§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
, in rising to move—That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business, whether Orders of the Day, or Notices of Motion, have precedence on Tuesday and Wednesday; that Standing Order 11, relating to the Committee of Supply, or Ways and Means on Friday, be suspended; and that Standing Order 56, relating to Mr. Speaker leaving the Chair without putting any Question on going into Committee of Supply on Monday and Thursday, be extended to the other days of the week. That Reports of Supply and Ways and Means may be taken after midnight (and half-past Five on Wednesday), though opposed, and that the Proceedings thereon be not interrupted, either at Midnight or One o'clock (or on Wednesday at Six), but after such Reports have been disposed of no Opposed Business shall be taken,said: Mr. Speaker, in rising, as I now do, to make the Motion which stands in my name on the Paper, I have also to respond to the request made to me by 891 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) last Tuesday, to make a Statement with regard to the course of Public Business and the recommendations which I shall venture to offer to the House with reference to it. We have during the past week made some little progress with the Local Government Bill, and in one night in Supply we obtained four Votes; but I think the House will be willing to concur with me that the progress which has been made in Public Business during the past week, and the period at which we have arrived in the Session, render it absolutely necessary that we should take a survey of the work which the House has to discharge, and of the means that still remain at its disposal of meeting its obligations to the public. Sir, the Business on which the House is now occupied is a matter of very great importance, and one which has been recognized as being entirely apart from Party politics, but which will tend greatly to the improvement of the Local Government of this country. It is one, Sir, which naturally excites a great deal of discussion and a great deal of interest in all parts of the House, and the acquaintance which some hon. Members themselves have with Local Government is of a character which invites them to express their opinions upon matters which are of great interest, no doubt, but which are frequently minute, and result in the consumption of a large amount of public and valuable time. But, Sir, we feel that, having regard to the position of the House with reference to the Local Government Bill, it is absolutely necessary that we should persevere with that measure in order to bring it to a final conclusion, and I am sure that we shall have the assistance of hon. Members in all parts of the House to enable us to do so. When I have said that much, I must also state that it is a measure which cannot be in any degree postponed. The House is very well aware of the fact that, after it is passed, there will remain duties to be discharged by the Local Authorities which will render it absolutely necessary that an interval of some three or four months should elapse before the Bill can be brought into successful operation. The Courts of Quarter Sessions will have to make arrangements with regard to the machinery for the election of members to the County 892 Councils, and other arrangements have to be made which are left to the existing Local Authorities, and which render it absolutely essential that the Bill should be passed into law before the end of September. In those circumstances, the Government feel it to be their duty—and I am sure that in this they will be supported by the House at large—to press forward this measure will all reasonable despatch, while they invite the House to perfect it as far as possible, so as to make it a really workable and serviceable measure. In saying that, I do not wish it to be understood that we insist on passing every clause or every provision of the Bill. What we ask Parliament to do is to make it a successful measure as far as it goes, and to set up the County Council as the Governing Authority within the counties, and to leave, if necessary, to another Session the perfection of the work which we have undertaken, and towards which we shall probably have the assistance of the County Councils themselves. In considering the Bill, as I have said, we have only arrived at the 30th clause; but in making that observation we must admit also that we have discussed a great many very important principles; that we have settled those principles, with one or two exceptions, to the satisfaction of the House at large; and, therefore, although we have only arrived at the 30th clause, we may reasonably hope that much more rapid progress may be made with the remaining clauses of the Bill, since all experience of Parliamentary life must satisfy hon. Members that the first enacting clauses of a great measure of this kind are those which occupy the largest amount of public time. There remains, however, one important section of the Bill which, no doubt, may take some time, but I hope not a great deal, and to which the Government feel it absolutely necessary to adhere—I refer to the provisions for the future government of London. I hope we shall receive the cordial assistance of the House in, at all events, settling that question in connection with the present Bill. Referring to that, I may be allowed to travel somewhat further, and to deal with the question of the District Councils. We do not see the necessity of passing in this measure a provision for the District Councils, and I say so with reference to this fact—that the 893 District Councils, as at present provided in the Bill, cannot come into operation till November next year. We may therefore reasonably, under the pressure of time, allow the District Councils to remain for the consideration of the earlier part of the next Session of Parliament, and make such provision as may be necessary for the more strictly local government of counties throughout the United Kingdom. When I refer to this, I wish further to draw the attention of the House to the fact that it rests with the County Councils to fix the boundaries of the districts within which the Districts Councils must be elected, and that, therefore, although we might pass the measure this year, it would not be possible, nor was it at any time intended, that the elections should take place before November of next year. But the Government thought it right that the whole and complete scheme which they had in their minds should be presented to Parliament as a whole, and that Parliament should realize what their purpose and intention was in reference to local government in the counties of England. I mention this fact in order to assure the House that, while we intend to pass the Bill now with the assistance of the House, we do not intend to ask the House to spend valuable time over any particular clause which may not be at the present moment absolutely necessary. The County Councils are necessary; all that is requisite to give them sufficient authority; and also all that is necessary to give them the financial means requisite for their proper administation. The government of London is a matter to which we attach the greatest importance, and which we consider to be absolutely vital to the measure. But when we have said that, we have said all that we consider to be essential in the scheme of the Local Government Bill. I do not doubt, although there may be differences of detail in this measure which yet invite discussion, that we shall receive on all sides of the House assistance in passing, as rapidly as we may, those clauses which remain to be considered, and which are chiefly clauses of machinery, excepting only those to which I have referred. Now, Sir, I come to the question of Supply, and I admit that it is in a difficult position, which deserves the serious consideration and attention of this House. 894 We have had 15 days in Supply during the course of the present year. That is obviously an utterly inadequate amount of time for the consideration of Supply up to the month of July. The pressure of Public Business has rendered, in my judgment, that condition of Supply unavoidable at the present time; but I must also refer to the fact that we have not always been so successful as we hoped we might be when we put down Supply for consideration. We feel, however, under any circumstances, that before any adjournment Supply must be dealt within a complete and exhaustive manner. The Committee of Supply must be practically closed before this House can take any rest or any holiday of any character whatever. When I have mentioned Local Government and Supply, I have mentioned them in the order in which the Government intend to press Business upon the House. I have reason to hope that with the assistance of the House, we may pass out of Committee on the Local Government Bill in the course of this week or next week. Indeed, I trust we may not exceed this week before we have completed the Committee on the Local Government Bill. Then the Government would propose that the House should take up Supply from day to day, and proceed with it until it is concluded, unless it be necessary to relieve some of the obligations which I have made to hon. Members with reference, for example, to the Sunday Closing Bill, or unless it be necessary to interpose with the second reading of the Excise Duties Bill, which is in charge of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have now mentioned the Business which is immediately urgent, and which requires to be dealt with by the House before any very serious attempt at a holiday is made. But when I come to consider the other Business on the Paper, I am sure it will be felt that there is a great deal of excellent work that has been done by the House, and especially in the Standing Committees, which it would be an absolute scandal if the House did not make provision for carrying through in the course of the present Session to a successful issue. There are measures which have been dealt with by the Standing Committees—the Railway Rates Bill, the Employers' Liability Bill, the County Courts Bill, and others— 895 which have been carefully considered by these Standing Committees in a manner which, I may venture to say, reflects the greatest credit upon the machinery created for the purpose of advancing the consideration of measures in this House. I was not greatly in favour of the system of delegation which is practised by Standing Committees; but I ought to make an honest and complete acknowledgement that the work which the Standing Committees have done this Session is work which is creditable to the House of Commons, and which it would be a scandal altogether to waste and disregard. The Government feel, therefore, that it will be their duty, first of all, to press through the measures which have passed through the ordeal of a Standing Committee, and to invite the House to put them on the Statute Book during the present year. Then I come to consider some other questions which, in the opinion of the Government, are absolutely necessary at present. There is the proposition for Imperial Defence; there is the measure for dealing with the Scottish Universities; there is the proposal, not yet introduced, for the constitution of a Ministry of Agriculture; and there are proposals also with regard to the recovery of tithes. Well, we should not feel justified in allowing the question of Imperial Defence to stand over till another year, nor should we feel justified, if we could by any possible means avoid it, in allowing the question of the Scottish Universities to remain undecided, as it has been Session after Session for a number of years. Measures dealing with the Scottish Universities have been before Parliament for the last five or six years, and it has been the unfortunate necessity of every Government, from 1883 downwards, to be obliged, at some period or other of the Session, to express deep regret at their inability to carry the measure forward. There is also the question of tithes, to which I have adverted. I know that is one on which hon. Members in some parts of the House feel very warmly; but the Government have not got to regard the question as a question affecting one Church or another, but they have to deal with it as one which concerns seriously a great property in which the nation has a deep, a large, and a vested interest. They have got to regard it as a question 896 which, at the present moment, is the fruitful cause of much disturbance, of much ill-blood and ill-feeling in some parts of the country; and we, therefore, feel it to be essential that this measure should be dealt with by the House in course of the present Session. I have now alluded generally to the questions of—.My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland reminds me of the Laud Commission. Hon. Members from Ireland are aware of the fact that the Statute empowering the Land Commission Act expires in August, and therefore it is necessary to pass some measure. The proposal we make is to put the continuance of the Land Commission into the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, so as to prevent any suspension of their labours which are necessary to the government of Ireland, and to subsequently ask the House to consider the amending Bill which my right hon. Friend has upon the Paper. I have now referred to the measures which we think it necessary to ask the House to adopt in the course of the present Session. [An hon. MEMBER: What about the Drainage Bills?] Certainly I trust the House will accept those Drainage Bills. They are placed before the House as the measures which the Government desire to propose for the amelioration of the condition of that part of Ireland which is affected by these Bills. It is, of course, in the power of hon. Members from Ireland to assist the passing of those Bills, and I am afraid that we should not think it right to devote any very large amount of time with a view to forcing those measures through against the wishes of hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, or against any generally expressed feeling of opposition on the part of the House. Those Bills are precisely of a class of measures which can only be passed if they are accepted cordially by the House; and if they are not so accepted, it is obviously impossible for any Government to pass them in the face of opposition. Well, Sir, I must now come to deal with Bills which, I am afraid, it will be the duty of the Government to drop. The first is the Lunacy Acts Amendment Bill. [Ironical cheers.] I am not aware, Sir, that it affects any hon. Gentleman in this House. I should be exceedingly sorry that any hon. Gentleman should have any interest or personal feeling in 897 the question. Then I am sorry to say there are two measures with regard to Ireland which I feel we can hardly ask the House at this period of the Session to consider. They are the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Ireland Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] Well, Sir, I confess I am a little surprised at that cheer. After what has passed, I should have thought it would not be cheered in that manner. The other is the Supreme Court of Judicature (Ireland) Bill, which also involves a considerable amount of difficulty, and is threatened with a great deal of opposition; and in these circumstances we shall not attempt to pass it this year, but we hope that early next year we shall be in a position to introduce a more complete measure. There is also a measure dealing with official secrets, which has been opposed, and which, although of great importance, we must reserve for another opportunity. Then there is the measure dealing with technical education, which we greatly regret to have to drop; but it may not be, perhaps, altogether a loss of time if we postpone the consideration of this measure. I have reason to believe that the Royal Commission on Elementary Education will report very shortly on the whole question, and it would be exceedingly interesting and convenient to the House to have their Report before them before they attempted legislation on the subject. And now, having stated the measures which the Government think it right to persevere with, and those they think it right to drop, I come to the consideration of the arrangements which, in the interests of legislation, in the interests of the discharge of the duties which belong to Members of this House, seem, on the whole, best to be made. It is for the House itself to determine whether they accept the recommendation I venture to make. But I have witnessed in this House the weariness which accompanies prolonged Sittings through the months of August and September, and I have myself come to the conclusion that the Business of this House has not always been conducted with the greatest possible effect, or the best possible regard to the duties we have to discharge in circumstances of that kind. The advice, therefore, which I should venture to offer to the House is that such measures as are absolutely necessary—and I have stated 898 them to be the Local Government Bill and Supply, with one or two other measures—that such measures as these should be undertaken before any question of adjournment is entertained; but that if we are so fortunate as to get through the Local Government Bill and Supply early in August, we might then hope to adjourn either till the last week of October or the first week of November, and then to proceed, within the limit I have indicated, with any Bills which have already been introduced, or which may come down to us from the House of Lords. I have no hesitation in saying that this House would not do well to enter upon an Autumn Session as a new departure in the matter of legislation, and we have no desire to invite the House to consider any measure which is not already before Parliament, with the exception of the Minister of Agriculture Bill. But I, of course, reserve to myself the liberty, in case of any absolute emergency—any necessity suddenly arising—to call attention to it, and to ask the judgment of the House upon it. There is also one question which I am sure is interesting to some hon. Members who have Private Bills on the Paper. In the early part of this Session, under the new Rules, it was provided that measures introduced by private Members, and dealt with on Wednesdays, should, after Whitsuntide, take precedence in the order in which they stood on the Paper. There are some Bills which have obtained the position of Report, and which are, therefore, almost within sight of being passed. It will be my endeavour, so far as these Bills are concerned, to find an opportunity for obtaining the judgment of the House upon them. I do not undertake to do more than endeavour, so far as the Government is concerned, that these Bills, which have reached that position, should be disposed of by the House. I think I have now concluded the statements I had to make in asking for the whole time of the House. I am aware I am making a large demand upon the House, but I do so in what I believe to be the best interests of the House. We have here work to discharge. Unless that work is gone through, we cannot feel that we have done our duty by our constituents or by the country. This appears to me to be the best and the only method which is open to us to en- 899 able us to discharge the duty in a most complete and satisfactory manner. I must refer to one provision in the Motion of which I have given Notice. I have asked the House to suspend the Twelve o'clock and Six o'clock Rule so far as the Report of Supply is concerned. When those Rules were agreed to by the House, I am sure the general feeling of the House was to endeavour to make use of them for the advancement of Business, and for the comfort and convenience of Members of the House. I make no complaint of the general manner in which these Rules have been worked. I make no complaint against my hon. Friends behind me, or against hon. Members opposite; but it is notorious that one or two or three Members have availed themselves of the power which they possess under these Rules to refuse permission to the House to consider the Report of Supply after 12 o'clock at night, which has usually been considered, in the absence of serious opposition, to be rather a matter of form than otherwise. Therefore, in the interests of Public Business, I ask the House to suspend that Rule so far as the Report of Supply is concerned. In doing so, I assure hon. Members that I have no desire to prevent any legitimate discussion on any question which may arise, nor have I any desire to use the power placed in our hands so as to unduly interfere with the liberties of hon. Members of this House. I beg, Sir, to move the Motion which stands in my name.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business, whether Orders of the Day, or Notices of Motion, have precedence on Tuesday and Wednesday; that Standing Order 11, relating to the Committee of Supply, or Ways and Means on Friday, be suspended; and that Standing Order 56, relating to Mr. Speaker leaving the Chair without putting any Question on going into Committee of Supply on Monday and Thursday, be extended to the other days of the week.
That Reports of Supply and Ways and Means may be taken after Midnight (and half-past Five on Wednesday), though opposed, and that the Proceedings thereon be not interrupted, either at Midnight or One o'clock (or on Wednesday at Six), but after such Reports have been disposed of no Opposed Business shall be taken."—(Mr. Willian Henry Smith.)
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
said, that the questions raised by the statement of the right hon. Gen- 900 tleman were of the greatest interest and importance, and were, therefore, not such as ought to be disposed of by a snatch vote upon short Notice. If there were any difficulties in the way of legislation they were caused, not by the action of the House, but by the mode in which the Government had thought fit to conduct the Business of the House at the beginning of the Session. At the commencement of the Session they had taken up the time of the House with the alteration of the Rules of Procedure, and now in July they complained that Supply was in arrear, when they had had ample opportunity of pressing it forward instead of resorting to Votes on Account. The Government had overridden the rights of private Members during a large portion of the Session, and they now proposed to take up the whole time of the House for Government Business. The Motion was unfair alike to private Members and to the interests of Ireland, and it was one which he was afraid would be drawn into a precedent. As it appeared to him that this question ought to be settled only after full deliberation, and that the House ought to have the opportunity of considering what it should do in the disposal of its time, he begged to move—"That this House do now proceed to read the Orders of the Day."
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day."—(Mr. Arthur O'Connor.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said, he thought that before the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was accepted the House ought to appreciate its gravity. If the House accepted this proposal without a protest on this occasion, it was certain that Autumn Sessions would recur, if not annually, at least every few years. The present proposal was absolutely unprecedented. Autumn Sessions had been arranged before, but only when there was a difficulty between the two Houses of Parliament, or when a question of Procedure Rules had to be dis- 901 cussed. But on this occasion only ordinary Bills had been presented to the House for consideration, and now they were asked to meet in the Autumn merely to consider ordinary legislative proposals. This was distinctly a new departure. He suggested that if the right hon. Gentleman passed all the Bills he had mentioned this Session he would find that when he had to meet the House again there would be little legislation for it to consider. They could not expect a Tory Government to introduce revolutionary Bills every Session; and, unless the Government really proposed to have a General Election before long, he would advise them not to force the pace so quickly now, but to keep some of their measures in stock. He entered a protest against the proposal, so that it should not be drawn into a precedent for future use.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, he did not agree with his hon. Friend that the Government had brought in any revolutionary measures this Session. In order to satisfy him they must bring him in far more thorough-going measures than they had up to the present done. He was in favour of an Autumn Session because, as he understood it, it was to be instead of the Summer Session. He anticipated that whenever they came to Autumn Sessions the House would rise at the latest in the beginning of July. But the right hon. Gentleman estimated that the Local Government Bill would be finished at the end of next week. Then the right hon. Gentleman suggested that the Estimates should be considered de die in diem. But how long did the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury think they would take? There were several matters in regard to Ireland which would possibly be discussed. There were several questions connected with foreign affairs as well as other matters to be considered. It was agreed on all hands that they were greatly behind with the Estimates, and he protested against this system of putting them off to the fag end of the Session, and then for the Government to come forward and say that the Votes would be taken from day to day, and that the House would go on sitting until they were passed. If the right hon. Gentleman was determined that the Local Government Bill should be passed as suggested, and that the Estimates 902 were then to be taken, he thought the House ought to be fairly told that the Government would adjourn, say, at the end of the first week in August. That was a fair time to fix. A Vote on Account could be taken for any moneys required, and then the House would take up the consideration of the Estimates in the Autumn Session. As far as they could see this Autumn Session was fixed merely in order to pass the Bill for the appointment of a Minister of Agriculture, and to do something in connection with Welsh tithes. But the right hon. Gentleman's method of dealing with the last-named subject was only interesting in the fact that it ought to be opposed. If the right hon. Gentleman were to tell the House that he would bring in a little Bill depriving the Church of England of all tithes he would sit to the end of the year in order to pass it. He told the right hon. Gentleman, with all respect, that he had bungled all through the Session. He wasted days and days on a Bill for giving a salary to the Under Secretary for Ireland; and now hon. Members were kept sitting there during August, to be dragged back again to Westminster during October. The Estimates were to be forced through the House of Commons by a series of closures, because the right hon. Gentleman, like the unwise virgin, had wasted his oil and was now coming to them, the wise virgins, in order to have his lamp replenished.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
With all respect to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), I hardly think the spirit of his remarks is calculated to assist the House in arriving at a proper appreciation of the Government's proposal. It is not in that spirit, I think, matters of Business should be discussed; nor do I concur with the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) in laying any appreciable amount of blame on Her Majesty's Ministers for the state of Public Business at the present moment. I recollect perfectly well that up to Whitsuntide and after those Holidays the state of Public Business was in an extremely favourable condition. Progress in many matters of importance had been made; Supply was less in arrear than in former Sessions; and the general concurrence of opinion on both sides of the House was to the effect that the Govern- 903 ment were certainly to be complimented either on their good fortune or their skill in the conduct of Public Business up to that time. Therefore I do not attach any blame to the Government for the embarrassing situation in which we find ourselves with regard to the Business of the House. Undoubtedly there may have been errors such as all Governments may make with respect to particular measures. I admit that it is easy for anyone to criticize the amount of time which has been devoted to the Irish Under Secretary Bill; but it is open to the Government, as well as groups of individuals who are not in the Government service, to make mistakes of that kind. I do not think any fair-minded man will question that; and I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) will at all join in the sharp and unmeasured censure of the hon. Member for Northampton against the Government. But, putting aside all this blague, we ought to try and estimate, if we can, the position of affairs as affected by the proposal of the Government. I do not gather that Her Majesty's Government have any other object in view than to suit the general convenience of the body of Members in this House so far as it may be done consistently with the duty of advancing the National Business. No Party consideration is involved in considering those questions, and I do not doubt but that the Government will welcome any suggestions which will enable the House to arrive at a unanimous conclusion as to the best course to adopt. It appears to me that in the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has sketched out there are two most important matters to consider. They are distinct from each other. The first subject is the position which the right hon. Gentleman gives respectively to the exigencies of Supply and the exigencies of legislation. I gather that he attaches greater importance to immediate progress with the exigencies of legislation than he does to immediate progress with the exigencies of Supply. This undoubtedly raises a Constitutional question of great magnitude indeed, which is well raised at this period of the year; and I would venture to enter a very strong protest—the strongest possible protest—against placing Supply 904 at such a period of the Session as this in an inferior position to any legislative measures. Never in my brief experience has the House of Commons been more interested in discussing questions of public expenditure; never have I known less Party feeling imported into those discussions; never have those discussions been more valuable. In addition to that, the House of Commons has very wisely entered upon a new mode of referring certain classes of expenditure to a careful examination by Committees upstairs. It appears to me that, according to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, all those good dispositions of the House and that work carried on by Committees upstairs would be, to a great extent, if not altogether, utterly sacrificed and abandoned. I think also that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury is unduly sanguine in supposing that the Local Government Bill could possibly be concluded in the fortnight which I think he has allotted to it. On the question of the Government of London alone, it seems to me that a fortnight would be no immoderate space of time to devote merely to that question. With regard to Supply, I know of several questions which must be raised on the Estimates—questions which must take some hours to discuss; and I venture to think that the House would be failing in its duty to the nation if it does not consider the questions connected with the Army, Navy, and also with the Civil Service. I cannot possibly imagine how this House can get through Committee of Supply, if it is to do its duty properly, under a period of three weeks at the very least. Considering that there are 150 Votes altogether to be passed for the Army, Navy, and Civil Service, I do not think such a rate of progress will be at all unduly retarded; I really think it would be rather rapid. Putting together these calculations in regard to passing the Local Government Bill through Committee, the Report stage, and the third reading, you cannot reasonably put down the time that would be required at less than four weeks. Then I estimate, without any exaggeration, that three weeks would be necessary for disposing of Supply. There is other Business to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded that must be brought 905 before Parliament before we could adjourn. He mentioned the Tithes Bill among them. That would bring us to this—that we should want nearly eight weeks. The right hon. Gentleman is, I am sure, the last person who would wish Parliament to be degraded by showing itself to the country as hurrying through its work in an unbusiness-like manner; and therefore at least eight weeks will be required before we can adjourn. That carries us beyond the end of August and brings us into September; and the right hon. Gentleman must feel that if Parliament separates in the month of September it can hardly come together again within six weeks from that time. I only put these things as I think they must appear to every practical mind. I come next to the question of an Autumn Session, which is a perfectly distinct question. I have myself repeatedly pressed on the House my views as to the expediency of a revision of our arrangements in regard to the Parliamentary Session. I have long been of opinion that we do not get through our Business creditably under the present system; but if you are going to alter the period of the Session, and to make Parliament adjourn in the Summer, say at the end of July or the beginning of August, and then meet again in the Autumn, that I think should be done after very careful consideration, and after the most elaborate Rules have been framed on the subject, if you mean to make an Autumn Session a regular Business. But if you do not make it a regular Business then I protest against an Autumn Session except for a case of great emergency. I think in the Autumn of 1882 the House was called together specially to consider its Rules; and it might be a proper use for an Autumn Session if the Government proposed to meet in the Autumn to consider the remaining portions of the Local Government Bill. Perhaps not in the lifetime of a man would there be again a Bill introduced of such magnitude and importance as the Local Government Bill; and I cannot conceive that there could be a more legitimate subject for an Autumn Session than that measure. The right hon. Gentleman might, therefore, well say that as other Business of essential importance presses he will propose to postpone the progress of this Bill to an Autumn Session, 906 when the energies of Parliament will be recruited and the opinion of the country will be more pronounced, and we can, without interruption from other Business, consider this great and most important measure. I find, however, that he proposes that the Local Government Bill shall be dealt with before Supply. To that I take strong exception. This Bill is to be passed, then Supply is to follow, Parliament is to be kept sitting till the month of September, and then an Autumn Session is to be had recourse to—for what? For essentially minor legislation projects. There are among them the Railway Rates Bill, the Employers' Liability Bill, and the Tithes Bill. These may all be important, but still they are minor measures which ought to take their chance with the ordinary Legislative Business of the year. It would be a most unfortunate precedent to have recourse to an Autumn Session, without Rules and Regulations to guide us, merely to make progress with Business of essentially minor interest. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will find, on consideration, that his proposals will commend themselves to the general sense of the House. I think that he would carry the House, or the overwhelming body of the House, with him if he would propose now to defer proceeding further with the Local Government Bill, if he would recognize—what he has every right to recognize, and what the House has a right to have recognized—that the progress which has been made with this Bill has been, considering the nature of the measure, fairly rapid, and that the discussion of it has been most creditable to the House on the whole. There is nothing to prevent the progress from being continued if the Bill is deferred till the Autumn. Then the right hon. Gentleman would be able to take up the discussion of Supply at a period when the House is disposed to discuss the Estimates in a business-like way. The procedure of the Government would in such a case be perfectly Constitutional. They could take up Supply immediately, and get through the Votes and adjourn certainly not later than the first week in August; and we could meet again at some period in October for a great purpose, as great a purpose as you could be called together for—namely, to complete the great work of constituting the Local 907 Government of the counties and rural districts of the country. That is a proposal which, I think, will commend itself not only to the common sense of the House, but of the country at large. [Murmurs.] I dare say that some hon. Gentlemen behind me—for I hear some murmurs—do not altogether like an Autumn Session, and are not particularly enamoured of the Local Government Bill. I respect their feelings, but a Local Government Bill is inevitable; and the Government are right in pinning their existence as a Ministry to the passing of a measure of this character. I am now only suggesting the course which I believe would be most convenient to the House and the country; and I earnestly entreat the Government not to consider the proposals which they have made this afternoon as final. They will bring neither convenience nor comfort nor credit to the Government, or to any individual Minister, or to the House. The House would be kept too late under these proposals to do Business at all with satisfaction to itself or the country—too late with regard to health, which is extremely valuable, not only to Members but to Ministers, and. especially to the officers of the House; and—what is much more to the purpose—too late to be able to carry out the present project of re-assembling Parliament in the Autumn. I trust that the Government will receive my remarks in the spirit in which they are made; this matter may be considered quite apart from Party views; and I think it is not an unreasonable request that I should inquire of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury—if my remarks have found support in any quarter—whether the Government would be open to reconsider the proposals they have made?
§ MR. CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM (Lanark, N.W.)
said, he would like to direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman—which he was not giving him—to the question of the unemployed. Not a word had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, in proposing an Autumn Session, as to any legislation or inquiry with regard to the distress amongst the unemployed in London. He did not think a better opportunity could have been found for the consideration of this question than an Autumn Session. Although the Government had been in 908 power for two years, not one word had been said about the poor. It was, he thought, desirable that the right hon. Gentleman, even at the last moment, should pledge himself to do something for this miserable class.
§ MR. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
said, that he presumed the Motion, which stood in the name of hon. and learned Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster), for the appointment of a new Judge, had been dropped. [Mr. W. H. SMITH signified assent.] He could not agree with the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) that the Bills which had been referred to Grand Committees were Bills of minor importance. The First Lord of the Treasury had not exaggerated the labour which had been bestowed upon those Bills; and if they were abandoned not only would that labour be thrown away, but a deathblow would be given to the system of devolution, for it would be impossible to get Members to serve on them in future. He would, therefore, like to know whether those Bills would be taken during the present Session, or would be relegated to the Autumn Session?
§ MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
said, he wished to ask, what was the intention of the Government with regard to the Limited Liability Bill? He hoped it would not be abandoned, but that the Government would persevere with it.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
Sir, according to old practice and old experience, when the House finds itself in a great difficulty in respect to the condition of Public Business, the easiest, and I might almost say the customary course, is to say it is all owing to the mismanagement of its Business by the Government. Now, I frankly own that I agree entirely with what the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) has said in that respect. I think that some of the time of the House undoubtedly has been wasted—I will not enter into particulars—on measures which they have submitted to the House through error of judgment; but I cannot say that in the main, or even in any considerable degree, our present predicament is owing to any error of that kind. I abandon the idea of charging upon the Government the 909 difficulties in which we are placed; but I am impressed by the feeling how very difficult it is when a proposition of this kind has been made by the Government, even with the best intentions, and by the most competent men, to propose Amendments to that proposition. After all, the Government are in a position which gives them a larger and truer conspectus of the position of public affairs than any of us can possibly have. I would exemplify what I have said by referring to the practical proposition advanced by the noble Lord who has discussed this subject, as we should have expected from him, with very great intelligence and acuteness. But when I look at the practical proposition of the noble Lord, I am afraid it is open to serious objections. It turns in the main upon the postponement of the remaining proceedings on the Local Government Bill to a certain period in the Autumn. But then I think I distinctly understood from the Government, and from the character of the Bill itself, that it is necessary that the measure should be dealt with at once, in order that it may be passed through the House in sufficient time to enable the authorities concerned to take the measures required for bringing it into operation. If that is so, I am afraid that it is fatal to the proposal made by the noble Lord. The truth is that, with all the acute criticism made upon the present state of things, I am tempted to make this observation. We are dealing all along with symptoms, and not with the disease. The disease, in my opinion, lies here—that we are an overcharged and overworked House of Parliament. It would be invidious and out-of-place in me to refer to what I believe to be the best of all measures for relieving the House, because I know that at present the majority of the House in that important and vital respect has no desire to be relieved, and protests vehemently against being relieved. It is for secondary means and propositions to really prevent a recurrence of these difficulties. For example, it may be said that we ought to meet the difficulty by sitting over a longer portion of the year, and by the regular adoption of something in the nature of Autumn Sessions. My belief is that, taking circumstances in the mass, this House does as much work from year to year, on the average, as it is possible for a Legislative 910 Assembly to do. And as regards Autumn Sessions in particular, I defy any Gentleman holding Offices as Ministers of the Crown to perform their duties adequately to the country in the preparation of the Legislative Business for this House, unless they have Vacations of very considerable length, undisturbed by Parliamentary proceedings, quite apart from the time which is actually necessary for mere physical recreation. We must be content at present to deal with this question by secondary means; and I believe the wisest course for the House it to accept the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope he will not hold himself too strictly bound to the letter of what he has said. All that is necessary is that we should understand in perfect good faith, and in the spirit of one who has no intention whatever of using it for partial, or what is commonly known as Party purposes. The position is one of extreme difficulty, and I think we should allow a reasonable latitude to the Government and to the right hon. Gentleman in the construction of the pledges which he has given to the House, If I saw my way to make any proposal by which the plan of the Government could be practically improved to any serious extent, I should not hesitate to submit it to the House. I do not at all attempt to extenuate what has been said with regard to the disadvantages in which we are placed. I am sure that the House cannot too seriously apply its mind to the comprehensive consideration of these disadvantages. I think, so far as methods of compulsion are concerned, we have reached very nearly the ne plus ultra of what the nature of our Constitution as a Legislative Assembly would bear. But after all that is gained by the Rules—and I admit that no inconsiderable improvement has been achieved—the problem remains before us in undiminished, perhaps even in growing and still more formidable, dimensions. I have one request to make, and it is only a moderate one. I earnestly trust—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us some satisfaction upon the subject before we part—that in the particular difficulty in which we are placed, we may understand that the time of the House, exhausted as we are and shall be, is not to be given up, either before or after the Adjournment, to the discussion of proposals for the reform 911 of another branch of the Legislature. I am not going to commit myself, or to strike upon any stumbling block in point of form. I do not refer to anything that has taken place "elsewhere," or to any Bill that may be brought from "another place." I simply express, and I unconditionally express, this hope, this expectation, I would even say this request, that we may be assured that we shall not be called upon to grapple with a subject which must either be reduced to dimensions unnaturally small so as to become frivolous in its nature or character, or which, if it should be presented to us, its natural dimensions would require the fresh, unbroken, or, to adopt the favourable illustration of the hon. Member for Northampton, the "virgin energies of the House." I make the request with greater confidence, because I do not think I am asking the Government to make any very serious sacrifice in consenting to give me satisfaction on that point. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech did not name the financial measure which must be considered as twin or sister measure to the Local Government Bill; but I take it for granted that that subject will have to be disposed of, and as having been, by implication, included in his statement. [Mr. GOSCHEN assented.] If that is so, and subject to the single reservation I have made, I, for my part, do not deny that there is plenty of room for criticism; and believing that it falls not so much upon the head of the Government as upon the condition of affairs and the general relation of the House to the enormous mass of Business which it is called upon to discharge, I am not able to make any practical suggestion to relieve us from the serious difficulties in which we are placed. I hope that the Government and the Members of the House generally will take to heart this great question about the evident disproportion that now exists between the calls on the House and the obligations of the House and its capacity for performing them; and I cannot but think that the time will come when a satisfactory answer and a solution of the problem that has so long vexed us will be found.
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
said, he regarded an Autumn Session as an unmixed evil. A reasonable prolongation of the Session would be far preferable. If by any process 912 they could avoid an Autumn Session, it would, in his opinion, be of general advantage to all concerned.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
Sir, I think it is only respectful to the House that I should at once reply to the observations of my noble Friend behind me and those which have been made by the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian. I can assure my noble Friend that the considerations which he has discussed have been most carefully weighed by Her Majesty's Government. They were not insensible of the very serious importance of pressing forward Supply; but when they came to weigh the relative importance of making progress with the Local Government Bill in Committee, they considered it absolutely essential to proceed with that stage now and complete it with as little interruption as possible, having regard to the fact that an interval must elapse between the Committee and the Report, during which hon. Gentlemen will have the right of considering whether further amendment is necessary, and also having regard to the fact that if this measure is to come into operation in 1889 it must be passed before the end of September. My noble Friend may think me too sanguine, but I entertain the hope that the House at large has already expressed its opinion on the principles contained in the Bill and a desire to see it passed, and from all I have heard with regard to the proposals affecting London, I have every reason to hope they will be received with favour, and that a very prolonged discussion on them will not be necessary. With regard to the assurance which was asked of me by the right hon. Gentleman opposite as to the measure which is in a certain stage in "another place," the request which he made to me was a very reasonable and a very moderate request, and, looking at all the circumstances of the case, I cannot have the slightest hesitation in giving him the assurance which he desires, that no attempt should be made in the course of this year to ask this House to consider such a measure as the right hon. Gentleman referred to. I make this concession—if the right hon. Gentleman thinks it a concession—with the most perfect readiness, and I fully admit that the right hon. Gentleman has met the proposal of the Government in a most considerate manner which deserves the fullest acknowledgment of 913 the Government. My hon. Friend behind me (Sir Richard Paget) has referred to the inconvenience which an Autumn Session inflicts upon hon. Members of this House. I am well aware of the extreme inconvenience which such a Session involves upon hon. Members. I am aware that when hon. Members have separated, they have other duties to discharge in the country, and that it is a very great sacrifice of time to bring them back to this House. But the right hon. Gentleman opposite is only too accurate in his description of the still greater pressure on those upon whom the cares of Government rest, if they have imposed upon them an Autumn Session. For myself, I can only say I look forward to it with very considerable apprehension and regret, and I am not without hope that the rapidity with which the House may deal with the Business before it may render an Autumn Session unnecessary. I agree, however, with my noble Friend the Member for South Paddington that Supply requires careful consideration, and that a proper period should be allowed for that purpose, and I should be sorry if anything I have said, or any influence I have exercised, were construed as an attempt to deprive the House of an opportunity for that proper consideration which is one of its first duties. It is the intention of the Government to ask the House to consider the Bills which have passed through the Standing Committees, either in this or an adjourned Sitting. My noble Friend behind me has referred to those Bills as of small importance.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
Of minor importance. But although they are of minor importance compared with the Local Government Bill, still they are of so much importance that I should deeply regret, and I am sure the House would regret, that the labour which has been bestowed upon them should be lost altogether, and that we should be compelled to take up those measures again another Session. With reference to the difficulties under which the House labours in the discharge of its duties, I will not follow the right hon. Gentleman as to the causes which operate in that direction; but some regard must be had to the somewhat peculiar circumstances of this Session. It is admitted that the 914 Local Government Bill is of such magnitude and intricacy that a very large amount of time must be devoted to its consideration. We hope it will not be necessary to introduce Local Government Bills every Session, and that when we arrive at the next Session the ordinary period of the Session will be sufficient for the ordinary duties. Whether that be so or not, we have to deal with the present necessity, and without in the slightest degree pledging the House to the course I have recommended as probably necessary, I hope the House will agree with the Resolution I have moved, reserving full discretion and full control over their Business at a future day.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
Sir, the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian has concurred with the Government in the necessity for proceeding to its conclusion, so far as is necessary with the Local Government Bill immediately, upon the ground that it is necessary that the Bill should pass before a certain date, and because Gentlemen who sit on this side of the House are as anxious—perhaps more anxious, indeed—as hon. Gentlemen opposite that it should so pass. But I hope, however, the right hon. Gentleman will not endeavour now to bind the House to what may happen a few years hence. There has been no disposition to unduly protract the discussion on the Local Government Bill, and I think the right hon. Gentleman is sanguine in his estimate of the time when the Bill will get through. If that should be the case, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not endeavour now finally to pledge the House as to what is to happen when he has dealt with the Local Government Bill. I agree with the noble Lord that if we are to have an Autumn Session we ought to have a short Session now, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not bind the House to any course of proceeding which will compel the House to sit for any time like that to which the noble Lord alluded. The right hon. Gentleman has no desire to unduly curtail the discussion of the Local Government Bill, or that the Estimates should be stamped. I have long held the opinion that the Estimates should be discussed by the Committee upstairs. That was approved by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale, 915 and opposed by the noble Lord the Member for Paddington.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I hope the Government will reconsider that matter. I only rose to say I hope that all we may consider concluded at present is that we are to go on with all due despatch with the Local Government Bill, and that if the Government contemplate an Autumn Session, they will not endeavour to keep the House sitting beyond the first week in August. We cannot dispose of all the Business of which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken during that time. Let us understand that if it is not disposed of by the first week in August it should remain until the Autumn Session. I think that is the general opinion of the House.—[Hear, hear!" and "No, no!"]—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree to what is the general opinion of the House.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)
said, they were all anxious on one point—how long they were to be kept there? What they had a right to ask of the Leader of the House was whether it was his intention to adjourn in the first week of August? If he meant to take an Autumn Session, or as soon after as possible, and which he hoped would not be necessary; but should it unfortunately be necessary, then he thought the remainder of Supply might be taken in that Session.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, he hoped something would be said as to the subject referred to in the speech of the hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire. He would also like to know when it was proposed to take the Indian Budget, and whether the Motion to give the exclusive time of the House referred to the Autumn Session also?
§ MR. W. P. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.)
asked whether anything would be done as to the Land Purchase Commission?
§ MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
said, that there was scarcely one measure which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had mentioned that had either a past or a prospective reference to Scotland. He wished to ask what course the Government intended to take with regard to a measure which had been occupying the attention of a Committee of that House during 916 the greater part of the Session—the Burgh Police (Scotland) Bill?
§ MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)
said, that if the Van and Wheel Tax proposal was persisted in, it would occupy much time; and he wished to know whether it was intended to be proceeded with before the Adjournment?
§ MR. SCHWANN (Manchester, N.)
said, he quite agreed with what had been said by hon. Members about the Van and Wheel Tax. The Bill had done great mischief, and the feeling against it was as strong as ever. The present indecision and uncertainty on the part of the Government were seriously affecting the van and cart industry in the North of England, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was bound to give a decided answer as to whether he was going to press on the matter.
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would give an answer to the question of the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) whether, if they were to have an Autumn Session, the Government would undertake that they should rise in the first week of August? [Cheers.] He thought those general cheers would not be lost on the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman would answer in the affirmative, all his present difficulties would for the moment be at an end. The House would settle down to work, and get through as much Business as possible in the four weeks before them.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he was very sensible of the necessity of rising as early as possible if they were to have an Autumn Session; but he put it to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, with his great experience, whether it would be possible for any Minister to give an undertaking that the House should rise at a given date with such a Bill as the Local Government Bill under consideration, and a large amount of Supply still to be disposed of? He could have cheered the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), and his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) as well as anyone in the House, for if there was one man in the House who desired rest it was he who now addressed them; but he would be wanting in frankness as well as in com- 917 mon sense if he stated a period at which the House should rise. But he had been plain and frank with the House. He might have made the Motion now before the House without showing his whole hand. He might simply have relied on the condition of Public Business. He hoped earnestly that the House would assist the Government to obtain the early holiday which they all desired; but he was sure the right hon. Gentleman opposite could not recommend, on Constitutional grounds, that Supply should be thrown over till November. The suggestion was repugnant to their Constitutional control over the expenditure of the country. He had already indicated that the Van and Wheel Tax would be proceeded with; and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would ask for the decision of the House before the Adjournment. With respect to the question of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Esslemont), he was aware that a large Committee upstairs—almost as large as a Grand Committee—had been considering the Burgh Police (Scotland) Bill, and he hoped the House would be able to dispose of that measure. It had been so carefully considered in Committee that it ought not to occupy any very large amount of time in the House. Of course, it was intended that the whole of the Autumn Session should be devoted to Government Business. It would be playing with the House to make any other arrangement. As to Land Purchase, that would, he hoped, be dealt with in the Autumn. The Government intended to put the Irish Land Commission Act into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill; and the Indian Budget would certainly be taken before the Adjournment. In reply to the Question which had been asked with respect to the unemployed, he admitted that that was a most important question; but it was useless to discuss it unless the Government had some serious measures to submit to Parliament on the subject, and they were not in a position to make such proposals.
§ SIR JOHN R. MOWBRAY (Oxford University)
said, he did not desire to offer any opposition to the proposal of the Government, but wished the House to consider how dangerous a precedent and how large a departure it was from the traditions of the House to have an 918 Autumn Session, not from extraordinary circumstances, but to finish the ordinary work of the Session. The tradition of the House was to begin its work at the beginning of February and to finish it at least by the end of August. But there had been nothing exceptional in the present Session. On all previous occasions of an Autumn Session something exceptional had occurred. In 1854 there was the Crimean War; in 1857 the suspension of the Bank Charter Act; in 1867 the Abyssinian War; and in 1882 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian called the House together in October for the consideration of Rules of Procedure, which had been interrupted by the Coercion Act, which it was necessary to introduce in consequence of the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish. In the present instance he entirely failed to see such exceptional circumstances, notwithstanding the fact that the Local Government Bill was a large measure; and while, as he had said, he should withhold actual opposition, he desired to enter his protest against the course the Government had thought fit to adopt being made an incident of ordinary Parliamentary life. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian that if they were to have good legislation Ministers required time. He strongly endorsed, therefore, the suggestion of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Sussex, that if they were to meet again in November they could adjourn early in August.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
said, he hoped that hon. Members for London would not be charged with obstruction if they claimed adequate time for the discussion of the London Clauses of the Local Government Bill. He did not think those clauses would take a whole fortnight.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
was understood to say that the reason he had objected to the Report of Supply being taken after 12 o'clock was because discussion on certain Votes had been stopped by the closure.
§ MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)
said, he wished to ask whether the House was to understand that the only Scottish measures to be proceeded with were the Burgh Police Bill and the Universities Bill? After Whitsuntide the Government had under consideration 919 several important Bills relating to Scotland which they intended to introduce. They had not yet seen any of these measures, and if they were not to be proceeded with very great disappointment would be felt. He hoped that if the Bills to which he referred were not to be pressed forward this Session they would at least be produced.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, the Bail (Scotland) Bill was one which he hoped would be proceeded with. It had been reported from a Standing Committee, and it came within the category of the Bills which ought not to be dropped. With regard to the other Scottish measures, they had been prepared; but he did not think it would tend to the advancement of Public Business to introduce them. He had hoped to be able to discuss the Colonial Office Vote tonight; but he was informed by the Authorities at the Table that that could not be done, as private Members' Motions must on that occasion be taken. He would, however, take the earliest opportunity of bringing the Vote before the House. He was unable to enter into any absolute engagement to dispose of the Local Government Bill before Supply was taken. That must depend upon the position in which the Government found themselves.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
asked leave to withdraw his Amendment, as he had attained the object with which he moved it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question put.
Ordered, That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business, whether Orders of the Day, or Notices of Motion, have precedence on Tuesday and Wednesday; that Standing Order 11, relating to the Committee of Supply, or Ways and Means on Friday, be suspended; and that Standing Order 56, relating to Mr. Speaker leaving the Chair without putting any Question on going into Committee of Supply on Monday and Thursday, be extended to the other days of the week.
That Reports of Supply and Ways and Means may be taken after Midnight (and half-past Five on Wednesday), though opposed, and that the Proceedings thereon be not interrupted, either at Midnight or One o'clock (or on Wed-
nesday at Six), but after such Reports have been disposed of no Opposed Business shall be taken.