§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH), (Strand, Westminster)
in moving the adoption of the Rule, said, he believed there was a general feeling in the House that the form of proceeding which was referred to in the Rule was one which was frequently made use of for the purpose of obstruction. It was on that account that the Government asked the House to charge the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees with powers the exercise of which would conduce to 1713 the good conduct of the proceedings of the House.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, if Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman of a Committee of the whole House, shall be of opinion that a Motion for the Adjournment of a Debate, or of the House, during any Debate, or that the Chairman do report Progress, or do leave the Chair, is an abuse of the Rules of the House, he may forthwith put the Question thereupon from the Chair, or he may decline to propose the Question thereupon to the House."— (Mr. W. H. Smith.)
§ MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said, he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that such Motions were a very fruitful source of obstruction and ought to be dealt with. But the last few words of the Rule formed a very novel suggestion, and he doubted whether there was any precedent for it. He put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether this was not stretching, in the desire to put down obstruction, the power of the Chair, and depriving the House of its own powers to an extent for which there could be no justification? He objected to the proposal upon we grounds; first of all because it threw great responsibility on the Chair in declining to put a Question that a Member moved; and, in the second place, because it placed the Chair in a very awkward position with the House and with the Member who made the Motion. It was throwing responsibility on the Chair which was sure to involve the Chair in friction with some section of the House. He thought the object which the right hon. Gentleman sought would be amply secured by enabling the Speaker or the Chairman to forthwith put the Question, because then decisions would be the act of the House. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not press the words "or he may decline to propose the Question thereupon to the House," and as a matter of form he moved their omission.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 6, to leave out from the word "Chair" to the end of the Question.—(Mr. Henry H Fowler.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, there was a Standing Order at the present moment 1714 which enabled the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees to put such Motions contemplated by the Rule to the House or to the Committee, as the case might be, forthwith. It was hardly reasonable that the House should be called upon to endure the repeated Motions which the Rules at present admitted of, to report Progress or that the Chairman do leave the Chair, upon which Divisions must take place whether the Chairman was of opinion that such Motions were really an abuse of the Rules of the House or not. He urged the adoption of this Rule not on behalf of the Government, but on behalf of the House itself. He was convinced that neither the Speaker nor the Chairman could exercise the authority which was sought to be placed in his hands so as to abuse his authority. It seemed to him essential that this authority should rest with the Speaker or the Chairman when there was an attempt to move these repeated Motions evidently for the purpose of obstruction or of annoyance, or of delaying the progress of the Business of the House. In the opinion of the Government, it was one which might very well be entertained by the House.
§ MR. C. S. PARKER (Perth)
said, he remembered quite well the way in which hon. Members had been marched through the Lobbies in consequence of these successive Motions, but he thought the right hon. Gentleman forgot that if they carried the Rule that stood a little further down on the Paper—namely, the Rule which enabled the Speaker or the Chairman to put a Question and to have it decided without sending Members through the Lobbies—much less time would be wasted. The Speaker or the Chairman could call upon Members who challenged his decision to rise in their places, and in the course of two minutes the question would be settled. With such protection it seemed unnecessary to give power to the Chair to decline to put any Question.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
said, it was quite evident that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had forgotten his own Rule, number 9, in pursuance of which Divisions need not necessarily take place upon the Motions contemplated by this Rule. Under Rule 9 the Speaker or the Chairman would be able to ascertain the sense of the House by calling upon 1715 Members to rise in their places, and therefore it was asking too much that the power should be vested in the Chair of declining to put a Question at all.
§ MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, it must be borne in mind that under the new Rules of Procedure they were practically to finish Business at 12 o'clock. It seemed to him that unless there was some such Rule as this, a Motion for Adjournment might be made a few minutes before 12 o'clock night after night, simply for the purpose of preventing the Motion of the day being put from the Chair.
§ MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
said, that he should divide the House on the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, even if he had to go into the Lobby alone. It was true that the existing Rule had been very much abused; but, at the same time, the preservation of some of the very few liberties of the people of London was due to its use. It was now many years ago since he sat in the Strangers' Gallery, and listened to a debate in which a Tory Government introduced a Bill which aimed at shutting the people out from the right of meeting in Hyde Park. The measure was introduced, if he mistook not, by Mr. Gathorne Hardy; and it was only by the exercise of their powers in the House, by a very determined minority, that the Bill was defeated. Mr. John S. Mill and a handful of sturdy Radicals pledged themselves to use all the Forms of the House to defeat that very obnoxious measure. If they had not done so, the Bill would have passed, and the people of London would have been deprived of a right, which they had enjoyed from time immemorial. The result would have been something like a revolution in London. He gave the proposal before the House his most unqualified opposition.
§ SIR ROBERT FOWLER (London)
said, he could refer to another instance, of which the hon. Member who had just spoken would probably take a different view. He remembered the time, about 1870, when Mr. Hibbert, whose absence from the House both Parties regretted, brought in a Bill to enable those who had taken Orders and afterwards renounced them to become Members of the House. The Bill was opposed by a strong Opposition; 12 Divisions were taken on Motions for the 1716 adjournment of the debate and the adjournment of the House, and the Sitting was prolonged until 5 o'clock in the morning. The hon. Gentleman opposite wanted to see that system of opposition continued. He (Sir Robert Fowler), however, did not think it was a good system, and should cordially support the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, this was a question for the House itself. As he had already stated, the only desire of the Government was to prevent needless obstruction, for it was certain that during the last Session of Parliament, and many previous Sessions, there had been great waste of time through Motions for the adjournment of the debate, for reporting Progress, for the Chairman leaving the Chair, and for the adjournment of the House, being made one after the other, and all with the same result, and in defiance of the vote of the majority. Each of these Divisions occupied a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes, so that necessarily a great deal of time was wasted. Under the new Rule for closing all Opposed Business at 12 o'clock, if this obstruction were practised at half-past 11 at night, it might have the effect of preventing the House from arriving at decisions it was anxious to arrive at. Therefore, it seemed to him quite reasonable that Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees should have power—if he believed that a Motion for Adjournment was made purely for the purpose of delay, and if he had already had an opportunity of ascertaining the views of the House by a Division— to decline to put the Question. If Rule IX. were accepted by the House, it would lessen the evil to which he called attention, but would not entirely remove it. Members would have to rise in their places, and upon Mr. Speaker would be placed the responsibility of saying whether there should be a Division or not when Motions were repeated again and again, however distinctly the opinion of the House might have been ascertained. The House should not be compelled to reconsider the same question over and over again at the instance of any Member who might chose to submit a dilatory Motion.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
said, that considering 1717 what great—although, he must say, advantageous—innovations they had been introducing into their Procedure, it was extremely important that they should introduce as few new principles as possible. This would be entirely a new principle to give Mr. Speaker and the Chairman of Committees power to decline to propose a Question to the House or Committee. Had sufficient reason been shown for the adoption of this new principle? He had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who had conducted these debates with so much care, and to the interpolations of the right hon. Gentleman who sat on the left of the Leader of the House, whose views were always of a practical character (Mr. Ritchie), and he had come to the conclusion that no sufficient reason had been shown. For what was the argument? It appeared to be that these vexatious Motions for Adjournment would be frequently repeated. But that was what they could not be now that the House had adopted the closure Rule. The Speaker would also be able to call on hon. Members who supported a vexatious or frivolous Motion to rise in their places, and could thus obviate the loss of time caused by a Division. While they were right to adopt new principles where they were desirable, he thought this was a Rule too much, and one which did not find favour with the House as a means for carrying out that at which they were all aiming— namely, the shortening of the debates and the making of them more practical.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE (Exeter)
said, it appeared to him that there might be certain circumstances under which it might not be desirable that the closure should be moved, and the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury offered a desirable via media. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would persist in the Motion.
§ MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, in the remarks he had made, had defended the retention of the words, on the ground that Mr. Speaker would only decline to put the Question when Motions for Adjournment had been frequently made. But there was nothing in the Rule, as it stood, to show that Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees was to have that consideration in his 1718 mind; and the House, he thought, ought to be very slow indeed to adopt such a novel proposal as that one, which, so far as he knew, was absolutely without precedent. If a proposal were made in accordance with the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House a few moments ago, he thought the House would be disposed to look more favourably on the Rule.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he must remind the hon. and learned Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Buchanan) that there was a precedent for the proposal in the Rules laid upon the Table by a former Speaker when Urgency was voted on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). The third Rule, agreed to on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, was to the effect that Mr. Speaker might either decline to put a Motion for Adjournment, if, in his judgment, it was made with obstructive intent, or might put it from the Chair forthwith.
§ MR. PARNELL (Cork)
said, he thought that some of these Rules, especially this one, had been framed without regard to Rules they had already passed—in particular the Rule making the grave and radical change in their Procedure that the discussion of Opposed Business should terminate at 12 o'clock. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House had been based on the allegation that repeated Motions for reporting Progress and for the adjournment of the House and of the debate had been made last Session, and in recent Sessions, under circumstances which called for the application of such a Rule as this. Well, they had now stopped all Opposed Business at 12 o'clock, consequently the inducement to make such Motions had ceased; and he affirmed, as a fact which he believed would not be contradicted, that only after half-past 12 o'clock had such Motions been made in recent Sessions.' He did not think the right hon. Gentleman could mention a single example of a Motion for the adjournment of the debate or to report Progress having been made last Session, or in recent Sessions, after half-past 12 o'clock. The whole case of the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, fell to the ground, since the argument he had used to recommend his Rule to the House was evidently a non- 1719 existent one. Why did the right hon. Gentleman seek to provide in this Rule a remedy for an abuse which another Rule had caused to cease to exist? He (Mr. Parnell) must say the proposed Rule was not worth the candle which was consumed in discussing it, for it would not save the Government, or any section of the House, any time when it had been adopted. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had hinted or suggested that some new practice might grow up in the House as regarded such Motions as these at half-past 11 o'clock, or at some period when the consideration of Opposed Business was about to cease; but surely the time to provide a remedy would be when such a practice did rise up. Why should not the right hon. Gentleman wait to see if these Motions were approximated by the hour he supposed they would be, before rushing in with a brand new Rule to check a practice which had never existed? He (Mr. Parnell) considered it a very grave thing to interfere with the right of Members of the House to address questions, perfectly in Order in other respects, to the consideration of the House or Committee.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
said, he attached a great deal of importance to these matters of Procedure. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir George Trevelyan) seemed to think that the proposed Rule was unnecessary, as the House would probably accept Rule IX.; but, as a matter of fact, the two Rules were distinct, Rule IX. Being framed for the purpose not of enabling Mr. Speaker or the Chairman to arrest debate, but of saving Members the trouble of going into the Lobby after debate. There was an immense difference between the two. The Rule under consideration was to facilitate the progress of a Bill through the Committee or Report stage. It dealt with frivolous Motions, whereas Rule IX. related to vexatious Divisions. He thought it would be of the greatest possible advantage for Mr. Speaker or the Chairman to have the power of saying whether or not a Motion for Adjournment was one, which should be put. It was true they now had the closure; but that was a tremendous apparatus to bring into use for the closing of a debate which, according to the general sense of the House, should be closed summarily. 1720 He (Lord Randolph Churchill) trusted the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Trevelyan), who hitherto had shown so much common sense in these matters, would see the difference between these two Rules, and would admit that a Motion for the application of the closure was not a sufficient remedy for the evil, to meet which the proposal under discussion was brought forward.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said, that the only part of the Rule he objected to was that which allowed Mr. Speaker and the Chairman to decline to put the Question. It might be amended in that respect, if desired.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: — Ayes 214; Noes 112: Majority 102.—(Div. List, No. 22.)
Main Question put.
Resolved, That, if Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman of a Committee of the whole House, shall be of opinion that a Motion for the Adjournment of a Debate, or of the House, during any Debate, or that the Chairman do report Progress, or do leave the Chair, is an abuse of the Rules of the House, he may forthwith put the Question thereupon from the Chair, or he may decline to propose the Question thereupon to the House.