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 he now put.' and, unless it shall appear to the Chair that such Motion is an abuse of the Rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority, the Question, 'That the Question he 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 assent 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 he then under consideration, a Motion may be made (the assent of the Chair as aforesaid not having been withheld) That the Question, That certain words of the Clause defined in the Motion stand part of the Clause, or 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 alternative, 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.
§ MR. GEDGE (Stockport)
I beg to move, in Rule 1, line 15, to leave out all after "by," in order to insert—A majority which consists of not less than one hundred Members and which bear to the minority the proportion of three or more to two.I little thought when I gave Notice of this Amendment in the 10th line of the first Rule that 15 days would elapse before I should be able to move it, and though Pliny's, maxim—Nulla dies sine lineâ—was a good rule for the minimum of work to be done by a student, I doubt whether the country at large will consider that there is sufficient justification for the inordinate length of time which has been taken up in the discus- 446 sion of this Rule, line by line. However, hero we are, and I hope the House will make an end of the Rule to-day. I should not persist in moving the Amendment if I had not convinced myself that if the Rule is to be made of any real use for the purpose for which it is intended, my Amendment, or something very like it, ought to be adopted. I will endeavour to show the difference between the Rule as it stands on the Paper and as it will stand if the Amendment is accepted. I take leave to say that I am not answerable for the questionable English on the first three lines of this part of the Rule—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,&c. "Such Motion" can scarcely refer to the plural "Questions" in the first line, and I take it ought to mean "any Question" instead of ''Questions." the Rule goes on to say—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.I propose to get rid of the "Two Hundred Members "altogether, and to say, instead, "supported by a majority which consisted of not less than 100 Members, and which bore to the majority the proportion of 3 or more to 2." I find that anything in the shape of an arithmetical problem is a puzzle to many hon. Members, and therefore I think it is best to explain that the majority shall be half as many again. We talk of a majority being "five" when, as a matter of fact, the majority is 305 to 300. That is not the majority I mean. What I mean is that the greater part or majority must bear to the smaller number or minority the proportion of 3 to 2. In regard to the figure of "100" which makes provision for a larger quorum than the ordinary quorum of 40, it is laid down in the Rule that the closure shall not be applied unless there are 100 Members who desire to close the debate. It is put in this way in order to secure a quorum of 100 present; for if it had stated that there must be a quorum of 100, and 90 were in favour of closure and 15 against it, the 15 would walk out and so reduce the quorum below 447 100, and the debate must go on. Now there is considerable authority in favour of having a proportional majority, instead of a bare majority, for the purpose of the closure of debate. In 1882, in a full Houses of 597 Members, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton 'Mr. Marriott) proposed that consent should not be given to the closure by a bare majority, and was defeated by the small number of 39, although it was opposed with all the force which the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) and the large majority he possessed at the time could bear to bring upon it; 279 Members voted against the proposal that the closure should be carried by a bare majority, and among the 279 were the then Leaders of the Conservative Party and most of their followers. I do not blame them for having changed their opinions. There can be no doubt that "old times have changed, old manners gone," and it is imperative that some form of closure shall be adopted in order to restore by Rule that control over the proceedings of the House which was formerly secured and regulated by the gentlemanly feelings which prevailed among its Members. Hon. Members from Ireland tell us that their constituents have sent them here to attain certain objects, and they consider that the best way of attaining those objects, both in Ireland and here, is to substitute anarchy for law, and to paralyze the action of the House. They avow that as their object with cynical fairness, and they do not leave us in the dark about it and the results they desire to obtain. Some few years ago it was the practice of the Speaker to call first upon one side of the House and then upon the other, so that each side should have an opportunity of answering the arguments which had been put forward by their opponents; and the time when the Division was to be taken was fixed by agreement between the two Front Benches. This, however, is now entirely changed, and the custom is for Member after Member to rise from the same part of the House and to repeat over and over again the arguments which have been put forward by previous speakers, with the avowed object of delaying the Division. I do not blame the Irish Members; but, on the other hand, I say that those who represent the great majority of the con- 448 stituencies of the country have also rights and have also duties. We come here with a mission or a mandate, as it is the fashion to call it, to prevent the Irish Members obtaining the object they desire, and to prevent it by any means necessary. If they have a right to destroy the spirit of our Rules and avail themselves of the Forms of the House, in order to paralyze the action of the House, we have also a right to do all we can to restrain them. Our constituents expect that we shall do so; and if the weapons we have hitherto employed are not strong enough, it is our duty to see wherein they have failed, and to amend them so that they shall fail no longer. They have no right to blame us if we endeavour to deprive them of the weapons with which they fight with a view to obtaining the victory which the country expects us to obtain. It is our bounden duty, sent here, as we are, to pass any Rule that is necessary to enable the House to resume its control over its own Business, and to pass the Estimates and laws as soon as they have been fairly discussed, without procrastination of any kind intended only to prevent the House from arriving at a decision. It is admitted on all sides that the Rule which was framed in 1882 has failed altogether. the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, who introduced it, has confessed that it has failed; and the present Government have made a similar confession, because they are now endeavouring to amend it. Then let us examine it thoroughly, in order to see where it has failed, and why the Government, on attempting to amend it, are leaving the last part of it untouched. Why do they retain the extraordinary provision of 200 Members and a bare majority? They are making no alteration whatever in that part of the Rule. As a matter of fact, they are simply taking away the initiation of the Chair, and are giving to the Chair a power of veto. What I desire to know is, why, when the Government admit that the Rule has failed, they do not proceed to amend it in the particulars in which it has failed? When a weapon fails, the skilful workman mends the part which is faulty, and this shows us which part has failed, at least, in his judgment. The Government must clearly be of opinion that the Chair, for the last five years, has not done its duty, seeing that 449 that is the only point on which they have proceeded to amend the Rule. The Chair was to do this—when he thought that a matter had been sufficiently debated, and that this was the evident sense of the House, it was his duty to report that fact to the House, and. if supported by a majority of at least 201, the closure was to be applied. But the closure has not been applied when wanted; and all the Government propose now is to alter the power and duty of the Speaker; and therefore it is quite clear that, in the view of the Government, the Rule has failed to have the operation it was intended to have, not because of any difficulty as to the 20!, but because the Speaker has omitted to state the evident sense of the House, and therefore the closure could not be applied. The Government now propose to take that power out of the hands of the Speaker. Now, I do not believe, for one moment, that that is the cause of the failure. I believe that the Chair throughout has done its duty; and the reason why he has not made the necessary declaration has been that he did not believe there was a majority of 201. Our special object is to put down anything in the shape of Obstruction, from whatever quarter it comes, and to enable the House to obtain complete control over its own Business. Now, Sir, when it is that this Obstruction generally takes place? Is it in a full House, when some Vote of Want of Confidence in the Government is being debated, and when there happen to be 500 or GOO Members present? Nothing of the kind; but it is generally in a House of 200 or 300 Members. Therefore, if this Rule is to be effectual to do its work, it ought to be made weak in a full House, and strong in a small House; whereas, as it now stands, it is exactly the reverse. The closure may be applied if a quorum of 100 vote for it and 39 against it, and the Speaker would be perfectly right in refusing to interpose his veto when he found there was a largo majority in favour of the closure and only a small minority against it; but if there are 40 Members against it—one Member happening to come in at the last moment, perhaps because he failed to find a pair—the application of the closure will be prevented. In that case, there must be 200 Members in favour of the closure before it can be applied. Why should 450 that 40th man have such an enormous power? Are we to look upon him as the Fortieth Stripe which the Jews dare not give, or the Fortieth Article which Theodore Hook offered to sign, and was very nearly sent down by the Dean of Christ Church for his impertinence? What I venture to propose is an absolute 3 to 2 majority all round, which would make it more easy to apply the closure when necessary, especially in a small House. There are 670 Members in this House; one-half is 335. According to the Government, there must be 201 in the majority, with half the House, or 335 Members present. That leaves 134 in the minority; and if the minority be anything between 40 and 134 it equally requires 200 to beat them; but if you adopt my proposal, a majority of 100 would stop 66; 120 would stop 80; 150 would stop 100; and so on until you reach 13 J, who would require 201 to stop them. Again, by the Government Rule, 301 could insist on the closure of debate against 300 who may wish it to continue. We know from past history that it has frequently happened, in a debate upon a great question, when the mind of the country has been aroused, the discussion which has occurred hero has instructed the country, and caused a considerable difference in a Division. If the Government have 301 supporters, it would probably be worth their while to do all in their power to stop the debate as quickly as possible. the Speaker is unable to tell how many there are in the minority, because there may be Members in the Smoking Room and elsewhere who do not think it worth while to come into the House to listen to the debate. But there would be a rush of Members when the Division bell was rung, and 301 would apply the closure against the wish of 300 who desired it to go on. Now, I say that that is not right, and I am of opinion that 300 should have the power of insisting that the debate should go on. As the Rule now stands, the Speaker must often be in a difficulty on a Motion being made to apply the closure. He is doubtful whether he ought to consent or not. In the end, he allows the Motion to be put; hon. Members rush in, and it is carried by a small majority—say, 201 to 200. Such a circumstance as that would, I think, make the Speaker exceedingly careful in future; and 451 he would determine always to interpose his veto unless he was quite certain that there was a large majority in favour of the closure. With the Rule as I propose to amend it the Speaker would do nothing of the kind, because he would know that the minority would be able to protect itself if large enough. I am satisfied that if you pass the original Rule you will, in the end, have to come to my Amendment, or something like it. It is said that a bare majority governs greater matters, and ought to prevail in this instance. In 1882 the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian mentioned five historical incidents to show that great majorities always had their own way in important questions; but upon examination of them it will be found that really they all tell the other way. For instance, as to the first which he mentioned, it is true that the Reform Bill of 1831 was carried by a majority of 1; but the result of the smallness of the majority was that the Government were unable to make way with it, and they found it necessary to dissolve. The Reform Bill of 1832 was carried by 2 to 1. Small majorities may be powerful to prevent a particular thing from being done; but they are powerless to carry their own will in any particular direction. Then it is said that a proportional majority is a new-fangled idea—that it is something un-English and undemocratic. Now, in the United States of America it takes a majority of 2 to 1 to override the President's veto, or to make a radical change in the law. In our own country, in the case of Joint Stock Companies, there is a proportional majority of 3 to 1 required before any change can be made; oven the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian did not venture to propose a bare majority in the ease of urgency, and in the very Rule before us 200 cannot boat 199, and it takes 201 to beat 40—that is to say, 5 to 1; so that this sacred principle of the bare majority does not come into force unless there are 400 Members present. It is, therefore, too late to say that it is un-Constitutional to have anything but a bare majority. We are told that the Whips are against it—that they know when there are 200 Members in the House, but they would not know how they can count upon an unknown quantity. But I assert, Sir, that it ought not be a question of Whips, 452 for that gives it a Party character. Unless the general body of the House on both sides come to a conclusion that a debate ought to be stopped and the closure applied the debate ought to proceed; and I would venture to point out, as a Member of a Party who, for practical purposes, are in a majority, that one day or other we may be in a minority, and may then regret that it is in the power of a bare majority to stop an important debate in order to please the whim of a Government. The closure ought never to be made a Party question; personally, I think it ought to be taken out of the region of Party and placed in that of the general good sense of the House. It may be said that there is no danger, and that no bare majority will venture to use its power; but I strongly object to put a weapon in the hands of any Party on the mere supposition that they will not use it. Lot me quote what a high authority—Mr. Grattan—said in 1792. he made this wise statement—When the liberty and security of one Government depend on the honour of another, the one country may have much honour, but the other will have no liberty.We are fairly warned as to what is going to be done. One hon. Member said to me in the Lobby—I intend to make the closure as hard as I can, because I know that you Tories will not dare to use it against us, although when we are in power we will use it us tightly as we can against you.And the right hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) said much the same openly in this House a now nights ago. He is like the boy at Eton who, being unmercifully thrashed by his master, consoled himself with the reflection, "When I get a fag of my own won't I lick him." I think we ought to do what we believe to be right without regard to what may happen when we get our chance. If the Government and their followers vote in favour of the Rule as it is now placed before them, and which, as I have shown, will be useless for the purpose required, and may be turned to their injury here-after, they may live to regret it. I appeal to the Government to state publicly that this is not a Party question, and that no Member who votes for my Amendment will be looked upon as voting against the Government. Last June the danger we are afraid of now 453 actually occurred. The hon. Gentlemen whoso conduct we are obliged to resist were then as numerous as they are now, and it was considered desirable to look into the matter and see whether the Rules relating to closure were sufficient to give the House the command of its own time for Business. The Rule of 200 Members and a bare majority came under the consideration of that Committee, which was presided over by the noble Marquess the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington). On the Motion of the hon. Member for the Bodmin Division of Cornwall (Mr. Courtney) the present Rule was negatived in that Committee without a Division. So bad was it thought that not a hand was held up in its favour, and instead of it two other proposals were made, both of which got rid of the 200 Members, and required a proportional majority of either 3 to 2 or 2 to 1. The 3 to 2 proposal only found 10 present in favour of it. And why? Because 18 Members present preferred the proposal of 2 to 1, and that was adopted in the Report after having received the support of a considerable number of the Members of that Committee. Only six voted against it, and 23, at one time or other, voted in its favour. I do not know whether the Members who served upon that Committee were the same as certain hon. Members of this House; but I find that the six who opposed were Sir William Harcourt—who was in favour of a bare majority—Mr. Cecil Raikes—who was against any closure at all—Mr. T. M. Healy, Mr. Leake, Mr. A. O'Connor, and Mr. Sexton. The 23 who voted in favour of it were Sir Walter B. Barttelot, Mr. A. Bass, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Dr. Cameron, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, Mr. Courtney, Sir William Hart Dyke, Mr. Duff, Sir James Fergusson, Mr. Dillwyn, Sir John Gorst, Mr. Gosehen, Mr. Holms, Mr. Illingworth, Sir John Mowbray, Sir Richard Pagot, the late Mr. Peter Rylands, Mr. Sclater-Booth, Mr. Craig-Sellar, Mr. W. H. Smith, Mr. E. Stanhope, Mr. Whitley, and Mr. Whitbread. Under the shelter of this high authority, I think I am not doing too much in submitting this Amendment to the House. I trust that the Government will make it an open question, and that every Member will vote upon it in reference to its real merits. If that be done I 454 shall not be afraid of the result. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name on the Paper.
In Rule 1, line 15, to leave out from the word "by," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a majority which consisted of not less than One Hundred Members, and which bore to the minority the proportion of three or more to two."—(Mr. Gedge.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'more than' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I entirely agree with one of the objects of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Gedge)—namely, that of simplifying the arithmetical puzzle which now exists; but the hon. Member has complicated the question by attaching to the Amendment a proportional closure, to which, for my own part, I am altogether opposed. If the Government are to go back now and make a retrograde step, we shall have lost all the advantage of the last three weeks' discussion. Every speech made by the Government on these Rules has been made on the assumption that the Rule is to be founded upon simple closure, and to that they have remained firm, the only case in which they have altered their Rule having been where, in accordance with the general feeling of the House, they omitted the previous consent of the Speaker and substituted his veto. I cannot believe that the Government will turn their backs upon all their previous arguments, and therefore it is not necessary to go further into the question. I fully agree that it is desirable to get rid of the arithmetical puzzle, and that the real reason of the Rule having proved useless has not been the action of the Chair, but the fact of a majority of 200 being necessary. I cannot see why 40 Members should neutralize 200, while 301 are enough to prevail against 300. I do not see what magic there is in the number of 40. I should prefer that we should have a simple closure, the necessary quorum being fixed. The object is to make the will of the majority prevail, and also to prevent a snatch Division on the subject. I should like to see some words substituted instead of the arithmetical puzzle, and I would suggest that the majority should be double the minority. I hope that the hon. Member for Stock-port will not go to a Division, but will withdraw his Amendment, so that we 455 may be able to go into the question and decide what the quorum should be. By the means which I suggest we should simplify the Rule and get rid of the arithmetical puzzle.
§ MR.CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
lean-not help thinking that the Amendment now under consideration is simply a bogus Amendment—that it is not intended to be prosecuted seriously, but simply to prevent another which stands lower on the Paper from being discussed. That sort of tiling shows that what we have dreaded is very likely to occur—namely, that some irresponsible Member on the other side of the House will be found resorting to tactics not of a very creditable kind against a particular section of the House. Whatever the Government may think of the matter, after the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Gedge) no doubt can be entertained as to what is meant by these Rules by the hon. Member and those with whom he acts. He speaks of the real foe to be encountered in the matter as the Irish Party. We have asserted over and over again that these Rules are wholly, solely, and expressly intended to be used against the Irish Party. Now, I maintain that the Irish Members, notwithstanding the charges of obstruction which have been made against them, have not been guilty of such obstruction as to call for the sweeping censure which would be implied in the application of the clôture. the admissions of the hon. Member certainly make out a case of resistance to these Rules which I do not think the Irish Members anticipated would be forthcoming from the other side of the House. the majority of the House, I am afraid, will at certain times act unjustly, very much like Caliph Omar, when he burned the Alexandrian Library, when he declared that books containing anything consistent with the Koran were superfluous, while those which contained anything inconsistent with the Koran were mischievous. It is exactly the same case here. If the views of the Irish Members are in accordance with those of the Government they are superfluous, and if not they are mischievous, and should be summarily disposed of. There is something like malice in the suggestion of the hon. Member for Stockport—that the Rule should be further strengthened, so that it may strike us more heavily when we 456 are in a minority, he knows very well that we shall always be in a minority, and, therefore, it will be constantly applied to us, while it will never be allowed to hurt the Tory Party when they are in, a minority.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
I shall not follow hon. Members in attempting to vindicate the closure as a Rule, or the necessity for the closure. I think the House has had enough of that argument. I will, however, express a hope that in the remaining discussions the House may be enabled to confine itself to the particular Amendment under debate, and that it will not be diverted into the consideration of other questions which have been decided over and over again by majorities of the House. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Gedge) will not think that I am wanting in respect for him if I fail to notice his arguments in favour of the closure. My hon. Friend has made an elaborate argument in favour of a different system of closure from that which the Government propose. I will not go so far as to say that the hon. Member has not made an argument which, considering the figures which should be applied to closure in the first instance, and supposing there had been no system of closure in existence, might not have been considered by the house with great advantage; but the House is not in such a position. It must be understood that the Government, in proposing this Rule for the consideration of the House, have based it upon certain conditions in a Division, under the belief that those conditions are necessary to secure the complete liberties of the House—the liberties of the minority as well as the rights of the majority—and that any departure from the principle upon which this Rule is based, as far as Divisions are concerned, would not be an act of good faith on the part of the Government with the House itself. My hon. Friend has asked the Government to leave this matter an open question, and not to make it a Party question. Throughout these debates I think I have made it clear to the House that the subject of closure is not regarded as a Party question. It has been my duty to press this Rule on the attention of the House, because I have been placed in a position which rendered it 457 imperative that I should submit conditions which are thought necessary for the conduct of the Business of the House. I may recall to the recollection of the House that I stated clearly and distinctly that the Rule is not a Party question, although it is a matter which we consider to be necessary and imperative for the conduct of the Business of the House. If any hon. Member is in favour of the Amendment, of course, he is quite at liberty to vote for it; but, as a Member of the Government, I am bound, as being responsible above all for the conduct of this particular debate, to be no party to changing the principle of the Rule. My hon. Friend laid stress on the fact that the 40th man, under the Rule, will enjoy a power and influence which are undue and improper; but under no circumstances can we get rid of the extraordinary power we are obliged to give to that one man. If there is no 40th man, there will be in the proposal of my hon. Friend some man who will have precisely the same influence. My hon. Friend objects to the condition that if them are more than 39 Members' who vote in one way, there must be more than 100 who vote the other; but, under his Amendment, he requires that more than 139 should vote in order to close the debate.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
The Rule provides that when the minority is less than 40 the majority shall be more than 100, and unless the 100th Member can be found the application of the closure will he prevented. It is scarcely necessary for me to refer to the Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) intends to propose. The right hon. Gentleman objects to the existing Rule because of the arithmetical puzzle it involves. If it be a puzzle, it is one with which the House is familiar. The Chair has not always been informed as to whether there were really 200 Members in the House who were prepared to support the closure, and I have myself always seen the extreme difficulty by which the 458 Chair would he surrounded in the attempt to ascertain whether that was the case or not. From that responsibility the Chair under this Rule will, to a great extent, be relieved, as the responsibility will be cast on the Member who proposes to apply the closure Under all the circumstances I trust that my hon. Friend will rest content with having raised the question, and will spare the House the necessity of going to a Division on a subject upon which it has already expressed a conclusive opinion.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I do not know that I should feel inclined to object to the first part of the Amendment, but in regard to the last part I do not think the Amendment is fair, or that the hon. Member has succeeded in making it clear to the House that it is one which ought to be accepted. the hon. Gentleman has indulged in a considerable amount of invective against the Irish Party, and has accused us of making the same speeches over and over again for the purpose of obstruction. No more unfounded charge was ever made, for we have always been extremely careful not to repeat speeches made on this side of the House. At the same time I may point out that a great portion of the argument of the hon. Gentleman consisted of an abstract of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Chance). With regard to the Amendment on the Paper, I have given Notice of a further Amendment to that Amendment to leave out at the end "two" and insert "one" with the view of securing what I believe would be a better safeguard for the rights of minorities. The Rule, as it stands, undoubtedly does tell in favour of small minorities, and it cuts against large minorities. I believe it will always be the desire of Parliament to protect small minorities, and it will be the duty of the Chair in all cases to have regard to the rights of minorities, and especially of small minorities. I will not travel over the important part which small minorities have played in this House in past times. It would only be tiresome to recite the number of instances in which small minorities, by their perseverance, activity, and sometimes by their doggedness, have succeeded in bringing about useful reforms and alterations of the law. Large 459 minorities are generally able to protect themselves, and a Minister would hesitate to apply the closure to them. I have myself, therefore, put down on the Paper an Amendment to the hon. Member for Stockport's Amendment, the object of which is to require that the majority which is to be able to on force the closure should never be less than in the proportion of 3 to 1. That, I think, would be perfectly fair. It has been repeatedly said by hon. Members who are destitute of solid argument that the proceedings of the House would degenerate into anarchy unless we adopt a most drastic closure Rule; but I maintain that the Chair is already fully capable of preventing such a state of things, and I assert that during the last five years there has been nothing in the nature of obstruction on the part of the Irish Members, either in Committee of Supply or in Committee of the Whole House on Bills.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
I support the suggestion of my hon. Friend, for the reason that the Rule is far better as it stands than it would be with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Gedge), and I protest against that hon. Member—who is responsible for having put upon the Paper bogus and decidedly obstructive Amendments—charging anyone on these Benches with obstruction. I would remind him that an ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory. We have had to complain of the conspiracy of silence on the Front Bench opposite.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I would remind the House that the subject under discussion is that of numbers. It would be more regular, therefore, for the hon. Member to confine himself to that Question.
§ MR. FLYNN
I wish to support the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone. The Clôturo Rule is intended to put down obstruction and deliberate prolixity, and it will be apparent to the whole House that if there be obstruction and prolixity of debate a large number of Members will recognize the fact, and that there will be no difficulty, under the Amendment of my hon. Friend, in voting down those who may be anxious to prolong a discussion beyond what the majority think fair. In a House of 400 Members, if 300 think a discussion has lasted long 460 enough, they will be able to close that discussion.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.)
I maintain that if we act on the principle of the cloture we should always require it to be applied by a bare majority in a full House. the restrictions which it is sought to place upon the application of the cloture are for the purpose of preventing it being done by a snatch vote, and it certainly seems to me that the safest thing to do is to insist that the number of Members necessary to enforce the cloture shall be such that there will be no fear of the cloture being applied to a minority which would be a majority in a full House. In a House of 500 you would have a majority of 300 to vote down 200 under the Amendment of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite; but that would always save the regular Opposition, and I maintain that if the cloture is to be adopted by the House, it should be adopted fairly. The principle should be laid down that the will of a bare majority in a full House should prevail, and there should be no arrangement made to save a certain Party or section of Members in the House. The hon. Member wants his Amendment as a possible protection for the Conservative Party. Can ho, then, quarrel with us for seeking protection for a much weaker Party? If, in the future, the Tory Party is in the minority, it will always be a minority of more than 200, and it will have a great Party outside to appeal to. I submit that if you require a majority of three to one to on force the clôture, it will be perfectly competent for the House to silence the Irish Members. I do, however, think it only fair that whenever the House is full, it should have the power of closing its debates by a bare majority. The desire of the hon. Member for Stockport is to so arrange the cloture that it may be used against the Irish Members, but against no one else. Of course, a largo minority such as would boar the proportion of two to three would always be able to protect itself in this House, and will always have an appeal to a sympathetic country; but the minority which we seek to protect by the Amendment of my hon. Friend is one which is not protected by public opinion in this country—although, no doubt, it has public opinion at its back in Ireland. The influence of that Party is discounted 461 by this House. We desire for it, therefore, the shield of the Rules of the House. I appeal in a spirit of fair play to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I say to them that when they seek to apply a limitation they ought to apply the principle to its legitimate conclusion. I would appeal to hon. Members now on the Opposition side of the House who hold strong views with regard to the clôture, and I would tell them they would do well to vote with us on this Amendment, for the reason that they would be voting against the principle of protecting the minority of the future. What the House ought to do is to protect, not largo minorities—which are capable of protecting themselves—but small ones.
§ MR. DEASY (Mayo, W.)
I also desire to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone. According to the proposal of the Rule, for the first time in the history of Parliamentary debate, the minority would be entirely at the mercy of the majority. the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stockport would probably be less objectionable than the Rule as it stands, but the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. M. Kenny) would make it possible for a small minority to make itself heard, whilst, at the same time, preventing a small minority from wrecking the proceedings of the House. Without the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Irish Party would be utterly powerless, if all the English Parties should combine for the purpose of closing the debate and preventing us from making ourselves heard. It would be impossible for 85 or 86 Members to continue a debate in the House for a quarter of an hour longer than the House generally desired, if the Opposition joined with the Government in enforcing the clôture. I have no doubt that every Englishman, whether belonging to the Government or the Opposition, and however much in sympathy with a certain section of Members, would put his foot down to prevent the degradation of the House by frivolous discussion and obstruction. If Radical Members in this House once thought that the Irish Party were introducing Motions and carrying on a discussion for obstructive purposes, they would not, I am sure, have the least hesitation in coalescing with the Government in order to prevent the carrying on of those tactics. Whether you 462 have a majority of three to two or three to one can make very little difference to the Government of this country. the hon. Gentleman opposite acknowledges that the Irish Members have been sent here by the people of Ireland in order to discharge a certain duty, and that we consider ourselves conscientiously bound to discharge that duty. But he says the House of Commons cannot afford time to listen to us, and that that is the reason he brings forward his Amendment. He thinks it desirable to close the mouths of the Irish people. Well, I do not think a declaration of that kind can do the hon. Gentleman any good. I am sure the Government do not feel obliged to him for showing his hand in that way. However, I trust the House will not assent to the hon. Gentleman's Amendment, but will carry the modification suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyrone.
§ MR. CONWAY (Leitrim, N.)
I can scarcely congratulate the hon. Member for Stockport upon the manner in which he has introduced his Amendment, which simply accentuates exclusion plus clôture. we have a Conservative Party made up of 320 Members, and the Whips of that Party are required to look after little more than half that number to put down the Irish Party. Looking at the fact that in a short time we shall have a Coercion Bill before us, some of the provisions of which will be sufficient to call from Irish Members a demand that they shall have a hearing, we cannot fail to observe that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stockport will give power to a small part of the House to stop Irish Members from making their re-presentations. The hon. Member lot the cat out of the bag whom he declared that we had usurped the time of the House. We know from perusal of the records that obstruction has come mainly from the Conservative side of the House. I have a Return of the number of Adjournment Motions moved in the House of Commons for several years past, and I find that out of a total of 27 such Motions the Conservative Party have moved no less than 13, whilst there have come from these Benches only four.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not confining himself to the Question of the proposition of three or more to two by which it is proposed to apply the clôture.
§ MR. CONWAY
Then, I will pursue the argument with regard to the numbers relatively. I contend that this Motion of the hon. Member for Stock-port is intended as a weapon to stifle our voices. As the Representative of an Irish constituency, sent here to express the grievances of the Irish people, I shall resist to the very utmost the Amendment of the hon. Member for Stock-port, and shall give all the support I can to the suggested Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Tyrone, which seeks to make the majority at least throe to one. Seeing that the Conservative Party consists of 320 Members, and that they have declared over and over again that it is their intention to stifle our voices, I think that this three to one is not a very great concession for them to make us. I appeal to the House to support, so far as the sense of fair play demands, the suggestion of my hon. Friend.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
The controversy raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite is one with which hon. Members who were in the last Parliament must be familiar. It will be rememdered that when the question of Procedure was before the House in 1882, the Tory Party brought forward a Motion practically the same as that now moved by the hon. Member for Stockport. That Motion would have substituted a clôturo by two-thirds for a cloture by a bare majority. The question was ably discussed by the Irish Members, and there were some among them who thought there was something to be said in favour of such a form of cloture. I think, however, that if there is to be a cloture it should be one that should apply equally to all Parties and sections in this House. The hon. Gentleman opposite thinks that you might leave untrammelled licence to the particular Party he is associated with, for the purpose of putting down a section of this House to winch he did not scruple to make pointed and definite allusion. That is the objection we have been making all along. We have stated that that will be the effect of the clôture, and it has been denied over and over again by the light hon. Gentleman the 464 First Lord of the Treasury. Now, at the close of the discussion, we have the cat let out of the basket by the hon. Gentleman, who tells us that the clôture is intended to operate against us. the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman would be to prevent the clôture being applied at all unless there happened to be more than 100 Members present, and the second result would be that if you had 100 Members present you could only put them down by a majority of 150, and if you had a minority of 200 the clôture could only be applied by a majority of 300. the effect of the Amendment would be to prevent the application of the cloture to any English political Party. The Conservative Party possesses 318 Members, which does not give them a majority in the House. Under the Rule they could be put down if, on a Division, there were 319 in favour of the clôture; but if the Amendment of the hon. Member were to be adopted, it would require 100 more Members than there are in the House to apply the clôture to that Party, which I submit is a reduciio ad absurdum. If the hon. Member's Amendment were to pass, the Conservative Party would be protected under all circumstances, even if it were in Opposition. The plain, elementary question the House has to decide is this: Whether it is in favour of a clôture which will put down any minority that wants to override the wish and desire of the majority, or whether it wants to confine the clôture to a single section and nationality in the House? On such a question I cannot help thinking there should be no difference of opinion, except, perhaps, amongst a few irreclaimable and irreconcilable Tories. I trust that when the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman is put to the House it will be rejected, not only by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, but by the majority on this side of the House.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
I trust that the clear declaration made by the First Lord of the Treasury will tend t) reduce the number of Amendments on this Rule. the right hon. Gentleman has stated that he has acted all through these discussions in perfect good faith, and that the Government feel bound to adhere to the remaining portion of the Rule as it stands. A good many hon. Members 465 have expressed views and recorded votes on former parts of the Rule on the assumption, that the Government intend to adhere to the quorum mentioned in the latter part of the Rule. Whether the selection in that latter part of the Rule is the host one possible I do not know; but I deny that it is an arithmetical puzzle. We may, by breaking down these figures, extend this already protracted discussion to an interminable length. I think, with the right hon. Gentleman, that any alteration of this part of the Rule will be a departure from principle, and will tend to increase the number of Amendments.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. T. T. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I beg to move, in line 16, to leave out "Two Hundred," and insert "Three Hundred." This House is full in the evenings from half-past 4 o'clock to half-past 7, and empty from about half-past 7 to half-past 10 or 11; and what we want to guard against is, the application of the clôture in the absence of a largo majority of the House, and at a moment when the House is not prepared for the Question of the clôture. The clôture is a thing which, in its essence, demands preparation, and ought to preclude surprise. In its very essence, according to its most earnest advocates, it is a thing which ought to be applied, not by an accidental majority at a paricular moment for the purpose of winning a chance triumph, but should be an instrument permanently in the hands of the majority for ruling the Business of the House, with due regard to minorities and with duo notice to them. We desire to prevent hon. Members, in moments of Party passion, snatching a victory from Gentlemen who are unprepared to meet the Question of clôture. It will be easy for an hon. Member who intends to move the clôturo to give Notice to the Whip of his Party, and it would be easy for that Whip to have 200 Members in the House at 10 o'clock, to take other Parties by surprise and carry the clôture. What we fear is, that Members will be able, as the Resolution now stands, to carry the clôture by a coup de main. I am not going beyond the bounds of propriety when I say that you can imagine hon. Members doing a thing like that. If I myself had a Bill before the House, and found 466 hon. Members endeavouring, by foul means, to obstruct the verdict of the majority, I should have no objection to giving them a bit of a surprise by moving the clôture, and I should be able to do it by the means I have pointed out. This state of things will be provided against by the adoption of the Amendment I propose. I would point out that, since the new Parliament, there have almost always been 200 Conservative Members in this House The Government are compelled, under stress of circumstances, to have a largo number of Members present during the dinner hour, and the result will be, if the Rule passes in its present form, that they will always be in a position to carry a Clôture Resolution even between half-past 7 and half-past 10 o'clock, when the Members of the Opposition are dining, are at the theatre, or are somewhere else than in the House of Commons. We should not allow a fleeting majority to carry the clôture. Of course, speaking at 20 minutes to 3 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon, I find it somewhat difficult to convince hon. Members that there may be occasions on which hon. Members may be carried away in a whirlwind of Party passion. The sacred dulness of the pre-sent hour is rather an obstacle to getting hon. Members to contemplate such a state of things; but hon. Members who have been in the House at 12 o'clock at night, at the close of a long debate, know that we not unfrequently find a largo number of Members anxious for one thing, and one thing only—namely, to bring the discussion to an end at the earliest possible moment. The result of my Amendment would be this—that during an important discussion the clôture would never be applied until everybody' said—"We are heart sick of this—the question has been adequately discussed, therefore let us now take a Division." The clôture would in that way be applied on a day and at a period of the evening when Members wore in the House to take part in the Division. The clôture would never, under almost any circumstances, be applied until the Whips of the Ministerial Party said—" This is the night for the Division, and this is the night on which you must be in your place in the House of Commons." If you enable the clôture to be applied in a thin House, you will make it a 467 matter of odium. You lessen the odium by broadening the responsibility, and you broaden the responsibility by having the Motion for clôture supported by 300 instead of 200 Members, which may be little more than half a Ministerial majority.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 16, to leave out "Two Hundred," in order to insert "Three Hundred."—(Mr. T. P. O'Connor.)
§ Question proposed, "That 'Two Hundred' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CRAIG SELLAR (Lanarkshire, Partick)
As an Amendment, which stands next on the Paper, is in my name, and is, in the first part of it, identical with that of the hon. Member (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), I think I may save the time of the House if I now say what I wish to say in defence of my Amendment. I observe, however, a discrepancy between the statements of the right hon. Gentlemen on the two Front Benches, which might, perhaps, be explained before we proceed further. I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to say that he would sanction no departure from the principle of the existing Rule, and that seemed to me a very reasonable statement to make. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) put what seemed to me to be a gloss on the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury, because he said that the right hon. Gentleman had stated that any change in the Rule would be a departure from principle. I certainly did not understand the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to say that. I hope I am right in what I imagined—namely, that he said he would sanction no departure from the principle of the Rule.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
Perhaps it would be bettor that I should intervene at this moment. I cannot, of course, bind the House; but I am responsible for the proposal which I made. I consider that the figures as they stand on the Paper are figures that bind me. I am personally bound to ask the House to adhere to the Rule as I proposed it; and the debate has proceeded upon the assumption that I shall adhere to those figures. I have used the word "prin- 468 ciple," and the hon. Member is at liberty, from his point of view, to attach to that word the interpretation he has done. Individually, while I cannot bind the House, I am bound by the figures I have placed upon the Paper.
§ MR. CRAIG SELLAR
I am glad, Sir, that this point is cleared up; and now I understand that, though the right hon. Gentleman considers himself personally bound to the numbers on the Paper, his followers need not consider themselves bound. I hope, therefore, that some, at least, of them will vote with me for my Amendment. The object of that Amendment is to reduce the necessary quorum. I hope that those who agree with me that the quorum ought to be less than 200 will support the Amendment now before the House for the purpose of getting rid of 200, and will then support me in inserting a lesser number—say 120, as I propose, or 140 if that number is preferred. There is no particular principle in 200, unless it is that it is five times 40. It is a number—a round number—taken very much at haphazard and without consideration, and we have great authority against it. In 1882 the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) said it was pushing things very far indeed in the way of protecting the minority to sanction so large a quorum as 200, and has not experience proved him right? Until the other night the closure has been applied only once by the Speaker, and that was in February, 1885, when a debate involving a Vote of Censure on the Government on account of its Egyptian policy was interrupted by a debate on the conduct of a policeman named Murphy. the closing of the latter debate was supported by 207 against 46, so that a collapse was prevented by only seven votes. From that time the Rule has been practically a dead letter, never applied by the Chairman, and only once by the Speaker. The reasons are—first, because the initiative has rested with the Chair; and, secondly, because so large a quorum was required. The first has happily been overcome. The responsibility has been removed from the Chair, because the responsibility of the veto is a mere feather-weight compared with the responsibility of the initiation. That part of the cause of failure is at an end. But the large 469 quorum of 200 remains. It is true that on great occasions there would be no difficulty in bringing up 200 Members; but it is not on great occasions that Obstruction is really rife. On ordinary occasions, as in Committee on a dull Bill and towards the end of the Session, it is difficult to keep together 200 Members of the same way of thinking. The close of the Session is the time when the Government wants to got on with its Business, and when in order to do so it has to make compromises to depart from its policy, and, so to speak, to "square" Members. It is then that it is difficult to get 200 Members to join in stopping a debate. Well, Sir, how are we to meet the difficulty? By a simple process—reduce the quorum. The hon. Member does not wish to meet the difficulty; he wishes to increase it. He would make the quorum larger. I would make it smaller; and if the House agrees to my proposal—if it strikes out 200 and inserts 120 or 140—the difficulty will be met. But the number in the clause makes it a dead letter. You are forging an important weapon, which, as the matter stands, will be ineffective except on great occasions—you are putting a button at the point of your rapier. It is said that tyrannical majorities will rush measures through the House, and that the minorities will not be protected. We have most carefully protected minorities by the words inserted in the Rule a few nights ago, and by the duty of the Chair to protect their rights from infringement; but we have a still greater protection against the majority rushing to a Division in the opinion out-of-doors; and, that being so, I think everyone will admit that minorities are in no danger from the operation of the Rule. It has been said, on the other hand, that there might be occasions when the majority are asleep on which the minority would be able to snatch a Division; but there are, however, very watchful guardians whose duty it is to see that the majority are not taken at a disadvantage in that way. But there is a danger that, unless we make this closure effective by reducing the quorum to 120 or 150, so that it can be used on ordinary occasions, the House will not recover its character for dealing in a business-like way with the Business of the country. I certainly hope that the House will 470 agree that it is desirable to make the closure effective, and that the only way in which that can be done is by reducing the number of the quorum. I am sure, if we do that, we shall have an instrument which will enable us to regain the confidence of the country and the respect of all civilized communities. I trust that hon. Gentlemen who agree that the quorum ought to be reduced will vote for the omission of the words "Two Hundred." If that is carried, I hope they will vote against the insertion of "Three Hundred," and we shall then have a blank space in which to introduce the number which I propose.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
There is, I think, no disguising the fact that there is an objection on the part of Members from Ireland to making the closure effective, because they are afraid of its being used to pass a Coercion Bill. But I would point out that the proposal they make would have no effect whatever, because the Conservative Party would have no difficulty in getting the requisite majority on a question of this kind. I contend that there is no section of the House which has so great an interest in making the Rule effective for legislation, as the Representatives of the smaller nationalities. It is Ireland, Scotland, and Wales which want legislation and have to wait for it, and their Representatives ought to join with us in trying to make the closure effectual for the purpose of bringing back the House to the position of an effective Legislative Assembly; and that will not take place until there is a reduction of the number of the quorum. I hope the time may come when the closure will no longer be required, and I believe that then the House will be ready to relax the Rule; but until we again make the House the first Legislature in the world, instead of what it has become—the laughing-stock of the world—it is in vain to hope for the legislation which the country requires. I therefore appeal to Members on both sides of the House to make this Rule efficient by reducing the number of the quorum.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
;: The hon. Member for the Northern Division of Carnarvonshire (Mr. Rathbone) has stated that the smaller nationalities are most in need 471 of the legislation which it is hoped will be rendered less difficult by these Rules of Procedure. I am not able to agree that these are the only portions of the Kingdom interested, because a great deal of general legislation has been delayed by the incapacity of the House to conduct the Business of the country. I shall not, however, go back to that question, which has been dealt with over and over again. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) proposes that the words "Two Hundred" should be left out in order to insert "Three Hundred;" but I would point out that if he carries the first part of his proposal, the Amendment of the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Craig Sellar) is almost certain to be inserted. It is clear that the House will not consent, under any conditions, to increase the number of the quorum; and, therefore, hon. Members below the Gangway may be almost sure that if they exclude the words "Two Hundred" a smaller number would be introduced. If the House adheres to 200, it will do so because it is in the Rule which now exists, and because it has been inserted by the Government in this Rule; but I confess that if I were to take up the question again, I should be willing to insert a smaller number than 200. However, I trust that the figures on the Paper will make the Rule effective. I do not expect to see it frequently enforced, because I believe that Members in all parts of the House will put such a restraint upon themselves as will render it unnecessary that the House should inflict upon itself the humiliation of applying such a Rule as this. There is no doubt, however, that if this Rule fails in its object some other must be adopted by which that object will be secured, because the House will demand and procure for itself greater powers for the conduct of Business, and for regaining the confidence of the country. I repeat, with regard to this Amendment, my belief that no amount of discussion will induce the House to increase the number of the quorum which is on the Paper, and that if the number we propose is left out, its place will be filled, almost of necessity, by a number that may be less agreeable to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway.
§ MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)
As one of those who have had 472 care in the past of majorities in this House, I would earnestly urge the reduction of the number of the quorum, if not to 120, to 150. I have been well acquainted with the difficulty of insuring the presence of 200 Members of the House when it was desired to put the closure in force. I think, if we are to have the closure at all, it should be one that can be easily and readily applied, and which will admit of application to those smaller matters which constantly arise, and which constitute the difficulty of conducting the ordinary Business of the House. Towards the end of the Session, when the House begins to empty and Members, on one pretext or another, go into the country or abroad, it will be very difficult to insure a majority of 200 for the discussion of the Estimates and similar Business. It would seem that hon. Gentlemen opposite, in proposing this number, were considering the possibility that when the Rule comes to be applied against themselves the number requisite for its application will stand in the way of its being so used. I earnestly urge on the House not to follow the lead of the First Lord of the Treasury, but to consent to make the Rule effective, the first step towards which is to leave out the words "Two Hundred."
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
I rise to protest against the adoption of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Craig Sellar). the arguments which have been brought forward in support of that Amendment are, in my opinion, fallacious. It is said that in July and August it is difficult to get 200 Members of the House together for the purpose of supporting the closure; but that is not consistent with the statement of some Members on the Front Bench, who speak of the necessity of having 200 Members present to prevent snatch Divisions being taken. I trust that the House will not agree to the proposal to reduce the number of the quorum.
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton)
I do not think that on an important question like this we ought to be guided entirely by the convenience of the Whips. It is assumed that the Rule which has been in force since 1882 has been a failure; that the House has been regularly obstructed and unable to carry on its Business. I utterly deny that. I say that since 1882, during the 473 years 1883–6, there has been no obstruction of the ordinary Business of the House which needed the application of any closure whatever; and, so far as Committee of Supply is concerned, I cannot recollect a single instance since 1882 when, if this Rule had been in operation, it would have been enforced by the Chairman. Therefore, although hon. Members may contemplate some difficulties with regard to the future, We ought not to assume that the House has been reduced to the state of impotency which is alleged by the want of this Rule. The obstruction and paralysis of Business has arisen from causes more frequent and more deadly in their results than the prolongation of debate. In my opinion, if 200 Members, who do not represent one-third of the House, are not prepared to attend to the Business of the country, then I cannot see that such a serious Resolution as that of stopping all debate ought to be used at all. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this will not be a Rule of daily application, and that it would be a discredit to the House if it became so. I appeal to hon. Members to take the sound advice given by the right hon. Gentleman, and not fall into the trap, by striking out a number whoso place would be filled by a smaller number. Her Majesty's Government are in this position—they have put down this Resolution as a whole; they propose to the House a material variation in the Law of Closure; the question has never been raised during the last three weeks that there was to be any alteration in the number of the quorum; the Government are pledged to the number on the Paper, and it would be a departure from principle on their part if they were to alter the number now. I say it is now too late in the day to change front, and I hope the House will support the Government in the view which they take. I strongly urge hon. Members below the Gangway to agree to the proposal of the Government.
§ MR. A. R, D. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)
The right hon. Gentleman has himself told us that a smaller number than 200 might be desirable as the quorum; but he said also that we must be careful to guard against this becoming a Party consideration. The object of this Rule is to give back to the Members of the House some of the rights which they 474 have lost in recent days, because of the interminable discussion which arises on almost every subject brought forward by the Government of the day. These are the only subjects which are able to be discussed. How are hon. Members to get back their rights? Simply by shortening discussion on these questions. It is in consequence of the length to which debates have been needlessly extended on subjects of comparatively little interest, that the time of private Members has bean taken up by the Government, and it has been impossible for them to bring forward for discussion many subjects of great interest to the country. These Rules are to assist us in discussing and legislating on matters of interest to the people. We have been prevented from doing that, and we hope, by passing a stringent measure of this kind, that the present state of things will be remedied; and we believe that by placing this weapon in the hands of the majority the rights of all will be protected. I must join issue with the right hon. Gentleman below me when he says that we have had no obstruction during the last few years; and I am astonished that my right hon. Friend should have stood up and made that statement, be-cause my experience, and I believe that of most hon. Members, is that during the period he speaks of there has been an intolerable amount of useless discussion. I hope hon. Members who object to the words "Two Hundred" will go into the Lobby to support the Amendment to leave them out, and then will come the question as to the proper number for the quorum.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
As I find that unconsciously I have got right hon. Gentlemen into a position of difficulty I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
Mr. Speaker, I think the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has furnished us with the strongest reason why we should go to a Division on this Amendment. While I have great respect for the abilities of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), I venture to regard the remarks that have fallen from the right hon. Gentle- 475 man the Member for Berwickshire (Mr. Marjoribanks) as describing the true state of the case. I ask hon. Members whether, as a matter of fact, there were during the whole of last. Session 200 Members always present? There have been many occasions in the autumn when the attendance of Members has been less than 200; and I ask how, if a similar state of things occurs again, we are to get the quorum which is necessary for the application of the closure? We have a right to vote on the question that the words "Two Hundred" be left out, and I think hon. Members ought to exercise that right. I am in favour of the insertion in the Rule of the number 150 instead of that proposed by the Government. If we beat the right hon. Gentleman on this Division, after what he has said, I think it is very likely that he will give way; but, at any rate, I hope hon. Members on this side will stand to their guns and go to a Division, whether they support the hon. Member below the Gangway or not.
§ MR. W. H. JAMES (Gateshead)
We are practically placing the Business of the House in the hands of the Government of the day by adopting this Rule; but it must be remembered that the legislation of this country is the result of the authority given by the constituencies, and that the matters treated in this House have wider ramifications and are more far-reaching in their consequences than the mere excitement which they cause here. I am anxious to contribute as much as I can to the speedy passage of these Rules, and I hope that hon. Members will bring about that result by all the means in their power. I support the Government in this matter, although I believe that the more latitude we give them the deeper will they stick in the mud.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 222; Noes 120: Majority 102.478
|Abraham, W. (Glam.)||Balfour, Sir G.|
|Acland, C. T. D.||Bates, Sir E.|
|Allison, R. A.||Baumann, A. A.|
|Ambrose, W.||Beach, W. W. B.|
|Amherst, W. A. T.||Bentinck, Lord H. C.|
|Asher, A.||Bentinck, W. G. C.|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Beresford, Lord C. W. De la Poer|
|Baden-Powell, G. S.|
|Baggallay, E.||Biggar, J. G.|
|Bailey, Sir J. R.||Bigwood, J.|
|Balfour, rt. hon. A. J.||Blake, J. A.|
|Blake, T.||Fry, T.|
|Blane, A.||Fuller, G. P.|
|Blundell, Col. H. B. H.||Gathorne-Hardy, hon. A. E.|
|Bolton, J. C.|
|Borthwick, Sir A.||Gibson, J. G.|
|Bradlaugh, C.||Gill, T. P.|
|Bristowe, T. L.||Goldsworthy, Major General W. T.|
|Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. F.||Gorst, Sir J. E.|
|Goschen, rt. hon. G. J.|
|Brooks, Sir W.C.||Gourley, E. T.|
|Burdett-Coutts, W. L.||Grimston, Viscount|
|Ash.-B.||Grove, Sir T. F.|
|Burghley, Lord||Gunter, Colonel R.|
|Byrne, G. M.||Hall, C.|
|Cameron, C.||Hamilton, right hon.|
|Campbell, Sir A.||Lord G. F.|
|Campbell, H.||Hardcastle, E.|
|Campbell, R. F. F.||Harrington, E.|
|Campbell-Bannerman,||Hastings, G. W.|
|right hon. H.||Heath, A. R.|
|Chance, P. A.||Heaton, J. H.|
|Childers, rt. hon. H.||Herbert, hon. S.|
|C. E.||Hermon-Hodge, R. T.|
|Clancy, J. J.||Hill, right hon. Lord A. W.|
|Clarke, Sir E. G.|
|Cobb, H. P.||Hill, Colonel E. S.|
|Cochrane-Baillie, hon. C. W. A. N.||Hoare, S.|
|Colomb, Capt. J. C. R.||Holland, rt. hon. Sir H. T.|
|Cooke, C. W. R.||Holmes, rt. hon. H.|
|Corbet, W. J.||Hooper, J.|
|Corbett, J.||Howard, J.|
|Cossham, H.||Howard, J. M.|
|Craig, J.||Hoyle, I.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hozier, J. H. C.|
|Craven, J.||Hunt, F. S.|
|Cremer, W. R.||Hunter, Sir W. G.|
|Crossley, E.||Isaacson, F. W.|
|Cubitt, right hon. G.||Jackson, W. L.|
|Curzon, hon. G. N.||James, hon. W. H.|
|Dalrymple, C.||Johnston, W.|
|Dawnay, Colonel hon. L. P.||Kelly, J. R.|
|Kenny, M. J.|
|De Worms, Baron H.||Kenyon, hon. G. T.|
|Dimsdale, Baron R.||Kerans, F. H.|
|Dyke, right hon. Sir W. H.||Kilcoursie, right hon. Viscount|
|Elliot, Sir G.||Kimber, H.|
|Elliot, G. W.||King-Harman, Colonel E. R.|
|Ellis, J. E.|
|Ellis, T. E.||Knightley, Sir R.|
|Esslemont, P.||Lane, W. J.|
|Evelyn, W. J.||Lawrance, J. C.|
|Eyre, Colonel H.||Lea, T.|
|Farquharson, Dr. R.||Leahy, J.|
|Feilden, Lt.-Gen. R. J.||Lewis, T. P.|
|Ferguson, R.C. Munro-||Lewisham, right hon. Viscount|
|Fergusson, right hon. Sir J.|
|Llewellyn, E. H.|
|Field, Admiral E.||Long, W. H.|
|Fitzgerald, R. U. P.||Low, M.|
|Fitz-Wygram, General Sir F. W.||Lyell, L.|
|Macdonald, rt. hon. J. H. A.|
|Flynn, J. C.|
|Folkestone, right hon. Viscount||Macdonald, W. A.|
|Forster, Sir C.||MacNeill, J. G. S.|
|Forwood, A. B.||M'Arthur, A.|
|Fowler, rt. hon. H. H.||M'Cartan, M.|
|Fowler, Sir R. N.||M'Donald, P.|
|Fox, Dr. J. F.||M'Ewan, W,|
|Mallock, R.||Rowntree, J.|
|Mappin, Sir F. T.||Russell. E. R.|
|Matthews, rt. hon. H.||Salt, T.|
|Maxwell, Sir H. E.||Sandys, Lieut.-Col. T. M.|
|Menzies, R. S.|
|Morgan, rt. hon. G. O.||Selwyn, Captain C. W.|
|Morley, rt. hon. J.||Shirley, W. S.|
|Mount, W. G.||Sidebottom, T. H.|
|Mowbray, R. G. C.||Smith, rt. hon. W. H.|
|Mulholland, H. L.||Smith, A.|
|Noble, W.||Smith, S.|
|Nolan, J.||Stack, J.|
|Northcote, hon. H. S.||Stanhope, hon. P. J.|
|O'Brien, J. F. X.||Stansfeld, rt. hon. J.|
|O'Brien, P.||Stevenson, F. S.|
|O'Brien, P. J.||Sullivan, D.|
|O'Connor, A.||Sutherland, A.|
|O'Connor, T. P.||Swinburne, Sir J.|
|O'Doherty, J. E.||Tanner, C. K.|
|O'Hanlon, T.||Temple, Sir R.|
|O' Kelly, J.||Theobald, J.|
|Paget, Sir R. H.||Thomas, A.|
|Parker, C. S.||Trotter, H. J.|
|Parnell, C. S.||Tuite, J.|
|Pearce, W.||Wallace, R.|
|Pelly, Sir L.||Watson, J.|
|Plowden, Sir W. C.||Webster, R. G.|
|Plunket, right hon. D. R.||Weymouth, Viscount|
|White, J. B.|
|Pomfret, W. P.||Whitley, E.|
|Powell, F. S.||Whitmore, C. A.|
|Power, P. J.||Will, J. S.|
|Rankin, J.||Wilson, H. J.|
|Redmond, J. E.||Winterbotham, A. B.|
|Ritchie, rt. hon. C. T.||Woodhead, J.|
|Roberts, J.||Wortley. C. B. Stuart-|
|Roberts, J. B.|
|Roscoe, Sir H. E.||Douglas, A. Akers-|
|Rowlands, J.||Walrond, Col. W. H.|
|Addison, J. E. W.||Crossman, Gen. Sir W.|
|Anstruther, H. T,||Davenport, H. T.|
|Baird, J. G. A.||Davenport, W. B.|
|Balfour, G. W.||De Lisle, E. J. L. M. P.|
|Banes, Major G. E.|
|Barbour, W. B.||Dixon, G.|
|Barran, J.||Dorington, Sir J. E.|
|Barry, A. H. Smith-||Duff, R. W.|
|Beadel, W. J.||Dugdale, J. S.|
|Beckett, E. W.||Egerton, hon. A. de T.|
|Beckett, W.||Elcho, Lord|
|Bethell, Commander G. R.||Elliot, hon. A. R. D.|
|Elliot, hon. H. F. H.|
|Biddulph, M.||Ewing, Sir A. O.|
|Birkbeck, Sir E.||Finch - Hatton, hon. M. E. G.|
|Bond, G. H.|
|Bonsor, H. C. O.||Fisher, W. H.|
|Bryce, J.||Flower, C.|
|Buchanan, T. R.||Fraser, General C. C.|
|Buxton, S. C.||Fry, L.|
|Caldwell, J.||Gedge, S.|
|Chamberlain, R.||Gent-Davis, R.|
|Channing, F. A.||Green, Sir E.|
|Coghill, D. H.||Grey, Sir E.|
|Collings, J.||Gurdon, R. T.|
|Colman, J. J.||Hamilton, Col. C. E.|
|Commerell, Adml. Sir J. E.||Hanbury, R. W.|
|Crawford, D.||Hartington, Marq. of|
|Cross, H. S.||Hayne, C. Seale-|
|Heathcote, Capt. J. H. Edwards||Powell, W. R. H.|
|Price, T. P.|
|Heneage, right hon. E.||Rasch, Major F. C.|
|Hingley, B.||Reed, H. B.|
|Hornby, W. H.||Robertson, E.|
|Howorth, H. H.||Robinson, B.|
|Hubbard, E.||Russell, T. W.|
|Hughes - Hallett, Col. F. C.||Saunderson, Col. E. J.|
|Shaw-Stewart, M. H.|
|Isaacs, L. H.||Sidebotham, J. W.|
|Jennings, L. J.||Spencer, hon. C. R.|
|Joicey, J.||Stewart, M. J.|
|Kay-Shuttleworth, rt. hon. Sir U. J.||Swetenham, E.|
|Kennaway, Sir J. H.||Tapling, T. K.|
|Knatchbull-Hugessen, hon. H. T.||Taylor, F.|
|Knowles, L.||Tollemache, H. J.|
|Lafone, A.||Townsend, F.|
|Lawrence, Sir J. J. T.||Yerdin, R.|
|Lewis, C. E.||Vernon, hon. G. R.|
|Macartney, W. G. E.||Vincent, C. E. H.|
|Maclean, F. W.||Walsh, hon. A. H. J.|
|M'Calmont, Captain J.||Waring, Colonel T.|
|Malcolm, Col. J. W.||Wharton, J. L.|
|Marjoribanks, rt. hon. E.||Williams, J. Powell-|
|Milvain, T.||Wilson, Sir S.|
|Montagu, S.||Wilson, I.|
|Morgan, hon. F.||Winn, hon. R.|
|Morgan, O. V.||Wood, N.|
|Morley, A.||Wright, H. S.|
|O'Neill, hon. R. T.||Yerburgh, R. A.|
|Pease, H. F.|
|Penton, Captain F. T.||TELLERS.|
|Playfair, rt. hon. Sir L.||Rathbone, W.|
|Sellar, A. C.|
At the end of the Question, to add the words, "Provided always, That this Rule shall be put in force only when the Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means is in the Chair,"-(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E. R., Holderness)
I should like to ask the First Lord of the Treasury what would be the effect of the Amendment in the event of the Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means falling ill? If I am right in my supposition, all the labour we have gone through would be lost under those circumstances.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
It is intended that this Rule shall only be put in force by the Speaker or the Chairman of Ways and Means. The contingency to which my hon. and gallant Friend alludes is happily one of infrequent occurrence; but the arguments from all parts of the House as to the inexpediency of giving this authority to any Member of the House who might temporarily occupy 479 the Chair are so strong that I do not feel compelled to adhere to the words which are laid down in the proposed Rule.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I understand that this Rule is to prevent casual Chairmen exercising the power of closure. I fail to see that there is any real distinction to be drawn between the Chairman of Committees and a casual Chairman in this respect.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I have explained that no deputy or casual Chairman will have power to put the Rule in force. The observation of the hon. Member, therefore, falls to the ground. I take care to distinguish between the casual occupant of the Chair and the Member who takes the Chair as the result of the vote of the House. The observation of the hon. Member is of no value, because the Rule, as it stands, restricts the application of the closure to the Speaker and the Chairman of "Ways and Means.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I rise to move, at the end of the Question, the addition of the following words:—Provided that the Member who shall claim the application of this Rule shall inform the House that he has previously had no communication with the Chair, direct or indirect, as to the propriety of making such Motion.I put forward this Amendment with the view of relieving the Chair of responsibility, and I think it right to claim for it the support of the House, including that of the right hon. Gentleman himself. From the very first, the right hon. Gentleman has put forward in favour of this Rule that it makes an important departure from the old Rule in relieving the Chair of responsibility. I do not assent to that proposition; on the contrary, I think the Rule, as it stands, loaves where it was, if it does not increase, the responsibility of the Chair. The moaning of the present Rule is that the occupant of the Chair is to stand as guardian and protector between the tyranny of majorities and the rights of minorities. I am desirous that the Chair should discharge that function, and I say that my Proviso will confirm and strengthen the position of the Speaker and the Chairman in protecting the rights of minorities. The gravest charge that could be brought 480 against a Speaker or Chairman of Committees is that of collusion with the majority, and I desire to relieve the Chair of the remotest chance of coming under that suspicion. As the Rule stands, if a Member get3 up and moves the closure, the inevitable conclusion will be that he has had communication beforehand with the Chair. Unless the words which I propose are adopted, I consider that the Rule, in this respect, will be inefficient. There are many ways in which you can hold communication with the Chair which are not direct; and therefore I think that every Member, and still more every Minister of the Crown, ought to be able, when he rises to propose the closure, to declare that he has not had any direct or indirect communication with the Chair. the Vice President of the Council has stated that when he was Tory "Whip, during the Parliament of 1874–80, he was frequently sent by Mr. Disraeli to the then Chairman of Ways and Means, to complain that the Business of the House was not being conducted with sufficient speed, and to threaten him with Mr. Disraeli's displeasure if the Business was not got through more quickly. The Speaker and Chairman ought, so to speak, to be placed in quarantine; there ought to be a cordon around the Chair to guard it against infection from the Treasury Bench. I do not, of course, say that disrespectfully to right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench; but the great tiling we have to do is to save the Chair from the suspicion of collusion, and it is for that reason that I venture to submit my Amendment to the House.
At the end of the Question, to add the words, "Provided that the Member who shall claim the application of this Rule shall inform the House that he has previously had no communication with the Chair, direct or indirect, as to the propriety of making such Motion."—(Mr. T. P. O'Connor.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
The hon. Gentleman proposes that a cordon should be drawn around the Chair, and that a form of quarantine should be brought into operation; but the House must be aware that a proposal of that kind would be 481 simply impracticable. The custom of the House, from time immemorial, has been for Members to go to the Chair for assistance, guidance, and advice, and it has never yet been suggested that there has been collusion as between the Chair and the Government. The hon. Gentleman has referred to some observations which fell from a Member of the House with reference to a former Chairman of Ways and Means; but we may be perfectly certain that in that case both the Chairman and the Minister were absolutely free from the desire to exercise any undue influence either on one side or the other. No Chairman whom I have seen in the course of my Parliamentary experience has been one on whom any undue influence could have been exercised either by a Member of the House or the Government itself. It is quite impossible that the Business of this House can be carried on unless there is some ability to refer to the Chair whenever the occasion renders it necessary for a Member of the House to obtain advice; and it is almost an insult to the Chair to suggest that it would consent to express an opinion inconsistent with the duty it owes to the House. the question before us is whether we suspect the Speaker and the Chairman of being liable to exercise undue influence, of being capable of exercising undue influence, and of being, therefore, open to motives which might unduly and improperly influence their decisions. I believe that is utterly impossible, and, there fore, it is that I cannot accept the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. T. P. GILL (Louth, S.)
The reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman for rejecting this Amendment are based upon the assumption that no improper conduct on the part of the Chair is possible. My hon. Friend has pointed out that a Member on the Government Bench stated that when he was Whip he constantly approached the Chairman of Ways and Means on the subject of the Business in Committee. But there was a more notable instance in the days of Speaker Sutton, who was accused of being so active an instrument of the will of the Tory Party that the matter was brought before the House. It formed the subject of debate, and gave rise to a very strong opposition to the Speaker. These are two instances of 482 the suspicion of collusion between the Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means and the Governments of the day It remains for us to consider, not with standing the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, whether this may possibly arise again. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider his decision, and accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend.
DR.TANNER (Cork Co. Mid)
Mr. Speaker, in view of the fact that the cloture is a very strong measure indeed, directed, in the main, rather against the privileges possessed by private Members than by minorities, it would be for the benefit of the House, and certainly for the benefit of the occupant of the Chair, that this Amendment should be accepted. I have not risen for the purpose of talking at any length, but to appeal to the senior and experienced Members of the House to consider what dangers and difficulties will probably be brought about by the rejection of this Amendment. Surely it ought to be one of the first cares of hon. Members to protect the House from injury, and to protect the Chair from suspicion. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) said the Chair has never been suspected of being in collusion with Members of the House. I do not like to indulge in any innuendo, but, during the first Session I was in the House, I frequently noticed one of the Whips going to the Chair——
§ DR. TANNER
I shall most certainly withdraw any expression I used that would throw any innuendo on the Chair. I wish to be perfectly plain and above-board in this matter. It was not my intention to throw any innuendo on the Chair. I was saying that to a new and inexperienced Member of the House some proceedings appear somewhat strange. I say, distinctly, I believe the Chair is above all innuendo and all suspicion. I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman. (Mr. W. H. Smith) will pay more attention to the protection of minorities. I trust that, for the future of this House 483 and the Chair, he will accept this Amendment.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co. N.)
The First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) ridiculed the notion that there can be any suspicion thrown on the Chair. I am surprised to hear that coming from a Colleague of several hon. and right hon. Gentlemen sitting upon the Ministerial Benches. If there is anything at all notorious, it is that in the debates on the Procedure Rules proposed in 1882, nearly every prominent Member of the Tory Party indulged in predictions that a Speaker might be elected in future who would act in collusion with the majority of the House. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) "looked forward with dread to a possible time -when the Government of the day would secure the election of a Speaker -who would put the clôture into operation whenever the Government wished." Sir H. Drummond Wolff pointed to the possible contingency when the Speaker would be found acting in collusion with the majority of the House for the time being; and the Marquess of Salisbury, speaking at Hitchin in 1882, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), pictured the time when that right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) would have a Speaker of his own appointed, and when laws would be passed without a shred of discussion, and the noble Marquess went on to say—If it is true, as it is true, that the Commons is asserting to itself all the power of the Realm. and when changes are taking place which are contrary to all the traditions of the British Constitution, including the Rules which are now under discussion, we should take care that everything is said that can be said on any subject introduced.In the face of those observations it does not become the First Lord of the Treasury to wax indignant at the idea that the Speakers of the future will be so false to their duty as to act in collusion with the temporary majority of the House. The right hon. Gentleman said that the question raised by this Amendment was, whether we suspect the present Speaker or not. I indignantly deny that such is the question which the Amendment raises. The question raised is, whether the exercise of the great powers that are now to be entrusted to 484 the Speaker, is not to be put entirely beyond suspicion. In my opinion, you cannot secure the immunity of the Chair from suspicion, except by the adoption of some such Amendment as this.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I do not think it altogether becomes the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) to lightly laugh away the Amendment of my hon. Friend (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). The right hon. Gentleman virtually admitted that it was necessary to frequently consult the Chair for advice and assistance. Now, to define the difference between advice and assistance is extremely difficult, and the right hon. Gentleman admitted, in effect, that if the Amendment which my hon. Friend has moved is not accepted, there is nothing to prevent an hon. Member approaching the Chair, and consulting it upon the most delicate question whether the clôture should be applied. This Amendment is practically consequential upon the altered nature of the relations between the House and the Chair. Surely, there can be no objection to the distinct declaration that the Member moving the application of the clôture should have previously made no private application to the Chair; but that the application should be altogether public. the very fact of insisting upon spontaneity of action would be in itself a guarantee that the Motion for closure was, under the circumstances, justifiable, even whether the Motion was carried, or beaten. I am fully persuaded it would be an advantage to the Chair, and an advantage to the great body of Members, if the Amendment of my hon. Friend were accepted.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided;—Ayes 55; Noes 304: Majority 219.—(Div. List, No. 66.)
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I now propose to ask the House and the Government to adopt a Proviso at the end of the Rule. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) will have any objection in accepting this Proviso; because it follows the Precedent he, himself, set in 1882, when he was in Opposition, in respect to the Rule of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). This Proviso is, with the exception of the 485 word "collective," word for word with the one proposed by the right hon. Gentleman in 1882, and it gives an opportunity to a defeated minority to place on record, its protest against the decision the House has arrived at. The application of this Proviso will be slightly different in the present case to what it would have been in the case of the Rule of 1882; because the Rule of 1882 was put in force by the Speaker. Under the old Rule, the Speaker had to declare that, in his opinion, it was the evident sense of the House that the subject had been fully discussed, and, thereupon, the Question "that the Question be now put" was to be moved by the Minister; consequently, the protest contemplated by the Proviso would have been directed, not so much against the action of the House, as against the action of the Speaker. From that point of view the Proviso was more open to objection then than it is now. The minority may protest against the decision of the majority, and always does; but when it comes to protesting against the decision of the Chair, who is the umpire of our de bates? It is quite another and far more serious matter. the action of the Chair under the recent Rules, and under the custom and usage of the House, is carefully guarded against all protest. It is true a Member of the House can put down a Motion against the action of the Speaker; but in no other way is a protest admissible or allowed. Consequently, the action the Leader of the House proposed in 1882, was of a less inoffensive and of a more extreme character than the action I propose. I simply propose that when the Rule has been put in force—Any number of Members exceeding Ten, who shall be dissatisfied with such decision, shall be entitled, fit the next Sitting of the House, to make a collective protest in writing, which shall be recorded in the Journals of the House.I think this is a most desirable Proviso. It may happen that the majority will act under circumstances of irritation with reference to questions of great importance. Their action may trespass upon the rights of the minority, and that action may be allowed by the Chair. At a grave and weighty juncture in the history of affairs, it is important that the minority should, at least, have the right of written protest. Is this right 486 which the right hon. Gentleman proposed, and the Conservative Party supported in 1882, to be deliberately refused to us now? In support of my Amendment, I shall content myself by reading a short speech the right hon. Gentleman made in 1882 in moving this very Proviso:—Mr. W. H. Smith proposed on an Amendment to add at the end of the Resolution the following Proviso:—' Provided also, That any number of Members exceeding Ten, who shall be dissatisfied with such decision, shall be entitled, at the next Sitting of the House, to make a protest in writing, which shall be recorded in the Journals of the House.The Amendment was amended by the insertion of the word "collective" before "protest." so that my Amendment is word for word with the right hon. Gentleman's. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say—If the action of the Speaker or the Chairman in closing the debate, pursuant to what he considered to be the evident sense of the House, was taken against a considerable minority of the House, it was impossible but that great dissatisfaction would prevail in consequence of the majority having tyrannically closed the mouths of the minority. Instead, therefore, of driving the minority to the country or the Press for the ventilation of their grievances, he proposed that the minority should in such cases have the power of recording the grounds of their dissatisfaction by a protest to be recorded in the Journals of the House, as was the case in the House of Lords.But times change, and we change with them. The right hon. Gentleman continued—He could not conceive anything more dangerous to the House than that there should be no means of stating the grounds of dissatisfaction; and he thought it would be a far more Constitutional course to allow that dissatisfaction to find expression in the Journals of the House than elsewhere. He believed that this would appear to be a moderate and reasonable course to; the country at large. He wished to preserve the power of the House to deal with its own Business, so that its Members might not find a mode of giving expression to their wrongs elsewhere than in that House. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would consent to this addendum to the Resolution. He did not disguise the fact that he was opposed to the Resolution altogether; but if it passed, he wished it should do so with the least possible danger to the House; and he thought his Amendment would mitigate the evils which a very largo section of the House felt were attendant upon the Resolution."—(3 Hansard,  808–9.)Sir R. Assheton Cross, Mr. Stanhope, Lord John Manners, Mr. A. J. Balfour, and Captain Aylmer supported the 487 Amendment, and finally the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) set a good example to future Obstructionists by delivering a second speech upon his Amendment. I beg leave to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
At the end of the Question, to add the words—"Provided also, That any number of Members exceeding Ten, who shall be dissatisfied with such decision, shall be entitled, at the next Sitting of the House, to make a collective protest in writing, which shall be recorded in the Journals of the House."—(Mr. Parnell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (Sir JOHN GORST) (Chatham)
My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) regrets he has been obliged to leave the House; but he has deputed to me the duty of replying to this Amendment. I should have had great difficulty, perhaps, in so doing in the face of the speech my right hon. Friend made some years ago, and which was quoted by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell), if it had not been for those wise words of prescience which were cautiously inserted in that speech. My right hon. Friend said, on the occasion referred to, "that times change, and we change with them."
§ MR. PARNELL
I am afraid I have unwittingly led the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir John Gorst) into a mistake. Those words were an interpolation of mine.
§ SIR JOHN GORST
I am even more fortunate than I supposed I was, because if the hon. Member for Cork defers to the wisdom of my right hon. Friend, he will, I am quite sure, defer in a greater measure to his own wisdom. At any rate, in the words of the hon. Gentleman, "when times change, we change with them." Perhaps, at the time the speech quoted was made many speeches were delivered which, after more mature consideration and experience of the House, the speakers had been induced to modify. It certainly is now the opinion of the Government that a Proviso of this kind might give rise to considerable inconvenience. The Speaker or the Chairman has to assent, or has not to withhold his assent, to the closure; and if an angry minority is empowered to make a collective protest in writing, 488 which is to be recorded on the Journals of the House, it is the opinion of the Government that such a collective protest, however comforting it may be to the minds of the dissentients, will not conduce to the order and to the progress of the Business of the House. While admitting the ingenuity of the hon. Member (Mr. Parnell), in moving an Amendment which was formerly moved by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, I must say it is the deliberate and calm opinion of the Government that, on the whole, the wiser course for the House is to reject the Amendment.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I must say, Mr. Speaker, that what the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Goschen) is in the habit of calling the delicious irony of the situation is not entirely completed by the running away of the First Lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith); because nothing could be more deliciously ironical than that the duty of vindicating the Order of the House against obstruction should be deputed to the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir John Gorst). the position of the hon. and learned Gentleman reminds me of a celebrated character in one of Balzac's novels. I am not going to make the reference too pointed, and I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will not misunderstand me. In one of Balzac's novels there is a character called Vautrian, who is unquestionably the ablest—I do not like to use the word "swindler" though it most correctly describes him—[A VOICE: Operator!]—operator of his time. When he had pursued his nefarious career for a great many years he got tired of it, and placed his services at the disposal of the detective force. In the same way, if the Government desire to put down obstruction, I do not know that they can do better than to secure the services of so experienced a man as the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not condescend to tell us why it was the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) was obliged to leave the House. Has he been summoned to a Cabinet Council; or is he afraid to meet his past utterances on this question, lest the House should see what a perfect turn and right-about-face the Tory Party have executed? Now, in addition to the 489 right hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Gentleman the present Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) took part in the debate on this Proviso in November, 1882, and the late Chief Secretary for Ireland 'Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) and the whole Tory Party went into the Lobby in support of the Proviso. The very argument used by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir John Gorst) against the proposal now was used against it then. It was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) that it would be undesirable that Members should, in a moment of irritation, put upon the Journals of the House an expression of their strong and angry feelings upon a question. Does anybody suppose the Tory Party remained without a convenient answer to that? Sir R. Assheton Cross (now Viscount Cross), who at that time sat on the Front Opposition Bench, said—The protest would not lie entered, as the Home Secretary supposed, at the moment when those who made it were suffering under a sense of defeat, hut on the next day, after time had been given for reflection."—(3 Hansard,  811.)I find that one of the ablest speeches made on that occasion was made by the right hon. Gentleman the present Secretary of State for War (Mr. E. Stanhope). That right hon. Gentleman said—It appeared to him that the House of Lords would shortly be the only Assembly in which freedom of discussion would be allowed. In this House they were going to he gagged, and therefore they contended they had a right to enter their protest, in order that the country might judge of the course they had adopted.It was argued in 1882 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian that the protest would be, to a certain extent, a reflection upon the Chair. That is the very argument used by the Tory Party now. In 1882 the Tories said it was all nonsense to try to raise the Chair above criticism, and they asked -why the Chair should be raised above criticism any more than anybody else. If the Now Rule be carried, it is not the Speaker who will be responsible for the application of the cloture, but the Member who proposes it, and the majority who agrees to it. It is now argued in support of this Rule that the action of the Speaker is practically automatic, and therefore that the position of the Speaker cannot be affected 490 by the operation of the Rule. This protest cannot cast any reflection on the Speaker, for it is merely a protest against what may be supposed to be the tyrannical action of the majority of the House.
§ MR. EDWARD HARRINGTON (Kerry, W.
): I think that this Proviso is most skilfully drawn. It provides that this protest shall not be made when Members are smarting under defeat; but that any minority of Members exceeding 10 can deliberately and respectfully enter their protest next day against the action of the House in imposing the clôture. I shall be greatly surprised if we do not have the support of many Tories upon this question, because it is one in which the interests of the House are distinctly at stake. I do not see anything in this proposal opposed to the spirit of the traditions of the House, or opposed to the spirit of the Constitution; but, on the contrary, I think we should be merely acting in accordance with the traditions of the House and the spirit of the Constitution if we allowed a minority to enter their protest in black and white against what they consider an unjust use by the majority of the House of its power. It is well to bear in mind that it is not proposed that this protest shall be made in the moment of excitement, but at the Sitting following the imposition of the clôture. In that fact I think we have the very best protection against the possibility of any rash or precipitate action on the part of the minority. Naturally enough it will be to the interest of the minority that they should, during the 21 hours which will elapse between the application of the clôture and the next Sitting, see that they do not write anything to be recorded in the Journals of the House which may afterwards be used against them as evidence that they had been guilty of an obstructive use of their functions in the House.
§ Debate adjourned till Friday.