HC Deb 12 July 1893 vol 14 cc1375-80

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom,—

  1. (a) of salaries, pensions, and gratuities to Judges, Land Commissioners, County Court Judges, and officers of the Civil Service, and other officials who are in receipt of salaries paid out of moneys voted by Parliament; and
  2. (b) of salaries, gratuities, and pensions to the Royal Irish Constabulary and Dublin Metropolitan Police, together with the expenditure incidental thereto,
in pursuance of any Act of the present Session to amend the provision for the Government of Ireland."—(Mr. John Morley.)


I may, Sir, explain to the Committee that this is a purely formal Resolution. Until it is passed by the Committee and reported to the House it will be impossible for us to discuss Clauses 27 and 28, which come first in the group with which we shall proceed on Friday next. The necessity for the Resolution arises from the fact that by those clauses we propose to transfer certain charges which are now met by Votes on the Consolidated Fund, and we further propose to increase pensions and to provide certain gratuities. The Resolution is of a purely formal character, but it must be passed to enable our discussion on Friday to proceed in the usual course.

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

Before we go any further I must express my great surprise at the course which the Government have taken. The question of the Financial Committee with reference to this Bill has been more than once before us, and, not once, but several times, either from the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman himself or from other authoritative exponents of the Bill, we have been promised full notice as to the time when the Committee should be put down. As I only saw it in the paper this morning I have not had time to make specific references, but I think I am not going beyond the fact when I say that the Prime Minister, the Patronage Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Marjoribanks), and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Morley) himself, have all given pledges of the most specific character on this question. Well, Sir, what happens? Last night, after our proceedings were terminated, without notice to the House of any sort or kind this notice was given in to the Clerks at the Table. It was not thought even worth while for the Minister in charge of the Bill to make any public announcement at the conclusion of business of his intention. I think the right hon. Gentleman will feel that the gag hardly justifies these proceedings. Even the minority still retains some vestige of a right to fair treatment. Are all the pledges of the Prime Minister and his Colleagues to be set aside simply because they have induced their majority to pass a Resolution interfering with, and even destroying, our liberty of debate. I think, under the circumstances, the Government will feel I am not taking an unusual course when I move, Sir, that you do now report Progress.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)


The right hon. Gentleman asserts that I gave a pledge that abundant notice should be given of this Resolution. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. I have never regarded this Resolution as of more than a purely formal character. I do not think gentlemen opposite understand what is the purport of this Resolution. It does not in the least affect the general financial proposals of the Government. Clauses 27 and 28 are, of course, of the greatest importance, and the discussion upon them will be of the most important character no doubt; but in order to reach that discussion you must have this Resolution passed. I am only anxious to clear myself and my Colleagues from the charge of breach of pledge, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am entirely unconscious of having broken any pledge. I never conceived that any notice ought to be given. There was no reason why notice should be given of a purely formal Motion, on which you cannot debate the financial proposals, and on which you can debate nothing except the question of giving extra pensions and gratuities.


May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of an occurrence which proves that he is wrong? The Prime Minister came down to the House and announced the change of front of the Government on the Financial Clauses. We were, of course, all interested and startled, and I at once raised the question whether we should not be able to deal with the whole subject of finance upon this Financial Committee. The right hon. Gentleman replied that he thought the Resolution would be of an extremely restricted character, and probably that it would not carry out the full wishes and desires then expressed by me. But I think it will be found that in that very Debate assurances and pledges were given that we should have full notice of the Committee. My right hon. Friend the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer will point out that the Government are wrong in saying that this Resolution does not touch the general financial proposals, and therefore I will not deal with that point. What I want to point out, however, is that, so far from this being a purely formal step, this is the legitimate and Constitutional occasion on which to discuss the whole scheme of the Government, possibly not as regards finance, but as regards pensions and gratuities. The Government must be aware that the plan they have suggested in this Bill has not given satisfaction in Ireland. They must also be aware that they have loaded the Notice Paper with every kind of Amendment—pages of Amendments—on their own proposals. It is, therefore, extremely difficult for us to take a general bird's-eye view of the method by which the Government propose to deal with the Civil servants and the Constabulary. The proper time for discussing it is on this Committee, and for that reason I think we should have full opportunity of putting forward our case. I am not one of those who have ever specially admired this wheel in our Parliamentary machinery—this process of setting up a Financial Committee before dealing in Committee of the whole House with any financial proposal; but it is the method on which our Business is conducted, and that it is a method that is admired by the Prime Minister. If it is to have a meaning at all, its value is that it does supply us with an opportunity to deal with the broader aspects and the main principles which underlie these new proposals, and I therefore earnestly press on the Government not to force this matter on against the distinct and clear understanding arrived at with all parts of the House. Let them defer the Committee until we get to the clauses to which it relates. I think that is only a reasonable request.


I repeat again, I cannot admit that the right hon. Gentleman is justified in asserting that I have given any pledge on this matter. It is a matter, however, on which there should be no risk even of misunderstanding, and, under the circumstances, the Government will be willing to postpone the Committee until either the next day or Friday, whichever may be most convenient. I therefore accept the Motion to report Progress.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

said, the Government proposal to take the Committee was a very inconvenient one. They were now engaged in discussing the most important compartment of the Bill, and a most important Amendment was before the Committee. He strongly objected to the Government intervening with such a Resolution as the present one, and thus curtailing the time for the discussion of the Amendment. It was more unfair and more extraordinary than anything the Government had yet done. The Chief Secretary had said the Resolution was merely a formal matter. It either meant something or nothing. If it meant something, it ought to be properly discussed by the House; while if, on the contrary, it meant nothing, it ought not to have been proposed at this time.

MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)

I wish—


The Government have accepted the Motion to report Progress, and there can be no necessity to discuss it. We gave way not because we saw any real ground for it, but in order to meet the views and wishes of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I hope, therefore, we shall be allowed to report Progress at once.


I was only going to point out that the matter involved in the Resolution is of a very serious character, for it distinctly relates to the burden which is to be placed on the Consolidated Fund, and, therefore, on the people of Great Britain, in respect to the Irish Constabulary. It opens up a very wide matter, and it is, therefore, of extreme importance that the question should be submitted to the Committee at an hour and at a time when it can receive that adequate discussion which it ought to and will meet.


I accept the view of the Government that there is no need, under the circumstances, to pursue the discussion now; but I do demur to the remark of the Prime Minister that the subject was not postponed because there was any necessity for doing so, but that it was postponed as a favour to the Opposition.


I did not say as a favour to the Opposition.


I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he did not feel himself bound by any pledge given by himself or his Colleagues.


I did not say that.


I am always anxious to meet the right hon. Gentleman, and will withdraw what I have said if it is inaccurate. I will content myself by showing to the Committee and the country that the Opposition are simply asking for their rights and nothing more. When the financial change was announced by the Government the other day, the hon. Member for Surrey asked on what day it was proposed to take the Committee. The Secretary to the Treasury replied, "The First Lord of the Treasury has already stated that ample notice will be given."


With regard to this most inaccurate representation following upon a previous most inaccurate representation, as the right hon. Gentleman must well know it is, I have to say this: When I first announced that the Government were about to produce an altered financial plan I was under the belief that the principle of the plan would be raised in the preliminary Committee, and I was willing to give a promise, as I now would promise, that ample notice shall be given in relation to whatever concerned the principle of the financial plan. It was afterwards found that the question of the principle of the plan will not be raised in the preliminary Committee; it will merely be a question as to whether authority shall be given for the purpose of paying certain superannuations and pensions, and upon that it undoubtedly appears to me that a Motion asking for a prolonged notice for such a purpose is a thing so irrational that under no circumstances can it be requested or be reasonably granted.


May I inform the right hon. Gentleman, who is so free with his accusations of inaccuracy, that his memory has entirely deceived him? He now tells us that he supposed at the time the new financial plan was announced that the whole financial scheme could be discussed on this Committee—

MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (misunderstanding the word)

I never said I proposed that.


Supposed. The right hon. Gentleman said he supposed the whole scheme could be raised on the Committee.


I did not say that. I said I supposed, or was under the belief, at that time, that the principle of our financial scheme would be involved in the preliminary Resolution.


I have the words here. The right hon. Gentleman said— I think it very doubtful whether the Financial Committee will afford any opportunity for pronouncing a definite judgment on the whole scheme.


That confirms my view. The right hon. Gentleman has just shown that even at that time I suspected it might not be possible. The Government have acted with an extreme desire to facilitate business, and the Committee can judge with what effect.

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Friday, at Two of the clock.