§ MR. HENRY HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.),
in rising to call attention to the great and growing difficulties in the way of Legislation by Unofficial Members of this House under the present Rules of Procedure; and to move—That a Select Committee be appointed to consider whether any, and, if so, what, changes should be made in the present Rules of Procedure in order to enable Unofficial Members to make better use of the time at their disposal for bringing their Bills and Motions before the consideration of the House, and to obtain precedence for important subjects,said, the difficulties which lay in the path of private Members desiring to pass Bills or even Motions in the House of Commons were only too obvious to all those who were acquainted with Parliamentary proceedings. Unless a private Member were fortunate enough to obtain a very early place in the Ballot, which occurred within two hours of the meeting of the House, it was certain in the great majority of cases that he would practically have no opportunity of bringing his measures under the consideration of the House. The First Reading of a Bill was an empty form in the case of a private Member's measure, and might very well, he thought, be dispensed with. The Second Reading had to be taken, if at all, sub silentio, at the penalty of an immediate objection from some Member who did not wish to listen to the reasons which the Members in charge of a Bill had to argue in favour of the Second Reading. The cases in which Bills which passed the Second Reading received proper consideration at the hands of Select Committees or Grand Committees were very rare indeed. They all knew that discussion in Committee of the whole House was, in the case of a private Member's Bill, a farce, and resulted in Bills being passed without proper consideration, but possibly with a few Amendments imposed by the Government, or Amendments which, though unacceptable in themselves, had to be accepted at the hands of other private Members to save the Bill from being altogether destroyed. Many Bills, sometimes of an important character, came 1665 down from the Upper House, but they had no chance of getting precedence of any kind, because they could not he included in the Ballot at the beginning of the Session, and consequently could not pass into law except with the unanimous approval of the House. The consequence was that many most important measures were kept from the consideration of the House of Commons from year to year. He need only mention one or two such measures. The Bill for conferring the franchise on women was one which interested a very large number of Members of the House, although he was himself personally opposed to it. Year by year that Bill had been excluded from discussion in the House of Commons by defects in the Rules of Procedure. There were other measures, such as Temperance Bills, the Bill for Legalising Marriage with a Deceased's Wife's Sister, and other Bills which would command a majority in the House, but would not be passed for the reasons he had mentioned. There was also the absurd Rule that Motions on questions of great political interest could not be brought forward if there happened to be on the Order Book a Bill relating to the same subject. These difficulties were not only great, but had been growing with great rapidity during the short period of seven or eight years in which he had been a Member of the House. Private Members had lost the very fair chance they had on Tuesday evenings of bringing their Bills under the notice of the House after the Motions had been disposed of, and the much better chance they had of getting their Bills considered after 12 o'clock at night. In former days, also, the system of indiscriminate objections to Bills, not on account of the merits or demerits of the measures themselves, but on account of the supposed demerits of the politician who moved the Bill, was less prevalent. Then a few years ago private Members' Bills, when once in progress in Committee, could not be blocked. At the present time they could be blocked by a single Member objecting after 12 o'clock. The result of the various changes had been in the first place to diminish the quantity of private Members' legislation. He believed that last year only 15 Bills promoted by private Members passed into law. Another and much worse result had been to deteriorate the quality of private 1666 Members' legislation. The few Bills that passed were either swallowed whole on the recommendation of some influential Members of the House or passed into law in a maimed, incomplete, and sometimes illogical shape. The reason was that the only means of proceeding with the Bill was to buy off the opposition by the adoption of Amendments. Such a state of things was neither creditable to Parliament nor satisfactory to the nation at large. Of course, some Members would deny that there was much advantage in private Members legislating at ail. He contended, however, that the experience of the recent past showed clearly enough that there were many subjects on which it was not only legitimate and proper for private Members to initiate legislation, but it was actually better for them to legislate than for the Government of the day to do so. Various important Bills had in recent years been passed into law by influential Members, amongst them being the Married Women's Property Act, the Guardians of Infants Act, the London Parochial Charities Act, the Technical Education Acts, the Welsh Intermediate Education Act, the Charities Enquiries Act, the Welsh Sunday Closing Act, the Irish Sunday Closing Act, and Mr. Ritchie's Act for the Regulation of Off Licences. Of course, questions of Government grants of money, or the reorganisation of a Department, or any great constructive scheme naturally fell into the hands of the Government to deal with. But there were great advantages in leaving to private Members the subjects which did not fall into this category, one of them being that such strong Party suspicions and prejudices would not be excited against a Bill introduced by a private Member as against a Bill which was entrusted to the Government of the day. He asked for a Committee to inquire into the subject for two reasons. In the first place, the only way in which an Amendment of the Rules of Procedure could be properly considered and presented to the House in an authoritative way was by referring it to a Committee. It would be useless for a few private Members to put on the Paper a string of Resolutious. He thought it would be presumptuous in them to do so—they certainly would not be able to obtain a discussion. It was before a Select Committee, a small and well-chosen Com- 1667 mittee, that proposals such as this could be thoroughly threshed out, and discussed and presented afterwards to the House in an operative and well-considered form. Secondly, they asked for a Committee on this ground, that although there was an important inquiry into the Rules of Procedure some years ago, yet that Committee, presided over by Lord Hartington, did not consider the effect of the Rules of Procedure on private Members' legislation. It dealt with them far more from the point of view of the Government of the day, and the only proposal it made which assisted private Members was that in all cases their Bills should be referred to a Grand Committee, and should there have precedence. That proposal was only incidental to a general scheme for dividing the House into four Grand Committees, but that plan was never proceeded with. If they looked back to the discussions following upon the inquiry of the Committee, they would see that so long as the interests of the Government were involved, and so long as the Government were anxious to get an alteration of the Rules of Procedure, time was given for their consideration, but that directly it became a question of what alteration should he made in the Rules for the benefit of private Members, the discussion was brought to an end. As those who had watched the procedure of the House for the past six years could testify, the net result of the inquiry and of the alteration in the Rules that followed it was distinctly injurious in various ways to the interests of private Members. There had only been one Rule passed, so far as he knew, to benefit private Members—namely, the Rule of arranging Bills according to the stage they had reached after Whitsuntide; but even that Rule was deprived of a large proportion of its value by the discovery made soon afterwards by the ingenious mind of the Member for North Louth, that without any Question put Mr. Speaker must leave the Chair when the Committee stage was called, and that every Bill which had an Instruction put down to it must immediately go into progress in Committee. The consequence was that after Whitsuntide all Bills in Committee, whether they had been discussed or not, stood on the same footing, and they had had a recent instance of a Bill being discussed at great 1668 length, and finally talked out on a Wednesday after Whitsuntide, because it was known that if it was talked out it could not come on on the following Wednesday. It might be asked if this Select Committee was appointed, what proposals would be brought before it. In the first place, there were many valuable proposals for the improvement of Rules of Procedure already on the Notice Paper of the House, for the consideration of which time had never been found. In the second place, there were many authorities now in Office, and some out of Office besides—official as well as unofficial Members—who could give valuable suggestions on the subject. There were, for instance, his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Bryce), and the hon. and learned Gentleman the late Solicitor General (Sir E. Clarke), and the Member for Bodmin. If this Committee were once appointed they would have many valuable suggestions to consider. For himself, being a comparatively junior Member of this House, he felt it was somewhat presumptuous to give his own personal view. At the same time, from the position he occupied to-night, he thought he ought to sketch out the lines on which he thought the Rules of the House could be improved for the benefit of private Members. He and those who agreed with him had two main objects in view. In the first place, they wanted to utilise the time at the disposal of private Members better. At present the uncertainty of the time which was at their disposal very much prevented proper arrangements being made. They had, nominally, three private Members' days a week, but the larger part of two of those days was usually taken up by Government business. It would be far better for private Members to have less time given them by the Rules of Procedure if they were more sure of that time. He ventured to suggest that if they could be certain of the whole of Tues days throughout the Session the Government might take the whole of Fridays. That, after all, would only be reverting to the old practice. Supply was the first Order on Friday, and it was only owing to a recent alteration of the Rule that he was able here to-night to make his Motion on the Question that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair. By the omission of a few words in the existing 1669 Rule the Government could have the whole of Friday for Supply and other Government business, and if they had that he thought they might leave Tuesday—for the larger portion of the Session at all events—to private Members. If Tuesdays were thus left to private Members, it would be a great advantage to them to be able to bring on Bills as well as Motions. This would pretty well double the time at their disposal. If a Bill came from the other House and was taken up by a private Member, precedence might be obtained for it. After Easter Motions would tend to disappear from the Order Paper, and then, instead of discussing vague Resolutions, they might on Tuesdays as well as Wednesdays discuss more definite proposals in the shape of Bills. It ought to be the rule, and not the exception, that Bills which had been read a second time should be referred to a Committee of some kind. After Whitsuntide the Bills might be arranged on Tuesdays and Wednesdays according to the stage they had reached, and it might be determined to make progress with certain Bills before taking up others. Then, again, he thought some machinery should be devised for obtaining precedence for the more important subjects of legislation. Very valuable suggestions on this subject had been made by hon. Members, and had not been carefully considered by any Committee. What ought to be aimed at was, not to give a majority of unofficial Members the power to bring forward a subject over the heads of a substantial minority, but to insure discussion to a Bill which had a substantial amount of support. A book might be provided in which Members could subscribe their names to a Bill or Motion, and if a certain number—100 or more—did this, it should be marked as having precedence. Whatever proposals were made, they could be discussed carefully by a Committee. He did not expect much sympathy from those who regarded the Government of the day as the inspired source from which all legislation must come, but he appealed to the unofficial minds on all sides of the House. This was the beginning of a new Parliament in which more Members than ever were anxious to legislate, and it therefore seemed not an inopportune time to institute an inquiry that might probably 1670 produce results which would enable unofficial Members in future Sessions to take a useful and advantageous part in the work of legislation.
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
said, he rose for the purpose of seconding the Resolution, and he did so as a pledge of his opinion that reform of some kind was necessary in the interests of private Members. His interpretation of the Motion was that, being limited in its scope, it did not demand that any more of the time of the House should be given to private Members. He brought forward a Motion on the subject last year, when he pointed out to the House that if the Government would keep their hands off Wednesdays they might be free to take either Tuesdays or Fridays. There could be no question that in the present day, with the enormously-increased demand for legislation and for Government action, the existing Rules did not give the Government sufficient command of the time of the House. Happily there was no necessity now to look at the punitive aspect of the matter, for disorderly conduct was amply provided for by the changes made in 1887 and 1888. It might be objected that the inquiry indicated in the Resolution would be too limited in its scope, and, if that were so, there would be no objection to enlarge it, so that it should include the allocation of time as between the Government and private Members. The changed conditions of political and social life, the increase in the number of subjects demanding attention, and the increase in the number of Members who desired to take an active part in the work, of the House, had rendered many of the present Rules more or less obsolete. The changes in procedure made in 1888 had worked a revolution in the progress of Business. Whereas at one time there were about 18 opportunities for raising Debate in the passage of a Bill through the House, those had now been reduced to five or six. But the alterations made in 1888 had been for the benefit of the Government of the day, and they had stopped short of anything being done for the unofficial Members. There was no more pathetic spectacle than was witnessed on the second day of every Session of Parliament, when troops of unofficial Members brought up Bills, nearly every one of which was doomed to the fate of never being heard of again. He had before 1671 him a list of Bills so introduced in previous Sessions, from 1888 up to last year, and it was melancholy to find that so many useful measures had to be withdrawn or dropped at once in consequence of the treatment of private Members. He held that private Members' rights ought to be more clearly taken into account, because by the absence of due recognition of their importance grave public wrong was very frequently committed. Of the long list of Bills to which he had referred only two received the Royal Assent and more than 40 never had any discussion at all. This was enough to show that the proceedings on the second day of the Session were a perfect waste of time. There was a portion of the time of the House of which, with a small readjustment of the Rules, some use might be made. Under the Rules the House sat till 1 o'clock, but no opposed Business could be taken after 12. He was not in favour of late Sittings, but he was in favour of business being done, and there was no question that the operation of the Twelve o'clock Rule had been entirely to the detriment of unofficial Members. He had placed on the Paper a Resolution which read as follows:—That whereas, when it is the evident and general sense and desire of the House to proceed with any particular business it is inexpedient that a single Member should have the power of preventing this, it is resolved that Standing Order I. (Sittings of the House) be amended as follows— namely, page 2, line 2, leave out 'opposed,' and insert after the word 'business' the words 'to which, on the Order relating to it, being called. 10 Members shall have objected by rising in their places.'That proposal had received the sanction of hon. Members of greater experience in the House than he could lay claim to. There was certainly an amount of contentious legislation involving principle that should not be brought on late at night; but, on the other hand, when legislation of a more or less useful character was brought forward after 12 o'clock it was too much to place in the hands of any hon. Member, by lifting his hat or using the two words "I object," the power to stop Bills of that kind. Therefore, whenever he obtained an opportunity he would move that Resolution, though he did not bind himself as to the number of Members. He proposed, in conclusion, to deal with the principles and the spirit which ought, as it appeared to him, to underlay any 1672 changes that they might make in the procedure of the House. As reported by the Committee which sat in 1848—a Committee consisting of some of the ablest men in the House at that period— the Government of the day must be mainly responsible for the Private Business of the House. He had not himself used the term "private Members"; to his mind the phrase was a misnomer. In the prayers at the commencement of their proceedings they were asked to lay aside all private interests; and borrowing a phrase which had been used with great effect byLordPalmerston,he would say that private Members' right might often be public wrong. They were there for public objects and public needs; they were servants of the public in that Assembly, and therefore, personally, he had also an objection to the term "private Members." As he had said, the Government of the day should have entire power with regard to the allocation of business, and the responsibility for the use of that power. They must always recognise the power of majorities. There was a great deal of nonsense about the rights of minorities and the rights of majorities. He would point out that the Act of Union between England and Ireland was carried in the first instance by a majority of one; the Reform Bill of 1832 was carried by a majority of one; the Dissolution of Parliament in 1841 was carried by a majority of one; the Public Education under the Privy Council was set up by a majority of two; The Government of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Gladstone) in 1873 had a majority of three against it; Lord Russell's Administration in 1866 was turned out by a majority of five, and Lord Melbourne was defeated in 1839 by a majority of five. These were very small majorities, but they were majorities that had led to enormous consequences. They must, therefore, respect the principle absolutely and entirely that the majority must rule in the House of Commons. He thought there ought to be some further limitations to opportunities of Debate on particular measures. He greatly preferred that course to a curtailment of the freedom of Debate when they had entered on the consideration of a measure. Members also should have a greater certainty of knowledge as to when particular business 1673 would come on. A great part of the strain and stress of that Assembly arose from the want of certainty with respect to when measures would come on; and he would also point out that whatever control they gave the Government of the business of the House, if the Government was not seconded by the Opposition in the endeavour to bring about the discharge of business undoubtedly their efforts must fail. Therefore, they must all hold that an honourable co-operation between the Opposition and the Government was essential to the furtherance of their proceedings in the House. So much for the principle. With respect to the spirit which ought to underlie all these matters, he thought he could not do better than repeat the words which had been uttered by Mr. Disraeli, who had been saturated by a true instinct with regard to the conduct of the business of the House when he liked. Speaking on the 18th April, 1864, he said—What makes the House of Commons so influential in contradistinction to the popular Assemblies of other countries is this: that when there is any great question of difficulty the country feels that we are solving it not merely by the present thought and existing intelligence of the Members of the House, but that we come down to its consideration fortified by precedent, and bringing to bear upon it the accumulated wisdom of the eminent men who have preceded us.To that sentiment he ventured most humbly and heartily to subscribe. The House had great traditions and great precedents, and there were good reasons for the origin of all their Rules and procedures. He remembered very well the words uttered by Mr. Speaker in 1886 before he was called to the Chair. Mr. Speaker had said—As one who has sat in this House for 20 years, may I remind those hon. Gentlemen who, conversant as they are with business of great importance outside this House, are yet taking their places in this Assembly for the first time, may I remind them, as I wish to do without presumption, that the Rules, and Forms, and proceedings of this House are wedded to remote antiquity, that many of them which seem to be new are developments of the old; and that while we have adopted new Rules to suit the supposed requirements of the day, we have even been influenced by a regard for precedent and old times. Many of our Forms and Rules are old, some are new, some are girt with the prescriptive dignity of immemorial custom.He thought the House could not do better when it came to reform its procedure than to inspire itself with the spirit tha animated these eloquent words. It was 1674 because he believed that some of their Rules might be altered with great advantage and to the increased efficiency, and greatness, and dignity of the House of Commons, that he, with pleasure, seconded the Motion before the House.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to consider whether any, and, if so, what, changes should be made in the present Rules of Procedure in order to enable Unofficial Members to make better use of the time at their disposal for bringing their Bills and Motions before the consideration of the House, and to obtain precedence for important subjects,"—(Mr. Henry Hobhouse)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE,) Edinburgh, Midlothian
Mr. Speaker, I am most anxious to answer at the earliest moment that I can do so my hon. Friend the Seconder of this Motion, who desires to know what view Her Majesty's Government take on this subject. In doing so I shall certainly not approach the matter in a spirit of partisanship. It is a question of extreme interest. The whole matter of the Business of the House has become, not only an important but a capital subject for our consideration. I will pause for a moment to say—though it is a matter on which difference of opinion will exist—that I do not hesitate on this occasion to adhere to the opinion which I have always expressed, that the greatest, most effectual, and only relief which can open the door to anything like a complete solution of this very difficult subject is to be found in the disposal of the Irish Question. The relations between England and Ireland are so strained, and these relations con e up for consideration and discussion so frequently, that—though I do not say it is a reason for declining secondary remedies—I say that the grand remedy is only to be found in the direction of settling this difficulty. Unfortunately I missed the opportunity of hearing the speech of the hon. Mover of the Motion through a pure accident, for I had been credibly informed that the Motion had been dropped and was not coming on. But I heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Seconder of the Motion, and I am bound to say that I have great sympathy 1675 with the most part of what he has said on the subject. My position and that of my Colleagues is this—I am not prepared to accede to the Motion proposed in its present form. The proposal is that a Committee shall be appointed for the purpose of considering what can be done to facilitate the work of legislation in the hands of private Members. I would ask the Mover and Seconder of the Motion, first, whether they are prepared to undertake the conduct of that Committee; and, secondly, whether they have a plan which they are ready to submit to that Committee, and upon which they wish to take its judgment. I have not gathered either from what I have heard with my own ears, or from what has been reported to me, that they have an affirmative answer forthcoming to either of those questions.
§ MR. HOBHOUSE
As the right hon. Gentleman did not hear what I said, I wish to repeat that I feel sure that if the Committee were appointed many Members of the House will be only too glad to offer suggestions for the alteration of the Rules and Orders, and I have traced out a few of the suggestions which I myself would be willing to submit to the Committee.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for giving me that explanation, but it does not in the slightest degree remove my difficulty in the matter. He says that he has not a plan of his own, but that he and other hon. Members will make suggestions. On that point I agree with him altogether. There will, doubtless, be a multitude of suggestions. Suggestions will crop up like mushrooms, and like mushrooms they will quickly disappear, owing to the nature of the ground from which they spring. I can understand a Committee being appointed to consider a strong and definite proposition urged upon it by persons of ability who are prepared to work it out and to bring forward all that can be said in its favour. But that is a different state of things from merely entertaining an opinion—a benevolent opinion I will admit—that a multitude of suggestions will be forthcoming, and that the hon. Member himself is prepared to make a contribution to the stock of these suggestions. Sir, that affords me little hope. This proposal is that the Government, which is charged up to the full 1676 extent of its powers, and as all opponents and some friends think beyond its powers, with engagements already, shall in cold blood—for undoubtedly we are now sitting in cold blood, after the heat and excitement of the Morning Sitting— undertake a new engagement without any minute calculation of their powers of redeeming it. That is a serious difficulty. But there are other difficulties. My hon. Friend who seconded the Motion has given a touching description of what may be called the Ballot scene. I feel most sincerely, I may say profoundly, for the difficulties of the private Members—nay, more, I will say, as a citizen and not merely as a Minister anxious to shirk duties that can be honourably avoided, I look with some jealousy and regret at the constantly and rapidly-growing tendency to throw all legislation into the hands of the Government. I cannot forget that not only many useful suggestions have been made in a rudimentary form by the Bills of private Members, but that also Bills of great importance were proposed and carried by private Members. I take the case that crops up first in my mind—the great Currency Bill of Sir Robert Peel, which placed our currency substantially on the footing which it has ever since retained for 70 years. Another Bill was that proposed by Lord John Russell in 1828 for the relief of the Nonconformists from the disabilities they suffered under, and which he succeeded in inducing the House to sanction by a vote against the Government of the Duke of Wellington, which was afterwards taken up by the Government, and which became law. I look with great satisfaction on that department of work of the House of Commons, and I wish it could be restored. But is it in course of being restored? Does it subsist without change? No, Sir, on the contrary, almost every week of the Session gives indications and proofs of an increasing desire on the part of various sections and classes of the community in various divisions of the country to see the particular subjects in which they are interested taken up by the Government, and taken out of the hands of private Members. If it were necessary to go behind the scenes and speak of the particular measures now in the hands of the Government, there are some which I, for one, should be 1677 most happy to see in the hands of private Members, and which I think may even have had a fair chance of progress in their hands, because so long as legislation is in the hands of private Members it is less marked with the character of Party than when it is in the hands of the Government. That seems to me a very important consideration. My hon. Friend made a remark which I cannot pass without comment. It was a proposition which might have for its effect the tendency of increasing public expenditure. I am glad that the House should keep a tight hand on Supply, but, as far as I see, most of the influence now exercised in Supply by the House of Commons is influence which tends in the direction of increasing and not diminishing the expenditure. That is a very serious matter, but it is not a matter for our consideration at the present moment. But I see no evidence that there is a plan prepared by the Proposer and Seconder of this Motion which would help us in a Committee and which might afford hope of a settlement. It is a difficulty which, with the engagements we now have, I do not think we as a Government could add to by adding a new engagement in carrying through a Committee on a subject of this kind. I hope my hon. Friend will not think me captious when I say that I do not think this is quite the time of the year for the appointment of a Committee. In my opinion, the question of procedure does not advantageously mix with the general business and policy of the House; and a subject of this nature, if it is to be entertained, should be entertained at the beginning of the Session and before the House has got so involved, I may say entangled, in a mass of general business. It is almost idle for it to think of making additions of an extraneous character to that mass of business. I frankly agree that the arrangements of business at present are not satisfactory either in the view of the Government or in the view of private Members—I will not say in the interests of the Government or in the interests of private Members, because neither the Government nor the private Members ought to have any interest at all in the matter except the promotion of public interests and the despatch of business. I do not think that at the present moment the arrangements are good for one or the 1678 other. What are the arrangements? If you take the available time of private Members and the results which they are enabled to achieve, the question is most unsatisfactory and requires consideration. At the same time, how far do the rights of private Members go? Let us see what they are. Setting aside occasional proposals for sitting on Saturday— which can never become a rule except for special purposes of Supply—there are five days in the week. What is the condition of the private Members, and what is the condition of the Government on Paper, in principle with regard to those five days? There are five days available to the Government and private Members. Private Members have Question time. We are apt to consider Question time as a trifle. I have no means of stating it precisely, but on three or four days a week Questions as a rule occupy an average of an hour, or at any rate the time approaches an hour. To whom does that hour belong? Why, to private Members. The average sitting of the House—and Heaven knows nobody would like to prolong it—is nine hours. That one hour is a tax of 11 per cent. upon the Sittings of the House. I take the four days which are considered principal days. Well, there are five days. Two of these are devoted to Motions which are in the hands of private Members. Tuesday is absolutely so devoted, and Friday has changed its condition. When the present system with respect to Friday was first recommended it was expected and anticipated that the casual Motions of Members would only occupy a portion of the evening, and that a large part would be realised and turned to account by successive Governments for purposes of Supply. Now, for a long period, I believe I may say that as to the ordinary Fridays the Government has had no direct or separate interest in them whatever. That is a second day for private Members out out of five. Then comes Wednesday, which is absolutely the property of private Members. On the two days, Monday and Thursday, upon the first entry into Supply, by a Rule of this House, the propriety of which I do not call into question, the private Member is entitled to anticipate the proceedings of the Government by proposals which delay the entrance into Supply. Then there is another subject, 1679 in my opinion of great importance, to which it is absolutely necessary upon an occasion like this to recall attention—and that is the case of the Address. An immense change—in my opinion, a most disastrous change—has taken place with regard to the Address. Some old-fashioned people like myself have endeavoured, when they could, to make some kind of protest in favour of, or have wished to secure adhesion to, the ancient practice of passing the Address with only passing comment, except on the rare occasions when it might be right to make it the subject of serious challenge amounting to a Vote of Want of Confidence. But now the Address occupies, as it did this year and in some former years, two weeks, or about a tenth part of the Session, and without any result of a substantive or tangible kind beyond the airing of complaints and propositions without the possibility of doing anything. If you look at the case of the private Member from that point of view he is indeed the favoured child of fortune, and there is nothing but shreds and fragments left for the Government of the country. That is the picture drawn by an impartial, if a feeble hand, of the private Member as he stands with regard to his abstract rights and possessions. But I am far from saying that the proposal now before the House is irrational, or that there is no cause for complaint. Just as the rich man is subject to the incursions of the pickpocket and burglar so the position of the private Member makes him the object of the covetous desires of the Government, and from a sense of public duty the Government is continually running in upon the private Member and taking away his privileges. I think the portion taken from him in the last Parliament was larger than had ever been taken before —I mention it not as a matter of blame, but as a fact—and it is very likely that there will be an increasing tendency in that direction. It appears to me that, whatever the private Member has, he ought to have some reasonable certainty as to his time, and that it would be idle to appoint a Committee to cut and carve these large domains at present appropriated to the private Member unless that uncertainty can be removed. I am by no means sure that the procedure by Committee is the best method of procedure, and, for my own part, I would 1680 far rather see some proposals of a definite character, on the responsibility of the Government if you like or on the responsibility of any body of independent Members ready to press them forward with the whole weight of their influence. In order to understand this question we should have in view what is the relative importance of the sphere of private legislation and the sphere of public legislation at the present moment. As I have said, I am not one of those who are contending for the maintenance of the sphere of Government legislation at its present extent. I am sincerely sorry that the sphere of Government legislation has been so largely extended. Whether it can be contracted I will not say. I do not despair of seeing the activity of private Members made more profitable by some judicial arrangement of the time which the House may be disposed to give. The division of time between the Government and what are called private Members gives you a basis upon which you can proceed. I do not want an indefinite postponement in this matter; in fact, I am anxious for an early settlement. But private Members will never get the certainty that I speak of as long as in the abstract they are entitled to this long and imposing list of privileges, which leave so little to the Government. Therefore, I would really point out to the Mover and Seconder that, to take things in their right order, the first and absolutely essential condition of progress in this matter is that at the proper time—which I do not think is the present moment, when we have gone through nearly one-fourth part of the ordinary Session, and are engaged in the thickest of our business—when the House sees its way to giving a free and independent attention to the subject, some practical proposal may be made. It is quite evident that it is necessary to make some arrangement a great deal more rational than the one we have at present. I think the nominal division of time gives too much to private Members, but gives it in a manner so unsatisfactory, so uncertain, and so liable to continual aggression, that no tolerable result remains, when you take into view the uncertainty and the capricious manner in which it must necessarily work. The main bar in our way is the condition in which we stand, and the state of business is such that we are obliged to do what we 1681 have done to-day—without praise or blame to anybody, I refer to it—that is, to spend a whole day in discussing what we shall do on the next day. I am bound to say I hold firmly to two propositions— first, that the Government ought to have charge of the conduct of an inquiry of this kind; and, secondly, that it would be idle to consider the division of time, and the liberties now nominally allotted to private Members, until we know that we have arrived at something like a final decision as to the grand question of the division of the entire time of the House between the two great claimants—namely, the Government on one side, and the body of private Members on the other. I hope I have not been wholly unsympathetic with the object of the Motion; I have only endeavoured to show that in its present form it would be inconsistent with our public duty at the present moment to recommend it to the House.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)
I hope it will not be thought impertinent on my part if I follow the Prime Minister, for I am one of the few Members of the House who can carry his Parliamentary life back to some of the periods to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I remember particularly the time when the change was made, by which private Members surrendered so large a possession of the time at their disposal. The right hon. Gentleman will remember when, in Lord Palmerston's Government, the present arrangement was made that private Members should move Amendments to Supply on Friday. Previous to that the Government had only had two days in the week for their business, of which Monday was one and Friday nominally the other. But on Fridays private Members enjoyed the privilege of speaking on the Motion at the commencement of business—" That the House, at its rising, do adjourn until Monday next." That Debate was frequently carried on for a long time, and the time at the disposal of the Government was very short indeed. I remember very well when Lord Palmerston pointed out to the House that it was impossible the Public Business of the country could be got through with the large amount of time devoted to private Members. Thereupon private Members were called upon to give up Thursday to the Government, while the Government had Friday nominally for 1682 Supply, subject to Amendments put down to that Motion. That constituted a considerable diminution of the rights, as they were called, of private Members, and I doubt very much if private Members could have foreseen at that time how largely their rights would be curtailed, whether they would have agreed to the change with so much unanimity. The result has been that the time left to private Members has been very short, and even that has been considerably curtailed from time to time by the exigencies of the Government. These exigencies are not likely to diminish. The demands of the country for legislation are constantly increasing, and, year after year, a larger proportion of the time of private Members is appropriated by the Government until, at last, the chances of private Members for legislation are very small indeed. If the hon. Member who has made this Motion, and the Seconder, had bad no other success than to have elicited the speech of the Prime Minister, to which we have just listened, they would have no reason to regret it. It must always be a great pleasure to the House to listen to the reflections of the right hon. Gentleman when a question quite apart from Party is before the House, as in his disquisition on the procedure of the House, so largely of a discursive and academical character. But I am afraid that much of a practical conclusion would not be arrived at from the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has treated the proposal. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that the period of the Session is unfavourable, and that if the proposal had been made at an earlier period of the Session we should have had more time to consider if. He has also said that he does not consider a Select Committee would be the most convenient way of dealing with it. It occurred to me, when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, that if a Select Committee was not the most convenient way of considering this question, I could hardly imagine how it could possibly be brought to a practical solution. I have generally found, looking over a considerable experience, that all great changes in the procedure of this House have been proposed by Select Committees. Such was the case in 1886. It is not for me to say whether it will suit the convenience of the Government to institute an inquiry at 1683 the present time; but I cannot imagine that any changes such as are suggested can be conveniently arrived at without preliminary inquiry by a Select Committee. The number of competitors among private Members is now so great that there must be a number of disappointments, and it must be admitted that the number of gentlemen who were anxious and capable of speaking with intelligence on many subjects is infinitely greater than it used to be some years ago. Therefore, under any conceivable mode of procedure, the number of questions that can be disposed of on the initiation of private Members is constantly increasing, and these increasing demands are less capable of being dealt with. There are many measures introduced by private Members which are carried to a successful completion. The right hon. Gentleman will remember, among others, how some very useful measures were carried by the late Mr. Henley. If hon. Members are fortunate in gaining possession of the House early in the Session, there is no reason at all why they should not be successful in carrying useful measures. We need go no further back than the time of the late Mr. Bradlaugh, who carried measures, although with the assistance of the Government of the day. But the attainment of anything like a distribution of the time of the House between private Members and the Government must always be subject to the exigencies of the Government of the day, as has been shown in recent Sessions. I doubt much that the present Bill will result in getting the Irish Question out of the way. The demands of private Members must be ever increasing, and as the competition goes on it must lead to disappointment. But perhaps some means may be found by the institution of a Committee by whom a selection may be made of the measures of which the great majority of the House approve and attach importance to, and by which the inferior measures may be eliminated, and the attention of the House concentrated on those which have a chance of passing. The desire of all who really wish this House should continue to be the great instrument of good to the country, to give satisfaction to the legitimate aspirations of the people, must be directed to simplying our procedure and securing adequate discussion of those measures calculated to be for the public good, and 1684 any Members who can contribute to such a desirable result must deserve the gratitude of the House, and the fullest attention for the measures they propose. I fear the discussion of this evening can lead to no practical result, but I venture to think, with all submission and with the greatest respect for the experience and opinion of the Prime Minister, if we are ever to arrive at a solution of this great question it must be obtained by the medium of a Select Committee.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
said he must confess it really appeared to him that though the Prime Minister did not see his way to accept the Motion, the greater part of his speech was in support of it. The right hon. Gentleman did not quite appreciate the object they had in view, which was not a desire to appropriate any more time of the Government. It had been pointed out how many great measures had been inaugurated and carried to a successful conclusion by the exertion of unofficial Members. They knew that the great questions of Reform and Free Trade were in the hands of private Members before they were taken up by the Government, and, in addition to those and many others, he might mention the Free Libraries Act and the whole of our law in relation to bills of exchange and cheques. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to complain of the tendency to throw the whole duty of legislation upon the Government. That was exactly the tendency which his hon. Friend complained of, and one great object of the Resolution that bad been moved was to some extent to relieve Her Majesty's Government of that great burden which they felt so acutely, and to give to unofficial Members the opportunity of assisting them in this respect. On both these points, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman agreed with the argument laid before the House by his hon. Friend. It must be admitted that of late years private Members bad been subjected to great difficulties in bringing on questions in which they were interested. Of course, the Twelve o'Clock Rule interfered with all legislation to some extent, though in many respects it pressed more heavily upon private Members than upon the Government, because they all knew it was continually suspended with refer- 1685 ence to the legislation of the Government, and he did not remember that it had ever been suspended for the advantage of any measure brought forward by a private Member. Another point his hon. Friends did not allude to, and that was the practice of putting down Private Business on private Members' nights, the result of which was to further circumscribe the time of private Members. But the right hon. Gentleman scarcely did justice to the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. Henry Hobhouse) and the Seconder of the Resolution by assuming they had not made any practical suggestions, because both hon. Gentlemen had made suggestions which they believed would have the effect of increasing the usefulness of time at the disposal of private Members. They balloted now on the first evening of the Session for places for the whole period of the Session, and his hon. Friend made proposals worthy of consideration, whether they might not assimilate the Rule for balloting for Bills to that for Motions, and limit those to a certain period. His hon. Friend also suggested that Bills might take their place with Notices of Motion on a Tuesday, and that would be another step that would facilitate the opportunities private Members had for bringing forward Bills for discussion in this House. His hon. Friend referred also to the extraordinary power they gave to individual Members after a certain hour, and suggested they might alter the rule very simply by limiting the power to, say, 10 Members. If that were done it would very much increase the opportunity of private Members carrying legislative measures which, under the existing rule, it was almost impossible for them to do. Moreover, even when they did so it was often much impaired in its character. It was, of course, necessary to make friends on all sides of the House, and to agree to matters disadvantageous in themselves, thus to buy off opposition in order to make any progress at all. It was urged by his hon. Friend, and the view was supported by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Sir J. Fergusson), that there was no way of seriously considering this question except by a Committee of this House. The Prime Minister suggested the hon. Member for Somerset (Mr. Henry Hobhouse) should formulate his proposals, and then bring them before the House, but he (Sir J. 1686 Lubbock) would ask what chance his hon. Friend would have of bringing them before the House if he did formulate his proposals? How, at the present moment, would it be possible for them to consider all the details and all the different questions affecting them with advantage? They all knew that in all the important affairs of life they could not draw up Reports and consider rules in large meetings; they referred them to small committees, who brought them forward in a satisfactory form so that they might be fairly considered. He felt himself very strongly the diadvantages in which, under the present rules, private Members were placed. Many of them were deprived of the opportunities which they wished to enjoy of bringing forward measures in which they were interested. The present Rules sadly diminished the opportunities of private Members, and although he quite admitted that it would not be desirable to take up more of the time of the House, or deprive the Government of any of the time now at its disposal, he thought most of them felt that a better distribution of the time, and a better set of rules in reference to that time, without taking up the time of the House, might enable the private Members to use that time to better advantage. It was on these grounds he regretted that the Government did not see their way to grant a Committee. Though the conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman was unfavourable, his speech throughout was an encouragement to persevere. The right hon. Gentleman was in favour of the proposal, but said the time was not suitable. They had brought it forward at the earliest time, and he. was afraid in no future Session were they likely to get an earlier opportunity of bringing forward a Motion of this kind, and though they would have been glad to do so sooner, still they had a considerable time at their disposal, and he thought that if a Committee were granted they need not despair of bringing it to a satisfactory conclusion. Even the right hon. Gentleman thought they should not despair of seeing some better distribution of the time of private Members. The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Government were overweighted with work, but if the Committee were appointed, the conduct of the proposal might be left mainly to private Members. At present much of the time of 1687 private Members was wasted, and he believed that a Committee would be useful to economise the time allotted to them, especially having regard to the disadvantage at which they were placed by the Twelve o'Clock Rule.
§ SIR RICHARD TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)
said, that the private Members sitting on that side of the House were very much touched by the description given by the Prime Minister of the extraordinary advantages they possessed. That was news to them, because they were really under the impression they never got anything as private Members. The right hon. Gentleman was a great master of quotations from the Latin poets; might he recall to the recollection of the House the Latin verse—O fortunati nimium, sua si bona norint.The private Members were too fortunate if they could only be made to see their good fortune. The right hon. Gentleman truly remarked that things appeared different in this House according to the point of view from which Members regarded them. Forinstance, the right hon. Gentleman spoke apparently with some interest of the Parliamentary fortnight taken up this year in the Debate on the Address. Surely that practice of occupying the first two weeks on the Address was not originated by the Party to which he (Sir E. Temple) belonged, but it was really carried through by the Party who now sat opposite, and now they were "hoist with their own petard." Then, again, the right hon. Gentleman remarked upon the great increase of business which came to the Government in taking up Bills, but had he forgotten that he himself was the greatest offender, because this Session he had crowded the House with Bills of the most contentious character. When the right hon. Gentleman complained of the Government being made more and more to take up Bills at the instance of private Members, it should be remembered it was because private Members had come to think that it was only Bills taken up by Government at the instance of a private Member that had any chance at all, nor had it. Now, having listened carefully to what had been said by the hon. Mover and Seconder of this Resolution, he should like, as a private Member, to make a few remarks upon the existing practice and Rules of the House, and perhaps 1688 he was particularly qualified to do so, for no Member knew better than he did the wearied vigils in the small hours of the morning in watching over Bills that struggled on through an unhappy existence only to be massacred at the end of it; but when he came to think of it, the difficulties of passing private Members legislation did seem to him to operate as a very useful check, and he would invite any conscientious private Member to look at the Order Book of the House and consider the number, the great number, of private Members' Bills brought in every Session. He asked what would become of the country if all those Bills had any chance of passing into law? He did not believe he should be overstating it if he said that upon the average 400 or 500 Bills every Session were introduced into this House. He believed that would be found to be the average during the seven or eight years he had been in Parliament, and if they were to pass in any large numbers, would there not be a great danger of over legislation? He was very much impressed with what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen, who was now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Bryce). No doubt there were a great number of Bills passed into law at the instance of private Members, and it was a great pity that Members like the Member for the University of Loudon (Sir John Lubbock), who had just spoken, should have been hampered and hindered in much of the beneficent legislation they introduced; but still, all Members must be aware that numbers of the measures were pressed on their attention by their constituents or sections of their supporters, and they were obliged to introduce them, though perhaps they were measures that ought not to pass into law. They did their duty to their friends outside, they satisfied the requirements of public opinion, and it was for the House to decide upon them. But there was no doubt that private Members now had no chance at all. In the first place the Government generally took up the whole time, or a great portion of the whole time, of the House very soon after the Session began. Secondly, they must admit that they themselves were very neglectful, because when private Members did get an evening for themselves, unless the Government kept a House they had no chance. Private Members would not stand by one 1689 another, and the consequence was that without the support of the Government there would be a premature count out. Then one great difficulty before them was this, that when a private Member did get the first place on a list he would monopolise the whole time of the House, the whole time of that afternoon or evening. For instance, Wednesday after Wednesday Bills that stood first on the list were brought forward. The Bill might not be of great interest, but it would probably be debated the whole afternoon, and without the slightest mercy or compassion to those who came after. Of course if they were to be a little more considerate to those that stood second, third, fourth, or fifth there might be a chance, but what happened was this, the man who got first place took up the whole afternoon. Much had been said about the working of the ballot at the beginning of the Session. He had taken part in those scenes that had been described as much as anyone. But he must admit the ballot could be made to operate in a satisfactory manner, because it was in the power of any large number of Members who were interested in any particular measure to ballot for that one measure, and if 20 or 30 would do that they were sure to secure the first place on some convenient day, so that the ballot did give a power to private Members which, if judiciously exercised, would relieve it from that discredit which the hon. Mover and Seconder endeavoured to throw upon it. Take such a measure as Women's Suffrage, if a sufficient number could be induced to ballot on the first day of the Session for that particular measure it would be introduced under the most favourable circumstances. The reason why that had not been done was because though there were many Members who were the friends of the measure, every one of them had measures of his own, which, owing to his particular promises and obligations, he was bound to ballot for first. Had it not been for that there was no doubt that such a measure would, Session after Session, obtain a most favourable place. So, if they came to think of it, by combining their forces the best Bill will be ballotted for by the greatest number of Members and would secure a place. The same remark applied to ballotting for Resolutions. If there was any subject which a great number of hon. 1690 Members desired to Debate they certainly could, by concentrating their ballot, by combination at the ballot, secure a place. He believed the process by little syndicates had become well-known amongst Members of this House. He thought he heard the phrase, now common amongst them, of "rigging the ballot." He understood the phrase to mean that a great number of hon. Members combined would ballot for a particular Resolution or particular Bill. Let them take one or two instances. Look what a favourable place the Railway Rates Resolution got the other day. No doubt that was because a great number of Members simultaneously and collectively ballotted for it, and he had no doubt if the real history of the Rating of Machinery Bill were known it was owing to the same cause. Hon. Members from Ireland had not ballotted much this Session—but last Session and the Session before it was notorious that whenever Members from Ireland wished to bring forward a particular matter they were sure to get the best place, and that was done by the process he had described, which was quite legitimate, and a process they had the right to exercise and carry into action. English and British Members might well follow their example, and in that way a precedence could readily be obtained, and obtained in a secret, silent, and unobjectionable manner. He submitted that was far better than the procedure suggested, which he understood to be that Members should be invited to subscribe their names to a list or some "round robin" process in favour of Bills they supported. They knew how that would work, there would be touting, and the result would be that certain Bills would be supported by some Members because they in turn would get support for some other measure. That, in his opinion, would be open to greater objection than the ballot, which was satisfactory if hon. Members chose to combine, and would settle the mode and method of that combination. Then he listened with great attention to what was said by the right hon. Member for the London University (Sir John Lubbock), about the rule that now existed of an individual Member being able to object to a Bill after a certain hour in the evening. The hon. Member proposed that it should he necessary for 10 Members to object, that was to say, that unless 10 Members rose in their places or lifted their hats the 1691 objection should not bold good. He had no doubt that would operate in favour of the first Bill that stood on the Notice Paper; the first Bill of which the title was read by the Clerk of the House would undoubtedly be favoured by that process, but they would get no farther. That particular question would at once be brought forward, the Question would be put by Mr. Speaker "That the Bill be now read a second time," it would then be debated and the Debate would last as long as the House would consent to sit, because after all there would have to be some limit of time. At present the limit of 12 o'clock held good, but if this rule about the 10 Members was introduced they would have to fix a limit of time.
§ SIR RICHARD TEMPLE
said in that case the Bill would go on until 1 o'clock, but all the others would get no chance; in fact, the process would be a miniature reproduction of what went on upon a Wednesday, when, as they all knew, only the first Bill stood any chance, unless a rude prevailed, a sort of unwritten law, that the man who stood first would try and give a chance to him who came next, but at present he saw little signs of any reciprocity. Of course with all this cutting up of the time of private Members, with all this destruction of their opportunities, they must take their revenge. There seemed to be a sort of fate, a sort of providence sitting up aloft like one of the three fates in the story, that always had the scissors in her hand for the purpose of cutting off the lives of the Bills of private Members. That being the case they must have their revenge somewhere, and there was a great deal of truth in what the Prime Minister said, that the first means was by the process of questioning. Questioning in this House would become a very important feature in our national life. They were appealed to by their constituents to put questions, and accordingly they did so, and he believed that had an excellent effect. To him it was a highly gratifying spectacle to see the attention given by hon. Members to everything that went on, not only in the United Kingdom, but all over the world, from India to Peru. He believed that questions exercised a most potent check 1692 on every Government and every Front Bench, whether that Front Bench was filled from their Benches, or from the Benches of hon. Gentlemen opposite. And their second mode of revenge was discussion in Committee of Supply. He quite admitted that as a financial discussion their Debates in Supply were beneath criticism, but in reference to general policy they did the House infinite credit. As for the proposal to appoint a Select Committee upon the subject, if the Mover and Seconder chose to amuse themselves in that way they were welcome to do so. But he knew from experience that such an inquiry as was proposed would come to nothing. He was in favour of the rights of private Members, but that would not get them out of the difficulty that was now the subject of complaint.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I wish to congratulate the hon. Baronet on the optimistic view he takes of everything that has been arranged in this best-of-all possible worlds. Perhaps his satisfaction is not unconnected with the fact that he has been able, after some years of labour, to bring to a successful conclusion a great work which he undertook in connection with elementary education. But that does not mean all the work we have to accomplish, and it may be that if we put our business on a rather better footing, we may be able to attain the same result with less expenditure of labour and less weariness than the hon. Baronet must have suffered before his ideal was reached. Sir, I feel in some difficulty in entering into this Debate. The Prime Minister did not hear the speech of the opener, but he made a very amusing and interesting speech in reply; but I have a difficulty in replying to the right hon. Gentleman in his absence. My right hon. Friend assumed that my hon. Friend the Member for East Somerset laid no plan before the House. But he did lay a plan before the House. The right hon. Gentleman said that private Members had a great deal of time. It is not a question of a division of time. The whole question is, given the quantity of time allotted to private Members, is that time well organised? The Prime Minister did not meet that question at all. There is a great deal of time at the command of private Members, and they are not apt to give it up without remonstrance. 1693 Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to the time consumed in questions. Is that time well organised? How much of it is wasted? Is there not a demand there for inquiry in that direction? And we will not set the matter right unless there are some parties to consider that among other things. Hon. Members will join with my hon. Friend the Member for East Somerset in admitting some curtailment of private Members' time, if only the time that was left to them might be better administered and more economically used. The right hon. Baronet opposite, in the optimistic view he took of the situation, said we were able to avoid the chances of the ballot by the secret organisation of hon. Members amongst themselves, so that those interested in a particular question may join in balloting for a place. The right hon. Baronet prefers that things should be done in that way rather than by some regular machinery. It is a mere matter of hazard whether certain questions are discussed or not, and methods ought to be devised to ensure, with every regard for the rights of minorities, that subjects should be brought forward in order, according to their relative importance and the interest which they excite. For example, we should arrange: first, that a Bill in which interest is felt should be brought forward in its turn, and then for the prosecution of that Bill to the end, so that time would never be wasted in ineffectual discussion. Under the rules and customs of the House it is possible for a single Member, in a fantastic and arbitrary way, to stop the progress of a measure. Is not that a matter for which a practical remedy can be found if the subject be investigated? Years ago I suggested that about once a fortnight we should have a short Bill night for the discussion and prosecution of short-Bills, to which a certain definite number of hon. Members should not have signified opposition beforehand. By such means beneficial changes in the law might be effected which now it is possible to have postponed year by year by the action of some irresponsible Member. The First Lord of the Treasury told us that this is not the proper time for making the suggestion which the right hon. Gentleman did not hear and did not understand. My right hon. Friend had great gifts which we all admire, and has given them this evening another illustration of his 1694 charming capacity of dealing with large public subjects in a pleasant familiar way. But I am bound to say that my right hon. Friend has one faculty which is open to criticism. There is a French word banalité which perhaps describes the right hon. Gentleman's method of treating certain questions. When the right hon. Gentleman told us that this is not the time for approaching this subject and that the proposed way of dealing with it is not the right way, one wondered when the right time would be and what would be the proper way. Is it too late in the Session to bring this subject forward? I venture to say that had it been brought forward a fortnight ago we would have been told that it was too early, and that if it had been delayed to the end of the Session, we would have been told that it was then too late. If the hon. Member for East Somerset's Motion does not produce any immediate result, it will at any rate prepare the minds of hon. Members for the changes that must sooner or later be effected. Given a limited amount of time at our command and a diversity of objects to be prosecuted in that time, surely we ought to ascertain how best to employ our opportunities. Now everything is left to chance. What the hon. Member for East Somerset asks is that the mind of the House should be brought to bear on the subject. He proposes a plan, and the Prime Minister says this is not the time or the way to undertake the business, but probably the House will be able to undertake it at no distant date. The mere sense of disgust which one sees growing among the new Members who are not accustomed to the dilatory forms of the House, at the way the time of the House was wasted, will sooner or later claim consideration of the matter, and will, I would hope, lead to some practical steps for doing away with a state of things which is really a matter of public scandal.
§ SIR EDWARD CLARKE (Plymouth)
The few minutes (hat are left to me I wish to take the opportunity of saying a few words on the subject—a subject which I have myself more than once brought before the House. The objections made to the appointment of a Select Committee by the Prime Minister are certainly curious. First he said the Motion was not made at the beginning of the Session. But it has been brought forward at the earliest opportunity. 1695 Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman said the Government would have imposed upon them the duty of dealing with the arrangements of the Select Committee. I do not think that that would be the case. If the House were to agree to this proposal, there would be no duty or obligation laid upon the Government, for the House itself would constitute the Committee. Another objection by the Prime Minister was that there was no specific plan proposed in the Motion before the House. If there had been a specific proposal in the Motion it would have been made the groundwork of debate, and upon the merits of the proposal a whole. evening would have been spent. I have more than once expressed a belief to the House that it would be wise to bring about a change of practice so as to make the procedure of the House of Commons similar to that of all other legislative Assemblies in the world in this respect—that the unfinished business of one Session should be carried on and taken up in the next. I believe that would be found to be the true remedy for the difficulty. But whatever the remedy may be, it is a little hard on the part of the Government that they should set themselves steadily against the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the matter. I do not say that the result of a Committee would be satisfactory in all respects, but the proposal is one which the Government ought, in the circumstances, to accept. It is time that we should establish some system by which the House itself would be able to decide what measures it will entertain and what Bills it will pass into law. I do not know whether it is intended to press this Motion to a Division, but I hope the subject will not be lost sight of, notwithstanding the attitude of the Government.
§ MR. HOBHOUSE
said, he had to express deep regret at what had fallen from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, as he thought the Government might have agreed to the appointment of this Committee. He, at any rate, had done his part in regard to this matter. Having brought it forward and having elicited most interesting views upon it, he was not disposed to press his Motion to a Division; but he hoped the discussion would bear some fruit in the future.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ SUPPLY.—Committee To-morrow.