HC Deb 01 April 1890 vol 343 cc410-5

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Proceedings on Supply have precedence at the Evening Sitting this day, and also to-morrow; and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the Sittings of the House this day and to-morrow."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)

(2.56.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I think the right hon. Gentleman should have given some reasons for the Motion. Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman will remember, was the first day on which the House was asked to consider the Civil Service Estimates, and that being so any hon. Member had a right to call attention to subjects before the Speaker left the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman said he expected to pass the whole of the first Class of Civil Service Estimates. Now, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, looking at the precedents, that was a preposterous expectation. We might have gone on with the preliminary discussion until 12 o'clock; but as we understood that the right hon. Gentleman wanted to have some money, we took the unusual course of allowing you, Sir, to leave the Chair at 8 or half-past 8 o'clock. It must not be forgotten that the matter was put off until the very last day before the holidays. Everyone knows that the Votes on the Royal Palaces and on the Royal Parks invariably gave rise to a very considerable amount of discussion, as various Members desire to make comments upon them. The right hon. Gentleman got those two Votes, and he was fortunate in getting them. On the first Vote there was a good deal of discussion, but upon the second there was hardly any. The right hon. Gentleman also got a Vote on Account for two months; and if he will point out one or two Votes in connection with which there are contracts we will be ready to assent to them. But I think it is unfair to us and to hon. Gentlemen opposite to call upon us to pass the whole of the first Class of the Civil Service Estimates before we leave for the vacation. A good many Gentlemen, not dreaming that the right hon. Gentleman would ask for these Votes, have gone away. If it is the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to get money, it is the duty of hon. Members to criticise the Votes. Let there be a modus vivendi. The next Vote is a very controversial Vote.

An hon. MEMBER: What is it?


It is a Vote of £195,000 for the Houses of Parliament. If the right hon. Gentleman will consent to take a couple of Votes which will give him enough money, and will then agree to the adjournment of the House, the whole thing can be settled; but to ask us to pass the whole of these Votes in a perfunctory manner is to ask us to abrogate our duties as an Opposition. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that if he persists in taking this extraordinary course the proceedings are likely to be somewhat lengthy. There is only one instance in which Class I. of the Civil Service Estimates was taken in one night, and it was when the Government brought in their Local Government Bill. There was a feeling on this side of the House that we should be able to turn out right hon. Gentlemen opposite upon that measure. We were deceived, and it was no encouragement to induce us to act in the same manner again. I ask the Government to take now that which has been the usual course on other occasions, and not to keep hon. Members here when they want to be elsewhere.

*(3.0.) MR. W. H. SMITH

I am in the recollection of the House when I state that from time to time during the last week I urged upon the House the necessity which the. Government were under of asking for Class I. before the Adjournment. The grounds upon which we asked for those Votes were that there were contracts involved, and, unless the Votes were sanctioned, the most favourable opportunity for building operations would be lost, and serious inconvenience would be caused to the public interest. These contracts extend to all the Votes, and it is on that ground that I adhere to the intimation which I gave with regard to them. Therefore, though it may be the duty of hon. Members to criticise the Votes, it is equally the duty of the Government to endeavour to conduct the business of the House with due regard to the convenience of the House and the public interest, even though in doing so they may trench upon the holidays which hon. Members have a right to expect. Some of the discussions last night might have been curtailed without injury to the public interest. The Government are most anxious to meet the views of every Member of the House, so far as may be consistent with their obligations to the public.


Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? I think we may come to an arrangement if the right hon. Gentleman will leave out Votes No. 6 (Art and Science Buildings) and No. 7 (the Diplomatic and Consular Buildings), which I do not think are pressing. There are a great many Gentlemen who desire to discuss questions connected with them. [Ministerial cries of "No, no !"] If the right hon. Gentleman will do that I believe we shall be able to come to an arrangement.


I am exceedingly sorry that I am not able to comply with the suggestion, which the hon. Gentleman deems a reasonable proposal. The views of hon. Members might be expressed shortly; I am sure they will be expressed shortly on this side of the House.


There are Members who wish to speak who are not here.


I cannot postpone the Votes. Hon. Gentlemen have had ample notice that these Votes would be asked for before the Adjournment. We must ask for Votes down to No. 13 (Rates on Government Property), postponing Vote 14 (for Public Works and Buildings), before I can move the Adjournment of the House.


Are the Government in earnest in pushing forward to-day the Contagious Diseases (Animals) (Pleuropneumonia) Bill?

(3.5.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)

I think that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to Votes which involve building contracts is a very reasonable one. The Diplomatic and Consular Buildings Vote, however, is scarcely subject to that observation. This Vote includes the building of an agency house at Cairo, a subject which has frequently given rise to discussion. It is important that the contracts referring to buildings in England should be entered into at once; but as it is not so important in the case of the diplomatic and consular buildings I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should postpone that Vote.


I can only speak again by the indulgence of the House, but I wish to state that there is a special reason connected with the Cairo item in the Vote which obliges the Government to ask for the decision of the House upon it. There is a contract for the land on which the Agency House is to be erected, and this contract only lasts until March 31. The contract has been extended for a few days, in order to give the Government an opportunity of obtaining the decision of the House on the question. If the Vote is postponed the contract lapses altogether, and there would be no site available upon which to erect a building.


I am afraid that when the two sides of the House get to loggerheads the public business makes very little progress. It is quite evident that the Government can, if they choose, force these Estimates through the House with very little discussion. But if they take the Committee stage before Easter, there is still the Report stage to follow. Will the right hon. Gentleman promise to afford an opportunity of discussing the Votes on Report?


Well, I think that is a reasonable proposal, and I will endeavour, as far as possible, to meet the views of the hon. Gentleman as to any particular Vote on which discussion may be desired.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not take the discussion on the Report of the Naval Vote.


I agree to that.

MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)

I think we want a more definite assurance as to the opportunity of discussing the Votes on Report.

*(3.10.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

To my mind this question of dealing with the public money is the most important question which the House of Commons has to consider. The manner in which Votes of money are rushed through the House appears to me to be simply scandalous. A great deal of time is occupied by the House in discussing other matters, but it does not give nearly sufficient time to the consideration of spending money. If Supply is rushed through in the hasty way now proposed, there will be no opportunity afforded to hon. Members of ventilating grievances, which, in the interests of the people, we ought to have. It is not merely a question for hon. Members. It is a question for the country, and the people of the country demand that all questions concerning the expenditure of money should be properly discussed and considered. I object to anything like a threat on the part of the right hon. Gentleman that hon. Members will lose their holidays if these Votes are not passed. This is neither a fair nor a proper argument to use towards the House. It may be all very well to treat the Irish Members in this way, but there is no one strong enough in this country to treat with contempt and also with impunity Members representing English constituencies. I would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to answer the questions which are put to him, and not to compel hon. Members to ask the same questions twice over. Let them tell us what they want in regard to these building contracts and we shall be glad to comply with their wishes. The Government must remember that they cannot conceal these things; they can be discussed either now or on Report; and I insist upon proper answers being given to hon. Members by the right hon. Gentleman. I trust that in future hon. Members will take more interest in questions connected with the expenditure of the money of the people.


Supposing the right hon. Gentleman obtains the Votes he desires in a reasonable time this afternoon, will he then move the Adjournment of the House at once?


Last night I indicated that the Government would ask the House to pass the Committee stage of the South Indian Railway Purchase Bill and the Second Reading of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill. I believe that those Bills will take but a very short time.

Question put, and agreed to.

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