HC Deb 26 June 1888 vol 327 cc1419-26

(Mr. Courtney, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Jackson.)


Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Jackson.)

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

said although the hour was late, he certainly thought the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, who invariably made a courteous response to any request addressed to him, should offer some explanation of the Bill and why the country had to pay this amount of money. The right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the arrangement of Government Business would do wisely if he brought on these Money Bills at a time when some discussion would be possible for the public benefit, and not after a tedious sitting and a succession of long speeches to which Members of the Government had largely contributed. It was not becoming that large sums of money should be voted away and not a word said as to why they were granted. Let right hon. Gentlemen, who were public servants, explain to the public why they asked for the money; and if any points required discussion let them be debated, seeing that the suspension of the Rule allowed the sitting to be prolonged ad infinitum, though, for his own part, he was averse to a sitting being prolonged for the purpose of forcing through such a measure. He added one more to the many protests he had made against these Bills being taken at an hour when many hon. Members interested were absent, having had no intimation that such Business would be brought on. When there was such an outcry against the waste of public money, it was more than ever the duty of hon. Members to discuss these financial items; but the Government took upon themselves time after time to endeavour to sneak through some measure of the kind, always ready with the excuse that, like the baby in the Midshipman Easy story, "it was such a little one." But by a little at a time they managed to get through a great deal of money, and speaking in all solemn earnestness, and certain that many Members shared his view, he declared it highly improper to pass important Money Bills at that late hour without some protest against such discreditable manœuvres on the part of Her Majesty's Government.


, said, the hon. Member was a little hard upon him.


No; never hard on you.


said, it would be very much more to his satisfaction if he were able to bring on these Bills earlier. But the hon. Member was under some misapprehension, this was no question of proposing a Vote of money; the Bill merely gave effect to a Vote the House had already passed. The House had voted the money in Committee of Ways and Means, and in accordance with the Resolution this Bill was introduced. Therefore, he hoped the doubts of the hon. Member would be dispelled, and he might rest assured that whenever an opportunity offered of bringing on these Bills earlier it should be taken advantage of.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

said, the practice of setting down Government Orders on a private Members' day was quite an innovation. To the Bill in its present stage he had no objection, and he was quite sure his hon. Friend would withdraw his opposition, but a protest against this insidious practice of the Government was not out of place. Already the Government had acquired a large proportion of the time usually allotted to private Members, and were about to ask for more; but not content with their large powers, they set down these Bills on Tuesday. On such a practice the House should look with great jealousy, and hon. Members should preserve to themselves such shreds of the public time as they yet retained. He took the opportunity of acknowledging the correction of Mr. Speaker on the point of Order he raised earlier.


, said, the rule by which these Bills were taken at any hour of the night originated in 1870, and under an authority that hon. Members opposite should respect—that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone).

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

said, a word of protest was due from an English Member, for it would not be quite seemly to leave a protest of this kind—first, against the impropriety of taking Money Bills at so late an hour, and, secondly, against the monopoly of private Members' time by the Government—entirely in the hands of hon. Friends from Ireland. He only now wished to emphasize the protest he and others had made on previous occasions, that it might not be said they had less regard for the interests of the country than hon. Gentlemen who came from the other side of the Channel. As to the usual tu quoque of the worthy alderman, it mattered not a straw whether it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, or any one else, who in 1870 laid down any Rule of the kind. Many things had happened since then, ideas had changed, and Members of the advanced Democratic Party said, no matter who passed the Rule, it was a monstrous injustice to the people and a scandal to the House that public money should be voted at such an hour.

SIR JOHN SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)

said, he hoped the hon. Member would not withdraw his opposition. It was a growing habit of Her Majesty's Government to ask for a Vote of many millions on account, promising Members that there should be opportunity for full discussion when the Votes came on. But what did this amount to? The other night afforded an example. The right hon. Gentleman the First lord of the Treasury (Mr. W. H. Smith) interrupted a debate of great interest, after it had proceeded for an hour and a-half, by moving the closure. Then the House was asked to pass the stages of the Bill at any hour quite as a matter of form. He hoped the protest would be sufficient to induce the Government to postpone the Bill to a Government day.


said, the Bill provided for the advance of some £5.500,000 sterling for Consolidated Fund purposes, and it also gave the Government power of borrowing that amount. But the limit of interest to which the Government was tied was 5 per cent. Now, inasmuch as the Government had been pluming itself on the ability to borrow at less than 3 per cent, and had converted 3 per Cents into 2¾ per Cent Consols, it struck one at first sight, in the absence of any explanation, that it was rather a strange thing that for this comparatively small sum the Government should take power to pay at the rate of 5 per cent on advances in connection with this particular Bill. Could the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury ex plain that apparent anomaly?


said, it was only with the indulgence of the House he could speak again. No change, so far as the Bill was concerned, was made as compared with its predecessors, and, as formerly, it included the power of borrowing money if necessary; and upon the possibility of borrowing being necessary, it was always usual to insert the maximum rate of interest, 5 per cent. But, as the hon. Member know, the Government could borrow money at much less than that rate; the last Treasury Bills, he believed, were granted at a trifle over 1 per cent.


Then, why insert 5?


said, it was a purely arbitrary figure inserted, beyond which the Treasury might not go; but there was not the least intention of giving 5 per cent, or anything like it.

MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

said, he hoped opposition would not be persisted in to what was a purely formal measure. It was too late to raise the questions as to the expenditure involved in a Ways and Means Bill. He agreed with much that had been said about taking Votes at a late hour. The Civil Service Votes were in a state of arrear, for which he believed there was no precedent in recent years. But this being a purely formal stage, the Government might in fairness claim that the third reading should be taken now.

MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffs)

said, he was glad to hear these remarks of the right hon. Gentleman as to the condition of Supply, and he hoped the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury would convey to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury the strong view that was entertained that very soon the House should have the opportunity of fairly considering Votes in Committee of Supply.


said, the hon. Gentleman would very soon have that opportunity.

MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)

said, he had listened to the conversation, and it seemed to him they were rather being taken advantage of in being detained until half-past 1 o'clock, when they ought to have gone home when the debate of the night closed; and to put his protest into form, he moved that the debate be adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Biggar.)

MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

said, he seconded that Motion. In addition to the observations offered in the first instance against proceeding with the Bill, now his hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) had drawn attention to the practice of putting down Government Bills on private Members' nights, and reprobated that objectionable practice. Then he learned, from the course of the discussion, that this was merely a formal measure, and since that was the case, and there was an objection on principle to its being taken on a private Members' night, the Government might generously yield the point, and defer the Bill to Thursday. The result would be no injury would be done, while there would be an admission that the practice was a novel one, and it might be accepted as a pledge that the Government would not persist in the evil practice.


said, he desired to join in the appeal.

MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."


not assenting,


, continuing, said, it was said this was a purely formal Motion, and on that ground they were appealed to to withdraw opposition. But he was not prepared to admit that any proceeding of the House was purely formal. It was the right of any Member to rise upon any proposal connected with the proceedings of the House. If the hon. Member persisted with his Motion he would go with him into the Lobby.


said, he did not think he should be consulting the convenience of the House if he entered at that hour into an unseemly wrangle. Hon. Members had rightly described this stage of the Bill as formal; but it was, unfortunately, one of those formal stages necessary to pass before the Government could use the money. He would point out to the House that the postponement of these matters placed the Government in a very awkward position for carrying on the Service of the country. The Bill had been down on the Orders for some time—he would be extremely sorry to use words that might give offence to any hon. Member— but everybody must clearly understand that this purely formal Motion, supported by his right hon. Predecessor in Office from the other side, was, notwithstanding this appeal, opposed—this formal third reading stage of a Money Bill, necessary for carrying on the Business of the country—was opposed simply for the sake of putting the Government in a difficulty. [An hon. MEMBER: The novelty of the practice!] There was no novelty in the practice of putting down a Bill founded on a Resolution in Ways and Means, and necessary to provide money for the Service of the country, day by day, for successive stages. He was speaking in the hearing of those who had knowledge of the usual practice. However, having regard to those who had long been sitting in the House, and the officers of the House, he would not resist the Motion which had been made. But he hoped the House would understand the reason why he assented to it was, because opposition had been most unreasonably raised to a purely formal Motion.


said, before the Motion was agreed to, he should like to say that if the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House had thought proper to give an answer to a very reasonable Question put to him early in the day as to a Morning Sitting on Friday, the Government might have met with a very different reception from below the Gangway. He put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury as to Friday's Business, and instead of receiving the information he sought, he was not even told if there would be a Morning Sitting or not. Therefore, to say that a formal stage had been refused merely to spite the Government, when, on their part, the Government refused to answer a most respectful Question, was to make a complaint that reciprocity was not all on one side. The hon. Gentleman probably was wise in terminating an unpleasant controversy by postponing the Bill, though, so far as he (Mr. T. M. Healy) was personally concerned, he would have been glad to accede to the request to pass the Bill, and had said as much, but let it be understood that complaints of want of courtesy did not rest entirely with the Government.


said, he hoped the House would allow him a word in defence of his right hon. Friend, who was absent. The hon. and learned Member was doing his right hon. Friend an injustice. He could not answer the Question when it was put to him, simply because the Order of Business was not then settled, and could not be settled until to-morrow. It was quite impossible for his right hon. Friend to give the information.


said his Question was whether there would be a Morning Sitting.


said, not even that was settled, but the hon. and learned Member should know between this and Thursday. There was not the least desire to be discourteous, and no one was more desirous to avoid that, and to meet the wishes of the House, than his right hon. Friend; but the fact was, it was impossible for him to give the information asked for.


said, it was in no spirit of factious opposition that hon. Members on that side had acted in regard to the Bill. It appeared to him that the Government Business was conducted in a remarkably loose way, if they were unable to say on Tuesday what Business they proposed to take on the Thursday and Friday. Equally extraordinary was the statement that the conduct of the Business of the country would be seriously interfered with if the final stage of a Money Bill was postponed for 48 hours.

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till, Thursday.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Two o'clock.