HC Deb 16 March 1893 vol 10 cc253-61
MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)

In regard to the statement which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is about to make as to Public Business, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government will give plenty of time for the consideration of the Employers' Liability Bill, because it is a measure in which many Members of the House are interested?

MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)

I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Uganda Vote will be taken first, if the Supplementary Vote is put down for Friday?

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

Is it intended to proceed with the Civil Service Estimates in the order in which they stand on the Paper?


That is the intention, but it may be altered by the statement to be made by the right hon. Gentleman.


The Prime Minister is not able to be present to-day, and it therefore falls to me to invite the attention of the House to the progress of Public Business from the present time to Easter. In the opinion of the Government it is highly desirable that the Committee of Supply should be terminated this week, in order that it may be reported on Monday, and that the Ways and Moans Bill should be entered upon on Monday, in order that it may be passed into law. We consider that that is not an unreasonable desire. I have now ascertained carefully the number of days which have been occupied in Supply in previous years in comparison with the number of days occupied this year. The figures I gave on a former occasion require to be corrected, because they included the days given to Votes on Account. I do not propose to include the days given to Votes on Account in the enumeration I am about to give, but to include only what I may call the necessary Estimates—the Supplementary Estimates and the Votes for the Army and the Navy. I find that the maximum number of days so employed was eight in 1892, seven in 1891, four in 1890, six in 1889, five in 1888, seven in 1886, six in 1885, seven in 1884. Hon. Members will therefore see that there was a maximum of eight days, and an average of about six days in passing the Votes corresponding with those with which we are now dealing. Excluding the day which I previously included—the day when the Chairman of Ways and Means was nominated—we shall to-morrow have spent 10 days in Committee of Supply. That is two days in excess of the maximum in the last 10 years, and four days in excess of the average of the last 10 years. Having said so much, I desire to state to the Committee what, in the opinion of the Government, will be a fair and proper, and a wise appropriation of the time which still remains. We propose to-day to take the Army and Navy Estimates, and I am sure I shall receive the support of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench in concluding these Votes to-night, and in this week I should hope, without resorting to any extraordinary or extreme measures, we might conclude the Votes in Supply. On Monday we propose to take the Employers' Liability Bill and Report of Supply, and afterwards to bring in and take the First Reading of the Ways and Means Bill. Upon Tuesday, the President of the Local Government Board would ask leave to introduce the Local Government Bill for the purpose of establishing Parish Councils, and on that day the Ways and Means Bill would he read a second time. Wednesday, of course, is not at our disposal, but we shall have the Committee stage of the Ways and Means Bill on that day. I am sure there will be no opposition to that formal stage of the Bill being taken before the close of the Sitting on Wednesday. On Thursday we should proceed with the other measures of the Government which are already before Parliament. I hope we may be able to forward the Registration Bill. Upon that day would be taken the Third Reading of the Ways and Means Bill. The Lords are in the habit of passing the Ways and Means Bill in a single day, and Friday would suffice for that purpose. Her Majesty being abroad it is necessary that arrangements must be made by which the Queen will be able to sign the Commission giving the Royal Assent in time. That must be on a fixed day, which cannot be departed from. Her Majesty must be enabled to sign the Commission on Saturday in next week, because the journey of the messenger bringing the Commission from Florence would take nearly 48 hours, and he would arrive on Monday afternoon. That would enable the Royal Assent to be given on the Tuesday of Passion Week. That is an important point. I should also mention that it is of great importance that the Royal Assent should be given to the Ways and Means Bill upon the Tuesday, because it is necessary that a short time should elapse after the passing of the Bill in order to enable the Treasury to administer the funds, which cannot be administered until it is passed. I should on this point like to read what will be admitted on both sides to be a most authoritative statement sent by Mr. Hamilton of the Treasury. This is what Mr. Hamilton says— Until the Ways and Means Bill has received the Royal Assent in the usual manner, the Treasury are unable to take any step with respect to the issue of the money required for the Supplementary and Excess Grants for the expiring year. On the signification of the Royal Assent the first proceeding is to obtain credit from the Audit Office and to advise the Departments that the money is available. Communications have to be made with Ireland, and it would be obviously imprudent to trust to the telegraph alone without a written confirmation, for any error not detected before the close of the financial year is irreparable. It is evident if the messenger only arrives on Wednesday afternoon, subsequently, to which the Royal Assent has to be signified, any un-punctuality of the train would make it impossible to get written advices over to Ireland by post. At any rate, the risk is too great to admit of our being able to take the responsibility of being driven into such close quarters. We are placed in a difficulty as to the time at our disposal this year for two reasons: First of all, the messenger bringing the Royal Assent must take two days; and, in the next place, the last day of the financial year falls upon Good Friday, which is a dies non, and the whole of the Business must be concluded on the preceding Thursday—that is, on the 30th instead of the 31st of March. Therefore, in our opinion, the last day on which Her Majesty can sign the Commission for the Royal Assent will be Saturday in next week. The Vote on Account would be taken on the Monday in the week after. It must also be reported before the close of the financial year, and that necessarily takes two days. These days, in addition to the 10 days I have already spoken of, will make 12 days to be devoted to the necessary Financial Business of the year before Easter. I hope, after the statement I have made, we shall have the cooperation and assistance of gentlemen on both sides of the House to conclude Supply this week, and to proceed to get the Ways and Means Bill through both Houses by Friday in next week, and also to give reasonable time to the promotion of other legislative measures. If Supply is driven into next week, it is quite impossible that the House can rise until the Thursday before Good Friday.

MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

What Business does the Government propose to take on Friday?


That I cannot absolutely say at this moment. I can only speak of the Employers' Liability Bill and the introduction of the Local Government Bill, hut probably we should proceed with the Registration Bill.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give an answer to my question as to the Uganda Vote?


I would rather not give an answer on that subject. My object is to induce hon. Members on both sides to make an amicable effort to close Supply this week.


The right hon. Gentleman has made his statement in a way which certainly excites no hostile feeling on this side of the House, and in the few observations I shall make I shall raise no unnecessarily controversial matter. May I, in the first place, ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not a fact that the law—I do not say the official convenience—can be adequately fulfilled if Supply is not closed till Monday, and if the First Heading of the Appropriation Bill takes place on Tuesday? The calculation I have made, with the assistance of hon. Gentlemen intimately acquainted with Treasury practices and Rules in the matter, is that if we finish Supply on Monday and take the First Reading of the Appropriation Bill on Tuesday, there would be no difficulty in getting the Royal Assent and finishing on the Tuesday following.


I have not asserted that the scheme I proposed was the only one consistent with the observance of the law. I do not deny that by allowing no margin for accidents Supply need not be closed till Monday, but it was to that point that I addressed my observation that if that was done the House would not rise until the Thursday before Good Friday.


I am glad I have the assent of the right hon. Gentleman to my statement, and therefore if the right hon. Gentleman is unable to finish the discussion of Supply by Friday nobody need be under the apprehension that the law will not be complied with. The right hon. Gentleman asks us, nevertheless, for the convenience of the House, to terminate the Business on Friday, and his justification for that was that discussions on Supply before Easter have already taken longer time than in previous years. He gave us some figures to establish that contention, but I observe that he did not include 1887 in his table.


I thought I did. Supply occupied seven days before Easter in that year.


In his enumeration of the days taken in Supply, the right hon. Gentleman does not take into account the discussions on the stages of the Appropriation Bill or upon the Vote on Account, all of which form part of that general system of finance which the House has to get through before the 31st of March. I took the trouble this afternoon to go through those days which were occupied with Financial Business last year, 1892. The whole, or part, of the following days were occupied by financial work—February 25th, 29th, March 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th, 10th, 11th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 24th, and 25th. On some days the time occupied was short; on others the Sitting was long, extending long after midnight; but in all I find that no less than 16 days were wholly or partially occupied in the Financial Business to which I have alluded as being usual to get through before the 31st of March.


That includes the Appropriation Bill, Report of Supply, and the Vote on Account. If you include these the number of days occupied with Financial Business this year before Easter will be 20. There is no reason to believe that Report of Supply will take any time, and I do not agree that it will be necessary to take up anything like so much time this year as was occupied last year. But may I point out to the Government and to the House that the amount of time which may properly be taken up on Supplementary Estimates must necessarily depend upon the character of those Estimates? The Supplementary Estimates this year happen to raise novel and particularly important questions. I will mention four of them: There is the Uganda question, the new departure the Government have made in regard to the payment of the Law Officers, the Evicted Tenants Commission, and the naval policy of the Government. Last year and the preceding year that question was not raised in Supply, because the general building programme was embodied in a Bill. This year it is not; and therefore it is necessary to discuss it on the Estimates. As a matter of fact, the amount of time occupied in Supply will, by the end of the financial year, be ac-actually less than that occupied last year, and therefore I cannot agree that any special effort should be made on that ground to stop discussion. May I, in conclusion, point out that there was one important omission from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? He told us when the holidays might begin in certain contingencies, but he did not tell us when they were going to end. It does seem to me not an unreasonable demand that if gentlemen on either side of the House are asked to shorten discussion specially for the convenience of the Government, the Government for our convenience, at all events, ought to shorten their general programme up to the holidays. I hope the Government, in making any appeal they may think it necessary to make to hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House to hurry over the discussion on the remaining 20 or 30 Votes, will sweeten the pill as some substantial inducement to come to an arrangement.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said, he had no reason to join in the pot-and-kettle discussion about what took place last Parliament. He wished to make a suggestion to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had an Amendment in the Supplementary Estimates with regard to Uganda, and he was told a considerable number of gentlemen on his side of the House were anxious to express their views on the subject briefly. Personally, he was quite ready to get through the Estimates as far as Uganda was concerned, but there might be discussion on previous Votes. It might be that there would be no time left to discuss Uganda to-morrow, and therefore he would suggest that his Amendment should be taken on Report and not in Committee. He would just as soon speak at 4 o'clock in the morning as at any other time, but some gentlemen did not like it. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to come to this agreement. Assuming that Uganda was not reached to-morrow, or just before the end of the Morning Sitting, the Uganda Vote should be allowed to pass Committee, and the Report taken at some reasonable hour on Monday, or, if the right hon. Gentleman liked, the matter might be brought up on the Appropriation Bill.


I have had a long experience of my hon. Friend, and I know nobody who is so agreeable at 4 o'clock in the morning; but I am afraid I should act imprudently if I entered into any agreement with him upon any particular Vote, because I should be immediately asked to enter into some other agreement on some other Vote. The right hon. Gentleman has asked me a question which seems to me a very natural one with respect to the holidays, and he used the phrase, "If the House does certain things for the convenience of the Government." Now, I must demur to that observation. Nothing asked for in the Motion before the House is for the convenience of the Government. As far as convenience goes, it is the convenience of the House and—much more important—the advantage of the country that we have to consider, and therefore I do ask the House not to deal with this matter as a question upon which the Government have a different interest to the House or the country. With respect to the holidays, all I have got to say is that so little progress has been made with Public Business—less than in any former year—that I am afraid the House cannot give itself, in any event, a very long holiday. All I can say at this time, until we see what progress we make in Supply and with other Business, is that the more Business we get through the longer the holiday will be, and the less Business we get through necessarily the shorter holiday we shall have. That is a condition which nobody can dispute, and I am afraid that is all I can say at present.

MR. REID (Dumfries, &c.)

asked whether, if the arrangement of Business before Easter was such that no Debate could take place on Uganda, the Government would give the House an opportunity of discussing a matter of such grave importance?

MR. KENYON (Denbigh, &c.)

Have I a right, Sir, to ask a question? I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the immediate urgency of the Registration Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman said must necessarily be taken by a certain day? That is the only question I ask.


I never said there was an immediate urgency for the Registration Bill, but that there was a constant urgency that this House should do some Business. I said that the rule ought not to be established that no Legislative Business should be got through by the House of Commons before Easter Day. As regards the question of my hon. and learned Friend behind me, I am ex- tremelyanxious that opportunity should be given for discussing the matter referred to, but, for the same reason I have given to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, I do not think it would be prudent on my part to enter into any specific engagement upon the subject.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

said, he understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he was very anxious to forward Supply—ordinary Supply. [Sir W. HARCOURT: No, no!] He would ask whether, as ordinary Supply had not yet been begun, the right hon. Gentleman would consider the putting off such a measure as the Parish Councils Bill, which could not possibly become law this Session, and other measures which could not possibly be dealt with with a view of furthering Supply?


I do not share the hon. Member's opinion that this Bill will not become law. As far as I can understand, the hon. Member seems to think that no question ought to become law or will become law.

MR. BYLES (York, W.R., Shipley)

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, as the Queen was still at Windsor, Her Majesty's Advisers would consider whether it would be proper on their part to advise Her Majesty, having regard to the convenience of this House and the country, to remain in England until she had been able to see——


Order, order!

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