HC Deb 29 March 1893 vol 10 cc1468-92

That a sum, not exceeding £3,999,963, be granted to Her Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charges for the following Civil Services and Revenue Departments for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1894, viz.;—[See page 1319.]

MR. HANBURY (Preston)

said he did not know what the opinion of hon. Members on that side of the House was as to discussing at that most inappropriate and inconvenient stage questions which had always, in past years, been discussed with the Chairman in the Chair, and under circumstances in which they could properly debate matters of detail and business of this kind. He confessed that although there were many urgent and important matters he was anxious to raise upon that Vote and only spoke for some ten minutes yesterday, he utterly declined to avail himself now of what was a wholly illusory opportunity. The Government knew very well that in offering Members an opportunity of discussing this Vote of £4,500,000 with the Speaker in the Chair, and on Report of Supply, was offering them what was of no use whatever. It was utterly impossible that any proper or adequate discussion could take place on a Vote of this kind with the Speaker in the Chair. This was the Report stage of a Vote of £4,000,000, voted away in four hours the previous day, and in view of such facts the very name of "Report" was an absurdity. Only one-tenth of the whole money comprised in the Vote, the report of which was brought forward, was discussed at all. He should like to know whose fault was that. The object of the Government was twofold. In the first place they wished to prevent any discussion on that Vote, and, in the second place, by putting it down at so late a date, they wished to drive off and shorten the Easter holidays so that during the brief recess there could be no discussion of the Home Rule Bill. To a certain extent they had effected their purpose. Although Easter was this year unusually early, the Vote on Account had been put down this year at a later period than at any time during the last ten years. Again, the Vote on Account had generally been discussed for three days. [Cries of" No! "] He had looked up the matter, and what he was stating was a fact. But not only had the Government put it off till the last day possible, but they had then chosen the shortest day possible, which was the afternoon of the shortest day available, and what did they do then? They put up Members on their own side to ask as many questions and as many supplementary questions as possible, and, at the beginning of the Sitting, wasted as much public time as they possibly could. When they did get to the Vote, what happened? Private Members on the opposite side made motion after motion, each accompanied by long speeches, and one, two, and even three Ministers replied one after the other, occupying two-thirds of the time available. The Government were not even satisfied with that, but the Prime Minister himself wasted at least a quarter of an hour which might otherwise have been devoted to discussion, and with that tyrannical spirit which he was exhibiting—which made one begin to wonder whether it was of any use Parliament sitting at all— and with the subservient creatures he had at his back— [Cries of "Order!"]


I rise to Order, Sir. I wish to know whether the hon. Gentleman is entitled to call Members sitting on thus side "subservient creatures"? [Cries of "Name" and "Withdraw "]


I was at the moment occupied in conversation with an hon. Member at the Chair, and did not hear the expression to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. Had I heard it I should certainly have called the hon. Member to Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the expression, an expression which ought not to be applied to any section or Party in this House.


would willingly withdraw the expression. He thought, however, he was entitled to say this— The right hon. Gentleman would admit that at any rate he had got very obedient followers; and the right hon. Gentleman would not deny that he deprived the House of at least a quarter of an hour of the short time at his disposal by getting up to move the Closure. That was a wholly unnecessary waste of time. He wished to speak with perfect respect of what happened the previous day, but it struck him the Prime Minister was using this great weapon of the Closure to a certain extent in a way in which it was never used before. His impression of the Closure was that it was a weapon which was only to be brought into play when a matter had been fully and fairly discussed, and for the first time, so far as he remembered, the reason alleged for putting on the Closure was not that the matter had been sufficiently discussed, but on the ground of the urgency of public business. If that was the case, what would happen? It was only necessary for the Government to get into one or two such muddles as they had been getting into day after day this Session,. to drive public business, as it were, into a corner, and then get out of the difficulty and take advantage of their own mistakes by putting on the Closure. He began by saying he would have nothing to do with any Motion on that Report, and he believed a good many Members on that side were of the same opinion. They were determined they would have no part or share in scamping public business; they would be no parties to this political jerry-building. The proper course was to refuse to discuss this matter on Report at all, and Jet the country realise the position into which the Government have driven the House of Commons by taking away from it the only legitimate opportunity on which it could discuss the large expenditure on this Vote on Account. He would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, looking to the fact that he had deprived the House of the legitimate opportunity for discussing these Votes, what he proposed to do with Supply in future. Was he going to take a further Vote on Account, or would he undertake what was only fair and proper, considering the way in which he had dealt with this Vote on Account—and this would give him one more opportunity of redeeming his character for political fair play—would he undertake, if he were allowed to get the Report on the Vote that night, to put down after Easter the ordinary Votes of Supply at such a time that the House would be able to discuss them at proper length and with the proper opportunities which had been afforded in past years.


There was one thing wanting in the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and that was historical accuracy. As he has made the assertion that what took place yesterday was absolutely a novel proceeding, and that the House has been in the habit of discussing the expenditure of the year on the Vote of Account, I must tell the House the exact dates and the time that has been occupied, not during the last two or three years, but in order to prevent any confusion, and to give the hon. Gentleman the benefit of as large an average as possible, I will go back 12 years. In 1881 the Vote on Account occupied part of one day. In 1882 it occupied part of One night, and that was after midnight; in 1883 it occupied part of one night, and that was after midnight; in 1884 it occupied part of one night, and that was after midnight; in 1885 it occupied part of one night, and that was after midnight; and in 1886 it occupied part of one night, and that was after midnight. Now, Sir, I come to, perhaps, what the hon. Gentleman may think a more constitutional period in the reign of the late Government, and I will read what happened in 1887. At that time the House was occupied in a very serious and embittered and angry controversy with reference to the passing of a Coercion Bill, and in those excited times the Vote on Account occupied one whole night—a whole night, but only one night in 1887. In 1888, when the late Government was in power, it occupied one night. But on the former part of that evening the Navy Vote was taken, and a large sum of money, amounting to £3,000,000 was voted for the Navy, and then the Vote on Account was taken of £3,600,000, and the House will be surprised to hear, after having been told of this outrage on the constitution which was committed yesterday, that the Closure was moved on that occasion in 1888, on the Vote of Account, and the Vote passed that same evening. It was reported the next day, and the Report was closed on that evening in one Sitting, after the Leader of the House had intimated that he would be obliged to move the Closure if the Vote was not reported. In 1889, which, of course, is the instance and illustration of the three nights, it is true that the Vote on Account occupied three nights, but these three nights were devoted to the Parnell Commission, the conduct of the Law Officers of the Crown, and the whole question of the forgeries made by Pigott against Mr. Parnell. It occupied, I admit, three nights in 1889. In 1890 the Vote on Account occupied one night again, and the Report stage commenced at 10.20 on the following night and closed at 11.30. In 1891, when it was for £3,900,000, it occupied one night, and the Report stage from 5.15 to 6 o'clock on the following night. In 1892, last year, the discussion on the Vote commenced at 5 minutes past 8, and on the first night a very Constitutional and highly-respected Member on the other side of the House—one who would be the last man to lend himself to obstruction on the one hand, or to arbitrary repression on the other, moved the Closure at 11 o'clock. The Chairman declined to put the Question, and left the Chair at 12. The next day there was a Morning Sitting, and the then Leader of the House, pointing out the absolute financial necessity of the Vote being taken, proposed that the subject should, if necessary, have precedence at the Evening Sitting, a proposal which was very much resisted. In the course of that Debate the then Chairman of Committees, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) made the following very pertinent remarks:— It has been laid down over and over again that the first Vote on Account is a Vote which ought to give rise to no discussion, except on matters of pressing importance. It is evident that the Vote must he got, and unless it be an urgent matter which cannot be postponed, discussion on several subjects is rather an abuse of power than a proper use of it. Now, Sir, the whole Morning Sitting up to then being on a discussion to determine whether the Vote on Account should have precedence at the Evening Sitting, at 5 o'clock the right hon. Gentleman, who is now the Leader of the Opposition, got the Resolution passed. The House resumed the discussion of the Vote on Account at the Evening Sitting. The Closure was moved at 11.55, and the Vote obtained, therefore there is no shadow of pretence for saying that this is the first time the Closure has been moved, and no shadow of pretence for saying that there has been a uniform period of three days for discussing this Vote on Account. There has been nothing of the sort, and what is still more, Mr. Speaker, this is a most dangerous precedent which is being set up of discussing the Estimates twice over in the same year. We discussed yesterday matters—I do not say they were not of great importance—but matters which belong to the regular discussion of the regular Estimates of the year. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square (Mr. Goschen), has left the House, or I would like to have reminded him that in 1888 he, together with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who was then Secretary to the Treasury, sat upon a Committee which was appointed to consider the whole question of our procedure in Supply. That Committee was presided over by the Duke of Devonshire, and in the Draft Report which he drew up for that Committee it was recommended that no discussion should be applied upon the first Vote on Account, but that the discussion should be confined simply to the necessity of the Vote and the time for which it should be granted. The Committee did not agree with the noble Duke in that finding, but in the minority which voted with him approving of that recommendation was the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the then Secretary to the Treasury, and two Members on this Bench, including myself, together with another Gentleman of authority in financial matters, whose name I forget for the moment.


May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that that was the very point I attempted to raise the previous day as to the necessity of the Vote on Account, but I was prevented.


I am simply giving an illustration of the attitude the late Chancellor of the Exchequer took up. He agreed with the Duke of Devonshire in proposing to the House—the Committee did not accept it—that the first Vote on Account should be automatic, and what we did agree upon was to recommend the House to deal in some way or other with this question of the time consumed on these Votes in Supply. It is quite necessary all these questions should be discussed, and, so far as the Government are concerned, they will be willing to give every opportunity for full discussion this year, and bring on the Estimates as soon as they can. But it is not necessary that these questions should be discussed first on the Supplemental Estimates; then on the first Vote on Account; then on the second Vote on Account; and then when the Estimates themselves are brought forward, and as a matter of fact generally the same question over and over again. I have risen mainly for the purpose of showing that the hon. Member is inaccurrate in saying that the procedure yesterday was a novel one, and I also rose for the purpose of giving a direct contradiction to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who, at an earlier period of the day, said this was an outrage on the Constitution, that outrage having been committed by his Leader 12 months ago.

MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)

Having been deprived of the legitimate opportunity of discussing various matters which it was desired to discuss on the Vote on Account, it is undesirable to attempt to do so now on the Report, especially after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to give us a number of cases in which he says the Vote on Account has been voted in periods as short as the time in which it was voted yesterday, and on two occasions he also says that the closure was moved. Nobody ever denied it. It entirely depends on the circumstances under which it was done, and I venture to assert that the circumstances under which it was done yesterday are without precedent altogether, in spite of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. May I be allowed to remind the House of what did actually occur? The Prime Minister was pressed over and over again by the Leader of the Opposition and by various Members sitting on this Front Bench, to take the Vote on Account at a time when various matters of importance could be discussed. But in spite of everything that was pressed upon the right hon. Gentleman he absolutely declined to depart from the intention which he had announced, and that was to take the Vote on Account upon the Morning Sitting on Tuesday. [Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE: Nothing of the sort.] I beg pardon. I can go to the Library, and I think I can get the words of the right hon. Gentleman, and he will find that I am accurate. The day came and the discussion occurred. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer came into the House, as far as I remember, about 5 o'clock, and he made an appeal to the House to allow the Vote to be taken on the ground that it was absolutely necessary. But what did the right hon. Gentleman say? He stated that the Report stage of the Vote would not be subjected to any limitation of time, whether taken on Wednesday or Thursday. It was perfectly obvious, therefore, from what the right hon. Gentleman said, that the Report stage could have been taken to-morrow without interfering with those exigencies of business. Well, Sir, that being so, I asked the right hon. Gentleman if, under the circumstances, he found himself in great difficulties if the Vote was not concluded yesterday, whether, having refused all the appeals made to him from this side of the House, and the Govern- ment themselves being alone to blame for any difficulties they might find themselves placed in, I suggested to him that he should do this: Inasmuch as he had taken the first place upon last Wednesday for the Appropriation Bill, and inasmuch as the Government had announced their intention of taking all the Wednesdays after Easter for their own purposes, they might pursue a similar course to-day, and by putting down a notice yesterday, they could have taken the Vote on Account in Committee to-day without any interference, so far as I am acquainted, with the regular practice of the House, and all the objections which had been raised by hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House to their proceedings would then have been obviated. That was the course we proposed. What was the reply? They would do nothing of the kind. Why would they not do it? We know why now. It was because Her Majesty's Government were seeking to help a measure in which they are greatly interested—promoted by the Irish Members—in passing into law during the present Session without giving a day to it of their own; therefore, rather than do anything that would interefere with the passage of the Evicted Tenants Bill, they were perfectly ready—by what I still consider was most arbitrary action on their part after all the appeals made to them to move the closure—upon a sum amounting to £3,600,000, without allowing a single word to be said upon it by any Member on this side of the House. And when the President of the Local Government Board talks of the number and variety of small matters which were discussed yesterday on the Vote on Account, in terms of something like reproach, I beg to remind him that three-fourths of the time was consumed by gentlemen on the other side of the House; and if there be blame at all from the use that was made of the time, that blame lies upon them and not upon gentlemen on this side of the House. I do not want to interrupt any further the business of the House or occupy its time, but I felt bound, in duty to myself and gentlemen on this side of the House, to make the statement I have done, and I absolutely renew the protest I made at an earlier part of the proceedings.

SIR R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)

would venture to supplement one date in the statement of the President of the Local Government Board. He would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the 21st March, 1892, when the Report stage was taken, and when there was a Division, which showed that there was a regular debate, followed by a division of the House.


said the Report on the occasion the hon. Baronet referred to came on for debate at 20 minutes to 9 and finished at 11.


said that what his hon. Friend, the Member for Preston stated, was substantially correct as regards the years 1892 and 1890, in which a part of three days were occupied by the House on the Vote on Account. Three days were to that extent devoted to the Vote on Account in 1892, and three days were devoted to it in 1890. As to what the right hon. Gentleman said with regard to only important questions being brought forward on the Report of the Vote on Account, he ventured to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he had intended yesterday to move that the Vote on Account should be taken for one instead of for two months. The Chairman ruled out of order. He did not question the ruling, but he wanted to point out that in consequence of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister moving the Closure he had been precluded from raising the question at all. He also wished to point out that in recent years the Vote on Account had always been brought forward at an earlier period than it had been. In 1892 the latest date on which the Vote on Account was dealt with was March 21st, in 1891 it was March 17th, in 1890 it was March 21st, and in 1889 March 25th. Therefore bringing in of the Vote as late as March 27th was a very exceptional and abnormal proceeding. According to ancient practice Votes on Account were taken without discussion, but of late years Governments had so crowded the Session with their own business that they had cut off private Members from the chance of discussing the Estimates in a full and proper manner. Therefore it had become more and more necessary, for private Members were now compelled to discuss the Vote on Account if they desired to discharge their duty to their Constituents, when the energies of Members were fresh, and there was an opportunity of securing a full House. Of late years the Estimates had been brought on at the end of the Session—in the dog days; scores of votes, involving millions of money, being rushed through in a single evening without discussion. This was more than ever likely to happen this year. With so many important Bills before the House, they would only reach effective Supply late in the year, when proper discussion would be impossible. Their only chance to obtain a discussion of certain important subjects in which they were interested, was to bring them on the Vote on Account now, before Easter; but that had been rendered impossible by the action of the Government.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

said he had taken no part in the discussion on the Vote on Account yesterday. There were several questions upon which he had desired to address the House, but he had concluded that he would have an opportunity of doing it on a later stage of the Vote. He regarded the question raised by the hon. Baronet, who had last spoken, as one of great importance. What were the facts of the case so far as the present Session was concerned? Hon. Members had been dragooned into passing this Vote on Account for two months. They knew that when the two months had expired they would have arrived at the end of May, when the House would be occupied with the Home Rule Bill in Committee. There would then be another Vote on Account submitted to them, and the same process would be gone through—they would be told that it was necessary for the Public Service that the money should be voted, and the Closure would be again applied. In addition to his Home Rule Bill—the Prime Minister would propose the Dis- establishment of the Scotch Church, and the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church, and he was going to pass what he called the Local Veto Bill—a measure which would affect a large trade, and hundreds of millions worth of property. These Bills would have all to go through Committee, and in addition, the right hon. Gentleman, the Prime Minister, was going to pass one of the largest Local Government Bills they had seen in the present generation. Under the circumstances it was absurd to suppose that they would be able to discuss the Estimates even if they sat there until next Christmas. It was, therefore, obvious that they were justified in raising discussions on the Vote on Account. If the supply of this country was conducted in a decent manner, the Vote on Account might be taken without discussion, but the Government seemed to be afraid that inconvenient subjects would be discussed, and they used their best endeavour to burke them. He had noticed that tendency on the Supplementary Estimates. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made every possible effort to prevent the discussion of inconvenient questions. Members had, however, secured a fair amount of discussion, and he ventured to say that in spite of the Closure, and the system of tyranny practised by the Government, they would discuss the Estimates adequately, whether the Government liked it or not.

DR. MACGREGOR (Invernessshire)

said he desired to call attention to a matter of special interest to his constituents. In consequence of the Closure being moved, he was unable to call attention to the subject on the previous day. He hoped he would not be considered an obstructive. He felt that while he owed loyalty to the Government, he also owed loyalty to his constituents. In the course of a reply to a question, the Secretary for Scotland had said that having advanced lately £3,000 for roads in Inverness-shire, he thought that money was sufficient to meet present wants. But the right hon. Gentleman did not explain that this £3,000 was part of a grant given by Parliament some time ago for relief works in the Highlands,, and therefore had no particular reference to the present distress in the country. In consequence of the bad harvest, the severe winter, and the low prices of stocks, the people were unable to buy seed for their ground. They appealed for assistance, and he submitted that if the Government could spend tens of thousands of pounds on Central Africa to put down slavery and assist Christian missionaries, charity should begin at home, even it did not end there. This was a case of urgency, and he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would promise a small grant. Probably £400 or £500 would be all that was required. He hoped it would not be necessary to put the House to the inconvenience of a division; but if the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for Scotland, could not see his way to promise something, he (Dr. Macgregor) would be compelled to move the reduction of his salary by £100. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would meet the case in a charitable and proper spirit, and if Christianity was not played out, let them cultivate and exercise one of its leading principles— do unto others as ye would that others should do unto you.


said he proposed to move a reduction of £100 in reference to the road tax in Ceylon.


pointed out that a Motion for reduction had already been moved by the hon. Member for Inverness-shire. [ Cries of "No, no."]


I did not gather that the hon. Gentleman did move a reduction.


What I said was that unless the right hon. Gentleman saw his way to meet my views, I would do so.


Then the hon. Member did not move?


No; but I will do so now.


Oh, no.


said he was glad to be able in this way to reply at once to the speech of his hon. Friend. The Government had got their eye fixed very carefully upon the state of things in the Highlands. They had Reports constantly sent from the Board of Supervision as to whether any special relief was wanted, and they were advised by the Board of Supervision that the very worst form in which relief could be given was the eleemosynary form of direct relief, and that the best form in which it could be given was in the shape of the employment of labour on works of public utility. In consequence, the Scottish Office had applied to the Treasury, and the Treasury had granted not £400 or £500, but £10,000 towards making roads and pathways in the Highlands. Of that how much had been given to Inverness-shire? Not £400 or £500, but £3,000. The local representatives, the County Council, were surely the persons who knew best the wants of the district, and so little did the County Council think it was necessary to make a very special grant to the Western Islands, that they actually proposed to take £500 or £600 out of the £3,000 and give that sum to the eastern districts in which there was no distress whatever. But he, as Secretary for Scotland, remembering the object with which the money had been given by the Treasury, reversed their decision and gave the whole of the £3,000 to the Western Islands. Now, this money was very much more than what was wanted to meet the present distress. The same thing was done in Ross-shire and the Lews, and he had just had a letter from the Lews from a private person of great authority, in which he said that an army of labourers were employed, and all able-bodied men were earning good wages. That was a very much better form in which to give public money than in what he called an eleemosynary grant in direct relief. None the less would the Government carefully watch how things went, and if during the next month or six weeks—the most trying time in districts like the west of Ireland and the west of Scotland— other measures were required to be taken, though he did not believe they would be required, they would be taken at once, and all the quicker for what his hon. Friend had brought before the House that evening.


said he wished to call attention to the Road Tax in Ceylon, and to move a reduction in the Vote of £100. This tax was a heavy burden upon the poor Cingalese labourers, and he trusted that the present Government would not be behind hand in relieving these people, especially in view of the tax that the late Government had relieved them of— the Paddy Tax. This charge had really become a Poll Tax upon the inhabitants of Ceylon, and amounting as it did to 1½ rupees, or the equivalent of 3s. English money, it pressed very hardly on the poor labourers, many of whom earned no more than 50 or 60 rupees a year. If it was not paid, the labourers were served with warrants to perform a certain amount of labour, and in default they could be committed to prison for a month, where they were placed amongst the worst kind of criminals. The warrants were levied by the Chairman of the Road Committees on the mere ipse dixit of his sub-officer. No evidence was adduced when the cases were gone into, and there was no appeal. Such a state of things called for the interference of the Government. Another injustice was that these warrants were kept hanging over the heads of the people. At the present moment it was said there were 80,000 warrants hanging over the heads of the labourers in Ceylon, and as in some cases two warrants might be out against one man, it might be taken that there were some 60,000 labourers affected. The evil effects of putting these poor people in prison was shown by the fact that whereas from 1878 to 1885 the number of defaulters sent to prison was only half the number of criminals there, from 1886 to 1891 the number of criminals had increased to double the number of defaulters. This showed that the defaulters by being obliged to associate with the criminal class had become in a great degree identified with that class. He would like to ask the Government to abolish the tax, or at any rate to make imprisonment for default impossible. Under ordinary circumstances in Ceylon, no one could be sent to prison for debt under a liability of 200 rupees, but in the case of this tax a defaulter should be sent to prison for a debt of l½ rupees. He trusted that in future evidence would be taken before warrants were made out, and that it would not lie with the Chairman of the Road Committees to get these people sent to prison. He moved to reduce the Vote by the sum of £100.

Amendment proposed, to leave out"£3,999,963," and insert"£3,999,863," instead thereof—(Mr. Schwann.)

Question proposed, "That £3,999,863 stand part of the Question."


did not think there was any urgent necessity for bringing this subject forward on the Vote on Account. The tax had been in existence for a great many years, and the question was not so urgent that it could not wait for discussion until the ordinary Estimates were under discussion. He was not there to defend the tax, which had very great drawbacks in connection with it. It was in the nature of a Poll Tax or compulsory labour in a large number of cases, and no doubt when default was made, sentence of imprisonment was passed on some who never ought to go to prison at all. His hon. Friend would agree, however, that in the present state of finances in Ceylon, and in view of the abolition of the Paddy Tax a year or two ago, the Ceylon finances would not admit of the remission of the tax at the present moment. The Secretary of State had had in view the great inequali- ties which existed in regard to the tax, and had already instructed the Governor in regard to the matter, who had reported to the Colonial Office with the view of improving and lightening the tax. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would be content with the assurance that the Government had already amended the tax in some particulars, that they desired to make it fairer and weigh with less force on the poorer population, and that they desired, if possible, in the future to abolish it, so that the differences and injustices the hon. Gentleman complained of might disappear. He hoped the hon. Member would rest content with that assurance.

SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)

said that what had just occurred was an illustration of the extreme difficulty under which the Members of the Opposition laboured in discussing the Vote on Account. He agreed with the doctrine laid down by the present President of the Local Government Board that on a Vote on Account they ought only to discuss matters that were urgent or the period of time the Vote was to cover. Certainly to his personal knowledge there were gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House who had had urgent questions to bring forward, He himself had wished to bring under the notice of the House a question of new expenditure, and the hon. Baronet, the Member for the Kingston Division of Surrey (Sir R. Temple), had a most important question.

MR. S. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid.)

rose to Order. He wished to know if the question raised by the hon. Member for Manchester had been disposed of?


The discussion must be confined to the Ceylon Road Tax.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question again proposed.


said he had been pointing out that the hon. Baronet had desired to call attention to a subject which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board considered a proper subject for debate on the Vote on Account, namely, the period of time for which the Vote should be taken. What he wished to point out was that these legitimate subjects for discussion, and more specially the hon. baronet, had been absolutely excluded from all possibility of bringing those subjects under the consideration of the Committee of Supply because hon. Members on the Government side of the House, and Ministers, had carried on the discussion during the whole of the afternoon on subjects like the conditions of the natives of Ceylon which might just as well have been brought on when the Vote came on in Committee of Supply. He would ask whether it would be possible to have some rules laid down for the discussions upon a Vote on Account which would permit legitimate subjects being raised and would prevent them from being excluded by illegitimate questions crowding in. The Vote on Account was closured on Tuesday against legitimate subjects that ought to have been discussed, and the whole time of the Committee was taken up by discussions which could well have taken place in ordinary Committee of Supply.


I wish to express my concurrence to some extent with the right hon. Gentleman in the remarks he has just made. I regret extremely that legitimate objects should have been shut out of the discussion. I admit that before I proposed the Closure a quarter of an hour remained for discussion, and it was possible, though not very probable, that at the end of that time the Committee might have arrived at a decision. Still it was obvious that in that time the door could not have been opened for much of the legitimate discussions to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. I hope some public utility may result from this discussion in the future treatment of the first Vote on Account which it is absolutely necessary to take in the interest of the Public Service.

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

said that if the House had been content to pass this Vote on Account without debate he should have been perfectly satisfied with the decision, but inasmuch as questions had been raised, and as the Parliamentary ship was already pretty well over laden and there might not be much opportunity on the Estimates of raising important questions, there were two points relating to the household of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to which he would take the present opportunity of drawing attention. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland at an early period of the Session announced a great change in the government of the asylums in Ireland. So far as he was concerned he concurred——


The hon. Gentleman was entirely within his right, and the discretion as to the exercise of that right must rest with himself; but I would submit to the hon. Member for his consideration that the only Member of the Government who can satisfactorily deal with the question he proposes to raise is the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. My right hon. Friend, having been detained by his Parliamentary duties a long time away from Ireland, has felt himself compelled to return to there and to withdraw from the House. I do not complain of the spirit of the hon. Member's remarks.


The right hon. Gentleman has given a perfectly satisfactory reason why I should not proceed with my remarks.

MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S. E.)

said other Members as well as hon. Gentlemen opposite had the interests of their constituents to look after. A committee of inquiry was appointed by the Presi- dent of the Board of Trade, which seriously affected the interests of his constituents, the sailors at the estuary of the Thames and on the shores of the North Sea. All he wished to say was, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would extend his benevolent considerations to the recommendations of that Committee, so far as they affected his constituents. There was another question he desired to call attention to as an agricultural Member. He saw there was a sum of £8,000 down for the Board of Agriculture, but for himself he failed to see what that Board had done during the last eight months to justify its existence in any way. It was true the President of the Board of Agriculture had prohibited the importation of cattle about 8 months ago. He (Major Rasch) thought the right hon. Gentleman had done right. But beyond this the people of Essex wanted a great deal from the Board of Agriculture, and all the Government offered them was a Committee of Inquiry. That meant that the agricultural interest was to be kept quiet until after the next General Election by the offer of a Committee of Inquiry. They had had some experience of the usefulness of these inquiries in the case of the Committee which sat to consider the condition of the hop industry. Nothing whatever had resulted from that inquiry. The subject of the incidence of tithe, the labelling of foreign meat, or the incidence of local taxation, might well form the subjects of inquiry, but as a result they should have something more from the Government than the sympathetic reference to agriculture which was contained in the Queen's Speech.

MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

said that there were matters connected with the Highlands of Scotland of a serious character which required immediate attention. People were starving in the Lews, but the Secretary for Scotland preferred to take his information from private sources rather than from representative ones. He (Mr. Weir) had his information from the representatives of the people in the district. A District Committee met two or three days ago at Stornoway, and they reported that there was a serious amount of distress prevailing in the island. The Secretary for Scotland said he could not give direct assistance in the form of corn and potato seed. Were they then to let the people die of starvation? Whether either a Liberal or a Conservative Government was in power, he (Mr. Weir) thought it his duty to bring such a matter before the House. He was as anxious as any that the great measures now before them should be pressed forward, but he thought they should look after hearth and home first. The right hon. Gentleman (the Secretary for Scotland) said that he must be guided by the Board of Supervision, but his (Mr. Weir's) experience was that that was an arrogant, idle, and useless body, who knew nothing about the work it had to do, and the sooner it was wiped out of existence the better. An hon. Member for an English constituency (Mr. Snape), who, like several other Liberal and Radical Members, ignored the Highland constituencies, found fault with him for putting certain questions. He was sorry to put questions in the House, but what alternative had he? He had never received a straightforward answer to any questions he had asked the Board of Supervision. He might inform the Secretary for Scotland that the medical officer of health for his constituency was now, and had been for the last two months, enjoying himself in Egypt. Why was he not in Ross and Cromarty? He was not at all surprised that the right hon. Gentleman sought to draw a veil over the dark doings of the Board of Supervision. He commended the right hon. Gentleman for standing by that Board, but he would commend him far more if he swept that Board out of existence. Farther, during the summer months, the same county medical officer spent his time at Strathpeffer, making fees out of the aristocratic persons who visited the Spa. He was sorry the Secretary for Scotland encouraged that system, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see for the future that the county medical officers in Scotland confined themselves to the public duties for which they were paid. He moved to reduce the Vote by £500 in respect of the salaries for the Board of Supervision.


The hon. Gentleman cannot do that.

MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)

said he thought his hon. Friend was entitled to an answer from the President of the Board of Agriculture as to when the Committee on Agriculture was going to be appointed. He thought the Government had treated the House rather badly and agriculture very badly in having taken no notice of the subject of agricultural depression since the mere mention of it in the Queen's Speech.


I assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not intend any discourtesy, but was only waiting to see the course of the Debate before I replied. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the duties of the Board of Agriculture are very wide, and involve the consideration of many subjects. For instance, during the last few months, there have been two outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, one in London and the other near Hastings, and, as it is of the highest importance that this disease should be suppressed, I think that the efforts which have been successfully made by the Board to suppress it, justify to a large extent the expenditure to which reference has been made. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the Board of Agriculture is composed of ordinary beings and is not endowed with superhuman powers. If it has carried out the great objects for which it was appointed, and supervised the great interest over which it is placed, I submit it has done its duty. When the Government proposed the appointment of a Committee they did so for reasons which I had the honour of explaining to the House during the debate on the Address. We felt that no direct legislative proposal which would prove a remedy for agricultural distress had been submitted to the Government either in the House or outside the House. In this I think the late President of the Board of Agriculture will agree with me because he has himself stated that the policy of his friends in this House ought to be to force on the Government a Committee of enquiry into certain specific objects only. The reason why that Committee has not come into being is very obvious to the House. If its appointment had not been opposed the Committee would now have been sitting for some time, and would probably have made some reports of service to the Agricultural interest. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin), however, acting of course within his legitimate rights, met the proposal with an Amendment tantamount to a direct negative, it being his opinion that the appointment of the proposed Committee would be of no service to agriculture. I myself believe that the proposal, had it been accepted, would have led to good results, and can only regret that the Government has not been allowed to proceed with appointment of the Committee.


This is not of course the occasion for entering into a discussion on Agriculture, and I should not have said a word on the subject but for the direct challenge which has been thrown out by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He has made an inaccurate statement as to the course I have taken. He says that when notice was given on the Motion for the appointment of a Committee, I met it with a direct negative. I did nothing of the kind. I thought the inquiry proposed by the Government was unwise, as it would be not only useless but possibly injurious to agriculture, inasmuch as its effect would be to postpone any remedial measures for an indefinite time. What I asked the House by my amendment to say was, that, while anxious to consider specific proposals for the relief of agricultural depression, we declined to embark on a general and exhaustive inquiry into the nature and causes of the distress, when such nature and causes were manifest already, thereby postponing any measures of relief for an indefinite time. Can any hon. Member dispute the terms of that amendment? Are not the causes of agricultural depression manifest already? Of course they are. I object altogether to a long inquiry into those causes, more particularly because the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he spoke on the question, went out of his way to say that one of the first things the Committee would have to inquire into, was why none of the recommendations of the Committee of 1836 had been carried out. Another reason why I opposed the inquiry was because we were informed by the Government that it was to be based upon the precedent of 1836. That is one of the most unfortunate precedents that could possibly have been advanced as a solution for agricultural depression. The President of the Board of Agriculture and the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not seem to be aware that although the Committee appointed in 1836 took a great deal of evidence, it failed to make any recommendations whatever, in fact it never reported at all. Under these circumstances, can anybody say that, in the interests of agriculture, I have taken any other course but a wise, a just, and a proper course in refusing to be a party to an inquiry of that kind. In my opinion, the inquiry would have been nothing but a farce and a snare, and it would have resulted in no good whatever. I adhere to the terms of the Resolution I have put upon the Paper, and I am perfectly prepared—(" Divide, divide.") If we, on this side, attempt to say a single word on behalf of agriculture in the House, we are always met by interruptions from the other side. It was not my fault that I rose to speak. My conduct was directly challenged by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, and I do not see that I have done anything but justify the course I have taken. If the Government has any proposals to make we shall be very glad to hear them and consider them. I am not responsible for the business of the House. The Government could have at any moment brought on a discussion on the question of agriculture. Had they deemed it desirable that their scheme should be carried out, I shall certainly not throw any impediment in the way of a proper inquiry into specific proposals for the relief of agriculture. On the contrary, I will give all the assistance in my power, but I will not be a party to any vague and broad and general inquiry into causes which are perfectly manifest.

Resolution agreed to.