HC Deb 07 February 1893 vol 8 cc684-91

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That the Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate on the Address in answer to Her Majesty's Speech have precedence this day of the Notices of Motion, and To-morrow of the other Orders of the Day."—(Mr. W. E. Gladstone.)
MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

I wish to ask the Government whether their attention has been directed to the constant system of obstruction going on with reference to this Debate, and whether Her Majesty's Ministers do not think it time that this Debate should end? A system has grown up of hon. Members moving the Adjournment of the Debate for what Sir Stafford Northcote described as "bonnets" for other Gentlemen generally officially connected with the late Government, such as the Private Secretary to the late First Lord of the Treasury. The Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham), and one of the Members for Down, got up towards the end of the evening without any intention whatever of taking part in the Debate, and moved the Adjournment on behalf of some of their confederates, and then came in the next day and, when nobody had any desire or intention to listen to them, got up and launched into fresh oceans of debate. During the time when Mr. W. H. Smith was First Lord of the Treasury the House constantly heard every day some appeal made to the dignity of the House, that the business of the country should be disposed a with dispatch, and I must say that in my experience of the House I have never known such unmitigated obstruction as has been proceeding under the sanction of the Tory Party, culminating last night in the unprecedented action of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Balfour) who, since the first time blocking was invented, came down himself and without waiting for any of his supporters to do what is generally regarded as "shore" work, he himself objected to a whole series of Government Bills. So tar as my brief experience has gone never before has the Leader of an Opposition himself personally taken part in the meaner devices of obstruction, they have been left to the irregulars and persons below the Gangway, some of whom probably belong to the Irish quarter. I do not know whether that is so or not, but I do think the time has now arrived when a Motion giving effect to the Address should be made.

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)

The hon. and learned Gentleman has discussed the general position of the business of this House, and has told us that never in his experience—a considerable experience—has he known any case in which what he calls "obstruction" has been so openly practised. The hon. Gentleman is a great authority on the point—no man is a greater authority—and I shall not venture to set my own opinion against his, but I will simply ask the House whether they think the amount of time we have spent on the general discussion on the Address—in the first place on an Amendment moved by a supporter of the Government, in the second place upon so important a question as agricultural depression—is at all in excess of the merits and the attention that those questions ought to excite in the House? The hon. and learned Gentleman has told us that a practice is growing up of Members moving the Adjournment not intending to speak next day, and cited the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham), who moved the Adjournment on Friday night and did not speak in the Debate yesterday. My hon. Friend is not present. He did desire to speak on the question of Uganda, be- lieving that the attitude of the Government on Monday would be the same as on Friday, and I may remind him and the House that if the Government on Friday had made up their minds to deliver the speeches on Friday which they delivered on Monday, three hours at least of the time of the House, of which the hon. and learned Gentleman has become the careful and jealous custodian, would have been saved. With regard to the observations he made in reference to my action last night in objecting to the Government bringing in after 12 o'Clock, and without a statement, one of their principal Bills, I was only endeavouring to see that the Government carried out what I believe has been the habitual practice of all Governments, and certainly the practice of the late Government. I recollect that when I brought in Bills—certainly not equal in general importance to the Registration and Electioneering Bills of the right hon. Gentleman—when I brought in a Bill for Private Bill legislation in Scotland, the present Secretary for War not only insisted that that Bill should be introduced with a speech by the Minister in charge of it, but that there should be a whole night's Debate on the question. Until the House has had an opportunity of hearing the right hon. Gentleman explain his Bill, they cannot say whether there should be a Debate on it; but I certainly do object, on the part of the Opposition, to important Government Bills not Departmental Bills, being brought in without one single word of explanation. I feel sure that the Minister in charge of the Registration Bill does not desire to force the First Reading of that measure upon us without giving such an explanation as the House has an undoubted right to hear on such and important occasion.


I do not wish to mix myself up in any controversial way in the topic now before us, and I do not consider myself warranted in the present stage of the proceedings in so doing, but I must enter a certain protest against what has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman. He justifies himself in opposing the introduction at a late hour of my right hon. Friend's Registration Bill by a Scotch Bill on Private Bill Legislation. What I want to point out is that it is not the magnitude of the Bill only which ought to determine whether it requires a preliminary statement and that interference with the course of public business which a preliminary statement would entail. In the case of the Scotch Bill there was a great deal of difference affecting the root of the Bill, and the whole method of proceeding. Consequently it was obviously right and necessary that there should he a preliminary statement. In the case of the Registration Bill what has happened? We have introduced a Bill for this purpose before, when we were in Opposition. We found a general acknowledgment On all sides of the House that there should he a Bill, and that being so the question appeared to us to be one of detail so far as differences of opinion were concerned, and therefore if my, right hon. Friend had been allowed to introduce it as a private Member he would have stated that the general purpose of the Bill was to give effect to changes such as those which in principle have been very largely recognised on all sides of the House. That is to say, that we were able to look upon it as being in all respects, properly speaking, a non-contentious Bill, and that was the ground or proceeding with it. I must express my regret that it was stopped by my right hon. Friend last night, though I am bound to admit there has been some precedent, if not warrant, for that proceeding—excepting so far as regards the high character and station he holds in this House—in other quarters of the House, to which I need not particularly allude. With reference to the Motion before the House, I must confess that, in my opinion, the House is, upon the whole, greatly the loser by the practice which has sprung up quite of late years of miscellaneous, I may say multitudinous discussions, without any distinct issue, upon the Address. I shall use every effort in my power to arrest the general Debate on the Address, and if the right hon. Gentleman is disappointed, as he might be, as to the insufficient development of the Debate on the subject of Uganda on Friday, I am bound to observe that that arose out of the circumstance that we were debating the question without the Papers on the subject before us, but which we prepared with every expedition, and with greater expedition than is usual in such cases. That is only one of the objections to the practice which lets sprung up. I do not say it has sprung up on the part of one or another Party; I speak of it as a change and a deviation from ancient custom, which, upon the whole, does not contribute to the despatch of Public Business. I am speaking of that as a misfortune, in my opinion, because the House will be surprised when observe that upon the Address, without any positive issue at all, it has not infrequently happened that in recent years one-tenth or one-twelfth part of the whole available time of the House during the Session has been consumed by the discussion on the Address. That is a serious discount to lay upon our limited power of transacting business. I am not presuming to censure anybody; but at the same time I may be allowed to state that not to-night, but, I think, after to-morrow it may be requisite for us to consider whether we should not ask the House to take seriously into view the expediency of arriving at some close of the Debate on the Address in order that we may proceed with the general business.


said, the Prime Monster seemed to follow up the suggestion which he understood had been made by the hon. and learned Member for North Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) that the Address was to be clotured. As the hon. and learned Member for North Louth was an Irish Member he would like to say that the effect of that might be to shut out and prevent the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. J. E. Redmond) from bringing in his Amnesty Motion, which would he most unfortunate. It was, in his opinion, highly desirable that that question should be discussed in the House, and a very large number of people in Ireland would be disappointed if it were not discussed. He, therefore, hoped when the question of the hon. and learned Member for North Louth was considered, it would be recollected that a certain number of Irish Members were most anxious that the subject of amnesty should he brought before the House.


rose to point out that the first person to object to the introduction of the Registration Bill was an enthusiastic supporter of the Government—the hon. and learned Member for North Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy).


thought that while no one would object to the tone of the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the house, it seemed to him extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman did not find it convenient during the six years he was in Opposition, and responsible to a certain extent for the control of the business of the House, to address these observations to the Members of his Party. Those now in opposition would recollect how often in the last Parliament the business of the House and the progress of legislation was impeded by discussions possessing not one quarter of the importance that attached to the Amendments to the Address. He could tell the right hon. Gentleman that if the Government intended to prohibit debate on the Address on important questions affecting their Executive Government in Ireland, they would not facilitate legislation during the Session. He could quite understand, and after the verdict of Huddersfield everyone could understand; how inconvenient it would be for right hon. Gentlemen to meet the questions involved in the Amendment of the hon. Member for the City of Londonderry. There were other questions involved in the Amendments upon which many Members from Ireland desired discussion, and he did not believe his hon. Friends would ask the right hon. Gentleman for greater facilities than they were entitled to for the discussion of these questions. They did not,desire to protract the Debate on the Address, and a comparison of the number of speeches made this Session with the number made in former Sessions in the Debate on the Address would show that no undue advantage had been taken of the opportunity. If they were not permitted to discuss these questions upon the Address, then upon the first opportunity they would certainly bring the questions, which they had given notice of raising, before the attention of the House.

MR. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)

As a personal contribution to the question of the conduct of business I would point out that if the Government desire to proceed rapidly they have only, on any day, to suspend the Twelve o'clock Rule, and, by virtue of that, it would be possible for them any night to introduce their Bills. But I rose for the purpose of making one observation with reference to what fell from the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan). I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not intend that his words should have the meaning suggested by them: they seemed to suggest that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) had some intention or desire to interfere with the fair facility that should be afforded to the hon. Member for the City of Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) for bringing forward his Amendment. I am authorised to say that he had no such intention. His remarks were pointed to the convenience of closing the Debate on the Address next Friday in order that their Bills might be taken up next week. For myself, and every Irish Nationalist Member who sits in this House, I may say we desire the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of Waterford should have fair opportunity for presenting to the House the merits of the case in support of his Amendment. I do not venture to anticipate the Debate itself, but we desire that facility should be given for the discussion of the Amendment. The suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy) was not intended to interfere with that.


said, that it the right hon. Gentleman would give private Members Wednesday for the discussion of their Bills they would find that the whole question of registration would he raised on the first Bill on the Paper.

*MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

I do not quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman intended by his reference to the possible necessity of action on the part of the Government, with a view to the curtailment of the discussions on the Address. I do not know whether he meant it might be necessary to take action to prevent the undue prolongation of discussion on any special Amendment, or whether he contemplated classing the innocent and guilty together, and terminating once for all the constitutional opportunity enjoyed by the House of Commons for raising questions on the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne. I conclude the right hon. Gentleman, with his constitutional learning and experience, must have contemplated merely interposing to prevent the discussion on any specific Amendment being unduly prolonged beyond the necessity of the case. If there is any idea of giving effect to the suggestion, emanating from a very ominous quarter, I would, as a Member in charge of an Amendment of a wholly non-Party character, an Amendment raising a question by no means dividing Members of this House upon Party lines, I should strongly object to being debarred from my constitutional opportunity on account of gentlemen from Ireland and elsewhere choosing to discuss other questions, with the result that I should not be allowed the rights which every Member has a right to claim. My Amendment was handed in at the earliest possible opportunity, but I was informed that, according to what I think a wise rule, I was bound to wait my turn with other Amendments which relate to subjects mentioned in an earlier part of the Queen's Speech. I would appeal to the House under no circumstances to allow any action to be taken that would prevent this House discussing any question legitimately raised.


I said nothing of curtailment; but there is a mode which has been referred to already in this discussion—namely, that of the suspension of the Twelve o'clock Rule, which might enlarge the opportunities of Members, and at the same time might tend to give an earlier day for the introduction of Government measures.


I should enter a very marked protest against being compelled to raise a question of great importance, and one which commands very great interest, not only in this House, but throughout the country, at any unearthly hour.

Question put, and agreed to.