§ * MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
There is a notice on the Paper in the name of the First Lord of the Treasury for the suspension of the Standing Orders in favour of the Coal Duties (London) Abolition Bill. I cannot help thinking that it is a somewhat extraordinary thing to suspend the Standing Orders without notice and without explanation in favour of any Bill.
§ * MR. W. H. SMITH
I rise for the purpose of moving,That the Motions relating to the Coal Duties (London) Abolition Bill may be taken this day, at any hour, though opposed, and the proceedings thereon shall not be interrupted at half-past Five or Six o'clock. But as soon as the said Motions, and any subsequent unopposed business, are disposed of, the Speaker shall adjourn the House without Question put.The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) has made some observations as to the inconvenience and inexpediency of moving the suspension of the Standing Orders without previous notice. The Government had had some hope that the Motion of the hon. Baronet opposite, the Member for Barnard Castle (Sir. J. Pease) would have been reached last night before twelve o'clock, but as this hope was disappointed, I felt it my duty, looking to the urgency of the matter, to place on the Paper for this morning the present Motion. I may remind the House that the Bill to which it relates was read a second time before the holidays, after a short and interesting debate, when the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Courtney), having pointed out the inconvenience of reading a Bill of this 215 character without examination by a properly constituted Committee of the House, I and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, on behalf of the Government, agreed that the Bill should be read a second time on the distinct understanding, to which the hon. Baronet acceded, that it should be referred to a hybrid Committee, which it is usual to appoint under circumstances of this character. That course was assented to by the hon. Baronet, and the Government now ask the House to afford the requisite facilities for such a consideration of the Bill before passing it into law. To be effective, the Bill must pass the House before the end of the first week in July, if not, rights might be exercised which might be exceedingly injurious to the whole of the Metropolis. Therefore, looking at the important interests involved the Government think it right to ask the House to give facilities for the considertion of the Motion of the hon. Baronet which stands on the Paper for to-day. If the Motion were allowed to stand over from day to day, the measure would be defeated altogether, and under these circumstances, much as I regret the necessity of asking the House to suspend the Standing Orders, that appears to me to be the only method by which we can obtain a due consideration of the question by a Select Committee. Under these circumstances I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Motions relating to the Coal Duties (London) Abolition Bill may be taken, this day, at any hour, though opposed, and the proceedings thereon shall not be interrupted at half-past Five or Six o'clock. But as soon as the said Motions, and any subsequent unopposed business, are disposed of, the Speaker shall adjourn the House without Question put."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ * MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I shall certainly divide the House against the proposal to suspend the Standing Orders in the manner which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed. No public notice has been given to the House in any way. We only discovered the notice on the Paper this morning. On a Wednesday many hon. Members are absent from the House, and those who came down this morning did so -without in the least suspecting that any 216 such Motion as this would be pushed forward in this way. I do not think that the explanation which has been given by the right hon. Gentleman is at all adequate, because fair notice might have been given, and the Motion for suspending the Standing Orders might be made to-morrow. I and those who are acting with me do not oppose the Bill of the hon. Baronet. We are in favour of the Bill and voted for the Second Reading, and we shall be glad to see it passed because we entirely object to the dues which are levied in the Metropolis at this moment. But we do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if the Bill is not passed within the time stated the City of London will have a free hand in the matter. The Corporation have, no doubt, some doors they can lock, but there are other doors that are open. It would be quite out of place to discuss the merits of the Bill now, but I oppose the Motion because I feel that the House ought not to be called on to deal with the matter in the hurried manner proposed, and to pass a Resolution whereby the City of London will practically be enabled for a certain number of years to levy a rate on the whole of the Metropolis. If the Corporation have liabilities to meet, let them be met by a rate levied within the City area. I have no desire to detain the House, but I certainly must enter my strong protest against the course proposed. The House is practically taken by surprise in the matter, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not persist in the Motion.
§ * MR. BRADLAUGH
I intend to oppose the Motion for reasons somewhat different from those put forward by my hon. Friend. I object to make a precedent of the kind proposed, although I agree that the Bill ought not to be defeated by the matter being put off from day to day, as has been the case since the Second Reading. I would suggest that a simpler and better method than suspending the Standing Orders to the detriment of private Members would be for the Government to allow the question to be put on the Paper as the first business for to-morrow or Friday. The Government have already taken away nearly the whole of the time of private Members, and it is rather too much when Members who 217 work hard in this House have made arrangements on the supposition that en a Wednesday they will be free at six o'clock to attend to other business for the Government to ask them to suspend the Standing Orders, so that the Motion of a private Member may be taken out of its regular order. The Government say that this is the only method of doing it. That is not so, because they have themselves provided in the new Rules for exactly this contingency. They have provided that they themselves shall have control over all of the business of the House except on Friday evening, and they can therefore put this matter down as the first order for any day they choose. I shall certainly vote against this kind of precedent being created. I say nothing about the merits of the Bill. I am in favour of abolishing these dues entirely, and I voted in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill. On behalf of private Members generally I protest against the proposed suspension of the Standing Orders, and I would suggest that the First Lord of the Treasury should put down the Motion as the first order for to-morrow in which case there will be no interference with the arrangements of private Members either here or elsewhere.
§ * MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
As I have been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and as an Amendment which stands in my name on the Paper will be affected by this proposal, I desire to say a few words. The First Lord of the Treasury, no doubt unintentionally, has misrepresented the understanding which was come to previous to the Second Reading of the Bill. What was stated was that there were certain alleged rights existing by charter which the Bill would affect, and that it was in accordance with precedent to appoint a Select Committee to investigate what would be the legal position of the Corporation under the circumstances which the Bill would create. This understanding I am willing to see carried out, and the Amendment which I have put down will allow the Select Committee to investigate thoroughly the legal position of the Corporation. But the Motion before the House goes beyond that, for it refers to a matter that ought not to be sent to the Committee—namely, whether 218 the Corporation of London shall be allowed to continue the tax on coal.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is going beyond the question before the House, and is now discussing the subject matter of the instruction itself.
§ * MR. PICKERSGILL
I was only following the explanation which had been given by the right hon. Gentleman. At any rate the question resolves itself into whether the whole question which has been already settled by the ratepayers of London shall be referred to a Committee of the House, and to this proposition I am distinctly opposed. Not recognising the suitability of the proposal I gave notice of the Amendment. The Motion now made is of a most extraordinary character. We are familiar with the suspension of the Standing Orders for the purpose of advancing public business, but it is a new departure to suspend the Standing Orders in order to advance the Bill of a private Member. If that is to be done in one case, why not in all? Certainly the hon. Baronet has not as good a claim as hon. Members who sit on the other side of the House. I think it ime possible not to suppose that some occult influence has been at work, the real object being to do a good turn for that fast Friend of the Government, the Corporation of the City of London.
§ MR. J. ROWLANDS
I also feel bound to protest against the highhanded proceedings proposed to be taken by the right hon. Gentleman. I am not aware that any explanation has been offered which can possibly justify the act. If the right hon. Gentleman could have said that urgent circumstances have occurred which render this extraordinary proceeding necessary, we might not have objected to the Motion, although we certainly should not have liked it. The instruction to the Committee which has been placed on the Paper by the hon. Baronet in my opinion goes far beyond the understanding arrived at on the Second Reading of the Bill. Hon. Members on this side of the House displayed the earnestness with which they desire the abolition of the Coal Dues long before the hon. Baronet himself, or any other person interested in the coal trade, took the matter up. We have no desire in any way to prevent the abolition of the Coal 219 Dues, but what we do want is to prevent that which we see to be coming—namely, that the Corporation of London shall be enabled to re-enact the dues for a time. We have seen the agents of the Corporation in the Lobby within the last few days in consultation with the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Fowler), and I hold in my hand a copy of a whip delivered this morning for this Motion and signed by two hon. Members of this House, showing that certain hon. Members were informed of what was going to be done, while others were kept in the dark. I think that the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnard Castle ought to explain to the House why it is he has been made use of in regard to this Motion. Our action in the matter is not only in the interest of a right understanding of the question itself, but of the fair conduct of the business of the House. I would recommend hon. Members opposite if they have any wish to preserve their own rights as private Members hereafter to vote with us on this occasion against the suspension of the Standing Orders. The time may come when they may find themselves placed in a position similar to that which we now occupy either by their own friends or by a Government from this side of the House. I do not think it is possible for any private Member to express himself too strongly on this occasion as to the conduct of the Leader of the House in robbing them of the privileges to which they are justly entitled.
§ * SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has referred to me and my connection with the Bill. When the Bill passed the Second Reading stage by a large majority, I entered into stipulations with the First Lord of the Treasury in almost the words dictated by the Chairman of Ways and Means. It was not until a late hour last evening that I received a message from the right hon. Gentleman stating that he would afford facilities for discussing the measure in the manner now provided by the Motion. I arranged very late in the evening that a whip should be sent out on the condition that it was sent to every Member of the House. [Cries of "No whip has been received."] Well, I received none my- 220 self; but I am told that it was sent this morning to every hon. Member. The-question is one which deserves the early consideration of the House, and that is the reason why I urge hon. Members to accept the Motion. On the 5th of July next the old City privileges will revive. On that day the City will have the privilege of levying 8d. per ton on all the coals brought into the Thames, and to some extent the railway-borne coal also. The greatest possible confusion exists in the coal trade in London at the present moment, because dealers will not make contracts owing to the uncertainty which prevails. The Committee will have a free hand in the matter, and the question is so mixed up with the whole trade of the Metropolis and the North of England and the Midland counties that it behoves the House to take the earliest possible opportunity to remedy a state of things which tends to produce utter confusion in an important branch of industry.
§ MR. BAUMANN (Camberwell, Peckham)
Before we vote for the Motion I think we are entitled to know from the hon. Baronet at what stage of the proceedings, supposing the Motion of the Government to be carried, will the Motion of the hon. Baronet be made; whether, if business permits, before half-past five or six o'clock? I acknowledge that on the Second Reading of the Bill an understanding was arrived at that such a Committee should be appointed; and although I am hostile to the passing of the Bill itself, yet I think if it is to pass it is well to place on record what are the statutory and chartered rights of the Corporation. I believe that a full and free inquiry into this subject will result ultimately in the re-enactment of the dues in relief of the rates of the Metropolis. I shall therefore support the Motion.
§ MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)
I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Motion. If it is carried to a division and passed, an undesirable advantage will be taken of private Members, and the Government will create a precedent which will be applied to other measures at other times. Besides, it is not wise for the Government to make such a Motion applying to a Wednesday sitting. It 221 dislocates all the evening arrangements of hon. Members. In addition to this many London Members are absent from town, not knowing that this question was likely to come up for consideration. I should like to see the First Lord of the Treasury act in such a way as to show that he has no desire to take an unfair advantage of the House. I therefore trust that the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Motion.
§ * MR. W. H. SMITH
I am unable to accede to the request of the hon. Member. If time permitted I should have been glad to do so. But a few days only have to elapse before the rights of the Corporation of the City revive. If the Bill which is to deal with those rights is to pass, it must be passed through all the remaining stages in this House and in the other House in order to avert the confusion in trade which has been referred to. Nothing but the extreme urgency of the case would have induced me to take the course I have now taken; and in that connection I may take this opportunity of publicly expressing my regret that I inadvertently failed to give notice of this Motion at the close of business last night. It is, however, absolutely necessary if the Bill is to pass, that this Motion should be adopted in order to admit of the measure being considered by a Select Committee.
§ * MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
I think the House will see that something has occurred in regard to this matter, which is not altogether fair to the Members of the House. So far as I can understand, not a single London Liberal Member received a copy of the whip which was sent out. The very limited number of Members who have received it shows, in my opinion, that something has occurred which we ought to condemn. What could be the object of this failure to send such a document to the London Liberal Members? The Motion is a most unfair one, and I think the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised if he withdrew it now and brought it forward some other day. I am sure that such a course would facilitate the business of the House, not only in this matter, but on other questions. I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." —(Mr. Howell.)
§ * MR. BRADLAUGH
I trust that the First Lord of the Treasury will agree that hon. Members have a real ground of complaint in this instance, and that he will accede to the suggestion. The difficulty would be easily settled by putting the Motion down for to-morrow or some other early day. I am one of those who are in the position of having received no whip. I never speak for the mere purpose of obstruction, but I feel strong on this matter, and I would join in the appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to put us to the trouble of a division.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I must point out that the hon. Member, by moving the adjournment of the debate, has stopped our mouths on this question. I hope the hon. Member will withdraw the Motion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. COURTNEY
I am quite sure that no one, and least of all the right hon. Gentleman, can view with satisfaction the proposal to suspend the Standing Orders, because it is certain that he will be moved to take similar action in the case of other Bills. It is suggested that this question should be put down as the first Order of the Day to-morrow. But that would consume a great deal of time; indeed, a considerable portion of to-morrow might be taken up with the discussion. There are, however, several practical reasons in favour of the present course. If the Bill is to be passed at all, it must be got through the House before an early day in July, and if it does not pass a great deal of confusion will arise. I do not think that hon. Members can realize what will happen. The Bill was read a second time on the understanding that a Committee should ascertain whether the City has a moral right to recoup outstanding liabilities. This being the case, I suggested the reference to a Committee in order to hear what the City has to say. The Bill was read a second time on the understanding that it should be referred to a hybrid Committee, and now when 223 we have got to the point of referring it to the Committee, in spite of that understanding this opposition is raised. It was natural to expect, after what occurred on the Second Reading, that the discussion of the proposal to refer the Bill to a Committee would occupy a very short time. It would not have been a breach of duty to their constituents on the part of the Metropolitan Members to have allowed this Motion to go without discussion. I fail to see how hon. Gentlemen can say there has been a breach of the understanding, looking at the terms of that understanding. Those terms were proposed by myself, and this is what I said—I would suggest to the House that instead of refusing to read the Bill a second time, it would agree to the Second Reading, and refer the measure to a Committee which should have full power to hear what the Corporation has to say, to examine into the debt, the purposes for which it was contracted, and the balance outstanding, and see how far the debt is connected with this particular revenue, and what kind of treatment of the debt is necessary, in honour and good faith, in order to satisfy the first claims of the City of London in respect of the revenue. I would suggest that this course could be followed with perfect justice to all parties, and without raising the questions which have been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary.That went very much further than a proposal for an inquiry into the legal rights of the Corporation of the City of London. There is something more than the historical right of the City to these dues that the Committee has to inquire into; they have to inquire into the moral right of the Corporation to levy the dues, and to see whether it can make good its claims in relation to the Holborn Valley improvements. That understanding having been arrived at, I think there is no moral objection to this Motion.
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
Many of us feel as strong an objection as we can express to this most irregular proceeding. After the acknowledgment of the Leader of the House that he regrets that he failed to give notice last night, the very least compensation that can be made is to put off the Motion until tomorrow. The Chairman of Committees says that if that were done a considerable amount of Government time would be consumed, but let the 12 o'clock rule be suspended. We are quite used to that now. Certainly, in the way I 224 suggest, the Government could recoup themselves for giving up the point now. But if the kind of thing now proposed is to be done, life in this House would become absolutely unendurable. We are only able to survive by the security we possess that business in which we are interested will not be brought on without notice. It is true that the Standing Orders have often been suspended for Government business, but it has always been after due notice given. Few of us have had any notice of the present Motion, and I would urge hon. Members by considerations of what may happen to themselves when they are in a minority not to be collusive in this matter. I cannot imagine anything more prejudicial to the conduct of business than the establishment of bad precedents, and the springing of Motions of this kind upon the House.
§ MR. KELLY (Camberwell, North)
I see no reason why the Motion should not be put down for to-morrow. I myself should have had no notice of this Motion if an hon. Member opposite had not informed me of the fact. L received no whip from the hon. Baronet the Member for Barnard Castle, and I think very few Members did. Many Members who are now absent would have been here if they had known that the Motion was to come on. I share the view of the hon. Member for Northampton that this Motion is establishing a most dangerous precedent. It is not a discussion of half an hour but of hours which will be required at half past five o'clock. Personally I am in favour of these Coal Dues, but I can well understand that some hon. Members opposite would not lose an. opportunity of saying a good deal in opposition to the retention of these dues by a corrupt body like the Corporation of the City of London. What will the constituencies of Metropolitan Members think if they find us voting to bolster up the Corporation? I deeply regret that I shall feel bound to oppose this Motion as strongly as I can. The effect of accepting the Amendment would merely be to relegate to the consideration of the Committee the real or imaginary rights of the Corporation.
§ * SIR R. FOWLER (London)
I would point out that the Motion for the Committee has always been prevented from 225 coming on after 12 o'clock by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green. The hon. Baronet having appealed to the hon. Member, and having failed, was bound to to appeal to the Government, and as the question of the dues must be settled in a little more than a fortnight, it is essential that the Motion should be disposed of at once.
§ SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)
I bitterly regret that I was misled by Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench into voting for giving Tuesdays to the Government, now that they propose to take Wednesday evening. It would be much better that the 12 o'clock rule should be suspended than the half-past five o'clock rule on Wednesdays. But if the Amendment to the instruction is accepted it is likely that the Committee may be appointed without opposition and without any long debate.
§ MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, East)
I, like all other private Members, object to the Government taking the time of private Members, but this is a question of great urgency, and it is desirable that the people of London and those interested in the coal trade should know how we are placed after July 5. Therefore I do not think it is the fact as stated by the hon. Member for Camberwell that in voting for the Government we are voting for the City of London. We are voting simply that if the City of London has rights, those rights shall be cleared up. I think that under the circumstances the Government have done the best they could.
§ * SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, South)
I hope the Motion will not be withdrawn. A great deal of time has been occupied with it to-day, and if it is withdrawn a great deal of time will be occupied with it to-morrow. As one of the few Metropolitan Conservative Members who voted for the Bill, I am bound to say that in that course I was greatly influenced by the suggestions of the right hon. Member for Liskeard on the Second Reading, and I hope we shall now have an opportunity of carrying out the understanding which was arrived at on that occasion.
§ MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I must say it is rather disappointing for those who come down to the House with the idea of making progress with the business on the Paper, to find on reaching 226 the House, that time has been wasted in the discussion of a Motion of which no notice had been given. It is very much to be regretted that no notice was given. The Government say it would be disadvantageous to postpone the Bill, but I believe there are means of obviating the disadvantage, and in order to give the Government time to consider those means, I move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. A. O'Connor).
§ The House divided: Ayes 63; Noes 113.—(Div. List, No. 143.)
§ Original Question put.
The House divided: — Ayes 115; Noes 63.—(Div. List, No. 144.)
Ordered, That the Motions relating to the Coal Duties (London) Abolition Bill may be taken, this day, at any hour though opposed, and the Proceedings thereon shall not be interrupted at half-past Five or Six o'clock. But as soon as the said Motions, and any subsequent Unopposed Business, are disposed of, the Speaker shall adjourn the House without Question put.