§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)
Perhaps I may be allowed to take this opportunity of referring to a question which was addressed to me by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) with regard to the course of Business. A few days ago I entertained the hope, which I believe the House generally entertained, that it might have been possible to abstain from asking the House to adjourn to the autumn. But, Sir, I am obliged to come to the conclusion that 556 the state of Business will not permit us to entertain that hope any longer, and we must ask the assistance of the House, at an adjourned Sitting in the autumn, to dispose of Votes in Supply, which, I am afraid, must remain undisposed of in the course of the present Sittings of the House. I have endeavoured, as far as I can, to ascertain the views of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and I have come to the conclusion that it would be exceedingly inconvenient to them, and not an advantage to the Public Service, that we should ask the House to continue its Sittings through the month of August, and probably far into September, in order to dispose of the remaining Business which must be disposed of before the House can be prorogued. Although I do deeply regret the necessity we are under of postponing the consideration of Supply to so late a period of the year—and I hope it will be the last time in the history of Parliament in which it will be necessary to do it—still, I think the peculiar circumstances of the present case warrant the course which I am now about to recommend to the House. I have stated that it appears to me to be absolutely essential that the Bills which have passed through Grand Committees should be disposed of before the House adjourns; and in making that statement I believe I have the unanimous support of Members on both sides of the House. The work of the Standing Committees has been of a most satisfactory character, and it would be a great misfortune if any difficulty or delay occurred in giving full effect to it. In these circumstances, we shall ask the House to proceed with the Bills which have passed through the Grand Committees before the adjournment. We shall ask the House to dispose of the Local Government Bill before the adjournment. I trust I may be permitted to express the hope that that Bill may be disposed of in the course of to-morrow's Sitting, and in order to facilitate that result I shall propose to move the suspension of the 12 o'clock Rule, although I hope it may be possible to conclude the consideration of the Bill, and to read it a third time before 12 o'clock to-morrow night. The House will see that if there is to be an early adjournment, it is absolutely necessary that that Bill should go soon to 557 "another place," so that we may receive it back again to consider any Amendments that may be made there. I propose to proceed with the consideration of the Members of Parliament Commission Bill in Committee on Monday night, and if it is not disposed of on Monday, to take it again on Tuesday. I hope that the two Sittings may be more than sufficient to dispose of that stage of the Bill. There remains the Standing Committee Bills—the Employers' Liability Bill, the County Court Consolidation Bill, and the Mortmain Bill; and I should hope that they may be disposed of at one Sitting. We shall have to ask for Votes on Account of the Civil Service and the Army and Navy Estimates. There will remain for second reading during the Sitting the Universities (Scotland) Bill, and there are two or three other measures which have passed through Committee or through Standing Committees with regard to which I hope to make arrangements satisfactory to Members from Scotland, so that they may have a day for them. There are also measures relating to Imperial Defence, Excise Duties, and the collection of tithes, which I must ask the House to consider before the adjournment. We must also set apart a day for the consideration of the Indian Budget. There is also one other measure which is involved in the Local Government Bill, and to which consideration must be given—that is the Bill allocating the portion of the Probate Duty which is appropriated in aid of local finance; and it is only right that the House should be made fully acquainted with the proposals of the Government, more especially with regard to Scotland and Ireland, before the adjournment. I trust that, with the assistance of the House, we may be enabled to arrive at a comparatively early adjournment, so that we may obtain the rest which we shall require previous to the Autumn Session, to which it is my duty, with very great regret, to invite the House. There is one omission I have made, and that is with regard to my engagement with the hon. Member for Shields (Mr. J. C. Stevenson). I trust before the adjournment I may be enabled to arrange that one of the other measures of which I have spoken may be taken at a Morning Sitting, and that the Evening Sitting 558 may be appropriated to the Bill of the hon. Member on the subject of Sunday Closing.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
asked what the intention of the right hon. Gentleman was with reference to the Oaths Bill, which stood for third reading?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
hoped that the hon. Member would have the opportunity which he desired to move the third reading of this Bill. In his statement he had not, of course, mentioned every measure of the second class which might or must be passed. For example, he had not mentioned the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, the Public Works Loans Bill, or the Metropolitan Board of Works Money Bill. These measures, which involved no great principle, and were usually passed without opposition, would have to be taken.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH
said, that, under the New Rules, it would be impossible to raise a discussion on the Indian Budget on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair. He regretted this because hitherto the Motion had afforded the chief opportunity which the House had enjoyed of drawing attention to Indian grievances. He wished to know whether this effect of the New Rules was intended by the Government, or whether it was accidental; and, in the latter case, whether the Government could meet the difficulty?
§ MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)
asked if they were to understand that it was the intention of the Government to take the second reading of the Universities (Scotland) Bill before the adjournment, and then postpone the Committee stage till the autumn; and also whether a Bill would be introduced during the present Session dealing with the allocation of the Probate Duty in Scotland? He pointed out that, according to the scheme of Business laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, the second reading of the Universities (Scotland) Bill would be put off till the last days of the present Session. He also wished to know when the Autumn Sitting would begin?
§ MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham, W.)
wished to know when the Employers Liability Bill would be taken, and whether, when it was taken, it would be set down as to the first Order? He hoped it would not be fixed for a Wednesday.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
said, he would remind the First Lord of the Treasury that there were two Tithes Bills before the House. He did not suppose the right hon. Gentleman proposed to take what he might call the principal measure, as he probably would be aware that it was a very much disputed Bill, and would not fail to occupy a considerable amount of time.
§ MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)
asked, whether there was any precedent for a Finance Minister pressing forward, at so late a period of the Session, so important a question as the proposal to tax vans and wheels?
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
asked, whether, taking into consideration the extreme length of the legislative programme which the First Lord of the Treasury had indicated, that probably the Session would be carried on to the end of August; and, looking also to the fact that the Universities (Scotland) Bill must be the subject of very prolonged discussion and opposition, he would consider the propriety of postponing the Universities (Scotland) Bill until the Autumn Session?
§ MR. DILLWYN (Swansea, Town)
wished to know when the National Defences Bill would be taken; and if a day could not now be named, whether ample Notice would be given of the intention of the Government to bring it forward.
§ MR. FIRTH (Dundee)
said, that the Board of Works Money Bill ought rightly to have been in the hands of Members on June 1. When would it be introduced?
§ MR. CRAIG SELLAR (Lanarkshire, Partick)
asked what the right hon. Gentleman intended to do with the Merchant Shipping Bill, which had not yet come before the Grand Committee? It would give rise to a good deal of discussion, and he wanted to know whether it was to be proceeded with?
§ MR. LEA (Londonderry, S.)
said, the First Lord of the Treasury had said nothing about the three Irish Drainage Bills, and he wished to know if it was the intention of the Government to pass these Bills, and when the Select Committee would sit to which it was intended to refer the Bill? Also, would Committees be expected to sit generally in the Autumn Session? He wished to know now whether it was the intention of the Government to put a clause in the Ex- 560 piring Laws Continuance Bill continuing the powers of the Land Commission in Ireland; and whether it would be passed before the powers of the Land Commission expired?
§ MR. WALLACE (Edinburgh, E.)
, in support of the views of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter), asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would not postpone the consideration of the Universities (Scotland) Bill, in view of the prolonged discussion to which it would give rise, till the Autumn Sitting, or give a Saturday Sitting for its consideration?
§ MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)
said, as the Trustee Bill had already passed the Grand Committee, he hoped it would be passed. With regard to Scottish Business, he hoped a day would be named for the consideration or allocation of the Probate Duty, as an important discussion might take place.
MR. W. P. SINCLAIR&c.) (Falkirk,
asked whether the Scotch Burgh and Police Bill would be proceeded with, and whether the right hon. Gentleman would not reconsider his decision with reference to the Sunday Closing Bill, and appoint a day for its discussion in the autumn instead of now? The reason for his request was that many Members had paired for the Session without reference to this Bill, and that it would be difficult to secure a full and fair discussion if the debate were taken before the Adjournment.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)
said, he was desirous of pressing the claims of one Bill, if it was to be made the subject of legislation during the present Sitting of the House—the Wheel Tax Bill. He knew how reluctantly the Government yielded to the postponement of the Votes in Supply; but while the general opinion was that Supply should, if possible, be taken at an early period, and with a full attendance of Members, he was sure it would be felt that there was one class of subject with respect to which those considerations applied with still greater force—namely, Bills dealing with taxation. He thought it would be a matter entirely without precedent—in his recollection at least—if the consideration of a measure such as the Wheel Tax Bill were postponed to the dregs of the Session, at a time when there would be a very limited number of Members in attendance. He trusted, therefore, that 561 in the course of next week a vote would be come to on the subject of the Wheel Tax.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
, replying first to the hon. Baronet, said, that he could not pledge himself to dates at that moment. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Buchanan) expressed a very strong desire that the University (Scotland) Bill should not be proceeded with this Session. He had endeavoured as far as he could to gather the opinions of the Members for Scotland, and he found that the preponderance of opinion was strongly in favour of the Bill being read a second time, if possible, during the course of the present Sitting. He proposed, therefore, to arrange for a day for Scotch Business, and the Universities Bill would be put down; and if hon. Members would make that day do also for the Burgh Police and Health Bill and the Bail Bill, it would be agreeable to the views of a large number of Gentlemen from that portion of the Kingdom. [An hon. MEMBER: What date?] He had already said it was impossible to indicate a day precisely. He would arrange at the earliest possible moment, or as soon as they had made progress in other Business. He might mention that they were now at the 26th July, and having regard to the course of Public Business during the last year he did not think an early day in August would be a late day for the disposal of this question. With regard to the National Defence Bill, it would not be taken that evening; but he hoped that, as the House had gone into Committee on that Bill, there would not be much delay in passing it. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Firth) asked as to the Board of Works Bill. The Government were not under any obligation to produce it on the 1st of June. It included the whole of the financial provisions for works to be executed in London during the course of the coming year for which powers had been obtained, and none of the works could be executed unless this particular Bill passed this Session. Then, the House would remember that the 562 powers of the Board of Works passed from them under the Local Government Bill, so that, unless this particular Bill passed, the new County Councils would not have any financial power to carry out the necessary works for the Metropolis. The Merchant Shipping Bill was not one of the measures which the Government considered it necessary to proceed with during the present Sittings. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lea) had asked a Question with regard to the Drainage Bills. They were not in that category which would require the Government to press them upon the consideration of the House if hon. Members representing Irish constituencies objected. The Government left those Bills entirely in the hands of those hon. Members, and if they objected the Government would not press them. [Mr. SEXTON: Let us debate them.] With regard to the Committees in the Autumn Session, he should hope there would not be many Committees sitting during the course of that Session; but there was one Committee which he thought they should have to ask the House to appoint, and that was a Committee to inquire into the question of emigration. The Government had prepared proposals with regard to emigration affecting certain districts in Scotland, and they thought the House should be in possession of fuller information than it had at present with regard to the plan, and the scheme, and the proposed operation of the system of emigration which had been adopted. They would probably, therefore, in the very early days of the Autumn Session, ask the Home to appoint a Committee on that subject. The Expiring Laws Continuance Bill would contain a clause continuing the Land Commission in Ireland, and it would be passed before the existing powers of the Commission expired. He was asked as to the Official Trustee Bill. That was not a Government measure, and he could not hold out any hopes that the Government would ask the House to sit longer than would otherwise be necessary in order to pass it. As to the Sunday Closing Bill, he considered he was under an obligation to the hon. Member for South Shields to find him an opportunity in the course of the present Sitting for its discussion; but if equally agreeable to him that the consideration of the question be post- 563 poned until the Autumn Session, he should not be unwilling to meet his wishes. The Burgh Police and Health (Scotland) Bill, he hoped, was one which would be accepted by Scottish Members without much further consideration. It had been, he believed, most exhaustively dealt with by a Select Committee, and it came among the class of measures which, having been so carefully examined, it would be a misfortune if it were not to be passed in the present Session.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he was not able to say when he would put the Employers' Liability Bill on the Paper; but not under any circumstances could he undertake that it should be the first Order of the Day, because it was intended to take the County Courts Bill on the same day, and as that was not expected to occupy any very considerable time it would be taken first and the Employers' Liability Bill afterwards.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
With regard to the Tithes Bill, he would give information as to the particular Bill they would ask the House to deal with to-morrow. It was certainly the intention of the Government to deal with the Wheel Tax—the Excise Duties Bill, as they preferred to call it—in these Sittings, and they would put it down in the course of next week. He mentioned this with some reserve, because it might be necessary to take a Vote on Account next week, and therefore the time of the House might be taken up with that; but he hoped that on Thursday next they might be able to take it. As to the New Rule, it was not intended that the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) should be shut out from his opportunity of raising the Motion in the manner indicated. He would consider whether any method could be adopted without disturbing the Rules of the House.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he had not referred to the Official Trustee Bill, but to the General Trustee Bill, which contained a most important provision as to extending the power of investment by trustees. An undertaking had been given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it would be proceeded with, 564 and he (Mr. Anderson) earnestly hoped it would be allowed to go on.
§ MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman had not told the House when it was proposed they should adjourn, or when they should re-assemble in the autumn.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he had indicated—he hoped with as much consideration as he could for the feelings and the necessities of the case—to hon. Gentlemen the measures which it appeared to him it was absolutely necessary the House should take before it adjourned. He thought they might get through the work he had indicated by the end of the second week in August. He hoped they might be able to do so. That would be the 11th of August; but hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who had experience of Business in the House would not think he was doing his duty by the House or Public Business if he gave an undertaking that the House would rise on a particular day when there was Public Business which must be got through before the adjournment took place. With regard to the meeting in the autumn, he hoped it would not be necessary for the House to come together before the first week in November.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
said, that the First Lord of the Treasury was evidently under a misapprehension with regard to the Scotch Bills. He had consulted with several Scotch Members, and he believed that while they were not very desirous that the Universities (Scotland) Bill should be taken until the Autumn Session there was a very general feeling that the Burgh Police and Health Bill should be taken at the earliest opportunity.
MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
asked whether the programme submitted by the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the present Sitting would be subject to any revision?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, that, as far as he could see, it would be the duty of the House to sit until the whole of the programme he had given was got through.
§ MR. J. C. STEVENSON (South Shields)
said, he was quite willing to accept a suitable day in the Autumn Session for the discussion of the Sunday Closing Bill.
§ LORD CHARLES BERESFORD (Marylebone, E.)
asked if the Navy Estimates would be discussed on the Vote on Account?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, that, of course, it would be open to the Committee to have such a discussion on the Vote on Account; but he would appeal to his noble Friend to say whether he wanted the same discussion twice over? Every one of the Votes would come on for discussion at the Autumn Sitting?
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
said, he had not understood that there was to be a Vote on Account for the Army and Navy, but only for the Civil Service Estimates.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he would wish to consult the convenience of hon. Members on that point. No Vote on Account of the Army and Navy would be taken if it were not desired; it was a most unusual course, and only adopted, he believed, when a Dissolution took place. He might at once say that if there was a disposition to debate the Vote on Account, then he would prefer to take a separate Vote, because it would be obviously inconvenient that there should be two debates on the same question.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, a Bill to continue the Act would be proceeded with during the present Sitting.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
asked whether, considering a Vote on Account for the Army and Navy was to be taken for the purpose of enabling hon. Members to have a reasonable holiday before the Autumn Session, the right hon. Gentleman would not reconsider his programme so as to give a reasonable prospect of its being discharged before the autumn was over; whether he had considered that the business would be better done when hon. Members came back refreshed by a reasonable holiday, and that it was not in any sense a dereliction or abandonment of public duty to postpone Bills which could be passed equally well in the first week of November as in the third or—he was afraid it might be—the fourth week in August? He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would in the course of the next day or two ascertain the sentiments of hon. Members and put 566 a considerable amount of his programme into the later Sitting.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
said, he had already taken the usual steps to arrive at that information and to meet the views conveyed to him, not only from Friends behind, but from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. He had gone as far as he could to meet their wishes, and he trusted the arrangement would be accepted by the House, and that the House would give them assistance in carrying it into effect.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)
asked his right hon. Friend whether he intended to depart from the principle which had been so steadily laid down for many years, that the Votes for the Army and Navy should be taken each Vote separately, and that no Vote on Account should be taken for either the Army or Navy?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I thought I had given information to the House and to my hon. and gallant Friend with regard to this question. If the House prefers that the Votes for the Army and Navy that will carry us on to the month of November should be taken subsequently, I am willing to put them down. But I understood that there was a desire on the part of hon. Members on both sides to discuss on the Votes in Committee of Supply the questions raised in the Committees on the Army and Navy Estimates, and I thought I was justified in departing from precedent in order to give hon. Members the opportunity they desire. If, however, that desire does not exist in any considerable degree on both sides, I shall be only too glad to take substantive Votes that will carry us on to November. I think, on the whole, it will be best to meet the wishes of the House, even if in opposition to the policy of the Government, rather than to force a particular course, even if justified by precedent.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
As the right hon. Gentleman has referred to the state of opinion on this side of the House with regard to Votes on Account and substantive Votes in Committee, I wish to state, as my own opinion, that I should certainly very much lean to the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will, if possible, adhere to the established practice and take whatever he requires as substantive Votes.