HC Deb 30 April 1889 vol 335 cc784-812

Motion made, and Question proposed, That unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet at Two of that clock on Tuesday and Friday, and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the Morning Sitting on those days."—(Sir Michael Hicks Beach.)

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I am sorry that the First Lord of the Treasury is not here to explain the reasons which induced him to place this Motion upon the Paper. Up to the present time the Government have always told us that the business was in arrear, and that it was necessary to appropriate the time set apart for the Motions of private Members. I do not think there is much good to be gained at this time of the Session by protesting on the part of private Members against this taking away of the whole of their time. The Government now propose to take two morning sittings, one on Tuesdays and the other on Fridays, and the Amendment I have put down upon the Paper would give the Government the whole of one night, and would reserve to private Members the whole of another night. I trust that in disposing of the question the Government will not bring in their majority to override the wishes of the House. I think it would be of advantage to private Members that the Government should have the whole of one night, and that they should have the whole of another, because, so far as private Members are concerned, the proposal of the Government in its present form would, practically, ruin two of their evenings. Every Member knows that when the Government takes a morning sitting from 1 till 7, it is almost impossible, unless the question is one of the highest importance, for a private Member to make a House at 9 o'clock. Therefore, to take morning sittings on both of the private Member's nights will he practically to ruin the two evenings devoted to private Members. If my proposal be accepted, the Government will gain something like half an hour in the length of the sitting, and will also gain in the rapidity with which they will be able to dispose of business by having the dinner hour available. Hon. Members know very well, that during that hour a vast amount of business is generally done. Therefore, if my proposal be accepted, I believe that both the Government and the House generally will be largely benefited. The other day, when a similar proposal was made, a great objection was taken to the suspension of the 12 o'clock rule, and yet the Government now propose to suspend the 12 o'clock rule on two nights in the week. I believe that the House is disinclined to sit until 1 o'clock in the morning, and would prefer to return to the 12 o'clock rule. except in a case of urgency. I therefore suggest that the Government should take the whole of Tuesday or Friday, and leave the whole of the other day to private Members. It may be urged that it would be creating a precedent for the Government to have three days a week. but I confess that I am one of those who think that the Government ought to have three nights out of the five at its disposal. At present, the Government practically obtain them by infringing the rights of private Members, and I think it would be more convenient to fix permanently that the Government should have three nights a week. I trust that the Government will meet my proposal in a conciliatory spirit. I have proposed that the Government should take Friday, and leave Tuesday to private Members, and I have done so because I find that the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) in reference to the disestablish-meet of the Welsh Church is down for Tuesday next. But as between Tuesday and Friday, I have no strong opinion. I only ask that the Government should respect the rights of private Members for one night, and I believe that if they do this they will get through some business themselves, while they will still leave an opportunity to private Members to bring forward matters in which they are interested. I beg to move the Amendment of which I have given notice.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "order," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to Friday."—(Mr. Sydney Buxton).

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

MR. DILLWYN (Swansea)

In seconding the Amendment, I sincerely hope the Government will accede to the request of my hon. Friend, yet I have no strong expectation that the Government wilt do so, seeing how recklessly they have used their power already to take away the rights of private Members. I confess I have no great hope that they will alter their course at my solicitation, though I think I have a special claim when I make an interested appeal on behalf of the motion for which I have secured first place 14 days hence. The question I desire to raise in reference to the Established Church in Wales excites the greatest interest throughout the whole Principality, and I make a special appeal to the Government in its favour. In the very first Session of this Parliament, and at an earlier day than I have obtained this year, I succeeded in getting a first place, but afterwards that opportunity was ruthlessly taken away to meet the exigencies of public business. Many times since then I have balloted, but never have I been successful until now, and again I am baulked by the Government taking away Tuesday, leaving but four hours in the evening at the disposal of private Members. Certainly, I think it is a hard fate, and, considering the interest taken throughout Wales in the subject I desire to raise, I think the Government might allow me to use the opportunity that is almost within my grasp.

*SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)

If we must submit to something of this nature I very much prefer the proposal of the hon. Member for Poplar to that of the Government, while I think it will most conduce to economy of the time of the House and serve the Government purpose best. More business is likely to be done in an whole day than in two half days. The point also I particularly aim at is that the amendment will not trench upon the salutary twelve o'clock rule, and I am sure this wholesome rule is much appreciated. But the form in which the question is put is that the words proposed stand part of the Resolution. I must protest against this taking by the Government of the time of private Members thus early in the Session. I know I shall be told that the Government are driven to this course by what is called obstruction, but in anticipation I protest against that, and I can aver that there has been less obstruction this Session than in any Session since I came into the House. Indeed, I think the evil connected with the congestion of business with which the House is afflicted is less unreasonable discussion than to the scamping of business insufficiently discussed. Especially I refer to the way in which Scotch business is scamped. We are continually told that we must accept Scotch Bills as they are presented to us or not at all, for there is not time to discuss them sufficiently. No doubt it is the case that the business of the House, and with it the congestion of business, is increasing. And why is this? For the reason that it is totally impossible that one House sitting as a whole can dispose of the whole legislative work of the three kingdoms, and conduct the affairs of this great Empire, dealing not only with the great principles, but all the details of every Bill, instead of proceeding by a system of delegation of labour and several Committees. I feel this to be especially the case in regard to Scotch Bills. This Session there is a large amount of business relating to Scotland, and our limited arrangements for Grand Committees are such that I am told there is no power to refer any of these Bills to a Grand Committee. We were also told the other day that the rules of the House do not provide for the reference of private Members' Bills to a Grand Committee. I do not know what authority there is for that statement, and for myself I can see no reason why Bills of all classes should not be so referred, including Scotch Bills. When the House is threatened with much Scotch business, English Members would be relieved and Scotch Members would be satisfied by referring these Bills to a Committee composed mainly, I do not say entirely, of Scotch Members. The present Government, however, have refused this concession, which was advocated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian; hence it is that business generally is congested, and the Govern- ment find it necessary, or make it a plea, for laying hands on the time of private Members. I altogether object to the present system, and I think that by a seasonable system of delegation, justice would be done to Scotland, and work generally would be more effective. To take away the time of private Members at this period of the Session cannot be justified. Taking away the whole time it practically is, for it is a delusion for. private Members to hope to secure a proper discussion at nine o'clock.

*DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

I just wish to say a word or two to show that the feeling in favour of the proposition of the hon. Member for Poplar is not at all unanimous. For myself, and I can speak for a number of Members near me, I much prefer the Government proposal, for we consider that it practically gives us two chances in the week for bringing on Motions. It may not on each give opportunity for long debate, but at all events, it does allow of discussion and division. I quite admit that for a Motion such as that the hon. Member for Swansea desires to bring forward a full night's debate is required, and in reference to that if the hon. Member will move an amendment to the Government resolution excepting the Tuesday he has succeeded in securing from the operation of the resolution, I shall be happy to support him; but I do not think it is necessary on account of a single exceptional case to adopt a rule that I think would be very injurious to the interests of private Members and which would certainly greatly curtail the opportunities yet remaining for securing discussion of subjects in which we are interested. One word on the general principle of this Government monoply of the time of the House. They do not gain anything by it. They tell us debates in Committee of Supply are unduly protracted. Of course they are, and for the simple reason that private Members cannot bring forward any subject at all unless they take the opportunity of moving a formal reduction of a vote in Committee of Supply. Look at the straits to which hon. Members are driven to obtain discussion of their hobbies. On this very Motion the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy finds an opportunity to discuss the neglect of Scotch business, and his favourite remedy of Grand Committees, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee would, had he not been ruled out of order, have found a similar opportunity. As illustrating some of the difficulties of hon. Members who do not secure first place on the orders of the day, I may mention that on to-night's paper stands a Notice in the name of the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Caine), but which he will not be able to move because he has not taken the trouble to put the terms of his Motion on the paper—at least Mr. Speaker, I know that your predecessor was in the habit of voting that unless the specific terms were set down, a Resolution could not be moved on the General Notice to call attention to a subject. I am satisfied that a number of Members are much more favourable to the Government proposal as it stands than to the amendment. I shall vote against both, and I venture to say that if the Government succeed in carrying their resolution they will not advance business one whit, for Members will find opportunities upon Government Bills or in Committee of Supply to call attention to those matters in which they are interested, and the result will be a number of irregular discussions that certainly will not tend to advance business.


We are warned that the Government will not gain by this proposal, but let me say that we are not only anxious that the Government should gain, but that the House should gain, by having full opportunity for the discussion of the business we are anxious to introduce. The hon. Member who has just spoken has said with justice that Committee of Supply is made the means of ventilating many subjects—hobbies I think he called them, but I should not use that term—subjects in which hon. Members are interested. Well, we wish to get on with Supply, and it is more or less in redemption of the pledge we are under to take Supply early in the Session that we propose this Motion to the House. The House is fully aware of the important business with which we wish to make progress, business in which hon. Members opposite take the greatest interest as well as Members on this side, and apart from progress with this business, we wish to give opportunity for discussion on Supply, while avoiding the necessity of protracting the Session or of having recourse to an Autumn Session. It is with the view of facilitating business generally, that we submit this Motion. The hon. Member opposite suggests that it will be better to take the whole of one day, Tuesday or Friday, instead of the morning sittings on both days. We have considered that matter most carefully, both from the point of view of public business and the convenience of private Members; and I believe the view which has been expressed is correct, that by adopting this Motion private Members would possess a greater advantage, having two evenings in the week instead of one. There are some Motions so important, such as that of the hon. Member for Swansea, that they might not be sufficiently discussed in four hours, but on the whole I really believe private Members stand a better chance by accepting the proposal of the Government than by accepting that of the hon. Member who has moved the Amendment. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy protests against the sacrifice of private Members' rights, but if the hon. Member ever has a good field day, it is on Government nights when the House is in Committee of Supply; for then the hon. Member positively revels in all and every subject that can possibly be introduced. I should have thought that if there was any Member who should be grateful to the Government for bringing on Supply early and regularly, it would be the hon. Member who is so extremely industrious in the study of every subject that comes under the cognizance of the Committee. I do not wish to argue this question by any reference to the hon. Member's observation upon obstruction. Let the present discussion be confined simply to the point as to what is best to be done under the circumstances. The Governmant wish to meet the desire of Members to discuss the Estimates early in the year with proper freedom, and in that sense our proposal should commend itself. I may remind the House that yesterday we obtained two votes. (Hear, hear.) Well, if this is to be considered good progress, I should like to know how many nights will he required for Supply. If that is the standard of good progress, and the Government are refused Tuesdays and Fridays, and they are to have two days a week for four votes, how are we to be expected to legislate at all? Is it the wish of hon. Members that we should have no legislation at all? Let me call attention to the standard of progress suggested by that cheer just now, namely, that two votes in an evening is a respectable allowance from an indulgent House of Commons. I find that this year we have passed 34 votes in 12 sittings, and that is the slowest progress that has ever been made during any period with which I have been able to compare it. There have been times when 30 votes have been passed in seven days, 22 in five days, while last year 31 votes were passed in four days. This year we have taken 34 votes in 12 days. I think these figures show that the Government have not acted too early in their desire to avert the danger of being forced at the end of the Session to hurry over business in a manner discreditable to our business capacity, and with which private Members as well as the Government have every reason to be dissatisfied. I hope the House will see it is in no spirit of aggression towards the rights and opportunities of private Members that the Government submit this Motion.

MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle)

I am quite desirous, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to keep off the topic of obstruction, but I may be pardoned for one observation. May I suggest that, since the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not desire to discuss the question of obstruction, the representatives of the Government should drop making charges of obstruction elsewhere. There has, no doubt, been a rather tardy progress with Votes; the figures just quoted show that to some extent; but I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that we are in effect now discussing Votes in Supply which practically we have not had an opportunity of discussing for three years. ["Why?"] Because the time of the House has been so regularly and constantly taken up by the Government for their own, as we think, unfortunate measures that there has been no discussion of Votes in this Parliament until this year.


I beg pardon. Last year these very Votes, the Home Office Votes, upon which we spent the whole of yesterday, were taken earlier in the year—April 9—and, under no pressure, were passed after a short discussion.


It is quite true the Home Office Votes have been die. cussed at some length as compared with last year, but they came in for longer discussion owing to the passing of the Commission Bill last year, and in regard to which, rightly or wrongly, the Home Office has taken a certain part which it was the duty of the Committee to discuss this year. I should think the Home Office Vote will always from its importance take considerable time. On the particular question whether private Members would reap more advantage from the proposal of the Government than from that of my hon. Friend (Mr. Buxton), I cannot help feeling that the latter is rather in the nature of a blow at the sanctity of Friday night as a private Members' preserve. It cannot be denied, of course, that private Members would, under the motion of the Government, have two chances against one under the Amendment. Therefore, I should hardly be able to support the proposal of my hon. Friend. I wish to know, however, first, whether it is to be understood that the Government give the House a pledge that on Friday nights Supply will be put down as the first Order; secondly, whether the Government will on this occasion, when the House is meeting them so generously, undertake to make and keep a House at the evening sitting on Friday. This question I put in consequence of something that fell from the First Lord on a former occasion, when he denied, against my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, that it was the practice of Governments to give this undertaking. Thirdly, I think it would be very fair, considering how often my hon. Friend (Mr. Dillwyn) has been disappointed, if the Government were to promise to let him have his Tuesday. That would be a concession to a private Member, which would go far to soften the natural disappointment caused by the proposal of the Government.

MR. W. G. CAVENDISH BENTINCK (Penryn and Falmouth)

Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, may I put a further question, whether our leaders on the front bench will do their best to insure the keeping of a House for a reasonable time at the evening sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays. I have myself in earlier days opposed the break of two hours in our proceedings, for I know how extremely difficult it is for private Members to be in their places again exactly at nine o'clock. It was always an understood thing that the Government should do their best to be represented in sufficient numbers to keep a House for at least half an hour after nine o'clock. I believe at the present moment there are no less than thirty-seven gentlemen, who sit on the front bench, enjoying salaries, which, if they are not too high, are, at all events, extremely good, and it is part of their duty to attend to make a House on Tuesdays and Fridays. It was the opinion of no less a person than Lord Beaconsfield himself. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend, the Member for South West Kent (Sir W. Hart Dyke) is in his place, but I am quite sure he could bear out my statement that there was nothing so repugnant to the late Lord Beaconsfield as a count-out on an evening sitting reserved for private Members, and constantiy, in the days when I had the honour to be a Member of the Government, we received circulars begging of Members of the Government that they would be in attendance to prevent such a scandal. I think also we have a right to ask that on Friday nights the Government should give the House the full rights of Supply—that is to say, that if the first motion should be agreed to, then some one on the Treasury Bench should immediately move, "That the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply," so that Members may have the opportunity of bringing forward their motions. In the days when Lord Ossington was Speaker, I felt it my duty to bring forward this very question, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian being then Leader of the House, and, he having declined to move that the House do resolve itself into Committee of Supply after the first Motion had been conceded, I then endeavoured to make the Motion, but was prevented by the Speaker, who said that only a member of the Government could make it. On the point being raised a second time, having regard to the changes made about the year 1860, when the motion for adjournment over Saturday was got rid of, Lord Ossington held that it was obligatory on the Government on Friday nights to make the motion. I am quite aware that the late speaker (Lord Hampden) did not altogether assent to that doctrine, and gave opinions somewhat doubtful on the point, but, nevertheless, I think the right hon. Gentleman, if he considers all the antecedents, will agree that something ought to be done, especially when the rights of private Members are cut down to Friday nights at nine o'clock. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will carry out this plan, and that he will give us an assurance that should the first Motion as an Amendment to the Order of the Day for Supply be carried or agreed to, Supply will again be set up, so that other hon. Members having the next Motion will not be shut out.


As I think the sense of the House is against my proposal, I will ask leave to withdraw it.

*MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I have not gathered quite whether a distinct pledge is given, such as was given by the First Lord when he made a similar motion before Easter, that the morning sittings should be, if not wholly devoted to Supply, at all events mainly, only trivial or formal business being taken besides.

Amendment by leave withdrawn.


In regard to the suggestion made, I cannot fall in with the proposal to make an exception of the Motion of which the hon. Member for Swansea has given notice in reference to the Established Church in Wales. If we go so far, we shall then be pressed to make further exceptions. We must abide by the general view that in four hours the hon. Member will have an opportunity, not of a long debate, but of obtaining the views of the House on this question, in which he takes so much interest. We will put down Supply as the first thing on Friday nights, exactly the same as if we had not taken a morning sitting. In reply to the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) I must say that the Government cannot pledge themselves as absolutely as my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury did on a former occasion, to take nothing but Supply on the days in question. The intention of the Government in asking for these days is in the main to make progress with Supply, but occasions may arise when it will be indispensable to put other business down. With regard to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend as to setting up Supply again on Friday nights, I think the present practice has worked sufficiently well. Each case has been judged upon its merits, but the discussions will proceed exactly upon the same footing as on an ordinary Supply night. As to engaging to make a House, to give absolute pledges on such matters frequently leads to misunderstanding. Disputes arise as to the extent to which the Government has come under any obligation. I am sure that the experience of the right hon. Gentleman opposite will bear me out in saying that sometimes, even when Governments have endeavoured to make a House, they have not always succeeded, and in such circumstances a charge of breach of faith is easily brought. There is sometimes a difficulty in Members of the Government themselves being in the House punctually at 9 o'clock. I have no doubt that when subjects of great interest are brought forward a House will be made, but I can give no pledges.

SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I understand from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that he has practically given the House the same pledge under the same conditions—that the morning sittings, on Tuesday and Friday, shall be given to Supply—as was given by the First Lord of the Treasury when he made a similar Motion at an early period of the Session, and which the House will allow was honourably kept.


I think I stated that I could not give an absolute pledge, and that though we wish to continue taking Supply on these occasions, circumstances may arise which will compel us to take other business.


I hear with regret, considering the immense concession which the House is making, that the Government will not give a pledge on the subject. I feel that business will not proceed satisfactorily unless the exception to Supply on these two afternoons is very rare indeed; and the same remark will apply to the keeping of a House in the evening. The question is whether the Government will sincerely and honourably do their best to keep a House. Everyone is aware that late on in the Session the Government itself cannot always keep a House, but Members are rather distrustful on account of what happened when the Motion of the hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division (Mr. Fenwick) fell through, the Government not having even made a pretence to keep a House, but having done their very best to destroy it. I rose principally, however, on account of the Motion of the hon. Member for Swansea. Considering what the House is doing, it is not too much to ask the Government to give a whole evening to my hon. Friend's Motion. It is a matter which interests in the highest degree the Members for a great section of this country, who have had little or no attention paid to them during the whole three years of this Parliament. Not only is that the case, but they have been treated with exceptional hardness by the Government and the House. My hon. Friend had an opportunity of raising the question in 1887 on the Address, but he was prevented by the Government using the closure. That was felt in Wales to be very hard treatment indeed, and it would do something to erase that feeling from the memory of Welshmen if the Government were generously to make the concession asked for. I believe I am speaking the mind of the House when I say that it is upon whether the Government make this concession or not to an old and honoured Member and to a great body of Members who certainly have not done anything to obstruct, that it will depend whether on this (the Opposition) side of the House the action of the Government will be received in a spirit of acquiescence in the first place, or, if we are forced by a majority to accept it, whether we shall do our best to work it with the Government in a friendly spirit.

MR. PICTON (Leicester)

I am extremely surprised at the manner in which the Government have received the suggestion to exempt the Motion of the Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) from the operation of the Resolution. More consideration ought to have been shown for the claims of the Welsh people who were writhing under the outrages they are suffering owing to the imposition upon them of an alien Church. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, the House knows what has been going on in Wales with regard to the collection of tithes. Is this a time to refuse the Welsh so obvious a concession to their national feelings as a full discussion on a motion in which they take the deepest interest? Such a refusal will have the effect of convincing the Welsh that they have nothing to expect from this House, and of encouraging them to demand Home Rule. It is on account of the claims of the Welsh people that I urge the House not to join in what I am afraid I must call a conspiracy against them, and in order that we may come to a decision on the question I beg to move to insert in the Motion after the word "Friday" the words "except on Tuesday, May 14th."

Amendment proposed, after the word "Friday," to insert the words "except on Tuesday the 14th May"—(Mr. Picton.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

*MR. BOWEN ROWLANDS (Cardiganshire)

In seconding the Amendment I desire to urge the just claims of the Welsh people to be considered in this matter. No one can say that the Welsh Members have done anything to obstruct the business of the House; indeed I doubt whether they have adequately discharged their duty in bringing Welsh grievances before the House. But whenever a Welsh question is raised, honourable Members on the other side justify the claim of this House, to legislate for Wales, as well as England, either by leaving the House, or by engaging in conversation as they are now doing. The hon. Member for Swansea has not only been prevented by the application of the closure from bringing on this Motion on one former occasion, but on another occasion, on which he obtained a day by ballot, the Government intervened, and took it away from him. The question is one of great importance, and even if hon. Members regard the question as absurd, one would think they would be desirous of a full debate in order that they may expose its absurdity before a larger House than is likely to be found at an evening sitting after a morning sitting. The Government have displayed an entire absence of chivalry in regard to this motion, while the neglect of the question with which it deals has led to scenes distressing to everyone in Wales.

MR. E. SWETENHAM (Carnarvon, &c.)

I confess I feel very strongly on this subject, because I know the deep interest taken by the people of Wales in the Motion which is to be brought forward on the 14th May by the Member for Swansea. I trust that the Government may yet be able to accede to the proposal of the Amendment by giving a longer time for this debate than will be afforded if the rule now proposed is adopted. This is an exceptional case. I am afraid that the Government will reply that they cannot make a concession in this case, because, if they do, equally powerful applications may be made on future occasions, and they would not then be able to resist them. I entirely feel that there is a great deal in that answer, but at the same time I feel that this is not the first occasion on which the Motion of my hon. Friend has met with a premature death, and I therefore hope and trust that the House will allow a full and ample discussion to take place on this important subject. I am sure that not only Wales, but England, will look forward with great interest and anxiety to the result of this discussion, which I trust will be such as to make the people of Wales feel that they have not been dealt harshly with by the House and the Government, but that at all times every subject connected with them will have full and free discussion and ample consideration.

*SIR HUSSEY VIVIAN (Swansea, District)

I hope that the Government will accede to the Amendment. It is possible that the Government may allege that they cannot make this concession for fear that others will be forced upon them. But before they can make that out they will require to show that there is any other question in the same position as this. In the first place, the Member for Swansea lost his chance and was shut out from the discussion of this question by the application of the closure on the Address. Then he fortunately secured, by the ballot, the first place on a Tuesday; but three days before the Motion could be made, that day was taken from him in spite of the appeals of the Welsh Members to the Leader of the House. On that ground alone I do not think the Government can be met by any similar proposal to that now before the House. But, moreover, there are not two Welsh Churches nor two Wales's. There is no other nationality that could appeal to the House to redress its grievances in the same manner as Wales, and therefore there is no possible similar appeal to that which we are now making. Do the Welsh Members obstruct the business of the House? Do they make motions likely to take up the time of the House? Why, their voices are very rarely heard, and surely when they bring forward a question that so vitally affects the Principality, some consideration is due to them. This question moves to the very bottom the feeling of our constituents, and hon. Gentlemen know how, very rarely by the fortune of the ballot, private Members can obtain an opportunity of bringing forward a question, and how hard it is that when they do obtain an opportunity it should be taken from them. Surely the Government will not expose themselves to all that may be said—and indeed has been said—by taking away all the time that Welsh Members have of bringing forward questions so vitally interesting to them. I appeal to the Government to reconsider their decision and accept this most reasonable Amendment. In their own interest it is important that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should do so. The hon. Member for the Carnarvon Boroughs has just spoken in the sense in which I am speaking. That hon. Member knows the feelings of the Welsh people, and must be accepted as an adviser of the Government in their own interest. The Government cannot suppress and trample upon the feelings of a nation. Wales is a positive nation, and they cannot trample her down, nor is it their interest to do so. In the last Parliament the Conservative Members from Wales could have come down to this House in a hansom cab. Now they would require a four-wheeler. It was not always so, and why is it so now? Because there is a strong feeling running through Wales that it does not sufficiently command the attention of Parliament. If the Government desire to act in their own interest they will accept this Amendment.


The Government would be much more disposed to accept the Amendment if supported in the spirit of my bon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon than as it was put by the right hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division, who threatens the Government in so many words that if they do not accept the Amendment ["Oh, oh," and Ministerial cheers]—well, he said that if it were not accepted he would not consider the Resolution in a friendly spirit; in other words, that he would not facilitate the business of the House by doing that which the House has resolved to do. It is really too hard to be told that we are trampling on the spirit of a nation because we do not give seven hours instead of four to the discussion of one matter affecting Wales. The Government feel that they are simply precluded from accepting this proposition by the exigencies of the occasion. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said it is impossible not to see that if we were to give a whole sitting to the discussion of the Welsh Church we should be met with similar demands. Only this evening I understand a Motion has been set down with reference to the Disestablishment of the Scotch Church. Will any one say that is less important than the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church? I do not think the importance of a debate is to be measured by the number of hours it occupies. Those who listened to the miserable waste of time in the debate of six hours last night on the salary of my right hon. Friend, may find in this Motion an opportunity for the Welsh Members to set an example to the House, by showing that a really important subject can be properly discussed within reasonable limits of time.

*MR. T. ELLIS (Merionethshire)

Sir, this is not at all a case of giving four hours instead of seven. It is a case of giving an opportunity to the Welsh Members of discussing this question, which has been only discussed in this House for four hours on any occasion. In 1886 my hon. Friend obtained first place, but on that occasion the private business continued until eight o'clock, so that there were only four hours for the discussion of the question. Take the first hour and a quarter for the mover and seconder of the Resolution, and then another hour and a quarter for the mover and seconder of the Amendment in this case (two English Members, who no doubt feel a very great interest in the Welsh Church) and again take an hour and a quarter for right hon. Gentlemen on this and on that side of the House (and if they compress their remarks into an hour and a quarter it is a feat which they seldom perform), and allow another quarter of an hour for the divisions, the four hours are filled up, after only two Welsh Members have had an opportunity of speaking on the question. Even the hon. Members for the Carnarvon or Denbigh boroughs who wish to say something with regard to the question of the Church in Wales will not have a chance to say a word. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that this question is of first-rate importance, and I should think he will admit further, that, as compared with the motions fixed for various dates during the next month, it has distinct pre-eminence. I will further say, in reply to the argument of two of the right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken, that the successful Members in respect of motions for the next month sit on this side of the House, and I believe only one hon. Member opposite—the Member for Preston—has a motion standing in his name. It has relation to the rating of machinery, a subject which has been repeatedly before the House of Commons, and for which I should think the hon. Member would gladly accept four hours. In view of the pre-eminence of the subject, and in view of the fact that the Government has on two previous occasions taken from my right hon. Friend the fortunate position which he had obtained by the ballot, and in view of the fact that hon. Members on this side of the House who have Motions for discussion in this month, are willing to forego their claims for seven hours, I again appeal to the Government to grant this privilege to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea.

MR. JAMES ROWLANDS (East Finsbury)

I think that by this time the Government ought to have arrived at the conclusion that the claim of the Welsh Members should be conceded. The Welsh Members do not trouble the House, possibly not as much as they might do, certainly not as much as they will do, if their legitimate requests in future are treated in the same manner as this one is being treated by the Government. They have asked the Government to concede to them three hours on a most important question, which at the present time they are pressing before this House. The Government have declined to let them have the three hours which they ask for. And as an inducement to proceed speedily with Supply, we get a speech from the President of the Board of Trade, who tells us that last night was simply wasted on the Vote for the Home Office. [Sir M. H. BEACH: Hear, hear.] The right hon. Gentleman says "hear, hear." I say that if the Government throw out such insinuations as that they cannot expect to proceed very rapidly with Supply. Now, I was present during the greater part of last night—a longer time than he was—and if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me I will enumerate the questions dealt with on that Vote of the Home Office. First there was a debate, which, perhaps, did not take so long as it ought to have done, with regard to the police stations of London, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green. Will the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade say that that debate was a waste of time, seeing that it involved a question of grave importance to the people of London? Then there was a discussion raised by the junior Member for Northampton with regard to the Truck Question. That was a debate which, but for the candid action of the right hon. Gentleman add his colleague, would have taken longer than it did last night. Then there was the question with regard to Civil Servants and employés at the Home Office. Was that not a question of vital importance? It was dealt with by both Benches as if it were. I simply indicate these as some of the points raised on the Vote of the Home Office—questions which must be dealt with thoroughly whenever the Vote comes forward, and which will be dealt with more thoroughly in the future than ever they have been dealt with in the past. I do hope right hon. Gentlemen opposite will not cast slurs upon hon. Members on this side. It was the only opportunity we had during the twelve months of raising questions in connection with the Home Office, and it is a slur upon hon. Members who raise them to say that they are wasting the time of the House. Unless we are to understand that the closure is to be applied before any discussion, we shall, in spite of the slurs, continue these debates. I trust the Government will concede the request of the Welsh Members, so that they shall have full opportunity of discussing the disestablishment of the Welsh Church. Only those conversant with the feeling of the Welsh people can understand how strong a spirit actuates the Welsh people in asking that this subject should be adequately discussed. Is it that the right hon. Gentlemen opposite are afraid to vote upon this question? It has been pointed out that a four wheeler will contain the Welsh Conservative Members coming to this House, and if they do not concede to the Welsh Members the request they are now making, possibly only a two and not a four wheeler would bring to the House all the Conservative Welsh Members after the next election.

The House divided: Ayes, 118; Noes, 188.—(Div. List, No. 86.)

Main Question again proposed.

*MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolver hampton, East)

I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes from deciding this Question, but I wish to make my protest, even if it be an unavailing one, against the resolution of the Government to which the House is just about to agree. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said just now, "The question before the House is what is best to be done under the circumstances of the case," and, for my part, I do not think that to pass this resolution is the best thing to do under the circumstances. I do not complain of the way in which the Government conduct the business of the House, but this resolution is being passed practically in order to give greater facilities for Committee of Supply, and I wish to enter my protest against the way in which the business of Supply is now being conducted. It does not promote public economy or the efficient control of the House over the public expenditure, and, these resolutions which are passed year after year simply as stop-gaps do not facilitate the real settlement of this question; they put off the evil day, and do not tend to raise the House of Commons in the public estimation in regard to the matter of public expenditure. Last year a strong Committee was appointed on the motion of the Government for the purpose of considering the procedure in Committee of Supply, and that Committee recommended the House to try an experiment with reference to the Civil Service Estimates which would tend to the economy of time and promote a better control by the House over expenditure. Nothing has been done upon the report of that Committee, and I think we are entitled to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, before taking the time of the House in order to make more opportunities for Committee of Supply, they will not give us some indication as to what is their view with regard to this question of procedure in Supply. The proposal of the Committee I refer to was that a Committee should be appointed—a large Committee—for the purpose of dealing with the Civil Service Estimates. I would point out that the time we are asked to place at the disposal of the Government is not for the purpose of getting on with the Military and Naval Votes, but in order that they may make progress with the Civil Service Votes, and perhaps the functions of the House of Commons are less wanted in regard to the Civil Service than in the case of either of the other great spending departments. The House may be, and is, called upon to discuss great questions of policy connected with the Army and Navy, but as far as the Civil Service expenditure is concerned, such questions rarely arise. The House will be surprised to hear that during a period of 21 years all the discussions that have taken place in Committee of Supply have not resulted in a saving of £50,000. I think, therefore, seeing that last Session we spent 38 days in Supply, and this Session after spending 12 days we have hardly more than commenced the Civil Service Votes, we are justified in asking if the time has not arrived when the House should consider whether the principle of devolution should not be applied to the Civil Service Estimates as well as to other matters. It should be remembered that we are not only the guardians of the public purse, but we are also the trustees of the public time; and that is a very precious possession. (Several hon. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.") I do not know whether those cheers are intended to be approving or ironical cheers; but I for one am not content to see the time of the House wasted for any purpose whatsoever, and as far as our discussions in Committee of Supply are concerned, I say that—not, perhaps, owing to the fault of any section of the Opposition, but owing to the way in which our business is conducted—we do waste a great deal of valuable time, which might be more beneficially employed in dealing with important public questions that are yet awaiting solution. I am not about to propound any scheme of my own in regard to procedure in Supply, but I do say that the present method does not produce anything like an economical result as far as the public expenditure is concerned; and I want to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they think it is yet too late to consider the recommendations of the Select Committee of last Session that they should try the experiment as to whether they cannot improve our present mode of dealing with the Civil Service Estimates. Without saying anything that may be considered satirical in regard to any individual Member, I have known the time of the House to be wasted sometimes for hours in the discussion of a very insignificant item of expenditure, which, if the House of Commons only had confidence in a Committee of its own, might have been settled upstairs in as many minutes. I may add that I am content to accept this proposal of the Government as a stop-gap, but I would warn Her Majesty's Government that this stop-gap will by no means prove a final settlement of the question. The question is not a party one, but it concerns the efficiency of our Parliamentary Government.


I certainly think that some protest is necessary against the general system of the management of business in this House, and especially with regard to the conduct of Committee of Supply. Since the extension of the franchise in 1885 there has been a closer attendance of Members, an increase in the demands of the people, and also in the influence of the National Party in Ireland. In order to deal with the difficulty, the attempt must be made in one of several ways—either by enforcing the closure, by prolonging the sittings of the House, by taking the whole of the time of the House as has been proposed to-day, or by the adoption of a system of delegation to Standing Committees upstairs. In the American House of Representatives, with 315 Members, there are something like 40 Standing Committees, and it may become necessary in this country to adopt the same principle. I think it is idle to accuse the legislative machine of failure because the Opposition have criticized the Estimates. So long as Estimates are submitted to the House, it will be, I imagine, the duty of hon, Members to consider and discuss them. I hope that the Government will be able to provide some satisfactory means of meeting the difficulty.

*SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)

So far as my experience goes, I have noticed that hon. Members, and especially new Members, are nowadays inclined to repeat over and over again the discussions which have taken place in Committee of Supply in former years, without bringing in any new fact or supplying any new information, the only result having been a waste of the time of the House. I believe that in the French Chamber a Committee settles all the Estimates; and I am satisfied that so far as we are concerned the time will come, and come very soon, when we shall have to give up these long and weary discussions of the Estimates in Supply, and shall have to consider them in Committee upstairs. I venture to say that in that case not one-half the time will be spent which is now devoted to the consideration of the Estimates, for I am afraid that a good many Members now discuss them simply for the purpose of showing their activity to their constituents rather than that they possess any special knowledge of the subjects they discuss. If a Committee were selected composed of practical men accustomed to administrative work, they would be able to go through the Civil Service Estimates with care, and there would be no necessity for a discussion in Committee of Supply afterwards. But if hon. Members only desire to amuse themselves upstairs and then to raise the discussion again downstairs, no advantage will be gained by referring the Estimates to a Committee. Such discussions are not allowed in the French Chamber, and they ought not to be permitted to take place here. I trust that before next Session the Government will carefully consider whether some new plan cannot be devised.

SIR J. KENNA WAY (Devonshire, Honiton)

I think we are indebted to the right hon. Gentleman opposite for bringing this question before the House at the present time. I did not understand him to find any fault with the way in which the Government have conducted Supply, but I do foresee that if we are to go on as we have been doing this Session, we shall find ourselves in this position at the end of July, that it will be necessary to resort to summary measures in August and September, or we shall have to sit again up to Christmas Eve. I may remind the House that last year we passed in one night Estimates which have occupied 12 nights in discussion this year. I would therefore make an earnest appeal to the Government to deal with the matter if it is possible this Session, and at any rate to consider what is to be done in the future.

*MR. BUCHANAN (Edinburgh, W.)

I hope it will not be concluded from the remarks which have already been made that the opinion of hon. Members on this side of the House is absolutely unanimous. I was a Member of the Committee of which the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. Fowler) was also a Member, and I was one of the few Members of the Committee who belonged neither to the present nor to the past Government. The Committee was mainly composed of right hon. Gentlemen who regarded the question from the point of view of Members of the Government, either in else or in posse. I ventured to put before the Committee then that there is value to be attached to a discussion of the Estimates in Supply quite apart from the question of a reduction of expenditure. We value it because it sometimes gives us an opportunity of considering questions of policy and administration, together with questions of a social and political character which interest the community generally. It is not fair to take as the only test of the economical value of the discussions the reductions of expenditure actually carried in the House of Commons, but rather what the result is so far as subsequent Estimates are affected. For instance, a discussion takes place this year either in regard to the extravagance of a Department or the way in which a money vote is distributed, and you find the result of the discussion not in the Division List, but in the Estimates submitted subsequently to the House of Commons. Above all, we are afforded an opportunity of calling the administration of the various Departments by the Government to account. As a Scotch Member, representing only a small group of Members in this House, I think I am bound to attach particular value to these discussions. It is practically the only opportunity we have for discussing questions connected with the administration of the law, and questions of policy relating to Scottish matters, which cannot be expected to interest the whole body of Members of the House. I am, therefore, perfectly certain that if the Government were to embark in any general scheme to limit discussions in Supply they would receive strenuous opposition from this side of the House, and would not tend to economise either the public time or money.

*MR. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)

As a Member of the Committee, I wish to support the views of the hon. Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Buchanan). So far as the amount of a Vote is concerned, it may well be dealt with by a Committee upstairs, but I should altogether deprecate any proposal to hand over to a Committee upstairs any question as to the policy of the Vote. As far as the amount of the Vote is concerned, it may be true, so that during the last 21 years a sum of £50,000 only has been saved as the result of the discussions which have taken place in this House; but though the effect of the discussion has not been shown in the reduction of the Vote, it has been manifested in the course which the Government have taken in preparing subsequent Estimates.


I must say that I agree very much with the remarks both of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kingswinford and the hon. Member for West Edinburgh. Certainly I can have no prejudice against any attempt to lighten the work of the House by referring the Estimates to a Committee upstairs. I myself made that proposal to the Government in 1886 in Committee upon the Procedure Bill. I was unfortunately defeated on that occasion by a majority which consisted principally of right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Front Bench opposite, The President of the Board of Trade was the principal opponent of the scheme, and if I remember rightly, the present First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor -of the Exchequer also opposed it. I quite agree that Committee of Supply has not merely or even principally to do with the matter of money. If it were a mere money question it might well be sent to a Committee upstairs; but the various Votes involve questions of principle. I do not think that a Committee sitting upstairs would effect any more than has been accomplished by the efficient public servants we possess or by successive Secretaries to the Treasury, who have worked hard to keep down expenditure. The growth of the Civil Service expenditure is hardly perceptible. When we consider the enormous additions made to public service from year to year in order to meet the demands of the House of Commons, it is amazing what a control is exercised over the Civil Service expenditure. As regards mere expenditure, I do not think the House of Commons can do much in reducing it; and the main use of discussion in Committee of Supply is that it affords opportunity for the examination of administration in all departments; but it is quite impossible -that that could be undertaken by a Committee sitting upstairs, which naturally would be under the control of the Government, who would be sure to have a majority upon it in one form or another. Therefore a decision upon any question affecting administration that would debar the full House from considering it would be deemed to be most inconvenient; nor did the Liberal Government contemplate that there should not be a power of reviewing in the House every item of Civil Service expenditure. I cannot agree with any proposal which would have the effect of depriving the House of Commons of the power of discussing administrative subjects.


The right hon. Gentleman must be grateful to those Members of the Committee who then opposed that to which now he is also opposed.


Not altogether. I should have no objection to a preliminary examination by a Committee upstairs, and I still think that proposal a good one, although I think there should be reserved to the House absolute power to discuss any question arising upon the Estimates. That was my proposal.


It appears to me that the process would be an absolute lengthening of the labours of the House. While, as I understand the desire is by a Committee to relieve the House of some of its functions, the House will see from the perfectly natural and legitimate remarks of the right hon. Gentleman how very difficult it is for the Government to take any steps to withdraw from the House the full consideration of all questions of administration. The Government is deeply indebted to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton for the remarks he has made; I think they are extremely valuable. It is perfectly patent that a financial examination of the Estimates has become subordinate to, and is entirely vanishing in, administrative criticism; and yet the machinery has been devised and maintained with a view to financial rather than administrative criticism. It is on this account that Members may speak several times on the same Vote. Therefore, forms and methods which have been adopted in order to secure financial control are used for purposes for which they were not originally intended, or for which they were intended only in a subordinate sense. As an hon. Member has said, it is not only as custodians of the public purse, but also as critics of the administration and of the policy of the Government that Members speak in Committee of Supply. At the same time it can only be with the full assent and concurrence of the House that the Government can take any step to limit the discussions to the primary object of financial control. I notice that in foreign countries Budgets and Estimates pass with extraordinary rapidity, and that is because the criticism is confined to financial questions. If opportunity is to be taken in Committee of Supply to attack every Minister and to devote one or two evenings to the consideration of his conduct, it will be absolutely necessary to take radical measures to keep such discussions within reasonable limits, and to secure the despatch of business. The Government are perfectly disposed, with the assistance of the House, to make any experiment which they think is at all likely to succeed; but they have received information, and it has been corroborated by what has fallen from several hon. Members, that it would not be satisfactory to relegate the discussion of the Estimates to a Committee upstairs, if this in any way limited the privileges of hon. Members as to raising discussions in the House itself. The Government are perfectly sensible that the motion they are proposing is a stopgap and that it is not a satisfactory stopgap, and they will continue to give their full attention to the larger questions, as they invite right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Members opposite to do. I quite understand that Ministers and ex-Ministers may differ from those who have not held office; but the views of all must be taken into consideration; and I trust the Government may be able at an early date, possibly next Session, again to submit proposals to remove what all on both sides of the House consider to be the present unsatisfactory state of things.

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

I must say that from my point of view, the opportunities now afforded to private Members for the discussion of matters which are of importance to their constituents are quite few enough, and if the scheme which has been shadowed out to-night by one or two speakers were adopted, they would find themselves almost entirely extinguished. At present it is only in Committee of Supply that we are able to discuss important questions which deeply concern the welfare of our constituents. I think that every private Member ought to protest emphatically against any attempt to apply a further closure. It is impossible to apply any merely statistical test, but the indirect results of discussions in Committee of Supply in removing abuses and in checking expenditure have been very great. As a private Member I have thought it my duty to make these brief remarks.

The House divided:—Ayes 203; Noes 102. (Div. List, No. 87.) Resolved that, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet at 2 of the clock on Tuesday and Friday, and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the Morning Sitting on those days.

Back to