HC Deb 13 August 1888 vol 330 cc439-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. W. H. Smith.)


said, he took that opportunity to revert to the subject of Keble College and to protest against the most extraordinary legislative manœuvre of Saturday—because he could call it nothing else—by which the law of England was changed in a very important respect, and the College exempted from the operation of the Mortmain and Charitable Uses Act, without any Notice being given to the House of Commons, and without consideration by the House. He wished to give Notice to those concerned, to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, and also to the Government who aided and abetted this manœuvre, that he utterly refused to recognize that this Amendment, introduced into the Mortmain and Charitable Uses Act, created any vested rights, and that he should, on the first opportunity in the Autumn Sitting, move that the Charter of Keble College granted some years ago—he was afraid, with just as little inquiry—should be laid on the Table of the House. He would also move to introduce a Bill to disincorporate Keble College altogether.

MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

said, he wished also to enter his protest against the way in which the Amendment affecting Keble College had been introduced. All that he heard on Saturday was, that it was a consequential Amendment; but that certainly was not the case. There was a vast difference between Victoria University and Keble College. One was a public University, and the other was a sectarian institution, where the Test was still applied, and it was essential that the House of Commons should have had an opportunity of considering so important an Amendment as that made by the Lords with regard to it. Instead of that, however, it was pushed through on Saturday afternoon. He gave notice that, at the earliest possible opportunity in the Autumn Session, he should move to repeal so much of the Clause in the Mortmain Act as affected Keble College.


asked the Government to formally give an undertaking, as he believed they were prepared to do, that before the triennial School Board election, subsequent to that of November next, they would deal with the question of subdividing the electoral areas, which was the object of the School Board for London Election Bill, introduced by him, but which he could not now proceed with. He understood from the First Lord of the Treasury that the Government would have supported his Bill dealing with the subject that year had there been time.


said, he trusted the Government would not give any pledge to introduce a Bill on the lines of the one which had stood in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Woolwich.


Order, order! The hon. Member has already spoken.


Not upon this question.


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman has already spoken on the Main Question that the House do now adjourn.


said, with regard to the Question of the hon. and gallant Member for Woolwich (Colonel Hughes) with regard to the London School Board Elections Bill, he (Sir William Hart Dyke) was perfectly ready to acknowledge that the present position of the electoral constituencies was most unsatisfactory. They had grown almost unmanageable as regarded numbers and cumbersomeness, and some modification was necessary. He regretted that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had been prevented by circumstances from proceeding further with his Bill in that portion of the Session. In the absence of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, he did not like to give the pledge that the Government would introduce a Bill; but he promised that the Government would consider the whole matter most carefully, he could not say in the Autumn, but, at all events, during the next Session of Parliament.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

said, that he had moved an Amendment on Friday night to include the colleges of North and South Wales in the exemption from the Law of Mortmain, but the hon. and learned Attorney General told him it would be impossible for the Bill to pass in that Summer Session if the Amendment were made, because it would open the door to the discussion of a large number of other Amendments, in the shape of claims on the part of other Colleges. He therefore did not persist in his proposal. Yet the Government afterwards, in the House of Lords, accepted another Amendment of a similar character. He called that a piece of sharp practice which ought to be severely condemned, to slip the Lords' Amendment through this House without any Notice.

MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)

said, he desired to notice how very accommodating the House of Lords had been in passing measures at so late a period of the Session. He remembered that in days gone by, if a Liberal Government sent up a Bill to the House of Lords so late in the Session, they would refuse to take it into consideration. As the Opposition would again, he presumed, have the honour of sitting on the right of the Speaker, he thought it well to emphasize the fact of how accommodating the House of Lords has been this Session, in the hope that at some future time they would show themselves equally accommodating, and show as great an anxiety at the end of a, Session to pass Liberal measures as they had displayed with regard to the Bills of the Conservatives.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

said, he wished to endorse the appeal of the hon. and gallant Member for Woolwich (Colonel Hughes), that the Government would deal with the question of the electoral areas in connection with the School Board for London. He also desired to add his protest against the proceeding of the Government with reference to the Mortmain and Charitable Uses Bill. The Government need not have rushed that Amendment through on Saturday; the matter might very well have stood over till November. The House would have to take measures in future to protect itself against the repetition of a gross breach of good faith on the part of the Government. The House of Commons naturally looked to the Government to protect the House as a whole against such a proceeding; and the important aspect of the matter was that the Government had failed in its duty to the House. It could not be pretended that the earlier debate on the private Bill had elicited such a strong expression of opinion as would justify the Government in considering they did right to assent to the Amendment.

MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)

said, he could not allow that opportunity to pass without expressing his cordial concurrence in the remarks of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson) and other hon. Members respecting the exemption of Keble College from the Mortmain Act. He thought it was a most unwise and wrong proceeding on the part of the Government to have allowed that measure to go through within the last few minutes, he might say, of the Session on a Saturday evening. He was glad that, if only in the interest and protection of the rights of the House of Commons, his hon. Friend the Member for Dundee intended to take the earliest possible opportunity of calling attention to the subject. He must express his disappointment that the Government, upon a great Constitutional question of the sort should have so grossly neglected their duty as they had done, in allowing such an Amendment to be passed without full Notice to the House. The Government seemed to have considered how to get away for the holidays rather than the merits of the Amendment and the principle involved. He thought they would be bound to again bring the matter forward at the earliest opportunity.

MR. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

said, that the Keble College Bill, which was before the House earlier in the Session, turned upon the question whether the College should have the power to hold land in mortmain or not. The Bill was lost by the votes of two Conservative Members—the hon. Member for Belfast and himself—who voted against the Bill only because they were influenced by what was said by the Chairman of Ways and Means as to the inexpediency of dealing with that question otherwise than by a public Bill such as the Bill that had just received the Royal assent. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Courtney) also said it was a private measure, interfering with public legislation. It was wrong, therefore, to assert that there had been an expression of opinion on the part of the House that this exemption should not be extended to Keble College.

MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)

said, he had been anxiously waiting to know what the Government had to say in explanation of the most serious charge which had been brought against them by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Robertson).


It has already been explained.


The First Lord of the Treasury explained.


said, that since the hon. Member for Dundee had made his complaint in reference to the passing of the Lords' Amendment on Saturday evening, not a word of explanation had been offered on the part of the Government. It must have been known to the Government that there were a great number of hon. Members who took the greatest interest in this measure, and who only left the House on the understanding from the Government, repeatedly given, that no contentious matters should be taken after a certain date. Yet, on Saturday evening, at the fag end of the Sitting, a most important measure was smuggled through with the connivance of the Government.

MR. AIRD (Paddington, N.)

said, he wished to ask whether the Government would, during the Recess, consider the question with regard to the Fire Brigade of the Metropolis? There was at present a feeling of great insecurity in the minds of the residents. He believed it was officially admitted that the fire brigade was at present insufficient to deal with any great emergency, and in regard to the important matter of saving life, under the altered conditions of London building; he therefore hoped the Government would, during the Recess, consider the matter seriously, for it was regarded by the public as one of vital importance.


said, he considered the remarks of the hon. Member (Mr. Broadhurst) entirely gratuitous. The House was not sharing the anxiety of the hon. Member for West Nottingham; because an explanation had already been given by the First Lord of the Treasury showing what the position of the Government was with regard to Keble College, and if the hon. Gentleman was either not in the House or was not paying attention to what was going on, that was no fault of the Government. He (Sir Edward Clarke) was very sorry the hon. Member for the Eifion Division of Carnarvonshire (Mr. Bryn Roberts) should have been moved to make an accusation of sharp practice against Her Majesty's Government. There was no ground at all for such an accusation. He (Sir Edward Clarke) had been present at the debate on Friday, and he knew that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General desired that the Amendment should not be inserted in the House of Lords, and it was not inserted there by the Government at all. Indeed, the Lord Chancellor made a protest against it, and it would be found that several Members of the Government voted against it.

An hon. MEMBER

said, that the Lord Chancellor voted for the Amendment.


said, that the Lord Chancellor did make a protest, but he did not advise a Division. When the Bill came down amended, the Government did not think that the Keble College Amendment was of such importance as to interfere with the passage of the Bill. Hon. Members who were so much interested might have taken care to ascertain what Amendments were introduced by the House of Lords. Though he agreed that the insertion of Keble College was a matter on which observation might be made, he thought himself that there was a very good case for including it. The Bill came down with the Amendment in it, and no one could think that the power proposed to be given was so very serious as to interfere with the passing of the Bill. He thought he had shown there was really no ground for any charge of sharp practice against the Government.


asked, if he would be in Order in asking a question?


ruled against the hon. Member.

MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)

said, that, after the hon. and learned Solicitor General's speech, it was necessary that they should once again say, as he would do most emphatically, that in his opinion the charge of sharp practice was thoroughly justified. What were the circumstances? The Bill was under discussion for a considerable time on Friday night, and his hon. Friend (Mr. Bryn Roberts) brought forward an Amendment to insert certain Colleges which he thought ought to be excluded from the Law of Mortmain. That Amendment was withdrawn in deference to the hon. and learned Attorney General's assurance as to Keble College, and after that assurance, the change made by the House of Lords was not in the least expected. They did not say anything about the Government in the House of Lords; but what they did complain of was, that next day, after the Amendment had been accepted by the other House, Her Majesty's Government in this House took the responsibility of fathering the Amendment, and asking this House to accept it. That was the charge against them, and it was perfectly impossible for anyone who heard the speech of the Attorney General to believe Her Majesty's Government would have been guilty of making themselves responsible for that Amendment. He contended that there was no case for urgency. This was a mere Consolidation Bill, and it would not make the least difference to any human being if the consideration of the Bill were adjourned to the Autumn Session.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) had imported into the discussion a certain amount of heat which, he thought, might well have been left out. He had undertaken to endorse the charge that the Government had been guilty of sharp practice. He (Mr. Jackson) must entirely repudiate the insinuation of sharp practice made against the Government. An hon. Gentleman had said there was no haste or pressure in the matter. But it would be in the recollection of the House that the Leader of the House was pressed over and over again during the Session by the hon. Member for North-East Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) as to the issue of the new edition of the revised statutes. This was one of the Bills which it was necessary to pass to enable the right hon. Gentleman to carry out the wish that had been expressed so generally, and which it was extremely desirable should he met.


said, he did not wish to make the Attorney General responsible; but the action of the Government was in violation of the whole understanding and assurance they gave on Friday night.


said, he claimed that the Government had exercised their best discretion in passing the Bill as it stood, and he was very sorry if hon. Members had been taken unawares, but it was certainly not the fault of the Government. As had been stated by the Solicitor General, the Government did not assent to the inclusion of Keble College in the Bill; but they came to the conclusion that, on the balance of advantage, it would be better to accept the Amendment than to lose the Bill. The Government had no intention of violating any pledge, nor did he think they had done so. He trusted they might now all be allowed to take their holidays with as much pleasure as they possibly could; and that when they met again, they would be able to preserve their temper as well as they could.

MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

said, he felt it his duty to inform the House with regard to the Fire Brigade and the matter of fire escapes, that the Metropolitan Board of Works would be prepared to take the matter into their serious con- sideration, provided the Government would undertake to indemnify the Board in their Money Bill when it was brought forward next year.

SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

asked, whether the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (Baron Henry de Worms) had not been absent for some weeks, going about Europe trying to make some Convention about the sugar duties; whether he had been doing all he could to make sugar dearer in this country; and, whether the Government would undertake that no Convention or agreement should be signed to make sugar dearer, without the House of Commons having an opportunity of considering it.


said, he would remind the hon. Baronet that the First Lord of the Treasury had made a state- ment almost in the terms of the question.


That no agreement will be signed?


said, he would not like to charge his memory with the exact words.

MR. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)

asked, whether the Vice President of the Council would lay a copy of the Charter of the Keble College on the Table?


said, he thought it was hardly necessary to do that, as it was easily procurable; but the hon. Member might repeat the question when they had an opportunity of meeting again.

Question put, and agreed to.

House adjourned at Three o'clock, till Tuesday 6th November.

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