HC Deb 23 March 1891 vol 351 cc1683-90

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Committee do consist of Twenty Members."—(The Lord Advocate.)

(4.45.) MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)

I think the Scotch Members have good reason to complain of the course taken by the Government tonight. I snail, before I sit down, move the adjournment of the Debate. Two reasons mainly actuate me in making this Motion. The noble Lord the Member for Hampshire who told us that there is great joy in Scotland over the action of the Government in this matter is not yet a Scotch Member, and probably never will be. He certainly is not entitled to speak for public opinion in Scotland; all he was justified in saying was that there was great joy in the Scotsman office, that the Committee was being proceeded with. Let me advert to the discussion across the Table a few minutes ago. I assert, and the right hon. Gentleman has not denied, that on the part of the Scotch Members there was an understanding that this Committee would not be moved either immediately before the Easter Recess or immediately after the Recess. I believe those were the very words used. And the reason for such an arrangement is clear. The Scotch Members, like those from Ireland, have a long way to travel, and it has become a rule not to take Irish business immediately before or after Easter and Whitsuntide. Surely the same reasons apply for not going on with this Motion to day, especially as the Scotch Members were certainly under the impression that if it was not taken last week it would be left over till after Easter. That is my first reason. My second reason is that it is notorious that in going on with this Motion the Government have executed a change of front without a single word of explanation. It is notorious that some weeks ago the Government stated that they were prepared to accept a Joint Committee of both Houses, instead of the foreign and alien Commission which this Bill proposes. They said the great object was to secure that in the case of Scotch Private Bills there should be a local inquiry, and since that time no communication has been made of a change of views beyond the sudden bringing forward of this Motion. The Government told us they would consider the propriety of proceeding by way of Resolution, instead of by Bill, but suddenly we are told they will insist on the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill. Such a change of front surely requires explanation. These are the grounds on which I have ventured to take the unusual course of moving the adjournment of the Debate. Such a course is, I admit, unusual, but so also are the circumstances. What has been the attitude of the Lord Advocate towards this Bill? Before the Session commenced, at a meeting of Scotchmen, the right hon. Gentleman declared that the progress of the Bill depended on the Scotch Members themselves, and he suggested that pressure should be put on the Scotch Members to help it on. I ask him now, whether, seeing that so many of my Colleagues have gone home to their constituents, that is not a strong reason for not now pressing forward the Motion. I beg to move the adjournment of the Debate.

*(4.52.) DR. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)

I beg to second that. The right hon. Gentleman was asked not to proceed with the Motion immediately after the Easter holidays, and he said if it were not taken before the adjournment it would not be proceeded with until the 9th April. Thereupon the Member for Stirling Burghs asked that the Motion should not be taken this week, and the First Lord assented that it should not be taken this week.

*THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster



Of course if the eight hon. Gentleman says that he did not mean that, then everyone will accept his statement, but then the right hon. Gentleman said the Motion would be taken on Friday.


I said I hoped so.


It was put down for Friday, and it might very well have been taken on Friday, instead of a number of small Bills being proceeded with. I may point out another reason for not pressing on this Motion now. The Second Reading of this Bill was taken on the first day of the re-assembling of Parliament after the Christmas holidays—a day most inconvenient for Scotch Members to be in their places. Therefore, we ought now to have a fair opportunity of discussing this matter. I think ample justification has been shown for the adjournment of the Debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. E. Robertson.)

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

The hon. and learned Gentleman said he moved the adjournment first, because there has been a breach of an understanding, and next because there is a change of front. I do not think it possible for anyone in my position to be more distinct and clear than I was in what I said on Thursday, for I then said that if it was not taken on Friday it would be taken on Monday. I was careful to say that if it were not taken before the Easter Recess it would not be taken till the Thursday after the House re-assembled. Surely my remarks were of the nature of a distinct notice that the Government desired to take the Motion before the Easter Recess, not on the last day, but on a day like this, when the attendance is usually very full. With regard to the question of change of front, there was no change of front on the part of the Government, who are willing to act on the suggestions contained in the letter which I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman), that suggestion being that we would effect such changes in Committee as would make the Bill acceptable to the Scotch Members. But when a Bill has been read a second time and referred to a Select Committee, any change in the measure must be made in that Committee, and we are willing to carry out the promise made to the right hon. Gentleman when the Bill is considered by the Committee. The hon. Member opposite shakes his head.


The suggestion was that you should abandon the Bill.


In my letter I distinctly stated that we could not entertain the proposal to abandon the Bill, and that so grave a change with regard to procedure as the substitution of a Commission for Select Committees in dealing with Private Bills could not be made unless by Statute. We are of opinion that procedure by Standing Order is not desirable in so grave a matter, and that the judgment of both Houses of Parliament should be taken with regard to the proposal. It is obviously a proposal which cannot be confined to Scotland, but must be extended to other parts of the United Kingdom if the measure is successful, and it is impossible that it can be made by Standing Order. There is nothing which would pain me more than to have it supposed that I was capable of a breach of understanding in this House; but I cannot be responsible for the interpretation hon. Members may put upon my plain words, which is not consistent with those words. I would remind the House that I stated on Friday, before the adjournment, that I did propose to proceed with this matter to-day and at this hour, and therefore the House is not taken by surprise. Hon. Members from Scotland are not taken by surprise, and therefore I should be breaking down the practice under which we have conducted business hitherto, if I were to yield to the Motion for adjournment.

(5.5.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

I am sure that everybody will agree that the right hon. Gentleman is most scrupulously honourable in recognising understandings in carrying on the business of the House, but I must be allowed to say to him that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs has left London under a totally different impression from that which the right hon. Gentleman entertains. We may all have lapses of memory on questions of this sort, and the right hon. Gentleman will, perhaps, allow me to remind him of what was the conversation that really took place as to proceeding with this measure. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that if the matter was not taken before Easter it would not be taken for some time, and my right hon. Friend said across the Table: "Neither immediately before Easter, nor immediately after?"


I did not gather that.


I understood my right hon. Friend to say that, and I understood the right hon. Gentleman to bow assent. I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman in the interests of promoting the business of the House. Nobody wishes to obstruct the appointment of this Committee, but the Scotch Members have a right to have their say with reference to the constitution of the Committee, as far as the Scotch element is concerned. To-night there are several questions of paramount importance on the Paper; the Committee, if appointed, cannot sit before Easter, and therefore, as there has clearly been a misunderstanding, and as both the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for, Berwick, have left London believing that this matter would not come on, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to assent to the question being postponed.

(5.10.) DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

Assuming that there has been no breach of faith with the Scotch Members, it would be most unsatisfactory, as a mere matter of business, to enter upon the consideration of a question affecting Scotland so intimately—and a question, which of course, indirectly affects in a like degree England and Ireland—when so large a number of Scotch Members are away. The right hon. Gentleman has said there is a fair number of Scotch Members present, but when I look round I do not see more than 20 of the 70 Scotch Members in their places. I am told that five of the hon. Members whom it is proposed to place upon the Committee are absent, and that two of the hon. Members who have brought forward Amendments in regard to the Committee are also absent. I therefore trust that the small remnant of Scotch Members who are here will take the opportunity of protesting against this action on the part of the Government, and will give support in the Lobby to the Motion of the hon. Member for Dundee. I do not see what reason there is for hurry in this matter, and I have failed to discover in Scotland that extraordinary interest in the question and zeal for its settlement which some hon. Members seem to think exists. We have had some representation from Hampshire that there is a strong feeling in favour of this Bill in Scotland, but I am in a position to know what, at any rate, one Scotch constituency thinks about Scotch questions, and, as yet, I have heard nothing favourable to the Bill from them. I am glad the Motion has been brought forward, for it will show the Scotch people how Scotch questions are dealt with in this House. The fact that this night of all others has been selected for this Motion will cause great dissatisfaction in Scotland.

(5.13.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I intend to vote for the proposal of the hon. Member for Dundee, though I disagree with every word that-has fallen from him and from every Scotch Member who has spoken. What with Scotch Members, Irish Members, and Welsh Members the unfortunate English Member never has an opportunity of expressing his views in this House, or of getting any sort of English legislation. Hon. Gentlemen from Scotland tell us that only 20 of their number are here. Where are the others? The answer is "Oh! they did not know that Scotch business was to be brought on."' Well, let me tell hon. Members from Scotland that their duty when they are elected to this House is not only to come-here when the Scotch business is on. The duty of every Member on this side of the House, no matter where he comes-from, is to help Ministers to carry on good legislation, and to do their best to hinder them from carrying on bad legislation. We always have this sort of appeal from Scotch and Irish Members when the holidays are coming on— that Scotch and Irish business shall not be taken either immediately before or immediately after the holidays. The unfortunate English Members, in whatever part of the country they may live, have to come here to make a House and proceed with business. It is just as disagreeable to them as it is to Scotch Members to have to come here when they want to be at home. English Members object to it as much as the Scotch Members. I shall vote for the Motion, however, for the reason given by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton. We have a right to a whole day's discussion on Motions, on the first day the Question for the Speaker leaving the Chair is put, on the Army, the Navy, and the Civil Service Estimates. It is said that the Motion now before the House will not occupy more than an hour and a half, but I very much doubt that, with 20 Scotch Members present. I always listen with great interest to Scotch Members, but I am bound to say that when one Scotchman gets up half a dozen others follow him, and generally repeat what he has said, or "strengthen his arguments." Seeing that there has been some misunderstanding, and that we want to have an opportunity of discussing the second Order of the Day, I venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should accept the Motion.

(5.16.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)

I entirely acquit the right hon. Gentleman of any departure from an understanding, but it is evident that there has been a belief in such an understanding, and important Members who are deeply interested in the question have left London in that opinion. But, still it remains a contested matter, while the good faith of the right hon. Gentleman has not been brought in question at all. He has been appealed to on the ground of an understanding, of courtesy, and of favour. I will appeal to the right hon. Gentleman on less lofty grounds, namely, those of interest in connection with the progress of the business of the House. I submit that the great interest of the Government, as the representative of the public in this matter, is to get the Speaker out of the Chair to-night for the consideration of the Civil Service Estimates. I think it is generally admitted that the practice of giving an evening for the discussion of all these questions before entering into Committee on the Estimates is a reasonable one. The right hon. Gentleman will see, on looking at the list of Motions, that there is ample motive for fair and legitimate discussion; but, for my own part, what I am afraid of is, that if we waste much time in this preliminary matter and come to the discussion of the names of the Committee without being in a harmonious frame of mind, and then pass to the consideration of the Speaker leaving the Chair, it is doubtful whether the Speaker will be allowed to leave the Chair to-night. I hope that in the general interests of the House the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to consent to the adjournment of the Debate.

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

The right hon. Gentleman urges the Government to make this concession on the ground that it will forward public business. I own that is a very strong ground indeed. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton says that the Debate ought not to take more than an hour and a half, and that he will do everything in his power to limit the discussion to a reasonable period. Upon the understanding which I think I have obtained from the other side of the House, including hon. Gentlemen from Scotland, that assistance will be given to the Government in bringing the Debate to a speedy termination, I will put the Order down for Thursday, April 9th, as the first Order of the Day. With regard to proceeding with the Land Purchase (Ireland) Bill, it is a serious matter to postpone a measure of that description; but I accept the assurance which has been given, and consent to the adjournment of the Debate.

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Thursday 9th April.

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