§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I beg to move—That, until the conclusion of the consideration of the Clergy Discipline (Immorality) Bill [Lords], the Standing Committee on Law, &c, have leave to sit every day during the sitting, and notwithstanding any adjournment of the House.The House will see that the Motion is not without justification when I state that whereas, according to ordinary precedent and the teaching of experience, a Bill of this kind might be expected to go through Grand Committee easily in the course of two Sittings, yet, as a matter of fact, three Sittings have already taken place, and only nineteen lines of the first clause have, been dealt with, while the clause itself has not yet been passed. I am informed that on those nineteen lines thirty-three Amendments have been moved, chiefly by three gentlemen, and that a very large number still remain on the Paper 1451 to be discussed. It is evident, therefore, that if the Committee is to make any progress, as the House desires it should, in dealing with the Committee stage of the Bill, some further facilities must be given to the Committee for discussing it. At present they can only meet practically twice a week, and they cannot sit to discuss business while this House is sitting. The Resolution which I now venture to commend for the approval of the House simply gives the power to sit, although this House is sitting, and even in cases when this House may be adjourned. I hope that with these additional facilities the Committee will get through the work which this House has entrusted to it, which without them I see no prospect of their being able to accomplish within a reasonable period.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, until the conclusion of the consideration of the Clergy Discipline (Immorality) Bill [Lords], the Standing Committee on Law, &c, have leave to sit every day during the sitting, and notwithstanding any adjournment of the House."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid.)
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) has omitted to say one or two things in the statement he has just made to the House. He did not tell the House that those Members of the Committee who have put down a few Amendments to this Bill have facilitated the Sittings of the Committee in always attending and forming a quorum. The Attorney General, who is in charge of the Bill, will, I am sure, bear me out in this, and he has expressed his regret that the supporters of the Government have not attended better. Then, Sir, the Leader of the House has not stated that of the Amendments already discussed—some of which were consequential—five or six were of so excellent a character that the Government accepted them with pleasure. Now, Sir, I want to say one word on this proposal, which, although I welcome it, I think requires amending in one respect, and my hon. Friend (Mr. Lloyd-George) proposes to move an Amendment presently to carry out the object we have in view. It seems to me necessary that these Grand Committees should have greater facilities for discussing Bills 1452 than they have at present. Three hours twice a week do not appear to me to allow them sufficient time to get through the work before them. I hope next year that the Grand Committee will be engaged on more important measures than have been submitted to us this year, and I hope the Committee will facilitate Radical legislation in times to come. As to the character of the discussions in the Committee, there is only one thing that I regret, and that is that pressure has been put upon some of us who dissent from some of the provisions of this Bill of a kind which I, for one, most strenuously resent. Our Amendments have been of a reasonable character; many of them have been accepted, and many of them, I believe, will be accepted, and hon. Members should be made aware of the fact that every Amendment we have put down has been with the object of strengthening the Bill. I was opposed to the Bill at the beginning, because I believe that there is much more important legislation which should occupy the time of the House. But the Bill has got into the Grand Committee, and we accepted the position loyally, and we do not want to be bothered with other legislation at the same time, but should be allowed to make the Bill with which we are dealing thorough and complete. One of the Amendments which was proposed with this object was that every clergyman who is found drunk in a public place twice, and convicted, should be turned out of his living without further discussion. That was not accepted by the Government, but several other Amendments of a similar character—but not quite so strong—have been accepted; and the House, I am sure, will therefore understand that we have considerably improved the Bill; and that, with the further facilities in the way of time the Government are now offering, we shall be able to make the Bill a much more thorough and useful Bill than it was when it was sent to the Grand Committee. Therefore, although I shall presently vote for an Amendment which will still further add to the merit of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, I shall, at any rate, be able to support on principle the Motion that he has made.
§ (2.54.) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon, &c.)
This Motion is an excellent one, and I shall support it generally, with an Amendment which I propose to move to it. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has made out a case for specially extending the Motion to the Clergy Discipline Bill. We have only discussed this Bill for something like eight hours, which is equivalent to one Sitting of the House. I do not think that is extravagant discussion of a Bill which the Government consider of enormous importance, and I may mention in justification of the Welsh Members that not one long speech was delivered during the whole of the three days. The longest speech was delivered by the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Fowler), who has consistently supported this Bill, who supported the Second Reading, and has done his best to support its progress during the Sittings of the Grand Committee. On the Amendment which he supported the longest discussion took place, and the Amendment was merely a matter of sentiment and was of no real importance in connection with the practical working of the measure. That discussion occupied an hour and a half, whereas Amendments of real importance, which were designed to purge the Church of criminous clerks, did not exceed half an hour in discussion. For instance, an Amendment that was moved by the hon. Member for Mid Glamorgan was to the effect that if a clergyman was found guilty of treason or felony, or misdemeanour, and imprisoned for a period of not less than six months, with or without hard labour, his living should be ipso facto declared vacant. That is a reasonable Amendment, and it was only debated about twenty or twenty-five minutes. We were opposed by the Attorney General and all those who are in sympathy with the Bill, and we were told that we were moving trivial and frivolous Amendments. I challenge any hon. Member who is supporting the Bill to point out a single frivolous Amendment moved by us at any stage of the Bill, and yet after eight hours' discussion a special Resolution must be passed with respect to this Bill, and the First Lord of the Treasury has gone so far as to say that 1454 the length of the discussion was unprecedented.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
About seven years ago a Bill was discussed before this Committee on the subject of establishing a Court of Criminal Appeal, and on that occasion the discussion was kept going for twelve days by the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill), the Secretary to the Treasury (Sir J. Gorst), and a gentleman who is not at present a Member of the House, Mr. Warton. Another Bill was brought in at the same time; and after it had also been discussed at great length, the Committee came to the conclusion that they could not pass it that Session, and the Order was discharged. This was the result of the labours of the Member for Paddington and of a gentleman who is now a Member of the Government, and yet, after three days' discussion of this Bill, a Resolution of this extraordinary character is presented to the House. I move to omit the words "until the conclusion of the consideration of the Clergy Discipline (Immorality) Bill (Lords)."
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (3.0.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
When the constitution of this Committee was originally considered and fixed upon, it was thought, and I believe it was generally admitted by the House, that it would, not be expedient to allow these Committees, as a matter of course, or by any action of their own, to sit during the Sittings of this House. The Amendment which has just been moved appears to me to be open to the very great objection that it would without any notice, or without any possibility of any adequate discussion, be at variance with that very carefully - considered and deliberated decision. I do not think we can proceed upon the consideration of the Amendment in its details with advantage. 1455 It is a question of such importance that it would deserve consideration quite apart from the examination we might have to make of a special case. I should be quite satisfied with this Motion as it is set out by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House if it had not been for one single expression used in the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Lloyd-George). He thought it expedient to deliver a challenge to the House and to all the Members of the House to contradict him if they were not prepared to assent to his assertion that all the Amendments moved in Committee had been so far reasonable, and that they were not open to the charge of being frivolous. I feel myself placed in so much difficulty by that challenge that I am obliged to notice, and I am bound to point out, that if this were the time for discussing the matter it might lead to a good deal of debate. I would suggest that that question had better stand over until the Amendments which have been moved in Committee are made the subject of debate in this House. But the right hon. Gentleman did not make these Amendments on their merits the subject of the present Debate. The Motion was made, so far as I understand, without any imputation on the conduct of any hon. Gentleman on the Committee. It is made upon grounds of general policy; and it is to the effect that, viewing the greater magnitude of the task before the Committee as it has now been opened, it is expedient to give increased facilities for the performance of this task. This is a Motion the general reasonableness of which has not been denied, and, if so, I should think the proper course for us to pursue is to dispose of it at once. It could not be convenient for us to allow discussion in regard to a Resolution which makes no imputation upon anybody, and which is generally fit and reasonable, to interfere considerably with the progress that we may make with the Debate, of to-day. If we are to go into controversial matter let it come in its own time, but there is no need to anticipate it. Let us, therefore, dispose if we can of that which does not give any reason for dissent.
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
I am glad to hear that no imputation 1456 is made on any Member of the Committee and we accept that assurance from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), although we certainly understood both from the tone and manner of the speech of the Leader of the House that very serious allegations were made against us with respect to the character and the number of Amendments which we have placed down for discussion in the Standing Committee on Law. I have not heard sufficient grounds for the acceptance of this Resolution as a precedent; and although I do not see much against the Resolution itself I do say that no ground has been made out for a Resolution of this kind with respect to this special measure. A series of Amendments were moved in Committee; and as they involved questions of principle, of course they required discussion, and it was for that reason that we objected to the reference of the Bill to a Standing Committee at all. We wished that the Bill should be discussed in a full House, and the Amendments carefully considered, and I venture to say that the discussions in the Standing Committee have not been too long. On the contrary, the discussions have been short with one exception, which has been referred to. I proposed an Amendment which was interesting from a theoretical and theological point of view, but did not deal with the practical question, and we did not attach much importance to it. That discussion brought out so great an authority as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) who delivered by far the longest speech in that Committee, a speech that was characterised by the Attorney General as a repetition pure and simple of a speech which had been delivered by an hon. Member on a previous Amendment. The Motion of the Leader of the House is a very sweeping one; and if it is carried, the Committee will go on during the Sittings notwithstanding any adjournment of the House. I believe it was the right hon. Member for Midlothian who established this Standing Committee, and he said it was the intention of Parliament that this Committee should not sit at the same time as the 1457 House, and he is still of opinion that that is the proper course. It is proposed now that we shall not only sit day by day, but also that we shall be allowed—which, of course, means that we must—to continue our Sittings whilst this House is sitting. I do not object to sitting day by day in Committee, though it is hard on many of us. The Attorney General and others are paid for what they do, but there are Members of that Committee who have to work for their living. Still there are many of us who, in the interests of the Church of England, are self-sacrificing enough to sit four or five days a week if necessary; but, as a Member of this House, I protest against being compelled to sit up there when there may be important business in this Chamber to which I desire to attend. I say it is not fair that any hon. Member who desires to attend to his business in this House should be detained upstairs with a Bill of this character, and I shall move an Amendment which will prevent the Committee from sitting after the House has commenced its real business. It is proposed that we should sit day by day, which I suppose includes Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, for it would surely not be inappropriate to be engaged with a Church of England Bill on Sunday. Well, I do not object to sit on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but the Resolution also says that we may sit on notwithstanding any adjournment of the House. I do not know whether hon. Members on the other side are prepared to spend their Whitsuntide holidays in attempting to purify the Church of England of criminous clerks, but I must protest against being called upon to sit in Committee on questions of this character after the House has adjourned. In the meantime I hope the House will not say that the Committee upstairs, which has worked very hard and very thoroughly up to now, is to be punished, as it were, by having to neglect its duties in this House, and further by having to sit during the Whitsuntide holidays and any adjournment of the House.
§ (3.11.) MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)
The right hon. Member for Midlothian says that there 1458 is no imputation that my hon. Friends who are Members of the Committee have at all frivolously moved Amendments or wasted the time of the Committee; but if the right hon. Gentleman insists on the insertion of these words, the Motion does make the imputation. I am not a Member of this Committee, but when I compare the number of Amendments moved and the discussions on them in the Grand Committee with those moved on the Bill which has occupied the House during the past three or four weeks, I find that the progress made is far greater in the Grand Committee than on the Small Holdings Bill. In most of these Bills the first clause is far and away the most important. On the Small Holdings Bill the discussion on the first clause took four or five days, but difficult points were elucidated and progress was made with the later clauses. The first clause in the Clergy Discipline Bill bristles with difficulties, and after careful examination of the Amendments moved by my hon. Friend and the discussions on them, I venture to say that the discussions were carried on very concisely and very shortly, and that, even if some of them were frivolous, which I completely deny, there was every disposition on the part of my hon. Friend to withdraw less important Amendments, and to insist, but shortly, on what he considered to be fundamental Amendments. That the Amendments were thoroughly good is evidenced by the fact that the learned Attorney General (Sir R. Webster), with the consent of the Committee, accepted several of them, and has shown also in the discussion that the Amendments of my hon. Friend have elucidated many difficult points in Clause 2 and the later Clauses of the Bill. Unless the Leader of the House withdraws these words, which refer to a special Bill, and makes it a matter of general policy that these Committees should sit from day to day and to any hour which the Committee may decide upon, I shall vote for the Amendment of my hon. Friend. Unless the imputation distinctly made by the inclusion of these words is withdrawn, I hope a large number of Members on this side will also vote for the excision of these words.
§ Question put.
§ (3.13.) The House divided:—Ayes 201; Noes 40.—(Div. List, No. 136.)
§ (3.23.) MR. SAMUEL EVANS
I beg now to move, Sir, in a very few words, an Amendment which I think will have the sympathy of the House. I move, Sir, to leave out all the words after "day," in order to insert the words—Except Wednesday and Saturday, during the sitting of the House, but not later than half-past Three.I venture to think the Government have no right to expect us to sit six days a week. We are willing to sit four days a week if necessary, but it would be a great disadvantage to Members to have to sit on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I hope the Amendment will meet the approval of the House. I have already given my reasons for objecting to sit on the Committee when the real business commences in this House. If we extend the time to half-past three o'clock, it means that on Tuesday and Friday there is an extension of an hour and a half, and half an hour on the other days. Another effect of the Amendment would be to leave out the words "notwithstanding any adjournment of the House," and I think the desirability of leaving out those words does not require any argument.
To leave out from the word "day" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "except Wednesday and Saturday, during the sitting of the House, but not later than half-past Three."—(Mr. Samuel Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (3.25.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is a great burden to ask the Committee to meet on those days; but who is responsible for that burden I do not care now to inquire. I would point out that, as the Resolution now stands, they are not obliged to sit on Wednesday or Saturday, or obliged to sit after half-past three. Therefore, if the Committe deliberately think they must sit on those very inconvenient days, and after that very inconvenient hour, it will be 1460 because they think it is obligatory upon them. I hope that will not prove to be the case, and if it does not prove to be the case, the Committee will have it in its power not to require its Members to sit on those days, and not to throw any unnecessary burden on them. I hope the hon. Member will not press the Amendment.
§ (3.27.) MR. THOMAS ELLIS
a: I think it is monstrous that the First Lord of the Treasury should now try to throw on my hon. Friend the responsibility for having such a Motion as this referred to the House. I venture to say that the right hon. Member for Midlothian in his speech took what was the fairest and most reasonable view of the matter; and when a fair Amendment is proposed, by which the Government will gain four hours a week, as well as two days, they ought to meet my hon. Friend by accepting it. I hope a large number of Members on this side who are already serving on a number of Committees, as well as attending to their private business, will make a strong protest against this ruthless way of compelling Members to attend long hours each day in the service of the House. The right hon. Gentleman by the course he has taken is doing nothing to preserve the free discussion of this Bill, and if he insists upon his methods he will find that he will gain nothing. The Bill will be thoroughly discussed. My hon. Friends will never submit to any pressure in this House, or elsewhere, which will prevent them from giving a fair and ample discussion to this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman by his attempt to place the responsibility for obstruction upon my hon. Friends is only doing what has been tried several times before with regard to general questions on this side of the House by him and other Leaders of the House. I venture to say it is not a fair way of dealing with those who have discussed this Bill fairly, and who desire still to do their business, not only in this Committee, but in the House as well.
§ *(3.33.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
As one of the Members of the Committee I must protest against what has been said by the hon. Member who has just sat down. There is no good mincing matters. This is an attempt to put down the most reckless obstruction. 1461 The obstruction is from four Members who are on that Committee, and who are determined to stop this Bill passing. To talk of adding an hour or an hour and a half to the time seems to me to be simply childish. They may talk of adding another hour or two, or three or four, or even five hours; but what I say is that having referred this Bill to the Grand Committee, that Committee should get through with it, if they should sit from Monday noon till twelve o'clock at night, to put down obstruction. Then the hon. Gentleman says, to show how bona fide were these Amendments, that there was an Amendment moved by which a clergyman found drunk twice on the street was to be punished, which was not recognised to be a proper Amendment. That is not a correct statement of the facts. I asked the question myself, and it is clear from the Bill that a clergyman who is found intoxicated once on the street will of course be turned out of his benefice. ("No, no!") I say "Yes." It is under Clause 2. There is no question whatever about it; but we are not permitted to get to Clause 2. I defy anybody who reads the records of the Committee to say that this is not a most gross piece of absolute obstruction. If four Members are to be allowed to talk out and stop a Bill of this sort, all I can say is this, that Parliament must alter its Rules completely. I do hope that this Motion will be carried, and that we shall sit next Monday, not only during three hours, but the whole time up to twelve o'clock at night, to show these four hon. Members that we are determined to pass this Bill.
§ (3.34.) MR. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
The tone and language of the hon. Member who has just sat down has imported into this Debate an element which had better have been left out. I had no intention of supporting my hon. Friends below the Gangway on this occasion, and I had no intention of taking part in the Debate but for the few words which have fallen from the hon. Gentleman opposite; and I wish to say at once that I am not an opponent of this Bill. I have never voted against this Bill, and I have taken no part in the Debate on the Bill. I 1462 neither commend nor condemn the course taken by the Welsh Members below the Gangway in this House and in the Committee. But I wish to say this—and this has been directly brought out by what has fallen from the hon. Member opposite—that if this Motion is an attempt to put down obstruction in the Grand Committee, I venture to say there ought to be no such thing possible as obstruction in the Grand Committee, and no Bill ought ever to be referred to a Grand Committee that is capable of being obstructed—("Oh, oh!")—which is in its nature contentious. ("Oh, oh!") The First Lord of the Treasury assents to that proposition. I do not know whether the First Lord of the Treasury has sat on a Grand Committee. I have sat on Grand Committees during the last six years. I recognise the utility of these institutions; I recognise the usefulness of the mixed system; but there is no part of our procedure which is susceptible of more dangerous development than this Grand Committee system. I have come to this most definite conclusion, with which I believe that all Members who have experience on Grand Committees will concur, that they are a useful instrument for Bills of a technical character or that require the consideration of Members who are more or less experts; but if Bills involve contentious matter, then they ought not to be sent to a Grand Committee at all. We had a Bill of this sort four or five years ago before a Grand Committee, the Light Railways Bill, with regard to which the same sort of charge was made. I am not charging the Welsh Members with obstruction, I am not disposed very much to favour their methods; but I believe they have done what they conscientiously believed to be right. The first mistake was made late at night when this Bill was first of all closured to the Second Reading, and when the reference to the Grand Committee was carried without discussion. The very fact of this Bill having been closured to a Second Reading rendered it unfit to be sent to a Grand Committee. I shall vote against the substantive Motion when it comes back, because I believe it to be a Motion in aid of this reference 1463 to a Grand Committee of a Bill which ought not to have been so referred.
§ (3.37.) MR. CUNINGHAME GRAHAM (Lanark, N.W.)
Of course, personally I do not care very much whether a clergyman is found once or twice drunk on the street. I merely wish to say that I differ from the hon. Member who has just sat down in what he has said about the tone and language which have been imported into this Debate. I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman who made use of that language for introducing that tone. I cannot say that I would have adopted it myself, but I must say that if you want to have the attention of the public fixed upon a matter like this, it is by importing a tone of acrimony into a Debate that you can most effectually fix it. There is one other point on which I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee was right; that was when he said that no Bill should be referred to a Grand Committee which it is possible to obstruct. I do not know how far I have myself obstructed since I have been in this House, but I hope at some future time to inflict my obstruction and tedious-ness on the House. But I may remind my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee and other Members of the House, that this is a question on which there is a keen feeling in Wales; and if the hon. Members from Wales have been in earnest in what they were bringing before that Committee, and if they obstructed in the Grand Committee or in the House, they did what I hope they will do on other questions, because I know perfectly well that all the electorate of Wales will stand any amount of obstruction on this question, either in this House or in the Grand Committee.
§ (3.40.) SIR W. LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
I do not wish to imitate the hon. Member who has just sat down.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
There has been a new tone introduced into this Debate. It appears from speakers on the other side that this Motion is intended distinctly to put down obstruction, and it has been clearly pointed out that 1464 four Members sitting here are the guilty parties. When I think of that, it reminds me of old times. It is four Welsh Members who are the four obstructors; but I see four other Members sitting here to whom in obstructing these Welshmen could not hold a candle. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will he deny that he is sitting there now because he obstructed with skill? I think it is rather too late in the day for his friends to get up and say they are actuated by a holy horror of obstruction. I do not know now how this Debate will end; I do not know when it will end; but I think there is one thing clear, and that is that the country will read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest what is going on. I am not seeking to blame anybody; I am only going to point out the uncertainty of this House.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I was not so much going to call the hon. Baronet to order as to observe that the Debate generally was getting rather wide of the particular Amendment before the House.
(3.42.) MR. PHILIPPS
I do not intend to stand between the House and the Division for more than a moment. I only want to say one word. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has not seen fit to accept this Amendment, which is an Amendment, I think, of an exceedingly moderate character. As to the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, I think he is sufficiently answered by the fact that he or any Member of the Grand Committee on Law has been challenged to put his finger on any one of these Amendments and say which Amendment is obstructive, which Amendment would not strengthen the Bill. There is not a single Amendment either in the name of myself or any of my hon. Friends that anybody could say is obstructive or that would not strengthen the Bill. We have given that challenge, and hon. Members, opposite have absolutely refused to meet it. I think we below the Gangway here are to-day in an unfortunate 1465 position, and I ask the House to sympathise with us. We are in an unfortunate position because we are a small minority, and we have no leader. Where is my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton? Even he has left off leading us below the Gangway. I regret his absence. All we want is a leader.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The Question before the House is whether Wednesday and Saturday should be excepted. The hon. Member is not speaking to the Amendment.
I had hoped to have heard the views of some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench on this Wednesday and Saturday question. I had hoped to have heard what the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Clitheroe Division would have told us; whether he thinks we ought to sit on Wednesday and Saturday. It will be in the recollection of all the Members of the Grand Committee on Law that yesterday afternoon the right hon. Baronet the Member for Clitheroe took or attempted to take the leadership of my hon. Friends and myself. He was directing our operations and I think I have a right of complaint against the right hon. Baronet that after attempting to lead us on the Grand Committee on Law, he will not even express his opinion upon matters in which we have a deep interest when he comes down to the House.
§ (3.45.) MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I do not rise to complain of the language or manner of the hon. Member for Islington, but to take note of the fact that when he spoke about obstruction in the Standing Committee his words were hailed with a universal cheer from that side of the House. I would suggest to the consideration of the House whether if the charge made by the hon. Gentleman is true, the Resolution which is before the House is the proper mode of dealing with the mischief. I should myself be inclined to think that it is an unreasonable thing that because a well-known and recognised Parliamentary offence is committed by a small number of Gentlemen either in the House or in the Grand Committee, a measure should be taken 1466 which should be punitive not only in respect of these individuals, but also of every Member of the Committee. When we consider what that involves to a large number of Members of the House upon whose time there is already so much pressure, I say I think the House ought to pause before it comes to such a decision. I recollect some years ago I was on the Standing Committee on Law, when the Bankruptcy Bill of 1883 came before the Committee. The proceedings were exceedingly protracted. I myself moved 147 Amendments, and carried forty-two of them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, who was co-operating with us, repeatedly expressed his conviction that the proceedings in that Committee, if they were not obstructive, were at any rate closely bordering upon obstruction; but nobody proposed that we should sit even four days in the week, and such a proposal never entered anybody's mind. It appears to me that there is very great danger in establishing a precedent of this kind, and that if an offence has been committed it ought to be dealt with in a different way. This particular way is unreasonable and unjust.
§ *(3.51.) MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
I venture to remind the hon. Member (Mr. A. O'Connor) that we on the Grand Committee are not prisoners, as he has suggestion this Resolution, which is purely permissive and not mandatory. The Resolution only gives the Committee further powers than it now possesses, but its hours are entirely within its own will. I do not think the number of Members on the Committee against whom any charge of unduly prolonging the discussions is as high as four. I am not one of the supporters of the Bill now before the Committee, but having been present at the Committee during all its Sittings, and having helped the Government rather better than they sometimes have helped themselves at making a quorum, I venture to say that the question before the House is really the efficiency of these Grand Committees to carry on their business, and I support this Resolution, believing that in so doing I am supporting that efficiency.
§ *(3.53.) MR. DAVID THOMAS (Merthyr Tydvil)
I am curious to know whether I am one of the Members whom the hon. Gentleman thinks unduly protract the proceedings of the Committee. I think the Welsh Members have every reason to complain of the tone of this Debate. What could we possibly gain by obstructing the passage of this Bill upstairs? Even were we so minded we could only delay it for a day or two; but the House is not ready yet to consider the Report stage of the Bill, and, therefore, a couple of days more or less occupied in Committee will not in the smallest degree prejudice the passing of the Bill this Session. I would suggest an answer to the question by the First Lord of the Treasury as to who is responsible for the protracted proceedings. The Attorney General said in the case of one Amendment he could not accept it, because to do so would be a breach of faith with the Bishops. Things have come to a pretty pass when Bills coming down from the Lords are not to be amended or discussed because of some agreement which has been entered into between the Government and the Bishops.
§ (3.55.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I do not wish to go into the merits of the Bill, or into the question whether there has been obstruction upstairs. It certainly seems rather a strong measure that the Grand Committee should be called upon to sit during the hours that a discussion is proceeding in this House. We are sent here by our constituents to profit by all the wisdom that falls from Members in the House; but here you would have thirty or forty Members who could not listen to the speeches. But there is another objection. It might be said that although Members did not fulfil their duty of hearing the speeches at least they might vote; but by this Resolution voting might be proceeding upstairs in the Committee and here in the House at the same time. I do not give much weight to the question whether the Grand Committee should sit on a Wednesday, but we ought to 1468 have a clear understanding as to the business of these Grand Committees. Under these circumstances, I certainly should feel myself bound to vote against the Grand Committee being called upon by a Rule of this House to sit while this House is engaged in a discussion.
§ (3.57.) MR. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N.E.)
It would be a great pity if there was any considerable expression of objection by Members on this side-against this Resolution, which I believe in the circumstances to be absolutely necessary. My friends below the Gangway have said that they do not desire to obstruct the Bill, and that, on the contrary, their object is to improve it. Of course I accept that statement, but we must form our own judgment as to the effect of the course they have taken of repeating Amendment after Amendment on the same principle after a Division was taken. Their efforts to improve the Bill would have made it impossible for the measure to pass; and they thereby would have inflicted a deep wound upon one of the most useful and pleasant institutions connected with this House—I mean the Grand Committees, where we can discuss Bills in a friendly manner with an absence of all Party spirit. The course which is being followed would fatally damage the Grand Committee, as well as prove fatal to the Bill. We have no power of closuring in the Grand Committees, and therefore it is necessary to provide the remedy of prolonged powers of sitting which may or may not be exercised. For that reason I consider the Resolution is absolutely necessary, and I trust it will be supported from this side of the House.
§ Question put.
§ (3.45.) The House divided:—Ayes 63; Noes 233.—(Div. List, No. 137.)
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, until the conclusion of the consideration of the Clergy Discipline (Immorality) [Lords], the Standing Committee on Law, &c, have leave to sit every day during the sitting and notwithstanding any adjournment of the House.