Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Standing Order No. 11, appointing the Committee of Supply to be the first Order of the Day on Friday be read and suspended, and that the Orders of the Day for the second reading of the Local Government (England and Wales) Bill and the Local Government (England and Wales) Electors Bill have precedence of the Committee of Supply."—(MR. W. H. Smith.)
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he hoped hon. Members would seriously consider the question whether they were going to allow the Government to take every day. This was not the first time that he had the very unpleasant duty of protesting against this action of the Government during the present Session. About two months ago he urged the Government not to adopt the course they then proposed, but they informed the House that it was absolutely necessary to take private Members' nights for the purpose of dealing with the Rules of Procedure. The right hon. Gentleman the Loader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) stated that if those Rules were disposed of in the way they expected them to be, the Government would spare no effort in order to secure facilities for the discussion of topics in which private Members were interested. Since that arrangement was made, however, the Government had taken other nights. Last Friday private Members were asked to give up that night, and on Tuesday the Government had a Morning Sitting, which practically meant that they had to give up the whole time of the day and night to the Government. Now they were being asked again to surrender their right to discuss subjects in which many hon. Members were interested. There was a subject set down for that evening of great importance, but the Motion which had been moved would prevent them from discussing it. Then, again, the Metropolitan Members had no chance of speaking on the Local Government Bill. Ho individually had endeavoured to say something on that Bill—perhaps what he had to say was not worth much—but he was not in a position to say it. He represented a Metropolitan constituency, and out of the large number of Metropolitan Mem- 35 bers only two or three had spoken. If they happened to be Irish Nationalist Members the Government would give them every facility. If they had been Scotch Members plenty of time would be given to them, but because they happened to be a loyal Party representing the Metropolis, with enough votes to keep the Government in Office, their wishes met with but little consideration from the Treasury Bench. Week after week they had been asked to surrender those private nights, and it seemed to him to be a most unreasonable thing. It would he more straightforward to the House if the Government were to take the whole time of the House. If the Government said this was absolutely necessary he should support the proposal, because he supposed they were bound to obey the Government. But the Government had distinctly told them through the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury that if they gave up time for the passing of the Rules of Procedure the Government would make every effort to afford to private Members facilities for bringing up the subjects in which they were interested. Therefore he thought he was within his right in demanding that the right hon. Gentleman should redeem the pledge he had given by not asking them to give up this day.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, he was always glad to hear Ministerial Members complaining of their Leaders and showing a certain amount of independence, which, he trusted, would ripen among them; but, at the same time, he must point out that if the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley) wished to influence his Leaders he would do well if —instead of complaining he was not a Nationalist or a Scotchman—he would not only speak against such Motions as this, but would also vote against them, instead of submissively following his Leaders into the Lobby, as he did last week. Last Friday, when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House wished to appropriate the night in the belief that a two days' discussion would suffice for the second reading of the, Local Government Bill, the objections of the Opposition were perfectly legitimate; but at this stage of the debate the circumstances were different, and he thought they could not well divide 36 against the Motion. At the same time, as the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury distinctly asked them to vote for the Procedure Rules on the ground that he was obliged to take away nearly all private Members' nights last Session, and said that if the Rules were passed he would leave them their nights this Session, he asked the right hon. Gentleman to tell them fairly and candidly that he would not attempt to take any more private Members' nights unless he could honestly show the absolute necessity for doing so.
§ SIR JULIAN GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
said, the hon. Member opposite hardly looked like a crushed worm. He did not think that the complaint of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bartley) was justified, as it was his (Sir Julian Goldsmid's) experience that for years past it was frequently the case that Liberal as well as Conservative Governments, when the second reading of very important Bills had to be considered, took private Members' nights. Moreover, the practice had arisen, in recent years, of Members on the two Front Benches making speeches of inordinate length. He had noticed that on one occasion, last year, more than five hours of one evening were occupied by three speeches from the Front Benches. Private Members would not have so many complaints to make about the lack of opportunity for bringing forward subjects in which they were interested if right hon. Gentlemen on both Front Benches would only condense their speeches. If they could not compress their observations within a shorter space, ordinary Members would scarcely have any chance of speaking at all.
§ MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would be able to reserve next Friday for discussions on secondary and primary education, which were on the Paper for that day.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
said, he thought that in the circumstances the request now made by the Government could not properly be declined. But he must entirely question the Parliamentary history of the hon. Baronet the Member for South St. Pancras (Sir Julian Goldsmid), who was absolutely and entirely wrong in stating 37 that it had been the practice of Governments to take private Members' nights for the second reading debates of important Bills. His experience, at any rate, was that when Liberal Governments had been in Office nothing had been so rare as to interfere with private Members' nights for continuous debate on Government Bills; and the practice had sprung up only in the latest years under Conservative Governments. If we went further back, say 50 years, when Business was not so heavy, no doubt debates were often continuous, because it was not the practice to appropriate nights to private Members. It was fair enough to raise the question of the length of speeches as between the Front Benches and the Back Benches; but he and his Colleagues had often found—certainly when they were in Office—that they were compelled to speak because private Members would not do so on the questions that were before the House. He was sure that the Whippers-in of the Party would support his evidence on this point. With respect to this debate there was no speech last night from the Front Opposition Bench, and it would be right that there should be one that evening. He should like to learn from the Government what were their intentions as to next week if the debate on the second reading of the Budget Bill were concluded on Monday night, when it would be his duty to move a Resolution in a speech, the moderate dimensions of which would, he hoped, command the approval of the hon. Baronet behind him. Supposing the second reading of the Bill were obtained on Monday, what did the Government intend to do with respect to Thursday?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
said, the Government hoped that it might be possible to obtain the second reading of the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill on Monday; and the debate could be prolonged if it were necessary, although he hoped it would not be, beyond 1 o'clock. If the will were read a second time it would be proposed to take the Committee on Thursday, and the remaining stages on Government nights until it was passed. It had always been his object and desire to interfere with private Members' nights as little as possible; but the Government 38 had also to consider the interests of the public in the progress of Business. When there was before the House an important measure—like the Local Government Bill—thought to require much discussion and a large amount of the time of the House, it would be a waste of time if it were not allowed to go on with some continuity. He believed that there was a general desire that the subject should he adequately, but not excessively, discussed; and he did not think private Members had been deprived of the opportunity of speaking in this debate by speeches from the Ministerial Bench. The Government would be glad that all who desired to speak should be heard, but the selection of speakers did not rest with them, and there must be some limit to a debate on the second reading of a Bill. He hoped that limit would be reached that evening, especially as the points at issue had to be dealt with in Committee. Six days' debate, where there was a difference of opinion only on points of detail, was surely sufficient on a second reading. Under the circumstances, he trusted that the House would give the time now asked by the Government.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, that it was not intended to take either of these Bills next week. The second reading of the Budget Bill might be expected to occupy Monday, and the Committee stage the whole of Thursday. He hoped Friday would remain free for the discussion of the important educational questions which were on the Paper.
§ Question put, and agreed to.