Order read, for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Main Question, as amended,
That, after a Question has been proposed, 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:
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 as aforesaid not having been withheld) 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.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.1667
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I beg to move, in line 8, to leave out "any Question already," and insert "the Question last previously." The Amendment is a very simple one, and it may appear at first sight not to be of very particular importance; but, as a matter of fact, it does cover a very important point, and one well worthy of the consideration of the House before it decides to adopt any particular form of words. In order to appreciate the words of the Rule as it stands, it is necessary to bear in mind that every matter that is determined in this House is so determined by the form of the Question put from the Chair, which is resolved in the affirmative or negative. The Question must form a part of every proceeding in the House; and as the Business is very varied and multiform, and as Questions are very often complex, and as the possible Amendments to be moved upon those Questions are indefinite in number, and both as to matter and as to form, so the situations which arise in connection with Questions and the Amendments proposed are of almost infinite number, running through all sorts of combinations. Now, Sir, the forms of Questions which may arise are frequently divisible into three classes. First of all, to take the simplest case, there is the Question "That the Bill be now read a second time." Upon that a variety of Amendments may be moved. The usual form of Amendment is "That the Bill be read a second time on this day six months." But to that Amendment, again, another Amendment may be moved to substitute "three" months or "one month" for "six months." Of course, in that case you have three different Questions before the House. Now, according to the Rule as at present proposed, it would be possible to apply the clôture immediately to the last Amendment—namely, that which goes to substitute three months or one month for six months. On that being decided, the Main Question—namely, "That the Bill be now read a second time," could be put without any continuation of the debate on the original Amendment, "That the Bill be read a second time this day six months." But, besides that ordinary form of Amendment to the second reading of a Bill, it is perfectly competent for a Member to move a totally different form, of Amendment. 1668 For instance, if he desires to oppose the Bill on principle, it is open to him to move a Resolution that is antagonistic to the principle of the Bill, or to its policy or its main provisions; and on a great many interesting occasions, as will appear to anyone who takes the trouble to consult the Journals of the House, some of the most instructive and historic debates have been raised by such a form of Amendment to the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill. Now, when such a Resolution has been proposed, it is open to any Member to move an Amendment to that Resolution, which itself is an Amendment. When that is done, according to the Rule as it at present stands, it will be competent for the Government which has previously arranged "the sense of the House," to force a Division decisive immediately of the proposed Amendment to the Resolution; and immediately after that, instead of having the Resolution itself adequately debated, though it may contain a very important proposition, not merely as to the matter of form, but also as to the matter of policy, to cause another Motion for closing the debate to be put, and so shelve a discussion on the principal Question. That is the way this Rule will work in the first class of cases—namely, that relating to the Second Reading of Bills. But with regard to another class of important questions—namely, "That the Speaker do now leave the Chair," you find precisely the same difficulty, because, on that occasion also, the Resolution of the first importance touching any one of a multitudinous array of questions of national importance may be raised and put from the Chair, and on that a further Amendment may be moved, and the operation of the Rule, as at present framed, will be the same as in the other case. The Amendment to the Resolution could be forced to an immediate Division, and the Resolution itself could be shelved, the Question, "That the Speaker do now leave the Chair," being immediately put to the House and carried by a previously-arranged majority. I do not know that this is likely to be done frequently. We all know that a weapon like this, though a very tempting one at a time when a feeling of impatience prevails, or at a time of Ministerial embarrassment, is still a very dangerous weapon to use, and one 1669 which might occasionally be used at the risk of those who are handling it. Still, human nature is human nature, and it is possible to conceive that when a Government finds itself in a position of embarrassment—for instance, when it finds there is a deficiency of warlike stores that ought not to exist, or when there is some question of foreign policy before the country as to which they feel they have taken a very doubtful course—it will be natural for them to use every means that may be at their disposal for the purpose of closing the mouths of importunate adversaries. As to the Question, "That the Speaker do leave the Chair," for the purpose of going into Committee of Ways and Means, the same difficulty presents itself. On these occasions some very important debates indeed have been originated in connection with Amendments moved by leading financiers; and if the power which it is now sought to place in the hands of the Government had existed in former years, I ask right hon. Gentlemen opposite whether, on more than one occasion, Ministers of the day would have been able to resist the temptation to use it? In the time of Mr. Pitt, and about the year 1853, there would have been many a strong temptation to the Government to close many and many a protracted debate. On questions relating to the taxation of the subject, I hold that it is exceedingly improper that the Administration should be allowed to make use of a weapon of this kind for closing debate in an Assembly which represents the taxpayers of the Kingdom. The third class of questions which may arise in this House—and a class peculiarly interesting to private Members—is that in which opinion on great subjects is brought to maturity by a Resolution. When a Member moves a Resolution, nothing is more common than for someone else to move an Amendment; and I do not think it would require a large amount of ingenuity on the part of an Administration, embarrassed by the line that a discussion has taken, to enable them to cause one of their Friends to start a minor Amendment for the purpose of manufacturing an apparent "sense of the House," knowing that they will have an assured majority, and then, when a certain impatience has been generated by reason of the frivolous and unimportant Amendment, to start the 1670 clôture on that Amendment, and with the momentum of that proceeding drive the Resolution itself to a Division. This ought to be a matter of grave concern to private Members, seeing that the Rule threatens their liberties in a particular way. The question of the Disestablishment of the Church was brought before the House in the form of a Resolution; and it is impossible to conceive that a Government could resist the temptation of burking such discussions if they had the power to do so. I maintain that, whichever way you look at this Rule, it is full of danger and mischief, and that the questions it raises are pregnant with importance as affecting liberty of discussion—of private Members especially—in this House.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 8, to leave out the words "any Question already," in order to insert the words "the Question last previously,"—(Mr. Arthur O'Connor,)—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W.H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I had thought that the question raised by the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) had been substantially decided by the House. I certainly think the feeling of the House generally will be that the arguments he has with great ability put before us have already been considered and disposed of by a large majority. The hon. Gentleman's object is clearly to take from the clôture a large portion of the efficiency it is intended to attach to it, and to remove the discretion of the Chair—whether it be the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
The hon. Member addressed arguments to us which, no doubt, satisfy himself and those who act with him that it is desirable to retain the power of protracted debate, and of delaying the progress of measures, notwithstanding that the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees may think it fitting and expedient that the Question should be put, and may not consider it an abuse of the Rules of the House, nor an infringement of the privileges of the minority, for an hon. Member to move 1671 that the Question should be put. I again say to the House that I cannot accede to any provision which will secure to the individual Members of the House the absolute privilege of proposing Amendments to Amendments, and interposing delay upon delay to the progress of Business if the closure is to be at all attempted. I rely—and I think the House will rely—upon the safeguard and protection which is afforded by the judicial supervision of the Chair over the exercise of the power to move the clôture, when it would be an abuse of the Rules of the House, or an interference with the privileges or a curtailment of the rights of minorities. It is impossible to conceive that the Chair will ever permit the Question to be put if a substantive Amendment inviting and requiring debate remains on the Paper; nor is it conceivable that any Minister should propose to the Chair that such a course should be taken. Between the two—the Chair and the Minister—the House has ample and sufficient safeguards against any abuse of the powers now sought to be conferred on them.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury as to the amplitude of the safeguards afforded by this Rule of Closure, seeing that we believe it to be directed against us Irish Members; that we know that as long as we remain here we shall always be in a minority; and that there will never be any great cordiality between us and any Government. I draw no sort of comfort, consolation, or hope from the probabilities stated by the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to the object of my hon. Friend's Amendment, it is in no way to limit the discretion of the Chair. My hon. Friend certainly desires to limit the frequency and succession of operations of the Clôture Rule; but the discretion of the Chair, under this Rule, differing in that respect from the Rule in existence, does not come into play until the Motion for the clôture has been made. The object of my hon. Friend is to limit the occasions on which such a Motion may be made; and it is obvious that if the Amendment were carried it would limit, not the discretion of the Chair, but the capability of hon. Members endeavouring to bring the power of the Chair into action. The right hon. Gentleman used a very 1672 significant and formidable argument when he said that the Amendment would lessen the intended efficiency of the proposed closure. The Rule, as proposed, is simply an invitation to any Member of the majority to follow up the first application of the closure, so as at once to bring to an end the discussion on the Main Question. Between the old Clôture Rule and the one proposed there is the difference between the single bullet and the chain shot; because under the proposed Rule, when one Amendment has been clôtured, any further Question may be put which will give a decision on the Main Question. In this way the discussion on the Queen's Speech, which is a most weighty debate on the policy of the Government, can be brought at once to an end by the Government contriving to have an Amendment put down first, to have it discussed at excessive length, and then, when the House has been lashed into a condition of ferocity, to apply the clôture, and then immediately move that the original Question be put, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty," &c. What would then become of the other Amendments? The Rule will also act as a chain shot in the case of Votes in Committee of Supply. No matter how many items a Vote may contain, or how many sub-heads it may be divided into, there would be nothing easier than to procure a debate upon one of the first Amendments, and to bring about such a state of temper in the House as would prevent the discussion, or even the moving, of any subsequent Amendment. It is simply misleading the House to say that the attempt of my hon. Friend to limit the second paragraph of this Rule is an attempt to procure protraction of debate. The object of my hon. Friend is to procure the right of moving an Amendment; because, as the Rule stands in its present form, all the Amendments subsequent to the first on the Address in reply to the Royal Speech, or on the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair, instead of standing on the broad, historic ground of the freedom of discussion of an individual Member of Parliament, will be placed at the mercy of the most petty and despicable contrivance of the camp followers of any Government. The views I have put before the House are, I submit, of sufficient importance to arrest 1673 the attention of any hon. Member who has not given up his Parliamentary intelligence and public conscience to the keeping of the Government. Recent proceedings, however, are not encouraging, and lead me to think that the description of "items" sometimes applied to the Irish Party might b9 applied more accurately to hon. Gentlemen opposite. Unless some provision is introduced to save at least the right of moving an Amendment, no matter whether discussion be allowed or not, and to procure a vote of the House upon it, the result will be that, while this Assembly may still be called a House of Legislature, it will no longer deserve to be called a House of Parliament.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
The effect of adopting the second part of the Rule as proposed by the Government will be that many Questions will not be put from the Chair which, in the opinion of persons who desire to call attention to certain subjects, are of vital importance; and this is involved in language so extraordinary in its character that I venture to say that not 10 per cent of the House is aware of the effect of the Rule. There may be questions of vast importance to be discussed under the form of Amendments. Well, how is the Chair to know the comparative importance of these? The importance of a subject may turn on the technicality of a word, and such a subject may be of vital moment, although to those who are not conversant with it it may appear absolutely unimportant. What I object to is that no machinery whatever is provided by the Government for even a momentary discussion upon a subsequent Amendment, or for allowing a Member to rise to a point of Order, no matter how important and vital such subsequent Amendment or point of Order may be. I would ask whether, to raise the point, I should be in Order in moving to omit from the second paragraph the words which enable the Motion to be put "forthwith?"
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I wish to ask whether it is the intention of the Government to make any concession to the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) and the right hon. Member for the Basingstoke Divi- 1674 sion of Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth)? I certainly understood from the First Lord of the Treasury that the Government were prepared to make some concession in regard to the items of Supply; but I do not see any Amendments on the Paper carrying out the idea. The Rule as it stands is too severe, and if no concession is made I shall be bound to vote in support of the present Amendment. It would not be open to any hon. Member who has given Notice of Amendment on any item in Supply, or on a clause of a Bill, to raise a question with the Speaker whether the Motion was of sufficient public importance to justify him in moving it. Unless, therefore, the Government make some concession, I shall vote with the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton).
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in saying that the Government promised to make a concession with regard to the question of Supply. What I said was that I promised to consider the subject with a desire to meet the views of the House as far as I could. But I have not been able to arrive at any form of words, and no form of words have been suggested by any hon. Member on either side of the House which will prevent the raising of purely dilatory Motions for the purpose of Obstruction. I am, therefore, compelled to fall back on the responsibility, on the justice, and on the authority of the Speaker and of the Chairman of Committees. Full powers are possessed by both of these Judicial Officers of the House to secure the complete rights of every hon. Member, and full authority to secure the complete discussion of every question which is a substantive one before the House. I can do no more than this. I am aware that the question raised by the hon. Member for West Belfast is one of very great force; but if it is in the power of hon. Members to raise Amendments on every item of Supply, on every line and every word of a clause in a Bill going through Committee, then any attempt to put a limit to their discussion will altogether fail.
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
I cannot regard the answer which has been given as entirely satisfactory, nor can I think that this question has been adequately discussed. The question which has occurred to my mind 1675 in listening to the debate is this—will it be possible, under this Rule, to exclude the adequate discussion of any question which has not been adequately discussed? I think that more attention ought to have been given by the Government to the point raised by the hon. Member for West Belfast, who showed that in debating the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne it will be perfectly possible to shut out half-a-dozen Amendments of the greatest possible importance. That appears to me to be a very strong course to take. Let us get rid of the Address if you choose; but the exclusion of Amendments in this way—for that is what it comes to—certainly seems to me to be a very strong proceeding. I should like to know what the objection to this Amendment is. The Government has the closure in a strong form; indeed, they could not have it in a more drastic form. By means of the closure, even with this Amendment, they could shut out the discussion of 100 Amendments successively; and I do not think the present Amendment would really impair its validity. Unless a better defence is set up by the Government for refusing the Amendment, I also shall feel bound to follow the hon. Member for West Belfast into the Lobby.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Baikes) has not thought fit to reply to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). The theory of the Government is that no majority in the House would ever abuse this Rule; but that is a pure assumption, and the assumption of the Irish Members is the directly opposite of that. We say that at certain times of excitement the House is ready to act with injustice to the Irish Party, and we are not without proof that this is not only possible, but probable. There are in the rank and file of the Tory Party Gentlemen perfectly competent to abuse the Rules of this House, and who would be quite ready to do it if occasion should arise. I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, who used to be remarkable for his obstructive Motions—who earned for himself, in fact, the title of "the Eternal Raikes" from the frequency with which 1676 his name appeared in the Division Lists in obstructive Divisions—to vouchsafe a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton). With regard to the paragraphs in the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne, I would point out that those relating to Ireland usually came near the end; and that, therefore, in order to prevent Amendments to them from being discussed, Tory Members, like the hon. Member for North Antrim and the hon. Member for Stockport, will put down Amendments to earlier portions. When those Amendments, in which the House may take very little interest, have been debated for 10 or 15 days, some other Member of the Tory Party will move the clôture, and in that way all the Amendments relating to Ireland will be incontinently shut out. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General ought to have a sympathetic interest in the efforts we are making to mitigate the stringency of this Rule.
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
Sir, I think the objection taken by the right hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), on the ground of technicality, is of very great force. We are putting on the House something that may cause a great deal of technical inconvenience. The First Lord of the Treasury has, it appears to me, admitted the case against the Rule in some words which he let fall. He said—"Technically, the Rule may be of some inconvenience." Well, we have already found ourselves in some difficulty as to the mode of discussing these very Rules. In a recent debate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) stated that the House was bound by too many technicalities, and the Speaker said on that occasion that he was bound by the technicalities, and that if any difficulty was felt it must be cured by the House itself. I think this is a strong argument against adding any more technicalities to the Rules governing our Procedure. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has spoken of the equitable jurisdiction of the Chairman of Committees; but I do not think it is fair to lay on the Chair a jurisdiction of that kind. Certainly, unless I have some further explanation from the Government Bench on this subject, I 1677 shall feel it my duty to vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. A. O'Connor).
§ MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
Sir, we have it on very good authority that this Amendment does not impair the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury; and I think that the argument of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) has made it as clear to hon. Members generally, as it has to myself, that it will have the effect of strengthening it. I was very much struck with the illustration given by my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast. We all know that the debates on the Address have been decisive of great matters of State and foreign policy. It was only last year that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) brought forward an Amendment on the Address, which altered the whole foreign and domestic policy of the country; and hon. Members will recollect that it was upon the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings), who then sat for Ipswich, that the Government of the day were overthrown. I ask, then, if it is not quite possible, by the operation of this Rule in its present form, to put it entirely out of the power of the House to propose again Amendments which may have such tremendous effects? There is another way in which the Rule will stringently coerce and restrain the power of hon. Members in this House. If it be in the hands of the Speaker, or the Government, or any Member of this House, to close debate on important questions, and to shut out important Amendments, I contend that it would be a great loss, not only to hon. Members of the House, but to the country at large. If the Amendment of my hon. Friend be not adopted, it will be in the power of any tyrant majority in this House to prevent hon. Members from proposing such Amendments as will clear up any difficulties with regard to the comprehension of the Rule itself; and it will be out of the power of any hon. Member to propose any Amendment which would have the effect of strengthening the original proposals, must, therefore, condemn the conduct of the Government in adhering stringently to the form of their proposals. I protest against the cavalier manner in which 1678 they treat the feelings of hon. Members of this House; and I shall, for these reasons, support the Amendment of my hon. Friend, which has been conceived with the sagacity and foresight which characterizes the many Amendments which he has proposed in this House, and which ought, I think, to secure for him the confidence of the Chair and the respect of the Government.
§ MR. H. J. GILL (Limerick)
Sir, I think that the Amendment of my hon. Friend should be supported almost more strenuously than any Amendment which has been brought forward to this Rule. In my opinion, Gentlemen from Wales and Scotland ought to give it their full support; for I say it is intended, or can be used, for the purpose of muzzling minorities. In the debate on the Address in reply to Her Majesty's Speech, it will become altogether a matter of chance as to which nationality will have the liberty of bringing forward a grievance. In Her Majesty's Speech allusion is often made to questions affecting the three countries; and, according to this Rule, the probability is that only the Representatives of the first Nationality alluded to will be able to bring their grievances before the House. The effect of this Rule, in its present form, will be that in a short time you will have Scotland and Wales getting up that strong agitation in favour of a native Parliament which has existed for so long in Ireland. I cannot see why the Government should not agree to some modification of this Rule, considering that this Amendment has been supported by influential Members on this side of the House above the Gangway, and especially since the right hon. Gentleman himself has admitted that it is open to abuse unless safeguarded in some way. For these reasons, I am strongly in favour of the Amendment before the House, which, I think, should carry with it the support of a large number of the Members of this House.
§ MR. LANE (Cork Co., E.)
Sir, after the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, I am of opinion that we ought not to allow this opportunity to pass without carrying out what I believe to be his intention, and enabling him to overcome the difficulty, which he says is recognized by himself and his Colleagues, in not being able to frame words which would 1679 meet the objections that have been raised to this Rule by my hon. Friend the Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor). I think it is almost a humiliating admission on the part of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government, who have undertaken to manage the affairs of an Empire whose subjects number 300,000,000, that they are unable to put together words which will meet the object of this Amendment. In considering the necessity there is for the Amendment being carried, it has been absolutely necessary that we should look forward to the time when the whole of the debates in this House will be regulated by the Procedure Rules which we are discussing. When these Rules are passed, it will be found that a great many of them tend further to limit the powers and liberties of debate which private Members have at the present moment. Rule 9 contemplates and will abolish all opportunities that have been afforded for discussion on the Committee and Report stages of the Address. This, I think, is a further argument in favour of placing some limitation upon the power of closure as contained in the present Rule. Again, according to Rule 5, the time for debate on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays will be very seriously curtailed, inasmuch as it proposes on those days to close debate at midnight; and, in addition to that, there will be further power conferred on the Government of the day to move on those occasions, "That the Question be now put." That Rule, Sir, contracts, to a serious extent, the powers of discussion of private Members.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is discussing at some length Rules which are not yet before the House; and I point out that in doing so he is not in Order.
§ MR. LANE
I submit to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. The object of the Amendment before the House is simply to prevent the Government having power to prevent discussion on all subsequent Amendments after the closure has been applied. The right hon. Gentleman says that he conceives it would be impossible for the powers given under this Rule to be put into operation in such a manner as would prevent Amendments of a substantial nature being put from the Chair. I cannot understand how the right hon. 1680 Gentleman can say that this would be impossible, seeing that the Rule makes it compulsory on the occupant of the Chair to put the Question forthwith. It would be quite possible, by accepting this Amendment, to give a minority the power which the right hon. Gentleman says he is anxious to secure for it; and I think the Government should try, if possible, to see some means by which they can modify the wording of the Rule. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes), who is recognized as a high authority on all questions of Procedure, will try to make up for the shortcomings admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury by adopting some phraseology that will allow Members to move important Amendments, which otherwise they would be prevented from moving.
§ MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN (Mayo, S.)
Sir, throughout these discussions the only consolation which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) has given us is that we have the protection of the Chair to fall back upon. In my opinion, the interference of the Chair would be more beneficial under an arrangement different from that which is here proposed—that is to say, if the Chair were directly responsible for putting the closure in force, as is the case at present. I do not think the protection of the Chair would be nearly so effectual under the Rule we are considering as it is under the Rule now in existence. Although our proposal is a very reasonable one, it has been met with a complete refusal by the Government: and in that I think the Government is acting illogically and unreasonably, for they have themselves admitted the justice of the principle which it involves. The proposals of the Government are, perhaps, the most important that have come before this House, inasmuch as they involve the making of Rules which will determine the life or death of this Parliament. During the greater part of yesterday the Benches opposite were occupied—
§ MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)
Sir, the position taken up by the Government is 1681 most extraordinary, and one which, in my opinion, ought to be protested against by every Member of the House. They seem to assume that the entire wisdom of the House is concentrated on the Treasury Bench, and that no wise suggestion can proceed from this side of the House. Considering the enormous importance of this Rule, touching, as it does, the very life of Parliamentary debate, I think the fact that practically no single genuine Amendment has been entertained by the Government ought not to be lost sight of. Here is an Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman admits to be wise and reasonable; it is an Amendment which, when you have the Rules passed which will enable the Speaker to apply the closure without going to a Division, will enable you to do everything you propose to do, but will, at the same time, insure the preservation of certain liberties of debate which my hon. Friend the Member for East Donegal contends for. Why, then, do not the Government accept the Amendment? It will not, in the slightest degree, impair the efficacy of the closure. The Government acknowledge that it is out of their power to draft an Amendment which will meet the point raised; and therefore I say that the only course open to them is to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend. There is another assumption habitually made by the Government—namely, that there is some motive behind our Amendments; that we want by them simply to get opportunities for those who sit on those Benches to move dilatory Motions and prolong debate. But you have a most stringent Rule of Closure in existence already, and I remind the House that it has only once been put in force, and that it was only supported on the occasion I refer to by a very narrow majority. If the right hon. Gentleman were right in supposing that our whole object is simply to make weapons for obstructive purposes, having that Rule in your possession, I ask why it is that you have not used it? I say that the fact that the Rule has only been used once by the Speaker, and not at all by the Chairman of Committees, is a proof that the apprehensions of the right hon. Gentleman are unfounded; and for the reasons I have given I feel it my duty to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Donegal.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
Sir, there are three points to which I ask the attention of the House. In the first place, I am very much struck by the frank and important admission of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. I felt at the time it was strange that we could not discover a form of words which would meet the danger which the right hon. Gentleman admitted to exist; and I cannot now imagine that we are so bankrupt in language that this difficulty cannot be overcome. The main objection on which I shall support the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) is the fear that this Rule will be used to prevent discussion on the Expenditure of the country in Committee of Supply. What I have seen in this House has given me the impression that we are, above all things, in danger of losing control over the Expenditure of the country; and therefore I say that this danger is one which we ought most strongly to guard against.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
Sir, I should like to know whether we shall be allowed to discuss the Amendments to a Bill in Committee?
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 170; Noes 109: Majority 61.—(Div. List, No. 53.)
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES) (Cambridge University)
Sir, I rise to Order. I wish to ask you whether the Motion in the name of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) is in Order? I venture to submit to you that the House has already decided the question which is raised by it, when at an earlier stage it negatived an Amendment to the effect that debate on going into Committee of Supply should be excepted from the operation of this Rule.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I wish to point out an essential difference between my Amendment and that referred to in the case put by the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, who, although he is of the greatest authority on matters in Committee, is not an equal authority on questions before the Whole House. My Amend- 1683 ment affects a peculiar class of Motions—namely, those on going into Committee of Supply on Friday nights, on which no Division can be taken. I submit that it cannot be intended by this House to apply the closure to Motions on going into Committee of Supply.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
Sir, the House has decided that the Motion, "That you do now leave the Chair," shall not be exempt from the Closure Rule. But I submit that the Amendment of my hon. and gallant Friend raises a different question—that is, that a Motion on going into Committee of Supply shall be exempt from the closure. There is, to my mind, a great difference between the closure on the original Question and the application of it to each and every Amendment in Committee.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Amendment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is not in Order. The House has decided, on a Division, that the closure shall apply to the Question, on going into Committee of Supply, "That the Speaker do now leave the Chair." The situation will be this. First, an Amendment will be moved to the Question, "That I now leave the Chair;" on that Question I will suppose that the closure has been moved, and the Speaker's consent given. The Question then would be, "That the Speaker do now leave the Chair," as against the Amendment, and that Question would become the substantive Question before the House. That would not preclude discussion taking place on a subsequent Amendment, because it does not follow that a Member would make application to the Chair to apply the closure to any subsequent Amendment; it would not necessarily be shut out by the closure operating against the former Amendment. On a second Amendment a Member may say, "I ask your leave to apply the closure;" and the Speaker may withhold or give his consent. The hon. Member will be aware that at present, on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, if the first Amendment to that Question is negatived, no further Division can take place on another Amendment. It will be in the discretion of the Speaker to withhold or give his consent to further discussion being allowed; and on a night devoted to private Members it is not likely that the Chair would shut out a subsequent or any other Amendment from discussion.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
Sir, in the discussions on previous Amendments it has been shown that great inconvenience will ensue to private Members in respect of various departments of Business; and we now come to the consideration of another extremely important department of the Business of the House. I refer to the proceedings on Bills in Committee. I can hardly imagine that the Government seriously intend to carry into force the Resolution which is expressed in the words at the latter part of this Rule. It appears to me that from the moment when the Chairman of Committees calls out the number of a clause, the whole clause, and all the Amendments to it, come under the operation of this provision, and that it will be competent for any Member of the House to invite the Speaker to consider the Question, "That the Question be now put," and that the Question may be put with the Speaker's consent. Is it gravely intended that, after the closure has been applied to any Amendment on a clause, it may then be applied to the whole clause, so that all subsequent Amendments will be shut out? The former custom was to make a clause simple and complete; but we have of late years whole Bills in a single clause. We have had, with reference to Ireland, clauses of the most comprehensive character, that deserved the name of Bills rather than clauses; and these, again, have been divided and subdivided into sections and sub-sections. What will happen when such a clause is under consideration in Committee? In illustration of this, I may refer to the Irish Land Act of 1881, and the Crimes Act of 1882. A clause might deal with private inquiries, with the summoning of the inhabitants of a district, and with the attempted suppression of Boycotting through the infliction of imprisonment with hard labour by summary jurisdiction. It might be a most extensive and drastic clause, and, as such, there would, perhaps, be dozens of Amendments; and hon. Members here would not be doing their duty unless they applied to each sub-section and aspect of the clause such Amendments as their judgment dictated. Of course, if any two Amendments were identical, the second Amendment would be shut out; it follows that such Amend- 1685 ments as are not shut out by the Chair are substantially different in their nature, and yet, by this Rule, they would all be shut out. I have, on the whole, observed that, like the scorpion, a clause carries its sting in its tail; and, therefore, the Amendments to the most important part of the clause would be shut out by the application of the closure, not only from debate, but even from the Constitutional right of their proposers to have them put from the Chair. It will be possible, I say, under this Rule, in time of excitement, to pass in a single Sitting, and in a single hour, a clause with reference to Ireland which amounts in substance to a Coercion Bill. The Government appear to apprehend that if this paragraph is allowed to stand in its present form hon. Members who are supposed to be desirous of obstructing the Business of the House will move, "That the Question be now put," for the purpose of wasting time. To that I reply that the Speaker has always had it in his power, upon the consideration of a clause on Amendment, to initiate such action as will bring the whole discussion to an end. Why is it that in the whole course of five years the Chairman of Committees has never been called upon to exercise this power? The Chair during that time has been occupied by three Gentlemen of great ability, and none of them have felt called upon to exercise the power of closure. I regard that as a proof that there has not been in that time a condition of things which has called for the exercise of the power. Nothing has occurred in the course of the last 12 months to make this provision necessary. It is not required by experience; it is a provision simply and solely to facilitate the passing of a Coercion Bill for Ireland through this House. I call upon the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) to accept this Amendment, or else to find words to meet the admitted evil. If he cannot find words, the first thing he ought to do is to resign his Office.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 9, to leave out, after the word "Chair," to the word "such," in line 11.—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'and also if a Clause be then under consideration' stand part of the Question."1686
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I am almost afraid I shall weary the House by the repetition in which I have been obliged to indulge during the last five weeks. I have repeatedly stated that there is no desire on the part of the Government to shut out substantial Amendments from consideration in Committee on a Bill. I have said repeatedly that neither you, Sir, nor the Chairman of Committees, could, under the Rule as it now stands, deprive the House of the power and the right of considering substantial Amendments to the clauses of a Bill. It would be an abuse of the Rules of the House if either of them were to permit such a closure to be imposed upon the House: it would be an abuse of the rights of the minority in the House. These words were introduced with the firm conviction that the power with which the Chair is clothed will be exercised for the protection of the rights of the House, and for the protection of Parliament itself, against any tyrannical use, on the part of the majority, of the power we now give them. I know no form of words which would better promote continued delay and obstruction than a form of words which would give the right to debate Amendment after Amendment to the clauses of a Bill. We rely with absolute confidence on the responsibility and the duty which is left to the Chair. We believe it would be impossible for the Chair to sanction a closure which would shut out debate upon substantial Amendments, and we believe the House would give fair and temperate consideration to all such Amendments. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton) says that nothing has arisen in the past to justify the application to the House for additional Rules to regulate the Business of the House. If he and the hon. Gentlemen sitting around him are really of that opinion, I am sure they are the only people in the Empire who entertain that opinion. The absence of the power on the part of the House to conduct its Business satisfactorily, the inability and impotence of the House to control its own affairs, are patent to all the world, and Parliament is losing the influence and the power which it hitherto exercised in the country simply because it appears to be incapable of regulating its own affairs. No one 1687 regrets more than I the necessity of asking the House to impose these restrictions; but I have solemnly come to the conviction that they are absolutely necessary.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) denies the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), that nothing has arisen to justify the extreme severity of these Rules, and he says that the House has become impotent. Speaking as one who thoroughly understands what the power of an obstructive section may be, I venture to confirm my hon. Friend's statement that there has been no real Obstruction since 1882, except that occasioned at times by the noble Lord the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lord Randolph Churchill) and his Friends. If there had been any intention to obstruct on the part of the Irish Members we should have obstructed in a manner which would have changed your views to a very large extent. You would have learnt then what Obstruction means. I may tell the right hon. Gentleman that the chief cause of Obstruction is the conduct of irresponsible Members below the Gangway opposite in giving vent to their feelings, howling and hooting across the House, as they did the other night, when English Members rise to support an Amendment. When hon. Members return at 11 o'clock at night from dinner, and indulge in most unseemly interruptions, I do not wonder that the temper of the House rises, and that hon. Members are inclined to prolong debate. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury said that neither the Speaker nor the Chairman would venture to stop discussion, upon any substantial Amendments. But how can the Speaker or the Chairman say what are substantial Amendments until he has heard the arguments upon them? I fail to see how the Chair is to decide what the value or substantiality of an Amendment is until lie has heard what can be said in regard to it. As a matter of fact, it will be in the power of a section of the House to introduce and discuss at length frivolous Amendments to the first lines of a clause, and in this way secure the adoption of the clôture in respect of the whole clause, to which there may be most important 1688 Amendments—Amendments which a section of Members may really have desired to defeat by the course they had adopted. I do not object to the clôture if it is rightly enforced; but it is because I fear it will operate in the unjust manner I have described that I support this Amendment.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has said repeatedly that the Government have no desire to exclude substantial Amendments from the consideration of the House. I do not care what the desire of the Government is; what we have to deal with is what the effect of the Rule may be. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the effect of this Rule will be to exclude substantial Amendments from time to time, no matter who is in the Chair. An entirely new principle is set forth in this Rule. Under the present Standing Order, the Chairman is entitled to bring a debate to a close when he sees it is the evident sense of the House that the question has been adequately discussed. Now, the plain purpose of the framers of the existing Rule was that a Member of the House should at least be permitted to explain his Amendment before he was shut up entirely. This Rule, however, enacts that the Chairman of Committees shall inform himself of the importance, or the non-importance, of every Amendment which is put upon the Paper. Anyone who has taken part in the discussion of complicated Bills knows that a Chairman of Committees was never born who could do anything of the kind; therefore the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, that the Chairman will not exclude important Amendments, is one of the most absurd statements I ever heard. The Chairman of Ways and Means is already a very hard-worked man, and yet you propose to make it part of his duty to inform himself accurately of the importance or non-importance of every Amendment to every measure that is brought before the House, and to say, at a moment's notice, whether this or that Amendment may be discussed. It may frequently happen that the Chairman will sweep away Amendments which are really of vast importance; and, therefore, you will have the Chairman brought into the most unpleasant conflict with Mem- 1689 bers of this House. What this Amendment asks is the right not to debate an Amendment, but to propose an Amendment, a right which ought never to be taken away, and which, if you do take away, you will, I make bold to say, soon have to restore. Now, I should like to know when it is supposed a clause is under consideration in Committee? Is it intended that a clause is under consideration when the Chairman calls the clause, or when he has called the first Amendment? The words of the Rule are, undoubtedly, very vague on this point. Although there are 670 Members of the House, there are not more than 50 Members present during the greater part of the discussions on these Rules. An overwhelming majority of Members vote upon the different Amendments in absolutely blank ignorance of what they are doing. What are we to suppose will be the condition of the minds of hon. Members when Amendments are proposed to the clauses of a Bill in which very likely hon. Members take no interest whatever? I naturally recur to an illustration of Irish Bills. Take a Bill like the Crimes Act. Look at the nature of the clauses of that Act. In one clause a Code of Criminal Law is laid down. Questions which have occupied the attention of reformers in this country for years were covered by that one clause; and had this Rule been in operation, such was the temper of the House at the time the clause was passed, that the Speaker or Chairman would have applied the clôture upon many important Amendments. There cannot be the slightest doubt that if a similar clause were proposed next week, and this Rule were passed in the meantime, the clôture would be applied without any attention being paid to argument and reason. The facilities which this Rule affords for passing laws quickly will unquestionably be availed of by Irish Ministers, if not by other Ministers. The Amendment of the Land Act, known as the Healy Clause, might have been clôtured by the Chairman under a Rule like this. What can the Chairman know of the condition of the Irish tenants? He is generally an Englishman, with no experience whatever of Ireland. Now, I do not think sufficient notice has been taken of the fact that under this Rule 1690 the initiative is to be taken by a Member of the House, and not by the Speaker. The Member of the House will undoubtedly be the Leader of the House, and one knows that it is not an easy thing for the Speaker to snub the Leader of the House. It is absurd to say that the Speaker or Chairman will not be strongly influenced by the fact that the Leader of the House makes an appeal to the Chair to expedite Public Business. It is true there are men sometimes in the Chair who are sufficiently independent to stand neutral between the Leader of the House and the minority; but it is idle to contend that we can always trust to have in the Chair a man who will rise absolutely superior to all influence from a man in the position of Leader of this House. We know that the first object of this Rule is to push a Coercion Bill through the House. I put it to hon. Gentlemen whether they will not destroy their own Parliament, or injure it exceedingly, in trying to get such a Bill through by such means? It is our duty to oppose Bills which are disagreeable to our constituents as long as we can, and we shall do so. You will get your Coercion Bill, but you will leave your Parliament spoiled. The result, so far as Ireland goes, will be utterly worthless; but the results, so far as this Parliament is concerned, will be extremely mischievous. We are entitled to have some further explanation from the Members of the Treasury Bench as to the meaning they attach to this Rule. In the absence of further enlightenment, we shall be obliged to continue the discussion for some time longer.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
Mr. Speaker, we want to know at what particular stage of the consideration of a Bill this Rule will apply. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has admitted that he is in a helpless condition; that he is unable to find words which will express clearly what he has in his mind. The right hon. Gentleman has Colleagues of great ingenuity and skill, and I believe some of them, if they set themselves to work, would be capable of finding words to express the view of the Government on this question. It is absolutely useless to hope that a Resolution of this kind, which is not clearly defined, which is ill-drawn, and which is open to a variety 1691 of constructions, can be of anything like material help to the Business of the House.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
I should like to ask the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) whether, in his opinion, under the Rule as now proposed by him it will be within the power and the duty of the Speaker or Chairman of Committees, in case a number of bogus Amendments are put down to a clause, and that these are followed by substantial Amendments, to put the clause down to the point where the substantial Amendments come in?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
It is not for me to lay down an absolute Rule which is to guide the Speaker or Chairman of Committees; but I can say what I understand to be the meaning of this Rule. My view is, that no substantial Amendment of any kind will be shut out from consideration of the House by the operation of this Rule, but that what the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Rathbone) terms bogus Amendments will be just those which will be excluded. If to the first line of a clause there are Amendments which have no meaning, and which, perhaps, are only moved for the purpose of causing delay, it will be in the power of the Chair to sanction the clôture as regards those Amendments collectively. When a substantial Amendment is reached which the House desires to discuss, and which the House ought to discuss, I apprehend the Chair will undoubtedly afford an opportunity in the mode of putting the Question which will allow of full discussion.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
The hon. Member for Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone) must be very simple if he regards as at all satisfactory the reply of the First Lord of the Treasury. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Rathbone) asked whether this Rule will be operative against bogus Amendments only, and the right hon. Gentleman replied that it is the intention of the Government and the intention of the Rule that bogus Amendments shall be operated against, but that substantial Amendments shall be protected. But the right hon. Gentleman did not go on to say who is to be the judge of the substantiality of the Amendments. I give every credit to the Gentleman who drew up this Rule; he must be a man of most ingenious 1692 mind. It is suggested he is the Judge Advocate General (Mr. Marriott), but I think that right hon. Gentleman will be found of more advantage upon a Primrose League platform than in drawing up Rules of Procedure. It is as well we should consider the possible effect of this Rule. You are resting on the Chairman of Committees a burden he cannot bear. The infallibility of the Pope is nothing compared with the infallibility you require from the Chairman under this Rule. We have made the Speaker and Chairman judges of the Order of this Assembly; but the present proposal is to make them judges of the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the propositions that are made. The present Chairman of Ways and Means is an admirable man, a man of the greatest abilities and talents; but he is a newspaper man, and not an agriculturist; and, therefore, how could he have decided upon the substantiality of the Amendment which was proposed to the Land Act by the hon. and learned Member for Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy), an Amendment which was accepted, and which has been known since as the Healy Clause? If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) had been the Chairman of Ways and Means, he would have known the importance of the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend. With the eye of his bucolic imagination he would have seen that that innocent line proposed by my hon. and learned Friend had a most important bearing upon the relations of landlord and tenant, and I am sure he would have been willing to say to the Leader of the Government, especially if it had been a Tory Government—"This is not exactly a bogus Amendment; but I had better rule it a bogus Amendment, as the best way of getting rid of such a revolutionary and wide proposal." I am driven to the conclusion that the Tory Party are proposing this Rule so that they may wield it against the Party to which I belong; and, that being the case, I feel bound to give the Rule the most determined opposition.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
I admit I should have the most bucolic and simple imagination in the world if I supposed that any answer given to any Question asked by hon. Members opposite could be satisfactory 1693 to them unless it were an absolute concession of what they require. The real answer to the Question now put is that the matter is left to the discretion of the Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be. We are told that this measure is intended solely as a weapon against the Irish, and an hon. Member has not hesitated to say that the Government do not intend that this Rule shall have a permanent character. It is much too bad that such statements should be made after the Leader of the House has explicitly stated, over and over again, that his intention is to make this Rule a Standing Order, and not leave it a Sessional Order. It has also been said that this Rule will never be used against the Tory Party. I sincerely hope it will never be used against any Party in the House. The object and intention of this proposal is to regulate and control the conduct of the Business of the House; and this Rule is proposed by the Government, and supported by hon. Gentlemen, with no other object. I am bound to admit there is a great deal in the objections which hon. Members below the Gangway opposite have raised to this part of the Rule. Hon. Members have pointed out the possible dangers and difficulties which are incidental to the course we are asked to pursue. I acknowledge there may possibly be dangers and difficulties connected with this particular part of the proposal. Undoubtedly it is not difficult to urge grave objections against a proceeding which is altogether novel and unprecedented; but when I look round it is impossible to conceal from myself the fact that we are confronted with evils in every direction. Under such circumstances we must choose the least of the evils. We, on this side of the House, have come reluctantly—no one more reluctantly than myself—to the conclusion that some measure for the closure of debate has become absolutely necessary in the present and altered condition of the House of Commons, if any progress is to be made in future with the Business of the House. That point, I think hon. Members will admit, has been effectually decided by the House of Commons. We are to have some form of closure of debate, and the question now before us is whether, under certain circumstances, some Amendments may be suppressed. Hon. Members opposite 1694 contend that the power given by this part of the Rule will be used unfairly in order to push Bills through the House. Such statements amount to a distinct charge and reflection upon either the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees, and I know no reason whatsoever to justify statements of such a character. Then, it is said, this is an intolerable burden to throw upon the Chair. An hon. Gentleman remarked that it would be impossible for the Chairman to sufficiently study all the Amendments so as to say those which were proper to be entertained and those which were not. I do not see the force of that. The Chairman of Committees is always a Gentleman of the highest attainments and abilities, and it is not a matter of any great difficulty for any Gentleman to master the Amendments which are likely to come up for consideration in Committee during any one day. Undoubtedly this is not only something novel in our proceedings, but it is of a very strong order. We must, however, have something of this kind, or the whole of the proceedings with regard to the closure of debate will be rendered nugatory. We have supplied a very considerable safeguard already in giving to the Chairman the power of veto; but if that is not deemed by hon. Members sufficient to prevent the clôture being used as a weapon of Party tyranny, they should remember that we have still to decide upon the proportions by which the closure shall be carried. I have always held that the best safeguard we can have is in a proportional majority; and when that question comes up for decision I shall, with the intention of preserving to the fullest extent the rights of the minority, to which I attach the highest possible importance, vote for a proportional majority, and I think those who are not satisfied with the safeguards existing in the Rule would do well to follow that course.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
There are one or two points raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) which require some slight notice. He says that the real answer to some of the objections urged by the Scotland Yard Division of Liverpool—[Laughter.] It is not unnatural, in view of the fact that we are considering the police regulations for the House, that I should have fallen 1695 into such a blunder. The right hon. Gentleman said that the real answer to the objections raised by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) is that discretion is left to the Chair. But it is true that in times of political excitement charges of partiality have been made against Gentlemen occupying the Chair of this House, and the occupants of the Chair have had to defend themselves against such charges. We all hope that such a state of things is not likely to arise again. As it is admitted that what is now sought to be enacted is not only novel, but extreme in its possible application, one has to regard it with reference to the exceptional state of things in which it may be applied. I do feel that there is the difficulty that if this Rule be passed in the form now suggested, it may be possible in Supply to raise a question upon one unimportant item so as to prevent a discussion upon the whole Vote, or it may be possible to raise an obstructive discussion upon some unimportant Amendment to a clause so as to get rid of all the important Amendments. The exceptional state of things has arisen because, whilst the Irish Members confined themselves to what I may call the legitimate methods of Parliamentary discussion, their representations were treated with comparative contempt. Many subjects that have been attended to of late years were utterly disregarded when the great majority of the House felt that they could afford to disregard them. For the exceptional state of things which now exists—and for which some of us, and I do not mind including myself amongst the number, are inclined to blame hon. Members sitting around me—of the extension of debate to too great length the blame should rest with the great majority of the English, Scotch, and Welsh Members, who in years gone by passed by without notice the questions raised by the Irish Members. It is said that we are safe against having Amendments ruled out by the Chair as mere obstructive Amendments, because the Gentleman occupying the position of Chairman of Committees and Deputy Speaker is always a person of considerable attainments and capable of forming a sound opinion as to the Amendments on the Paper. But I think it will be admitted that in a previous Parliament—in which, by the way, I did not take a very active part—there was 1696 an occasion on which the Gentleman occupying the position of Chairman did, under circumstances of great difficulty and extreme pressure, and after sitting for a considerable number of hours, so far lose that coolness which usually characterized him in the execution of his functions—if the rumour which reached me in the part of the House I then occupied was correct—as to find himself in the Division Lobby, without knowing why he went there. That shows you that you should not be altogether in the hands of a Gentleman who has to sit here, sometimes for a long time, under circumstances which are calculated to try his temper and to warp his judgment. We ought not to put upon the Chairman of Committees the responsibility which this Rule involves, when a mistake in the exercise of it may be attended with most serious consequences to the legislation which has been set going in the House.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
These Rules are only of a temporary character perhaps; but we must bear in mind that the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees are human beings, like ourselves, and are capable of being swayed by the circumstances of the moment. The Speaker and the Chairman, being simply men, and sometimes Party men, where demonstrations of feeling take place, are very often likely to be influenced by it, without intending to do injustice to the minority. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury declares that if these words are not inserted the whole of the clause will be nugatory; but I desire to point out that the effect of the Rule will be not merely to prevent discussion on the Amendment, but to prevent the proposal of the Amendment. That is an important point; and I do not think it has been grappled with by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The effect of the Rule would be to prevent the consideration of whole batches of Amendments. That would be a state of things which every hon. Member who has any respect for the proceedings of this House ought to resist. The right hon. Gentleman says it is impossible for any of the evils which we predict would result from the passing of this Rule in its present form to take place. That may be his belief; but my opinion, and that of my hon. Friends, is exactly the reverse. We 1697 believe that, at certain times—and such a time may occur a week or two hence—the Government will not have any desire to allow reasonable discussion on our Amendments. We believe that the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees—and I say this without meaning any disrespect to these Gentlemen—will be carried away by the feeling of the House; and we, moreover, believe that the House itself will not allow us reasonable opportunity for discussing those Amendments which we consider essential. Before now, whole batches of Amendments have been ruled out of Order; and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that sort of thing will occur again before very long, when the Coercion Bill is under consideration. We shall see then whether the House will be as just to us as the First Lord of the Treasury imagines. We Irish Members believe that this Rule is directed solely against us, and that it never can, or will, be used against a large minority in this House. I hope every one of my hon. Friends will resist the Rule to the utmost, believing it to be an attempt to cripple them. It has been said that there has been need for this Rule within the past two years; but I would ask, what Business has there been before the House? We cannot be said to have obstructed Business, because there had been no Business to obstruct; and even if there had been Business before the House, all we have done has been merely to discuss Irish questions. We were accused by the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks- Beach) of obstructing the Business of the House, but I do not believe intelligent Members of the Tory Party credit these charges. It seems to me like a piece of insolence on the part of a Gentleman like the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, who is himself utterly ignorant of the affairs of Ireland—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has applied the word "insolence" to a Member of this House. That is altogether an un-Parliamentary expression.
§ MR. CLANCY
Of course, I have not the least intention of persevering in the use of the word against your decision—
§ MR. CLANCY
I withdraw the word as applied to the late Chief Secretary, 1698 and apologize for having used it. But I say that it was most aggravating and offensive to have the charge continually dinned into our ears that we were obstructing the Business of the House. As soon as the Government bring forward any remedial measure calculated to go to the root of the difficulty in Ireland—a thing they have never yet tried to do, and a thing they do not seem inclined to do—they will find there is no need whatever for Rules of this description; and, if I might presume to give them advice, I would advise them to drop these Rules and proceed with some remedial measure at once.
§ MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
I speak as an advocate of the closure, and not as in any way its enemy. I suppose we shall have to interpret the Rule by the text as it is written and laid before us, and not by the scholia put upon it by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury; and that being so, it appears to me that, if there should be on the Paper a number of dilatory Amendments and one substantial Amendment of great importance, it will not be in the power of the Chairman of Committees to put aside the dilatory Amendments in order to have the substantial Amendment discussed. Two courses only, as I understand it, will be open to him; either he will have to put all the dilatory Amendments one after another before he comes to the substantial Amendment, which is obviously an obstructive process, or he will have to give up the Amendments altogether, whether substantial or dilatory, and put the entire clause as it stands. Before giving a vote on the Question before the House, I hope some one of the Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench who are responsible for the framing of these Rules will say whether or not I have correctly stated the case.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
I very much regret that no Gentleman on the Treasury Bench, and in particular no Gentleman responsible for this Rule, has offered any answer to the very reasonable observations made by the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. H. Gardner); but it is merely of a piece with the attitude adopted by the Treasury Bench in the discussion of this Rule. For some reasons—I do not quite know what—the Treasury Bench has preferred an almost complete silence, at 1699 least so far as reasonable explanation is concerned. I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) should have thought that any observations were made by hon. Members below the Gangway on this side reflecting on the Chair. We desire that if the Government should, by a majority, obtain a vicious and dangerous weapon, that they should confine the use of it altogether to themselves, and that the Chair should not be dragged into the controversy, which will always be a heated and undesirable one. But the action of Her Majesty's Government has been directly in the opposite direction, and the position of the Chair is now that the Chair cannot possibly interpose unless the worst possible abuse of the Rules of the House has been committed in the proposal of the clôture. That is a position which will make the Chair very slow indeed to interfere. It is quite a new departure in this House that we should make the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees judge of the legislation which we are to pass. I have always imagined it to be the duty of the House itself to judge as to the reasonableness of Amendments or any other questions submitted to it. All that the Chairman of Committees or the Speaker is master of is the debate and the propriety of our mode of continuing it; but it is clear that by the Rule as proposed he will have power to prevent questions being submitted. There are two kinds of closure, the original and the consequential. But, while only one question will be decided by the original closure, the consequential may put an end to 20 without debate being allowed. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury says that this consequential closure will be used with the greatest discretion, and I must say that I cannot imagine a more miserable argument than that. With this Rule in existence there will be a constant temptation to hon. Members to make use of it. I do not see that there would be any insurmountable difficulty in the way of drafting the Rule so that there would be no chance of its being abused.
§ MR. E. HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
I also would urge upon the Government the desirability of answering the Ques- 1700 tion which has been addressed to them by the hon. Member above the Gangway (Mr. H. Gardner). It may look like a paradox to state it, but to my mind a clause of a Bill may be more important than the Bill itself; and yet, by the Rule the Government propose, consideration of a clause may be prevented. The proposal is a dangerous one, as it will put a premium on the action of any hon. Member who may exhaust the patience of the House by frivolous Amendments, and thus secure the running through of the remaining clauses of a Bill. We Irish Members are not inclined to trust the Tory majority—or even the Liberal Party, if it insists upon retaining us as a minority in this House, keeping us here against our will,—nor are we inclined to trust any future Chairman of Committees or Speaker, who will be most probably a Party man elected for Party purposes with a view of running measures through the House. In saying these things I must be understood as saying them with all due respect to the present occupant of the Chair in the House and in Committee of Ways and Means. It is absurd to say that no Party will attempt to rush a Bill through the House. How do we know when a Government may not wish to force our hand? We should not have so much to complain of if we knew when they intended to do it, but they are not likely to give us warning beforehand.
§ MR. GENT-DAVIS (Lambeth, Kennington)
I should like to know if the hon. Member is speaking to the Amendment before the House?
§ MR. E. HARRINGTON
I would point out to hon. Members that, if the clôture, as it is now proposed, had been in existence some years ago, what is now called the Healy Clause—which is one of the most vital portions of the Land Act—would not in all probability have been passed.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON (Rossendale)
Hon. Members have confined themselves almost entirely to indicating the inconveniences arising from the Rule, and have failed to suggest any remedy which might not altogether defeat the operation of the Rule, At the 1701 same time it does appear to me that a real blot in the Rule has been pointed out by the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. E. Harrington) and by others who preceded him. There is a difficulty as the words stand if the House desires to get rid of a large number of frivolous or unimportant Amendments, and yet wishes to discuss two or three or more which really raise questions of importance. Under the Rule as proposed, it appears that there will be no alternative except adopting the clause as it stands and so negativing without discussion bonâ fide Amendments, or not applying the closure on the clause at all. I think it would be possible to some extent to get over this difficulty by introducing some words which will render it unnecessary for the Committee or the House to proceed to the adoption of the whole clause. What is wanted is a method of summarily disposing of some portion of the clause which will enable the Committee or the House to proceed to the discussion of an Amendment on a different portion of the clause. I would suggest that a Motion should be made that certain words of the clause, to be defined in the Motion, stand part of the clause, or that the clause stand part of or be added to the Bill. That, it appears to me, would enable the House to summarily dispose of part of the clause, and would enable the Committee to get rid of any Amendments which it might consider obstructive on the part of the clause and enable the House or the Committee to proceed to the substantial Amendments which might be proposed on a subsequent part of the clause.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN) (St. George's, Hanover Square)
The Government are of opinion that the difficulty pointed out by the noble Marquess and other Members would have been met by the ordinary procedure of the Chair; but looking to the strong opinions which have been expressed from various parts of the House, and seeing that it will be simply carrying out the view we have always maintained, and we are anxious to promote—we will receive the suggestion of my noble Friend as a way of escaping from the difficulty raised on the words before the House. The proposal, so far as I understand it, as that in line 11, after the word "That," these words should be inserted— 1702Certain words of the clause to be defined in the Motion stand part of the clause, or that the whole clause stand part of or be added to the Bill.The question—which will depend on the state of the Notice Paper—will be to put the clause in force, or to debate it up to the point where those important Amendments are proposed to be introduced, thus getting rid of any dilatory Amendments at once. It will not be necessary to put the whole of the clause, but so much of it as would take us to the point where important Amendments would arise. The Government have no hesitation in accepting the suggestion of the noble Marquess.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
I am sorry to interfere at this point, but I do think that seeing that the Government are in a yielding mood that we should urge on them to take the view of the matter that I have urged on them more than once—namely, that there should be some means laid down for discriminating between important and unimportant Amendments. Some words enabling this distinction to be made could be inserted in the Amendment suggested by the noble Marquess, and accepted by Her Majesty's Government. I think a Member whose Amendment is about to be clôtured before it has been discussed, should be allowed to remonstrate—in writing if you like—and to offer reasons why an apparently frivolous Amendment ought to be entertained. Something should be allowed to pass between the person who knows the importance of an Amendment and the person who does not know it, to enable the former to communicate the reasons which urge him to endeavour to get his Amendment entertained.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton)
The point to which the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) has referred, is one on which those who are most anxious for an efficient closure have felt great difficulty. I think my noble Friend has made a very practical and wise suggestion which will be found to remove the objections which many of us had to the Rule if we are allowed time to consider it. I think my noble Friend has removed the difficulty in regard to permitting a clause to be put without giving a chance for the consideration of Amendments which are bonâ fide, and are 1703 intended to improve the clause. I rise to suggest that these words should he printed, so that we may see how the proposal would work out.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I think the announcement we have just heard from the Treasury Bench is a sufficient indication that I was justified in putting down the Amendment which has led to such an important declaration. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) has been good enough to accept the suggestion of the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale. It is difficult for us to make up our minds as to the full effect of the words the right hon. Gentleman proposes to insert in the Rule, and I would, therefore, suggest that as we are within a few minutes of the hour when, according to the Rules of the House, the debate must terminate, the Government should consent to the adjournment before I consent to withdraw my Amendment. I will now move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (Lord JOHN MANNERS) (Leicestershire, E.)
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not persevere in his Motion for adjournment. There is obviously a desire on all sides of the House to come to a conclusion on the matter, but we cannot discuss the suggestion of the noble Marquess until the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite is removed from his path.
§ MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W)
The object of my hon. Friend in moving the adjournment is to have an opportunity of seeing the Amendment of the noble Marquess on the Paper. If he approves of it, on Friday he will withdraw his Amendment; but, on the other hand, he may not approve of it; he may prefer his own. The Government must see that they have nothing to gain by refusing to assent to this proposal to adjourn the debate so far as time is concerned.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
The question is a very complicated one, and the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) has not only to consider the intrinsic worth of the words proposed by the noble Marquess, but he has also to 1704 compare them with his own Amendment, and make up his mind whether he prefers his own words to them.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
The case for adjournment is perfectly unanswerable. We have been debating an Amendment the whole day. At the outset the Government admitted that the Rule required Amendment, and that we had pointed out a difficulty; but they said, "We cannot get out of it." If the noble Marquess had suggested his Amendment four or five hours ago the whole of this day's debating would have been spared the House. What has occurred? Why, after five hours' debate, during which our arguments were treated with contempt, we have drawn from the noble Marquess that the difficulty can be met in some way, and the Government propose a way of meeting it. This is a most complicated question, and one which it is not possible to make up one's mind upon in a moment. Even on these Benches we are divided in opinion with regard to the noble Marquess's proposal, for I am inclined to think that it would make the position of things worse, whilst some of my hon. Friends are inclined to take an opposite view.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
It would be much more gracious for the Government to say they will agree to the adjournment, than to allow the debate to cease by the Rules of the House, as it will, if I or some other hon. Member talk for two minutes more.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I could not rise whilst hon. Members were speaking. I have only to say that the Government agree to the adjournment.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Friday.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before Six o'clock.