§ (5.11.) MR. W. H. SMITH
In moving the appointment of the Select Committee on Procedure, I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes, as the object in view was explained a few days ago. In submitting this Motion we have taken advantage of the experience and thought of right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, because it is one of those questions on which I should strongly deprecate any vital difference of opinion. Daring the last 50 years frequent attempts have been made to deal with 1665 this question in this and in the other House of Parliament. It has been felt that some method of procedure which would save the time of the House and enable it to be more usefully directed to the consideration of measures of great detail would be exceedingly valuable. The system suggested exists in many other Parliaments in Europe and in the Congress of the United States, and it is one which I think the Parliaments who have adopted it would be extremely loth to part with. I do not propose to enter into any long' statement with regard to the Standing Order which. I had intended to submit to the House. It seems to me that it would be more respectful to the Committee that they should be left perfectly free and they should be asked to consider the form of procedure. It will be the duty of the Government to submit to the Committee the Standing Order which they had drawn up, and which it had been intended to submit to the House. I will only remark that the view of the Government, as expressed in the Standing Order, was confined entirely to Bills originating in the House of Commons. It did not propose to deal with Bills which originated in the other House or which have come down to us from that House, but it was intended to provide for the House of Commons improved methods of dealing with their own Bills and Bills which require careful and exhaustive consideration. I trust T shall be excused if I refrain from doing anything more than expressing an earnest desire that the consideration of this important subject will result in an arrangement that will increase the usefulness and maintain the high character of this House. I move the Resolution.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether by means of an abridged form of Procedure, or otherwise, the consideration of Bills, which have been partly considered in this House could be facilitated in the next ensuing Session of the same Parliament."— (Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I can only say that I hope the few words I intend to speak on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman will have the effect of promoting a speedy and summary decision. The right hon. Gentleman has exhibited a conciliatory spirit in adopting the idea that the important suggestion he desired 1666 to make to the House should go before a Select Committee—a course agreeable to precedents in similar cases and agreeable also to the reason of the case. The right hon. Gentleman has said one or two words on the subject of the Standing Order of which he had previously given notice, and into that I think it is better I should not attempt to follow him; it is better to leave the matter entirely free and open for the unprejudiced consideration of the Committee. It is obvious that under the terms of reference the Committee will be in a condition either to adopt the right hon. Gentleman's Standing Order or to recommend any other, or to suggest proceeding by Bill, or to make any report they think proper. I recognise that, in proposing a Committee of this kind, it is the duty of the Government to assume a leadership and responsibility, and to submit something to the House for its consideration. That being so, I have no doubt that my hon. Friend behind me, who gave notice of a Motion, will have something to say. But I earnestly hope that, pressed as we are with business, and having another matter immediately before us for consideration when this is disposed of, we may get to that subject as soon as possible. Therefore, I hope the House will allow the question raised by the right hon. Gentleman to be put from the Chair as speedily as possible.
§ (5.17.) MR. A. O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
Surely, Mr. Speaker, we do not require a Select Committee to tell us whether by means of an abridged form of procedure we can facilitate the business of the House. We could answer that question at once, and in the affirmative. The question is, is it desirable to adopt such a means of facilitating the business. It seems to me that the terms of reference to the Select Committee, as they are now worded, will confine the inquiry to the most formal and bald point; and, in fact, the Report of the Committee can be at once foreseen.
§ (5.19.) MR. BRADLAUGH
The Resolution is intended to effect what ought to be effected by direct enactment. There is a precedent going very near to this to be found in the 1 Geo. IV., cap. 101, sec. 4, with reference to Indian Divorce Bills, and I believe the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman, which is not yet in print, proposes to do exactly 1667 what was declared could not be done in that case, i.e., to continue Bills from, one Session to another. He is proposing to do by evasion that which certainly, according to precedent, should be done by direct enactment. As this precedent does not appear in the Paper of precedents circulated this morning, I felt it my duty to call attention to it.
§ (5.20.) MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
I do not want to prolong the discussion, especially after the appeal so very generously made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian, but I must say I think it is open to remark that the proposals of the Government have been made hastily and without that careful consideration which this House has always been accustomed to give when its Rules of Procedure are proposed to be altered. The timely intervention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian saved the Government from committing a tremendous blunder, and from taking a step as revolutionary as it is possible to imagine with regard to public business. I am glad to see that now the right hon. Gentleman harks back to sound precedent in dealing with this question. I think his Motion should have been more carefully worded. He tells us now it is not proposed that this new Rule or Standing Order shall apply to Bills coming from the House of Lords. But the Notice he gave the other night said nothing about that. It is most important that the proposed Standing Order should not apply to Bills coming- from the Lords, but the Order which the First Lord of the Treasury was intending to thrust upon the House said nothing about excluding such Bills. That Notice certainly excluded Money Bills and Bills coming back from the Lords with Amendments, and I should think the exclusion of those Bills meant the inclusion of all others. I, for one, should not tacitly assent to the appointment of the Committee but for the assurance of the First Lord that the Rule will not apply to Bills coming from the Lords. It would be a very grave matter to allow it to so apply. Let us take a hypothetical case. In one Session this House might be engaged on a very contentious Bill, and send it up to the Lords, who, under the Standing Order, send it over to the next Session. But, before the Session 1668 arrived, public opinion becomes so manifest against the Bill that the Government cannot rely even upon its own majority to carry the Bill. Yet, if the Lords chose, they could pass it without Amendment, and the House could not prevent them doing so. That would be a very grave thing. I protest against the modern practice of constantly rushing to a change in the Rules of Procedure to meet the temporary exigencies of the Government. The House has had nearly enough of such changes in late years, change s which have not been fortunate in their result. I doubt whether they are calculated to expedite public business. I am glad the First Lord has been prevented setting another precedent. A Parliament armed with the Closure, which was granted for the purpose of bringing protracted Debates to an end, but which has been used for the purpose of forcing through the House Bills vitally affecting the liberties of the subject—a Parliament which has been the first of all Parliaments to declare itself incompetent to deal with questions affecting the character and honour of its Members, has done enough in the way of setting bad precedents. I believe that the Parliamentary difficulty is merely a symptom on the surface. You must look much deeper for the real evil. There is some danger in these days of depending too much on violent solutions of temporary difficulties. The House must not lose its faith in the power of argument as an effective weapon; it must not depend too much on mere mechanical forces and rules. I would much rather try to work on under the old rules than fly to others the evils of which we know not of.
(5.30.) MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
I do not wish to carry this conversation further, and my only object in rising is to enter a caveat in regard to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone), who appeared to be under the impression that there would be before the Committee only two alternatives, namely, to recommend that the procedure for carrying this change into effect shall be either by Standing Order or by Bill. There was a third course.
MR. J. LOWTHER
That just covers the point I desire to make. I do not want the House to be under the impression that there is a universal concurrence in favour of doing anything at all. There are many Members who object altogether to the principle of the proposed system of piecemeal legislation. The Committee will have the power, and I hope will exercise it, of reporting against any change of rules.
§ (5.32.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian was much too indulgent to Her Majesty's Government. The House, no doubt, is always willing, upon good cause shown, to re-consider the question of its procedure, but the fact ought not to be overlooked that this proposed change in procedure, and this demand for a Committee, is due to the reckless endeavour of Her Majesty's Government to drive three coaches abreast through Temple Bar. But for the condition in which the business of the Session now is, owing to the mismanagement of the Government, no such proposed change as this would have been dreamt of. The suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, for the appointment of a Committee, was only a counter-proposal to that of the Government, and as such was deserving of respectful consideration. But the condition is quite different when the Government bring forward this proposal, and ask us to accept the Committee without discussion and without protest. How is this Committee to be constituted? Are the Government going to put on only their sworn supporters and leave out Members who hold independent views on this subject, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet (Mr. J. Lowther)? I sat on a Committee on public business in 1886. It was a very strong Committee. It was presided over by the present chief of the Liberal Unionist Party (Lord Hartington), and among its members was the present President of the Board of Trade (Sir M. Hicks Beach). We considered the question of procedure for over a month, and the Conservative Government, in the following Session, came down to the House with Resolutions, in which they ignored every recommendation we made. You are now going to constitute a fresh 1670 Committee. You do not ask that the Committee of Selection, which is a most impartial body, whose authority we are all ready to recognise, should appoint the members of the Committee. I object entirely to the terms in which this Resolution has been placed on the Paper. We listened with great respect to the very weighty words of the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread). It is easy to say that if you have written a letter over night, you can tear it up in the morning, but there is an important point to consider with regard to the House of Lords. Conservative Members know very well that no Tory Bill sent up to the House of Lords will ever be rejected or suspended by that body. But, supposing a Liberal Government gets in, and passes a Home Rule Bill, is it to be tolerated that the House of Lords should, by Resolution, hang that Bill up for Session after Session I As an Irishman I look back with reverence to the period at which this House was able to consider questions of procedure without reference to this eternal Irish question. You are now beginning to consider every question of procedure with reference to the way in which the Irish difficulty is likely to affect you. It is a most unfortunate state of things, but we are bound, as Irishmen, to look at the way in which procedure proposals are put forward. I am not prepared to accept the suggestion that this is a matter that can be dealt with at all by a Committee. I have come to the conclusion that if this House is to be protected from the House of Lords, the procedure must be by Bill. We do not need a Committee. This is not a domestic proposal, but a proposal affecting Bills in the other House. Then, Sir, there is a snake in the grass. The Committee are to consider the case of Bills that have been partly dealt with in this House. Why should they not also consider Bills which have been wholly dealt with by this House, and rejected by the House of Lords? Why should not such Bills be revived by a single Resolution, and sent back to the House of Lords once more? If the House were candid in this business they would deal with the question as a whole. It is a most unfortunate thing that the proposal should be made to change the entire forms of Parliamentary procedure because 1671 of an abandoned and shipwrecked Licensing Bill. You have dropped your Licensing Clauses, but the virus of them is to remain. I would have voted for a Committee as a condition precedent; as a palliative; but I am not prepared to accede to the appointment of a Committee to initiate a proposal to which I object in toto. To proceed by way of a Bill is our only safeguard, and I think the Conservative Party ought to hesitate before allowing a proposal to be passed which has simply been provoked by the mismanagement and the misconduct of the Government themselves.
§ (5.46.) MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
I do not quite agree with the letter, although I sympathise with the spirit, of the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Longford (Mr. T. Healy). The First Lord of the Treasury admits that the principle of the Motion, is, that when the House of Commons has once expressed its opinion on a definite legislative proposal, and that proposal has not been carried into law, it is a sheer waste of time to go over the proposal again in the succeeding Session. But the Motion does not entirely carry out the principle, and our objection is that the Motion does not go far enough. The First Lord of the Treasury says he does not wish to tie the hands of the Committee, but he does tie the hands of the Committee. The blot upon the Motion is the introduction of the word "partly," and I suggest that that word should be omitted, so that the Motion would read, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether the means of an abridged form of procedure, or otherwise, the consideration of Bills which have been considered in this House, could be facilitated in the next ensuing Session of the same Parliament." The object of my suggestion is perfectly obvious. I wish that when we have completely passed a legislative proposal, and when that legislative proposal has failed, solely because the House of Lords has not accepted it, we should not be compelled to go through the labour of sanding it up again to the House of Lords. I have a perfectly good precedent for what I propose. Substantially, this proposal has been made by the House of Lords itself. On page 4 of the Paper on Parliament Proceedings, which has 1672 been put into our hands to-day, it is stated that a Select Committee of the House of Lords, which sat in 1861, resolved:—That it is expedient in certain crises to adopt an abridged form of proceeding with reference to Bills which shall be again brought before this House after having been passed by it in the immediately proceeding Session of the same Parliament.That is substantially what I am urging on the Government. Then, the same Committee resolved:—That, on a Resolution being moved that it is expedient again to pass and to send to the other House for its concurrence, any such Bill, the question shall be put whether the House will agree to the same, and, on such Resolution being agreed to, the Bill to which it relates, shall be forthwith sent to the other House for its concurrence, without any further question being put or any debate allowed.These Resolutions absolutely carry out the purpose I have in view. There is only one condition in the House of Lords' programme to which I take exception, and that is that the arrangement should only apply to Bills which have not been passed in the House of Lords because there was not time. I propose it should apply to all Bills which have failed to pass either House, whatever the reason. If this Motion is to be carried into effect by a Standing Order of the House, I appeal to my Colleagues on these Benches to insist upon the adoption of my proposal. The Tory Party have a reserve in the House of Lords, but we have not. A Conservative Bill, when once through this House, is perfectly certain of passing through the House of Lords; but, as things stand at present, the House of Lords can compel this House, when Liberals are in a majority, either to dissolve or to waste time in going through its legislative proposals-once again. The leader of the Opposition has most magnanimously appealed to his followers not to interpose any factious opposition to the Government's proposal. I shall respect that appeal, but I most respectfully place on record my protest against the limited reference which is being made to this Committee. I am not prepared to move an Amendment at this stage, because I understand that the Report of the Committee must, to be-effective, be embodied in a Standing Order or Bill. When the Standing Order or Bill is before us, we shall, if necessary, 1673 exercise our right to propose to widen its scope.
(5.54.) CAPTAIN VERXEY (Bucks, N.)
I wish to emphasise what has fallen from hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway as to the extremely bald nature of the words of this Resolution. Hon. Members have pointed out that the words of the Resolution admit of only one reply, namely, "Yes." Hon. Gentlemen have lost sight of the fact that previous Select Committees replied to these words in the negative. One Committee sat in 1848. In 1861 a strong Committee was appointed to consider the proposal, and reported that the objections were grave and numerous, and that the adoption of the proposal would give increased facilities for retarding legislation. That, I think, is an answer in the negative to the question which the Resolution, on the face of it, seems to carry. Perhaps one of the most important questions which is touched by this Resolution is that of the prerogative of the Crown. If the House of Commons is able to carry a Bill on to the next Session, and the prorogation of Parliament does not put an end of the Bill, that is a restriction or limiting of the prerogative of the Crown. If, on the other hand, the sanction of the Crown must first be obtained, there is an enlargement of the prerogative of the Crown, because it will enable the Crown to interfere with legislation before it has passed both Houses of Parliament. It seems to me that that by itself is fatal to this proposal. Perhaps I may call attention to a speech made upon this subject by Sir George Lewis in 1861. He said—I trust the House will not think my noble Friend (Lord Palmerston) has made his Motion for the Select Committee upon this question upon a light ground or for any object of the Government.We have this Motion made to-day for a special and specific object of the Government.The House will probably bear in mind the it last Session there were several Motions presented to it on the subject of its Forms of Proceeding, and certainly we do not submit it with any selfish view of our own.We have this proposal made without notice and without any demand for it, made solely to serve the selfish ends of the Government. In the same Debate, Mr. Newdegate said— 1674He was greatly indebted to the noble Lord the head of the Government for repeating the pledge he gave last Session, that he would recommend the appointment of a Committee to consider the best method of expediting the progress of business.The difference between the Resolution then proposed and that proposed to-day was that there was a deliberate wish expressed that the business should be expedited, whereas to-day no such wish had been expressed. Then Sir John Pakington, speaking in the same Debate, said—The great cause of the legislative fractures of last Session is to be attributed to the Government rather than to the House. They were very largely due to the programme of the Ministry, for when they called upon us to consider a French Treaty most complicated, a Reform Bill, and a Bankruptcy Bill, with 500 clauses, all m one Session, their experience must have taught them that such a thing was simply impossible.These words are applicable to to-day. The Government have attempted to drive three first-class Bills through the House, and that is why we find ourselves in the present position, and not from any inadequacy in the Procedure of the House. This question came before a Select Committee in 1838, and the Committee reported—Your Committee venture to express the opinion that the satisfactory conduct and successful progress of the business of the House must mainly depend on Her Majesty's Government, holding, as they do, the chief control over its management. They believe that by a careful preparation of measures, their early introduction, a judicious distribution of business, and the order and method in which business is conducted, the Government might contribute, in an essential degree, to the easy and convenient conduct of business.The present Government have got into a muddle. They have tried to force through the House this Session more than is possible; they have shown a want of tact and judgment in the conduct of the business they have brought before the House, and then, as a last resort, instead of endeavouring to conduct the business in an orderly way, they have come to the House and asked for an alteration of the Rules of Procedure. If a Committee is appointed upon the Rules of Procedure in strict accordance with the terms of the Resolution, I do not think the House will be any further advanced. This bald Resolution will not meet the requirements of the case. The right hon. Gentleman 1675 has given us no reason why the Committee should be appointed; but though he was careful to avoid it, we all know the reason. If the Committee is appointed and confined within the narrow limits of the Resolution, I do not think its Report can suggest anything that will advance the progress of public business.
§ (6.1.) MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
We have not had stated the reason why this Committee is to be appointed, but, as I understand, the reason alleged some time ago for a proposal to alter procedure was to afford the House some relief from the condition in which public business is in the present Session. But can this Committee afford us relief in the present Session? By the nature of things it cannot. The Report of the Committee and any suggestions made in that Report for the conduct of business cannot affect the present Session; therefore, all the reason for its appointment vanishes, and there is no urgency for it. This being admitted—and I do not see how it can be gainsaid—the Government having put forward no plea of urgency, is it not in the highest degree desirable that any Committee appointed to consider procedure should be a Committee to deal with other equally or mom important questions which might be brought before it? No one can have failed to have been impressed by what fell from the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), a Member of unparalleled knowledge and experience of procedure. That hon. Member pointed out the extreme undesirability and inconvenience of continually having recurrence to alterations of procedure in this House, and we have had a long experience now, even many of us whose service here has been very much shorter than that of the hon. Member, of the result of the Government having recourse to an alteration of Rules to meet a specific purpose. Lat us judge by the result of experience. What has been the result of all the alterations since 1877? The result is that in this Session public business is in an unparalleled condition, worse than ever it was in any Session before the passing of the four successive alterations in procedure. After all these alternations the Government have landed us in this condition, and now, instead of looking at the question from a broad and statesmanlike point of view; instead of 1676 dealing with the whole subject with a view to the future; instead of instituting inquiry by a Committee which would take into consideration not only the general question of procedure, the length of the Session, and so forth, but which also should be empowered to consider how it has arisen that, in spite of repeated alterations, we have business in this state of confusion and arrear, we have this bald and timid proposal. Now, I propose to move an Amendment; and my idea is that if it should be found necessary to proceed once more to the alteration of our Rules, then the Committee should be empowered to take into consideration other things; for instance, that most valuable proposal in relation to the time of prorogation made by the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Bridgeton Division (Sir G. Trevelyan), a proposal which seemed to recommend itself generally to the House. I think this proposal carries far greater hope of solid improvement in the business of the House than anything contained in the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith). The Committee ought to inquire into the general management of business during the Session, and also into that question which seems to be one of growing importance—the practice of postponing the Estimates to the very end of the Session. There are many other questions that ought to be taken into consideration when a Committee sits upon procedure; and I want to know what considerations prevent the reference of these to the Committee, for we have had no grounds of urgency put forward, no reason why the Committee should be confined to the narrow terms of reference read out to the House? If the question of procedure is to be opened at all, the Committee should be left free to consider the whole conduct of business; the period of; assembling, the period of prorogation, and all other matters touching the business of the House. The extreme inconvenience of the proposal that has been made has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Bedford, and I can add; nothing to the weight of his statement; but I think Conservative Members should I hesitate before they assent to the proposal. We know that in America, and in Democratic forms of Government, the most extreme Radical section favour 1677 the most violent alterations in Parliamentary procedure. If you set us the example of continual alteration of Rules for a specific purpose without allowing the Committee to consider the subject in all its bearings—if you set us this example of recurring to an alteration of procedure when the Government get into difficulties, you will find the Radical Party very apt to follow the precedent you set; and the time may come when you will find yourselves, as an Opposition, tightly fettered, and we shall refer to this example you are now setting us. This Motion was originally announced on the plea that the business of the country could not be done in the present Session; but what relief will this Motion bring to business in the present Session, and what relief in the approaching Session? Absolutely no relief at all, except that, possibly, if the Committee report favourably, you may spare the House two or three days' discussion on the Second Reading of the Land Purchase Bill. Now, are Conservative and Independent Members of the House prepared to set this precedent, that they are ready to alter the procedure of the House of Commons for no purpose under the sun except to save three days' discussion on the Irish Land Purchase Bill? What other result can follow the consideration of the Committee with this reference? True, we may be spared the re-discussion of this Bill on Second Reading, but in order to secure that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to sacrifice at least two nights of the present Session when the Government are driven to the greatest extremity for time. We are placed in an unparalleled position, and the only proposal the Government make for relief is that we shall waste one or two more nights in discussing a change of procedure which can give us no relief this Session, and can give us but trifling relief next Session. In the whole history of Parliament never was a more inane set of proposals submitted for the relief of public business. I shall say no more on this aspect of the question. I propose to move an addition to the Resolution in the following terms:—And by what means it can be secured that the consideration of Supply shall be taken before some fixed date.I do not see what good purpose the Committee is to serve as regards this 1678 Session; but if the Committee is to be appointed, the time has come when this serious growing grievance should be brought under notice and carefully considered; that this portion of the business of the country, the first mentioned in the Queen's Speech to the House, which is the primary and essential duty of the House of Commons to the exclusion of all legislation if it becomes a question of choice, that this business should be postponed to suit the convenience of Ministers to such a period of the Session as to turn discussion into a mockery and a farce. It is useless to set about the discussion of Votes in Supply in the month of August. It would be just as well and more honest to the people to announce that discussions on Supply are abandoned. On Supply questions arise in which the people are more keenly interested than they are in the Land Purchase Bill or the Licensing Bill, and I know of no question connected with procedure that more deserves attention than means to secure that the Government of the day—Liberal or Conservative—shall not be permitted to postpone Votes in Supply to a late period of the Session. It is perfectly within the competence of the House to frame some Standing Order by which it shall be the duty of the Government to introduce all Votes in Supply by a certain fixed date. Or, on the other hand, the subject might be approached in this way: We heard the First Lord mention the other day a suggestion, of which he now appears to have lost sight, which I am sorry for, because it seemed to me an excellent idea, not to proceed with Bills of a contentious character after 15th July.
§ MR.W. H. SMITH
This is not lost sight of; that is a point to consider; but it is obvious that we do not wish to tie the Committee to consider a specific proposal. As a means of bringing the Session to an early end, this may be one of the proposals we may have to submit to the House.
§ MR. DILLON
I intended to move that such proceedings should close on the 1st of June. That would secure in another way that Supply should be brought on at a time when it could be reasonably discussed. There are two proposals: a 1679 Standing Order might be passed binding the Government to bring on Supply by a certain date, or a Standing Order might stop legislative proceedings on June 1, leaving an interval in which we should be free to deal with Supply. Either of these proposals would meet the difficulty. Meantime, on the grounds I have urged that there are no claims of urgency to tie the Committee to this narrow reference that the Committee should be free to deal with the duration of the Session and conduct of business, and particularly this question of Supply, I move my Amendment.
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words—
And by what means it can be secured that the consideration of Supply shall be taken before some fixed date."—(Mr. Dillon.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ (6.20.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
I will only interpose for a few minutes between the right hon. Gentleman and the House, because I want him to have the opportunity of saying a word or two upon the present condition of business in the House. The object of this Motion is to facilitate the earlier rising of the House for the Session, and as I think we are aware from unofficial sources to avoid having an Autumn Session. Well, I am afraid if the Resolution is passed we shall not rise earlier, and that we shall have an Autumn Session. I will ask the House to look at a figure or two and then see if this is a sufficient remedy for the impasse in which we find ourselves. We have now arrived at the 23rd of June, and assuming that we rise on August 17, which is not, I think, a very early date, at all events it is an average date; and assuming that the Government take, as I presume the Government will, all the Wednesdays, we shall have 38 available days to wind up the business of the Session. Now, there are on the Order Book 33 Government Bills, including the Local Taxation Bill and the Land Purchase Bill, which, I presume, we may now say are gone, and there is the Tithes Bill in a state of suspended animation. Apart from these three, there are 30 Bills to be dealt with in some manner, while my hon. Friend has called attention to the state of Supply, and Supply is the key of 1680 the position at this moment. We can only judge from analogy and the average time occupied by Supply. In 1887, excluding Supplementary Estimates, 38 days were devoted to Supply. In 1888,I think, 37 days were thus occupied; and in 1889 we got through Supply in something like 38 days. I take it within the mark when I say that 36 or 37 days have been required for Supply in the last few years. Now, we have already this year been 13 days in Supply, and therefore 24 days more are required, and when I remind the House that not an Irish Vote has been touched—and I think there are more contentious elements in the Irish Votes this year than there have been for many years—when I mention that grave questions of policy arise on the Foreign Office and Colonial Votes, and important considerations in relation to law and justice on the Votes for law and justice in the three Kingdoms, and that the Votes for the Revenue and Post Office Departments bristle with questions of difficulty, I am not predicting too much when I say they will probably occupy as much time as in previous years. Now, look at the figures: 24 days for Supply, and 14 days left for the remaining business of the Session. Well, the Government have not yet 'withdrawn the Bills I have mentioned. I use the word "yet," but no doubt this will happen before many days are over. Nevertheless, the stages of the journey will occupy some time. We have not heard a word of the Tithes Bill; whether it is to be gone on with or dropped; the last we heard of it was that it was to be proceeded with. Then we have the Indian Councils Bill, upon which we know there is to be an important Second Reading Debate, and there will be, probably, considerable discussion in Committee. We have on the Table a Bill of primary importance that must be dealt with—the Police Bill, which, in the interest of discipline and peace in the Metropolitan Force, cannot be postponed for another year, and I may be thought too sanguine when I say it will not get through Second Reading in less than two days. There is the Western Australia Bill must be passed; and the Bill to sanction the cession of Heligoland must provoke a good deal of discussion. You are going to have a discussion on procedure on which many questions must arise, and you have the residuum 1681 of these 30 Bills, together with the inevitable four days for the Appropriation Bill. Here is a programme to get through in 14 days. I say it is an absolute impossibility. If the First Lord would rise and say that without wasting any more time the Licensing Bill and the Tithes Bill are dead, it would still be impossible for the House to rise before the end of August; and if we are to go on with those Bills, we shall have an Autumn Session without the advantage of a summer vacation. All the evils which you endeavoured to avoid by the meeting at the Carlton Club will be developed and accentuated by the present proposal. The time has arrived when we should know what the 'Government mean to do in the 38 or 40 remaining days of an average Session.
§ (6.27.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
The reference to this Committee is very oddly drawn, whether by inadvertence or design I do not know. The Government propose to ask the Committee a question, the answer to which is obvious. Without reference to a Committee it is obvious that the progress of a Bill will be facilitated by carrying over its stages to an ensuing Session, and the Report of the Committee can add nothing' to our information on that point. What we want to know is, if it is desirable or expedient to carry forward Bills in this manner? If the Government had dealt with it by Standing Order, we should have known how to treat it; and had the Standing Order been adopted, the right hon. 'Gentleman would have known how to apply it during the present Session. But hove stands the matter? We have almost reached the end of Juno; the Committee has yet to be nominated and appointed, and then has to meet and consider not only the precedents, but the evidence that will be laid before it, after which it must report. It may determine that it is not desirable to give the facilities asked for, or that if those facilities are desirable, they should be given by Statute. In that case, would the right hon. Gentleman proceed to pass a Statute this Session, or, should they recommend that we should proceed by Standing Order, would the right hon. Gentleman propose to tackle that Standing Order now? We all know the object of the proposal. It is to enable the Government to get through the Land Purchase Bill. If the right hon. 1682 Gentleman thinks he can hang up that Bill over the present year, we certainly shall take a strong view of the question; but if he says he no longer intends to hang it up, we shall take another and a more favourable view; but it is reasonable considering the date we have now reached, and the length of time that will be taken by the Bill in Committee and in the Report stage, to take this step for the purpose of remitting the further stages of the Land Bid to another Session of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Fast Mayo has added to the Motion a matter which, in my judgment, is more important than anything the Motion itself contains. The present proposition has reference only to one Bill, and that Bill a measure which is opposed by the great majority of the Irish Representatives. My Friend's Amendment deals with the question of Supply, and that is a matter in which we have infinitely more interest than in the proposed legislation. In fact, we have no interest in any legislation proposed by the Government, except the interest of an ardent Opposition. It has been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet (Mr. J. Lowther), who seems to be the only man on the Ministerial side of the House who has the intelligence to perceive the point that the Government have to face, that they can have no possible legislation this Session. It is a lamentable thing- that the House should be reduced to this state of things because there are two Ministers of the Crown who cannot reconcile the situation. The facilitating of business in this House rests with the Government them selves; and if they would only take ordinary care at the beginning of the Session, and bring forward no more Bills than they can pass in six months, there would be no occasion for this reference to a Committee. Of course, if they introduce enough Bills to last them two or three years, they cannot expect to pass them in a single Session. With regard to Supply, I think we have a right to complain of the action of the Government. Before the Whitsuntide Recess, I called attention to this subject, and reminded the right hon. Gentleman that the Irish Representatives never had the opportunity of calling attention to the grievances they desire to discuss. The business of Supply is the fundamental 1683 business of the House, and in that respect our functions have practically ceased. Our financial business is discharged in the most slovenly and unconstitutional manner by taking Votes on Account. The Irish Members have an ardent interest in the business of Supply, because it is only when in Supply that they have the opportunity of calling attention to the gross and scandalous misgovernment of Ireland, of which from day to day they have most bitterly to complain. We have this very evening had complaint made of the length of time occupied by the questions put upon the Paper from day to day. Why is it there are so many questions? It is mainly because we have no other means of bringing forward our grievances except when in Supply, The right hon. Gentleman promised to exert himself to secure the transaction of the business of Supply; but for the last three years he has made similar promises, and although I was at one time somewhat deceived by the imposing manner of the First Lord of the Treasury when that promise was made, I shall no longer regard his promises as worthy of attention. Unless some special steps are taken in regard to Supply, the Constitutional rights of Members of this House will not only be impaired but practically destroyed, and it is for this reason that I feel it my duty to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend.
§ (6.38.) MR. W. H. SMITH
I think hon. Members opposite will feel that the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian deserves some consideration at the hands of his supporters. The right hon Gentleman stated that there is a strong desire that the House should come to a speedy conclusion on the question before it. The hon. Member for West Belfast has referred to the question of Supply, which has been raised by the hon. Member for Mayo. It has been said that it is perfectly impossible for the Committee to make any provision with regard to the period up to which Bills should be considered in this House. The Standing Order which I intended to move on the present occasion provided that—In future, after the 15th of July and in the present Session after a date to be hereafter appointed, no public Bills, except Money Bills, Continuance Bills, and Bills returned from the Lords with amendments shall be further proceeded with, provided that, with respect to any 1684 public Bill which is in progress in Committee of the whole House, or in a Standing Committee, or which has been reported there from, a Motion can be made, after notice given, that further proceedings on such Bills be suspended until the next Session.The Committee is free to make any recommendation with regard to the date, or to name an earlier date than the 15th of July. I believe that there exists a strong desire that the House should rise earlier in the summer, and this is my principal reason for suggesting to the House the appointment of a Committee to examine into this point, so as to provide facilities for allowing the House to do what I believe is practical and reasonable, namely, to rise at an earlier period of the summer, and at the same time to get through their business. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton has spoken of an impasse. No Government, however, could have contemplated that the Debates would have been carried to the length to which they have been carried; and if the argument is to be used that the Government must always look forward to continued discussion on opposed business, whatever Government may be in power, after the same fashion and manner as has characterised our proceedings this Session, then it is obvious that very small progress must be the consequence. Whether that course would be taken by hon. Gentlemen opposite if we should hereafter be in another position, remains to be seen; but I am justified in saying that discussion cannot be carried on as far as it has been without practically delaying and obstructing the business of the House. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has referred to the fact that there are 33 Government Bills on the Paper; but I think that if the right hon. Gentleman would refer to the years from 1881 to 1885 he would find that there has not been less than that number of Government Bills on the Paper on the 23rd of June. Reference has also been made to the large amount of Supply yet to be got through. I am sorry that there is so much. I agree that one of our first duties is to consider-Supply; but, again, I would say that we have had no reason to suppose that: discussion would have been protracted in the manner in which it has been. It must not be assumed that the House is bound to rise at a given date, however much that may be desired. The first 1685 duty of the House is to transact and conclude the business which is brought before it. I trust the hon. Member for East Mayo will not press his Amendment, as it is one which the Government cannot accept, because they desire to enable the House to deal with the Report of the Committee during the present Session. The Government do not desire to withdraw from the House the consideration of the Irish Land Purchase Bill, although, no doubt, the recommendation of the Committee will admit of that Bill, with others, being dealt with under the proposed Standing Order on the ground that it is a Bill of very great importance, and one which the House ought to approach with full time for its consideration.
§ (6.45.) MR. SEXTON
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the event of the Committee reporting in favour of procedure by Bill instead of by Standing Order, he intends to proceed with that Bill during the present Session?
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
That would be a matter for consideration when the Report of the Committee is presented. If the Committee decides in favour of the principle involved in the reference to it I do not exclude the hope that the House may be able to give effect to that recommendation as rapidly as possible. Measures must be taken in the present Session to secure the object in view, if the House is to have the advantage of a better arrangement than is now in existence for an early adjournment next Session. I trust the House will understand that the Government desire to leave the Committee free to consider the whole question referred to them.
§ MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I do not rise for the purpose of prolonging this discussion more than a moment or two; but I would remind the Committee that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has undoubtedly introduced controversial matter. Among the reasons he gave for making this proposal the right hon. Gentleman referred to the great length to which the discussions in this House had been protracted.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
I said the first ground for the proposal was the general desire of the House for an earlier adjournment.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
That is so; but the right hon. Gentleman also referred to and made a point of what he termed practical obstruction. I do not intend to go into this; but I would point out, as a matter of fact, that the great and protracted opposition the right hon. Gentleman complained of has been offered to a particular set of proposals that were not announced in the Queen's Speech, and have not received a very enthusiastic support even from the right hon. Gentleman's own friends. Has the opposition to those proposals been without effect? On the contrary, the announcement that has been made this evening as to a change of front on the part of the Government, although it is an unsatisfactory and inadequate change which the Government will yet have further to amend, affords the most perfect justification for the attitude taken by the Opposition in resisting the Compensation Clauses of the Government Bill. I am glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that the Select Committee is to be empowered to examine into the whole subject in all its length and breadth, and that the House is to be at liberty when the Committee reports to determine what course it would be best to adopt. The Irish Land Purchase Bill is one which, above all, ought not to be subjected to the process of suspension, because in the time that would elapse before next Session considerable alteration would have to be made in it. I agree with the hon. Member for West Belfast that Irish Supply, and especially the Irish Constabulary Vote, should be taken at an early day. Until those Estimates are discussed there will necessarily be a large number of questions put from day to day in reference to the administration of Irish affairs. The complaint made by the Irish Members as to the period at which the most important items of Irish Supply are taken is a most reasonable one; and although the right hon. Gentleman professed not to understand how it was, when a question was put as to the enormous number of questions asked in the House, and could' not see the connection between that fact and the delay in taking the Irish Votes, I think, upon reflection, he is bound to see the connection. The number of Irish questions which have been overwhelming us for some days past are entirely due to the inability of the Irish 1687 Members to discuss fully and fairly the administration of Irish affairs. These questions are, doubtless, a most inconvenient interruption of the business of the House. Although they are, under the circumstances, a necessary and inevitable interruption, we can hardly expect it will be greatly modified when the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary uses his opportunity of answering questions, as he did the other night in connection with the statement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Sir G. Trevelyan), by putting into his answers matters of a very controversial character. With regard to the Amendment of the Member for East Mayo, I hope my hon. Friend will not press it; because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lothian said at the commencement of this discussion, we shall be at liberty, when the Committee reports, to make whatever alterations in their recommendations may seem expedient. I therefore beg to ask him to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ (6.25.) MR. T. M. HEALY
I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's view that this Motion has been fully discussed. To my mind, no more important Resolution has ever been submitted to the House. I do not, however, wish to continue the Debate, but merely to ask the First Lord of the Treasury to answer one point that has been raised from these Benches. He says this Motion is proposed with a special view to an early adjournment, and it is exceedingly important that the Irish Members should know what representation they are to have on the Committee. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to state how many Members are to compose the Committee, and how many of those Members will be Irish representatives?
§ (6.27.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I am rather in favour of the Motion of the First Lord of the Treasury. I am in favour of the carrying over system, and, therefore, think that this matter ought to be referred to a Committee. I also think that when it comes back from the Committee their recommendation ought to be carried out 1688 by Bill instead of by Resolution. I hope, however, the right hon. Gentleman will seriously consider the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton. The right hon. Gentleman has complained that we obstruct the business of the House, and he said it was the duty of the Government to keep the House together as long as there was business to be done. I appeal to those who have been in former Governments, whether this has not always been said, and whether it has not sometimes happened that the House has been kept together until opposition has come from the Government's own supporters, rather than from their ordinary opponents, with the result that the House can no longer be kept together? The reason why there has been an exhaustive discussion of the Government measures was because there was no popular leverage behind those measures. If these Bills were really desired by the country, the country would raise such an outcry against exhaustive discussion, that exhaustive discussion would be swept away, and the Bills passed. The right hon. Gentleman probably knows that the Publicans' Compensation Bill, which he is pressing forward, is detested more on his own side of the House than on this. The other day, when the Bill was only saved by four votes, the right hon. Gentleman was in despair. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton made a very moderate estimate when, putting aside this Compensation Bill, he held it would be absolutely impossible for the House to rise before the 17th August. If this resolution is passed to carry Bills over, there will be a good deal of discussion as to what Bills are to be carried over. My hon. Friends from Ireland might not think it desirable that the Land Purchase Bill should be carried over. So that you must add to the little reckoning of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton the time which would be occupied in such discussions. Now, in the kindest spirit, I will give the right hon. Gentleman a little advice. It appears to me that there is no man at the head of the Government who understands the business of this House. Every Member seems to have his own way in the Cabinet. Each one is anxious to bring forward his own Bill, and none can be induced to withdraw it except in piece- 1689 meal fashion, and after looking to see whether his neighbour in the Cabinet is first going to withdraw his Bill. I am bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are exceedingly ignorant of opinion on this side of the House. When the right hon. Gentleman made his proposal to expedite business, I presume he was under the impression that the Compensation Bill would go through in a day or two. He has awakened to the fact that that is not likely to be the case. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be better not to make half-a-dozen bites at a cherry, but frankly say, "I am human; I do not pretend to be anything more than human. I have made a mistake, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer very possibly has made a mistake, and we were in error when we brought forward this Compensation Bill after Whitsuntide." The right hon. Gentleman may throw the blame upon us, but if he will withdraw the Bill, we will give him a free hand to say what he likes with respect to us. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he might allow the Committee to sit and report, but that he should not carry over any Bill to next year. Let him withdraw for the present Session his Land Purchase Bill and the Tithe Bill. I can assure him that he will not lose much by doing it. Next Session let him bring in his Bills again if he likes, and carry the Second Reading. He will have only lost four days on the Second Reading of the one and two days on the Second Reading of the other. Then next Session we could consider his very excellent plan of carrying Bills over. I implore the right hon. Gentleman to really seriously look into the question of time. Even if he withdraws this Compensation Bill at once he will have the greatest difficulty in bringing the Session to a close before the end of August, and if he continues this Compensation Bill I do really believe every single day that is spent on that Compensation Bill means a day we shall have to sit in the month of September.
Question put, and agreed to.
Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether by means of an abridged form of Procedure, or otherwise, the consideration of Bills, which have been partly considered in this House, could be facilitated in the next ensuing Session of the same Parliament.