HC Deb 10 March 1892 vol 2 cc572-87
(10.8.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.

, in rising to move— That the Reports of the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour though opposed; and the Proceedings thereon shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, except of Standing Order No. 5, said: I do not think many words will be required on the subject of this Motion. The House is aware that for several Sessions it has been found necessary in the interest of Public Business that the Report of Supply should be excepted from the general rule which makes our controversial Business conclude at 12. I think we must all feel that it is inconvenient that it should be in the power of any one Member to stop the House proceeding with Business which it desires to dispose of. I have no doubt the House will grant us this without much debate. I will not add anything as to the condition of Public Business. Everybody knows that the state of things which justified us in asking a few days ago for the time of the House are now considerably aggravated by the fact that so much time has been taken up by Private Bills. Only one further observation is required. It may be in the recollection of the House that I promised we should not take Report of Supply on Tuesdays and Fridays so long as there were Morning Sittings. I am ready to renew that pledge, if desired, and to say that any objection to a Vote of Supply on those days will be sufficient reason not to attempt to proceed with it. The Motion only covers the time up to Easter. I hope, with this pledge, hon. Gentlemen will find no difficulty in acceding to this very necessary demand on our part.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Reports of the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour though opposed; and the Proceedings thereon shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, except of Standing Order No. 5."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)

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

As the right hon. Gentleman has said, this is not a very large demand. It seems to me it is a little departure from our ordinary Rules to take this Motion so early. It can only be justified by the necessities of the case. Undoubtedly there is a strong claim for such powers at the present moment.


Perhaps I should have said that in 1889 the Motion was made on the 19th March; in 1890 on the 15th April; and in 1891 on the 13th March.


I am much obliged for the information. I think, however, that the House will have to be careful in parting with its control of the time of the House, although I think there is considerable force in the appeal now made. I wish to refer to one point, however. The right hon. Gentleman has referred, not unnaturally, to the large part of the time of the House taken up by Private Business. He does not, of course, imply that this has been done with any sinister motive so as to interfere with the Business of the Government. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find in each case where a Private Bill has occupied the time of the House it has been only in consequence of the importance of the subject, and not for the mere object of forcing a debate where one was not required. But the fact remains that a good deal of time has been expended in that way, which has added to the difficulties of the Government, in meeting the financial requirements this month, and I cannot see how we can object to the Motion.

(10.13.) DR. CLARK

I would like to insert after the word "That," the words "except on Tuesdays and Fridays, when Morning Sittings are taken." Last Session we got a pledge that Supply would not be taken on Tuesdays and Fridays, and yet it was twice put down upon those nights. I think the Government ought not to object to this proposal.

Amendment proposed, after the word "That," to insert the words "except on Tuesdays and Fridays when Morning Sittings are taken."—(Dr. Clark.)

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

(10.15.) MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

With reference to the complaint that this Motion is being made so early in the Session, the right hon. Gentleman must be aware that when the First Lord of the Treasury brought it forward last year Parliament had met in the November previously, and that the Session had run many more days than in the present year. I shall certainly support the hon. Member below me (Dr. Clark) if he goes to a Division, and I should like to say a few words with reference to another point. The whole claim of the right hon. Gentleman for taking this time is based on the necessity for getting Supply between this and the end of the financial year. The necessity disappears after that time, and I hope the tight hon. Gentleman will consent now, as he consented upon the question of Morning Sittings, to insert in his Motion after "That" the words "until Easter."


The other Amendment must be withdrawn first.


Perhaps I might appeal to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) on this Subject. If his Amendment were carried, I gainer its effect is to prevent the Government ever, under any circumstances, putting down Report of Supply on Tuesday and Friday, however uncontroversial the Supply may be.


No, no. I take it that all Supply which is not objected to will be taken on Report. It is only controversial Supply that my Amendment contemplates.


I do not quite understand what the hon. Gentleman expects to gain by his Amendment.

An hon. MEMBER: Until Easter.


That is an Amendment which is adumbrated, not yet moved, by the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottinghamshire. (Mr. J. E. Ellis): But I think I am right in saying that, if the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness: (Dr. Clark) were carried, it would not be in the power of the Government even to put down the Report of Supply on these two days, and that I think the hon; Gentleman himself will feel would inflict considerable inconvenience not only on the Government, but on the House itself. It will be sufficient, I think, that I have pledged myself on behalf of the Government that, if Report of Supply be objected to on these two days, I will not take it after, midnight. I trust the hon. Gentleman will not think it necessary to insert words which go beyond his wishes and the wishes of the Govern- ment and the object of which is covered by my promise on behalf of the Government.

(10. 20.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

I have expressed my satisfaction at the action of the Leader of the House when the Motion for Morning. Sittings was proposed, in consenting to the recommendation that we should close Debate at twelve o'clock, I am not disputing the backward position of the financial business at the present time, but I want to protest most strongly against the Business of this House being conducted in the early morning hours. I believe the one thing we have to do in this House is to see as far as possible that the Business of the House is done within rational hours. It is because I desire to see that, that I am protesting against the action of the right hon. Gentleman this evening in wishing to keep us here after midnight for Supply. I can only repeat what I said last week that if the financial business is in a bad condition at the present time, the Government, and the Government alone, are responsible. They knew distinctly what had to be got through before the end of the financial year. There is nothing extraordinary about it, and they have no right to so pinch themselves up for time that a mere debate on a Private Bill lasting a few hours should have brought about the position we are in at the present time. We have been asked during, the past few years, since 1889, to grant this particular privilege which the right hon. Gentleman is asking for at the present time. To-night we have it quoted as a precedent against us, with the implied suggestion that it is wrong on our part to oppose it; but all the conditions of the dates quoted just now by the right hon. Gentleman prove that on no other occasion has the Leader of the House asked for this power at such an early period of the Session as the right hon. Gentleman has.


Yes; but that is because the House gave it us before that.


The dates are fully in the recollection of the House—the date of last Session in particular.


But the Government never asked for this compulsory power, if I may so use the phrase, until the House refused the indulgence of taking Report of Supply after twelve o'clock. It was given them without a Motion before. I would never have asked for it if it had not been that an hon. Gentleman, quite within his rights, on two nights objected to Report of Supply being proceeded with.


I am not responsible for the action of the hon. Gentleman. What I particularly wish to protest against, and shall continue to protest against, is being required to continue these Sittings during the early hours of the morning. It is a great inconvenience to many Members of the House, which, perhaps, some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen might not realise, and I think it only right that we should make this protest.

(10.24.) Mr. MARK STEWART

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Debate resumed.

(10.24.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I want a fair opportunity for debate and discussion, and I am certain that taking Business after twelve o'clock means that it is not done in a proper manner at all. It is not reported, so that the public outside cannot see what is done, and it is not properly discussed inside the House. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has just said that he has not asked for this until he has been obliged to. I do not think that is quite a fair and open course. As far as my limited experience goes, there has been no difficulty whatever with this Report of Supply. It has generally been acceded to without debate. What is the objection at the present moment? The objection taken the other night to Report of Supply was owing to the circumstance that the discussion on the Mombasa Railway and Nyanza Survey business had not, in the opinion of some of us, been properly discussed, and we wished to discuss it on Report. It is well known to the Members of this House that the discussion on that Nyanza affair was confined practically to the Front Benches, with the exception of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouehere). Now, I think we are fairly entitled to ask that we shall have reasonable time allowed to us to discuss that question. Up to the present time, owing to the Closure having been moved by the right horn Gentleman the Leader of the House, we have had no opportunity of discussing it. We below the Gangway are the Members who voted against that. Many of the Members on the Front Opposition Bench voted against that waste of public money; but, at the same time, owing to the action of the right hon. Gentleman, we have not been allowed an opportunity of discussing the matter at all. I do not think that is fair either to us or the country which we are supposed to represent. I quite agree with the remark of the hon. Gentleman who preceded me that we ought to get our Business done by twelve o'clock, and that no Business done after that is properly done or the interests of the people of this country properly looked after, and I hope the time is not far distant when we shall insist on closing this House at twelve o'clock without regard to what the position of Business may be at that hour. I do not know whether I shall divide the House on this occasion, but I trust the right hon. Gentleman will accept both Amendments—the one that has been moved and the other that has been suggested. I trust also that the Government will not continue to improperly obstruct proper discussion of their proposals to spend money which does not belong to them, but to the whole country. I deny that there has been any waste of time on our part. The obstruction with regard to the Business of the country has all come from the Government Bench. I have always had a difficulty in charging anybody with wasting time or obstructing, but I have no difficulty whatever in charging the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues with the waste of time during the present Session. I do not know why. People say they do not want to do any business. I do not know whether they want to do any business, but it is an absolute fact that time has been wasted by the Government during the present Session day by day, and in the most extraordinary fashion. I will not take up the time of the House with giving full particulars. Everyone knows it is a fact; and everyone bewails it, especially the hon. Gentleman opposite, that they have not been better led as regards the business of the Government. I trust, we shall have an opportunity of properly discussing the spending of our money.

(10.31.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I am in these matters a thoroughgoing old Tory. I like regular hours and regular, rules. Now, when it was agreed that we should break up at twelve o'clock, and that no further business should, be done after that hour, the only exception that was made was in regard to a Money Bill. But we did not then make a Standing Order that the Report of Supply should be taken after twelve o'clock. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury has said that for three successive Sessions he had to ask for this. That is no reason why he should go on asking for it Session after Session. If that is to, be the rule, let it be a Standing Order; but if it is not a Standing Order, and the House has agreed that, we ought mot to take the Report of Supply after twelve o'clock, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has made out his case. The right hon. Gentleman says that the financial business of the House is behindhand, but, as my hon. Friend, behind me said, Whose fault is it that the Government sprang their own Bills upon us at the commencement of the Session, with really, so far as I could see, no great desire, that they should be passed? When he took the Morning Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays for financial business, the right hon. Gentleman absolutely introduced fresh business. Surely it would be more, reasonable to deal with the Bills actually brought in. I have the greatest suspicion of Her Majesty's Government in this matter. I am beginning to ask myself, after having got these facilities for business, whether Her Majesty's Government intend to bring in that Bill called the Small Holdings Bill that was foreshadowed; for I confess that seeing the action of the right hon. Gentleman in this House, first challenging us to speak, and then abusing us for speaking, I feel that by the arrangement of business a great deal of time has been wasted during the present Session. I am beginning to think that the right hon. Gentleman has got some covert design. I want the right hon. Gentleman to make a clean breast of it. Tell me, when are you going to dissolve? That is what I want to know. If you will undertake to dissolve when we consider it the most desirable time (laughter)—not for ourselves, for we are most ready to make any sacrifice. By the most desirable time I mean, when the agricultural labourer and others are not prevented by their avocations from voting; then I am perfectly sure the right hon. Gentleman would find no difficulty in getting us to assent to let him take all the mornings, and to let him take all the nights; it is this uncertainty that dangles over us like the sword of Damocles. We want the right hon. Gentleman to be frank, open, and candid with us in regard to these matters. The right hon. Gentleman tells us there is a necessity. My right hon. Friend here admitted the necessity. Well, Ministers' necessities are the Opposition's opportunities. No sooner does a Minister get himself into a mess than we have a repetition of the old story of the wolf and the lamb. He seizes upon some time belonging to private Members. No Minister that I have ever known in this House has, ever since I have been here, cut his coat according to the cloth—they have always been taking parts of our cloth and adding it to their coats. The right hon. Gentleman asks us to take the Report of Supply after twelve o'clock. What I regard as infinitely more important than a Money Bill being brought in is to look after the national expenditure. Some Ministers say they wish to let business go on a little. They allow themselves a little time like the Secretary of the Treasury. They do not make the speeches they would have made, and reserve them for the Report. Now, they make them in the conclusion of the night. I object to that. I do not know why—I wish the right hon. Gentleman to tell me—I do not know why when Ministers get into a mess they say—Take Report of Supply after Twelve o'clock, and they do not say, take this Bill or that Bill. The right hon. Gentleman complains of the length of time that Private Business has taken.


expressed dissent.


The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the fact. Whose fault is it that time has been wasted? Why not give us Home Rule? Why not give larger powers to your County Councils? We come down here and spend hour after hour discussing some twaddling little question that ought to be decided by the locality. (Admiral FIELD: Hear, hear!) I think there was a certain amount of reason in what was said this afternoon; I believe there was more or less. But most unquestionably the reason why Session after Session gets into a muddle—why private Members days are being taken, why after all possible business should have come to an end at twelve o'clock, we are called upon to go on till one o'clock—the reason is I say that this House has far too much business to do; and I say that that will always be the case until you give Home Rule to all parts of the country, allowing Ireland to legislate for Ireland and giving the County Councils power to manage their own local affairs. I shall certainly challenge a division.


I beg to withdraw my Motion, if you, Sir, think it will prevent unopposed Supply from being taken.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed, after the word "That," to insert the words "until Easter."—(Mr. John Ellis.)

Question proposed "That those words be there inserted."

(10.40.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say he agreed.


No, Sir.


That puts a very different complexion on the matter. We have our days filched from us by the right hon. Gentleman, at least to some extent, and now not content with that he is going to rob us of our sleep. It is a practice which always lends itself to renewed Opposition whenever the Government of the Day has attempted to push through Government Business after twelve o'clock. Now we are asked to commit ourselves for the rest of the Session—Heaven knows how long it may last—to the position that we may be kept up to any hour of the morning before being released from duty, in order to please the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I do not think anybody complained of myself personally that I have been wasting the time of the House during this Session. Indeed, it has been a matter of reproach to me that I have not interfered more in the Debates that have already taken place; but I have not seen any occasion to do so, and it is only the importance that this question has assumed in the face of the attitude of the right hon Gentleman that has induced me to interpose for a moment in this Debate. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Northampton that whatever difficulties may surround the Government with respect to the conduct of Public Business is brought on themselves entirely. If it had not been for the extraordinary incompetency—I will not use stronger language—that has been displayed by the Leader of the House, there is no doubt business might have advanced much more than it has done at this period of the Session. It was not our fault if the right hon. Gentleman chose to waste a whole evening upon a Scotch Debate before he had mastered the A B C of the conduct of Parliamentary Business and discovered that he ought to have introduced a Money Bill in Committee. It was not our business to tell him that. I was not present on the occasion, but I frankly confess that if I had been in the House that evening I would have taken very good care not to have in formed the right hon. Gentleman of his mistake until a late hour in the evening. This is undoubtedly a bad retrogressive precedent for the right hon. Gentleman to have started at this early part of the Session to compel us to sit here all through the night; that is practically what his Resolution means. All experience shows that after midnight no reasonably useful business is done. In the old days, when the hours were unlimited, there was a prolonged wrangle; everybody was put in a bad temper, our time was destroyed, our energies wasted, because it is futile to attempt serious work at an early hour in the morning. I resist this proposal on this occasion, and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that we shall certainly not curtail our remarks whether it be 1, 2, or 3 o'clock in the morning. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks by destroying our hours of repose, as well as by robbing, us of our liberty of action, he will succeed, he is very much mistaken. If he wants to facilitate business let him get up and tell us what measures he wants to pass, and with what programme he wants to go to the country in order to support this tottering Government.


The hon. Gentleman is not keeping to the Question before the House.


I quite see that, Sir, and I was going to pass on to what I was saying—an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to accept this Amendment. If, instead of asking us to sit during reasonable hours, he proposes that we should sit here until the early hours of the morning, I shall consider myself at liberty to make it impossible for him to pass those measures.

MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)

Sir, I should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to one matter that has not already been pointed out. It is this: that, supposing this Motion is carried, after Report of Supply, which may not be concluded, it may be until 3 o'clock in the morning, all the Orders of the Day will then have to be gone through. There may be on the Orders of the Day some Bills which are objectionable to private Members, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that last Session the then Leader of the House undertook to object to the private Members' Bills passing stages after midnight when Report of Supply was proceeded With. I have had to wait here night after night to oppose such Bills. A few nights ago there was a Bill—the Cathedral Churches Bill—on the Orders; and although the name of the Leader of the House was not on the back of that Bill, and although it was not a Government Bill, the right hon. Gentleman moved the Second Reading. That Bill, it appeared, from something that you, Mr. Speaker, said, had been postponed to the 15th of March by the hon. Member in charge of it. Notwithstanding these facts, the right hon. Gentleman moved the Second Reading. Now, Sir, if the right hon. Gentleman will turn to the Orders of the Day, he will see that No. 3 is Supply, and that No. 14 is the Cathedral Churches Bill, and it therefore follows that we must sit here until that Order is reached. I would ask the Government to give the House a pledge that when the Report of Supply is taken, after 12 o'clock, the Government will object to progress being made with any subsequent Orders upon the Paper.


So far as I understand the point of the hon. Gentleman, it was raised last year, and the then Leader of the House stated that he would undertake to object to any Bills being taken after 1 o'clock. To that pledge I am prepared to adhere.


The hour when Debate on contested business closes is now 12 o'clock, and 12 o'clock stands for 1 o'clock.


The House will see that Supply must be taken first. If the House still sits till 1 o'clock, it is a hardship to Members to stay to oppose these Bills, and I am quite willing to prevent any of these Bills being taken after a quarter to 1.


I am very loth to quibble about a quarter of an hour, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, many Members; go by train, and half past 12 would be a convenient hour.


Very well, then, we will say half-past 12.

MR. H. S. CROSS (Bolton)

I think, Sir, that undertaking should be confined, to Bills to which notice of objection has been given. There are many useful measures in respect of which the proceedings are comparatively formal, and it would certainly almost prevent the possibility of such measures passing this House if such a hard-and-fast rule as that just mentioned should prevail. I understand the hon. Gentleman was anxious to confine this Resolution to Bills to which notice of objection was given; and if the notice was given, the promoters of those Bills would have an opportunity of satisfying hon. Gentlemen who were opposing on the points of their objections.


May I point out that if the Bill is objected to by any individual it is rather hard the objection should be taken after 12 o'clock; on the other hand, if not so objected to, there are plenty of nights when the hon. Gentleman opposite, or any other Members, will have ample opportunity of proceeding with the measures in which he or they are interested.

Question put.

(10.55.) The House divided:—Ayes 95; Noes 156.—(Div. List, No. 26.)

Main Question again proposed.

(11.10.) MR. CONYBEARE

I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury as to an Amendment which I think ought to find favour with him. The object of it is simply to limit the operation of the proposed new Rule, so that the Sitting shall close in any case at one o'clock. If we give the Government an extra hour up to one o'clock for the rest of the Session, I think they might agree to what I now propose—namely, "Provided that the discussion shall in all cases close at One a.m."


I will not put the Motion. It is inconsistent with what the House has already passed.


I thought the Amendment which has been passed inserted the words "till after Easter," and that the Motion had not yet been passed.


If the Amendment is added at the end of the Motion it will stultify the preceding part of it.


My object was simply to limit the operation of the Rule to one o'clock. Should I not be in Order in moving to omit the words "at any hour" in order to add the words I have suggested?


The Motion was to leave out the words "at any hour," in order to insert "after Twelve o'clock."


May I, then, withdraw my Amendment for the purpose of moving the omission of the words "at any hour"?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I now move the omission of the words "at any hour." I do so with the view of introducing the words, "Provided that the discussion close at One o'clock."

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "at any hour," and insert the words "after Twelve o'clock."—(Mr. Conybeare.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'at any hour' stand part of the Question."


It appears to me, Sir, as far as I can gather from the Amendment you have just put from the Chair, that the Resolution, if passed in the shape which the hon. Gentleman desires, would not be English, and still less sense. In that I may be wrong. I will, therefore, confine myself to saying that if the Resolution were amended as the hon. Gentleman desires, the result would not be that our discussions would be shorter, but that they would probably be lengthened. Hon. Gentlemen, seeing the magic hour of 1 o'clock drawing nigh, and that if the subject under discussion were not disposed of it must be deferred to another day, would drive their eloquence into a gallop, and thereby compel us, instead of getting to bed, to sit longer. I hope, therefore, he will not ask us to divide on an Amendment which will not conduce to shortening debate.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 192; Noes 65.—(Div. List, No. 27.)

Main Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 185; Noes 80.—(Div. List, No. 28.)

Resolved, That the Reports of the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, though opposed; and the Proceedings thereon shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, except of Standing Order No. 5.