§ (6.0.) Mr. LABOUCHERE,
Member for Northampton, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the serious condition of Public Business, which has been caused by the mismanagement of the Government: but the pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. Speaker called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen:—
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
The First Lord of the Treasury has given notice of his intention to move an alteration in the Standing Orders with regard to carrying Bills over until the next Session, and he has also laid down a programme of business to be taken during the present Session. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be under the impression that his programme will be received with thanks by the Opposition side of the House, and that it is a fair and legitimate 1178 and proper one for the facilitation of public business. The House ought to look back a little in order to consider what it is that has brought it into the present difficulty, because most unquestionably the House at the present moment is in a very great mess and muddle, which, I contend, is entirely due to the action of the Government. At the beginning of the Session there was, as usual, a Speech from the Throne. In it the House was told that certain Bills would be brought forward, but, in addition to this, it is desirable to remember, for no particular reason that I could understand, Parliament met later this Session than in any previous Session. I think, however, that the Government programme, as then laid down, was a full programme. We were told there was to be a Bill to alter the present system of Tithes, a Bill for Land Purchase in Ireland, and it was indicated there would be a Bill for the Local Government of Ireland. These were to be the Government Bills, as the House understood. But the Irish Local Government Bill has disappeared. It was only after Whitsuntide that the Bill for Land Purchase in Ireland was read a second time; but suddenly, just before Whitsuntide, it was sprung upon the 1179 House in a sort of indirect, incidental way at first, that it would have to consider the question of compensation for the publicans whose licences were not to be renewed. If Her Majesty's Ministers had looked at the question as practical men, seeing what is the ordinary habit of the House in regard to discussion, knowing that the Land Bill for Ireland would meet with the strongest opposition, knowing that the Tithe Bill would be most exhaustively discussed, they must have seen that it was monstrous and preposterous for the First Lord then to spring upon the House this Compensation Bill. But surely the House had a right to suppose that the prominent and important measures of the Session were those mentioned in the Queen's Speech. So far as I can see, Ministers were not entirely at one with each other. Each Member of the Government had his own little Bill. The Chief Secretary had his Land Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman wanted to distinguish himself in the matter. I do not say that it is a case of absolute jealousy between the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but they are two eminent Gentlemen, sitting on the same Bench, and each is eager to distinguish himself. Then there is another element. We have not the advantage of possessing the Prime Minister as a Member of this House, but the House has the son of the Prime Minister perpetually coming forward like Master Wackford Squeers, and asking when a Bill in which his father was apparently especially interested was going to be put before the House. We have heard of persons trying to drive three coaches abreast through Temple Bar, but here we have three gentlemen on the Treasury Bench trying to cut each other out and each trying to push forward his own Bill. This is the cause of the block. But, surely, the First Lord of the Treasury does not forget that he is under a pledge to the House. During the last two or three Sessions the consideration of the Estimates has been persistently put off until the end of the Session. We know what that means. We know that in August there is the greatest anxiety on the part of Members to get away for the holidays, and any hon. Member who wishes fairly to discuss questions connected with the Estimates 1180 finds the greatest difficulty in resisting the general feeling then prevalent, and the question is probably allowed to drop. The House was told last Session that the Government would bring forward the Estimates early this Session. Undoubtedly, some Estimates were considered at an early period, and I and my hon. Friends showed ourselves to be most kindly disposed towards the right hon. Gentleman. In two or three days a great many Votes were passed—an exceptional number, considering the time devoted to them. About 32 days are ordinarily devoted to the Estimates in the course of a Session. Up to the present this Session we have only had six or seven days. If, then, we take the average number of days, the First Lord of the Treasury will see that we have a claim for at least 20 more days for Supply. There are most important matters connected with the Estimates at the present time. There has hardly been a single Irish Debate during the present Session. The Irish Members have given a free hand to Ministers, but they wish to raise most important points on the Estimates. At present Ireland is governed under exceptional legislation, and the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian once said that so long as this kind of legislation is in force every Irish Representative has a perfect right to bring forward any case of injustice or unfairness in the administration of the law. The Law Courts in Ireland are closed, but the House of Commons is open to the Irish Members and the Irish people. The Government now say that they are going to proceed with this miserable Publicans' Compensation Bill. How long do they think the discussion will last? I think that the Bill will scarcely get through all its stages within a fortnight. There is also the proposal to alter the Standing Order. How long does the right hon. Gentleman think this will take? The First Lord of the Treasury seems to be under the impression that the House is not going to discuss this alteration; in limine I protest against the proposed alteration being a Standing Order, but Amendments will have to be proposed and discussed. Then, when will there be time for the Estimates? Their consideration will have to be put off until some time in August, and if the House takes 20 days for their considera- 1181 tion, this will carry the sitting of the House into September. There will be protests raised by the Government against what is described as the obstruction of the Opposition, but it ought to be clearly laid before the country that it is not obstruction which causes the delay, but the utter muddling of Her Majesty's Ministers. The Government have no right, at any time, to put off the consideration of the Estimates until August or September, and they have especially no right in the present Session, in view of their former pledges, and in view of the fact that they have taken away the Private Members' days. In these circumstances it would be desirable that the House should have an opportunity of registering a protest against the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government in the present Session, and, therefore, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Labouchere.)
§ (6.15.) MR. PARNELL (Cork)
I think the hon. Member for Northampton is entitled to the thanks of the House for the action he has taken in reference to this important subject. There is no question which can more profitably occupy the time of the House than an attempt to search out some method by which we may rescue the House from the entanglement, the morass in which Her Majesty's Government have landed us by their utter mismanagement of public business. We have listened to-night with the utmost interest to the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman as to the Government proposals. Speaking for myself, I can only say that the result of my attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is to fill my mind with dismay as to the future. When I heard the right hon. Gentleman calmly going over the long list of measures that he proposed to save from the annual slaughter of the innocents, and ending with 108 Votes in Supply, and with the Amendment of the Rules of Procedure under the guise of a new Standing Order, I was obliged to bring my mind forward to the almost certain probability that the House, if it is to carry out the programme of the right hon. Gentleman, will find itself sitting at 1182 the beginning of October. If there is to be proper attention given to the various measures named by the right hon. Gentleman, and proper discussion of the financial, colonial, English, Scotch, and Irish questions which must arise on the various Votes in Supply, we cannot possibly hope to leave this House for our holidays before an interval of three month. It is time for the House to do something to help the Government out of this mess, to accept the invitation extended to it by the First Lord of the Treasury to assist the Government, not, indeed, in the futile way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, but to assist the Government against their own incapacity. For the position in which we are now, and the tenfold worse position in which we shall be if we are to allow the Government to plunge deeper into the morass, is due to the want of all ordinary power of calculation, on the part of the Government, as to the management of their business since the beginning of the Session. I should not be justified in doing more than referring to the new Standing Order to be proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. It may be a good thing in a small way, but it appears to be ludicrously inadequate for the object in view. The right hon. Gentleman himself seems to be conscious of the ridiculous mouse he has produced, and every one who listened to him must know that his proposal will be utterly inadequate. The fact of the matter is that the Government proposal is not a proposal to do more work, but to throw away the work which it has undertaken unwisely, and without due calculation of its own powers, after much time has been lost upon it. The proposal does not go to the root of the question. It will not enable the House to do a particle more work. It will, when we have lost valuable time, leave us, after we have lost days and nights in considering grave Constitutional questions, in as bad a position as we are in at present. Surely it is not too late to ask the Government to retrace their steps, to take the House into their confidence, and ask the House how we may save the relics of the Session. We have not had a single Irish Vote brought forward yet. We have been asked for various Votes on Account. The Constitutional power of the House 1183 over the grant of money to the Crown for the service of the year is a real question with us in Ireland, although it may be only a formal question with you in England. In Ireland the Crown has unfettered control, and the Estimates give us the only opportunity we have of stopping the Chief Secretary in his arbitrary career in Ireland. In these circumstances we have a right to ask that the Estimates should be brought forward in reasonable time, and that the Constitutional powers of the House should not be constantly abrogated as they have been by Her Majesty's Government. The House has been considering the question of procedure for many years. I remember when an attempt was made to deal with the subject 15 years ago. I then ventured to predict that no Amendment of the Standing Orders would be over worth the time spent upon it, and I venture now to predict that you will lose your time more completely than you have done before in discussing the new Standing Order. If the Government had been composed of statesmen, they would not have ventured to come down to the House with this absurd and preposterous proposal, utterly insufficient as it is for the rescue of the House from the embarrassing position in which they have placed it by the mismanagement of the affairs intrusted to their keeping. I will only say, in conclusion, that if the Government will come before the House with a reasonable proposal with regard to the business to be transacted during the rest of the Session, and with a selection of such measures as are measures of public utility, sought by the country and by all parts of the House, and measures which can be passed without exciting political passion, and if they will carry into effect the mind and the wish of Parliament, they may use the limited time still left at their disposal most profitably to the public interests, and most satisfactorily to the House and the country at large.
§ (6.25.) MR. HANBURY (Preston)
I do not propose to offer any arguments whatever on the proposal of the Government, to make a new rule for the despatch of business; but I do ask the Government seriously to consider whether they are taking a wise, or even a Constitutional, step in postponing Supply while 1184 they press forward legislation. The first duty of the House is, in my opinion, to vote the ordinary Supply for the services of the country, and I also firmly believe it is the duty of hon. Members to discuss the proposals for Supply at adequate length. This Session the House has treated the Government very generously with regard to Supply. Two or three Votes on Account have been taken, and the Government are really drifting into a false position if they insist upon passing their Bills before they deal with Supply. I do not want to see them drift into a false position; and I believe they will be neglecting their duty if they endeavour to vote large sums of money for the service of the country without adequate discussion at the end of a very long Session, and when the House is wearied. Before they definitely make up their minds on the subject I ask them to seriously consider the matter, and to let the House have a proper opportunity of voting Supply in the ordinary way.
§ (6.27.) MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
In relation to the question of the conduct of public business, I desire to draw attention to what occurred last night. I had the honour of moving an Amendment, on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for the Carnarvon Boroughs, which related to the unfortunate Licensing Bill, and the Debate was closured in 50 minutes.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
What I wish to do, Sir, is to call attention to the fact that the Government have invariably this Session closured Welsh Members. A. very important Instruction on the Tithes Bill was proposed by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. F. S. Stevenson), on which one of the oldest and most respected Welsh Members was desirous of speaking, and yet the Government thought it their duty to closure the hon. Member.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I do not think that line of argument is at all permissible on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House on "a definite matter of urgent public importance."
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
I will only say I can assure the Government that it is not the best way to facilitate business to 1185 closure Members who are not obstructing.
§ (6.29.) MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I have looked at the Amendment Paper, and find that there are exactly 18 pages of Amendments which have to be dealt with on the Local Taxation Bill. I will simply remark with regard to them that a large number raise questions of very serious and grave importance. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) has had an opportunity—I daresay a very painful opportunity to him—of seeing how slow the progress has been on that Bill. I think he may fairly infer what the future of the Bill will be from what has already taken place, and I think he needs a warning from us that the importance which we conscientiously attach to the Amendments will justify us in discussing them at considerable length, and, therefore, in monopolising a considerable portion of the time left us this Session. To a certain extent I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman, and we have heard with universal regret that his labours have had a prejudicial effect upon his health. He has our hearty sympathies on that account, whatever may be our political differences. I noticed the other day a statement to the effect that the right hon. Gentleman had conveyed to his political supporters that if they persisted in their demand for an Autumn Session he would have to retire from his arduous duties. Well, but he proposes to inflict upon himself that very Autumn Session against which he warned his supporters with a threat of retirement. If the Government persist with this Licensing Bill we shall be sitting in this House through September and October, and probably even later; we shall have all the inconveniences of an Autumn Session without the compensating advantage an Autumn Session sometimes gives. The right hon. Gentleman is bound to look with a considerable amount of alarm and distress on the present condition and temper of Parliament. I join in the desire that the Parliamentary machine should be thoroughly effective, that our proceedings should be carried on with order and decorum and all necessary dispatch. But the management of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues has brought us to some- 1186 thing little short of chaos and anarchy, and if we are to proceed with these clauses of this Bill that chaos and anarchy will increase day by day. The right hon. Gentleman must know that Members on this side would not dare to take the attitude of uncompromising hostility to this Bill we have taken if we were not convinced that the opinion of the country is at our back. I do not wish to depart one hairs-breadth from the narrow limits of such a Motion as this, and if I do so it is in spite of my intention. Upon this Bill, for which the Government are sacrificing everything, they had the opportunity of knowing long ago the mind of the country. Two years ago those same proposals were rejected by the voice of the country, and the Government listened to that voice. So far as this Standing Order which is to be proposed may lead to the acceleration of the business of the House the object of the right hon. Gentleman will have our sympathy, but let me point out that interference with the rules that govern the proceedings of this assembly is one of the greatest enterprises a Minister can embark upon, and whoever essays to change the time-honoured usages of Parliament must do so seriously, carefully deliberating with due regard to many important considerations, and he must be prepared to have his proposals sharply criticised. Why, some years ago, the Minister of the day thought it necessary to devote the whole of an Autumn Session to the carrying out of new rules, and certainly it is not the proper time to make such an alteration suddenly towards the end of a Session, when Members are fagged and irritated with protracted discussions. Such a proposal should come at the beginning of a Session, when the House is fresh and Members Milling to undertake the task of considering such an alteration. The right hon. Gentleman must not be surprised if we consider it our duty to examine his proposal with due reflection, and I give him fair warning—he has received a warning from the leader of the Opposition, and I repeat it—in bringing a new Standing Order before the House, to relieve himself from the difficulties of his own mismanagement, he must not calculate upon the Order being allowed to pass without serious discussion. The attention of the right hon. 1187 Gentleman, has been called to the serious character of the Bills he is sacrificing to this most unfortunate, this iniquitous, measure. What will the working classes say when they learn that a Bill to protect their lives and limbs is, in spite of an almost unanimous feeling in its favour, sacrificed in favour of a Bill to support which the Government cannot bring forward their ordinary majority in this House. Here is a serious question for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration. He has been an attentive and a pained observer of the fortunes of the Compensation Bill. He has seen his majority, which a few years ago was upwards of 100, and even at the beginning of this Session 70 or 80, reduced to a majority of 32. There is the handwriting on the wall. There is a state of almost mutiny among his followers, only kept from public expression by the strong ties of Party discipline and the sense of common danger. If he paid any attention to these signs he would see in the face of a vehement Opposition, supported by public opinion, that it is almost insane to press these proposals as he is pressing them. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think I have spoken in language too warm as to this measure. Sincerely I deplore the position into which he has got himself. I offer him hearty sympathy in his difficulties. If hon. Members think they help the right hon. Gentleman by compelling us to sit here until October, they do not take my view of the personal difficulties of his position. I repeat, in spite of the jeers of hon. Members opposite, I sympathise with him in the grave difficulties imposed upon him by the Government attitude on this Bill, and I hope, even at the eleventh hour, he may see his way to abandon the path of fatuous obstinacy upon which he has entered, and will withdraw a Bill condemned by a united Opposition, by the country, and by the murmurs of his own followers.
§ (6.40.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster
I have listened with interest to the epithets that have been applied to me in the course of this Debate. I accept them as Parliamentary language which hon. Gentlemen unfortunately feel themselves compelled to use: in regard to a political opponent.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
The right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that any epithets I may have used were applied to measures and not to himself.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
No doubt, it was. Parliamentary language used under the belief that it was justified as applied to the leader of the House for his conduct of public business. The hon. Gentleman who introduced this Debate by way of forwarding our discussions and assisting public business, has moved the adjournment of the House, is the hon. Member who, I think, I am not wrong in saying has taken pride in the difficulties he has placed in the way of business. From time to time, both here and out of doors, he has avowed his intention to obstruct the business of the Government as far as he possibly can. I apprehend that, whether it were the Licensing Bill er any other Bill which the Government had thought it necessary to proceed with the same system of opposition to the Government he is desirous of destroying would undoubtedly have been adopted by the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I said I would oppose all bad Bills. If the right hon. Gentleman would bring in any Bill that I consider good I should be happy to support it.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
In other words, if we would make arrangements by which the hon. Gentleman could pass his judgment upon all measures we propose to introduce, and proceed only with those having his approval, then we would be free from his opposition in this House. I have stated what I understand to be the view and the attitude of the hon. Member in regard to public business. His practice has been what I have stated, without, colour or exaggeration. I shall not go back on what I have before said, that Her Majesty's Government must be responsible for the measures they ask the House to take into consideration, and the House will consider whether the practice which now prevails of carrying on a protracted Debate on measures of which the principle has been accepted is for the advantage of the House, and is calculated to establish the reputation of the House as a legislative machine and as the representative body of this Empire; or whether such practice will not endanger the efficiency of this House whatever Government may be in power, 1189 when this method of opposition—I do not use the word obstruction, which might more correctly describe the attitude taken up—when this practice is adopted as the usual custom. What is done to-day and now under the belief that it is justified 'by the peculiar circumstances of a particular measure will be done to-morrow, next year, and in future Parliaments and with regard to successive Governments that may be in Office. It is for the House to take the matter into its own hands. We may be wrong; hon. Gentlemen opposite believe us to be wrong in having introduced this measure, and wrong in pushing it forward; but the Government believe that they are right. I regret that the practice and traditions that have hitherto prevailed are being abandoned—the practice that, when the House of Commons has fully considered a measure, the opposition to it shall not be continued to such a degree that all the time of the Session shall be occupied with that measure, and no time shall be left for the consideration of any other measures. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton remarked that the Government were sacrificing the interests of the working man. I deny absolutely that this is the case. I do so without desiring in the least degree to make any statement that might produce heated controversy in this House; but, again, I say that we are acting upon our rights and in accordance with our duty in pressing forward measures which we believe to be necessary. If those measures are to be opposed at such length in this House, that other measures which are of great importance to the interests of the country cannot be considered, the responsibility rests upon those who protract the Debates and who will not permit the House to come to a conclusion upon them, and so postpone the passing of measures that are admitted to be of importance to the country. That is the view I humbly take in this matter. It is only reasonable that the Opposition should charge the Government with having involved the House in difficulties, and with having introduced chaos and anarchy into its proceedings. I am accustomed to charges of that character. Very likely I have not been successful in my conduct of business, but I must act according to the best of Ely lights. I must speak plainly and 1190 honestly to the House, and I entreat them to give us permission to go forward, after a fair protest, with the measures which we believe are for the interest and the good of the country, and which can be disposed of in the course of the present Session without unduly protracting it, without putting an undue tax upon the time of hon. Members. I trust the House will credit me with honesty of statement. In the conduct of public business I think it is only right that when a Bill has been entered upon it should be proceeded with, and so soon as this Bill (the Local Taxation Bill) is concluded, I will endeavour to make fresh arrangements which will, I hope, meet the reasonable desires of hon. Gentlemen, and take steps for making further progress with business—with Supply and the other important measures which can be considered by the House—without making any further great claim on the health and time of hon. Members.
§ (6.48.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman he will hear from me no epithets of personal disrespect, for I am sure every Gentleman on both sides of the House regards with the highest esteem the character and abilities of the right hon. Gentleman. In any comment we make on the conduct of the Government—and the object of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton in making this Motion has been, in my opinion, to pass a just condemnation on the conduct of the Government for their mismanagement of public business in this House—we speak of the Government as a Corporation; we speak of them as possessing those attributes which have been remarked as belonging to Corporations, both physical and moral, in a definition well known to the House. Therefore, I can speak of the conduct of the Government in this matter without fear of personal offence. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has said that all these charges of mismanagement and misconduct are the fruits only of a factious spirit on our part—that it is only by factious and obstructive opponents that the Government are charged with the misconduct of public business. In answer to that, I will call his attention to what is thought of the Government 1191 by their own friends—what is said of them by their own supporters. If there is any representative of public opinion; which is a more ardent supporter of the Government than another, it is, I suppose, the Times newspaper. That paper has counselled the Government to use violence towards the House in order to get out of the scrape in which they find themselves. This is what the Times newspaper, the great friend of the Government, says, only two days ago, of the Government and their conduct of public business. I will call a witness into Court whom, at all events, you cannot accuse of factious motives and Party enmity against you. This is what the Times says of the action of the Government and of their conduct of public business in the House of Commons—We cannot congratulate the Conservative Party on the position it presents to-day.Well, that is very true. I do not think that anyone who has watched the proceedings of that Bench for the last week would be disposed to congratulate them on the position they hold to-day. The Times goes on to say—Unfortunately, Ministers themselves have been the first to forget the physical limitations under which they work. They have committed the tactical blunder of pledging their reputation to the transaction of an amount of business for which their time and endurance are inadequate.That is the first and fundamental mistake of the Government—that they have not understood the nature of the business they have proposed or the power of the House of Commons to transact it.We shall assuredly not be charged with having excused or minimised the wilful obstruction, offered by the Opposition upon every available opportunity.I am sure a charge cannot justly be brought against the Times of having minimised the misconduct of the Opposition. But hear what it says of you—But we are bound to say that the Government have displayed a want of common prudence in creating needless difficulties for themselves. A Lord Melbourne, with his 'can't you let it alone?' would have been an invaluable adviser at an early period of the Session. The Irish Land Purchase Bill, a large and complicated measure, touching many interests, raising many difficult questions, and certain to encounter the stubborn opposition of a Party whose very existence, political and material, it directly assails, was of itself nearly sufficient occupation for a Session.
§ MR. W. LOWTHER (Westmoreland, Appleby)
I rise to order. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether the right hon. Gentleman is in order in reading from a newspaper in the House?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Why, the President of the Board of Trade the other day made half his speech from readings from a newspaper.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Rule which precludes the reading from a newspaper has, in accordance with the general feeling of the House, been relaxed of late years. I need hardly say that of late years extracts, from newspapers have been much used in the House, though I have not seen the actual newspaper from which an extract is taken produced and displayed so conspicuously as on the present occation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would have done better if he had brought an extract from the paper instead of the paper itself; and, doubtless, if he had had the opportunity he would have prepared extracts among his notes.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The fact is, Sir, that my extract, which I have treasured so much, is at home, and this Motion having come on rather by surprise, I was obliged to get this copy of the newspaper, and inasmuch as the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill made a large portion of his speech consist of extracts from newspapers, I thought I might read this extract, and with the leave of the House I will conclude the extract, which is very instructive, and, I think, very true.It ought to have been regarded as a misfortune that the tithe question had assumed a phase calling somewhat peremptorily for treatment in the same Session, but to raise in addition the thorny questions connected with public house licences was a piece of gratuitous rashness, all the less excusable because the present Administration has already had a sharp lesson from temperance fanaticism.Then, with more comments on the-wickedness of obstruction, it goes on—But even in the absence of this extraordinary development the Ministerial tactics would have been rash and dangerous. As things are these tactics have led to a damaging rebuff. Whatever soothing phrases may be employed to describe the arrangements contemplated by the Government, the plain truth is that the Land Purchase Bill was the principal measure of the Session, and that they fail to carry it. We are not concerned to deny that there is a moral difference between dropping it altogether and carrying it forward to next Session as a partially debated measure, though we attach 1193 little importance to moral triumphs accompanied by substantial defeat. But it is not at all clear—[Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Well, I will make this article a part of my speech, if you please. It is an agreeable novelty to me to adopt and speak the language of the Times. You may take it as my speech, if you please, though I am afraid it is against the Rules of the House to read a speech; but there are only two sentences more that I wish to read.But it is not at all clear that the labour already expended upon the Bill will make much difference in the labour it will require next Session, and in the meantime the broad fact stands out plainly and unmistakably that the principal measure of this Session has failed. That is not a pleasant condition of affairs for the Government or its supporters in any case, and least of all when there are fair grounds for holding that the measure might have been passed in spite of obstruction had not the Government wasted time and energy upon legislation which might have been postponed.Do not tell us now that criticism of your conduct comes only from factious opponents. That is the language held about you by your strongest supporters in every part of the country. You may read it in any Conservative or Liberal Unionist newspaper in the country. I am sorry my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham is not in the House. If he were I would refer him to what looks like an inspired article in the Birmingham Daily Post, to which. I commend the attention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. All the difficulties you find yourselves in are due to your own mismanagement of public business. You have proposed a great measure for discussion—whether a good measure or not—the Irish Land Purchase Bill. You have frittered away the time of the House. Having named as your first Bill a remedial measure for Ireland, the first business you entered upon was a discussion, the object of which was to blacken and defame the Irish Members. Upon that subject a great number of days were necessarily expended. Then you have introduced a number of Bills which you ought to have known would produce the strongest and most violent opposition. An hon. Member on your own side of the House has called attention to the position of Supply. You have spent veryfewdays—10 only—upon Supply. If you are to devote to Supply the ordinary time which has been given 1194 to it in former Sessions, you still owe 27 days to Supply, which would occupy nearly the whole of the remaining time of this Session if it were an ordinary one. The Debates on the Irish Votes under a Coercion Act must necessarily be protracted. When the ordinary law is suspended it is inevitable that the Executive Government should be challenged and questioned in a way which is not necessary when the ordinary law only is in force. You have the additional advantage of private Members' days, and yet this is the situation to which you have brought the House and country. Now you come forward at the end of the Session and propose a desperate remedy to cover your own humiliation and mismanagement. You have proposed this Standing Order, which must, of course, be discussed at considerable length. I think that the hon. Member for Northampton was perfectly justified in making this Motion, which he has made with the object of calling attention to the real situation. We told you from the first that we were determined to offer to this Compensation Bill every resistance in our power, and we shall continue to do so. In doing this we believe, and are confident, that we have with us the wishes of the great majority of the people. If you doubt that, you have the means of refuting us. What is the meaning of your dwindling and waning majority? You are forcing this Bill through by majorities which are not half of your normal Party majority. What is the meaning of that? It is that the Members of this House know that the opinion of this country is against the policy of this measure, to which the Government, in a frame of mind bordering upon insanity, have given precedence. We shall oppose your proposals because, in our opinion, they are not the result of due deliberation, but are a hasty and desperate expedient to which you have recourse in order to get out of the mess in which you have involved yourselves. Far from constituting a wise, well-considered, deliberate measure for forwarding public business, these proposals are only an expedient to cover the ignominious defeat of a discredited Administration.
§ (7.5.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
I should not have risen had it not been for the remark of the right 1195 hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, in reply to the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool, who alluded to the fact of no progress having been made with the Employers' Liability Bill. I ask the House whether during the whole of the Session the Government have made any attempt to place the Bill in such a position that it would, come on for Second Reading, notwithstanding that they have been asked to do so time after time. The whole responsibility of not dealing with that question rests with Her Majesty's Government. If two years ago, when they had the opportunity, they had listened to those who had a right to speak on behalf of the organised trades of the country, we should have had facilities offered for the Employers' Liability Bill such as we on this side have offered to the President of the Local Government Board with regard to the Bills brought before the House for the housing of the working classes of London. We protest against the First Lord of the Treasury trying to deceive the country by throwing upon the House the responsibility for the Employers' Liability Bill being withdrawn. We listened to the long statement which the First Lord of the Treasury made, and the impression left on my mind was that it was the first day of the Session, and he was putting before the House the amount of business that could be got through. But let me remind the First Lord what took place with respect to one Vote in Supply. We raised the whole question of contracts, a very important subject. But hardly had the Secretary for War replied—it was a Morning Sitting—when it was found that there was not time for further discussion. The Vote was not taken again until the end of the Session, when there was not time to discuss it. I tell the First Lord of the Treasury now that there are some of us who are interested in this question of contracts, and at whatever time this particular Vote comes on this year, we shall resume the discussion which was burked last year. It is scandalous in the extreme at this time of the Session that these Bills should be put down as though they were to be run through. We are told that they are non-contentious, but that is the opinion of the First Lord of the Treasury, it is not the opinion of the House in 1196 general. If these Bills are pressed through we shall be debarred, as in the past, from discussing the serious Votes in Supply. That is the conduct of the Government against which we protest. With regard to the Licences Bill, the Government knew two years ago how much opposition they created by a similar proposal; yet they have flung on the floor of the House a new Bill, and if they find the most determined opposition it is only what they can expect.
§ (7.10.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I was really amazed to hear the defence made for himself by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. No one has made any personal accusation against the right hon. Gentleman, but when the whole policy of the Government is arraigned, we should have heard something else than this kind of general appeal for the interests of the House and the dignity of the country, which we have heard 9,999 times from the lips of the First Lord of the Treasury. We say that your declared policy four years ago was the policy of expenditure of public money, and simultaneity, and so on, in dealing with Ireland, and in applying to Ireland the same measures as to England and Scotland. You declared, at the beginning of the Session, by the mouth of the Queen, through her most gracious Speech, that you would extend to Ireland a measure of Local Government, and we ask you, when you get up in the House to defend yourselves, why it is that a Bill not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but hatched by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in connection with his Budget, is pressed forward, while a Bill declared to be the key-stone and corner-stone of Her Majesty's policy, is to be held over to another Session. We ask for an explanation on that point, and how are we met? We are met by the right hon. Gentleman, the head of the Party who consumed 60 days of Government time in 1881 discussing the Land Bill, at a time when Ireland was almost in a state of revolution, at a time when every moment was precious, and at a time when, strongly as we were opposed to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, we found ourselves obliged to continue to vote with them. It is they who, in the following year, spent 19 days in discussing the Closure 1197 —now applied by the right hon. Gentleman every quarter of an hour. It is the head of that Government, and of that Party, who now comes forward and appeals to us with regard to a measure on which the Opposition are united, and upon which the followers of the Government are disunited, as to which there is no demand, and for which there is no agitation in the country. When you have that situation, what does the First Lord of the Treasury do? He gives us a lesson in Parliamentary deportment. We are tired of these Turveydrop lectures. The right hon. Gentleman beseeched us to have regard for the dignity and position not only of this but future Parliaments. Future Parliaments can take care of themselves. The right hon. Gentleman is teaching us our lesson very late. What we say is this: that this ill-fated measure—this ill-starred measure—being introduced out of time, and in the most offensive manner, there is no conduct almost that would not be justified in giving opposition to a measure so conceived. What is the position? I invite the House to consider the high price which the Tory Party have to pay for Liberal Unionist support. I should like to have the opinion of the Chief Secretary on the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why is this Bill persisted in? We are told because it is demanded in the interests of the House and the dignity of the country. If I inverted the phrase it would be all the same. The right hon. Gentleman simply gives utterance to a sort of Parliamentary abracadabra, whichever way it is read it will do. I once knew a poet who wrote his verses backwards as well as forwards, and whichever way you read them they were always equally good. Each sentence of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches is in its essence a most admirable piece of literary mosaic. If the first sentence were put last and the last first it would come to the same thing. What is the real reason why the Government are sticking to the Compensation Bill? The real reason is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I can almost picture the Cabinet meeting in Downing Street after the Chief Secretary introduced his Land Purchase Bill, and conceived to himself the fond delusion that he would be dangling before the House during the 1198 months of June, July, and August, and I can fancy his attitude when the Chancellor of the Exchequer came gently down and said, "Oh, yes; but there is a little Bill of mine I want to appear on the stage at Westminster for a brief period to show my Parliamentary dexterity, and how I can manage figures and finance." And then the Chief Secretary may have said, "Oh, yes;"—and I venture to say this is what occurred in the Cabinet—"but my Bill is promised in the Queen's Speech; it is part of the Government Programme; it is the corner-stone of the Government policy; what have we got to do with your Bill?" Then, I suppose, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would say, "Oh, yes; but I have a large Stock Exchange experience, and I know that there is a large number of Limited Liability Companies starting, and a number of people have a great interest in brewing shares and in whisky shares, and it will greatly strengthen and consolidate and cement the Tory Party all over the country if we show these people that we are determined, by means of our Bills, to back up the interests in which so much money has been invested." I have not the smallest doubt that it is due to that attitude on the part of the right hon. Gentleman that he induced the Government to bring in his Bill, and, having brought in his Bill, that he induced the Government to stand by it by the threat of resignation, simply because he did not want to be discredited, as he was discredited in regard to his Van and Wheel Tax. And, then, what is the House asked to do? It is proposed, in order to save four days of Parliamentary time occupied in the Second Reading Debate on the Irish Purchase Bill, to revolutionise the procedure of this ancient Parliament. By what means? To borrow another illustration from the Stock Exchange, by a species of Parliamentary "contango"—that is, the carrying over by Standing Orders, and it is Members of this House who will have to pay the difference. We will have to sit here during the months of June, July, August, and September. And Parliament is to be revolutionised for what? That we may save four days next year of Parliamentary time that have been wasted upon the Irish Land Bill, and that is the sop which the Irish 1199 Chief Secretary gets for being thrown over. That is what the Government are paying for Liberal Unionism, for a manipulative Chancellor of the Exchequer; and, if we are to believe the Times, that great newspaper which everybody believes now, they are paying rather dearly. They are obliged to admit that themselves. Their own newspapers admit it; their majority is waning; while the Opposition, I venture to say, is engaged in one of the holiest causes in which Members of Parliament have ever been engaged. We are engaged in resistance to a measure which we believe justifies every word that has been uttered against it. Yet we are besought and implored, for the sake of our dignity, by those who are sacrificing the ancient traditions of Parliament, to pass this Public House Endowment Bill. Who are the true champions of Parliamentary tradition and privilege? Are they the gentlemen who wasted 40 days during the Irish revolution of 1881 discussing the Amendments, or 18 days discussing the Closure Rule of 1883—that Closure which is now applied every quarter of an hour by the right hon. Gentleman who now proposes to revolutionise Parliament to save four days of Parliamentary time—are they the true champions of Parliamentary dignity? Is it to them that the country should look for the way in which Parliamentary business is to be conducted, or is it to the Opposition, who have done nothing in this matter except under the ordinary and usual traditions, to which we always consider we are entitled to look? Supposing we were in a normal state, I hold that the Opposition are justified in considering that they are dealing with a Government which practically puts lies into the Queen's mouth, because that is what it comes to. Session after Session Her Majesty is made to declare her anxiety to deal with Irish government. Session after Session, on platform after platform, there have been repeated declarations of the anxiety of the Government to deal with Ireland in the same way as England and Scotland. Two years ago we had the English Local Government Bill; last year we had the Scotch Bill; and Ireland, the Cinderella of the three countries, is to be left out until some future time, which is not even specified, and Irish Members cannot even get; a sight of a corner of the Land Bill, 1200 while the Government are passing measures to endow public houses. A splendid programme for the country, truly, a policy of simultaneity and synchronising, and all the other "isings." That is abandoned, and we have now gone in for a policy of pints and quarts and pewters. That is the position of Her Majesty's Government. On behalf of the English and the Irish public, whose votes have been got on false pretences, we would be false to our duty if we did not protest against the conduct of the Government. Even the Tory Party itself is now finding the poison in the wound of Liberal Unionism; it is finding what it is to have a Chancellor of the Exchequer with one eye on the polling booth and the other on the Stock Exchange, who does not hesitate to sacrifice all the traditions of Parliament, every one of them if necessary, to promote a policy that is founded on some of the most sordid considerations that have ever actuated any Government of the day. The position of the Opposition in this matter is clear. The Government have broken every pledge they have made. Members of Parliament find that they cannot get what they are entiled to, namely, a fair and reasonable time for the discussion of matters of importance arising on Supply. The business of the House has always been supposed to be chiefly the voting of moneys to the Crown. That opportunity of stating our grievances has been taken away in order that we may discuss the endowment of public houses. If the Government will only bring forward Supply nobody will find fault with them if they never bring forward legislation. The Liberal Party do not ask or urge them to legislate. The Conservatives themselves do not want to legislate, because they are conservative. There is not in the Conservative intellect any momentum or main-spring for legislation. The true policy of the Conservative Party would be to give the House plenty of business to do in the nature of Supply, and then in the smaller interstice to bring in pretended Bills for the benefit of the working classes and other objects of so called benevolence of that kind. Business like the Census Bill, for instance, might he up to the Constitutional high-water mark of Toryism—for this reason, that they would only be called 1201 upon to pass it every 10 years. Instead of that we have a set of measures of a most contentious and embarrassing kind, measures which have disrupted the solid phalanx of the Tory Party itself; and I, for one, protest against the policy which, while it attempts to lay upon the Opposition the blame for the delay of business, is in reality a policy in itself calculated to embarrass and irritate the Opposition and irritate the country, and which in the end, in my opinion, will find its reckoning day at the poll.
§ (7.30.) MR. ALLISON (Cumberland, Eskdale)
I am very glad that the Adjournment of the House has been moved, because it has given an opportunity for Gentlemen opposite to fulminate against us on this side of the House those charges which they have been constantly bringing against us in the speeches they have made in the country, that we have been in the habit of obstructing the business of the House. We, of course, know that those charges are untrue, and that the position in which the Government now find themselves is due to their own mismanagement, and to the imbecility they have displayed in the conduct of public business. Another proof of that imbecility has been afforded tonight. They might have accepted an Amendment for devoting the money provided by the Bill to the cause of education, instead of for the benefit of the publicans; they might have accepted the suggestion of the appointment of a Committee put forward by the noble Lord the Member for Rossendale, or they might, as another alternative, have dropped these proposals altogether. But instead of doing either of these things, they have decided on going on with the Bill. But I wish to point out that there is another course which might have been adopted, and which ought to commend itself to their supporters. In the personal devotion which is felt by those supporters to the present Government, they might, out of sympathy for the occupants of the Treasury Bench, have endeavoured to place them in a minority, in which case we on this side of the House would have gladly accepted the appeal that would have been made to the country. That is the course I would have recommended them to adopt, and even now I strongly invite hon. Members opposite to come to the relief of the 1202 Government by adopting this suggestion.
§ (7.34.) Mr. MUNTZ rose in his place and claimed to move "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question, and no Member rising to continue the Debate, Mr. SPEAKER put the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ (7.34.) The House divided:—Ayes 181; Noes 233.—(Div. List, No. 141.)