether the hon. Member who made the Motion is guilty of the abuse of the Rules of the House, but whether the continuance of the debate on that particular question, and under the circumstances, is not itself an abuse of the Rules of the House. Thus will be placed between the action of an irresponsible Member and the freedom of debate, your judicial decision after a discussion. The object of this Amendment is that there shall be in your intervention something that will be a guarantee for freedom of speech; but by the Amendment of the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) you will be placed in a position of some difficulty. If an hon. Member moves that the Question be now put, you must either put the Motion or rule that the Motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House. You will be relieved from such a difficulty if my Amendment is adopted. I do not intend to labour my proposition by any lengthened observations. I confess I have no faith in either of the safeguards; I have no faith in the mere majority or in the mere interposition of the Chair. I have endeavoured to interpose something of a time rule, something of a number rule, something of a rule of responsibility.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Amendment of the hon. Gentleman is to leave out the words, "an abuse of the Rules of the House or." That has nothing to do with the subject the hon. Gentleman is now referring to.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY
I am very sorry if I have not kept strictly and logically to the question. The position is that any Member may rise at any time, and, notwithstanding that there has been no discussion, or only short and inadequate 1324 discussion, move that the Question be put; and the presumption in your mind must be, under the Rule proposed by the First Lord of the Treasury that he is right. You must then put the Question, though you may doubt that the Motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House. I submit that is not a position in which you should be put, and I propose that you should be able to satisfy yourself, after discussion, whether the Motion is, or is not, an abuse of the Rules. I ask the House not to decide in favour of the clôture until it has been proved that the clôture is necessary.
§ Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, line 4, leave out "an abuse of the Rules of the House or."— (Mr. O'Doherty.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said proposed Amendment."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
The hon. Member for North Donegal (Mr. O'Doherty) proposes that there shall practically be a debate upon the Question, "that the Question be now put," or, in other words, that when an hon. Member moves that the Question be now put, the Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, shall be called upon to arrive at a decision as to whether or not the Motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House, and he shall do so after discussion. I am bound to say that if it is necessary to have a debate upon the Question, that the Question be now put, the closure will be altogether inoperative. I think the hon. Gentleman himself will see that a provision such as he proposes would only impede, and not assist the progress of Business.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury thinks that if a discussion were allowed on the Question "that the Question be now put," it would be useless to have the clôture at all. He seems to forget that what my hon. Friend (Mr. O'Doherty) proposes is in work in the Continental Parliaments, in which the clôture is most actively employed. If I mistake not, in the Austrian Parliament there is a right on the part of the Leader of the House and on the part of the Leader of the regular 1325 Opposition, to address the Chair on the Question "that the Question be now put." My hon. Friend simply desires that there shall be in this House a right to address the Chair on the part of such Members as the Chair may think fit to allow to speak when the clôture has been moved. I am persuaded that if the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would give some further consideration to this matter, he would see the great advantage which would be likely to ensue from the right being conferred, at the discretion of the Speaker or Chairman of Committees, as the case may be, upon such responsible Members of the House as may be named to address the House upon the Motion in question.
§ MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)
If this Amendment were adopted, one of two things would be necessary, either that we should define in the Amendment who are to conduct the further discussion which is desired, or else that we should lay upon the Chair—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I think there is some misconception in the minds of hon. Members as to what Amendment is before the House. Judging from the remarks which have been made, hon. Gentlemen are referring to the Amendment which stands lower down on the Paper, in the name of the hon. Member for North Donegal (Mr. O'Doherty), and not to the Amendment to omit the words "an abuse of the Rules of the House or." I am at a loss to see how the question of a further discussion on the Question that the Question be now put, can be brought in on an Amendment to leave out the words "an abuse of the Rules of the House or."
§ MR. C. S. PARKER
I only alluded, in passing, to the words proposed to be inserted in place of those to be left out. The words in question—"an abuse of the Rules"—seem both inappropriate and unnecessary. I should think that, under the existing Standing Orders, there is sufficient power to deal with any abuse of the Rules of the House. If these words were omitted, I should be prepared to suggest other words; but, at present, it would be out of Order to do so.
§ MR. T. C. HARRINGTON (Dublin Harbour)
It appears to me that the First Lord of the Treasury completely misunderstands the scope of the Amend- 1326 ment. We have a perfect analogy to the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for North Donegal in the case in which an hon. Member rises and claims the right to address the Chair upon a point of Order. It is evident the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury did not read carefully the terms of the Amendment, which says—It shall be made to appear to the Chair, after such discussion, as the Chair may permit, that opportunity for Debate on the Question has been afforded—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, Order! It is quite obvious that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. C. Harrington), like the other hon. Gentleman who has spoken, is in error as to the Amendment before the House. The Amendment under consideration is to leave out "an abuse of the Rules of the House or."
§ MR. T. C. HARRINGTON
If I am in error I am only following the error of the hon. Gentleman who proposed that Amendment, because undoubtedly my hon. Friend moved the second Amendment which stands in his name, and it was to that that the First Lord of the Treasury addressed himself.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. If the hon. Member for North Donegal (Mr. O'Doherty) moved his subsequent Amendment it is out of Order.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
I merely wished to get the words of the First Lord of the Treasury out of the way in order to move my Amendment.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is now doubly out of Order in moving that Amendment. It is a re-assertion of the opportunity of debate which the House has decided shall not take place. The House has decided that the Question is to be put forthwith, and the hon. Gentleman proposes that it is not to be put forthwith, but only after discussion.
§ [The Amendment was not put.]
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
Mr. Speaker, I beg to move the omission of the words "or an infringement of the rights of the minority." The whole of the argument I addressed to the House on Wednesday last really turned upon the Question whether duties or privileges of this kind should be cast on the Chair, and I do not propose to trouble the House by repeating the argument. I will content myself with saying that of all the proposals which have been made to put 1327 duties of this kind on the Chair, this Amendment seems to me to be the most vague, and to leave to the Chair the least possible guide.
§ Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to leave out the words "or an infringement of the rights of the minority."—(Mr. Whitbread).
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the said proposed Amendment."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
We have come at last to what a good many of us, at all events—I do not venture to say how many—consider to be the real subject at issue between a great number of persons in the House; and that is, whether it is wise to put upon the Speaker the duty of what is called protecting the minority. The protection of the minority is a popular phrase, and I ask the House to consider what it means and how it affects the position of the Speaker. There is also another popular phrase. We hear it often said that the Speaker is an impartial Judge in this House. Now, if the Speaker is a judge. I am sure he is an impartial judge, but I venture to say, upon all my reading and knowledge of Parliamentary history and Parliamentary law, that the Speaker is not and never has been a judge in this House—I mean a judge of the conduct of the House in general. The Speaker has an absolute authority over individuals in this House. He decides questions of Order, he interprets the Rules of the House, but upon the conduct of the House itself he is not a judge at all, and never has been so—in my opinion never can be so, and never ought to be so. If you look at some of the books upon Parliamentary liberties, such as Hatsell's Precedents, published in days when people expressed themselves in a blunter way than they do now, you find it stated that the Speaker is not the master or the master's mate of the House, but the servant of the House. The difference between the authority of the Speaker over individuals, over questions of Order, and over interpretations of the Rules on the one hand, and the determining of what ought to be the conduct of the House in any particular matter on the other hand, is a distinction of a most important character, which has existed from the earliest times. You are now proposing to put the Speaker in a 1328 position with reference to the House that he has never occupied since the House of Commons existed, and that, I think, is a very material question for you to consider. If the Speaker is to be a judge as to whether this Motion is to be put,—why not a judge as to whether any Motion should be put, why not a judge of the propriety, expediency, or opportuneness of any Motion? Then it is said that the Speaker is to have a veto. Now, a veto cannot be exercised by anybody who has not an authority independent of the authority of those over whom he wields the veto. The Sovereign can veto a Bill, but the Sovereign is a separate estate of the Realm. Is the Speaker a separate estate of the Realm in his relation to the House of Commons? What is the meaning of the name of Speaker? The Speaker is the person who speaks the will of the House, the voice of the House, the determination of the majority of the House. When we speak of the House we mean the majority of the House. When a Member moves "that in the opinion of the House," he means that the majority is of opinion; if he moves a Vote of Want of Confidence in the Government, he means the majority of the House. The Speaker has never yet in Parliamentary history had an existence or action otherwise than as the organ of the House. It is extraordinary that this Constitutional doctrine should have been so forgotten and passed over in all these discussions. You must remember what the Speaker is—that he is the organ of the House—and never existed, and never ought to have existed—in any other capacity. To treat him as a separate estate of the Realm, with power to veto the decisions of the House, is entirely to misconceive the character of the Speaker, and to revolutionize his position. I think that the old Rule—that introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone)—is a good deal better than this Rule, though I admit it has failed. The old Rule never professed that the Speaker did anything else except express the will of the majority of the House; and that is what is the duty of the Office of the Speaker. Under the old Rule the Speaker had no divided responsibility. Under this Rule his responsibility will be divided. Under the old Rule what we desired was, that the position of the Speaker should be entirely independent, 1329 and I am sure it has been. The Speaker formed an independent opinion and announced it to the House; but it is the House, and the House alone, that can determine a question. Well, as I say, the existing Rule desires to achieve and safeguard the independence of the Speaker. I am sorry to say the Rule has failed in that respect, because, as I pointed out the other night, journals that ought to be well informed, but which, are very ignorant of Constitutional principles with regard to the conduct of the Speaker, instead of treating the Speaker as an independent authority, salute him and cheer him as a confederate of the Government. We know, Sir, that is not true. We know perfectly well that, under the Rule, you would no more consult the Government as to the exercise of the clôture than you would consult the Opposition. Your Office, which, I am sure, you perform with, perfect impartiality, demands that you should arrive at a determination quite irrespective of both; but that does not prevent papers like The Times stating exactly the opposite. Well, under this Rule, I am afraid the danger would be still greater, because it is not proposed that you shall move in the matter, but that you shall be moved by somebody else. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian has already said that you must be moved in this matter by the majority, and the majority is generally the Government. The Speaker ought not to be moved to allow the clôture unless he thinks it will be carried. Will he be less exposed to criticism when he is moved by somebody than when he is moved by nobody? I should think he will be more exposed to criticism when moved by somebody. What we ought to do is to free the Speaker from criticism. If he grants the clôture, or does not forbid it, he will be criticized by the minority; if he refuses it he will be criticized by the majority. There is another very great evil in this. If the Speaker ever ceases to be what he is now—the organ and the voice of the House, that is, of the majority of the House—you never can have what we have had with so much advantage to the House—a Speaker continuing in Office through numerous Parliaments and with different Political Parties. A constant change of Speaker would be a very great evil. Lord Eversley and 1330 Lord Hampden, who were Speakers in various Parliaments and under different Party Leaders, possessed the confidence of the House and of each Party. Why? For the fame reason that your permanent Civil Servants, and your Ambassadors abroad, have your confidence under different Administrations. They are the mere mouth-pieces—the mere agents of the persons by whom they are employed. It is absolutely incompatible with the exercise of this Rule that any Speaker can continue under two Administrations. Why are we going to do all this? Who is in favour of it? I do not know that the Government are very much in favour of it. It is not their original proposal; but who are against it? Whatever may be the Party feelings in the House everybody will respect the opinion of the oldest and most experienced Parliamentarian in the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone). Well, he is against it. Then, I do not think there is anybody in the House who will dispute that one of the greatest Parliamentary authorities in the House, known for his consideration and fairness, is my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). He is against it. The Chairman of Committee of Ways and Means (Mr. Courtney), who has to exercise the power of the clôture, is against it. There is a fourth person, my right hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) than whom no one has greater influence in the House—and deservedly so—and he is not in favour of the Government's proposal. The noble Lord said that—As regards the closure, my own opinion has always been, since I became convinced of the necessity of limiting the length of debates—a conviction which I formed six or seven years ago—in favour of adopting the most simple and most practical form of giving the House that control over the length of its discussions. I agree with a great deal of what fell from my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) last night. Personally, I have not the slightest apprehension as to the probability that the power of the closure would be abused. I do not think I am subject to the panic fears about which my right hon. Friend spoke. I think it would not be to the advantage of a majority to abuse the power of closure, however stringent and however drastic that power might be. I believe that what would be considered in the country an unfair use of the power of closing debate would act injuriously upon the majority's own cause, and that there would be no temptation un the part of the majority, even a some- 1331 what intolerant majority, to resort to unfair means of suppressing debate. Further, I believe with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Leeds (Sir Lyon Playfair) that in the Assemblies where the simple form of closure has been adopted, and where Party spirit is certainly quite as prevalent as among us, and where passions are rife, it has not in practice been found that the power of closure or limiting the length of debates has been abused. Therefore, I still maintain the opinion I have always personally held on this subject—that it is not necessary to surround the use of the closing of debate by so many limitations and restrictions as the timidity of some hon. Members seems to suggest. Personally, I should not be in the least afraid to see a system of closure voted by a bare majority without any intervention on the part of the Chair, and limited only by the presence of what might be considered to be a sufficient quorum."—(3 Hansard,  311.)Well, now, that is an answer to the eloquent declamation of the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Lord John Manners). My noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) has none of the apprehensions that are entertained by the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith). He agrees with us in opinion. It may be it is the hard fate of his present position that, contrary to his opinion, he will vote for the Government. But it is the opinion of the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale that all the panic terrors are idle and bogus fears; he would rather see closure pure and simple—one without any of these absurd restrictions. Now, what is it the Speaker is to do? He is to see that there is no infringement of the rights of the minority. I really must complain of this language. It is not Parliamentary language. It is a slipshod, penny-a-line, or a boarding-school-miss sort of language. Let us have something we can understand—something which has a Parliamentary meaning. Now, what is a minority? I see the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) in his place, and I understand he is going to speak. There is no man better able to give a correct definition of "minority" than the right hon. Gentleman. Let us hear his definition of "minority," and what are its rights, and what is an infringement of those rights? These are admirable themes for the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen), and I am sure he will deal with them admirably. At present the Speaker knows a minority; 1332 he knows it from the Tellers at the Table. The Tellers are called Tellers because they tell the Speaker which is the majority and which the minority; and the Speaker is called Speaker because, having been told which is the majority and which the minority, he acts upon his information and announces the fact to the world. That is the true Constitutional position of the Speaker. But who, under this Rule, are to be his secret Tellers? Who are to tell him secretly, so that he may determine before a Division is taken which is the majority and which the minority? I am afraid, that, in the present state of the House, it will be difficult for anyone to tell which is the majority and which is the minority. I am sorry that the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale is not here, because it is only the noble Lord who can tell the Speaker which side of the House is going to have a majority. In fact, there is no majority in this House at all. The question as to who is the majority is like one of those complicated problems in algebra which I once knew, but have now forgotten, and which the Chancellor of the Exchequer doubtless recollects—the permutations of two and two taken together, which I believe are infinite in their results. That is the only way in which you can compound a majority. How is the Speaker to ascertain the minority? I suppose we must all wear badges. There must be a majority badge, and this minority which is to be protected I suppose must wear a minority badge; but they will be infinite in number, and I understand that there will be a primrose badge for Gentlemen opposite. Then, I suppose, the Irish Members will wear a shamrock badge, the Welsh Members a leek, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) will, I suppose, wave the Union Jack. If we all wear these badges the Speaker will at once be able to decide who are the majority, and who are the minority whose rights are to be protected from infringement. I want the House to understand the really absurd character of this proposal—for so it is when you come to practice—for you say that the Speaker is to protect the rights of minorities. Well, now, the rights of minorities are protected by the Rules of the House, and I think quite adequately protected. They do not want 1333 any more protection, in my opinion; but they are to be further protected, and how? By the opinion and judgment of the Speaker. I remember that Selden, in his Table Talk, objected to the system of equity, because it depends on no known rules, but upon the length of the Chancellor's foot; and, in like manner, the protection of the minority in future will depend upon the opinion of the Speaker for the time being, and that, I think, is not much of a Magna Charta for the protection of minorities. It seems to me, therefore, that the proposal before the House is altogether insufficient for the protection of the rights of minorities. But it is not all minorities that are to be protected, because that would be absurd. A single man sometimes constitutes a minority. You must speculate on the character of the minority, the number of the minority, and whether or not it deserves to be protected; and that is a kind of speculation in which, in my opinion, you ought never to involve the Speaker of this House. What is the right of a minority? I ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us. One of the rights of a minority seems to be that they should have the right to speak. If that is not the right of a minority, I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will explain it, and say what would be an infringement of it. For my part, I have always been entirely against this theory of protecting the rights of minorities. Now, I have a friend in the Chancellor of the Exchequer; he is not a Protectionist even though he sits on the opposite side of the House. I think he is against Protection in all its forms. The fact is that Protection stunts and ruins everything it touches, and it will ruin minorities. I do not, in the least degree, wish to see a protected minority. Gentlemen opposite are a protected minority. They are not protected by the Speaker; they are protected by my noble Friend the Member for Rossendale. But it appears to me to have a prejudicial effect upon them; they seem to derive from it no benefit or advantage. We have plenty of minorities in this House, and we can consider whether they require protection. There is, for instance, the minority below the Gangway of hon. Members for Ireland. I do not know that those hon. Members look with particular favour upon this proposal to protect their rights, looking 1334 at the terms of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell); and I should venture to suggest to those hon. Members that it would be extremely unwise for them to place any great reliance on the protection which the Government propose to afford them. They have already sufficient protection for their rights; they have, in the first place, the protection of the opinion of their own countrymen, and they have the protection of a large number of English and Scotch Members in this House; they have, I venture to say, a protection in the justice and wisdom of hon. Members opposite; and, finally, they have the protection of a large number of Englishmen outside the doors of the House. Then there is the small majority of Dissentient Liberals. They do not want protection. They are the protectors; they are the spoilt children of the House; they are the favourites of both sides, and, therefore, I cannot conceive that they want protection of any kind. Then I come to the humbler body whom we represent—a middle-sized minority. Well, Sir, I beg to assure the First Lord of the Treasury that we do not desire any protection at all; we can take very good care of ourselves. I have very little opinion of minorities who go whining for protection to the Speaker. The idea reminds me of a boy at school who, when he gets the worst of a tight, says, "I will go and tell mother." It seems to me preposterous that you should want the minority to go running to the Speaker for protection. No, Sir; I learned in the best school; I marched in the army of a minority under the lead of the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale between the years 1874 and 1880. The House has not forgotten, and the Liberal Party has not forgotten, those days. We wanted no protection; we were beaten over and over again by a greater majority than you have now. We were once beaten by a majority of 140, and we were proud of it. I ask the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to this—we were dreadfully unpatriotic in those days; we attacked the Government on their foreign policy in every part of the world. I am glad that the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale has returned to the House, because I was speaking of those grand old days when, under his lead, as I was 1335 telling the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we attacked the foreign policy of the Government in every part of the world. We went at them over and over again; and I remember my noble Friend said that, if necessary, he would move a Vote of Want of Confidence in the Government every month, to which I replied, "The only mistake we make is that we do not do it every week." The Liberal minority did not want protection in those days. We did not run and hide our heads under the Speaker's gown. We were beaten over and over again, but in 1880 we won the battle; and, therefore, on behalf of the middle-sized minority, I utterly decline this eleemosynary protection. Of course, in those days we were exceedingly abused; we were called unpatriotic by the right hon. Gentleman the then Chancellor of the Exchequer; we were told at the time that our first duty was to support the Government. But we did not support them, and a very good thing it was that we did not. The Conservative Party were then in a very large majority, and they howled us down a good deal. But it did not do us any harm, and we went on our way rejoicing. But supposing the Government had had the closure then, and put us down; what would have happened? Why, the victory of 1880 would have come two or three years sooner. We should have gone to the country and said—"We have these charges to make, and we cannot make them in the House of Commons, so we must make them elsewhere." What would have been the result? I will tell what would have been shut up—not the minority, but the House of Commons. That is always what will happen in these days, when the Press is disseminating knowledge throughout the country, and a man can go and make a speech wherever he likes. I recollect the senior Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) once saying to me in my early Parliamentary days—"If you have to say anything that you want the country to attend to, do not say it in the House of Commons, because there it is mixed up with a good deal of other stuff." And my right hon. Friend added—"Take a quiet time in the autumn, when the newspapers have nothing to do. You will have your say; they will abuse you for a fortnight, and the country will then understand what you have to say." It is 1336 absurd to suppose you can shut out the opinion of minorities. For my part, I am content with this protection of minorities. If we cannot discuss foreign affairs, Home Rule, or anything else in the House of Commons, there are a hundred other places in the country where we can, and we shall be fifty times more attended to, because we cannot discuss them in this House. Therefore, let hon. Members not be in the least afraid of the closure, because in this country you cannot stifle discussion. I believe I have exhausted the question of minorities. Oh, yes; there is one other minority which I have not dealt with, and that is the minority opposite. Now, so far as I know, they are the only minority in this House which really seems to desire or to require protection. I am sorry for this, but it is, I suppose, the remains of an old habit. I suppose they have a slight distrust of the crutch, and that in those unfortunate Resolutions which they have brought forward I suppose they are building for themselves a city of refuge from the wrath to come. I would recommend them to take courage. I rather complain of my noble Friend who protects them, because he has not imparted to them some of his common sense. Surely they would have taken his advice if he had told them that all this terror of the opposition of minorities is idle. My noble Friend does not believe this proposal to be necessary; he said himself that he does not approve it, but he assents to it on account of the timorous disposition of Gentlemen opposite. Now, why should you be so fearful of being oppressed? You think, perhaps, you are coming over to this side. You did pretty well when you were here before; why should you not do well again? I suppose you will bring the Chancellor of the Exchequer with you, and he will teach you to rely on his protection. It seems to me that these terrors are entirely misplaced. For the great Conservative Party to be so alarmed lest an accident should befall them seems to me absurd. Are they afraid that the tyranny of my hon. Friend the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) should extinguish them, and grind them to powder? That is the argument of the First Lord of the Treasury, and it is the only argument. Why, Sir, if the doctrine of my hon. Friend 1337 were to be taken seriously—which I do not think it can be—I am afraid that he would not have a Speaker in the Chair who would be at all disposed to protect the minority; and, if that is so, this safeguard is worthless. What, then, are the objections to accepting a simple and manly closure, which I have always advocated, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian advocated, and which the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale and the hon. Member for Bedford approve? It is said that the House will be more liable to surprise without the Speaker's interference; but why? An hon. Gentleman will jump up and demand the closure; and the Speaker will have to decide upon the spot whether or not it is an infringement of the rights of the minority. In a great Party fight the Speaker might not find it difficult to determine; but there are a great many occasions on which there are not Party fights; and how is the Speaker to decide, when he cannot have the remotest idea as to whether the rights of the minority are infringed or not? I will tell you who will be taken by surprise under your Rule, and that will be the Speaker. Are you going to expose him every instant, and on every occasion, to the difficulty of giving an instant decision upon the challenge of every Member of the House? Then we are told that the Rule will prevent Obstruction; and, as to that, we are, I am glad to say, all agreed to the Rule being used against Obstruction if it be possible. As to the responsibility of the Speaker, that will be just as great, whether he has to say "Yes" or "No" under the Rule. The Speaker will be equally responsible; and, though you may alter the form, the substance of the responsibility will remain the same. From whatever point of view I look at this matter, it seems to me equally objectionable. First of all, I have said, it is contrary to the Constitutional position which the Speaker has occupied from time immemorial. To give him a veto, is to say that he shall resist the will of the majority of this House in favour of the interests of the minority. It is making him the master of the House; making him a separate estate from the House; placing him in the position of saying to the House, you wish to do this thing, but, in my opinion, you ought not, and you shall not 1338 do it. Now, I say that no Speaker in the House of Commons has ever been placed in such a position as that; and, in my opinion, he ought not to be so placed now. Apart from that, it will be almost impossible for him to ascertain who are the minority, and what are its rights; but I am perfectly certain that, by imposing this duty upon him, you will infallibly bring upon him a great deal of undesirable criticism from the Party he disappoints; it will expose him to a species of insidious criticism, from which it should be our first object to protect him, and the oftener the closure is used the more frequent will that criticism be. For all these reasons, I think, Sir, that these words ought to be struck out, for they are words which will not increase the Order of the House, but rather disorder in it; they will not strengthen the House for the transaction of Business, but rather weaken it.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
Sir, at an earlier period of the evening my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) made a speech, in which, at the outset, he deprecated the adoption of a controversial or Party tone in the discussion of this question. I leave it to the House to judge to what extent the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) has followed the instructions of his absent Chief. My right hon. Friend is very great at speaking on the position of Parties; but one would imagine that he was thinking far more of the present situation than looking to the future efficiency and dignity of the House of Commons. Her Majesty's Government, at all events, will endeavour to approach the subject, bearing in mind that they have not simply to do with the present anomalous position of affairs; but that in dealing with the course of procedure of this ancient Assembly, it is our duty to see that in the future the Rules we are endeavouring to introduce shall be efficient, and conduce to the proper conduct of affairs. If we are to look simply to the present, I can quite understand the natural impatience of hon. Members in the various parts of the House to have the most effective and drastic system of closure that can be devised. But hon. 1339 Members must exercise some self-restraint in this matter, lest, in their anxiety to deal with present difficulties, they should introduce a system of regulations which would impair the future efficiency of this House. It has been a spectacle of delicious irony to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby turn round to the Irish Party to reconcile them to a closure without the intervention of the Speaker! It is not the first time, however, that we have enjoyed the spectacle. Indeed, it is a common sight now-a-days to see my right hon. Friend taking his nightly draught of that juice in which he once said he would leave his opponents to stew. In the earlier portion of his speech, my right hon. Friend repeatedly asked me for a definition of a minority; and he began to expound his own views of it, and to describe the various minorities in this House. Practically, the right hon. Gentleman himself defined it, and, in doing so, he seemed to be almost playing upon words. There is no Member in this House who has insisted with greater determination than he has on what he calls the rights of the minority; and if he asks me what is the minority, I say that it is the complement of a majority. I think, Mr. Speaker, that anyone in this House who looks to the substance of things knows very well what is meant by the protection of the minority. It is another question which has been fairly raised—whether minorities require what is termed protection; but as to what minorities are, and what the rights of minorities mean, that must be apparent to the common sense of every Member of the House who does not wish to play upon words. Have we not heard, time after time, hon. Members, especially some of those who most loudly cheered the speech of my right hon. Friend, protesting against the suppression of the rights of minorities? What, then, do the Government mean by the words of the Rule which are in question? We mean by them that every section in the House shall be entitled to a fair hearing, and that if in a moment of excitement and temper a fleeting majority, heated by passion, and, perhaps, by the obstruction and the manœuvres of a minority, endeavour to apply the closure—then the calmer spirit of the Chair shall interfere to protect 1340 the minority from a wrong for which, if it were committed, the majority would be afterwards sorry. It is not enough to say that the majority would be punished subsequently. There is something we must look to even more than the interest of any majority or any minority, and that is the interest of the House at large. It is no answer to say that the majority would be punished. The character of the House might suffer as well as the character of the majority. I once asked an ex-Prime Minister of France what was his experience of the clôture, and his answer was—"I have suffered under it, and I have abused it." We do not desire that the British House of Commons, or that its Ministers or its legitimate Opposition should either suffer under the closure or abuse it; and, therefore, it is thought right and expedient that something should be interposed between the impatience of the majority and the decision of the House. My right hon. Friend has not so much anxiety about the House losing the approbation and confidence of the country, because he looks with a kind of satisfaction to the possibility of airing his views upon platforms out-of-doors. I admit that I have had pleasant evidence of the fact that my right hon. Friend is a magnificent platform orator. But those who believe in the future of the House of Commons, and who wish that it should be equal to its duties, do not desire that there should be a breakdown of its machinery in order that the discussion of the affairs of the nation should be transferred from the floor of this House to another arena. A security which might suffice for the protection of the minority might yet not be sufficient to preserve the dignity and authority of the House. Let me call the attention of the House to the weighty speech of the Chairman of Ways and Means, at an earlier stage of the evening. The hon. Gentleman said that precaution must be taken against the decision of the fleeting majority of the evening; and he proposed a majority of two - thirds or three-fifths—that is to say he protested, as I am now protesting, against placing the decision of the House as to the continuance of a debate simply in the hands of the majority. My right hon. Friend very skilfully endeavoured to argue the question at issue on the ground of fear; but I rather venture to 1341 place it on the efficiency and dignity of the House. My right hon. Friend also spoke of the increased weight of the responsibility which would be cast upon the Chair, which he considered to be one heavier than the Chair could sustain; and on that ground, as well as on grounds of Party, he was against vesting this discretion in the Chair. As to the weight of responsibility cast upon the Chair, I wish to be allowed to examine that matter. My right hon. Friend knows one responsibility which now rests upon the Chair; but there is another responsibility, not visible to the eyes of hon. Members, which now weighs upon the Speaker or Chairman, and that is, the negative responsibility of sitting in the Chair for a long time, when the subject of debate is exhausted by frivolous iterations, impotent to help the House and unable to expedite Business. Does it not place a great responsibility upon the Speaker to feel that the weapon in his hands is not one that he can rely upon to expedite the Business of the House? My right hon. Friend, and I believe the great majority in this House, are not satisfied that the Business of the House is progressing as it ought to do. Upon that, I presume, we are fairly unanimous, though I have not heard any opinion expressed by those who mainly cheer my right hon. Friend as to the unsatisfactory condition of Business of the House. Is not the Irish Party satisfied with it? [Cries of "No, no!"] No! then for once we are agreed. I believe we are agreed that further progress must be made, and the issue is whether we are to have closure by a simple decision of the majority of the House at any moment, undefined in any manner, or whether we shall place a certain discretion in hands which we trust and believe will be strong and powerful enough and impartial enough to all sides of the House. That is really the issue we have to decide. The Government do wish to place something between the impatient desire of the majority and the minority. It is not from any present anxiety to serve our own interests, but because we look to the future. It is because we look to the future of the House, because we are warned by many circumstances which have taken place, that we do not think the patience of the House can be trusted with such complete confidence as is expressed by the 1342 calm and passionless right hon. Member for Derby. We know full well that if the right hon. Gentleman should be pressed by his new allies below the Gangway; if he should be pressed by the ranks who sit behind him, but whose cheers do not in any degree equal in warmth those of his new adherents; if he should be pressed by all the forces that sit behind him, yet with that calm spirit of his so free from any Party bias, my right hon. Friend, if he occupied the position which his great talents and experience in the House entitle him to hold, would restrain those passions and refuse to go forward, and the minority would not be so safe in any hands as his. But still, as we have not the security that the House will always be led by a man so temperate and so passionless, we must trust to other expedients. We hope that whatever may befall the House—whether it become more and more an Assembly needing the strong interposition of the Chair, or whether it again settle down to those calmer times in which debates were conducted with regularity and commanded the attention and respect of the country—we shall always be able to find Speakers and Chairmen of Ways and Means who will not break down under the responsibility which we propose to place upon them. The Government are not prepared to accept the closure by the majority pure and simple, free from any restrictions, and they adhere to the view that some safeguard should be taken for the protection of the minority and the future character of the House of Commons.
§ SIR LYON PLAYFAIR (Leeds, S.)
Sir, after the two impassioned speeches which we have just heard, I hope the House will allow me a few remarks—and they shall be a very few—purely from a business point of view. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite know that I have always been strongly in favour of an efficient Rule of Closure. I think the Government have, by the words which it has been decided are to remain in the Rule, got a more efficient power than we obtained when we discussed the matter formerly. It has now been decided that the Speaker or the Chairman may, if they desire, apply the Rules of the House to prevent any obstructive Motion in regard to the closure of debate. But I cannot help remarking that the right hon. Gentle- 1343 man who just sat down did not direct one remark to the Motion before the House. He did not state whether he intended to oppose or to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedford. It is quite clear, as the Leader of the House said, that the Rule diminishes the responsibility of the Speaker; but if we add the words to the effect that he must protect the rights of minorities, we shall vastly increase the responsibility of the Speaker, and it is to that point I wish to direct the attention of the Leader of the House. The Speaker occupies a perfectly neutral position in regard to our debates, and is the protector neither of the minority nor of the majority. If, however, we introduce into the Rule the words as to the "infringement of the rights of the minority" we shall immediately make the Speaker come into collision both with the majority and the minority. By the words which the House has already passed, we have got a clear and practical Rule, under which the Speaker has a warning that he is not to allow frivolous Motions of Closure, and that he is to intervene and prevent abuses of the Rule. We have the responsibility of the House itself for the closure, and the Speaker will be kept from being a party on either side. That is the neutral position which the Speaker already holds; and I believe that if we now drop out the words "infringement of the rights of the minority" our closure would be a fair and also an efficient one. On the other hand, if we retain those words, I believe that the Rule will be inoperative in ordinary cases; while in extraordinary times; when there is much excitement in the House, the Speaker will be brought into constant collision with both sides of the House. I therefore hope that the Government will consider whether it is not desirable to make that Rule simple and effective, and to remove from it those words which will destroy it as a working Rule and also endanger the authority of the Chair.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON (Lancashire, Rossendale)
It is not very easy to discover what is the exact position of some of my right hon. Friends who sit on this Bench in regard to this question. The Opposition is summoned in the ordinary manner this afternoon to support the proposal of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), which is 1344 an Amendment that will altogether exclude the intervention of the Chair from the operation of the closure under any and all circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford, on Wednesday last, moved that Amendment, and supported it by a speech. It was supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone), but no sooner had my hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Courtney) got up and shown the absolute necessity of the intervention of the Chair in certain circumstances, than a great change appeared to come over Gentlemen who sit on this Bench, and with the assent of those who sit on this side the hon. Member for Bedford asked leave to withdraw his Amendment. That permission was not granted, and, as I understand, those Members of the Opposition have tonight, notwithstanding the request thus made by the hon. Member for Bedford to withdraw it, voted in favour of the Amendment; and if they had been successful in the vote that was taken two hours ago the intervention of the Chair would have been absolutely prohibited. I myself, unfortunately, was not present during that part of the evening; but I cannot say that I understood what motives could induce Members at first to ask leave to withdraw an Amendment because they thought they had taken up an untenable position, and afterwards to vote in favour of it. I am sorry that I was not present during the greater part of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, which created so much amusement in the House, but that part of it which I did hear I am bound to say appeared to me to be absolutely irrelevant to the question under discussion. I heard my right hon. Friend speaking of the patriotic conduct of the Opposition during the period from 1874 to 1880; and my right hon. Friend was proving greatly to his own satisfaction that the minority of that day was in no need of protection from the closure. Now I myself quite admit that the minority did not need protection at that time; but my right hon. Friend surely did not suppose that all minorities in all circumstances exist in an exactly similar position. What the Opposition at that former period were contending against, was not the extraordinary and inordinate appetite of right hon. Gentlemen 1345 opposite for legislative changes; but what they rather complained of was that they were not sufficiently active, and did not bring forward legislation enough. And because, under those circumstances, they did not find that the minority was in need of any protection whatever, I do not think it follows that there never can be a minority placed in a totally different state of circumstances which might stand in need of some protection, or which might think itself in need of some protection, and which might require some safeguard against the violence and the vehemence of the innovating and revolutionary spirit of whatever Party might happen to be in power at the time. Therefore, whatever may have been the arguments adduced in the early part of the speech by my right hon. Friend, that part, at least, of his speech on which he drew upon his experience when in Opposition a few years ago was absolutely and entirely irrelevant to the question the House is now discussing. The only subject which the House has already decided is as to the intervention of the Chair, and that the operation of the closure in certain circumstances is to be permitted. What the House is now discussing is the comparatively limited question of what are to be the conditions under which that intervention is to take place. It has already been argued both by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian and the hon. Member for Bedford that that intervention is absolutely unnecessary. Now, it is generally admitted that the intervention of he Chair is necessary, in order to prevent an abuse of the Rules of the House. It is further proposed by the Government that the intervention shall take place in certain circumstances for the protection of the privileges of debate. I am not concerned as to whether the words now proposed are absolutely the best which can be found; but I do not understand that any words which will be considered by the majority of the House an improvement on that form have yet been suggested, and certainly the reception which any endeavour by the right hon. Gentleman opposite to meet the objections taken by the Opposition side of the House has received has not as yet been found very greatly to facilitate the settling of this matter. I do not think the House is discussing 1346 so much what is to be the actual form of words under which this intervention of the Chair is to take place as whether there is to be in any circumstances whatever an intervention on the part of the Chair for the protection of the ancient privileges of debate in the House. The question is whether, in the opinion of the majority of the House, it is desirable that the Chair shall in any circumstances intervene and allow the majority the exercise of its full powers for the simple suppression of debate? It is possible that such an intervention might be unnecessary altogether. On a previous occasion I expressed my opinion that there was an undue and unnecessary amount of timidity on this subject in various quarters of the House. I do not believe that it will ever be to the interest, permanently, of any great Party unduly to suppress discussion. But while I adhere to that opinion I, at the same time, most unhesitatingly express the opinion that I do not consider the proposal which is now made by the Government will in the slightest degree increase or injuriously affect the responsibility which now rests on the Chair in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian argued that the responsibility placed on the Chair and the adoption of this proposal would so enormously increase the burden reposing on the Chair, that it would be almost impossible to find any man to undertake the work. I absolutely and entirely differ from my right. hon. Friend in that contention, and maintain that the change now proposed in the Rule regarding the operation of the closure does not increase, but on the contrary greatly diminishes, the responsibility which rests on the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman also said that no responsibility rests on the Chair now. I question that statement altogether; and when the right hon. Gentleman argues that the responsibility would be increased, I reply that one practical example would be worth a great deal more than the arguments which are bestowed on the House. The House has already in the course of the discussion had the closure applied once by the Speaker, after 16 days' debate, on the Address to the Throne. Now, in the opinion of a very large number of hon. Members—I should think a very large majority—the debate on the Address might have been 1347 very advantageously concluded not in 16 days but in eight days; possibly, in the opinion of a great many, in four days; possibly, in the opinion of some, in two days. I wish to ask the House whether, if the Speaker had thought fit to interfere at the end of the eighth day, or the fourth day, or the second day, he would not have been taking, under the present Rule, an enormous responsibility on himself; and whether he would not incur far less responsibility if, under the Rule as proposed by the Government, he simply permitted the judgment of the House to be expressed on the Motion of an hon. Member as to whether the debate on the fourth day or the eighth day should not be closed? It seems to me that the answer is self-evident. The hon. Member for Bedford says that a new responsibility is cast on the Speaker—that he will have, for instance, to be the arbiter of what Amendments are or are not to be discussed; and he spoke of the majority sheltering itself behind the authority of the Chair. To that I reply that it is not either the intention or probable effect of the Rule as it at present stands. I do not consider that the Speaker or the Chair will take upon itself, in ordinary cases, such a responsibility. The sole responsibility, in my judgment, which the Chair will take upon itself by allowing the Question to be put, will be, after a decision, whether it is one which it is proper for the opinion of the majority of the House to be consulted on. Under the present circumstances it is a far different responsibility which rests upon the Chair. It has to decide not only the "evident sense of the House," but whether "there has been adequate debate" on the subject. It will be in the power of any Member to ask that the sense of the House should be taken on a given subject; it will be solely for the Chair to consider whether it is a question on which the sense of the House might properly be taken, and no responsibility such as now rests upon the Chair will in future rest upon it. No doubt, under the present Rule, if the House does not support the Speaker or Chairman, the effect of an adverse vote of the House of Commons, or even one that does not carry out his decision, will be disastrous upon the confidence the Speaker ought to enjoy; I believe it 1348 will be totally different in the present case, and the Speaker will not incur any responsibility whatever. It is a fair question for argument whether it is necessary that any power, or any such protection to the minority, should be in the Rule at all. It is impossible to deny that there might be cases such as have been suggested, where the majority, excited—perhaps not unreasonably excited—by what it might consider unnecessary and too prolonged debate, might come down to the House determined to pass a measure through all its stages without allowing the minority further time for discussion and debate. I cannot say that, under such circumstances, the intervention of the Chair might not be salutary and useful. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian that it would never be possible for the Chair to expose itself in permanent and habitual opposition to the declared will of the great majority of the House. But it is possible for the Chair to do what might occur under somewhat exceptional circumstances—to interpose its authority between the wish of an excited and perhaps, at the moment, intolerant majority and the execution of its wishes. I believe the vast majority of the House has now arrived at the conclusion that some practical form of applying the power of closure is required. There is a very large section, if not a majority, which is unwilling to entrust this power to a large majority, except with certain safeguards. I cannot say that I am convinced now, any more than my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian was convinced in 1882, that there is any necessity whatever for any such safeguards. Of the safeguards which have been suggested in the course of this debate, I see none which are less objectionable, or less liable to abuse, than that which has been suggested by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite; and although I myself do not attach so great importance to the necessity of safeguards as some may do, I believe this is a safeguard which we may attach to the working of this Rule without danger, without weakening respect to the Chair, or without in any serious degree increasing the responsibilities which are now borne by the Chair.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 275; Noes 200: Majority 75.1352
|Addison, J. E. W.||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Agg-Gardner, J. T.||Cross, H. S.|
|Ainslie, W. G.||Crossley, Sir S. B.|
|Allsopp, hon. G.||Grossman, Gen. Sir W.|
|Ambrose, W.||Cubitt, right hon. G.|
|Anstruther, Colonel R. H. L.||Curzon, Viscount|
|Anstruther, H. T.||Davenport, H. T.|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Davenport, W. B.|
|Baden-Powell, G. S.||Dawnay, Colonel hon. L. P.|
|Bailey, Sir J. R.||De Cobain, E. S. W.|
|Baird, J. G. A.||De Lisle, E. J. L. M. P.|
|Balfour, rt. hon. A. J.|
|Balfour, G. W.||De Worms, Baron H.|
|Banes, Major G. E.||Dickson, Major A. G.|
|Baring, Viscount||Dimsdale, Baron R.|
|Barry, A. H. Smith-||Dixon-Hartland, F. D.|
|Bartley, G. C. T.||Dorington, Sir J. E.|
|Bates, Sir E.||Duncan, Colonel F.|
|Baumann, A. A.||Duncombe, A.|
|Beadel, W. J.||Dyke, right hon. Sir W. H.|
|Beckett, E. W.|
|Beckett, W.||Ebrington, Viscount|
|Bentinck, rt.hn. G. C.||Edwards-Moss, T. C.|
|Bentinck, W. G. C.||Egerton, hon. A. de T.|
|Beresford, Lord C. W. De la Poer||Elcho, Lord|
|Elliot, hon. A. R. D.|
|Bethell, Commander G. R.||Elliot, hon. H. F. H.|
|Elliot, Sir G.|
|Bickford-Smith, W.||Ellis, Sir J. W.|
|Biddulph, M.||Elton, C. I.|
|Bigwood, J.||Evelyn, W. J.|
|Blundell, Col. H. B. H.||Ewart, W.|
|Bond, G. H.||Ewing, Sir A. O.|
|Bonsor, H. C. O.||Feilden, Lt-Gen. R. J.|
|Boord, T. W.||Fergusson, right hon. Sir J.|
|Borthwick, Sir A.|
|Bristowe, T. L.||Field, Admiral E.|
|Brodrick, hon. W. St. J.F.||Finch, G. H.|
|Finlay, R. B.|
|Brooks, Sir W. C.||Fisher, W. H.|
|Brown, A. H.||Fitzgerald, R. U. P.|
|Bruce, Lord H.||Fitz-Wygram, General Sir F. W.|
|Burdett-Coutts, W. L. Ash.-B.|
|Folkestone, right hon. Viscount|
|Caine, W. S.||Forwood, A. B.|
|Caldwell, J.||Fowler, Sir R. N.|
|Campbell, Sir A.||Fraser, General C. C.|
|Campbell, R. F. F.||Fry, L.|
|Chamberlain, rt. hn. J.||Gardner, R. Richardson-|
|Chaplin, right hon. H.|
|Charrington, S.||Gathorne-Hardy, hon. A. E.|
|Clarke, Sir E. G.|
|Cochrane-Baillie, hon. C. W. A. N.||Gedge, S.|
|Coghill, D. H.||Gibson, J. G.|
|Cohen, L. L.||Gilliat, J. S.|
|Collings, J.||Godson, A. F.|
|Colomb, Capt. J. C. R.||Goldsworthy, Major-General W. T.|
|Commerell, Adml. Sir J. E.|
|Gorst, Sir J. E.|
|Corbett, J.||Goschen, rt. hon. G. J.|
|Corry, Sir J. P.||Gray, C. W.|
|Cotton, Capt. E. T. D.||Green, Sir E.|
|Grotrian, F. B.||Maclean, F. W.|
|Hall, A. W.||Maclean, J. M.|
|Hall, C.||Maclure, J. W.|
|Halsey, T. F.||M'Calmont, Captain J.|
|Hambro, Col. C. J. T||Malcolm, Col. J. W.|
|Hamilton, right hon. Lord G. F.||Mallock, R.|
|Manners, right hon. Lord J. J. R.|
|Hamilton, Lord E.|
|Hamilton, Col. C. E.||Marriott, rt. hn. W. T.|
|Mamley, General Sir E. B.||Matthews, rt. hon. H.|
|Maxwell, Sir H. E.|
|Hanbury, R. W.||Mayno, Adml. R. C.|
|Hardcastle, E.||Mildmay, F. B.|
|Hardcastle, F.||Mills, hon. C. W.|
|Hartington, Marq. of||More, R. J.|
|Hastings, G. W.||Morrison, W.|
|Heath, A. R.||Mount, W. G.|
|Heathcote, Capt. J. H Edwards-||Mowbray, R. G. C.|
|Mulholland, H. L.|
|Heaton, J. H.||Muntz, P. A.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Murdoch, C. T.|
|Hermon-Hodge, R. T||Newark, Viscount|
|Hervey, Lord F.||Noble, W.|
|Hill, right hon. Lord A. W.||Northcote, hon. H. S.|
|Hobhouse, H.||Paget, Sir R. H.|
|Holland, rt. hon. Sir H. T.||Parker, hon. F.|
|Holloway, G.||Pelly, Sir L.|
|Holmes, rt. hon. H.||Penton, Captain F. T.|
|Hornby, W. H.||Pitt-Lewis, G.|
|Houldsworth, W. H.||Plunket, right hon. D. R.|
|Howard, J. M.|
|Howorth, H. H.||Plunkett, hon. J. W.|
|Hozier, J. H. C.||Pomfret, W. P.|
|Hughes, Colonel E.||Powell, F. S.|
|Hughes - Hallett, Col F. C.||Puleston, J. H.|
|Raikes, rt. hon. H. C.|
|Hunt, F. S.||Rankin, J.|
|Hunter, Sir W. G.||Rasch, Major F. C.|
|Isaacs, L. H.||Reed, H. B.|
|Isaacson, F. W.||Ridley, Sir M. W.|
|Jackson, W. L.||Ritchie, rt. hon. C. T.|
|James, rt. hon. Sir H.||Robertson, J. P. B.|
|Jarvis, A. W.||Robertson, W. T.|
|Jennings, L. J.||Robinson, B.|
|Johnston, W.||Ross, A. H.|
|Kelly, J. R.||Round, J.|
|Kennaway, Sir J. H.||Russell, T. W.|
|Kenyon, hon. G. T.||Salt, T.|
|Kerans, F. H.||Sandys, Lieut-Col. T. M.|
|King, H. S.||Saunderson, Col. E. J.|
|Knatchbull-Hugessen hon. H. T.||Sclater - Booth, right hon. G.|
|Knowles, L.||Sellar, A. C.|
|Lafone, A.||Selwin - Ibbetson, rt. hon. Sir H. J.|
|Lambert, I. C.|
|Laurie, Colonel R. P.||Selwyn, Captain C. W.|
|Lawrance, J. C.||Seton-Karr, H.|
|Lea, T.||Shaw-Stewart, M. H.|
|Lechmere, Sir E. A. H.||Sidebotham, J. W.|
|Sidebottom, T. H.|
|Lewisham, right hon. Viscount||Sinclair, W. P.|
|Smith, rt. hon. W. H.|
|Llewellyn, E. H.||Smith, A.|
|Long, W. H.||Spencer, J. E.|
|Low, M.||Stanhope, rt. hon. E.|
|Lowther, J. W.||Stanley, E. J.|
|Lubbock, Sir J.||Stewart, M. J.|
|Macartney, W. G. E||Sutherland, T.|
|Macdonald, rt. hon. J. H. A.||Sykes, C.|
|Talbot, J. G.|
|Taylor, F.||White, J. B.|
|Temple, Sir R.||Whitley, E.|
|Thorburn, W.||Williams, J. Powell-|
|Tollemache, H. J.||Wilson, Sir S.|
|Tomlinson, W. E. M.||Wodehouse, E. R.|
|Tottenham, A. L.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Townsend, F.||Wood, N.|
|Verdin, R.||Wortley, C. B. Stuart|
|Vernon, hon. G. R.||Wright, H. S.|
|Vincent, C. E. H.||Wroughton, P.|
|Walsh, hon. A. H. J.||Yerburgh, R. A.|
|Waring, Colonel T.||Young, C. E. B.|
|Webster, Sir R. E.||TELLERS.|
|Webster, R. G.||Douglas, A. Akers-|
|Weymouth, Viscount||Walrond, Col. W. H.|
|Abraham, W. (Glam.)||Ellis, J. E.|
|Abraham, W. (Limerick, W.)||Ellis, T. E.|
|Esmonde, Sir T. H. G.|
|Acland, A. H. D.||Esslemont, P.|
|Acland, C. T. D.||Evershed, S.|
|Allison, R. A.||Fenwick, C.|
|Anderson, C. H.||Finucane, J.|
|Asquith, H. H.||Flower, C.|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Flynn, J. C.|
|Balfour, rt. hon. J. B.||Foley, P. J.|
|Balfour, Sir G.||Foljambe, C. G. S.|
|Barbour, W. B.||Fowler, rt. hon.H. H.|
|Barran, J.||Fox, Dr. J. F.|
|Barry, J.||Fuller, G. P.|
|Biggar, J. G.||Gane, J. L.|
|Blake, J. A.||Gardner, H.|
|Blane, A.||Gaskell, C. G. Milnes-|
|Bolton, J. C.||Gilhooly, J.|
|Bolton, T. D.||Gill, H. J.|
|Bright, Jacob||Gill, T. P.|
|Bright, W. L.||Gourley, E. T.|
|Broadhurst, H.||Grey, Sir E.|
|Bruce, hon. R. P.||Grove, Sir T. F.|
|Bryce, J.||Gully, W. C.|
|Buxton, S. C.||Haldane, R. B.|
|Byrne, G. M.||Hanbury-Tracy, hon. F. S. A.|
|Campbell, H.||Harcourt, rt.hn. Sir W. G. V. V.|
|Campbell - Bannerman, right hon. H.|
|Carew, J. L.||Harrington, T. C.|
|Chance, P. A.||Hayden, L. P.|
|Channing, F. A.||Hayne, C. Seale-|
|Childers, rt. hon. H. C. E.||Healy, T. M.|
|Heneage, right hon. E.|
|Cobb, H. P.||Holden, I.|
|Cohen, A.||Hooper, J.|
|Coleridge, hon. B.||Howell, G.|
|Commins, A.||Hunter, W. A.|
|Connolly, L.||Illingworth, A.|
|Conway, M.||Jacoby, J. A.|
|Conybeare, C. A. V.||James, C. H.|
|Corbet, W. J.||James, hon. W. H.|
|Cossham, H.||Joicey, J.|
|Cox, J. R.||Jordan, J.|
|Cozens-Hardy, H. H.||Kay-Shuttleworth, rt. hon. Sir U. J.|
|Crawford, W.||Kennedy, E. J.|
|Cremer, W. R.||Kenny, C. S.|
|Crossley, E.||Kenny, M. J.|
|Dillon, J.||Labouchere, H.|
|Dillwyn, L. L.||Lane, W. J.|
|Dixon, G.||Leahy, J.|
|Duff, R. W.||Leake, R.|
|Lefevre, rt. hn.G. J. S.||Reed, Sir E. J.|
|Lockwood, F.||Rendel, S.|
|Macdonald, W. A.||Roberts, J.|
|MacInnes, M.||Roberts, J. B.|
|MacNeill, J. G. S.||Robertson, E.|
|M'Cartan, M.||Roe, T.|
|McCarthy, J. H.||Roscoe, Sir H. E.|
|M'Donald, P.||Rowlands, J.|
|M'Ewan, W.||Rowlands, W. B.|
|M'Lagan, P.||Rowntree, J.|
|M'Laren, W. S. B.||Russell, Sir C.|
|Maitland, W. F.||Russell, E. R.|
|Mappin, Sir F. T.||Sexton, T.|
|Marum, E. M.||Shaw, T.|
|Mayne, T.||Sheehan, J. D.|
|Menzies, R. S.||Sheil, E.|
|Molloy, B. C.||Shirley, W. S.|
|Morgan, rt. hon. G. O||Smith, S.|
|Morgan, O. V.||Spencer, hon. C. R.|
|Morley, rt. hon. J.||Stack, J.|
|Mundella, rt. hn. A. J||Stanhope, hon. P. J.|
|Neville, R.||Stansfeld, rt. hon. J.|
|Newnes, G.||Stepney - Cowell, Sir A. K.|
|Nolan, Colonel J. P.|
|Nolan, J.||Stevenson, F. S.|
|O'Brien, J. F. X.||Stuart, J.|
|O'Brien, P.||Sullivan, D.|
|O'Brien, P. J.||Summers, W.|
|O'Connor, J. (Tippry.)||Sutherland, A.|
|O'Connor, T. P.||Swinburne, Sir J.|
|O'Doherty, J. E.||Tanner, C. K.|
|O'Hanlon, T.||Thomas, A.|
|O'Hea, P.||Tuite, J.|
|O'Kelly, J.||Vivian, Sir H. H.|
|Parker, C. S.||Wallace, R.|
|Parnell, C. S.||Wardle, H.|
|Paulton, J. M.||Warmington, C. M.|
|Pease, Sir J. W.||Watt, H.|
|Pease, A. E.||Wayman, T.|
|Pickersgill, E. H.||Whitbread, S.|
|Picton, J. A.||Will, J. S.|
|Playfair, rt. hon. Sir L.||Williams, A.|
|Plowden, Sir W. C.||Wilson, H. J.|
|Portman, hon. E. B.||Winterbotham, A. B.|
|Powell, W. R. H.||Woodall, W.|
|Power, P. J.||Woodhead, J.|
|Price, T. P.|
|Pyne, J. D.||Marjoribanks, rt. hon. E.|
|Rathbone, W.||Morley, A.|
|Redmond, J. E.|
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Mr. Speaker, I desire now to move to insert, after the word "minority," in line 5, the words "in respect of Debate, or otherwise." The House has affirmed the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) up to the word "minority;" it has, consequently, decided that it will have some limitation upon the power of the majority with respect to the application of the closure. That limitation, however, we regard as being of an entirely illusory character so far as we, the Irish Members, are concerned. Unlike the Tory Party, we have always been con- 1353 sistent upon the question of Procedure. Ever since the first Closure Resolution was brought forward in 1882 we have maintained the same attitude upon this subject that we do to-night. As an example of that, I may remind the House that in 1882 we voted for a closure pure and simple, as opposed to a closure by a proportionate majority which the Tories desired to obtain. The policy of the Tory Party has been to have a closure by which they will be able to hit us, the Irish minority in the House, but under which it will be impossible for the Liberal Party to hit them. Our position is that, if one side is to be clôtured, the other side shall be clôtured. Since the House has decided that there shall be a limitation upon the power of the majority we now come to consider what is to be the nature of the limitation. Is it to be left vague and open, as proposed by the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith), or is it to be a real limitation? I propose that it shall be a real limitation, and that there shall be some direction given to the Chairman to guide him as to the interpretation to be placed upon the rights of minorities. The phrase "the rights of the minorities" is a new phrase—it is not a Parliamentary phrase, because it is unknown in the law and custom of Parliament. What do you mean by it? What minority do you mean? Do you mean only your own minority, or do you mean any minority and every minority? In your Amendment you speak of "the minority." Is that intended to exclude any minority but the Tory minority, when it next becomes a minority? Now, I propose to insert in this Amendment, as a guide for the Chair, "in respect of debate or otherwise;" and I wish to point out that there is not a word in the Resolution, so far as it has gone, which provides for any debate whatever. I do not mean to say for a moment that this is a complete definition, or a complete guide for the Chair; but, at least, it is my humble contribution towards the provision of a definition where a definition is badly wanted. Is it the intention of the Tory Party that this Resolution shall appear on the Journals of the House and become the law of Parliament in its present naked state? Will you refuse to insert the word "debate" in this Resolution? What will 1354 your Parliament be without debate, without the power of debate? Unless some such Amendment as I propose be accepted, it will be in the power of the majority to choke and to prevent debate at a moment's notice. We have been exhorted to-night by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) to rely upon public opinion. Possibly the two English Parties, in their dealings with each other, can rely upon public opinion. They are entitled to rely upon the public opinion of the country to which they belong, and of the country which they represent in this House. Possibly neither of the two English Parties will ever be guilty of gross want of fair play towards the other. Most probably you will have regard not only to the letter of the law which you are now passing, but to the unwritten law which regulates the contests between the English or British political Parties. But these are considerations upon which we are forbidden to rely. Hard-earned experience has taught us that we cannot rely upon the forbearance of any English political Party when its passions are aroused, and when it rushes blindly along like some wild beast, simply to destroy and trample everything in front of it. I have seen both of your political Parties in that rabid state, and I see no reason to suppose why one of them, at all events, may not be reduced to such a state again; in fact, I see the latent symptoms of hydrophobia approaching, which may in a little time develop, and give rise to an attack of rabies such as we have witnessed in times past. While we have still the power, it is necessary to attempt to guard ourselves against these periodical fits of lunacy. It may be more possible for us than it used to be to look to the public opinion of this country. I cannot admit for a moment that our position can ever be of a strength equal to that of an English political Party. The nature of the case forbids it; the fact that we come from another country, that we are the Representatives of Ireland, forbids it. Therefore it is I ask the House, while it is still in a calm mood, to accept the Amendment which I propose—an Amendment which is designed as an instruction to the Chair, and a definition of what the rights of minorities are. The first and foremost amongst those rights 1355 is the right of debate. We do not desire, so long as we remain here, that we shall be silent—that our power of speech shall be under the control of any Leader of the House, or of any of his followers. The Resolution, as it stands, is naked and unadorned; it requires some dressing, some addition which will indicate to the Chair what the rights of the minority which it is its duty to protect are, so that we may be sure that, as a permanent minority—which we must be so long as we remain in this House; I hope our stay will not be of many years duration, I believe it will not—we shall have that protection in expressing the grievances of our country that the law of Parliament at present entitles us to.
§ Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, after the word "minority," to insert the words "in respect of Debate, or otherwise."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be inserted in the said proposed Amendment."
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)
Mr. Speaker, the speech just delivered by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) was one that would have been more fitly addressed against the Amendment we have just decided, and for which the hon. Gentleman voted. The House has just decided that it will give the Chair a certain discretion to protect the rights of the minority, and I do not think the House is anxious to re-open the question. I will, however, point out that if the words of this Amendment have any meaning at all, I do not think they will greatly strengthen the Chair in defending the rights of the minority; and that if they are intended as a definition, they certainly constitute one of the vaguest definitions I have ever seen on paper. The rights of the minority "in respect of Debate, or otherwise," seems to leave us in a state of great uncertainty as to what those rights are, and I cannot see that the Chair would be in any way assisted in arriving at a conclusion by the adoption of the present Amendment. What are the rights of the minority other than those contained in debate? The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Parnell) did not condescend to explain to the House, or even to hint at, what are the additional and extraordinary rights which 1356 he proposes to preserve for the minority over and above the privileges of fair debate. I do not see that the duty of the Chair would be rendered any clearer or easier if we were to adopt the words just moved. I hope the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Parnell) will see that these words will not in any way carry out his desire—namely, the protection of the minority.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I think we have some reason to complain of the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes). He has condemned the Amendment of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) on account of its vagueness and mistiness; but we have some reason to complain of the terms in which the right hon. Gentleman opposed the Amendment. I listened with great attention to the Postmaster General, because I had the satisfaction of sitting on the Committee upstairs with him, and I know nobody more anxious to maintain in that Committee the rights of the minority than the right hon. Gentleman. But he has now dealt with the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell) in terms of such complete vagueness that I am really at a loss to know what it is exactly he has said. The hon. Member for Cork has put, in terms of great precision, the point he wishes to impress on the Committee; he proposes that the House should insert after the word "minority," the words "in respect of Debate, or otherwise." We have now arrived at the moment when the interposition of my hon. Friend, by this Amendment, is precisely required; because, in my judgment, we have now come to the crux of these Procedure Rules. The real question is this—Are you prepared, on the Motion, say of some hon. Member below the Gangway, "that the Question be put," to apply the clôture without a single word having been said? We hear a great deal about Americanizing our Institutions; but, unless we adopt some such Amendment as this, we shall see the same thing happen as I have seen happen in the American Convention—we shall see the Speaker arranging with some hon. Member below the Gangway that he shall move the clôture—in America the Previous Question is moved, which is equivalent to the clôture. I do not suppose for one moment that the present Speaker will ever enter into an arrangement such, as I have described; but in future 1357 we may find 50 Members rising to address the House, and the Speaker calling upon A B—who may be the hon. Member for the Loughborough Division of Leicestershire (Mr. De Lisle)—whom he knows will move the clôture, and, before one word is uttered upon the merits of the Question before the House, the clôture may be applied. Now, as I understand the proposal of my hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell), it is that no clôture shall take place until there has been some opportunity of debate upon the Question before the House. Does the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) really contemplate the application of the clôture upon a question on which there has been no debate at all?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Gentleman is now referring to a question which, has been already decided.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I am very sorry if I have transgressed in the slightest degree. As I understand the Amendment before the House, the Speaker is to have regard to the amount of debate that has taken place before he allows the clôture to be applied. If there is no provision of this kind an hon. Gentleman below the Gangway may start up suddenly, and, before a word has been uttered, move the clôture. Assuming the words of my hon. Friend to be surplusage, will the Postmaster General say what harm they can do? Unless you are careful, you will reduce the proceedings of the House to the level of the machine politics of America; you will have everything that is to take place secretly arranged, possibly the night before, between the Speaker and the Party in power.
§ MR. GEDGE (Stockport)
Because I am anxious for the protection of the rights of the minority, I hope this Amendment will not be adopted. Anyone who is accustomed to draw up documents giving rights knows that if particular definitions are added to general words the rights are practically limited. I object to a limitation of the rights of the minority by any words of definition. If we leave the Amendment as it is, the Speaker must necessarily have regard to the minority's right to discussion.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gedge) has entirely misrepresented the object of my hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell). The hon. Gentleman seems to think that 1358 the object of the Amendment is to limit the rights of the minority. Certainly, that is not the intention of my hon. Friend. I was rather surprised at the reception the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) gave the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman and his Party take their stand on the last Division, on the ground that minorities are in need of some sort of protection from the tyranny of the majority. We accept that entirely. But then the right hon. Gentleman said my hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell) was inconsistent in proposing these words, because he had voted in favour of the Amendment which has just been decided. Surely the right hon. Gentleman entirely confounds the issue of the Amendment we voted upon. The question was not whether the rights of the minority should be protected from infringement, but whether the Chair should be brought in at all. The two questions are entirely distinct. My hon. Friend thinks that the interposition of the Chair is the way to degrade the position of the Speaker, and to degrade the position of the House of Commons; but he thinks, at the same time, that the rights of the minority should be protected. The right hon. Gentleman took objection to the Amendment on account of vagueness. He particularly objected to the words "or otherwise;" but surely he knows very well that no words are more familiar in legislation in general, and in our Procedure Rules, than the words "or otherwise." Surely my hon. Friend ought not to be blamed for using the words "or otherwise;" but rather praised for imitating the language of the Standing Rule. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General says the words relate to the course of debate; but surely the action of the Speaker relates to the course of debate also. If the House has decided that there need be no safeguard in the first stage of debate, à fortiori there ought to be one is the second stage. I submit that this reasoning is unanswerable, and that the right hon. Gentleman is bound to accept these words; and I trust I have said enough to show that there is a great deal more in the words of my hon. Friend than the right hon. Gentleman supposes.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
Sir, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in an impatient speech answered the ques- 1359 tion as to what is a minority; but he abstained from saying one word as to what are the rights of a majority. I will venture, Mr. Speaker, to say that if you were called upon to rise and define the rights of a minority that you could not do it. And I will go further and say that if hon. Gentlemen opposite were called upon to write down their ideas of those rights that not more than two or three of them would be in agreement. The Government have placed in you great powers, but they have done it in so vague a manner that we cannot understand what they are. There is something hidden in the mind of the Government which, although I have listened attentively to their explanations, I have not been able to discover. If it is clear to the Government what are the rights of minorities, why, I ask, do they object to insert the words proposed by my hon. Friend, which I cordially support?
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
Sir, I am quite as anxious as the hon. Member for Cork or any other Member of this House to safeguard the rights of minorities, and I will go further and say that if I could see that the words in the Amendment before the House would be likely to have that effect I would support them at once. But I can only come to the conclusion that the words proposed would be entirely superfluous in that they would add nothing whatever to the safeguards which already exist. I trust, therefore, the hon. Member will not press the Amendment to a Division.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided,:—Ayes 107; Noes 220: Majority 119.—(Div. List, No. 42.)
§ MR. T, M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
With great respect to you, Sir, I submit that it will be better that the Question should not be put, but that the hon. Member for Northampton should be allowed to move the adjournment of the debate, so that Amendments may be moved.
§ MR. SPEAKER
There would be nothing before the House if I did not put the Question. The hon. Member for 1360 Northampton will not be in a worse position through my putting it.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I wish to ask you, Sir, whether, if you put the Question now, it would be open for hon. Gentlemen to move an Amendment to that Question?
Question again proposed.
That 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' be there inserted."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I beg to move the adjournment of the debate, We are discussing Rules of Debate, one of which is that we should not sit after half-past 12 o'clock. Under the circumstances I do not think it is unreasonable that we should adjourn this Vote at half-past 1 o'clock.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
Does the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury propose to move, when the first Resolution is passed, that it be a Standing Order of the House?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I have always said, and I now repeat it, that when the Rule is passed it will immediately become operative.
§ MR. PARNELL
In that case it would only be a Sessional Order. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to make a Motion that it shall be a Standing Order of the House?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Tuesday next.