Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House do sit To-morrow; that the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to that Sitting; and that as soon as Government Business is disposed of Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put."—(Mr. W. E. Gladstone.)
§ [The right hon. Gentleman at once left the House.]
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the course the Government ask us to adopt is, as I shall presently show, unusual, certainly the method by which it is recommended to our notice is still more unusual. One would really suppose, from the procedure of the Prime Minister in merely contenting himself with touching his hat when his name was called by the Speaker, that he was suggesting an every-day procedure, and one to which this House is accustomed, under circumstances similar to these in which we now find ourselves, and which the House of Commons ought to adopt merely at the nod of one powerful Minister. The right hon. Gentleman, I suppose, is going to return?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I desire to offer an explanation. The Prime Minister is summoned at this moment to attendance on the Queen. That is the reason why he has left the House.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The reason given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I need hardly say, is adequate and satisfactory, but what is not quite satisfactory is that the Prime Minister should not, before he went away, have delegated to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the duty of defending and recommending to the House the Resolution which he has moved. Now, how many precedents are there for asking the House at this time of the Session, and in this condition of Supply, to sit on a Saturday? I speak now for a large number of hon. Gentlemen who have for the first time become Members of the House in the last election. They perhaps will not feel as keenly as older Members of the House what an extraordinary strain is put upon the House of Commons by the request at this time of the year, and in this condition of Supply, to sit on a Saturday, not apparently, as on a Wednesday, from 12 to 6 o'clock, but from 12 to any hour which it may please the Government to keep the discussion going. That proceeding inflicts, if the House assents to it, very great hardship on Members. It inflicts an even greater hardship on persons who, in the nature of the case, cannot make their position clear in this House, but whose convenience we are bound to remember. On the permanent officials of the House is thrown, by the ordinary course of Parliamentary proceeding, a very great, a very constant, and a very continuous strain, and that strain would be greatly augmented by requiring them to perform the unusual duty of remaining here for an indefinite time on Saturday. Though I do not for one moment doubt that they would willingly and cheerfully do any duty which this House might throw upon them, yet we on our side must recollect we ought not to throw that duty on them unless some great and paramount reason can be shown for it. Certainly no reason has been shown—good, bad, or indifferent. But we can for ourselves form some estimate of the necessity under which the Government find themselves with regard to business. What is their necessity? The Government are bound in obedience to 1623 the law to see that a certain amount of Supply, the Supplementary Estimates, a Vote on Account, and certain Votes for the Army and Navy are passed through the House in sufficient time for the various stages of the Appropriation Bill to be dealt with here and elsewhere, so that all the financial business may be completed by March 31. That is the necessity, and, so far as I am aware, the sole necessity, under which the Government labour, and out of these circumstances arises, if it arises at all, the justification for this extraordinary course. If my recollection serves me right, we began to consider the Supplementary Estimates last Thursday. We had some other business that night. I do not recollect what, but the time was occupied almost until you, Sir, left the Chair at dinner-time; so that we had half a night on Thursday. Friday was an afternoon sitting, and we therefore had but a brief interval between a quarter or half-past 3 and the time when the House rises at 10 minutes to 7. On the third day we had the Navy Estimates, and on the fourth the Army Estimates, and that is absolutely the whole length of time up to the present period of the Session that we have been occupied in discussing Supply. Now, with regard to the Supplementary Estimates, the total number of hours given to Supply has been 18, and, to be very precise, 35 minutes. That is the precise time the Government have accorded to us for discussing the Estimates. Of that, as I say, only a part of one afternoon and part of one evening have been devoted to Supplementary Estimates. Can it be pretended for one moment that the discussions upon the Army or Navy Estimates have been unduly prolonged? Have they not even been curtailed more than perhaps is right from the point of view of a thorough discussion of some great questions brought before us? Upon the Navy Estimates one night was spent before you, Sir, left the Chair. During the whole of that discussion—a long and important discussion—a discussion which, I must remind the House, was carried on principally by hon. Members who support the Government, not one single syllable was said either about the condition of the Navy or about the naval policy of the Government. The time was occupied, and solely occupied, from the moment the Debate began until the 1624 moment it concluded with most important labour questions—questions which, while they had a great deal to do with labour, had nothing whatever to do with the Navy or the naval strength of this country. Perhaps unwisely, but with a full desire to help the Government with their business, we raised no objection to your leaving the Chair on Monday night. The result of that was that when we came to discuss the Vote before the Committee next day the Chairman by his ruling—no doubt, absolutely correctly—cut out various hon. Gentlemen on this side who had very important general questions to bring forward. So much for the discussion on the Navy Estimates. How about the Army Estimates? That discussion was not listened to by so full a House as I have now the honour of addressing, but every man who listened to that Debate, be his politics what they may, will admit that no Debate by more competent speakers, more full of solidly compacted matter, or more closely addressed to vital questions of military policy, was ever carried on in this House. Can it be said that the Debate was unduly prolonged? In one sense it was, because the Government, in deliberate violation of their pledges, and without any regard to their word, a course which, I confess, I never recollect any responsible Ministry being guilty of before, failed themselves to move the adjournment of the Debate soon after 12 o'clock. I do not wish to raise that point again. Whether the Government were or were not to blame in the matter, it will be admitted that a Debate more worthy of the dignity of the House and a Debate less open to a charge of obstruction never took place. I have now brought the proceedings in Supply up to the present moment. We have had 18 hours 35 minutes given to Supply, and now, with 10 days at least—so far as my calculation goes—separating us from the time when, in obedience to the law, the Government will have to close Supply, they ask us and the officers of the House to put ourselves to the inconvenience, and worse than inconvenience, of a Saturday Sitting. I call it worse than inconvenience for the reason that a Saturday Sitting, though a painful necessity towards the end of the Session, is never a good occasion on which to carry on a serious Debate. Plans are made by Members of this House long 1625 before, and are legitimately and properly made, which make it extremely inconvenient to them to be in their places on Saturday. The Government come down on Thursday afternoon, and then for the first time their intentions are made known. Under such circumstances, the House that meets on a Saturday is a thin House when most valuable Members are necessarily absent, and when it is impossible to carry on adequately the discussion of important questions with advantage. In these circumstances, it may well seem that the course which the Government are pursuing is an arbitrary attempt to coerce the minority wholly without explanation or justification. I should have thought that it never could have been the interest of any Government to bring themselves into collision so early, at all events, with the declared wish of a minority not contemptible in its numbers. I can only conjecture from what has dropped from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister that they are influenced in suggesting this astonishing course to us, not in the least by the desire to get through the Business of Supply within the legal term, not in the least with the view of carrying out those duties which we all admit are imposed upon us by the law in regard to financial questions, but simply and solely by the fact that they have committed themselves to the policy of reading the Home Rule Bill a second time before Easter. For that reason, and for no other, they are endeavouring to trample upon the liberties of the House of Commons. Well, Sir, every Government naturally and properly desires to get on with its business; I do not quarrel with them on that account; but they must surely be aware that if ever there was a measure on which the minority had a right to ask that full time should be given them and their constituents for consideration it is the Home Rule Bill. I doubt whether you will find any precedent of a measure of first-class importance and of a controversial character of which the Second Reading was really completed by the 26th or 27th of March. The British Constitution alone, among the Constitutions of the world, has amongst its provisions nothing to check rash changes and unwise experiments. Our Constitution alone is not protected by exceptional majorities, by 1626 plans requiring the assent of two-thirds or requiring a plébiscite, or by any other devices by which all other nations have guarded the essential principles of their Constitutions. I do not ask, at all events, at this moment for any alteration of that state of things, but I do say that it is required of those who are responsible for the government of the country, of those into whose guardianship for the moment is consigned this precious trust, to see that great changes are not rushed upon an unwilling people, and that great minorities in this House are not driven and coerced in the manner in which this Government is attempting to coerce us. Sir, even that does not exhaust the reasons which make it—I will not content myself with the word expedient—indecent for the Government to follow the course they are pursuing. I asked this afternoon, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Sir M. Hicks-Beach), when the blank Schedules in the Home Rule Bill will be filled up, and the answer I received was that one of them would be filled up on the day when the Bill was read a second time, and the other on some later and wholly unspecified day.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Well, what are these Schedules? They concern the future position of the Royal Irish Constabulary and the great Civil Service of Ireland, and are we going to be asked to-read the Bill a second time before we know what the Government propose with regard to these great Bodies? Do not the Government know that, in addition to all the other objections we have to this measure, in addition to all the great Constitutional objections which we have, we fear that it may result in the betrayal of those great services of the police and the Civil Service, to whom we are bound by every consideration of honour? And yet we are to be kept in ignorance of the way in which they are to be treated until the Bill has been read a second time. If anything could add to the outrageous proceedings of the Government it would surely be their laches in not giving us their full scheme. They do not know their own scheme themselves, and yet we are expected to be in a position to discuss it fully on the Second Reading. 1627 I cannot help still hoping when the Chancellor of the Exchequer recollects, in the first place, the hardship and inconvenience which will be inflicted on the Members and officials of this House by a Saturday Sitting; when he considers, in the second place, the very brief period hitherto devoted to Supply; and, in the third place, the difficulty which he himself will be placed in if he attempts to drive the Second Reading down our throats, he will pause in the career he apparently is bent upon. He perhaps has not fully realised the position in which he and his Party stand. He represents a majority of this House; he represents a minority of Great Britain. I can tell him, as far as I am justified in speaking for the majority of Great Britain, that in the case of a Bill which so vitally affects our interests, we shall not allow ourselves to be coerced by any majority of the House.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not think it is necessary that I should reply to the separatist arguments of the right hon. Gentleman. This classification of majorities and minorities, according to their geographical position, was I understood one of the things which he most loudly condemned. However, I pass that by. I am not at all prepared to deny that the proposal we make imposes a great strain on the House. I do not deny, on the contrary I assert, that it imposes a great hardship on the House, and on the officers of the House; but what this House has to consider, and what the country has to consider, is the call which is made upon us, and at whose door lies the responsibility. [Ministerial cheers and counter cheers from the Opposition.] I am very glad that the challenge is taken up. That is exactly the issue we desire to put forward. The right hon. Gentleman, with a skilful innocence, made a speech which would imply that everybody was ignorant of what had been taking place in this House—I may say, without desiring to be guilty of any breach of confidence, what has been taking place out of the House. The right hon. Gentleman said that plans are made by hon. Members. Yes; plans have been made by hon. Members, and they have transpired, and I think everybody is aware of them. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the declared wishes of the minority. We 1628 know what the declared wishes of the minority are; that they shall occupy the time of the House in a manner which shall prevent certain measures coming under the consideration of the House. Those are the plans which have been made by hon. Members opposite; those are the declared wishes of the minority, and the question for the House to determine is whether the majority of this House are going to allow those plans and declared wishes of the minority to overcome the majority of this House. The right hon. Gentleman spoke with great fervour and great warmth of the "monstrous" proposal of the Government to give so short an interval between the First and Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill as that proposed by the Prime Minister. Now, while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, I ascertained—I believe accurately—what took place in the year 1886. The figures given to me are, I think, important and instructive on this point. In the year 1886 Home Rule was a new question—a new question to the House, and still more a new question to the country. Since that time it has been more or less—I do not say in all its details [Opposition laughter]—I do not see what reason hon. Gentlemen find for hilarity. I always thought that details were for Committee. I was going to add that the question of the principle of Home Rule has been under the consideration of the country for seven years. In 1886 I am informed the Bill was laid on the Table on the 13th of April, and the Debate on the Second Reading commenced on the 10th of May.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Well, it seems to me that argument is against the right hon. Gentleman. However, if I may be allowed to continue what I was going to say, without any objection whatever from the opponents of Home Rule, with the support, I imagine, of gentlemen who at that time dissented from the Liberal Party, the Second Reading Debate commenced. Well, what is the proposal now? The corresponding period was February 17th this year, and the day when the Prime Minister proposes to take the Second Reading of his present Bill is March 16th, which gives either exactly the same, or a little more than the 1629 interval given in 1886. Now, is that a proposal so unreasonable and so monstrous as the right hon. Gentleman suggests? In my opinion, the whole of that part of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman falls to the ground. [Opposition laughter.] That is an arithmetical proposition which it is impossible to deny or, I should have thought, to deride. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about the time that has been occupied, and that it is proposed to occupy, in Supply, and has referred to the Debate last night on the Army Estimates in terms in regard to which I join issue with him. He made a charge that ought not to be made without much stronger reasons than he could allege—namely, that there was a breach of faith. What are the facts? It was stated, when the Twelve o'Clock Rule was suspended, that this would not be used for a protracted Sitting. What was in contemplation was exactly what had taken place on the Navy Estimates the night before—namely, that we should go on till about half-past 12. Some interesting speeches of great importance extended rather longer than were expected, and as a matter of fact the Debate, instead of concluding at half-past 12, continued until a quarter to 1. Those, Sir, are the facts upon which the right hon. Gentleman founds a charge of the most serious character—namely, that of our having broken faith with the House of Commons. I strongly repudiate the charge. The right hon. Gentleman has complained of the short time that has been given, and is intended to be given, to Supply. He says there are 10 days more whieh may be given to that subject. Why are 10 days more to be given to Supply?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is no necessity whatever to give 10 days further time to Supply except to carry out those plans to which I have alluded and to fulfil the declared wishes of the minority. Now let us see what were the number of days given to Supply in the presence of that factious Opposition which has now become a majority, and with a Government in power to which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will admit every consideration was extended during 1630 the last Parliament. [Opposition cries of "Oh!"]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Well, let us see whether it was an inconsiderate Opposition. These are the whole number of days which were given to Supply before Easter in the years I will name:—In 1887 there were nine days; in 1888, four days; in 1889, nine days; in 1890, six days; in 1891, seven days; and in 1892, ten days, which was the highest number recorded.
§ MR. JACKSON
Those figures do not include February. The right hon. Gentleman has only got the number of days in the month of March. He will, I think, find that those numbers are not in accordance with the figures presented to the House as to the number of days occupied in Supply.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
No, they give the number of days given to the Supplementary Votes and Excess Votes. ["Oh!"] Well, that is the very point. We must compare like with like. I am not speaking of the Estimates for next year, but of those that must be taken before Easter. If you wish to compare something else, do it by all means; but I am comparing the Votes which are in question, the Supplementary and Excess Votes, the first Army Vote for the year, the first Navy Vote for the year, and the Civil Service Vote on Account. Well, what is the present situation? We have already devoted six days to Supply—from February 25 to March 9—four days in Supply, and two days on going into Supply. ["No, no!"] Really hon. Members should allow me to speak. They can reply to me if they wish later on. We had, I say, four days in Supply and two days going into it. We propose, taking into account the date my right hon. Friend has mentioned for the Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill, to give at least 10, or it may be 12, days to the same purpose for which in former years the number has been given which I have quoted. There is no reason why more days should be given to this 1631 purpose on the present occasion than have been given in the last six years. We know what the reason is according to the Opposition. It is one which the right hon. Gentleman took care not to state. Nobody can say that there is anything in these Estimates which require a longer time than in previous periods. You have had two days' Debate on the Naval Estimates, and they are not concluded yet. Everybody knows why you want so much time to discuss the Estimates this year. Everybody knows that the object is a very different one, and we object to the right hon. Gentleman laying deliberate plans to prevent the progress of Business in this House. I have endeavoured to state the matter fairly. We have given the maximum time for Supply, and we consider it ample for the purpose. That is an answer to the points brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman. All this pretence of discussing the Estimates is a pretence that deceives nobody. The right hon. Gentleman has said that his Party have a powerful minority. I do not deny that. What we object to is that this powerful minority should lay down deliberate plans to delay the Business of the House. In our opinion the duty of a majority in the House towards that majority in the country which it represents is to use such measures as are absolutely necessary to defeat these tactics. We believe that it is of immense interest to Parliament and to the country that this great issue of Home Rule should be joined at the earliest period, and we believe there will be abundance of time for bringing this matter under the consideration of Parliament and of the country, and great as the inconvenience may be, and great as is the sacrifice—and I admit it is a sacrifice—which we are asking not only from gentlemen opposite, but from gentlemen who support us, we ask them to assist us in forwarding the Business of the country against what we can only regard as a deliberate attempt to delay it.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
The House is indebted very much to my right hon. Friend for the clearness with which he has put the issue before it. This miserable minority of 315 knows what is in store for it if the Government have their way. My right hon. Friend commenced with a statement in which I 1632 am very glad to be able to agree with him, that the proposal of the Government would put an immense strain upon the House and its officials, and would be the cause of hardship. I should have thought that under those circumstances my right hon. Friend would have felt that, before putting that strain upon the House, he would have to show some great emergency. Where is the great emergency? We have spent a few days in Supply, and, as has been said, there is ample time before the legal period by which Supply must be granted to carry the remaining Votes in Supply, and my right hon. Friend, I suppose, will not tell the House that he or his colleagues are in any fear that we should interpose to prevent the fulfilment of those legal obligations. Up to the present time it is impossible for him or anyone to say there has been any undue discussion on the Estimates. Why we are penalised is not for anything we have done, but for an offence which my right hon. Friend attributes to us an intention of committing. He has found in the newspapers, apparently, reports of plans which have caused him to produce this Coercive Resolution. I should have thought my right hon. Friend by this time would not have been inclined to pay too much attention to newspaper reports. We also have seen newspaper reports. We have seen it stated that my right hon. Friend proposes to do away altogether with the Easter holidays, and we have seen another report that he and his Colleagues propose to carry over Supply beyond the legal period, and then to seek for an indemnity from Parliament. We have not thought it worth while—we have not thought it dignified—to pay any attention to these reports and rumours, and I think my right hon. Friend might have waited, at all events, until he had some evidences of these intentions which he now attributes to us. The right hon. Gentleman has laid before the House an account of the number of days which on previous occasions were occupied in Supply. I believe the right hon. Gentleman is misinformed, and that, omitting the year 1890, which was exceptional, the average gives us over eight days for the past five years. Up to the present time we have spent only 18 hours in Supply. Would it not be better to wait until we have got somewhat nearer the average of eight days, which he 1633 admits to be a perfectly reasonable time, before proposing such a Resolution as the one which is under consideration? My right hon. Friend says that a great deal of time has been spent upon the Naval Estimates. I believe the average time spent upon the Naval Votes in previous years has been two days.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
One day! Then the average has been one day for the Naval Estimates; and on all those occasions the time has been entirely occupied in the discussion of naval policy. So that in dealing with the Naval Estimates, we must bear in mind the exceptional circumstances which have occupied one of the days attributed to this Vote in the discussion of a matter which has nothing to do with the naval policy. What time has been taken on past occasions upon the Army Estimates? I believe three days have been given to the first Votes in the Army Estimates. Will anyone say that up to the present time one single question has been introduced to the attention of the House in regard to the Naval Estimates which was not worthy the attention of the House? My right hon. Friend, with the most childlike ingenuousness, asked what is there in the Supplementary Estimates which will justify any long discussion. The Government have been in possession of power for seven months. We have had absolutely no opportunity of questioning them or criticising them, or of calling them to account, and now, when we have an opportunity of raising questions of such vital importance as, for instance, that of the Evicted Tenants Commission or the expedition to Uganda, and other matters which are raised by the Supplementary Estimates, does my right hon. Friend pretend to tell us that we cannot raise these questions without laying ourselves open to the charge of a deliberate intention to delay the proper business of the Government? There is not the slightest pretence, up to the present time at any rate, for saying that the Opposition have shown that intention in criticising the Estimates, and nothing but the growing intolerance of the majority who, having given up coercing Ireland, have taken up in its place the idea of coercing the 1634 minority of this House—nothing, I say, but their intolerance would justify any such insinuation. But the right hon. Gentleman says we must go behind the time spent upon the Estimates. We are not to consider, apparently—that is the position of a Member of the Government—whether any matter arising out of the Estimates or whether the discussions which we raise are worthy the attention of this House. We take only into account the evident fact that it is our desire, and therefore our intention as far as we have the power, to prevent the Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill before Easter. The right hon. Gentleman made great pretence of exposing this plot—this conspiracy. Why, his exposure was not necessary. We are, none of us, ashamed to avow openly in this House that we think it a most discreditable and most outrageous proceeding on the part of the Government to take a Bill of this kind, brought in under the circumstances in which it has been introduced to the House and the country, before Easter, and before we can have the opportunity which we desire of conferring with our constituents upon the matter. The right hon. Gentleman goes back to 1886, when, as he says, the First Reading was taken on the 8th of March, and the Second Reading on the 10th of April. Yes; but he omitted to say that in the interval the Easter holidays, nearly a fortnight, took place, and that in that interval many Members of the House had most valuable opportunities of conferring with their constituents; and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten that the result was materially affected by these opportunities. We claim in the first place our Constitutional right to discuss the Estimates at reasonable length, and to deal with all questions which are worthy of the attention of the House, and we are not going to be curtailed in our rights even by the most arbitrary Government that has ever sat upon those Benches. And, further, we claim by this Debate and by many others of the same kind—to which, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman looks forward with pleasure and satisfaction—we claim to show to the country that it is the avowed intention of the Government to rush through this Bill, which would be rejected by the good sense of the people if they had time for considering its provisions.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has submitted a very extraordinary doctrine to the Government. It is that they should shut the stable door after the steed is stolen. We read the other day in The Times, which I presume is the official organ of the Opposition, a full report of the meeting which had taken place at the Carlton Club. We read there that the Tory Party were brought together and urged to obstruct as much as they possibly could. What has now occurred? Why, a Liberal Unionist is put up to say it cannot be true, because he was not there. No doubt when there is a Liberal Unionist meeting reported, some Conservative will be put up to say that as he was not there it cannot be correct. The right hon. Gentleman says there was to be no obstruction upon the Supplementary Estimates. I know something about obstruction. I have felt it my duty sometimes to—it might, invidiously, be called—obstruct the action of the late Government when I thought they were rushing the country over a precipice. I declare, having a knowledge of the matter, that there has been obstruction upon the Estimates already. I am bound to tell right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen of the Unionist persuasion that I never yet saw obstruction so badly and so inartistically practised. Why, we had two hours with the Chairman of Committees in the Chair, about the place where the new bar was to be put outside in the Lobby. The artistic way would have been to have put up some gentleman to protest against there being any bar at all, and to have raised a discussion on the whole question of temperance. You must manage—and I tell you in the most friendly way—you must manage to be plausible and to get some principle underlying your obstruction. But, as I have said, you have done it in the most inartistic fashion. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has frankly admitted that he and his friends intend to obstruct to the utmost of their power the Home Rule Bill—that they feel it their duty to do so, and that they are doing so at the present moment.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to misrepresent me. I did not say anything of the kind. I said we should do our utmost to pre- 1636 vent the Second Reading being taken before Easter.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
And the right hon. Gentleman has been "doing his utmost." We only differ about the word obstruction. What I call obstruction the right hon. Gentleman calls "doing his utmost." I would point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he has treated the Leader of the Opposition far too seriously. The Leader of the Opposition used all the stock phrases that have been used again and again upon questions of this kind. I could not put them so eloquently as the right hon. Gentleman, but there was not a single word that the right hon. Gentleman said that I have not said a dozen times in past years. The right hon. Gentleman said it was true that you might take Saturdays at a later period, but it was perfectly monstrous to take them at this early period of the Session. And when summer comes the right hon. Gentleman will say—" You might have taken them at a time when we could not go to the country: if you had taken them at an early period of the Session we would not have complained." I have done it myself; I have done it before Easter. Yes; and I have done it after Easter. Then the right hon. Gentleman said the action of the Government was indecent. I have told the right hon. Gentleman himself that the action of his Government was indecent. The right hon. Gentleman said he was not going to be trampled upon. I have said that often; I have said I was not going to be trampled upon. I have said that a crushed worm would turn. But I got no benefit from any of these phrases. I was simply trampled upon. The thing is as clear as possible. It is admitted that there will be fair and reasonable time for the Estimates, and hon. Gentlemen are making this opposition simply and solely because they do not wish the Home Rule Bill to come on before Easter. We on our side think this is precisely the best time for the Home Rule Bill. We desire that no further time should be wasted, and that the Home Rule Bill should not perpetually stand in the way of every other business. Therefore we hope and we are determined that the Home Rule Bill will not only come on, but will be carried, before Easter. As for Saturday, there is nothing sacred about Saturday. Why are you not to sit on Saturday? We have heard of the classical story of 1637 the Roman sentinel dying in his place. All we wish hon. Members to do is to sit in their places. What right hon. Gentlemen ought to remember is that the business of Members of Parliament is to do the business of Parliament. We have got certain business to do. We have to carry through the Supplementary Estimates and to carry Home Rule—and, what is more, we mean to do it. If it is necessary, we will agree to sit every night until 4 in the morning; and if by that means we cannot pass the Bill before Easter we will do without any holidays at Easter at all. The right hon. Gentleman, when he talks of the rights and privileges of minorities, must remember that he is no longer what he was for six years—the head of a majority. He is in a minority; we are in a majority, and we mean to have our own way.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
rose amidst cries of "Divide!" I take the earliest opportunity, Mr. Speaker, of drawing your attention to the fact that there is an organized attempt being made to stifle Debate in this House. [Renewed cries of "Divide!"] I think we are entitled, notwithstanding these disorderly interruptions, to which I certainly do not intend to submit—[Renewed cries of "Divide!"] If an attempt is made to repeat these disorderly interruptions I shall move that this House do now adjourn. I think we are entitled upon this occasion, when the Government are asking for special facilities and additional time, to consider how the facilities and the time they have already had at their disposal have been spent by them. The hon. Member for Northampton boldly argues in favour not only of a Saturday Sitting, but of a Sunday Sitting—for he says he is in favour of Sitting all night, to 5 o'clock in the morning. That is a proposal which he makes upon his own responsibility, and which the House is quite capable of discussing and considering. With regard to the immediate proposal before the House, I would ask the House to consider what claim the Government had to make this demand. The Chancellor of the Exchequer began by giving an account of an arduous night devoted to Supply on February 20 of this year. The discussion on that night, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes credit to himself for having afforded the House, 1638 to discuss the Estimates in Supply, in point of fact occupied about three-quarters of a minute for it, and consisted simply of a Motion by the Prime Minister that Mr. Mellor do pro formâ take the Chair. That, Sir, is a sample of Ministerial accuracy. I am bound to say that upon that occasion the business of the Government was gone through with expedition and with the unanimous concurrence of the House, and so I have nothing more to say about the 20th of February. But how did we spend the other days? The first day that Supply was legitimately before the House was on a Thursday. The business of the House did not admit of the Order being reached that day until about half-past 7 o'clock. In a very few minutes after that time the customary suspension of business for the dinner half-hour took place, and within a few minutes after its termination an hon. Gentleman who was in Committee of Supply for the first time, and who had never before seen the House engaged in the duty of voting the Estimates, moved that the Question be now put. Needless to say that the Chairman took no notice of that interruption. The discussion had scarcely proceeded many minutes more before the same hon. Gentleman, who was engaged for the first time in his life in assisting in Committee of Supply, again moved that the Question be now put. Very shortly afterwards, another hon. Member, who was likewise engaged for the first time in his life in assisting in Committee of Supply, got up and articulated a point of Order. Was there anything like it heard before in the world? In the nursery it would be called precocity. At school a harsher term would be applied to it. Here we have the time of the House occupied by supporters of the Government in raising frivolous and absolutely absurd points of so-called Order—order being a commodity of which they had no knowledge whatever. But that is not the worst of what occurred. In the course of the next Sitting in Supply a very important Vote arose involving a question of policy which required an explanation from the Head of the Irish Department. I do not see the Chief Secretary at this moment in his place. He was there a few minutes ago, and I dare say before we have much further 1639 proceeded he will likewise be in his place again. An answer was indispensable, but the representative of the Government in the House at the time—a most courteous representative of the Government, my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury (Sir J. Hibbert), could not, naturally—for it was not within his power or capacity—state what was the future Irish policy of the Government. It became necessary to make a Motion that the Chairman do report Progress in order to get the Chief Secretary in his place. When the right hon. Gentleman arrived I put a question to him, as I had a perfect right to do, regarding a very important portion of the policy of his Department, and the right hon. Gentleman very curtly declined to reply. Well, that was the right hon. Gentleman's own affair and not mine, and I do not urge it as a personal grievance. But what followed when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) rose to complain of his want of courtesy? The right hon. Gentleman put up his own private secretary to move the closure. Of course, I assume that the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the action of his private secretary. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to deny that, but am I to understand that the Chief Secretary for Ireland has no more control over his own private secretary than he has over his own temper? [Cries of "Order!" and "Withdraw!"]
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
Of course, Sir, I withdraw the remark to which you object. But am I to understand that the Chief Secretary has no influence over his own private secretary?
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
The right hon. Gentleman and I are at issue on a question of fact. If he refers to The Times newspaper of the following day he will find that the private secretary to the Chief Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland—[At this point the Chief Secretary for Ireland returned to the House.] I see the right hon. Gentleman now in his place, and I will repeat what I have said. I was saying 1640 that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham rose to speak, my hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside Division (Mr. Joseph A. Pease), the very efficient and able private secretary of the right hon. Gentleman, moved that the Question be now put.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
But are we to understand that the right hon. Gentleman has so little influence on the hon. Member who sits behind him, and who occupies so confidential a position as his private secretary—
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
I tell the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this is the Question.
Mr. Hugh Hoare rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
This is an apt illustration of what I have been pointing out to the House, that our proceedings are being continually interrupted by supporters of the Government, one of whom, as I have mentioned, acts in very confidential relations with the Chief Secretary—a personal friend of mine, and a most efficient private secretary—our proceedings, as I have said, are interrupted by those hon. Members making Motions which are not calculated to advance the business of the House. I may also remark that that very same hon. Gentleman tried immediately afterwards, to the great amusement of the Committee, actually to cloture the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I say, Sir, that attempts to curtail the freedom of debate are not calculated to advance the progress of Public Business in this House. Those of us who object to the time of the House being spent in such a manner have a right to point out that meeting arguments advanced in a regular manner against the most irregular action of the Government by interruptions, articulate or inarticulate, are not creditable to the House of Commons. Now what is the case with regard to the Saturday Sitting? The hon. Member for Northampton has said, with perfect truth, 1641 that whether the Saturday Sitting be asked for in March or in any other month, the principle is the same. With certain reservations I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Northampton. Whether the proposal is made in March, April, May, or June, it is equally open to objection. But what I contend is that the House has; never in the past been asked to sit on a Saturday except for the purpose of dealing with some great public emergency, when time was an essential element. I do not deny that I have known of a Saturday Sitting even as early as this. I recollect that the first subject of great importance I ever heard debated in this House was on a Saturday, and on the 17th of February, It was a proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman himself (Mr. Gladstone) in 1866, which proposal received the almost unanimous assent of the House—-to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland. Nobody took exception to the extraordinary proceeding of a Saturday Sitting on a matter of that great emergency. ["Hear, hear!"] The Chancellor of the Exchequer says "hear, hear!" Nobody has alleged that if the interest of the State required it, or if it is required by the Government in order to comply with the law, that there should not be a Saturday Sitting. But we contend that there is ample time otherwise to dispose of the actual legitimate business of Supply, and that there is full opportunity of considering Government measures that can fairly be proposed to the House of Commons. I think we have a right to point out that whatever pressure may exist with regard to public business has been solely and entirely caused by the manner in which Business has hitherto been conducted by the Government and by disorderly interruptions of their own followers.
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
said, it was generally to be observed that when a Government made use of its majority —which in this case appeared to be tyrannical in reverse proportion to its smallness—to override the rights of the House—and surely one of the first of the rights of the House was to discuss its ordinary Business on ordinary days and during ordinary hours—it was usual for the Government to point at the occupants of the Opposition Benches, and 1642 say, "You did exactly the same thing when you were in Office." It was a little suspicious that the Government were unable to do that to-day; and it was especially suspicious that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was fond of using tu quoque arguments of the kind, was unable to say anything of that nature. It was impossible for the Government to quote any precedent for the Motion before the House, for two reasons: first, because there never had been a Government which held Saturday Sittings so early in the Session, and there never had been a Government, in recent years at least, which, having taken Saturday Sittings, did not apply to these' Sittings the Rules which governed Wednesday Sittings. The hon. Member for Southampton had asked what was there in Saturday to make it any different to the House of Commons from any other day in the week. But there were reasons which made Saturday to the House of Commons very different to other days in the week. Saturday came when the House was fagged after a hard week's work, and it was a holiday to which the House always looked. The fact that a distinct Motion had to be passed to obtain a Saturday Sitting showed that it was an unusual course for the House to sit on Saturday. Saturday was also the longest day on which the House could sit. The House might meet at 12 noon, and sit beyond midnight, for the Twelve o'clock Rule did not apply, so that the Prime Minister would obtain, if his Motion were carried, not only a Saturday Sitting but Sunday Sitting as well. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to at least follow the usual precedent and limit the Sitting to 6 o'clock, as on Wednesdays. He found that since 1886, whenever the House sat on Saturday it had always sat under the Wednesday Rules. Such a proposal as that before the House had never been made by the late Government. The House sat on Saturday, 6th August, 1887, from 12 to 5.45 o'clock; on Saturday, 13th August, 1887, from 12 to 6 o'clock; on Saturday, 20th August, 1887, from 12 to 6 o'clock. All these Sittings were late in the Session, when business was pressing and had to be got through. On Saturday, the 11th August, 1888, the House sat from 12 to 5.30 o'clock, and debate a Motion for the adjournment of the House during the whole of that time. 1643 There were several other instances of the House sitting on Saturdays from 12 to 6 o'clock. Saturday, the 9th August, 1890, was the only occasion on which the House did not sit under the Wednesday Rules, but that was by the general consent of the House, and simply and solely in order that the Prorogation might take place as soon as possible. There was, therefore, absolutely no precedent for this most arbitrary proposal of the Government. And really, after all, what would the Leader of the House gain by his Motion? He had mentioned a case in which the House sat on a Saturday from 12 to 6, when the followers of the right hon. Gentleman, then in Opposition, used the whole time in a discussion on the adjournment of the House. They were not likely to follow that bad example, though the temptation to do so was much greater, for here the Motion was not to sit from 12 to 6, but from 12 to Sunday morning. The late Government had always treated the Opposition fairly, because all their Saturday Sittings were under the Wednesday Rules, but the present Government was not treating the Opposition fairly in that respect, and therefore the temptation to take up the time of the House with discussions was all the greater. What was the sole and only justification for this Motion? Could there be even a suggestion that it was due to any purposeless, needless, or unfair discussion of the Estimates. So far from the Opposition being properly charged with obstruction, all the obstruction was really done by the other side. The object of this Saturday Sitting was to get through the Estimates in order to bring forward the Home Rule Bill; and that really meant that under the plea of time being wanted to debate the Home Rule Bill they were not to be allowed proper time to discuss the Estimates. The House should remember that there never had been such Supplementary Estimates before it for many years. They had Army Estimates, which were totally in opposition to the Army Estimates of previous years. During recent years their discussions on the Navy Estimates had been governed by the Naval Defence Act. Now they had to discuss a new policy—they had to discuss the abandonment of the old policy, which had had years before it, and to discuss a new makeshift policy, to last only one 1644 year. In the Supplementary Estimates they had not only to discuss the subject of Uganda, but to discuss the Vote for the Evicted Tenants Commission, which the right hon. Gentleman thought of such importance that he had set a whole day apart for it. Then they had the charges for the Law Officers of the Crown, which involved new principles, and a breach of faith on the part of the Government. If there had been anything clearly understood it was that the Law Officers should have no private practice; and in addition to that breach of faith, a new Department had been set up, and it was proposed to make the salaries of that Department go back over the seven months during which the Government had been in power. If the right hon. Gentleman, under the plea of debating the Home Rule Bill, prevented them from discussing the Estimates, he would do so in defiance of the law, for the law required the right hon. Gentleman to get the Supplementary Estimates and Votes on Account by a certain time. Did the right hon. Gentleman suppose he would get the Supplementary Estimates and the Votes on Account by Thursday? But if he did not get them, and if he brought forward the Home Rule Bill on that day, and went on with it day after day, how was he going to comply with the law in regard to the financial arrangements? They objected to the discussions on the Estimates being curtailed for the Home Rule Bill; they desired to have that Bill freely and completely discussed by their constituents at Easter, after it had been kept secret from them for seven years. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman, in bringing forward this Motion, was the real obstructor, and was also going against all precedents of the House, and, in order to bind the right hon. Gentleman to follow the precedents set in regard to Saturday Sittings, he begged to move his Resolution.
Mr. Owen rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.1645
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is a new Member, but he must be aware that this Question was moved only a quarter of an hour ago.
§ MAJOR RASCH
said he failed to see why the Government should accept the proposal of the hon. Member for Preston. The Government could not complain of the length of the Debates. Last night they had had on the Army Vote a most important question briefly discussed. The same thing had occurred on the Navy Votes. He represented a maritime constituency, and the men who had sent him to the House of Commons wished, through him, to lay certain grievances before the Admiralty. But so anxious was he to facilitate business that he did not intervene in the discussion. What was his reward? They were kept there until 2 o'clock, and even when they got a Saturday Sitting they were deprived of any advantage from it. He begged to second the Amendment.
After the word "To-morrow," to insert the words "subject to the Standing Orders which regulate the Sittings of the House on Wednesday."—(Mr. Hanbary.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
did not rise so much for the purpose of debating this question of a Saturday Sitting as to ask the Prime Minister what he really expected to gain by a proceeding of this kind. The right hon. Gentleman was the oldest Member of the House, and he must know that any attempt to ride rough-shod over a minority, and especially a minority of the character of the present minority, ended in disaster to those who attempted it. He (Mr. Russell) had been in the House for six or seven years, and he never yet saw any good whatever arise out of these all-night Sittings, or these extraordinary Sittings for special purposes. They had been told by the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) that there had been obstruction on the Estimates. Now, the simple matter of fact regarding the Estimates amounted to this: that up to the present there had been four Sittings 1646 —and not full Sittings—devoted to these Estimates, the time occupied being only 18½ hours upon the Supplementary and Army and Navy Estimates, and because of the expenditure of such a limited time as that the right hon. Gentleman, after having suspended the Twelve o'clock Rule on five different occasions, after having already had one Saturday Sitting, proposed now to take another, and they had hon. Members coming to the House and absolutely requesting the Minister to put a gag on the House and close the Home Rule Debate after three days' discussion.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is my duty to point out that by the Amendment before the House, the question is limited to whether, if the House sits to-morrow, it shall be for an unlimited time, or whether it shall be under the provisions regulating a Wednesday's Sitting.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, that if the Sitting were to be so limited his argument as to the utility of the Sitting became stronger than ever, because if hon. Members belonging to the Opposition were animated by the spirit which their opponents declared they were—and which he did not believe—then nothing was simpler and easier than to make the Sitting a nullity. The hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Conybeare) said that the closure was available, but he did not think that any Member contending for legitimate discussion of the Estimates could fairly be closured by the House. All he could say as regarded the Supplemental Estimates was that, whether they were discussed at the Saturday Sitting or not, he intended, so far as he was concerned, on the Irish Estimates to exercise his right to the fullest extent to legitimately discuss them.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I should like to say one word on the special Amendment before the House. I presume the Prime Minister will not accept the Amendment, because it is clear if the Amendment were accepted, if the Opposition were animated by the feelings which the Chancellor of the Exchequer attributed to them, the object in view might be defeated by its operation. If you have a fixed term at which a discussion must come to a conclusion it would be quite easy by many processes to prevent any Vote from being taken. I remember a Saturday Sitting of which 1647 the whole time was occupied by a Motion for Adjournment made by the hon. Member for Northampton, so that it did not come to the real question for which the Sitting was appointed. The Prime Minister, however, might I think say a few words which might have an effect, not merely on the present Amendment, but on the attitude of the House towards the proposition itself, with reference to sitting late to-morrow. I do not wish him to lay down any fixed rule or limit as to the Sitting, but if the right hon. Gentleman were to give some intimation as to the amount of work which he expects from the House to-morrow— if he would indicate the number and character of the Votes which he desired the House to agree to—we might then come to some understanding which would not expose us to the chance of an unlimited Sitting, and might at the same time act as a sort of stimulus to hon. Members to condense the Debate as much as possible. With a view, then, to expediting business and coming to some practical agreement, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to state the amount of work he expects from the Committee to-morrow, and such an intimation might obviate the necessity of dividing on the present Amendment.
§ MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
said, he thought they had a right to complain that subjects in which English Members took a lively interest should be discussed at the late hours of the very last day of the week. It was bad enough that they should be asked to sit on Saturday at all, but surely it was only reasonable that if they did undertake that additional burden the Government should not prolong the Sitting to the very extreme limit. It was not very long since in that House they listened to a most eloquent profession of respect and almost of reverence for the political equality of all the Members of that House. That profession came from the Prime Minister, but was he carrying that profession into effect? The right hon. Gentleman said they were all to be politically equal without distinction of rank or talent or any other distinction, but he must have made a mental reservation. He must have ignored the distinction of race, for it appeared that every English Member of that House was not to be allowed the liberties or facilities which were accorded 1648 to those who sat for constituencies in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The only reason for this demand was that measures affecting Ireland and Wales had been given a place to which they were not entitled on any just estimate of their claim. No appeal had been made in this matter to their reason or courtesy; they had been treated with indifference and contempt. [Ministerial cries of "Order!"] That was so. The English Members had not been treated with courtesy during that Debate. They had been threatened with the closure, and Ministers declined to reply to just and fair arguments. If he made this protest he did so knowing that he, at any rate, had not trespassed upon the indulgence of the House during the Session, but he had felt that he, as a Member sitting for an English constituency, had a right to protest against the neglect of all English interests by the Government, and to protest especially against English interests being discussed at the fag-end of the week, and every advantage being accorded the interests of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I do not rise, Sir, to join in the general Debate within the limits you have properly laid down for the discussion of the Amendment. One remark I wish to make in answer to the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, because I should feel very deeply hurt indeed if I felt within myself there was any foundation for his charge that we—I mean the Government—who are under special responsibilities, have not treated English Members—that is to say, three-fourths of the whole of the House—with courtesy. The prime and capital article of the creed of courtesy is to exercise patience and self-restraint, and to abstain from offensive imputations. Speaking for myself, I have felt a necessity for exercising some of that self-restraint. I may appeal to every hon. Gentleman who hears me, and I believe I may say the same of my colleagues, that we have not used a single word of imputation with regard to motives. That is the principle on which I have acted, and on which I shall continue to act. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bodmin Division wishes to know what is our special object in the demand we now make on the House. I may say that I did declare in an early part of the evening that there would be 1649 no attempt or effort to encroach on the day of rest. But independently of that, my right hon. Friend wishes to know what is our special object in the demand we have made to-morrow on the grounds of the interest of the Public Service and the best arrangements of Public Business. Our main object, I might almost say our sole object, is to dispose of the Army and Navy Votes. Then I think there are some non-contentious Votes on the Supplemental Estimates which we shall be glad to take, but we do not propose to make any serious demands on the time of the House with regard to them.
§ MR. COURTNEY
Then I understand my right hon. Friend proposes to take the first Vote of the Army and Navy Estimates and any non-contentious Vote?
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman wishes to show all personal courtesy to the House and every hon. Member of the House, but from the Parliamentary point of view I do not think that the House has been treated with courtesy during this Debate. No Minister has submitted grounds for a Saturday Sitting at all. The right hon. Gentleman was necessarily absent during the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not even lay the foundation for a Saturday Sitting, much less for a Saturday Sitting prolonged beyond 6 o'clock. We have nothing before us except that these extraordinary measures are necessary on the dictatorial ipse dixit of the Government, and on nothing else. We have not been informed why these extraordinary measures are necessary. The Chancellor of the Exchequer dwelt for a moment upon some newspaper report be had seen, but I challenge the right hon. Gentleman or his colleagues to show in all the history of Parliament that a Saturday Sitting has ever been asked for without a statement of the motives for such a Sitting. While I acquit the right hon. Gentleman of discourtesy, I say that the Parliamentary minority have not been treated accord- 1650 ing to the traditions of the House. Seeing that this is an invasion of all Parliamentary practice, and that not an attempt has been made to prove that it is in accordance with Parliamentary practice, we-have a right to ask—Is this to be a precedent for the future that Saturday Sittings are to be prolonged until midnight because Her Majesty's Government desire to see a Bill, not urgent, passed by a particular day? Why in some future Session should not a Bill equally dear to the right hon. Gentleman be put in the same position? Is not this, therefore, a breach of Parliamentary practice and Parliamentary privilege? Surely it would have been decorous for Her Majesty's Government to lay some foundation for this course. We are obliged to contend—for there can be no other view of the matter—that Her Majesty's Government are so determined not to allow the Easter Recess to intervene before the Second Reading of the Bill that they are ready to put you, Sir, to the inconvenience, and the whole. House to the inconvenience, of a Saturday Sitting lest the country during the Easter Recess should have an opportunity, which it has not had as yet, of pronouncing an opinion on the Home Rule Bill before the House is asked to give it a Second Reading. We are asked to have a Saturday Sitting in order to take this. Bill on Thursday next, even though the Schedules are not printed, and although important questions on the measure have failed to elicit any information from the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The connection between the two I was showing is. this:—That we are to sit not only to 6 o'clock, but to any hour of the night— till 12 o'clock—in order to compass the object which I have attempted to describe; but, of course, after your ruling,. Sir, I will say no more on that point, but will address myself to the particular point which the right hon. Gentleman rose to inform us of. He did not give us any reason why we are to tit till 12 o'clock; he abstained entirely from any arguments, but he told us that on Saturday we are to conclude—sitting to any hour —the Army, Navy, and Supplementary Estimates. Does the right hon. Gentle 1651 man know how long we have discussed the Navy Estimates formerly, and does he think, the Speaker not yet being out of the Chair, that both they and the Army Estimates could fairly be taken on a Saturday? Is the course he proposes just to this House or conducive to the service of the country? Is it just that these Estimates should be taken on a Saturday at hours which the right hon. Gentleman knows are inconvenient to everybody in the House? It is as utterly unreasonable as it is unprecedented, but the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters is well shown by the idea that it is totally unnecessary for Army or Navy men to speak on the Army or Navy Estimates at all. I venture to submit that if the right hon. Gentleman by means of his majority gets us to sit on Saturday, it is quite unreasonable to expect that the discussion on these Votes shall be concluded before we are released from our labours for the night. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider the decision at which he has arrived, for I am sure it will not further the business of the House if he insists on this course.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
Sir, I feel in great difficulty because I am unwilling to strain any point, but to follow the ruling which you, Sir, have just laid down. I have, no doubt, misunderstood it, but I understood the right hon. Gentleman to discuss on this Amendment the whole question of the sitting on a Saturday, and to call for a justification for such a course. He says that "the Government have not shown any necessity for a Saturday Sitting except their own dictatorial ipse dixit" Is it not an elementary duty of this Government, and of every Government, to form the best estimate they can as to the arrangement of Public Business, and likewise as to the time which the respective subjects of discussion may be reasonably expected to occupy? And when they have done that, and stated what they propose to do, the right hon. Gentleman, who has sat many years in the Government, himself calls it a dictatorial ipse dixit. It is the simplest and most elementary duty of a Government, and any Government which omitted it would be liable to the just censure of the House. And then, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman says that all this matter 1652 has grown up because of the desire to pass a Bill which is not urgent. Well, Sir, as to this Bill, which he says is not urgent, his mention of it suggests to me that his own warm antagonism to the Bill a little perverts the integrity of his judgment with respect to the magnitude and necessity of the measure. I have heard it described by the right hon. Gentleman himself as a Bill which alone is sufficient to occupy—
§ MR. BARTLEY
(interposing): Mr. Speaker, on a point of Order, may I ask if the right hon. Gentleman is speaking to the Amendment, which you have ruled to be limited?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) who last spoke rather transgressed the limit which I laid down, and it is to those remarks the right hon. Gentleman is now replying.
§ MR. SPEAKER
As a matter of fact, the discussion is limited to the particular question whether, if the House sits to-morrow, it shall act under the conditions which regulate a Wednesday's Sitting. If this Amendment is disposed of it will then be proper to discuss the Main Question.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
It is due to the right hon. Gentleman that, in some shape or another, I should reply to the question put to me. If it is in conformity with the feelings and wishes of the House that the House should give its judgment at once upon the Amendment, it would, perhaps, be far better than for me to pursue an irregular discussion.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 231; Noes 252.—(Division List, No. 27.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE and Mr. HENEAGE
rising together, the SPEAKER called on the former right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I am very sorry to appear discourteous, even for a moment, to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Heneage), but in fact I was in the middle of a suspended speech when that speech was postponed in order that the Amendment might be disposed of. I 1653 have already said that I felt it was the duty of the Government to form the best forecast that it could of the course of Business, and of how to divide the time, and especially that portion of the Session between the meeting of Parliament and Easter. That duty we have endeavoured to perform, and I will describe to you how it has been presented to us. It appeared to us that, although Easter was early, the meeting of Parliament was also somewhat earlier than it had been of late years. Three things were indispensable for us to aim at, and, if possible, for us to effect, between the meeting of Parliament and Easter, if it were found that Parliament were satisfied with the usual and ordinary employment of its powers. One of these, of course, was to dispose of the Supplementary Estimates and the other preliminary Votes which are necessary to start us on the financial year. Another was the introduction of Bills, and especially of Bills that might be considered non-contentious in the ordinary sense, and which referred to Great Britain, because we felt after the long discussions and the active state of public opinion during the six years of the last Parliament, that however vital to Imperial interests the Irish Government Bill might be considered by the majority of the House, yet that Great Britain would not consent to dispense with honest and energetic effort on our part to pass beneficent legislation for this important part of the Empire. That was the second division of the two divisions of time that came before us between the assembling of the House and Easter. And the third portion was that which, if not required for the Supplementary Estimates and for the introduction of Bills, appeared to us to have the highest claims upon it, as was expressly admitted by some speakers on the other side—namely, the claims for the Bill for the purpose of establishing a local Parliament in Ireland. Well, Sir, that measure is a measure which has been the main one in the view of the country for six years, and in our view and our opinion was the burning question of the principal part, if not the whole, of the elections that have taken place. [An hon. MEMBER: Grimsby.] The hon. Member need not interpose in that way. I am not endeavouring to describe the state of his mind, but to give the motives that 1654 actuated us. It appeared to us to be an absolute and indispensable portion of our duty to introduce this Bill. But I think it will be felt by the whole House that if we were to grapple with a subject of that magnitude and difficulty it was our duty to grapple with it in earnest, and not to lose a single moment in getting into such a position in relation to the other Business of the Session that we might confidently reckon, humanly speaking, upon passing it through the House, not in the dregs of the Session, but at a time when the full attention of the House and of the country could be given to it. We therefore gave notice of the introduction of the Bill for February 6. The prolongation of the Debate on the Address prevented the fulfilment of that intention. On February 13th the Bill was introduced, and it was our full conviction that it was possible to dispose of the Second Reading of the Bill before Easter. So far from being a mere ipse dixit of our own, it is our absolute duty to submit that plan to the judgment of the House, and by that judgment we shall be guided. My right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer said we were in dread lest light should be let in upon this Bill, as if we were at Easter to have some thing like a great illumination, a light that the Bill could not get at any other portion of the year. But the light we have had cast upon the Bill is a larger light than ever was cast upon any Bill introduced by the late Government. Our duty was to allow an ample time between the introduction of the Bill and the Second Reading. The introduction of the Bill was moved on February 13, and the Second Reading stands for March 16. I believe that that is a longer period than has ever, so far as my recollection goes, been allowed upon a great measure which it was intended seriously to discuss, and if possible to carry There were these three branches of business which it was the duty of the Government to grapple with. Am I right or am I wrong in saying if we were to encounter the difficulties in so important and complex a measure as the Irish Government Bill, it was our absolute and plain duty to give it the earliest position in the business of the Session, so that we might be enabled to pass it through its stages at a time when opportunity of discussion 1655 could be enjoyed by the House, and without it being carried to a period of the year when attention is deeply exhausted, and a full attendance of Members could not reasonably be expected. These are the grounds for the computation which we made; these are the grounds for what has been called our dictatorial ipse dixit. We felt that after Easter the Budget must come on, and that the miscellaneous and general Estimates must be proceeded with, and that the rational and practical method of dealing with the time, and the extraordinary exigencies of the present Session, depended upon our acting upon the plan that I have described, and upon that also which I believe I may claim on our behalf—namely, that we should not ourselves waste the time of the House by producing frivolous discussions, but produce our measure in the most effective and most economical manner, and so as to produce the largest possible net results for the benefit of the country.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I am in precisely the same position as the right hon. Gentleman in this respect—that I was in the middle of a suspended speech when you, Mr. Speaker, thought I was transgressing. I said the right hon. Gentle-man was proceeding on his own ipse dixit because he had not made the speech which he has now made. The right hon. Gentleman has given the House his reasons for proceeding as he proposes. He speaks of the emergency of the present position, but he has not even yet shown that there is any emergency. Therefore we are driven to this position— that not having been shown any emergency there is some special reason for taking this Bill before the other Government measures and before the Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman does not understand that this question can be further illuminated by anything that may happen in the Easter holidays; but the Easter holidays which intervened between the First and Second Reading of the Bill of 1886 threw a great deal of light upon the Bill; indeed, it threw so much light upon the measure that it was defeated on the Second Reading. Therefore I think the right hon. Gentleman has no reason to depreciate the efficacy of Easter light. Why must this Bill be taken before Easter rather than any other Bill? The right hon. Gentleman said more light had been thrown upon this Bill than upon 1656 any Bill of the late Government; but his own friends do not understand the Bill as yet. There are not 10 Members in this House who understand the financial proposals of the Bill, and it is in vain that we ask the right hon. Gentleman or his Colleagues for further light upon these proposals. If the right hon. Gentleman is asked questions he replies with such merciless rhetoric as to suggest that he thought he was on an Edinburgh platform being heckled by his constituents rather than being asked perfectly proper questions by hon. Members in this House. Let me repeat to the right hon. Gentleman that we complain that we have not even got the Schedules of the Bill, that we are asked to pass the Second Reading. Can the right hon. Gentleman recall a case where such important matters connected with a Bill have been kept in the dark until the very morning of the Second Reading? There is the question of the Customs and Excise. Why is it thought necessary to proceed with a Bill when the Government are not in a position to fill up the Schedule, and when they have not yet formed a plan on the financial part of the scheme? The right hon. Gentleman has now put before us the reason why he takes this Bill; but he has not shown any reason whatever why this particular Bill should be placed before others. I can see why he takes Saturday. It is because Labour Members are beginning to complain that Ireland once more blocks the way. There were two questions from Labour Members on the Paper to-day. These hon. Gentlemen wanted to proceed with social and labour questions rather than with this question of Home Rule. Why do they not put pressure on the Government to postpone, as we wish to postpone, till after Easter this particular Bill? Then we can all be satisfied, and no time will be lost. That does not suit hon. Gentlemen from Ireland; but it would suit hon. Members from other quarters, if they are sincere. The fact is, right hon. Gentlemen opposite are playing into the hands of the Irish Members, and in order to make peace with the Labour Members they are invading the privileges of Parliament by organising Saturday Sittings in a manner unheard of before. We cannot be surprised that a Government which is prepared to pull the Constitution to pieces in the future are not so sensitive 1657 as we are with regard to the proceedings of Parliament at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman has offered no reply whatever to the point which I put with regard to whether this is to be a precedent. Are Saturday Sittings to be taken for Government business early in the Session?
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The remarkable circumstance is that, of a group of legislative measures, one measure must be put before the others without any reason. Why, Sir, if lives and property of people were at stake, then certainly it would be necessary to proceed at once. But the difference is between a Bill which will imperil life and property and a Bill which is to protect life and property. If the right hon. Gentleman brought in a measure which he thought absolutely necessary to pacify Clare we should be ready to give him time for it, and he would have our support as well as that of his own supporters. One other point I would put to the Government. It is a very simple point: whether in the history of Parliament a Motion such as this has been pressed in the face of a majority of 21 only. Surely the Government will see that in the face of such a majority it is preposterous to proceed on the lines which they seem to have laid down for themselves, and that, while they will not achieve the object they desire, they will cause the House infinite embarrassment.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I do not desire to go into the question of the Home Rule Bill, but I think the constituencies of the country require a great deal of illuminating in regard to that Bill. I do not think there is anyone in this House who has a right to speak with more certainty on that question than I have. For a whole week I was engaged addressing six or seven meetings a day at Grimsby. A great number of Irish Members and others had teen down trying to illuminate that constituency, but they were still entirely in the dark. At that time people were laying 4 to 1 on my opponent. In the course of three or four days we changed that opinion, and when I went 1658 to church on Sunday I was informed that they were laying 2 to 1 on me. They were good judges. My objection to this proposal is, that I entirely object to any new precedent without good and grave reason for it. Some four or five years ago we took a great deal of trouble with the Rules of the House, and endeavoured to prevent hon. Members being worn out by unearthly hours. What was the good of Standing Orders if they are to be suspended in this way? Private Members have been deprived of their days, the Twelve o'clock Rule has been suspended, and now we are to have Saturday Sittings. I think, instead of wasting the whole of this Sitting, which they have taken from private Members, the Government should have done what work they could to-day. The Motion is absolutely and entirely unnecessary. If the Government have not time for both Supply and the Home Rule Bill before Easter, whose fault is it? I will tell them what the constituency of Grimsby thinks. They think the Government have muddled away their time in bringing in a lot of still-born Bills for which the people do not seem to have any great affection. The Government have no right to ask the House to sit on Saturday when they have muddled away the time they had. Why are we to have the question of the Evicted Tenants Commission forced upon us on Monday? In order that the country may not know the contents of the Report, and that hon. Members must discuss it without having it in their hands. The wise course would be for the Prime Minister to withdraw this Motion now, and to take the Estimates on Monday and Tuesday next, postponing the discussion of the Evicted Tenants Commission Report until we have had fair time for digesting it. If that were done, they would get all their Estimates, and would conclude the discussion on this Report within the next week or 10 days. But if we are to have the Home Rule Bill put first we shall have no discussion on the Estimates, and we shall have to be closured on Home Rule. I hope the House will reject the Motion— as they very nearly rejected the Motion just now. If the Government proceed with Motions of this kind they will find that their majorities will become smaller even than they are now.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
As no hon. Member of the Party to which I belong has addressed the House, perhaps I may be allowed to say one or two words. The Prime Minister appears to think that we are asking an unreasonable thing when we demand that there should be delay before the Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill is taken. Now, I should like to read a very short quotation which will have great effect with the right hon. Gentleman. This is what his own Attorney General said on the 12th of January last at Cambridge, before the Bill was introduced. He said—He believed that after the First Reading of the Home Rule Bill the country would desire, and it had a right to, a long interval of time for its grave and quiet consideration. The Government would utilise that time in pressing on some of their own legislative measures, which they regard as a key to this, such as the reform of the Registration Laws and the affirmation of the principle of 'One man one vote.'Now, that is just what we say. We say the country has a right to a careful and quiet consideration of this measure. Is it not strange that since this speech was delivered by the Attorney General the views of the Party opposite have entirely changed? The very moment the Bill is introduced and its details are considered, it is then seen to be an absolute and imperative necessity to carry the Second Reading of the Bill at a rush. We have considered it our duty to try to curtail the velocity of that rush. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said, with great accuracy and truth, that be did not believe in insinuations. I do not believe anybody can lay such a use of insinuations to his charge; but, unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman was absent when the Deputy Leader of the House was speaking.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
Quite so. We are, unfortunately, aware of that, and we know that the right hon. Gentleman was unavoidably absent, but if he had been present he would have seen that his Colleague had not the same objection to insinuations. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer deliberately insinuated that we had made a concerted plan to obstruct the conduct of business in this House.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham absolutely repudiate any such intention. The hon. Member for Northampton said he had read in The Times that at a meeting of the Conservative Party held at the Carlton Club it had been deliberately determined to obstruct the Business of the House. The only thing I thought when I heard the hon. Member say that was that it might very well have appeared in another journal, with which he is connected. All I can say is that I was present at that meeting, and no idea of obstruction was entertained for one moment. Certainly, if we can, we intend to prevent your reading your Home Rule Bill a second time. We do not do that with the object of obstructing; we do it with the object of giving the country an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the details of a Bill the like of which has never been presented to this House before. I think the Government look at this question through Grimsby spectacles. They recognise, now the Bill is before the country, that a Second Reading after Easter may have the same disastrous effect upon the Bill as was experienced in 1886. It is because we desire that effect that we oppose your Saturday Sitting, and try to do our best to prevent your forcing this pernicious measure through the House before Easter.
§ MR. J. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick),
who was interrupted on rising, said he only wanted to address a few words to the House, and if he was not heard without interruption he should have to move the Adjournment. The whole case for the Motion had been put on the ground of the Home Rule Bill. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when referring to what occurred in 1886, forgot to inform the House that a longer period elapsed between the First and Second Readings of the Home Rule Bill on that occasion than it was proposed should elapse on the present occasion. He omitted to tell them that the period embraced between the two Readings covered the Easter Recess. He omitted another thing also. The Second Reading Debate was not taken from day to day. There were altogether 1661 12 nights, and those were spread over from the 18th of May to the 7th of June, There were long intervals, and the Debate lasted for a month. There could not be any objection to the Debate commencing before Easter, provided the Government followed the precedent set on the former occasion, and provided that a due interval was allowed to elapse before the Second Reading was really taken. He held that they were absolutely entitled to go down to their constituents to discuss this Bill, and that, therefore, it should be allowed to stand over—or at least that the Division on the Second Reading should not be taken—until after the Easter Recess. How did it come that there was so much pressure in regard to this Bill? It was the action of the Government that had brought about the pressure, for at the beginning of the Session, instead of dealing with matters of urgent importance, they spent the time in the introduction of measures which were of no importance. Why did not the Government summon Parliament if they were in such a hurry? The Government had promised that they would summon Parliament early in the year—in January. They did so; but, while they kept their word of promise to the ear, they broke it to the hope—they broke it in every other way, for they only met the House on the last day—the 31st January. No doubt new Members were disposed to do a great many curious things, and he did not know what they were to say with regard to the manner in which the time of the House was being occupied; but he had to remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman the other day said that he considered that the only duty of Members was to "Vote, vote, vote!" He wondered if the right hon. Gentleman expected that each hon. Member should be like Sir Joseph Porter in the opera, who—Always voted at his party's call, And never thought of thinking for himself at all.There was, however, a higher duty than voting. They had the duty of bringing forward grievances, of bringing forward questions that affected all parts of this country. It was laid down as the duty of the House of Commons to take up the discussion of grievances on Supply; and he could say that, while the discussion could do the Government no good, it was the 1662 determination of Members to bring forward the questions in which they were interested for discussion in the House of Commons.
Mr. Roby rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 252; Noes 230.—(Division List, No. 28.)
§ Main Question put accordingly.
The House divided:—Ayes 256; Noes 220.—(Division List, No. 29.)
Resolved, That this House do sit To-morrow; that the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to that Sitting; and that as soon as Government Business is disposed of Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put.— (Mr. Gladstone.)
§ It being Seven of the clock, Mr. Speaker suspended the Sitting until Nine of the clock.