HC Deb 23 May 1890 vol 344 cc1690-703
* (2.45.) MR. W. H. SMITH

I rise to move the Resolution which stands upon the Paper in my name, namely,— That after Whitsuntide, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet on Tuesday and Friday at Three of the clock, and that Government business have priority on Tuesday; that Standing Order 11 be suspended, and the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the other days of the week. I can assure the House that no explanation is necessary for my making this proposal. The circumstances of public business require it, and I hope it will be accepted without much discussion. I observe that the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. M'Laren) has an Amendment on the Paper to exclude from the operation of the Resolution Tuesday, June 3, so that the Motion on the extension of the franchise to women may be discussed. I would suggest, however, to the hon. Member that instead of moving an abstract Resolution on that subject he should, early next Session, bring in a Bill dealing with the question, and so test the feeling of the House in that way.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That after Whitsuntide, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet on Tuesday and Friday at Three of the clock, and that Government Business have priority on Tuesday; that Standing Order 11 be suspended, and the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the other days of the week."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)

(2.48.) MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling, &c.)

I am very much surprised that no reason has been given for a Motion which, at this period of the Session is absolutely unprecedented. But, while expressing my astonishment on that point, I am bound to say that, having regard to the deplorable condition of the public business, my right hon. Friends on this side of the House have already indicated, in what passed yesterday, that they do not intend to oppose the demand of the Government. The condition of business in the House is indeed deplorable, and I do not think that it has been so bad for many years. Up to now only six nights of the Session have been devoted to Supply, whilst in 1888, which was supposed to have been a particularly backward year, eight nights were devoted to Supply before the end of May, so that matters are really worse now than they were in 1888. But let me point out the great difference between this year and 1888. In 1888 the legislation of the House was sympathised with and generally approved of, while this year, unfortunately, the Government have so contrived that every Bill of the first class which has been introduced is not only objectionable in its details, but objectionable in its main objects, so that behind the legislative business there is no such momentum as in 1888. I am very much mistaken if even the supporters of the Government, to whose loyalty and constancy I am willing to pay a tribute, do not give their support with much reluctance and with very grave misgivings as to the wisdom of the measures for which they vote. The obvious remedy for the present backward state of business is for the Government to sacrifice certain of their measures, and they will have to do so before the end of the Session. But, in the meantime, considering that the necessary business of Supply and the whole condition of affairs are so backward, I do not think it is altogether unreasonable on the part of the Government to make a large claim upon the indulgence of the House. Nor can I forget that upon private Members' nights we have had a number of counts out, which further strengthens the claim of the Government. But while I am not prepared to resist the Motion, I must protest against the Resolution being looked upon as a precedent, inasmuch as it is only accepted in consequence of the backward state of the public business, which is due to the mismanagement of the Government. I am sorry that the Government have not resolved to take Day Sittings on Tuesdays and on Fridays, and to devote the Evening Sittings on those days to Supply. However, as the Government have decided otherwise I will not raise an objection to the Motion on that score. I do not think that hon. Members will vote against the Government proposal, however much they may dislike it, because I think that, in the circumstances of the Session, the proposal is justifiable.

(2.55.) MR. SEXTON

I wish to move an Amendment to the proposal of the Government which will come in earlier than the Amendment of the hon. Member for Crewe. I wish to point out that if the proposal of the Government is adopted there will be no opportunity for bringing forward grievances. Although £7,000,000 have already been voted in Supply, not a single penny of Irish Supply has been taken up to the present time, and, therefore, no regular opportunity has been afforded for discussing Irish grievances. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Parnell) holds a strong view that the proposal of the Government should not be assented to unless an undertaking is given that Supply shall be taken regularly once a week after Whitsuntide. As a matter of protest, I shall oppose the Motion, unless the right hon. Gentleman gives an assurance that after Whitsuntide Supply will be taken at least once a week, and I beg to move to amend the Resolution by inserting after the word "Whitsuntide" that "Supply be taken at least one day in every week."

Amendment proposed, after the word "Whitsuntide," to insert the words "Supply be taken at least one day in each week and."—(Mr. Sexton.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


I am sorry the hon. Member has thought it necessary to move a formal Amendment. It is one to which I cannot consent, because, in the making of arrangements for business, it is necessary the Government should have their hands free, so that they may adopt the course that is most convenient to the House, as a whole, and most conducive to the progress of business. The arrangement for the first week after the recess includes two days for Supply, at least—Monday and Tuesday. I am sure the House will see it is impossible for the Government to have their hands tied by a Resolution of this kind. The Government wish, as far as they can, to consider the convenience of hon. Members. The suggestion that the House should meet at 3 o'clock meets, I understand, with the concurrence of a majority of Members, for many Members rather object to coming down at 2 o'clock and again at 9 o'clock. This is a matter about which the Government have no strong feeling; but it is one they are bound to consider with reference to the conduct of business and the convenience of the House as a whole. In these circumstances I trust the hon. Gentleman will accept my assurance that I will endeavour to make progress in Supply as rapidly as I can.


It is not rapidity I ask for, but regularity.


At all events, the hon. Gentleman will see that whoever is in charge of the business could not accept a positive direction of this kind, under which it would be absolutely impossible to conduct the business. When the House gets into Committee on a Bill, I believe the House is in favour of pro- ceeding with it from day to day until the Bill is through Committee. The Government will at all times be glad to give the most careful consideration to suggestions from any part of the House with a view to making such arrangements as will, on the whole, best meet the convenience of hon. Members.

*(3.5.) MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

In making future arrangements for the conduct of public business in this House there are two Government measures to which I wish to draw special attention. One is a Bill which has been sent down from the House of Lords—the Indian Councils Bill—in regard to which the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury is under a specific pledge to the House. I will only remind the House that I refrained from raising any question on this subject by Amendment to the Address on the distinct understanding that at least a real opportunity would be afforded for discussion. One of the matters which I should have felt it my duty to urge was the question of the extension of the Legislative Councils of India and the introduction of some principle of representation in reference to members. Although that Bill came down to this House from the House of Lords before Easter it has never yet been put down on the Paper as the First Order or even as an early Order. I am not prepared to deny that there is great pressure upon the Government in reference to public business, but I would venture to suggest that some day soon after the re-assembling of the House after the Whitsunside recess might be fixed for the Second Reading of the Bill, so that hon. Members may know when it will be taken, and might be prevented from coming down day after day, simply because the Bill is on the Paper, with very little prospect of its being brought on. The question is a very grave one, affecting, as it does, the interests of more than 210,000,000 persons in India, and as I refrained from raising any Indian question upon the Address I think I am entitled to make this demand. All that I ask is that the Bill may be taken on an early day, and that a couple of days' notice may be given, so that Members may not come down fruitlessly. The next measure is the Employers' Liability Bill. The Government have been under a pledge, repeated for years in succession, to amend the law, but they have made no real effort to do so. In 1888 they did introduce a Bill which went before a Grand Committee, but it was not introduced at all last year, and in its present state it would raise more discussion than the earlier Bill did. The Bill has been mentioned three times in three Queen's Speeches, and the Government ought to let the House know whether it is to be persevered with now.

(3.10.) MR. MONRO FERGOSON (Leith, &c.)

May I ask what is going to be done about Scotch Private Bill legislation?

*(3.11.) MR. C. GRAHAM

I wish to support, as strongly as I can, the claim for time to discuss the Employers' Liability Bill, and also to urge that the Miners' Eight Hours Bill should receive some attention. Both of these are measures of vital importance to the working classes, and at the earliest moment they ought to be discussed by the House, in order to convince the working classes that we do sometimes occupy ourselves with their affairs. The Miners' Eight Hours Bill has also been introduced for three successive years, and it is a measure upon which we have had a distinct expression of opinion from a large majority of the persons concerned. A conference of miners, representing 350,000 men, have unanimously declared in favour of the Bill. Then, again, there is an important measure which affects the extension of the Parliamentary Franchise to Women. On this side of the House we have received a whip to-day asking us to support the Motion of the hon. Member for Crewe to secure a discussion of this measure on the 3rd of June.


Order, order! The hon. Member is now discussing a Motion in regard to which there is a notice already on the Paper.

(3.13.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I am not convinced that there are a majority of miners in favour of the Eight Hours Bill. In reference, however, to the remarks of the First Lord of the Treasury, I fear that he does not quite appreciate the motive with which the Amendment has been moved by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sex- ton), which is that Supply should be fairly taken at a reasonable period of the Session, and not put off to the close of the Session, to be taken under pressure and in a perfunctory manner. What is desired is that Supply should not be put off until the fag end of the Session, and then run through in one day.

(3.14.) MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)

I must remind the Government that hopes have been held out that the Eight Hours Bill would have been discussed before this period of the Session. There are many thousands besides miners who wish to have this question discussed.

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

I do not believe that business has ever before been so backward at this period of the year. In the last three Sessions the average number of days required for Supply has been 37; and last year at this date 20 had been already given to Supply, and in the previous year 10 had been devoted to it, in spite of which it was necessary to have an Autumn Session, in which 22 days were given to Supply in the months of November and December. In the present year only seven days have been devoted to Committee of Supply, and between the present time and August 20 there are only 44 days which could be devoted to Government business. If 30 of these are given to Supply, to make up the customary 37 days, only 14 will be left for other Government business. There ought to be an understanding that a reasonable proportion of the remaining time will be given to Supply. Personally, I should have been glad if the Morning and Evening Sittings were continued—[Cries of "No, no !"] but at least one day a week ought to be given to Supply. I hope the leader of the House will take the figures I have given into consideration. Our real difficulty has been caused by the ambitious Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the introduction into the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill of highly contentious matters, which have already occupied the attention of the House for 11 days.

(3.20.) The House divided:—Ayes 53; Noes 117.—(Div. List, No. 107.)

Main Question again proposed.

*(3.32.) MR. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

I beg to move as an Amendment, after "Tuesday," to insert— Except on Tuesday, June 3, when the first Notice of Motion, Parliamentary Franchise (Extension to Women), shall take precedence. I am obliged to the First Lord of the Treasury for the kindly tone in which he referred to this Amendment, but I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the advice which he has given to me is advice which I cannot possibly accept. If my Motion were to be carried, the subject to which it refers would certainly be considerably advanced in Parliamentary importance. It should not be forgotten that earlier in the Session—on March 4th—I obtained precedence by the Ballot for a Motion similar to the one which now stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for the Leigh Division of Lancashire (Mr. C. Wright), but the exigencies of the business of the Government rendered it necessary that I should give up that day. On that occasion I asked the First Lord to promise that he would not again take our day away, and he said he would not do so mischievously or wilfully. He is now breaking the spirit of that promise, for there is no need to take this evening. I will suggest instead that the Government should take Wednesday, June 4, which is the Derby Day, for their business instead of taking four hours on the previous evening, which would do them very little good indeed. The opportunity is not taken away by the mere exigencies of public business. There is always what I must call an intrigue to prevent the subject of Women's Suffrage being discussed, and it is a matter of common notoriety that the senior Member for Northampton has a full share in making these arrangements. I do not say that the First Lord of the Treasury knows of it; perhaps these things are purposely kept from his knowledge, in order that he may be in a position to deny them. But they are within the knowledge of his Whips. I now press the Government to leave us one evening of four hours. We have had great ill-fortune with this Bill. In 1887, it had the first place on the Paper on July 20th, and that day was taken from us by the Govern- ment, on the plea of the exigencies of public business, although they refrained from giving us a day later on in the Session. In 1888 we had a very good place on June 6th, and we lost that day owing to the operation of the new Rule under which Bills not read a second time before Whitsuntide lost precedence. In 1889, one of my hon. Friends had first place for this Bill on the Wednesday before Good Friday, and a Memorial, signed by 170 Members, was presented to the First Lord, asking him to-allow us to sit on that Wednesday. I am aware it is not a usual thing to sit on that day: but the Government have no hesitation in appointing Wednesday Sittings when they desire to get a stage of the Coercion Bill, although they seem to hold very different views when a Women's-Suffrage Bill is under discussion. On the 25th April this year this Resolution stood second on the Paper, the first Motion thereon having reference to the duties on dried fruits. The Member who had that Motion on the Paper persisted in keeping-it down in order to prevent the Women's Suffrage discussion taking place, though his subject had been dealt with in the Budget, and as I did not see why we should try to keep the House for him under those circumstances, I consequently took this Motion off the Paper, and immediately I had done so that hon. Member removed his Motion. I have reason to believe a similar arrangement has been made in regard to Tuesday, 3rd June. Now, I think we are making a reasonable request in asking the Government to-defer the operation of the Motion they are proposing now until Friday, 6th June. The right hon. Gentleman, in moving his Resolution, said that four hours was, no doubt, a very short time, but a great deal of business could be done in it if the House only chose. Now, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that on the 4th June we are going to waste six hours by not sitting on that day, which is Derby Day; and I will make a practical suggestion to him, that the Government should take their business on Wednesday, the 4th June, and give us this Tuesday. The right hon. Gentleman refuses. That only shows what a sham is his plea about the necessity of taking our four hours. We are now three or four months from the end of the Session. We desire to get a discussion on this question. It has been agitated a very long time by a large number of women throughout the country, and I appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite to do us this justice, and allow us to debate the matter. One of the women who have been most actively engaged in this movement asked me the other day why we were prevented having a Debate—


Order, order! The hon. Member is not adhering to his Amendment.


Well, then, Sir, I will simply say I ask the House to pass my Amendment simply as an act of justice. As the subject has been deliberately shelved by this Parliament, I intend to divide the House.

Amendment proposed, in line 4, after the word "Tuesday," to insert the words— Except on Tuesday, 3rd June, when the first Notice of Motion, Parliamentary Franchise (Extension to Women), shall take precedence."—(Mr. Walter M'Laren.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

*(3.45.) MR. WEBB (Waterford, W.)

I rise to second the Amendment, as this is a subject in which I take great interest. I desire to put forward some reasons why this question should be discussed. There are a large number of reasons—


Order, order! That line of argument is not in order.


The question has been before the House on many occasions since 1870, and on many grounds it is desirable—


Order, order!

*(3.47.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

It is not often that I indulge in the luxury of voting with the Government, but on this occasion I shall certainly avail myself of the opportunity of going into the Lobby with them. I do not share the views which have been expressed by the hon. Member for Crewe. There are questions of far greater importance requiring debate than that of female suffrage. For instance, only the other night, by tactics which some of us took occasion to condemn, we were prevented discussing the grievances of a large number of working men—a subject which was to have been brought forward by the hon. Member for Woolwich. Then, again, there is the registration of voters question. Many of us—most of us I believe—desire to get rid of the anomalies that surround the present system; but we have never yet, either by Bill or by Resolution, succeeded in getting a day to consider that question, which is of supreme importance. The hon. Gentleman is, therefore, not alone in the difficulty of which he complains. In the early part of the Session I was fortunate enough to get a good place for the consideration of a Registration of Voters Bill which I have brought in for four years, but the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury deprived me of the opportunity. I had just as much right to complain as has the hon. Member for Crewe, but I did not come down to the House with a whine on that occasion, but have ever since been trying for another chance to bring it forward. Then, again, there is the question of the water supply of London, which vitally affects the millions of people of London, and which we are anxious to get discussed. Many other questions also press for solution, all of them of far greater importance than that which the hon. Member for Crewe is anxious for the House to consider.


I intend to indulge in the same luxury as the hon. Member who has just spoken and to vote with the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe ascribes to design what really was chance. It is a mere chance that the hon. Gentleman has no opportunity of bringing forward his Resolution. As one of his own fair clients, the Duchess of Gerolstein, said, it is fatality. The hon. Member has accused the First Lord of the Treasury and myself of intriguing in order to prevent this Resolution from being brought forward. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord will allow me to protest in his name that there has been no sort of intrigue. The position of the hon. Member for Crewe is, I repeat, due solely to chance. He has referred to the fact that on one occasion a Memorial was presented to the First Lord asking him to pursue the exceptional course of making a House on the Wednesday before Good Friday, and he suggests that, owing to certain intrigues, that privilege was refused him. The hon. Gentleman forgets that there was another Paper signed—and signed by a large number of Members—against his proposal, and that, possibly, will account for the refusal of the First Lord to adopt his suggestion. Again, the hon. Gentleman complains that on the occasion on which he had secured second place for his Motion, the hon. Member for Glasgow would not yield to him and withdraw his Resolution upon dried fruits. He also states that, immediately he had taken his Motion off the Paper, the hon. Member for Glasgow also removed his, and this he quotes as another instance of intriguing against him. But the hon. Member for Glasgow had a reason for what he did. He spoke to me on the subject He pointed out to me that he did not want to be interrupted in the middle of his speech by a count, and he asked what course he should take. I told him I thought it was a pity that he should only be able to deliver a portion of his speech, and that it might possibly be as well for him to choose a better moment for bringing it forward. That is why he took it off the Paper. Now, I am a person of principle. I have always opposed Ministers taking private Members' nights, and, consequently, I am opposed to this Motion of the Government. But I have another principle upon which I act, and that is, that, when once such a Motion is carried, it is not wise to make exceptions in favour of anyone. I sympathise greatly with my hon. Friend in his disappointment; but I cannot consistently support his Amendment, because if it were carried it would be my duty to move a series of Amendments, asking that about 20 subjects should be exempted from the operation of this rule. Under these circumstances, I think it is no use further debating this Amendment, and that we may as well take a Division on the proposal of the First Lord of the Treasury. The hon. Member for Crewe has simply been unducky, and he will have to grin and bear it.

(3.56.) SIR R. KNIGHTLEY (Northampton, S.)

I think it is time some protest was made against this fresh raid on the rights of private Members. We have some right to complain of the mode in which this Motion has been brought forward. Had we had fair notice we might have secured an attendance of Members sufficient to defeat it; but as it is, we are completely powerless. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has got us by the throat I do appeal, however, to that amiable garrotter to make this one exception to his Resolution.

(4.0.) The House divided:—Ayes 32; Noes 145.—(Div. List, No. 108.)

Main Question again proposed.

(4.10.) VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, Darwen)

I desire to thank the First Lord of the Treasury and the Government on behalf of a great number of Members greatly interested in the Tithes Question for having promised to put down the Tithes Bill for the first Thursday after the Recess. I hope I may take that promise to imply a determination on the part of the Government to pass the measure with all due despatch. I am not disposed to blame-the Government for having so long delayed progress with the Bill. I know the circumstances of the last few days have made it impossible to redeem the promise made that the Bill should be taken before Whitsuntide. At the same time, however, we cannot, in face of the history of the question, view without some anxiety the postponement of the Bill until a later day than was originally promised. Although I have every reason to suppose my right hon. Friend intends to pass the measure with all due despatch, in consideration of the fact that there is considerable agitation in the country on the question—and in matters of this kind, when agitation once begins, it is better to have the question settled one way or the other—I urge upon the First Lord to risk nothing. I hope we are to understand that the Bill will be passed this Session.

MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)

The right hon. Gentleman has not said whether the Tithes Bill will be the first Order on that day.

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

I shall not put it down late.


Is it to be the business?


Certainly. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) thinks that the state of business is duo to the fact that the Government have not proposed measures entirely agreeable to the Opposition. It is very singular that they have not done so. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have themselves done what the Government now propose for the promotion of public business. I will leave it to the right hon. Gentleman to say how far the prolonged Debates upon the Budget Bill and other measures of the Government will account for the condition of business. The Government cannot propose measures to Parliament with reference solely to the views of the Opposition. They must have regard to what they believe to be for the public interest. I recognise the claim of the hon. Member (Mr. Bradlaugh) for the early consideration of the Indian Councils Bill, and it shall be brought forward so as to give him an opportunity of stating his views upon it. With regard to the Employers' Liability Bill, I desire that it shall be read a second time and considered again by a Committee, and I hope the result will be, what the Government very much desire, to settle the question in the interest of all parties. Supply will be taken on the Monday and the Education Estimates on the Tuesday after the holidays.

(4.16). Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved— That after Whitsuntide, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet on Tuesday and Friday at Three of the clock, and that Government business have priority on Tuesday; that Standing Order 11 be suspended, and the provisions of Standing Order 56' he extended to the other days of the week.

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