§ STATE OF PUBLIC BUSINESS.
§ *SIR J. DORINGTON (Gloucester, Tewkesbury) rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, the reply of the Prime Minister with reference to the conduct of Public Business involving the Sitting of this House to consider the Local Government Bill at a time when the attendance of Members, and especially of county Members, will be practically impossible, and the strain imposed by the continued Sitting on the Officials of the House is becoming almost insupportable.
§ MR. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)
said, he rose to a point of Order. He wished to ask whether as the question raised by the hon. Baronet would be fully discussed when the Motion was made for the Adjournment of the House for the Christmas holidays, it was in Order for the hon. Baronet to anticipate the proper and necessary discussion of Public Business which would then take place? [Cries of "Order!"] Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman who interrupted him would allow him to proceed. He was quite as well acquainted with Order as the hon. and learned Gentleman. Was it permissible to anticipate a discussion which would take place on Friday under the guise of urgency?
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
I think the Motion of the hon. Baronet is in Order. Is the hon. Baronet supported?
§ Over 40 Members rose in their places.
§ SIR J. DORINGTON
said, that when he came down to the House that after- 1394 noon he was expecting a more satisfactory answer from the Government than they had received. He thought that more attention should be directed in the interests of the country to the strange position in which Parliament had got in variance of all the ordinary rules or precedents of Parliament, especially as regarded a matter not of immediate urgency, and which might have been dealt with in the ordinary course of Parliamentary Business. He based his Motion on the ground that several Members would be unable to attend in the House at the time indicated. Assuredly that was an important matter, if not for the House, for the country at large. Many Members had seats in the House not because they were such and such persons, but in consequence of services they had been able to render in their own counties. In Her Majesty's Gracious Speeches reference was usually made to their attending to their duties in their own counties, and Public Business ought to be so arranged that Members should be able to attend to their local affairs. Now, as to the particular measure in reference to which they were asked to suspend their usual proceedings, it was a question of local government, but it was also in the interests of local government that they were required at home at this season of the year. He would not speak of the week between Christmas and the New Year, which was also to be appropriated to this work in Parliament—a week which was usually one in which people congregated, when families were brought together, and opportunity given for cultivating the graces of social life. It was not a time when they should be brought there to wrangle over petty details of the class they had to discuss. But if that line of argument were considered unworthy of the attention of that House, surely this did not apply to the conduct of Public Business in the counties prescribed by Statute. His hon. Friend (Sir R. Paget) had already alluded to the duties which he had on his own part to discharge at Quarter Sessions, which was to be held in the first week in January, duties which were also incumbent on certain other hon. Members, but they were expected by the Government now to be in the House at that time, and, indeed, those 1395 who were interested, as the County Members were, in local government would naturally feel it a great hardship not to be able to discuss a measure of this kind. He (Sir J. Dorington) had his own responsible duties to his county. It was not easy to discharge them whilst kept so constantly in London. But he supposed it was not right to mention any matters of personal inconvenience. Surely they ought not to break through all rules and precedents in order to oblige Members to neglect their ordinary public duties. Not so long ago County Councils were set up. They also had their meetings about the same time of the year, and their work, which embraced the consideration of county finance, had to be dealt with down in the country and not up here. Surely it was not right to put gentlemen who were interested in these local concerns to the inconvenience of remaining here, seeing that already for six weeks they had been in constant attendance. The last part of his Resolution referred to the officials of the House. They had at the present time to deplore the absence from illness of the gentleman who usually filled the Chair. They had also to deplore the absence from a like cause of the Serjeant-at-Arms. They heard on all hands complaints of this unaccustomed practice of prolonging the Session into what was practically the whole 12 months of the year. Their presence was sometimes required in their own districts. In the interests of the con-duct of Public Business the attention of the country ought to be drawn to this matter. By this change in the practice of the House they were made Londoners, and constantly being severed more and more from those local matters which they should be free to attend to, and from their constituents who sent them to represent them. This Bill which they were asked to discuss was no doubt an important one, which some of them were very desirous to push through to a satisfactory conclusion. [Laughter] Hon. Gentlemen opposite might laugh, but that had been their desire, and the difficulties had arisen on questions of detail upon which they thought gentlemen opposite had made mistakes. Members on the Opposition side had struggled to make it a good Bill. He would, however, ask whether it was so important a measure that it should be pushed through 1396 out of the usual Parliamentary time. Such a way of doing business was not likely to add to their credit with the country. This constant sitting of Parliament was raising feelings of ridicule throughout the country. He did not say that these feelings were intentionally created by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but that they were created there could be no doubt. It was believed that the object of hon. Gentlemen opposite simply was that their own Party views might be carried out, and not specially that the interests of the country might be promoted. Why was not this measure brought forward last summer, and pressed through then? Simply because a Bill was debated in the House which it was well known by every gentleman on the opposite Benches would never be brought to the position which made a measure an Act of Parliament.
§ SIR J. DORINGTON
said, that he was only showing how the House was brought to its present extraordinary position. Their time was absolutely wasted. Seeing that the Government had so badly conducted business, they must take the responsibility for the inconvenience and loss of time which had resulted.
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, he rose to second the Motion. The position of things as regarded the Business of the House was indeed intolerable. The question that would be asked in the country was "Who is responsible?" There could be but one answer. The Government had undertaken a duty which could not be discharged properly in the time available, and it was this that had brought about the present extraordinary, extravagant, and abnormal state of things. It was obvious that such a measure as the Parish Councils Bill, full as it was of difficulties, intricacies, and complications, must take a long time in discussion. No fewer than 22 days were consumed by the Committee on the Local Government Bill of 1888, but they might know that that was because hon. Members opposite, who were not then in Office, thought it their duty to criticise the Bill. He did not complain of that. But remembering what occurred in 1888 how could it be expected that the present measure would not be discussed? A Bill 1397 of this kind entered, as it were, into the hearths and homes of all England, and therefore required discussion. It was impossible to hope that such an intricate Bill as the present could be passed in an Autumn Session. They had duties in the country which they ought to perform. The action of the Government simply placed them in this position: that they must either neglect their duties in Parliament or neglect their duties in the country. They wished to do neither. He was Chairman of a County Council and Chairman of Quarter Sessions, and the action of the Government compelled him to neglect the duties of those positions or his Parliamentary duty. Had there been some question of peace or war, some great question of national urgency, it would have been different. But there was no urgency, and he knew of no precedent for the present state of things. He had been 28 years in the House and did not recollect there being Autumn Sittings for them, except to deal with special dangers and difficulties, as in 1854; but never before had a Sitting of Parliament been so prolonged for the carrying of a Bill, which might just as well have been introduced at the beginning of an ordinary Session. If any complaints were made of the number of Amendments that had been moved he would point out that after the Second Heading no fewer than 61 Amendments were put down by the author of the Bill himself. There was nothing approaching that in the records of Parliament. Since then constant Amendments had been put down. He did not take exception to them, for the Bill wanted amendment. Let anyone compare the clauses which had been passed with the shape they presented before the House went into Committee: it would be found that hardly a line of the clauses which had been discussed had remained in its original form, whilst the President of the Local Government Board had again and again thanked the Opposition for the assistance they had given him in putting the measure into proper form. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might say that the Bill had been obstructed. [Cheers.] It was easy to applaud—especially for the Irish Members. It was refreshing to see an hon. Member on those Benches, because, though the Irish Members had been in attendance and ready to support the Government in the Lobby when required, 1398 they had not been much in their places listening to Debates. The clauses of the Local Government Bill were full of debatable matter. What had the Government done? They had not merely introduced a simple Bill for local government, but had pitch-forked into it all kinds of important matters in the attempt to make it a Municipal Reform Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had had his own way, and if the Bill had been conducted all along from start to finish in the conciliatory spirit in which it was begun, the House might hope to see the end of it. But a change occurred when the Chancellor of the Exchequer put his foot into it, and then confusion reigned where all before was peace and calm. The House was kept a week debating a clause which would not have taken half a day, but that the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought fit to interpose his remarks. The Bill had received the attention which it deserved. When they went to the local government system of the country, and tore up by the roots all that existed, and endeavoured to plant an entirely new thing, it stood to reason that, in defence of that which had worked well for centuries—
§ MR. PICTON (Leicester)
I rise to Order. On a Motion for the Adjournment, is it in Order to discuss the whole of the Bill and the Amendments to it?
MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER
It is not in Order to discuss the Bill or the Amendments; but I did not understand the hon. Baronet to do that.
§ SIR R. PAGET
said, that the truths he was stating seemed to be unpleasant to hon. Gentlemen opposite. He was not attempting to discuss any of the Amendments or details of the Bill. He was endeavouring, to the best of his ability, to show that, generally speaking, this Bill was in its very essence one of detail, difficulty, and intricacy, and that a prolonged Session should have been devoted to it, so as to have enabled the. Opposition to criticise its provisions as fully as the Party now in power criticised the Bill of 1888. The Bill of 1888 was not an Opposed Bill any more than the present, and every opportunity was availed of for moving Amendments and prolonging discussion. He did not wonder at it, nor find fault with hon. Members for doing it, but he did contend 1399 that from day to day, from hour to hour, anxious as the work was, difficult as the work was, the Opposition were now doing their duty. Nothing should interfere to prevent them from continuing to do it. He desired strongly to support the Motion before the House. The present position of things in the House was intolerable. The health of Members was suffering; their local duties were neglected, and he asked the Government to give serious consideration to the protests now registered.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Sir J. Dorington.)
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I do not rise either to prolong or inflame this Debate by the use of warm language and by severe criticism upon the conduct of hon. Members opposite. I shall endeavour to avoid that course, and to confine myself specially to noticing matters of fact put forward in the speeches which we have heard, and the general intimations that have fallen from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and which are strictly relevant to the case. The hon. Baronet says that there is no precedent for the course which has been pursued by the Government. We have had an Autumn Sitting, and we are proposing to continue the Sittings of the House up to the 22nd of December, and only then to adjourn. But there was a case, though far less urgent, which was much nearer to the course that is now being taken than the hon. Baronet seems to suppose. It was in the year 1888 that on the 24th of December the Autumn Sittings were concluded. But what was the case in that year? In that year the County Government Bill had been dealt with during the Session, and Supply had been postponed to the Autumn Sitting. The hon. Baronet says that there are no Autumn Sittings except for matters of grave importance. Would he have been better pleased if we had postponed Supply from the principal part of the Session and taken it in the autumn? I believe—I do not want to censure those who have gone before—that it was the better course to take Supply in the early, the comparatively early, part of the year, a course which I have always understood to be one approaching to the character of Constitutional rule and principle. So much 1400 for the precedents which may be drawn from the proceedings in previous years. Now, the hon. Baronet appears to think that we are making most unreasonable demands upon the House. That depends a good deal upon the mode in which Bills are treated. I will say nothing of the manner in which Bills are treated on this occasion, except to refer simply to matters of fact. The choice before us is whether we shall go through with the Local Government Bill or whether we shall abandon it. Is it unreasonable to go forward with that Bill?
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Very well, then. That is not an answer of mine, but of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is unreasonable to go forward with the Bill. [Cries of"No, no! "] It is not unreasonable, in my opinion; but that is the answer I have received from the opposite side, so that the alternative is the abandonment of the Bill.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I beg pardon. The hon. Baronet did not too much curtail his observations, and I have no intention of making so large a demand on the time of the House; but what little I have to say I ask to be allowed to say. I say the alternative is the abandonment of the Bill. [Cries of"No, no! "] It is not my own argument, but one which I gathered from the ready and eager assent to the proposition which I received. [An hon. MEMBER: No!] I did not receive it from the hon. Member who contradicts me; I never said I did; but from a number of gentlemen. [Opposition cries of "No, no!"]
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I say that there is nothing unreasonable in asking the House to proceed with what remains to be done in this Bill. We tonight go into Committee for the 20th time on this Bill, which contains 71 1401 clauses. The County Government Bill, which has been quoted as analogous to this, was got through in 22 nights, and that contained 129 clauses. It is not unreasonable that, after the labour we have spent upon it, we should encourage and exhort the House, so far as depends upon us, to accomplish what yet remains to be done in order to complete that labour and to get through with this important measure. A Bill of nearly twice the length was disposed of by the late Government in nearly about the length of time which we have already occupied on this Bill. We have not exhausted our time. The hon. Baronet—and do not let him suppose that I complain or that I deprecate the importance of the reference—speaks of the importance of the approaching meetings of Quarter Sessions and County Councils, which latter, however, are not tied as to the period of their meetings in the same manner as Quarter Sessions. With regard to Quarter Sessions, I will endeavour to show that there is plenty of time for closing our proceedings on this Bill before the time when Quarter Sessions shall begin. There is as yet between a fortnight and three weeks before Quarter Sessions need meet at all. Their duties have been very much tightened by the transfer of business that formerly belonged to them. I contend that the time available ought to be much more than is necessary for closing the proceedings on this Bill. We have available five or six days before Christmas, and we have available after Christmas several more days—five or six — before the time when Quarter Sessions shall arrive. My answer, therefore, is that there is abundant time upon every fair, equitable, and reasonable estimate of the demands of this Bill. If the same fair play is given as has been given by Oppositions on former occasions we ought to be able, with comparative ease, to dispose of the subject. I must distinctly state as my own opinion that the issue—the real, the substantial issue —now raised is the abandonment of this Bill.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
The right hon. Gentleman is very intolerant of an expression of opinion which does not happen to be his. I did not ascribe it to hon. Gentlemen who remain silent 1402 on the opposite side; but I give it as my own opinion, my own conclusion, derived from a survey of the present state of our proceedings in Parliament. My opinion is that the real issue before us is a proposal for the abandonment of the Bill. [Cries of"No, no!"] That is a conclusion which, in my view, it is right that the country should understand. We think the country holds the House responsible for making all the efforts— although they may be unusual—that are necessary for accomplishing this piece of beneficent legislation. I have not used a single hard word. I do not think I have used one single epithet from the beginning to the end of my speech except one, and that was that it was "intolerant" to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Collings) not to allow me to express my own personal opinion. But I withdraw that. The right hon. Gentleman is the most tolerant of men, and will allow us to submit our conclusion, which is that the real issue of this discussion, and of the Motion which is now made, so far as it gives an imperfect expression to the views of gentlemen opposite, is that this Bill should be surrendered after all the labour that has been bestowed upon it. The House is the ultimate judge of its own duty, and, of course, will decide according to its judgment and conscience, but we believe that it is our duty to persevere in prosecuting this great measure to its accomplishment, and we shall take this opportunity of clearly showing that opinion by distinctly and decidedly opposing the Motion now before us.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman, the most distinguished part of whose long career has been spent as Leader of this House, should have lent himself to a proceeding which, perhaps more than any other proceeding in the history of this Assembly, is likely to destroy its utility and to shatter its prestige. Sir, when the right hon. Gentleman got up to defend a course which, whether it be right or wrong, is unquestionably without precedent, I certainly thought he had some better case to put before the House of Commons than to utter so transparent a fallacy as that the issue before us was whether this Bill should be abandoned or not. It is not a question, as I shall show 1403 directly, whether this Bill should be dropped or not. The question is whether the Government should, in order to trample upon the Opposition, in order to do what has never yet been done with success—namely, to coerce a body of men differing from you in numbers but by very few, and differing from you in resolution not at all—the question is, whether these men are going to transfer into your hands all the rights which we think belong to us? What says the right hon. Gentleman? He takes the Bill of 1888 and compares it with this Bill, and says that that Bill occupied as many nights in Committee, and that this Bill might very easily have been got through in the same number of nights, or a very few more. Well, Sir, I am quite ready to take the Bill of 1888. I am not afraid of the parallel. In the first place, let us consider what actually passed in 1888. If you will take the number of days spent over that Bill up to the end of the 12th clause and compare it with the number of days spent upon this Bill also up to the end of the 12th clause, you will find that this Bill was half a day in front of the Bill of 1888. I acknowledge that since Clause 12 was disposed of the progress has not been so rapid. I think, however, I have had occasion to point out to the House already that, if there be a difference in this respect between the treatment met with by the Bill of 1888 and the treatment met with by the Bill of 1893, the reason is that the Government of 1888 kept their word to the House, and that the Government of 1893 have not kept their word. That is one distinction in the management of the Bill; but there are other points to be borne in mind connected with the substance of the Bill. The Bill of 1888, though it was a longer Bill than the present Bill, was unquestionably of a character which made it a far easier Bill to get through this House. I will remind the House of the reasons for this. The Bill of 1888 was a Bill that created no new powers whatever. It took certain powers already in existence and transferred them from a nominated body to an elected body. It reconstructed but did not alter county government. Your Bill—and I cannot complain of it in the least—does not merely transfer powers which now exist; it creates powers which now do not exist. It not 1404 merely alters the form of parochial government; it creates parochial government. In creating parochial government it is absolutely necessary and absolutely inevitable that you should touch interests which are bound to get a hearing in this House. The measure touches the Church, and touches other interests which must have a hearing in this House. Our Bill was far removed from all these difficult and questionable topics, and for that reason you must expect that if this Bill is to receive fair discussion in this House it must be discussed at greater length than the Bill of 1888. Even that is not all. Our Bill of 1888 altered the system of county government by transferring existing powers. Your Bill creates parochial government, but it does much more: it remodels the Poor Law; it remodels the Allotments Acts; it remodels the Small Holdings Act.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am unwilling to argue such a matter with a right hon. Gentleman who is such an authority on the contents of the present Bill; but I must differ with him as to whether it does touch the Small Holdings Act. However, we will put the Small Holdings Act out and take merely the Allotments Acts and the Poor Law. Those measures are of the utmost importance, and are measures which might well occupy the time of this House for many weeks. You touch upon these after having passed in the first part of your Bill a scheme for remodelling parochial government. How can yon in common decency expect that a Bill like this is to slip through this House? It is impossible that it should slip through the House. The Poor Law Act, which this Bill profoundly touches, to the very root of which this Bill goes, was the greatest measure passed by the first Liberal Administration after the Reform Bill. That measure, without preliminary inquiry, you propose to alter and transform from top to bottom by a fundamental change of machinery which this Bill is to carry out. That you mean to do incidentally in one clause in one part of the Bill, and then you have the hardihood to compare the Bill of 1893 with the Bill of 1888. But, Sir, let us come a little closer to the main contention of the right hon. Gentleman 1405 the Leader of the House (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). He said the issue before us is whether the Bill should be passed or whether it should be dropped. The right hon. Gentleman has not cast his mind back over the precedents and examples which surely are frequent enough in the Parliamentary history of the last 10 years. In how many cases has the Government, after bringing forward a complete scheme, found that it could not be passed in its entirety in one Session, and consented to split it into two portions, passing the first portion in one Session and deferring the other portion till a subsequent Session? I recollect a case in which I myself was primarily concerned—the Irish Land Purchase Act of 1890. I brought in that Bill in a form, as I thought then and as I think now, far more complete and far more calculated to meet all the necessities of the case, but I found that it was impossible to get through a Bill of that magnitude in one Session. I sacrificed, as others have had to sacrifice, my love of completeness and symmetry to the necessities of modern Parliamentary discussion, and cut out of the Bill a great deal of controversial matter and a great deal of matter which, though not controversial, would have taken time, and I contented myself with passing a measure substantial, and I hope useful, but certainty far less complete than that which I originally designed. Take even a closer parallel to the present case—the example cited by the right hon. Gentleman himself—the Local Government Bill of 1888. That Bill, as I have pointed out, had many differences from this Bill, but it had some resemblances as originally introduced, and one was that it attempted to deal not merely with local government for the counties, but also with District Councils, just as this Bill desires to deal not only with parochial government, but with District Councils. Well, what did we find? Hon. Gentlemen who then sat on this side of the House professed no opposition in principle to District Councils, but they made it clear to the Government of the day that if we were to pass a Local Government Bill at all it must be a Bill designed on less ambitious lines than the measure we had introduced, and we consented with many pangs to drop a portion of it in order that we might safeguard the 1406 remainder and safely pilot it into its place on the Statute Book.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That is just what I am saying. I do not understand the point of the right hon. Gentleman's interruption. My own advice to the Government is that they should do what we did—namely, pass the part of their Bill which corresponds to the County Council Bill in the Session of 1893–4 and bring in the second portion of the Bill in the second Session of 1894, and carry it on, I suppose, till 1895. I base that advice upon our example, and upon the example of every Government which has ever existed. I do not believe that you will find in Parliamentary history any set of gentlemen responsible for the government of the country who have been so stupidly obstinate as to insist not merely that the House of Commons should consider their measures, but that those measures, however big, however complicated, however vast the legislative area they touch, should be passed in their entirety at any time of the Session, and by a House of Commons, however weary. Let it be distinctly understood that the policy we suggest is not the policy of abandoning the Bill. We desire as much as they do that the agricultural labourer should be able to manage his own affairs in his own parish, and we say, with the whole experience of Parliament behind us, that the way to attain that object is to do what we did in 1888—that is say, pass the Parish Councils part of the Bill this Session and bring in the other part of the Bill next Session, if you think it more important than Local Veto, or Disestablishment of the Welsh Church, or any other measure you may have in contemplation. I hope we shall hear no more, then, of abandonment of the Bill, or at all events of the bare assertion without argument that we wish for the abandonment of the Bill. We desire nothing of the kind. We suggest a method by which the Bill could be passed without overburdening the House or the Government or making Parliament ridiculous; and whether you accede to our request or not, we absolutely deny your right to charge us on account of our policy with any desire to destroy and defeat the measure, or indeed any part of it. I used some very strong language at the 1407 beginning of my speech with regard to the character of the duty which the Prime Minister and his colleagues are throwing upon the House, and in order to support that language I should like to quote the right hon. Gentleman himself. No man has been more consistent and persistent in deploring the amount of labour thrown upon this House, and in telling us that, in his opinion, the amount of labour imposed upon the House diminished its utility and its power for good. That is assented to, and I do not therefore propose to trouble the House with very many quotations, but I should like to use one or two. The right hon. Gentleman especially quoted the case of 1888; when we met in the autumn to discuss the Estimates I find that the beginning of that Session the right hon. Gentleman talked ofthe enormous, extraordinary, and exhausting calls now made not only on the time, but on the health and constitution, of hon. Members, as well as on the Government.In the middle of the Session, on July 10, he talked of "an overcharged and overworked House of Commons," and in the autumn said—As regards Autumn Sessions in particular. I defy any gentlemen holding office as Ministers of the Crown to perform their duties adequately to the country in the preparation of legislative business for the House, unless they have vacations of very considerable length undisturbed by Parliamentary proceedings, and quite apart from the time which is absolutely necessary for actual physical recreation.In surveying the whole of the Session in a speech made to his constituents in the following year, the right hon. Gentleman said—Parliament was not strong enough for its work. There was too much to be done, and they could not get through it, but in one thing they were perfectly unapproachable…. no assembly in the world had ever done the amount of personal labour such as was now done by the British House of Commons.There is another quotation. He says thatParliament has been made to work to a great extent in chains;(and I specially commend these words to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman himself and his followers in particular)and the consequence has been that just as when the negro had to work with the slave-driver at his back, although you might flog him well from time to time, you got very little out of him.1408 Now, Sir, under what circumstances were these statements made—statements which cannot be strengthened by any powers of language which I can command? They were made at a time when the amount of work expected from the House was nothing compared with the amount of work you are expecting from us now, when the slave-driver attempted to get very little relatively out of his men, and when the lash was but very imperfectly applied. Why, what was this Session of 1888 which drew all those loud complaints from the right hon. Gentleman? The Session of 1888 began on the 7th of February and ended on the 13th of August, a add it re-commenced for Supply on the 6th of November and went on till the Christmas Eve. Now I have three observations to make upon that. The first is that this Session, instead of ending on the 13th of August, did not end till the 22nd of September. My second observation is that Supply, though a very important part of the work of this House, never has, according to modern practice, required that degree of attendance which is absolutely necessary if you are to properly and adequately debate a measure of this kind. And my third observation is that, instead of this House being up by the 24th of December, it appears to be much more likely that it will not be up till the 24th of February. Do what I will, I cannot understand the forecasts of the Government. With all respect I ventured to point out on the Second Heading of this Bill that I did not see how, in addition to the Parish Councils part of the measure, it was possible to pass the Poor Law part. Well, my previsions have come true; but they have had no effect in converting the Government, because the right. hon. Gentleman still cherishes the astonishing illusion that before the end of this month—so to speak, in the nine Parliamentary days that still remain—one of which is pledged to the Navy, and out of which a good deal will be taken by the East India Loan Bill and the Employers' Liability Bill Amendments—he is going to get from Clause 16 to Clause 71, and to get rid by a mere gesture of the hand of the whole existing Poor Law system. Why, it appears to me to be absolutely absurd; and let me point out to the House what the consequences will be. No doubt, if 1409 you regard this House as a mere voting machine, as a mere mechanism for putting on record the carrying of a certain Resolution by a certain majority, it does not matter how many gentlemen "pair." They may all "pair" until we are left with one gentleman on this side of the House and 36 or 37 gentlemen—or whatever their normal majority is—on the other side; for the Government would have their normal majority and business would pass through, carried by the majorities which the Government think themselves entitled to. But would that be the House of Commons; would that be a deliberative Assembly representing the people? Of course it would not. I took up a Division List by random the other day, and made some kind of calculation as to the Members absent—no doubt forced to be absent—among the Government's own supporters, whose presence, of all others, we should expect upon a Bill dealing with the rural population of England. It was a Division which took place on Saturday last, and among the supporters of the Government there were absent three Members from Cambridgeshire, one from Devonshire, one from Cornwall, two from Leicestershire, three from Lincolnshire, one from Norfolk, two from Oxfordshire, one from Somersetshire, one from Staffordshire, one from Suffolk, two from Wiltshire, and one from Yorkshire. Those are the men who, above all others, are bound by their duties to the constituencies and the House to be present during our discussions. They are County Members par excellence, and it is absurd to say that the House of Commons is really a deliberative Assembly if by the way you conduct your business you exclude from your deliberations the men who, of all others, ought to be here. There is another point of view more delicate and difficult, but which I think I cannot wholly avoid mentioning, especially as it has been referred to in the Motion of my hon. Friend. I refer to the officials of this House. I do not believe there are a set of men in the world more willing to do what is asked of them than the officials of the House, from the highest to the lowest, on whom we depend not only for our comfort, but for the very possibility of carrying on our work. Think of the strain you are putting upon them! Think of the absolutely unexampled addi- 1410 tion to their labours that you are requiring of them! It appears to me to be positively outrageous! You cannot expect either that the work will be done without necessarily carrying in its train much sickness, and many of the evils consequent on sickness. The Prime Minister—whom we are delighted to see back fully restored to health—was obliged by an unfortunate illness to be absent from us during a most critical point of last week's Debate. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, who, if he had been here, would have been able to do some important and necessary work with regard to Irish Education, is also absent. I do not wish to imply for a moment that any Members of the Opposition can be as important as Members of the Government in these matters; but my right hon. Friend, one of the Members for Lincolnshire, who has a title to be heard upon this question, and who has attended very closely to our Debates in Committee, is now compelled by indisposition to absent himself; and if I may, without egotism, mention my own case, I may say that during the clauses of this Bill on which, above all others, I should have liked to express my opinion in detail—those mainly dealing with the problems of taxation in the Parish Councils—I was, very much against my will, obliged to absent myself. When I think of all these accumulated evils which the Government are bringing upon themselves, upon us, and upon the officers of the House, I ask myself what on earth it is that they suppose they are trying to do? They could pass the Parish Councils part of the Bill, but they propose to take the other part, and they know the result of that will be that we shall be discussing the Bill through the whole of next month. I do not believe that under any circumstances you could do it in a less time, but whether I am right or wrong in that, I am certain that you cannot now do it in less time. Let the slave-drivers flog as they like, they cannot get more than a certain amount of work out of the persons whom they so treat; or, if I may change the metaphor to a mechanical one, I would say that no engine of which the bearings are hot ever did any work yet. The bearings will be hot enough before this Bill is passed. It is as inconvenient to me as to any other Member of this House to alter all the plans that I had 1411 for what I had trusted was to be an agreeable and prolonged recess; but, Sir, I will be back here on the Wednesday after Christmas, and I believe that enough gentlemen will be back on that day to make it perfectly certain that no provision of this Bill shall pass the Committee stage without being thoroughly and adequately debated. The right hon. Gentleman apparently desires us to neglect our duties. But we have to do what we are sent here to do—to discuss the Bill; and however grateful the right hon. Gentleman might be for our absence, and however anxious we may be to please him in every other particular, I can assure him that there are duties which we rate at a higher value even than his approval. However, Sir, after all, the chief sufferers are the Government themselves. Personally they will have to neglect—must neglect, as the Prime Minister has said—the duties of administration and the duty of preparing measures for this House which can only be properly dealt with in the leisure of a Recess. In addition to that, they will, of course, have to bear a great deal of private and personal inconvenience; and, above all, it seems to me, if I can read the future aright, that they will get the legislative business of the Government into a hopeless and helpless imbroglio. How the Government can think it is their interest to be dealing towards the end of February next with the Lords Amendments to this Bill—how they can possibly regard that as a convenient way of commencing the labours of the next Session —I am utterly unable to understand. What purpose of public policy they think they can serve, what Party interest, what interest of the lowest description they can gain, I cannot understand, and it is not my business too closely to inquire; but of this I am certain—that no policy ever was initiated or sustained by a responsible Government which must react more fatally upon the healthy life of Parliament, or which will for a long time do more both to discredit us in the eyes of the country, and render us incapable of carrying out that work with which the country has entrusted us.
§ MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
did not very often take part in the general Debates of this House, but he did not think it would be desirable that they should come to the conclusion of this 1412 Debate without, at all events, one word from somebody representing the rank and file of this (the Liberal) Party. At the beginning of this Parliament, it was said that they on that side of the House were a collection of isolated units without cohesion and the power of holding together. He should have thought that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had learned by this time that there was something more of cohesion in the Party now supporting the Government than they took to be the case. There were words which fell from the right hon. Gentleman at the close of his speech which no one could interpret in any other light than a challenge, and he and his friends sitting on that side of the House felt themselves bound to respond. The right hon. Gentleman had used some arguments which he thought ought to receive a word or two of attention. He said that the situation was a situation of strain not only upon Members, but upon the officials of this House. It was a situation of strain, but he should be sorry to think it was a permanent one. He did not believe it was. He believed the situation to be one altogether exceptional, the remedy for which lay not in their power, but in the power of hon. Members who sat opposite. How had it been brought about? They (the Liberals) were sent to this House to do certain work; Ministers came there, supported by a majority, to pass certain measures to which their Party were pledged. It was the duty of Ministers to propose these measures, and of their Party to support them, and they would be failing in duty if they did not bring such measures forward. But there was arising a spirit in that House which was quite different from the old one of give-and-take, and it appeared, as the result of that change of spirit, that no measure was to be brought forward without being debated and discussed in a protracted fashion which was totally new in the history of the House, and a mode of discussion which, he ventured to say, if persisted in would be fatal to the utility of the House of Commons. He was not saying where the origin of that was to be traced. He had always thought that during the last Parliament there was discussion on some matters brought forward by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen then in power in excess of what 1413 was desirable or expedient. But the excess of discussion which took place then was as nothing compared to the excess of discussion now. The right hon. Gentleman opposite read a number of extracts from speeches the Prime Minister made as to the position of the House at that time. Those speeches were made in a wholly different state of things. There was not then that serious evil which had grown up now, nor that necessity for drastically coping or dealing with it in some effective fashion. The right hon. Gentleman charged the Government with having brought forward this Bill in an unreasonable fashion, and with seeking to trample on an Opposition almost the equal in votes and certainly equal in resolution to the Party in power, and he suggested that the Government were trying to slip the Bill through the House. What were they there to do? They were there to bring in a Bill which was discussed before the country and which was of a certain character. The right hon. Gentleman had suggested an alternative. What was that alternative? That they should drop the other part of the Bill—only pass that part which related to the Parish Councils, and bring in the other part at some future time. That illustration was not a very happy one, when memory went back to the dropped parts of schemes of the right hon. Gentleman. What became of his licensing proposals? What became of the District Councils Bill? When were these brought back? One knew that, with the pressure there was upon the time of the House, it was not possible to bring forward great subjects twice. They had got to deal with their proposal once for all, and to deal with it as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that the Government should bring forward their Bill in the same spirit as the Bill of the Party opposite was brought forward. He also told them that the Local Government Bill of 1888 did not create local government in this country, but only altered its form. So they thought, but they never knew it before on first authority. Their position was that they did not mean to bring forward a Bill which only altered the form of local government; they were sent there to bring forward a measure of a thorough-going nature.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I never suggested that. I think the hon. and learned Member has misunderstood what I said. What I said was that by the very nature of the case our Local Government Bill took powers already in existence and transferred them to popular authorities. I said that the corresponding part of this Bill not only created the Local Authority, but created the powers for it. I make no complaint of that, but I urged the Government to pass their Bill without the new powers.
§ MR. HALDANE
said, they were there for the purpose of creating a new system of parish government, and nothing short of it. They were bound to bring the matter forward, and they had got to deal not only with the form, but with the functions of the Parish Council. How could they say they had done that, and dealt with the matter, if they excluded everything that was controversial?
§ MR. HALDANE
said, it was a vital part of the measure. He could only say it seemed to him that on the Government of Ireland Bill they had discussions of enormous length, and on the present Bill they had had discussions of enormous length. The result was that hon. Gentlemen opposite had left the Government no other resource but to pursue the course that had been suggested; and he thought he was expressing not only his own opinion, but the opinion of his friends around him, when he said that Ministers would be betraying their trust if they flinched one hair's breadth from the position they had taken up.
§ GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY (Hammersmith)
was quite willing himself to attend the House whenever it sat, and if it was for the good of the country he was quite willing to bear any strain that might be necessary. But the Leader of the Opposition had suggested a modus vivendi by which they might get through the Parish Councils Bill by a much easier process. The fact was, that the Government had overloaded the Parliamentary coach, and were now trying to drive the horses at a rate which they 1415 could not bear. He had attended the Sittings of the House regularly, but he had felt the strain, as also had many others, and the number of Members now present was small as compared with the whole number of the House. No matter which Party was in power, he was desirous of seeing the country properly governed, but he was quite certain if they had Ministers thoroughly worn out they could not have that good government which they would otherwise have. They had had the Leader of the House indisposed, and several Ministers and ex-Ministers were just now suffering from the effects of the prolongation of the Session. He would appeal to the Prime Minister and ask him whether something could not be done to obviate the necessity for this continued sitting. All the amenities of life had to be sacrificed; hon. Members had simply to give themselves up entirely to attendance in the House, and discussion was rendered necessary by a breach of faith. If a breach of faith had been committed by the late Government, he would have gone into the Lobby and voted against them. His personal honour would have compelled him to do so. He would remind hon. Members that the officials of the House could not pair and go away. It was not only the officials they had to consider, but there were also messengers, doorkeepers, and others whose hours, with the House and Committees sitting, were unbearable, and who could only recuperate themselves by having some time for relaxation in other parts of the year. Many Members of the House, including their attendance on Committees, had to put in from 14 to 15 hours a day. A great strain was put upon everybody, and, not least, upon the reporters, several of whom, he believed, were ill. It was impossible for Members who were jaded and fatigued to give that attention to business which was necessary. He urged the Government to adopt the course suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, and drop the Poor Law part of the Bill, reminding the House that he (General Goldsworthy) had himself recently presented a Petition from the Fulham Union begging the House not to deal with the Poor Law.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said, he should not have intervened even for a few moments in this 1416 Debate had it not been for the allusion made by the hon. Baronet who seconded the Motion for the Adjournment. The hon. Baronet spoke with something like a sneer of the fact that the Irish Members were to be found only in the Lobbies voting for this Bill. All he (Mr. O'Connor) could say was that he was unable to follow this the latest Unionist idea. The Party to which the hon. Baronet belonged was in favour of the United Kingdom being governed by this Parliament, and measures relating to different parts of the country being subjected to the votes of Representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom. The latest interpretation which the hon. Baronet gave was that the presence of the Irish Members in the Division Lobbies in reference to an English Bill was a matter for just resentment on the part of English Tory Members. That was a very strange idea of the principle of Unionism which hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway were always preaching. The hon. Baronet had said that, while the Irish Members put in an appearance in the Division Lobbies, they did not take part in the Debates. It was perfectly true that they had taken little or no part in the Debates, but that was for the very good reason that they believed that their silence was useful to the Bill, and that speeches made in other parts of the House were intended to destroy it. The Leader of the Opposition had claimed the right to discuss the Bill. No one contested his right to discuss it, but what they did contest was the right to kill the Bill by discussion. As to the allusion to the attendance of the Irish Members, he ventured to say on their behalf that it was highly creditable to them and to the Bill. They had come to the House of Commons to vote on a Bill which did not concern them nearly from long distances at considerable expense, and at the neglect of their private affairs. But they had come there because they were anxious to show the masses of the English people that they were ready and willing to repay the obligation that they were under to them, by helping them to obtain Home Rule for the English villages as some return for the help which the masses of these English villages had given towards securing Home Rule for Ireland. He thought the hon. Baronet was perfectly correct, and that he had 1417 won the enthusiastic assent of the House when he said that the present state of affairs had become intolerable. So it had, and so the country had found it too. But what the country was asking was, who was responsible for this condition of things? When the country knew, as it did know, that hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway had thought it necessary to spend no less than six days in discussing one clause of this Bill, the country could judge who was to blame. He was a little surprised by the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman ventured to remark that the Prime Minister, who had been Leader of the House of Commons through a great part of his career, had allied himself to a policy which would destroy the utility of the House of Commons, and also destroy its credit. He had to make this retort on the right hon. Gentleman, who had also been Leader of the House. He ventured to say that no Leader of the House ever did more to destroy its utility and its credit than he did when he gave his assent to the present tactics of his Party. He was aware that the right hon. Gentleman did not initiate these tactics. They came from another and a more reckless source. The Bill during a certain portion of its progress through the House was discussed with a certain amount of good temper, with due brevity, and in a manner with which nobody could find fault. That was during the period when the right hon. Gentleman was free from dual control as the Leader of the Opposition. But another person stepped in, a gentleman who adds to ordinary Party rancour the additional venom of what he would call, in the presence of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, who was acting as his representative, political perversion, and had completely changed the whole spirit in which the Bill was being discussed. The right hon. Gentleman, he was sorry to say, had allowed himself to be carried away by his more irresponsible and reckless companion-in-arms, and was lending the authority of his high character to proceedings which were highly destructive of the dignity of Parliament. What was the position in which the H6use found itself now? If every Bill was discussed in the spirit in which this Bill was discussed, no measure could pass through 1418 the House of Commons in an adequate portion of time. The Leader of the Opposition proposed that the Government should abandon a portion of their Bill, and he backed up that proposal by a reminiscence of his own Ministerial career which was not very felicitous, for the right hon. Gentleman never took up again that portion of the Local Government Bill which he dropped in 1888. He spoke of the pangs with which they parted from that portion of their Bill. He would admit the sincerity of the pangs, and he condoled with the depth of the bereavement, but he could not say that the right hon. Gentleman showed any profound bereavement over the fate of the Bill, for he was years in Office afterwards, and he never made any attempt to revive it. Now he wanted the Government to bury out of sight the Poor Law portion of their Bill, in the hope that they might never bring it up again. He hoped the Government would not assent to that proposal. Considering the provocative character of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, and the direct challenge which he gave the Government, he could not but describe the demand made on the Government only as a demand for the payment of blackmail to obstruction by abandoning a fundamental part of their Bill. So far as the Government was concerned they knew their duty. They knew what their duty was to the country, and he was sure that they would stand by the Poor Law portion of the Bill as being one of the fundamental points in the new charter for the enfranchisement of the rural labourers of the country; and instead of being dismayed by the threats and challenges of the Opposition, he hoped those threats would have the effect of confirming and strengthening and stimulating them. He could tell the Government and the Leader of the Opposition that if they were present at the reassembling of the House on Wednesday, the 27th December, so also would be a very large section of the Irish Members, prepared to stand by the Government and the masses of the English people, and to oppose the most unscrupulous and dishonest attempt ever made to smother a Bill, while at the same time professing friendship for its principles.
§ SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
I think the House will be disposed to 1419 allow that if an hon. Member felt it necessary to make a violent personal attack on another Member he generally selects one who is present, and does not seize the opportunity of a Member's absence, when no reply can be made, to make an attack which, I think, would not have been made if my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham was in his place. The hon. Member, who sits for an English constituency, says the country will judge as to the course which is being taken in the conduct of Public Business in this House. Statements as to what the opinion of the country will be on either side, according to our political opinions, are perhaps of very little value; but I would suggest to the hon. Member that if he is sincere the best way to display that sincerity is to aid in efforts to obtain the judgment of the country at the earliest possible moment, and on the issue we are now endeavouring to raise. Without repeating what I said on a minor Motion on this subject on Saturday, I wish to explain why it is believed that the course now taken and proposed to be taken by the Government is one which will produce no beneficial public result, and will certainly produce great evil in the destruction of the character of the House. I admit that great sacrifices must be made by the House when they are required by necessity and urgency. But in this case the necessity and the urgency do not exist, and the object of the Government is not directly to secure the passing of this Bill in order to benefit a portion of the community, but to secure a Party success. The motive for the action of the Government was revealed in a declaration of a Member of the Government, whose absence is probably due to the overwork pressed upon the House, the Secretary for War. Speaking on the 31st of October, at Selkirk, my right hon. Friend said—Bear this in mind, whatever move Her Majesty's Government makes, it has but one object—to carry Home Rule.We therefore know that, for every hour we spend upon an English measure, the object is to secure two hours for the benefit of Home Rule. We know from letters that have been written that in order to secure Home Rule it is necessary that English measures should be passed. Therefore this "move," admittedly unprecedented in the history of Parliament, 1420 is a move taken, according to the Secretary for War, for the purpose of carrying Home Rule. That naturally commends itself to the Irish Members and to the supporters of the Government, who believe in the wisdom of a Home Rule policy. But let them throw aside the mask, and tell the truth. Let it be known that these prolonged Sittings are not held for the purpose of giving local government to the villages, but that they are a "move" made with the object of carrying Home Rule. If that be so, you cannot appeal to us, who do not agree with you in your policy of Home Rule, to aid you in these "moves." If we were told that this measure was desired by the country, and that it must be passed at this exceptional period because of its urgency, we would listen to such an appeal; but when we know what the real motive is, we must express our dissent from the course the Government is taking. Comparison has been made between this Bill and the Bill of 1888. The Amendments made in the Bill of 1888 were mainly from one side of the House only, but this Bill, which we are told is a thorough-going Bill, was met on the first night of going into Committee with 300 Amendments from supporters of the Government. That was an unprecedented state of things. The object of these Amendments was to make the Bill, I suppose, still more democratic. Of course, there are others who take a different view. What now is the result? We see what is happening to many of the Amendments. The Members who submitted them have other engagements. Some stay away from necessity owing to the demands upon their time elsewhere. Surely, under these circumstances, we might ask for adequate discussion, but can that be carried on in the absence of Members who have given notice of these 300 Amendments, to which many have been added since? In the absence of these Members, can there be an adequate discussion? We are told that there is a feeling in the country in favour of the policy of the Government. The best thing is to appeal to the country's sympathy. There is one great movement in the country—a democratic movement— to lessen the hours of labour. We are told that the fewer hours men work was to increase their efficiency. But the Government are increasing the hours of 1421 labour both physical and mental of Members of Parliament. The work of legislation must, therefore, be ill done. That is not the way to fulfil the duty of Parliament. It is taking advantage of the failings of men. It is reducing it to a question—I do not use the words in the ordinary sense—of brute force—a question of physical supremacy. We see, with regret, men falling out of the ranks on one side, and then on the other. What is the meaning of it? It is degrading the high character of Parliament. Nothing could be more objectionable than to bring into the House more representatives of one class than of another class. The more we introduce representatives of every class the better for the House; but I say that the best representatives are those who are called upon to discharge duties elsewhere. If we are to sit here during the 12 months of the year, the local duties of hon. Members, especially of those country Members on whom the burden of local administration falls, must go unfulfilled. There will have to be a decrease of Parliamentary work, and you must call two sets of representative men into existence — one to represent the locality in Parliament and the other to look after local affairs.
§ MR. J. A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)
said, either the Members opposite were in favour of the Local Government Bill, or they were not. And it was interesting to compare the views of those hon. Members opposite, who had expressed their disapproval of the Bill, with the utterances of the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition and other Members opposite, who had now stated they were favourable to the Bill. The hon. Member for Lynn Regis said the Bill if passed would be one of the most abiding curses on the village life of England.
§ MR. J. A. PEASE
said, they knew only two well the character of the Amendments suggested on the other side of the House. Another hon. Member opposite said the Bill would lead to jobbery, corruption, and maladministration, and that the result of it would be confusion, bad government, and financial extravagance; while a right hon. Gentleman opposite declared in July last that Mr. Gladstone might have his Autumn Session, but he 1422 would have only 10 or 12 weeks to accomplish anything, and care would be taken that he accomplished nothing. Under the circumstances, it was their duty to reduce the Amendments to a minimum. He had several on the Paper which he thought important, but he would not move them, as he should prefer the Bill passing in its present form to sacrificing it altogether. It was a pure waste of the time of the country to debate at protracted length the written Amendments of the Opposition which were not placed on the Paper, but were handed up to the Chair on the spur of the moment. If hon. Gentlemen on the other side were really in favour of the Bill, as they pretended to be, and as stated by the Leader of the Opposition, their wisest course was to show their sincerity by at once withdrawing this frivolous Motion and proceed with the business of the House.
§ MR. BUCKNILL (Surrey, Epsom)
said, it had been stated that the Opposition had indulged in too much criticism of the Bill, and that they had altogether been too troublesome. In that connection he would remind the House that when the Bill was introduced in March last the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board said—It is introduced in fulfilment of the pledges given by the late Government.The Government then posed as fulfilling a pledge given by the late Government; but if that were so, how could the Government blame the supporters of the late Government for criticising the Bill, which proposed to carry out their pledges? The hon. and learned Member for Haddingtonshire, repeating an observation used by the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries the other night, said in effect—"If we don't carry out our programme, what shall we say when we go to the country?" Was it to be expected that the Opposition would assist the Government in carrying out their programme, of which they disapproved and in which they did not believe? They had been invited by the President of the Local Government Board to assist him with their advice in improving this Bill. They had assisted honestly and to the best of their ability in trying to amend the Bill, but now they were told that their conduct was all dishonest 1423 The hon. Member for Haddingtonshire had told them that they (the Opposition) were there for the purpose of obstruction, but the Opposition replied that they were there for their own proper purpose, and that was to see that every Bill introduced was fully discussed and criticised before it became law. It was said that six Sittings had been spent in discussing Clause 13: not one Sitting too many. He thought the Government would do wisely if they accepted the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition, which was that they should be satisfied at this time of the year, when they were all nearly tired to death, to take half a loaf instead of getting no bread. It was unreasonable that they should be kept there all the year, from early morning to late at night; but if they were asked to do that let them do it for the good of the country by producing a Bill which would confer benefit on the people. The Opposition would not be driven or threatened. They would not submit to the lash of the slave-driver, and they would not countenance proceedings which tended to make the House ridiculous in the eyes of the country.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE (Burnley)
said, that he and his hon. Friends below the Gangway on the Government Benches had been accused by the Leader of the Opposition as being subject to the lash of the slave-driver.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE
said, he was aware that the right hon. Gentleman had quoted from a former speech of the Prime Minister; but the right hon. Gentleman had applied the words to the present circumstances, and therefore he was justified in saying there were some Members on the Government side of the House who were not afraid of the lash of the slave-driver; but, acting in this matter as independent Members, they would support the Government when they thought that the Government were doing well. What was the course the Government had marked out for their supporters? The Government had asked the House to reassemble in the autumn in order to pass two measures of great public importance. The first was the Employers' Liability Bill, which he hoped would, in spite of the unfortunate incident in another place, pass into law in a satisfactory shape, 1424 and the second was the Parish Councils Bill. He would not express any opinion as to the wisdom of the action of the Government in introducing such a contentious Bill so late in the Session. He admitted that it was possible the Government had shown a too guileless confidence in relying upon receiving the co-operation of the Tory Party. The Opposition existed to oppose and he should certainly be much surprised if the Tory Opposition did not oppose when they thought they had some Party advantage to gain. A remarkable speech had been delivered by the right hon. Member for Bury, who said that the Government were endeavouring to pass this Bill for Party purposes and with the view of hastening the re-consideration of Home Rule. Did the right hon. Gentleman regard it as a Party reason that the Government should desire to pass the programme they had placed before the electors at the last election? Was it an improper thing that the Government should carry out the business for which it was called into power? If Home Rule was advanced thereby that was no reason why the House should waste time in discussing the Party reasons which influenced them in this matter. He impressed on the Government that if they made these great demands on the time, health, and patience of their supporters, the latter had also a right to make a demand on the Government, and this was that the Government should go into this business with courage and resolution. If the House was to sit, the Government should employ every weapon in their power to closure by department or by clause.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE
said, he did not think the country would consider that the gag had been inopportunely used after 21 days had been already wasted, in a great measure, in Committee, and when the Government were threatened with 20 more days, which were to be passed in a similar fashion. He thought that the Government would be amply justified in the existing condition of affairs if they brought into existence every known weapon in their power to hasten the progress of business. He was sure, at all events, that they would be supported by their followers if they even asked 1425 Parliament to grant further powers in order to carry into law a Bill which both sides believed to be an important Bill, and which the Conservative Party said they desired to pass rapidly into law. The Leader of the Opposition had been so good as to repeat the judgment of Solomon. The Bill was to be divided into two parts—one part was to be allocated to this Session and the other to next Session. The Government must accept the responsibility of their own programme. It was not the business of the Leader of the Opposition to direct the Government or their supporters in what both conceived to be their duty. He trusted that the Government would proceed in the discharge of their duties with courage and resolution, and the more courageous and more active they were the more securely might they rely on the support of their followers.
§ MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said, that there was a great division of opinion amongst the supporters of the Government themselves on the Parish Councils Bill. Progress on that measure had been, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, expeditious, businesslike and active, so long as it was left to the undivided control of the Minister in charge of it. But the control of the Bill was now divided amongst right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench and their supporters behind them. For the first time in the history of Parliamentary procedure the Government was found adopting the policy devised by their followers, and the followers rejecting the policy devised by their leaders. Indeed, the position of Government and supporters seemed to be reversed. If he might tender a word of advice to the Government with regard to the imputation of motives which the Prime Minister had levelled at the Opposition, he should say that they might judge, by the experience of the past three weeks, that it would have been better if they had adhered to the proposals on which they could rely to conciliate the Opposition against the measure, instead of yielding to suggestions made behind them, which were calculated to generate opposition to the Bill—to delay the passing of the Bill, and which did violence to the pledges and principles on which the measure was introduced. If ever a Bill 1426 was introduced the principle of which was not in the least objected to by the Opposition, it was the Parish Councils Bill. It was practically the same with the Employers' Liability Bill. So long as the Government confined themselves to those two measures the principles of which were accepted by hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition side, progress had been rapid; and if the same course had been persevered in, the Autumn Session might have been ended before now, and it certainly would have led to the passing of these two measures. But the harmony which prevailed was brought to an end and controversies were generated by the suggestion of hon. Members who sat behind the Government—suggestions which were opposed to the Bill as originally introduced, and even did violence to the pledges of the right hon. Gentleman the author of the Bill—and from that moment the Government found themselves in an embarrassing position, which seemed likely now to end in a fiasco. The Prime Minister with all his experience, would have done well to have weighed his words when he said that, in all, seven or eight days would suffice for the remaining clauses of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman supported that extraordinary view by a contrast between the Bill of 1888 and the present Bill. There was an important principle, and if they liked a new principle in the Bill of 1888—a principle which the Conservative Party did not hesitate to pass into law—namely, the principle of local self-government based on popular representation. But when that principle was adopted all the other matters in the Bill of 1888 were mere details. In the present Bill, however, there was not a clause which did not embody a principle that was not fairly opposed by various sections of the House, and into these controversies further controversies were imported by the change of front from day to day, and certainly from week to week, on the Treasury Bench. All the bad feeling was undoubtedly caused by the action of the Government in following the advice of a section of their followers. The measure was over-weighted and over-charged with controversial points, and if the Government were so unwise and so blind to the experience of the past as to retain the Poor Law provisions the result would 1427 possibly be the abandonment of the Bill altogether.
§ MR. H. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, Wells)
said, that during the eight years he had been in the House he had never yet made a speech on a Motion for Adjournment, and it was only from a sense of duty that he desired on the present occasion to make a most emphatic protest against the course which the Government proposed to take. He was returned to the House not because of any personal merits of his own, but chiefly because he was a local man and lived among his constituents, and was supposed, whether rightly or wrongly, to understand their wishes and their interests. But he ventured to suggest if the Government kept Parliament sitting 11 months out of the year and six days in the week it would be impossible for Members of the class to which he belonged to be returned to Parliament unless they were wealthy enough to have a house in London as well as in the country. He was sure the Government did not desire that the Local Government Bill should be passed entirely by Members who lived in large towns, and if it was to be a workable Bill county Members should have proper opportunities of criticising and endeavouring to improve it. The Bill was full of details. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had admitted that it required the most calm and careful consideration. It was not a Party measure, and most of those who had discussed it had not discussed it from a Party point of view. He certainly had discussed the Bill not from any Party point of view, but in exactly the same spirit as he had discussed the Bill of 1888. He had endeavoured to amend it as he had endeavoured to amend the Bill of 1888. They in the country who would have to live under these local institutions in the future, who did not look at them from the outside, but who would have to live under them and have to take a part in the administration of them, were anxious before everything else that these local institutions of the future should work smoothly and be satisfactory in their results. But such a course as the Government now proposed was not' fair to those country Members who, as they presided over the administration of local affairs, were most qualified to take part in the discussions; nor was it fair to the 1428 older Members, the officials of the House, or even to the administration of the government of this great country. A false issue had been raised in this Debate. The Opposition did not desire the abandonment of the Bill. No one could charge him, for instance, with being opposed to local government reform. He had done his best for years past to push on reforms in local government, and he hailed with delight legislation on this subject so long as it was passed in a well-considered and satisfactory shape. The real issue was whether an attempt should be made to push through all the numberless reforms in local administration which were contained in the Bill, or whether certain portions connected with the Poor Law should be dropped—whether, in fact, this huge Bill should be passed at once or by piecemeal? The Government, instead of cutting down their Bill, had done much to add to it. They had introduced new allotments clauses, new charity clauses, and new clauses for the reform of London Vestries into a Bill that was primarily intended to reform parish government, and a Bill, too, that was being proceeded with at a time of the year at which it was not customary to proceed with such measures. If they could not drop a portion of their Bill, the reasonable course would have been to suspend the Bill by Resolution, and he thought the Government would have ventured to take that course had it not been for the former utterances of right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench. The only reforms of procedure the Government seemed inclined to adopt were either the guillotine or a system of forced labour which the Prime Minister had described some years ago as working in chains under the lash of the slave driver. They would continue to discuss the Bill in the future as in the past, and if the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the measure repeated his constant appeal to them to shorten discussion and to drop their Amendments, he should remember that they would not be encouraged to do so by the step the Government had now taken. When the Government put such pressure on them even the poorest spirited amongst them would desire to assert his rights. He would without the slightest hesitation go into the Lobby in support of the Motion as a protest against the 1429 action of the Government, which he considered injurious at once to our future local government and the proper working of our Parliamentary institutions.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
said, that it seemed that when hon. Gentlemen and tight hon. Gentlemen opposite changed from one side of the House to the other, they changed their opinions at the same time. When in 1890 a somewhat similar Motion was made by the late Conservative Government, the present Secretary for Scotland made some extremely instructive remarks. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking on the 14th of March of that year, said—Every one knows that at the fag end of the Session the work is scamped; Bills are hurried through without proper discussion. There is no time at which the tempers of Members are so tried, or at which there is so much friction. The opinion of those who have been Chairmen of Committees would be worth hearing on that point. It is a mistake to suppose that good work is done in a thin House. It is when the force of the collective public opinion of the full House is brought to bear on it that the work is best done.Those were the opinions now entertained by the Opposition. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool alluded to the fact that in 1888 Mr. Ritchie had dropped a portion of his Local Government Bill for England, and that he did not take that dropped portion up again in a subsequent Session. Mr. Ritchie had been desirous to carry that portion of the Bill, and he would have carried it if he had done what the present Government were now doing—that was, if he had summoned an Autumn Session to carry it. The hon. Member also asked why Mr. Ritchie did not take it up in a subsequent Session. Simply because it was considered that legislation was also necessary for other portions of the Kingdom. He could not understand why the Government should not adopt the policy pursued by Mr. Ritchie in 1888 and drop a portion of their Bill. All that the Government wanted to do now was to pass a Bill which would give them a cry to go to the country with and the title of which they might put forward in pamphlets and placards and explain on public platforms. He did not understand, therefore, why the Government did not drop the other portion of the Bill, having passed the first portion which contained the title. Even if the remainder were dropped the Bill would still retain its title, and 1430 the Government would get what they wanted, which was, to be able to say that they had passed the Parish Councils Bill. The Leader of the Opposition had referred to the length of Sessions in years gone by. The right hon. Gentleman had brought them down to the year 1888. He could bring them down to date, and he could not conceive why they should sit longer than Parliament did in 1889, 1890, 1891, or 1892. The latest Adjournment in those years was August 30. Allusion had already been made to the strain on the health and strength of hon. Members and officers of the House. He thought one of the most obvious comments which might be made was the fact that the Deputy Speaker was in the Speaker's Chair and the Deputy Serjeant in the Chair of the Serjeant-at-Arms, both the Speaker and the Serjeant - at - Arms being absent through sickness. There was also a heavy strain put upon the reporters, the attendants, and the police. As had been pointed out, hon. Members, far from thinking of sport, were not able to think of their domestic duties, or even the business of their private life. Surely they ought to be able to do their legislative business in six or seven months of the year. The supporters of the Government were in favour of an Eight Hours Bill. Charity began at home, and he thought they might commence by adopting an eight hours day at Westminster. What were the hours during which they were engaged? On Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday they were engaged nine hours; on Wednesday five and a-half hours; and on Saturday eight and a-half hours, a total of 50 hours a week. This Parliament would be unprecedented for the fact that, with the exception of one month (October), the House had worked during every month of the year, and was carrying forward its work into the next year. When he said that the work ought to be done in six or seven months he was borne out by the Secretary for Scotland, who, in his speech on the 14th of March, 1890, said—We know very well that a certain quantity of time is absolutely demanded by the business of the House. I put it at seven full months from year to year, not counting the Easter and Whitsuntide Holidays.The right hon. Gentleman, when in Opposition, thought that seven months 1431 were quite sufficient for completing the work of the Government; but apparently, now that his own Party were in Office, he thought that they should take 11 or more months to complete the work of the Government He thought they ought to consider those out of the House as well as those in it, and these prolonged Sittings threw enormous work on the officials of particular Departments, such as that of the Local Government Board. He certainly protested as strongly as he could against the continuation of the labours of Parliament through the Autumn, over Christmas, and into the next year.
§ MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, the hon. Member who had last spoken seemed to have missed the whole point of the matter. They were all sorry to sit there for a long time in order to do the business of this House, but who was the cause of it? That was the whole point. The present situation was caused by a continued opposition to every measure that the Government had brought in—a continued close opposition to it—Amendment after Amendment being dexterously proposed to every provision, with the result, at any rate, of hindering the Bill. They, on that side of the House, entirely supported the proposal of the Government to sit on until they had carried this Bill. It was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury that in trying to carry this Bill they were merely playing a Party dodge and doing something to make their Party, as against the other Party, triumphant, Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen might say what they liked, but they (the Liberals) were determined to carry a measure which went home to the great masses of the people throughout the country. It was a measure to which they were pledged long ago; to which they had been pledged for a great number of years, and which they had taken the first opportunity of endeavouring to carry through. The Bill was a good one— every part of the Bill was good, and he sincerely trusted, notwithstanding the continued opposition—he might say obstruction, threatened by the Leader of the Opposition that the Government would not be deterred from their purpose for a moment.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman has accused me of a menace 1432 almost approaching to a threat of obstruction. I used no language capable of that interpretation.
§ MR. J. STUART
(who was met with Opposition cries of "Withdraw!") said he would certainly withdraw anything which he had said wrongly, and the intention of the words used by the right hon. Gentleman would show which interpretation was the real one. As to dropping the second part of the Bill which referred to the Poor Law he trusted the Government would in no sense be deterred by anything that had occurred from pushing forward that part of the Bill which was of equal importance to the country and to which the Government were equally pledged. This was an important Bill, and it had been tackled in a spirit of opposition with which no Bill of which he had any experience had been received, and he hoped the Government would remain firm and sit until the Bill was carried.
§ MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
was glad that the last speaker had put the charge of obstruction in a more definite, though no less offensive, form than it had been put before, and he must say that such a charge came badly from the hon. Member, because he remembered another Local Government Bill, in the course of the discussions upon which the hon. Member made long speeches and occupied a great deal of the time of the House, and yet not once did the Government of the day charge him in any shape or form with obstruction.
MR. J.STUART (interposing)
said that so far from there being anything like obstruction on his part, the right hon. Gentleman's colleague, who had charge of the Bill, thanked hon. Members sitting on the Opposition side of the House for the assistance they had given him.
§ MR. W. LONG
did not think it necessary for the hon. Gentleman to interrupt him, and if he (Mr. Long) had followed the example set on the opposite side he should have declined to give way. The hon. Member had reminded him that the right hon. Gentleman who was in charge of the Bill of the late Government had thanked the hon. Member and his friends for the assistance they had given him. He was glad to see that the President of the Local Government Board, who was in charge of the Bill, was in his place, and he was anxious to know whether 1433 that right hon. Gentleman endorsed the language of his friends around him as to obstruction? The President of the Local Government Board of to-day had acted as the President of the Local Government Board of 1888 did. The right hon. Gentleman had been fair in his conduct of the Bill and had thanked Members of the Opposition for their treatment of his proposals.
§ MR. W. LONG
The hon. Gentleman below the Gangway credited his own friend and Leader with conduct he (Mr. Long) would not venture to charge any Leader of his with. The hon. Member suggested that the right hon. Gentleman did not mean what he said, and that if he used the language he did so "ironically." He left the hon. Member to settle this matter with the President of the Local Government Board, but he thought they were entitled to know upon the question raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite what was the view and opinion of the Minister in charge of this Bill, who was the best judge as to whether there had been obstruction or not. Charges of obstruction were easily made, but they could not be so easily substantiated. The hon. and learned Member for Haddingtonshire, who had first made that charge, and who egged on the Government to that which he seemed to think they were not often in the habit of doing—of taking up a firm and determined attitude—had, after making that speech, not only removed himself from the Chamber, but had, he was informed, made one of those private arrangements which were known to Members of Parliament and which would render his presence in the House from the 21st of December to the 10th of January unnecessary. He was reminded by an hon. and learned Friend that the law term began about the latter date when the hon. and learned Gentleman would no doubt have a good reason for returning. If that was a specimen of the independent support the Government had to rely upon he could not congratulate them upon the position in which they found themselves. Another hon. Gentleman, who represented one of the divisions of Northumberland, had told them that the Amendments moved from that (the Opposition) side of the House were not worthy of his attention, because he knew the class of Amendments they were. 1434 They might take some comfort from the fact that though these Amendments had not been worthy of the hon. Gentleman's attention and consideration they had been worthy the attention, and had received the consideration, of the Minister in charge of the Bill, and many of them had been incorporated in the measure. On what did the charge of obstruction rest? It could only be substantiated by proving, in the first place, that the Opposition had occupied too long a time; and, secondly, that their recommendations bad been opposed to the Bill. Of that portion of the Bill which had been passed something like 200 lines were new; many of these had been pressed on the President of the Local Government Board and had been accepted by him, and he submitted it was idle to bring charges of obstruction against them based upon such a flimsy foundation as that. He did not wish to protract the controversy by going back on Clause 13, but Members of the Government knew perfectly well that if in 1888 the late Government had gone back on their assurances with reference to the system of representation, the control of the police, or any other main feature of their Bill, gentlemen opposite would have denounced and opposed the Bill with more vigour and determination than had characterised the action of the present Opposition in regard to the change of front of the Government on Clause 13. He submitted that the resolution the Government had arrived at was a futile one. It was ridiculous to suggest to the House that they were to consider the whole of this Bill in a few days. In addition to the original 72 clauses there were no fewer than 26 new clauses on the Paper. Two of those were in the name of the Minister in charge of the Bill, and 14 in the names of supporters of his. Was it not preposterous, in face of facts like these, to charge the Opposition with obstruction? They did not, like the Member for Northumberland, put down Amendments and then not move them, but they put down Amendments to secure changes which they thought necessary to the successful working of the Bill when it became an Act of Parliament. If anyone compared the action of the Opposition now with the action of the Opposition to the Local Government Bill of 1888, it would be found that they had not unfairly occupied the time of the 1435 House or interfered with the progress of the measure. Some hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for Haddingtonshire, did not seem to realise the difference between the two Bills. The Leader of the Opposition had pointed out the difference between the Bill of 1888 and that of 1893. One was a transfer, the other a creation. If the Government had been content to adopt the line which had been indicated from that side of the House—formed their Parish Councils, and had given them that amount of power they required for sanitary purposes and other matters—then they would have had no difficulty in passing their measure. As for himself, he had not missed one night of the discussion on this Bill, and as long as it was under discussion he would be in the House. Many of his hon. Friends would be there, and he ventured to say, as the Leader of the Opposition had said already, that by taking action of the character now proposed to be taken by the Government they were not doing a good turn to the Bill, and they were not doing a good turn to the Minister who had so laboriously so far conducted this Bill. Before the Bill had passed through this House, and long before it had reached another place, the Government would find they had by their arbitrary and tyrannical action done more harm than any Opposition could do to make this Bill a failure.
§ MR. MACFARLANE (Argyll)
said, he did not intend to charge the Opposition with obstruction. That was out of date. Another method of destroying Bills more scientific had recently been introduced—namely, the multiplication of Amendments by hundreds and by thousands if necessary. [Cries of "Who by?" and " From your own side."] He was prepared to divide the blame justly. It had been shown that a very large number of Amendments had come from the Liberal side. That was true, and he regretted it. The truth was that this parish infant was being smothered by the attention of monthly nurses. No sooner did Mrs. Gamp move one Amendment from one side than Mrs. Betsy Prigg rose to move one from the other, and so the time of the House and the country was wasted. If they could believe that the honest desire of all these Amendments was to amend the Bill they would endure with patience. But it was impossible to believe that. Many of them 1436 were dangerous, useless, and thoroughly injurious to the principle of the Bill. It was evident to everyone in the House and out of the House that the intention was to prevent the Government passing the Bill. ["No, no!"] If that was not the intention it was expected to be the effect. He wanted to tell the Government that he was prepared to sit till the Bill was passed, and neither influenza nor—something much worse—the weari-someness of listening to the long speeches made by gentlemen opposite on the same subject would deter him from that purpose. He, however, in return asked the Government to use whatever powers they possessed to put down not obstruction, but ruin by Amendment. The country would require it. Let them go to the country. [Opposition cheers.] Yes but when the Government went to the country the Opposition would also go, and the country would give its verdict. It would be no excuse for the majority when asked why they did not pass the Bill to say—" Oh, please the minority would not let us." The country would call upon the majority and not the minority to rule the House in legislation.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, he had given almost constant attendance to this Bill, and he was much interested in it. He could assure the Prime Minister that he never knew a Bill which he wished to pass more earnestly. The hon. Member who had last spoken had advised the Government to go to the country. The discussion had shown them what the policy of the Government was. They wanted to load the Bill up with every conceivable question, so as to make it impossible that it should pass, and then to represent to the country that it was a question between the Government wishing to pass the Bill and the Opposition opposing its passing. He thought there would be two sides to a representation of that kind. He had said he was anxious to pass the Bill, but he thought they had all seen that although it was possible and easy to pass a Local Government Bill, yet this Bill, being loaded as it was with so many collateral questions, made it impossible to be passed in anything like the time appointed to it. It was a District Council Bill and a Parish Council Bill. There were two Charitable Trusts Acts in it; there was Poor Law reform in it, and an Amend- 1437 ment of the Government proposed to include two old Acts of Parliament in it. The President of the Local Government Board had put down something like 60 Amendments, and supporters of the Government about 300. In these circumstances it was absurd to attempt to foist on the country any idea that there was undue opposition to the Bill on the part of the Opposition. The country would remember this fact: that nearly the whole of last week was taken up with an Amendment moved by a supporter of the Government. That was only a sample of what had been done. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had himself admitted that the Bill had been improved by the discussions. The Bill had been placed in such a position that it was almost impossible for it to be passed in anything like the time given to it, and, as the country had been referred to so often, he would just remark that the country must also be told that this position was due to the fact that eight months of Parliamentary time had been wasted—as some of them thought—by the Government on a question that the country did not want at all. They should not have this coercion forced upon them but for the fact that the Government were sheltering themselves under the Irish vote; and they must remember that this Bill dealt only with England, not with Scotland or Ireland; and yet they were to be forced into all kinds of coercion simply because the Government were obliged to rely on the votes of the Irish. It was through the mismanagement of the Government of their Public Business that they were in this position. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. J. Stuart) spoke of the Government sitting until they had fulfilled their pledges. If they sat until they did that, they would sit for the next ten years. The manner in which this Bill had been treated showed that the Government were anxious to have some Bill before the House which could not be passed, and for the non-passing of which they would like to throw the blame upon them (the Unionist Party) in the country. He said there was a desire on the part of this Party (the Unionist) to pass the Bill, and they asked the Government to put it in some form in which it could be passed in the time they had allotted to them, or to take some more time to enable them to 1438 pass it in its completeness. When he took objection to an observation of the Prime Minister's he did not do so in any spirit of intolerance. He wished to explain. The Prime Minister said it was only a question between abandoning the Bill or passing it. He (Mr. Jesse Collings) thought the proper way of expressing Parliamentary dissent to that was to say "No." He was not by doing that expressing any objection to the Prime Minister's opinion. He was merely asserting disagreement from that opinion. The country must understand that their proceedings on this Bill were being taken to rehabilitate the Government—a Government which had wasted valuable time and had kept them there for ten or eleven months to do work which the Government themselves were aware—or at least the President of the Local Government Board knew—was impossible in the circumstances. He would impress it upon the country that they (the Unionists) were as anxious as the Government that the Bill should be passed, and passed in either of two ways —divided in such proportion as might pass in the time allotted to them now, or the whole Bill in a longer period. That was the view that they would place before the country.
§ Mr. W. E. Gladstone rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 165; Noes 116.—(Division List, No. 382.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 115; Noes 165.—(Division List, No. 383.)