§ * THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand Westminster
, in rising to move, "That until Easter whenever the Committee of Supply is appointed for Tuesday or Thursday the House shall meet at 2 of the clock. At such Morning Sittings the Committee of Supply shall be the principal business, and the provisions of Standing Order 56 shall be extended to Tuesday, The Motion appointing the next Sitting of the Committee of Supply may be taken at any hour, though opposed," said: During the past 20 years the difficulties which have been experienced by the House itself in regard to the discussion of the Estimates have been considerable. I remember, in previous years, to have taken part in the objections urged in the House against the practice of asking for repeated Votes on Account, and have myself deplored the delay connected with the business of Committee of Supply in many Sessions of Parliament. I believe that every Government, without exception, has been most anxious to take steps to remedy that acknowledged evil, and make a serious attempt to grapple with it. Various Select Committees have from time to time been appointed to consider whether better arrangements cannot be made for that purpose. A strong Committee in 1885 gave the question a great amount of consideration; but they were unable to arrive at a conclusion which offered any 1292 hope of affording the relief desired in regard to the despatch of public business. Last Session, again, a Committee, of which the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale (the Marquess of Hartington) was Chairman, very seriously considered the question. It has been suggested that a Standing Committee might be appointed to deal with the questions involved in the voting of Supply; but no conclusion has been adopted which will be sufficient to justify the House in making any very considerable departure from the present form of procedure in Committee of Supply. I think that anyone who looks back to our past experience must feel that many of the discussions in Committee of Supply have not been of a businesslike or satisfactory character, and that it is very desirable, if possible, that questions involved in Votes of Supply should be considered by an authoritative body, which will aid the House and the Government in arriving at a satisfactory result. But no such suggestion has been made in any form that gives the slightest hope that it is likely to be accepted by the House, and, therefore, the Government are forced to fall back on the existing system, with such modifications as are found to be practicable. Under the present practice the pressure of public business has driven the voting of Supply to a late period of the Session, and the very prolonged discussions on certain Votes has led to other Votes having afterwards to be passed with a slight amount of consideration. Now, if it should be decided that the Government must appropriate the ordinary Government days, Mondays and Thursdays, to Committee of Supply, it will result in this—that, taking yesterday, the 7th of March, as the first day of Committee of Supply this Session, every Monday and Thursday up to the end of July will be absorbed by Committee of Supply. That is assuming the business of Supply to occupy as much of our time as it did in the Sessions of 1887 and 1888. I wish to show that some change is absolutely necessary if the House is to give proper consideration to the business of Supply. I do not doubt that hon. Members themselves may effect a considerable change in our progress with the Votes if they slightly condense their speeches in Committee of Supply and proportion their observations to the im- 1293 portance of the items discussed. I remember that in former years both sides of the House approached Supply in a perfect impartial spirit, with a desire to assist the progress of business, and with much lees of that kind of discussion which tends to delay it. But I do not wish to say anything to protract this discussion. I am only anxious to invite the attention of the House to a most grave and important question, and to recommend it to accept the proposal of the Government, by which I hope we shall be better able to get through the business of the country, and to abate what has amounted to something like a public scandal. In proposing that Supply should be taken at the Morning Sittings of Tuesday and Thursday, I fully recognize that it must be reserved to the House, to the Government, and to the Opposition itself to require a different appropriation of the time of the House for special reasons; but I trust that, if the Resolution is passed, we shall at least endeavour to make the best use of the time so appropriated for the purpose of making progress with Supply, and so rendering Votes on Account less necessary than they have been in the past. It is not necessary to discuss the matter historically, and therefore, I will only say that I prefer to begin the Session this way rather than at a later period to have to make appeals for concessions, which then take the character of a much more complete absorption of the time of private Members than I now desired to make. The absorption of the whole time of the House by the Government has been necessary in the public interest, but it is an exceedingly unsatisfactory condition of things, and it is one which I hope may be avoided by the assistance of Members on both sides of the House. If we can only find a method of dealing with the problem before us in a business-like manner—in something like the manner in which other great Assemblies transact theirs, I think we may accomplish even better results with a saving of time. I beg to move the Resolution.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That until Easter, whenever the Committee of Supply is appointed for Tuesday or Thursday, the House shall meet at Two of the clock. At such Morning Sittings the Committee of Supply shall he the principal Business, and the
provisions of Standing Order 56 shall he extended to Tuesday. The Motion appointing the next Sitting of the Committee of Supply may he taken at any hour, though opposed."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I am very sorry the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian is not able to be present to-day, but I am sufficiently acquainted with the views of the right hon. Gentleman to be able to answer the Leader of the House. I will not dispute that the condition of business in the House is unsatisfactory, and that it has been so for a long time; but I am afraid that the Opposition and the Government will not agree as to the causes of that unsatisfactory condition; and the remedy I would recommend would be very much wider and broader than Motions of this kind. We have been promised over and over again that the House of Commons shall have plenty of time to deal with all the subjects it desires to discuss, because in a certain portion of the United Kingdom the success of the Government's administration has been such that there is really no question of difficulty there. If that were so we need not anticipate any discussions upon that subject; but I am not so sanguine, and I am afraid that there are difficulties that will still lead to a good deal of discussion. It is true that proposals were made in former times for dealing with the Estimates. In 1886 there was a Committee on the subject, presided over by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale, and the Government then made proposals for dealing with the Estimates, but they were rejected by the friends of the right hon. Gentleman, and mainly through the opposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No doubt the Estimates occupied more time last year than in former years, but the obvious reason was that the Government took the whole time of the House. The consequence has been that the utmost ingenuity has been employed to find in Committee of Supply opportunities for discussion which cannot be had in any other way. It is for the same reason that the Debate on the Address has become, of late years, so protracted. The Government is now asking for a limited sacrifice of the time of private Members. I understand the present Motion only asks for the time of the House till Easter, and, of course, 1295 it is on that footing, and on that footing alone, that we have to deal with this proposal. I quite admit the great difficulty in which the Government are placed at this moment is partly owing to the late commencement of the Session, with reference to Votes in Supply which must be obtained before a certain date. To the limited demand made for the purpose of enabling legal conditions to be fulfilled I have no opposition to offer; and I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that the enforcement of the Resolution must be subject to the condition of allowing time for the discussion of questions that may be raised by the Opposition. For I contemplate that we shall have grave matters to bring before the House, and I desire that they shall be submitted to the House at the earliest possible moment. On the Vote on Account we shall desire to challenge the conduct of the Executive Government in this country and in Ireland. There are questions to be raised with regard to the conduct of the principal Law Officer of the Crown and with regard to Irish magistrates and constables; and these are matters which might be properly discussed on the Vote on Account. There is also another matter, which it would be premature to refer to, but upon which it will be our duty to ask for the opinion of the House. I will be no party to limiting the liberties of private Members, but I will not oppose the facilities asked for by the Government in the special circumstances, and under the necessary conditions which have been recognized by the Leader of the House.
§ * MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
I certainly did not expect that we should have any assistance from the Front Bench below me in resisting this demand of the Government; the Front Benches invariably agree in the attempt to absorb the time of private Member. I do not believe there is anyone in the House but is anxious that the discussions in Supply should be more frequent and more efficient than they have been in the past, but I do not believe the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman will tend to that result. There are two strong objections to it; in the first place it is an unwarranted infringement of the rights of private Members; and, secondly, it will cause an undue prolongation of the 1296 Sittings of the House without adequate reason shown for it. The right hon. Gentleman says let us meet at 2 o'clock, but he forgot to remind us that when we do so we sit until 1 o'clock the next morning. In regard to private Members, I am bound to say that I may be somewhat partial in this matter, because I have for the first time after four or five years of membership had the satisfaction of drawing the first place for the coming Tuesday, and now the Government propose to take away my ewe lamb. I naturally resent it. But the right hon. Gentleman tells us that we may have our discussions in the evening, but every Member knows perfectly well that unless the matter is one combining Radicalism with amusement, such, for instance, as the reform of the House of Lords, it is impossible for a private Member to make or keep a House after five hours' work and the two hours' interval, and practically it comes to this, that the Government secure five hours for official work, the House is counted at 9 o'clock, and you, Sir, have an opportunity of going to bed at a reasonable time. I must say, if the Government are to make a proposal in reference to Tuesdays, it would be much better for them to be bold, and to say the exigencies of the time require us to take the whole day. As it is, they only get five hours, and the rest of the time is almost certain to be wasted. I would much rather see them get a good night of the ordinary hours for Supply than see this time wasted. It is perfectly true that one reason why there is so much time absorbed in Motions on the Estimates, on adjournments and discussions in Supply, is that the Government are always intruding on the rights of private Members. If private Members cannot get these rights in meal they will have them in malt. I do not believe this appropriation of Tuesdays will save any of the time of the House, because Members who find themselves counted out will take care to raise questions in which they are interested on the Estimates or in some other way. The right hon. Gentleman says he only asks this now in order to save the absorption of time of private Members later on in the Session. I never yet heard a Government make this proposal, without saying that they do it to 1297 safeguard future rights; and after Easter we shall find the Government ready with another proposal to absorb more of our rights. So much in regard to Tuesday. But I do want to ask what in the world is the reason for making this proposal in reference to Thursdays? It simply comes to this—that instead of sitting from 3 to 12 we shall sit from 2 to 7, and from 9 to 1. Why, we all know perfectly well and I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would know, that the best time to get through business, especially Supply, is just those two hours about dinner-time. We shall have, instead of nine consecutive hours, a division into five hours and four hours—the first period taken up by the front benches, and a great part of the second. What possible gain can be expected I cannot see. The number of hours will be exactly the same, and hon. Members will be inconvenienced by having the hour in the morning and the hour after 12 o'clock added, or one hour at each end, the Government losing two hours, and those the two best hours, in the middle. I protest most emphatically against the proposal—not that we do not desire that Supply should be adequately discussed, but we object at this early period—the third week of the Session—to private Members' rights being ruthlessly invaded; and the proposal as to Thursday is one of the most extraordinary with reference to business that any Government—even a Conservative Government—ever made to the House.
§ MR. E. T. REID (Dumfries)
I will not prolong the debate beyond a few words. Certainly I am somewhat disappointed that my right hon. Friend (Sir W. Harcourt) has taken the course he has taken; for, although I have every confidence in him upon other matters, I have not on this subject—the protection of the rights of private Members. Now, what is the situation? At the very beginning of the Session, and with no special circumstances to justify them, the Government takeaway a considerable portion of private Members' time down to Easter; and if they do it now, I do not see why they should not do it at the commencement of every Session. There are important questions which hon. Members desire to raise; for example, the hon. Member for West Nottingham has a Motion in reference 1298 to the condition of the poor in our great cities. Last year his opportunity was taken away in this manner, and now it is to be taken away again, merely to enable the Government easily and leisurely to get through Supply. Many projects have at different times been submitted to the House, any one of which the Government might have adopted instead of thus taking away private Members' rights. These encroachments are continually going on. From 1880 to 1885 there were few; in 1886 and 1887 they increased; and in 1888 the time of private Members was almost entirely taken away; and now, at an earlier stage than ever, the process is continued, against all the traditions of the House. It has always been customary to allow Members facilities for bringing on matters of public interest, and, public attention being thus directed, they frequently afterwards become the subject of important measures.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The form in which the hon. Member has put down his Amendment cannot appear on the Journals of the House, as it is not, as it stands, an independent proposition. Perhaps it will suit the hon. Member's purpose to meet the right hon. Gentleman's proposal with a negative.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
I have a good deal of sympathy with Members against whom there seems to be a conspiracy of the two front benches. I confess I am not surprised in the least at the course taken by the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt). He is always extremely liberal, and in this case he does not mind how much of private Members' time is taken up, provided he gets the opportunity of ventilating any grievance against the Government whenever he pleases. That is an attitude I am not surprised at. But I submit there is another side to this question. Undoubtedly it is desirable that we should get on better with Supply than we have done in recent Sessions. Undoubtedly, in these days it does take a great deal longer for any Government to get Supply than it did some years ago, when first I had the honour of a seat in this House, and this is mainly owing to the increase and development of the talking powers of hon. Members. 1299 Now we are told that to fulfil the conditions of the law these days must be appropriated by the Government, and if it is absolutely necessary we must consent to it; but it appears to me the conditions of the law would be fulfilled if, instead of taking the Tuesdays up to Easter, the Government took them up to March 31. This suggestion I submit for consideration. I have always protested against this absorption of private Members' rights, and I confess I am the more inclined to to do so now, having in view a subject in which I take great interest—interest that I know is shared on both sides of the House; and certainly I shall take what steps I can to secure a day for its discussion before the end of the Session. I hope the suggestion I have made to limit the Motion to March 31 will find favour; but, whether or no, the passing of this Motion must not be taken as a precedent to be followed up with another immediately after Easter. My experience is that a Motion made thus early is very likely to be soon renewed.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
There are strong reasons why we should not consent to this proposal. It will be in the recollection of the House that on Wednesday afternoon a special appeal was made to the Leader of the House in reference to a Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for West Nottingham, raising a very important question, which we hoped to have fully and properly discussed. That Motion stands for the 26th; but a week earlier there is a Motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), in which many Members on both sides take the deepest interest. During the whole of last Session my hon. Friend was unfortunate in the ballot; but, having been more fortunate this Session, I sincerely hope his opportunity will not be taken away. From the shake of the right hon. Gentleman's head I suppose I may infer that he means that it will not be taken away, because there will be opportunity for discussion at the Evening Sitting; but I submit the time at our disposal in the evening would not be sufficient to deal with a question of such vital importance, for I know there is a desire among many Members on both sides to take part in the discussion. I certainly could not give a silent vote on this occasion, and I make an appeal 1300 at least to except the 19th and 26th from this Motion, that we may have the opportunity of discussing Motions that are of vital interest to the industrial classes of the country.
§ * SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)
I can quite understand the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) when he says he will have ample opportunity of discussing the difficult and delicate questions he is prepared to bring before the House, and that is a statement which of course the First Lord will take notice of, because it means that we shall be considerably delayed with the Estimates, even with the time the Government now propose to take. The Committee of Public Accounts are considering whether the number of Civil Service Votes can be reduced; but there is another point that deserves serious consideration, and that is whether, in this branch of the Estimates, Votes might be taken and used precisely in the same way as they are used in the Navy and Army Estimates. If that were done, I venture to say it would prevent a large waste of the time of the House. I merely mention it as a subject deserving serious consideration. Now, we were kept here until Christmas last year. Do you want to be kept here until Christmas again? I venture to say we ought to do everything in our power to prevent an Autumn Session, and it is only by working steadily at the Estimates that we can prevent that. We all know what a melancholy failure that Autumn Session was, and I hope we shall not be placed in such a position again. Therefore it is that while disliking, as I do, taking away the time of private Members, I shall support the proposal. It must be remembered that at least private Members will have as much time as the Government up to Easter, half Tuesdays and all Wednesdays and Fridays. But I would, however, make an appeal to my right hon. Friend in respect to Thursdays. I cannot for the life of me see what object is to be gained by the proposal. Let us have Supply on Thursday and proceed consecutively through the day. I am not at all sure that even the Government, without great pressure, will be able to keep a House at 9 o'clock. I am sure it would be more in the interest of business to leave Thursday as it is.
§ MR. T. E. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
I support resistance to this combination of the front benches to take away the time of private Members. Year by year this encroachment increases under Liberal and Conservative Governments alike. But our grievances must be discussed, if not in the old way on the Motion for going into Supply, then upon special Votes as they arise, so progress is not actually accelerated. The hope that our time after Easter will not be taken is utterly groundless. It is a completely hollow promise for the right hon. Gentleman to hold out any hope that the Government will be more tender with our time then than now. Let me point to one consideration in reference to this meeting at 2 o'clock on two days of the week. It is putting an unnecessary and unfair strain upon a large number of Members who attend Committees upstairs. They cannot attend to their duties there commencing at noon, and then take that interest in the proceedings here as they are supposed to do until 1 o'clock the next morning. It is unprecedented for the Government to make this demand at this period of the Session. When the right hon. Gentleman asks us to work as other great Assemblies do, he asks us to do an impossible task. No other Assembly attempts to do the work we attempt, attending to the interest of an Empire of untold millions, and actively superintending the government of every parish, county, and nationality in the United Kingdom. You are asking us to perform an impossible task. Various Governments have tried to change our Rules of Procedure, but it becomes more apparent Session by Session that this House has completely broken down under the strain put upon it, and that you never will be able, by any changes in procedure, to keep abreast of the work to be done. The only remedy is that hinted at by the right hon. Gentleman last Session, that, instead of putting increased work on one Assembly, you should delegate to local Assemblies in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, work that can be more effectually done by them. I hope opposition to this Motion will be pressed to Division.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN, St. George's,) Hanover Square
I can assure the 1302 House this proposal is made with every desire to meet the views of hon. Members. Supply is in one sense Government business, but in another sense it affords to Members the opportunity of criticizing the conduct of the Executive Government, and the performance of a certain portion of those functions for which the right hon. Gentleman opposite is so anxious to retain full time to private Members. But I am bound to say it appears to me that a larger number of private Members have far more opportunities of taking part in criticism of the Executive on the days of Supply than on those particular days when a private. Member brings forward a Motion, and when he does not, perhaps, secure a very large attendance. I can assure hon. Members that the Government have a harder time when Supply is before the House than when a private Member's Motion is under consideration. If we consulted merely our own convenience, we should rejoice at the Motions on Tuesday, inasmuch as most of the Ministers can then take a holiday, instead of having to be present in the House prepared as we ought to be, and as I hope we are, to meet the criticisms that may be passed upon our conduct. The hon. Member opposite says no Assembly in the world has such a mighty task, and I entirely agree with him, but no Assembly devotes anything like the proportion of time we do to the minutest criticism of the minutest details in the Estimates. I have often wondered, when I have heard two Members discussing as they did last year over so small an item as £10 paid for a park-keeper's ammunition, if they consider that there may be others who desire to discuss colonial and other large matters of administration. A small number of Members carry their criticism to such a minute point that they prevent time being given to larger and more general questions of policy which certainly ought to engage the atttention of the House. I can assure the House that in proposing to take Morning Sittings on, Tuesday and Thursday, it is with the idea that we should allow some reciprocity to Members for the time taken from Tuesday. We do not seek to take the time from them without an assurance that a portion of the time shall be given to Supply. I judge that I am not 1303 mistaken in the belief that the right hon. Gentleman opposite considers it a reciprocal concession on our part. It was made with that view, and we have reason to believe it was so estimated by some Members for whose judgment we have considerable regard. What I would suggest to the House is, that they should, at least, allow us to take this on trial and see how it works. We are only anxious to get on with Supply. Hon. Members will admit that Supply is to a great extent private Members' time, for not only do we vote the money, but we ventilate grievances—and grievances are freely brought forward in relation to many subjects for which Supply affords ample opportunity. Therefore, we really thought we were not trenching much on the rights of Members in making the suggestion. We ask you at least to give it a trial until Easter; and if it does not work smoothly, if hon. Members do not get their opportunity, it will be open to us to reconsider the matter. We do not wish to force our view with any degree of obstinacy or persistency, but there is a desire that Supply should be brought on early, and full opportunity will be given for financial criticism, as well as for the ventilation of grievances that arise in connection with administration.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
The right hon. Gentleman said he was willing to make a sacrifice in conceding an alteration as regards Tuesday.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
AS regards Tuesday, I think the right hon. Gentleman used the word "sacrifice." I can assure him we do not want him to make that sacrifice, and that we prefer to remain as we are as regards Tuesday. The right hon. Gentleman says he makes the sacrifice to us as a sort of quid pro quo, but are we sure that he will put down the Estimates on Thursdays as well as Tuesdays? What is to prevent him on a Thursday going on with the Estimates for a certain number of hours, and then going on with other business? I really believe the majority on both sides of the House would infinitely prefer to meet at 3 o'clock and adjourn at 12 o'clock, than to meet at 2 and adjourn from 7 till 9 o'clock and then sit until 1 o'clock. I do hope we shall have some sort of 1304 assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that he will not press this matter as regards Thursday. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) came forward as a private Member, and said he had sympathy with us. It is an exceedingly barren sympathy. He is going to vote against us, this sympathetic friend. He says that this will not be established as a precedent for the taking of all Tuesdays, because it appears that the right hon. Gentleman wants it after Easter, to treat us to an essay on bimetallism. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that if you give an inch to a Minister he will take an ell. We will not get back the Tuesdays after Easter, and they will take our Fridays. It is an additional reason with me for voting against the Resolution that I might lose the chance of hearing the most interesting essay on bimetallism. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the Members of both front benches need to be thoroughly instructed in these matters. A man once he becomes a Minister, loses half his virtue. The reason private Members have been crushed like worms is because hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House will not turn. There are two notes upon this question—the official and the non-official or private Members below the Gangway on either side of the House. Private Members have always stood together—irrespective of Party—in protection of their rights; but the reason why we cannot get those rights now is that hon. Gentlemen on those benches are too servile to their Leaders. It is notorious that no reforms whatever would have been brought forward had it not been for private Members, who bring forward their measures or resolutions, probably getting small divisions at first, but gradually increasing them until the Ministry, from considerations of Party support in the House and country, are at length compelled to deal with the questions so brought into public view for settlement. It is absolutely essential for the well-being of this country, and for the progress of any species of reform, that you should have private Members' nights. We have been told that the Estimates must be pressed forward at this time of the Session, otherwise we shall have to sit until Christmas. Irrespective of the Estimates, there will 1305 be a good deal to discuss, and which we will insist upon discussing. But surely there is no necessity for taking private Members' nights after we have only been sitting for fourteen days, unless it is the fear of sitting until Christmas. I cannot see anything in the gracious Speech of Her Majesty to show that the Government have any important business to lay before this House. We are going to have an increase of the Navy, which will of course be approved on this side of the House. We are going to have a Scotch Local Government Bill, in respect of which, knowing nothing about Scotch business, I shall vote with the majority of Scotch Members, who ought to know pretty well what they want. I do hope the First Lord of the Treasury will reconsider this proposal, or if not—for I know that he has the majority at his back—that he will reconsider it with regard to Thursday.
§ * MR. DE LISLE (Mid Leicestershire)
I hope the House will pardon my supporting the Motion, for, in doing so, I shall be imposing on myself a Lenten penance, which, like other Lenten penances, may not lead to an amendment of life. I agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that Morning Sittings do not add much to our work, and at the Evening Sittings it is often impossible to keep a House for the discussion of questions in which we are interested. I hope this is the last time a Motion of this kind will be proposed. I hope the House will give a kind consideration to the proposal which I had on the Paper last Session, for it meets nearly all the objections which have been urged on both sides of the House. It has been said by the First Lord of the Treasury that discussions in Committee of Supply are generally not of a profitable kind. Now my proposal is that thirty days of the Session should be set apart for the discussion of the Estimates, dividing the total into 10 parts, and allowing for the discussion of each class of the Estimates three days. When these three days had elapsed, then the Closure would, by automatic action, be applied at midnight. Thirty days are in excess of the average number, the figures given by the First Lord of the Treasury-showing that the number of days devoted to Supply for the last 20 years average 26 days, although last year 42 1306 days were devoted to Supply. In classes of the Civil Service which are sub-divided into English, Scotch, and Irish Estimates the Government, by taking English Estimates the first day, Scotch the second, and Irish the third day, would be able to reduce the discussion of Irish affairs to just and well-proportioned limits, and if necessary to insure adequate and fair discussion. Spokesmen might be selected on both sides, who should devote their energies to the subjects which they had mastered. I hope the House will give this proposal their careful consideration. As a loyal supporter of the Government, I am bound, though not without regret, to vote for the Motion of the First Lord of the Treasury.
§ SIR W. FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
The hon. Member who has just sat down says he will vote for the Motion as a matter of penance; but I must join with hon. Members in protesting against this interference with private Members' rights. Our experience of Evening Sittings last Session was by no means satisfactory, for the House counted out on several occasions. Now, when there are several questions affecting the industrial classes to be discussed, I emphatically object to a return to a system that has worked badly. I think it is time private Members should protest against these reciprocal concessions being made at their expense. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is to restore the custom of last Session with regard to Tuesdays, and which did not work well, and further it seeks to apply that which worked badly to another day of the week. I do not see the advantage of it. It is a great inconvenience to hon. Members to be brought down to the House at two o'clock, only to adjourn at seven and meeting again at nine—a course which gives you exactly the same number of working hours, only with this disadvantage, that an interval like that from seven to nine retards the work therefore, I holding as I do, that the use of Thursday as a day for Morning Sittings would interfere with the business of the House, I move that the words "or Thursday" be omitted.
§ SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)
I beg to second the Amendment, and would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury to give due consideration to the 1307 general feeling of this House on the subject. I am quite ready to come here at two o'clock, but I have a strong objection to stay here till one o'clock in the morning, especially when two hours in the middle of the time are rendered absolutely useless.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "or Thursday."—(Sir Walter Foster.)
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
There seems to be a strong feeling in the House as to the inconvenience of the arrangement as to Thursday, and I would suggest that the Government might avoid the inconvenience of a Morning Sitting on that day if they would allow the House to meet at the usual hour on the understanding that after a certain amount of time has been given to Supply, progress shall be reported and the legislative business proceeded with. The Government can hardly expect to get through all the legislative business on the Monday, and must, therefore, have some portion of another day on which legislative measures can be considered.
§ * MR. W. H. SMITH
If it be the pleasure of the House to sit at three o'clock on Thursdays instead of two, I shall not object so long as the House is agreeable to carry out the spirit of the proposal I have submitted, and give an amount of time to Supply equal to that which we shall obtain on Tuesdays. In that case I will endeavour to carry out the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, and not insist on the part of the Resolution which relates to Thursday.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I object entirely to the proposal of the Government, who are anxious to put further obstacles in the way of the discussion of Irish business. I think there never was a time when the Government were less entitled to take the time of private Members. I can assure my Friends below the Gangway who have spoken with sorrow of the opportunities that will be lost to them in regard to the consideration of matters in which they are interested, that it is not English matters of which the Government are thinking; the object of this proposal is entirely to extinguish Irish discussions. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh, and I quite agree with the suggestion 1308 that laughter conveys—namely, that Her Majesty's Government will not succeed in preventing the discussion of Irish matters. We have in Ireland a most stringent Coercion Act—the operation of which is producing daily acts of cruelty and injustice—and the Irish people, in view of this, have a right to have their affairs discussed in this House. The more the Government coerce in Ireland, the more strenuously will they endeavour to apply the Closure with regard to Irish discussions in this House; the Closure with them being the complement of Coercion.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
If the Government will only frankly state that no business will be taken at the Tuesday Morning Sittings except Supply, and that no other business of a contentious character will be taken, I think the House will be satisfied. I should like to know what the Government mean by "the principal business?" Do they mean that no business shall be taken on Tuesday mornings except Supply and purely formal business, and that they will not bring on contentious matters?
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
While thanking the Government for the concession they have made, I am fully of opinion that it does not meet our objections to their proposals, and therefore I shall feel bound to divide the House on the Question.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I think we ought to have some clear understanding as to what is to be "the principal business;" and that the Resolution is not to be used except for the most formal business beyond Supply.
§ * MR. W. H. SMITH
It might be necessary to take the Report of Committee of Supply, or a stage of the Consolidated Fund Bill.
§ Question, "That the words 'or Thursday' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Main Question, as amended, put:—The House divided; Ayes 255; Noes 132.—(Division List, No. 11.)
§ Resolved, That until Easter, whenever the Committee of Supply is appointed for Tuesday, the House shall meet at 2 of the clock. At such Morning Sittings the Committee of Supply shall be the principal Business, and the provisions of Standing Order 56 shall be 1309 extended to Tuesday. The Motion appointing the next Sitting of the Committee of Supply may be taken at any hour, though opposed.