§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE,) Edinburgh, Midlothian
I rise to make the proposal which stands in my name. As there appears to be a suspicion on the opposite side of the House with regard to the Business to be taken upon the exempted Wednesdays to which I referred the other day, I beg to withdraw what I formerly said, and I will exempt from the Motion I intend to make Wednesday, May 3rd, when the Miners Eight Hours Bill will be taken. What we ask with regard to Wednesdays is that we should have the same rights as in regard to the Tuesdays. I am very sensible that we are making a considerable demand. The question is whether that demand is justified by the state and the requirements of Public Business. I am sensible that it is possible to raise two questions on this Motion, one as to the necessity—the amount of necessity— which we find actually existing, and the other—if hon. Gentlemen are inclined to widen the field of discussion—as to how that necessity has come about. I intend to avoid the last-named subject. I find that considerable warmth and great consumption of time results from the method in which various Members have thought it their duty to discuss the subject of Procedure during the present Session. On the subject of the mode in which the present difficulty has been brought about, I might say that even I am conscious of having within me the materials of what 1513 is called a fighting speech, which, at whatever cost to myself, I have the strongest desire to suppress. There can be no justification, so far as I am concerned, for setting a bad example in the discussion of a question which appears to me to be a strictly limited question, and one capable of being disposed of in a short time. I shall, therefore, speak solely of the necessity which exists, reserving for myself and every one else full liberty of opinion as to the mode in which that necessity has been brought out, and as to the responsibility for it. The necessity itself may be said to stand thus: Now, in the Speech from the Throne, the Sovereign announced, on the part of the Administration, the intention to introduce 12 Bills to the consideration of Parliament. These were measures of sufficient importance to warrant their being brought under the notice of Parliament in that which is the most formal manner. Of those Bills seven have been introduced; four have not been introduced, and remain as they were on the day the Speech was read; and the remaining one, having been happily exempted from the stigma of being a Bill of a contentious character, has made considerable progress—I refer to the Hours of Railway Servants Bill. Although that is a Bill of great importance within its own sphere, still it is also a Bill which evidently constitutes a very small portion of the entire Business of the Session. I will not go over the names of all these Bills, but I may perhaps mention, without the slightest imputation or desire to draw advantage unfairly, that the Irish Government Bill has been declared by the Leader of the Opposition to be a Bill of itself which will require the whole time of the Session. A Bill of that kind cannot possibly be lightly dealt with. It is an elementary and imperative duty of the Government to do everything in their power, by soliciting the House, if necessary, as we now do, for an additional grant of time, to secure competent and ample discussion for that Bill. Behind that are many other measures of the greatest importance. I might mention, by way of specimen, the Bill introduced for the purpose of further amending the Local Government of this country by establishing Parish Councils. That is a Bill which it would be unworthy of this 1514 House to deal lightly with, and it is amply sufficient to justify a liberal sacrifice of the facilities now given to private Members in order to secure a reasonable and effective and practical discussion, and also a judgment of the House on the other main propositions of the Government. I am not aware that we have lost any opportunity that was open to us to bring forward our Bills. From the pressure of circumstances, the time consumed in dealing with those subjects that the House has had to encounter before Easter, and which formerly were hardly reckoned in the consumption of Parliamentary time, has become of late increasingly formidable, and has grown to an unprecedented degree. Taking the last six years, I find that, as regards the Supplementary Estimates, not including the Vote on Account, the average time consumed has been seven days, but, as there are one or two points that may be open to discussion as to what should be set down, I propose to give an additional day in order to get rid of all dispute as to the accuracy of the calculation. With regard to the Address, it is not possible to make the calculation upon the same basis, because, owing to an inconvenient practice which had been gradually growing up and which became, I will not say flagrant, but grave and serious—the late Government, from a souse of public duty, entirely altered the form of the Address, withdrew, and justifiably withdrew, from the old practice of referring in the Address to every matter contained in the Speech, and gave the House nothing to discuss except a proposal to return thanks to the Crown for the gracious Speech from the Throne. We have only had two years' experience of that altered system, but the experience of those two years gives an average of three days for disposing of the Address. If we add these three days to the eight days devoted to the Supplementary Estimates, and the first Votes for the Army and Navy, at the outside I reckon 11 days as the sum total of the deductions made of late years from Parliamentary time by those impediments to the progress of Legislative Business. This year, instead of 11 days for these two subjects, the Address alone took 10 days and Supply, apart from the Vote on Account, 13 days.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
No, certainly not; neither were the others complete days. The 13 days and the 10 days together make 23 days, instead of 11 taken away from the time at the disposal of the Government in which to put forward their programme of legislation. Not a single contested Bill, and only one Bill of any importance, has received a Second Reading. Four of the Bills mentioned in the Queen's Speech have not been introduced, and seven have not received a Second Reading. From day to day, and chiefly from the Opposition side of the House, special invitations come to us to undertake new subjects of legislation. "Are you going to do this?" or "Are you going to do that?"—these inquiries being almost in the nature of obliging invitations. There is no doubt whatever of the tendency to widen and enlarge the legislative programme of the Government. The state of things which I have laid before the House appears to me to impose upon us the necessity for such propositions as that which I have placed, Sir, in your hands. After all, the question is whether the duties of this House to the country are to be discharged or not. There is only one way in which they can be discharged, and it is by such a large and liberal allocation of time to the proposals of the Government as will enable us to submit to the fullest consideration all the propositions we have made and upon most, if not the whole, of which we hope to secure the judgment of the House. On this case of necessity I entirely rely, and on the obligation which, I believe, this House is as conscious of as any previous House of Commons to make the utmost progress that circumstances will permit with the performance of its great duties, and to allow no secondary object to intervene to prevent us from making effectual way upon the only road towards the full discharge of our duties to the country.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That after Easter, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (except on Wednesday, the 3rd of May) Government Business have precedence of the Notices of Motions and Orders of the Day: That on Fridays the House do meet at Two o'clock, and the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the sittings of Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the morning sittings of
Fridays; provided always, that whenever the Government of Ireland Bill is appointed on Friday, except for proceedings in Committee, the House do meet at Three o'clock, and that Bill do have precedence of the Orders of the Day and Notices of Motions."—(Mr. W. E. Gladstone.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
Before I come to traverse the grounds on which the right hon. Gentleman has based his Motion, let me, for one moment, call the attention of the House to what the Motion really is. It is a Motion which almost entirely deprives hon. Members of their right to bring forward any independent proposal or to move Resolutions of a more abstract character. This Motion, which practically hands the House over, bound and defenceless, to the Government, is brought forward at a period of the year which makes the proposal almost absolutely unprecedented—not only in the amount of liberty of which it deprives private Members, but in the scope and magnitude of its claims as regards the time at which it is to come into operation. Last year it was my duty, on behalf of the Government, to obtain certain concessions from the House as regards time before Easter. The Resolution was not limited specifically to Easter. The Opposition of that day said, "You are asking for these privileges up to a day considerably beyond Easter; we will give you the privileges, but not for a day beyond Easter; and if you want further privileges after that, you must come to us again." But what limit is there to the present proposal? None whatever, either as regards time or as regards the measures which will come under the operation of the Resolution. As regards time, it operates not until Whitsuntide, not until the end of the Session, but to the end of the Autumn Session, if, by any chance, an adjournment is made from August to October. There is no enumeration in this Resolution of the proposals for which the Government asks the time of the House. Perhaps they will say that the Queen's Speech gives an indication of the measures for which they are asking for time. ["Hear, hear!"] I hear some hon. Gentlemen say" Hear, hear." They were not in the House yesterday, I suppose, when the Government endeavoured to adopt, or did adopt, a measure not in the Queen's Speech—a 1517 measure of which we had no suspicion or ground for believing, until half an hour before our proceedings closed, that it was intended to be adopted as a Government measure at all. Let us not deceive ourselves. What the Government are asking for now is not only the whole time of private Members, but they request it for an indefinite period, and for indefinite and absolutely unknown measures. The House of Commons has never been asked, and has never granted to any Government at this time of the year, privileges of this kind; and if the House of Commons now, in a moment of weakness, is going to make this unprecedented concession, I think private Members on both sides of the House, and not least the private Members on the other side, who are always consumed with a special ardour for legislation, may have, in future years, when the balance of Parties is perhaps somewhat differently arranged, considerable reason to rue the precedent which they are now setting. So much for the proposal of the Government—so much for the strange manner in which the Government, who are responsible for the Business of this House, think that Business ought to be conducted. Now, as to the justification which they have brought forward. The right hon. Gentleman, in terms elaborately and studiously peaceable, hinted dimly and distantly at obstruction, but rested most of his claim upon two propositions—first, that the amount of time taken up to the present by the House had been of so exceptional a character that exceptional means were required to redress the balance; and secondly, he rested it upon the special necessities of the Government for carrying on the great legislative programme which they announced in the Queen's Speech. The right hon. Gentleman was very inadequate in his general review of the situation. I will first take the point which he has dealt with, and then say a word about a point which he has not dealt with. As regards the point which he has dealt with—namely, the amount of time taken up by the House in discussing the necessary Supply and the Queen's Speech—I must say that my own researches have led me to very different conclusion from that which the right hon. Gentleman laid before the House. He tells us in reference to 1518 Supply that this year our proceedings have taken up part, of 13 days. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman followed the example of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and included the day upon which the Chairman was moved into the Chair—a peaceable operation which occupied about three-quarters of a minute.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I did not include that day. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that Saturday was devoted to Supply, and, the Friday having been occupied in disputing about the Saturday Sitting, I have reckoned that as given to Supply.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I did so for this reason, that instead of seven days, which I conceive to be the strict measure, I allowed eight days, which gave a margin.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Perhaps you will allow me for my purposes, and subject to the explanation which has been given, to say that 12 days were occupied in discussions of Supply this year. In those 12 days, the right hon. Gentleman has not included, and he had a perfect right to exclude it, the discussion on the Vote on Account. But I also have a perfect right, for the purposes of comparison, to include the discussion on the Vote on Account. I believe that the Vote on Account took practically part of one day, with the exception of yesterday, when it took very little time. If the Patronage Secretary will look through Hansard, as I did the other day, with regard to the time taken up by Supply last year, including the discussions on the Vote on Account, I believe he will find that parts of 16 days were taken up by these proceedings, and he will see that no less than three days were taken up by Supply. But in many years, when the Supplementary Estimates are few and the subjects raised trifling, three or four days might be an excessive amount of time to allow. When, however, the Supplementary Estimates raise, as they do this year, questions of unusual and almost unprecedented magnitude, no comparison can be of the slightest value as between this year and last. I mention four—Uganda, the new Naval Programme, the Evicted Tenants 1519 Commission, and the new system of payment with regard to the Law Officers. Every one of these questions, either by the fault or the misfortune of the Government, were raised on the Supplementary Estimates, and hon. Members generally could not wait to discuss them until a more remote or more convenient season. The right hon. Gentleman, in reference to the Debate on the Queen's Speech, was not more happy. He reminded us of the change made in the form of the Address, and probably it would be unfair for the purposes of comparison to go back to the days before the change was made; but my recollection is that in the six years on which he based his average of the time that should be taken by the Queen's Speech was one year in which the Address was allowed to run through, owing to peculiar circumstances to which I need not further refer. To include that year among the years on which he bases his average is putting a strain upon our statistical consciences. If the Government find themselves embarrassed as regards their business, it is because they have started a method of doing it which is wholly novel in this House. The right hon. Gentleman has talked of the seven measures which have been introduced. Did any Government, since Governments began—did it ever occur to any Government to introduce seven measures like the Local Veto Bill, like the Home Rule Bill, like the Welsh Suspensory Bill, like the Registration Bill, like the Parish Councils Bill, and like the Employers' Liability Bill, before Easter, and ask the House to consider them on their First Reading? The motives which may have animated the right hon. Gentleman I have no doubt are excellent from his own point of view, and I am not complaining of them. He has a very difficult Party to manage. He has a Party composed of various sections and wanting many and varying things, each of them concerned in their own particular crotchets, and all of them totally indifferent to the crotchets of the others. I think it very likely that, the right hon. Gentleman has done the very best thing from his own point of view; but if that be the way to manage the Liberal Party, it is not the way to manage the House of Commons. If you insist upon attempting to manage the House of Commons, with a view not to 1520 the Business of the country, but to your own Party wire-pulling exigencies, it is absolutely inevitable that you will find yourselves in the bog in the manner in which you now describe yourselves to be. The proposal, for the reasons I have given—partly from its nature, and partly from its alleged justification—is one which, in my opinion, the House of Commons should reject. I am not sure that the time at which the proposal is brought forward, and the time to which it refers, are not almost the worst part of it. We are asked on the Thursday before Good Friday to pass a Resolution which hands us over to the Government for the Thursday after Easter Day. We are asked, when a half-manned and a half-competent Assembly, to give up our liberties, in order that we may be trampled upon, in an also half-manned Assembly, on Thursday next, after a week's holiday. Surely, the Government must fee!, when they ask the House of Commons thus to give up its privileges, they should ask it at a time when the verdict given in the Lobbies would represent the real opinions of this Assembly. Does any one pretend that that is the case, or can be the case, on the Thursday afternoon before Good Friday, at half-past 5? Sir, the thing is absurd. Still more absurd, and still more unjustifiable is it to ask us that this rule shall come into operation on the Thursday after Easter, and on that day that the House shall begin the discussion on the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill. We all know what the object of the Government is. They wish to rush that measure. I confess I should have thought, when they are dealing with a Constitutional change—whether it be good or bad, whether it be desirable or undesirable; but at all events the most momentous change which has ever been proposed by any Government since England had a Constitution—I should have thought that they would have taken some care that the people of the country should be able to discuss and acquaint themselves with the measure, and that the House of Commons should not be asked to discuss it at a time when hon. Members cannot be present in large numbers. But the Government take a different course. They are quite aware of the extreme embarrassment and inconvenience they will cause to those 1521 Members who had got meetings in the country to address by the procedure they have adopted. Possibly, that inconvenience may have been one of their motives. Possibly, they thought they might hamper the agitation, of which they are afraid, by the proceedings in which they have indulged. Sir, they have made a mistake, and my belief is that nothing will point better the speeches of those hon. Members who are going about the country to expose the Home Rule Bill than the obvious intention of the Government, even at the cost of the liberties of the House of Commons, force it prematurely through our Debates.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he heard cries of "Divide!" but they were not going to divide for some Hours. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had said he could have made a fighting speech. Some of the hon. Members of the Opposition were disposed to make righting speeches, to show that they resented in every way this infraction upon the liberties and rights of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman had brought forward statistics to show that what he was proposing was not worse than what was done in previous years. Such a comparison was of little value, unless all the incidents and circumstances were taken into account. This year private Members had had 16 days of the time of the House, and he believed they were to have one more to discuss the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill. Last year private Members had 39 days at their disposal. The iniquity of the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was that it was gerrymandering the time of the House. The Government had power to take every Wednesday, but they were not compelled to utilise those days. The result would be that if any Radical measure, which the Government desired to see passed, was down for a particular Wednesday, that day would not be taken, but on the Wednesdays when measures were down in which the Opposition took an interest the exigencies of the public service would require the Home Rule Bill to be proceeded with on those days. The very fact that such a construction might be put on the intentions of the Government ought to make them pause before proposing the change, and the House certainly ought not to give them 1522 the power to act in this unfair and partial manner. If the House had any courage left it would resist to the uttermost the despotism with which everything was now being carried on. The parrot cry of "obstruction" was absolute rubbish, and the position in which the Government found themselves was due to the systematic tyranny of their small majority. During the last two months there had been scarcely a measure of importance that had been carried through or was likely to become law. The object of the Government seemed to have been to bring in a large number of abortive Bills, and the Prime Minister had said that 12 measures were mentioned in the Queen's Speech. The right hon. Gentleman knew that never in the history of Parliament had 12 gigantic and revolutionary measures been carried in a single Session. Such a thing was an absolute impossibility. Those Bills were introduced, not with a view of their passing, but simply in order to keep the different sections of the Radical Party together. Of all these measures, however, the only one likely to become law was the Employers' Liability Bill, because hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House were anxious to pass a fair and proper measure for placing the liability of employers and workmen on a better and more satisfactory basis than at present. He need not refer to the Home Rule Bill because they all knew what was going to happen to that. The Local Veto Bill, however, was not likely to get a further stage. He might say the same with regard to the Bill for the Disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales, which, however, had served its purpose in having wasted a great deal of the time of the House. He ventured to assert that, to bring in these Bills simply for the purpose of keeping friends and i allies together, to abolish the Twelve o'Clock Rule, to make the House sit on Saturdays time after time, to do away with the Easter Holidays, and then to propose to take the whole of the time be-longing to private Members for the purpose be had mentioned, was not fair treatment of the House of Commons, and not paying proper respect to that Assembly, and he would also say that no one but the right hon. Gentleman would have been allowed to carry out such a course of procedure had it been proposed 1523 by any other hon. Member of the House. But what, he asked, was the main object of this arrangement? There could only be one reason for the feverish haste exhibited by the Prime Minister. It was, as had been stated by the Leader of the Opposition, to prevent the country from understanding the real meaning and ultimate aim and object of the miserable Home Rule Bill brought in by Her Majesty's Government. That was the reason why the House of Commons was being dragooned and trampled on in this way. The Government were like a man who, by false or fraudulent pretences, had got hold of an open cheque for a large amount, and who, in a state of great anxiety, rushed as fast as possible to the bank to get the cash before he could be found out. The Government had, under false pretences, got a majority of that House with an open cheque from the country, and having filled it in with their abominable Home Rule Bill, which the country did not understand, were hurrying on the Second Reading of the measure before it could be understood that its effect would be to absolutely ruin and beggar the nation which had enabled them to bring it on. Therefore in this matter time was a part of the bargain. When the Prime Minister was asked to receive a deputation from Ireland on the subject of the Home Rule Bill, he put the deputation off, and although he at last did consent to receive another deputation——
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I never declined to see them. On the contrary, the moment they wrote to me, sending me their very able document couched in most proper language, I at once telegraphed back to them, telling them I should be most happy to see them.
§ MR. BARTLEY
said, he thought that was an afterthought. He believed, however, there was a deputation of Irish Unionists which was declined an audience of the Prime Minister, but which was received by an influential nobleman, and received in quite another spirit to that displayed by the right hon. Gentleman. He would, however, refer to the Unionists' meeting proposed to be held in the Albert Hall on the 22nd of April—such a meeting as was never proposed in this country, and which would prove a remarkable illustration of the power of Ulster against the Home Rule measure. What was 1524 meant by the action of the Government was that if, by any possible means, the Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill could be taken before that date it could then be said that the country had decided on the principle of Home Rule, and therefore that meeting would be of no use as an indication of the feeling of the country. The Opposition were, however, trying to prevent such a result, and it was for this reason they took the attitude they had assumed. If they were proposing to pull down Westminster Abbey, that proposal would be discussed with greater care and attention, and with more time at the disposal of the House, than they were likely to get in regard to the Prime Minister's proposal to pull down the Empire, which it had taken so many centuries to build up. The question for the House was— would it allow the feverish anxiety of the right hon. Gentleman to carry all before it? Was the right hon. Gentleman likely to add laurels to his crown by these interferencs with the privileges of Parliament? Was it not enough in one Session to bring in measures to upset the Empire, disestablish the Church, rob the publicans, and sow discord in the parishes of the country? If the right hon. Gentleman succeeded in accomplishing a tenth of the work he had set before himself he would have raised for himself a monument bigger than any other man had had in the history of the world, and that monument would be the piled-up ruins of the greatest Empire that had ever existed. It had always been said that Radicalism was synonymous with despotism, and they had a proof of that statement in the attempt which the right hon. Gentleman now made to ride roughshod over the minority in the House of Commons. There were, however, more than 300 Members of that House who would not agree to the system of Radical despotism which the right hon. Gentleman sought to enforce, and which, although objected to when the Conservatives were accused of it, was now strenuously supported by the followers of the Prime Minister. The Opposition would resist this system of despotism in every way, and if the right hon. Gentleman persisted in carrying his Resolution, his opponents would use every form of the House against him. They asserted that this Motion was unnecessary; that it had been brought about by the 1525 desire of the Government to do what was impossible, and they resisted it because they believed the measures the Government wished to pass were destructive of the best interests of the country, and because they wished to save the country even when it was brought to the brink of a precipice by one imperious and impatient man, who was old enough to be wiser.
§ SIR J. GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
wished to say a few words from the point of view of an ordinary private Member. He remembered that four years ago, when the present Government was in Opposition, some two or three months later in the Session, the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister objected to the time of the House being taken by the Government, because, he said, it would be infringing the privileges of private Members more than was fair to those Members. He (Sir J. Goldsmid) said at the time that there were precedents for the demand—namely, those of the years 1882 and 1883, and at the request of the right hon. Gentleman he had furnished him with a list of them. Further, he had lately been searching amongst the records, and had failed to find any precedent for the whole time of the House being taken by the Government as early as the beginning of April. The reasons might be imperious—he would not say anything on that subject, though he might have a strong opinion with regard to it. He really did think, however, from the point of view of private Members, who, after all, had initiated most valuable legislation in past years, that it was a very serious matter to set the example of taking the whole of the time four or five months before the ordinary end of the Session. It seemed to him to be well worthy of the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be fairer to the House not to take the whole time, but to leave, say, the ordinary Fridays without Morning Sittings to private Members. Experience showed that when Fridays were left wholly untouched the subjects which private Members brought before the House were dealt with in a rapid and intelligent manner. If, however, the present proposal of the Government were adopted in all probability there would be no Friday night sittings. The work of the House was so exhausting that Mem- 1526 bers would rather give up everything than bring on Motions on Friday after a Morning Sitting. It came to this, that private Members this Session had not been allowed six weeks of time to bring forward the questions in which they were interested—because they must remember that in the early part of the Session the whole of the time of the House was devoted to the discussion on the Address. The right hon. Gentleman, who on previous occasions had vindicated the rights of private Members, proposed now to take away from them those rights to a greater extent than had ever been known in the history of Parliament. He (Sir J. Goldsmid) trusted he had not said anything which would jar on the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. S. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid.)
did not propose to lengthen this unreal Debate, but wished to put a definite question to the Government. He did not think it was a very great hardship that after Easter private Members should be deprived of the time at their disposal for the carrying of Bills, because no private Member's Bill introduced after Easter had the ghost of a chance of passing. He would, however, like to mention one Bill which had passed the Second Reading without a Division and which had gone through the Standing Committee on Law. [The hon. Member was understood to refer to the Places of Worship (Enfranchisement) Bill.] He wished to acknowledge the assistance they had had in the Committee from the Government, as represented by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and the Under Secretary for the Home Department. He wished to ask if the Government would undertake to carry that measure through the Report stage and Third Reading? He did not suppose there would be any opposition to it at all. There was one notice on the Paper with regard to it, but he did not suppose it would be proceeded with, and there bad been no opposition to it until now.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
All the usual facilities will be given for Bills which have passed through the Grand Committee.
§ SIR W. HART DYKE (Kent, Dartford)
I am not at all inclined to acquiesce in what was said by the hon. Gentleman who has just put a question to the 1527 Prime Minister when he spoke of the unreality of this Debate. If there be anything unreal in the Debate, it must be due, I think, to the Government who have brought forward a proposition which practically revolutionises the whole practice of Parliament at a time when they must have known that a vast number of Members are absent, to-morrow being Good Friday. I will not go into the question constantly raised when subjects of this kind are before the House, that is to say the question of obstruction of Public Business. I know something of obstruction, because I happened to be a Member of the House at the time your honoured predecessor, Sir, occupied the Chair, and in the capacity of Whip I happened to have a great deal to do with the management of a great political Party. A great deal has happened since those days, and I am familiar with the proceedings which have taken place. I have long been a Member of this Assembly, for which I have a deep affection. It is, therefore, natural that I should speak warmly on this matter. This is not the time to enter into altercations with one side of the House or the other. I cannot agree with the Prime Minister when he endeavoured to indicate how it is and why it is that the necessity has arisen for this Motion, and how it is and why it is that Her Majesty's Government have encountered such a grievous block in Public Business as to feel it desirable to make such a Motion as this. It must be obvious to every one who has had six months' experience of the management of business in this House that the position in which the Government is placed is due to the extraordinary number of measures they have produced and paraded. The right hon. Gentleman near me has said it is not for us to inquire into the motives of the Government. Well, whatever the motives of the Government, whatever the urgency, the result is unfortunate for the good name of this Assembly. What is their method? It is that of electioneering by a novel and modern system—by programme. That is an unfortunate method, because it necessitates these expedients—it necessitates the introduction of a large number of measures, anyone of which would require a whole Session to pass. When there is a demand 1528 from any particular section of the House for a measure, that measure is pulled down from its place, paraded for a moment, and then hung up again. The Government are giving us an object lesson in how not to get through the Business of Parliament. I do not deny that the strongest measures have been adopted from time to time for taking the time of private Members when the exigences of business have demanded it; but I say that this is the first occasion on which the whole time of the House has been taken by the Government at this early period of the Session. All the time to the end of the Session is swept away by the Government, the only time-left to private Members being the miserable driblet on Friday evening.. That, I say, is handing the House over to a bondage which makes an absurdity of Parliamentary proceedings. What position does that place hon. Members in with regard to the pledges they have given their constituents and which they may honourably wish to keep? How do I find myself placed? I do not wish to be egotistical, but I take my own case as a concrete example of what this revolutionary Motion will mean. I may confess that throughout my chequered career I have always been, most unfortunate in lotteries and games of chance, and have long given them up. as vulgar and indifferent amusements.. It may hardly be believed, but I have never been once successful even in the lottery that gives a place to a fair occupant of the Ladies' Gallery. But for once fortune smiled upon me. Out of 400 Members who ballotted at the commencement of the Session, I came out seventh, and I took the first place on April 19 for a measure of great importance to the fruit-growing industry. What do I find? I find all my chances swept away. We have had a great many agricultural discussions already this Session, and I think if there ever was a Government on the Front Bench opposite who ought to give facilities for the discussion of agricultural questions it is the present Government, who take so much interest in the agricultural labourer. We heard a great deal at the General Election of what would happen to the agricultural labourer in Kent and Sussex if hon. Gentlemen opposite were returned to power. Well, what has 1529 happened? I secured the best avail- able day after Easter for the discussion of my Bill, and I find that my chances are utterly and absolutely swept away. I shall never have the opportunity this Session of standing here to urge the claims of this great industry, and to put my case upon its merits, whatever they may be. I say that is a barbarous state of things. But, after all, there is something more to be considered than my convenience when we are dealing with such a preposterous Motion as this. We have to consider the future good name of this Assembly, and, as one who has sat in the House for 28 years, I say that such a Motion as this, involving a harsh and tyrannical proceeding on the part of the Government, will injure the future good name of the House more than any proposal ever submitted. I am not myself in favour of long nights or of obstructive proceedings, or of boasting or threatening, which I consider are signs of inherent weakness; but as an old Member of this House, beyond and apart from any inconvenience which hon. Members may suffer, I deeply regret the Motion proposed to-day, considering, as I do, that it, is an obvious attempt by the right hon. Gentleman to put his heel down on the throats of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. It was in that sense alone that I wish to be taken, in view of the language that has been used outside the House, not by the right hon. Gentleman himself, but by others who sit with him. I deeply regret that the Government have been, I was going to say foolish enough, to put forward such a demand, for in the end they will make nothing by it. Not only will they gain nothing by it, but I believe that serious loss will accrue to the good name of this House, as regards the quietude and decorum of its proceedings. As any decision which may be taken this evening with our attenuated numbers will be more or less a farce, I could not sit here without making as strong a protest as language can convey against the Motion.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
No one who has had the honour of sitting in this House for a considerable number of years, as I have, could have done so with- 1530 out being able to bear testimony to the uniformly kindly and courteous manner in which the right hon. Baronet who has just spoken conducted the affairs of his Department when acting as Whip to the Conservative Party. Though I must endeavour to disprove one or two statements he made, at the same time I should like to reciprocate the feeling expressed by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to upholding the character of the House, maintaining the freedom of its Debates, and not impairing any of its ancient privileges. But I must say to the right hon. Baronet, and I must say to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that somehow or other, their transfer across the floor of the House seems to have had a marvellous effect on their memories, seeing that they describe the Motion as involving a 'perfectly novel proceeding. They have forgotten what occurred during the Administration of the late Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said that it was absolutely unprecedented to put down 12 important measures in the Queen's Speech.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My complaint was not as to what was in the Queen's Speech, but of this method of introducing six or eight measures, all of the most extraordinary controversial character.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
The right hon. Gentleman criticised severely the number of measures in the Queen's Speech ["No, no!"] I am in the recollection of the House. The right hon. Gentleman's memory has, no doubt, been refreshed, and he now recollects what took place at the commencement of the Session of 1891, when the Government of the day put 11 measures into the Queen's Speech—11 measures of a highly controversial character, dealing with the Irish Land system, Local Government in Ireland, Local Government in England, Employers' Liability, and a vast number of other highly important subjects. The right hon. Gentleman criticises the mode in which our Bills have been brought forward.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
Perhaps we might criticise the manner in which opposition has been offered to the introduction of these measures—the manner in which a Second Reading Debate has 1531 been forced on on the occasion of the introduction of every Bill we have brought forward. But the discussion is on the Motion before the House. The right hon. Baronet who has just sat down has stated this to be a novel proceeding. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition says that no such Motion has ever been presented before so early in the Session. Well, we have now reached 30th March. On 22nd March, 1887, the then Leader of the House, the late Mr. Smith, proposed and carried a Resolution that the introduction and several stages of the Criminal Law Amendment (Ire-land) Bill should have precedence of all Orders of the day and Notices of Motion whenever the Bill should be set down. [Opposition cheers.] Right hon. and hon. Members opposite cheer that, and I can assure them that the Government consider that the Bill for the better Government of Ireland is quite as important as the measure to which they gave precedence. I know the significance of cheers of hon. Members opposite. They imply that the precedence was confined to the Crimes Act. ["Hear, hear!"] I am glad I have correctly interpreted the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite. They took the whole time of the House, and occupied it —subject to necessary interruptions for Supply—with that Bill until the 8th July, when it was read a third time.
§ Mr. H. H. FOWLER
On the 4th July an Order was passed, also on the Motion of Mr. Smith, that for the remainder of the Session the Government Orders of the Day should have priority on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; therefore, the combined effect of the two Resolutions —the one passed in March and the other in July—was that the Government took precedence for their measures for the whole of the Session. I am not criticising the action of the Government of that day. I do not say whether or not they were justified, but I do maintain that it is not a correct statement to say it is a novel proposition for the Government to ask for the whole of the time of the House. But that is not the only occasion on which the Government of that day took that course. I have quoted 1887; but in 1891 the Government passed almost as strong a Resolution in regard 1532 to the Purchase of Land and Congested Districts (Ireland) Bill. Therefore for another Irish Bill the Government took precedence in this way. In 1891, so early as 15th June, they took precedence for their measures for the rest of the Session. Whether it be right or wrong, there is nothing novel in the proceeding now proposed. One hon. Member has complained of our interfering with the right of private Members, but he seems to forget that the Government will have to propose Supply, and that that will afford hon. Gentlemen the opportunity they say they are anxious for of discussing the policy of the Government. I do not wish to trouble the House with statistics, but I have a paper before me which shows that the late Government during their term of Office systematically encroached on the privileges of private Members by appropriating the time of the House. This question is not, how-over, to be settled by reference to what has been done in the past. Though we are perfectly justified in repudiating the charge that we are proposing something new, still I think the time has come when, in the opinion of a largo section in the country, and a large section in the House, the question of a redistribution of the time of the House requires to be carefully considered, the allocation of so large an amount to private Members being unfair to the legislation which the Government, and the Government alone, under the altereld condition of Parliamentary life, could successfully carry out. It was the practice of the late Government, very early in the Session, to take Morning Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Resolution before the House does not interfere with Friday, so that the point at issue between us is the taking of Tuesday evening and Wednesday. Well, I submit to the House, and submit with some confidence, that, although hon. Members may dread the programme of the Government, and although that programme includes some measures which they themselves mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, when they advised the Sovereign, the Bills we propose are a complete justification for asking for the time of the House in order to enable us to dispose of our Bills. The private Member, I know, is a very delicate matter on which to touch. I do not 1533 wish to undervalue the academic discussions which take place on Tuesday nights; but, even with the Government pledged to make a House, there has been a count-out on one night, and we know that there would have been counts-out on several occasions if the Government had not made a House. Really the whole controversy now gathers round the proposal to take Wednesdays for the rest of the Session. In view of the desire which exists in the country that the measures the Government have pledged themselves to submit should be considered by Parliament, it is not only a duty, but the first duty, of the Government to ask the House to give them facilities by which, and by which alone, those measures can be submitted to the early consideration of the House. Re-member that, in making this proposal, we are not violating any precedent, or departing from any established practice of the House. We are only asking the House to make existing precedents more effective.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down save the Government are only following precedent in this matter. But we consider that applying this Motion to all Government Bills, and not to any particular Bill, is a most violent breach of all precedent. In fact it is worse than the Closure, because the Closure only stops discussion which has taken place for a certain time upon a particular Bill, but the present proposal of the Government will practically stop all discussion upon any Bill, except their own Bills, for the rest of the Session. But, Sir, I rise in a spirit of peace for the purpose of making a suggestion that will test the sincerity of this question, and which will test the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman who has just down. The right hon. Gentleman referred to precedents. Let him follow them. Here is an Amendment which has been placed upon the Paper, which practically is to the effect that precedents shall be followed, and that the Motion shall apply only to the Government of Ireland Bill. Here is a, proposal—and I rise to refer to it after only a moment's consideration—by which we can possibly bring the present difficulty to an end. Here is a compromise. Let the Government apply 1534 this Motion solely to the Bill for the better Government of Ireland. If they will do that they will he following the precedents that have been quoted by the right hon. Gentleman. If they do not absent to that proposal it will show that, as far as they are concerned, precedents are absolutely useless. In a spirit of fair play let me urge this consideration on the right hon. Gentleman, that this Debate is not one without an aim, but one which as deeply affects our Parliamentary practice as any question of Closure, or any question affecting our Rules. If that is so, I once more urge that which must come home to them, and that which has been so eloquently urged by previous speakers, that this is not the time, on the last Thursday before Easter, when the matter can he fairly discussed. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite show from the very slight character of their speeches that they do not grasp the full importance of the change proposed. I would, therefore, suggest that they should agree to this Motion so far as it concerns the Government of Ireland Bill. That will not deprive them of the power of making any further proposal to the House that they may think necessary at a future time.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I should be extremely glad to meet the right hon. Gentleman in what he calls a policy of peace, but he appears to misapprehend the points of view in which the President of the Local Government Board quoted from the precedents of former days. He argued that there had been times when the Government had, in point of fact, taken the whole of the time of the House from private Members. I want upon this subject to say that we cannot be bound strictly by the precedent of former times. [Ironical cheers.] Most certainly we cannot be bound by them. Who made those precedents, and what were the precedents before they were made? If I may make use of a bull, I would say that those precedents were new when they were made, and we consider ourselves as entitled as those who went before us to make precedents. I have had opportunities of communicating with many young Members of this House, who have lately entered it for the first time, and there is no feeling among them stronger than one of disappointment, I may almost say of disgust, at the difficulty there is in con- 1535 ducting Public Business, and in discharging the duties which they undertook to perform when they were sent here to represent their constituents. Therefore, it is legitimate and proper for the Government to do that which they consider essential to carry out such a purpose. If it be the fact that in former or in present days precedents are not sufficient to give effect to such a purpose, it is our duty, and it is our right, to establish such a precedent for the advantage of this generation and those who come after us. The right hon. Gentleman opposite says, "Oh! If you are going to alter the law of the House as was done in the case of the Closure, we must have a longer time for the discussion." Certainly, if we were going to propose a Standing Order as in the case of the Closure, we should have a much longer discussion, but that is not the intention of the Government. We do not propose to alter the Standing Orders of or the ordinary Rules of Debate, but, following the example of previous Governments, we have proposed to do that which is necessary for the proper conduct of Business during the present Session. The right hon. Gentleman proposes that we should take the time of the House only for the Irish Bill. I am sorry to say that we cannot accept that proposal because there are other measures which the Government have introduced which they regard as being equal in importance to the Government of Ireland Bill.
§ An hon. MEMBER: What Bills—Local Option?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Yes, Local Option. Hon. Gentlemen opposite think that, because they have allied themselves with the publicans, the country will agree with them. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite will find that their friends in the liquor trade make a great deal of noise, and have a great deal less strength than they imagine. I do not envy them the alliance they have made. But these are questions which the Government think it of great importance to submit to the judgment of Parliament. I hear gentlemen sometimes talk of the Government as if it were a separate entity from other Members of the House. But what, after all, is the function of Members of this House? No doubt in one sense the Government are the Executive Government of the Queen, but they 1536 have another position in the House of Commons. In the matter of legislative action they are the representatives and the organ of the majority of the House, returned by the majority of the people of England— [loud cries of "No!"]—if you will allow me to use the phrase to which you are so attached, the majority of the United Kingdom. You do not repudiate the United Kingdom. I suppose that you are not Separatists to the extent which, in moments of oblivion, you apppear to be. In that capacity it is the duty of the Government to submit to the House the policy that commends itself to that majority. That is the position which the Government hold. They are submitting their measures as measures, that they believe commend themselves to the majority of the House of Commons. If they find a condition of things which makes it impossible to carry out their measures, then it is necessary for them to apply to the House for assistance. Is it true or not that the Government are placed in a position of difficulty and almost impossibility in giving effect to any of their measures? I have always observed that there are nothing so interesting as the confessions of remarkable characters. We have the Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau; and the Confessions of an Opium Eater by De Quincy. But I read the other day the Confessions of an Obstructionist, by Himself. It would be impossible for me to describe more accurately the course which has been pursued, and which we are promised will be pursued, in the future. I found them in a provincial paper, and desire to refer to them in all good humour. It is the speech of the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles), who last week addressed his constituents, and, in a spirit of self-approbation, pointed out what had been the object of his energetic operations in this House. The hon. Gentleman said—I have been told that I am a Corsair and an Obstructionist, and no doubt I have thought it necessary to make some remarks of a lengthy and interesting character in regard to the abstraction of money from your pockets.Nothing can be more frank and candid.And no doubt I have felt it to be my duty to join with those who have done everything they could—and have not concealed it either —to prevent the Second Heading of the Home Rule Bill before the country has had a fair opportunity of considering it.1537 But that is not all. You are not asked to confine this process to the Irish Home Rule Bill merely—But it is not only on account of the principles involved in that most nefarious measure that we opposed it; it was because we felt that as soon as that measure had been got out of the way others would follow.Now, that is the true opium-eating to distraction. So you will see that the operation is that the Estimates are to be used to obstruct the Home Rule Bill, and that the Home Rule Bill is to be used to obstruct other measures, and that by the combined obstruction of all three— upon the Estimates, upon the Home Rule Bill, and upon other Bills—you are to prevent the Government or anybody else carrying any measure at all. I conclude this interesting statement, because it really candidly reveals what in fact we always knew before.I can tell you that the Government have opposed to them as bold, as able, as tenacious, as courageous, and as determined a Tory Party as ever stood upon the floor of any House of Commons.That, I have no doubt, is true, but I should like to see the modus operandi of this determined and tenacious Tory Party.Before they pass these revolutions, they propose"—that is, all the measures we have before the House—before they pass one of them—they will have a tough job to get through.Yes, we shall have to deal with the bold Corsair and others.The efforts we have made have not been without results in the past. I believe they will have still greater results in the future; and my advice to you all is, if you want to prevent this Bill (the Local Veto Bill) from becoming law and to prevent any of the other revolutionary measures from becoming law, concentrate your efforts on the Home Rule Bill which is to come before them all. That is what I intend to do.There are, first of all, to be lengthy and interesting discussions upon the Estimates. That is to prevent the Home Rule Bill coming on till the latest possible moment. Then, when the Home Rule Bill comes on, that is to be used to prevent anything else coming on. That is the plan of campaign, which we have to meet. We have had pathetic appeals made by the right hon. Gentleman to us to regard the character of the House of Commons. I have been nearly as long in the House 1538 as the right hon. Gentleman, and I have as great an interest and desire to keep up the character of the House of Commons as he has. But the way to keep it up is to prevent the success of operations such as that. And it is in order that we may deal with proceedings such as those which have been described in the speech from which I have quoted that the Government have thought it necessary to ask at the hands of the House of Commons, in the name of that majority in the country and in the House which has sent us here to promote a policy of reform of great importance, that we have proposed what I perfectly admit to be a larger demand than has ever been made before. But I say that the necessity was never greater in consequence of the magnitude, and, as we believe, of the importance of the measures which we have brought forward, and necessary, on account of the deliberate manner in which it has been proposed to delay, to defeat, and to obstruct that policy.
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
The Chancellor of the Exchequer commenced his speech by saying that he desired peace as much as anybody in this House, and that he acknowledged gratefully the tone in which my right hon. Friend spoke on this subject. Those peaceful views lasted for about two minutes, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has ended by what is nothing more than a declaration of war—and I might say, war without quarter—against the minority in this House, who are only 40 votes less than the majority. If the right hon. Gentleman wants peace, and wants to make progress with his Business, I can tell him that, in spite of all these Resolutions on the Paper, he and his colleagues will have to adopt a totally different attitude to that which they seem inclined to take up. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will not say that I speak as one having no experience of opposition to Governments with much larger majorities, and he knows perfectly well that the resources of even a small minority are very extensive, and have often before now baffled and embarrassed arbitrary Governments, and he can measure to himself what can be the resources of a minority of over 300 Members of the House of Commons in resisting what everybody in the country, who has any qualification to be 1539 called impartial, can see to be the most despotic and the most tyrannical measure against the minority in the House that has ever been known in the annals of Parliament. The Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that he was making a larger demand than had ever been made before. Why does he not make that demand in a full House? Why does he make such an admittedly unprecedented demand upon the House in such circumstances as those? Nothing could be more contemptuous than the right hon. Gentleman's reference to the speech of the President of the Local Government Board. He said that he did not care about the precedents of which the President of the Local Government Board had been speaking for half an hour. He said, "We mind no precedents." Very well, Sir, if all precedents are to be set aside and a new practice is to be introduced into our procedure, which will have a far more wide-reaching effect very likely, if adopted, than the Chancellor of the Exchequer imagines, then why cannot the Government act in a Parliamentary and constitutional manner and take the sense of the House of Commons at large, when it is fully constituted, instead of endeavouring by this backway and byway, by this purlieu of Parliamentary procedure, to smite a minority, and to trample it down at a moment when it cannot properly defend itself? You are endeavouring to alter the procedure of Parliament in a manner totally unprecedented when Parliament has had only two days' notice of the immense change to be made in that procedure, and the dangerous and unparalleled precedents which are being set up by the tyranny of the majority. The fault of the Radical Party has always been that they have never understood anything but the brute force of numbers. You see it in their local organisations, and you see it in the conduct of the Government in this House, because it is absurd to call this Government a Liberal Government. It is a Radical Home Rule Government, and they adopt, in treating their opponents, a happy combination of the ordinary Radical brute force of numbers, mixed up with Irish ingredients, which are always very useful in silencing opposition. The right hon. Gentleman said that every young Member coming into this House now is disgusted with the dilatory 1540 proceedings of Parliament, and I rather think he intimated they were disgusted at the dilatory proceedings of the Opposition. It is not only to-day that young men come into Parliament and are disgusted with the dilatory proceedings of the Opposition. I entered Parliament in 1874, and I was then very often supremely disgusted with the proceedings of the right hon. Gentleman when he endeavoured in any and every possible way and form to baffle the Government of Lord Beaconsfield, and to prevent any measures being passed into law. The right hon. Gentleman might recollect that it is useless for a Government—and especially for a Government which has not a colossal or overwhelming majority— to think that they can drive the House of Commons into any procedure which they like. The resources of Parliament, the precedents for action in Parliament to resist such procedure, are too numerous and too effective; and I think not only the serried array of large numbers on this side of the House, but the experience, and skill, and ingenuity, and eloquence of my right hon. Friends on these Benches will be able to make out before the House of Commons and the country a tremendous case against the ruin you are seeking to bring about, not only in the Constitution of the country, but absolute ruin to the ordinary, decent, and Parliamentary proceedings which have been so long the honour of this Assembly. A Motion of this kind, brought forward without notice, on the last day before the Easter holidays, when you knew that not even your own Party would be fully behind you, and when you knew that two-thirds of the Opposition must have gone away—is that what you think to be honourable practice? The only adjective which would properly describe such practice is one which I must not use in this House. But to come to the actual Motion itself, I do not suppose that we care very much on this side of the House, as far as our powers of limiting your powers for mischief are concerned, if you insist on passing this Motion. In the first place, you are obviously guided by a total want of reflection as to the length of your tenure of Office. Although I protest against this departure from the proceedings of the House of Commons, knowing the lengths to which you have gone in oppo- 1541 sition to a Government before, I should never be surprised if a future Government made use against you of the particular precedent in procedure which yon are now proposing to adopt. I think the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are most unwise in refusing any offer, any hint, of some modification of their extreme proposal. I do not believe that if the Government and their supporters are prepared to treat the minority of the House of Commons in what I call a Parliamentary manner, a gentlemanlike manner, they will rind that their Business will be subjected to any unusual delay or that there will be any unusual artifice to defeat it. We are perfectly strong enough to meet them within all reasonable and legitimate limits; and just as we do not fear the real effect of this Resolution, so we do not require to have recourse to proceedings which of course we have known in the old days with the Irish Party and which on more than one occasion have been closely imitated by the Radical Party. But if the right hon. Gentleman will not consider us, and if he treats with scorn and with hostile declarations all reasonable offers on the part of the Opposition, he is greatly mistaken if he thinks he will make more rapid progress with his Business. Does he recollect what has taken place? The First Lord of the Treasury and his colleagues thought they would rush the Home Rule Bill through the House for Second Reading before Easter. Have they done it? Were they more in a position to do that than they are to rush through this Procedure Resolution in order to rush their other measures? You not only were not able to rush your Home Rule Bill—because the Opposition acted on the principle that it must be fairly considered by the country before it could be rushed through the House of Commons—you not only failed to do that, but you collapsed so entirely in the attempt that you have not actually gone to a Second Reading with any of the Newcastle Programme. I believe myself that if you had only adopted a different attitude, and had not tried to over-ride the minority by sheer force of numbers, the state of your Government Business would have been in a much better position. So far as I am concerned—and I believe I speak the sentiments of my hon. Friends around 1542 me—we shall not be deterred by one inch from offering to your measures what Parliamentary opposition we are capable of stimulating and provoking, and that is putting the opposition very fine. We shall not be deterred for one instant from that course, and this particular Resolution will not embarrass our efforts. If you like to force the noses of the House of Commons to the grindstone of Government Business, the only people who will be most wearied will be your own supporters. If you like to muzzle private Member?, and to keep them muzzled for the whole Session, the only people who will be unlikely to give you that affectionate support which they have given you before are your own active Radical Members, who have crowded the Order Book with measures to benefit all mankind. The only persons you do not injure are the minority whom you strive to overcome. Their powers remain as strong, as diversified, and as vigorous as ever. You, haying refused to listen to any compromise or modification, have only encouraged the Opposition to oppose your measures more strongly, perhaps, than they would have done, because they must be convinced that by resorting to desperate proceedings your measures must be of a desperate character. These are the principles which we not only proclaim in this House, but which we shall proclaim to a larger and wider audience. I have no doubt that it is in order to prevent the Unionists of Great Britain from holding large numbers of meetings, or, at any rate, to interfere with such a process, that you have shortened the Easter holidays, and are going to take the Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill immediately the House reassembles. If you think that mean and petty manœuvres like that will succeed with the English people you have formed a very poor conception of them. These are all manœuvres which can be exposed. More than that, it is fair to suggest to the English people that under all these proceedings of yours are concealed most dangerous objects, and they are animated by the worst possible motives which, as I have said before, are not, only destructive of every Institution in this country— the Church, the Union, the House of Lords—but. even of the procedure of the House of Commons itself and all the traditional rights of minorities in this 1543 House, which have been one of the most sacred traditions of the House of Commons—these are all to be swept away. I have been within a few months of 20 years in this House, and I have never heard or seen a Prime Minister go to such lengths in revolutionary procedure, not only as regards legislation, but as; regards the House of Commons, as the First Lord of the Treasury, in his eagerness, is now going. When the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister, in 1880, he would no more have thought of pro-posing a Resolution like this to the House than he would have thought of proposing some scheme taken from Bedlam or Hanwell Lunatic Asylum. What is the difference between this House and the House of Commons in 1880? In 1880 I think you had a majority of between 120 and 130, largely composed of English Members. What is your majority now? It is a majority of 40, composed entirely of Irish Members, and that majority of 40 Irish Members is to over-ride in all the arrangements of the House a majority of over 80 English Members. That is the position which the right hon. Gentleman has got to face; that is the position which is to be put before the country; and I conclude by saying that, although you may force this Resolution down the throat of the House of Commons by the sheer brute force of numbers, it will not forward your Business or help you to carry your measures.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said, they had had two voices from the Treasury Bench already. The President of the Local Government Board came down with his pocket full of what he called precedents for that Motion, but which turned out to be no precedents at all; and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer got up immediately afterwards and asked, "Who cares for precedents?" Yes, but why did the President of the Local Government Board waste a quarter of an hour in laying them before the House? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said they were quite fit to make precedents. They were; but then another Member of the Government ought not to be put up to attempt to prove that the Government were acting according to precedent in the course they proposed to take. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had admitted fairly and squarely that this was 1544 an unprecedented Motion. He had made no attempt to conceal that, and what he (Mr. Russell) wanted to direct the attention of the House to was this: The whole proceedings of the Government concerning the time of the House this Session had been of an unprecedented character. They had already had the Twelve o'Clock Rule suspended five or six times, which never was the case so early in the Session before. They had had two Saturday Sittings before Easter, which was totally unprecedented. He would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer in all these unprecedented proceedings, what had he gained in Business? Had he found that his attempt to coerce the House of Commons brought him any profit? Had he not rather found, what he already ought to have known from his long Parliamentary experience, that the House of Commons was an Assembly that could not be coerced? It might be led to do what was right, but it was impossible for even a stronger Government than this to drive it into what was known to be wrong. What was the cause of the difficulty in which the Government found themselves placed? The real cause was the overloading of the Parliamentary ship. The President of the Local Government Board had said that when the Opposition were in Office they had put as many Bills in the Queen's Speech as the present Government had. But that was not the point. It might be true they had put as many Bills into the Queen's Speech, but they had never attempted to introduce all those Bills before Easter, and thus waste the precious time before Easter on the introduction of these Bills. They had, in the first place, the Home Rule Bill—a measure which not only gave a Parliament to Ireland, but disintegrated and confused the Parliament! of England, and he asked in all sincerity ' was that not a measure which was almost sufficient, with the necessity of taking Supply, to occupy the whole Session? Did not the Chancellor of the Exchequer think that the Bill itself would be almost sufficient work for any Session of Parliament? But see what was crowded on to that. There was a proposal dealing with the Welsh Church, touching the susceptibilities of every Churchman in the Kingdom, and perfectly certain to meet with the sternest resistance. Then 1545 there was the Bill dealing with public-houses—a measure of a most contentious character, and likely to produce very great discussion in the country. The effect of that Bill was seen on those (the Government) Benches already. Already three Members of the Gladstonian majority, although they had pledged themselves to it a few months ago, had given notice that they could not redeem their pledges in that House. There was also the Registration Bill, no doubt a measure of great utility, but the Government had made it a Franchise Bill almost as much as a Registration Bill, so that it was certain to meet with opposition. In fact, the only two measures laid on the Table which could be said to be of a non-contentious character were the Employers' Liability Bill and the Parish Councils Bill. ["No, no!"] Well, they were not so contentions as the other Bills, and would be treated fairly by the House. These Bills were jostling each other; they wore introduced by the Government to satisfy the separate grievances of their supporters, but they satisfied nobody. He would ask this question: Why were they there discussing a Motion of that character? Why were they there at all? Why was it that yesterday for the first time in the modern history of Parliament, hon. Members of the House found themselves discussing a private Member's Bill in Passion week? They were there that evening, and they were there the previous day, because the Government desired to take a private Member's Bill, not a clause of which they approved, in order to burke the Debate on the Second Reading of a measure of their own, and that, too, on one of the most contentious subjects. What the Government expected to gain he did not know. They were laving Bills on the Table, but they could not have any idea of passing them. They were simply published as what he might call a revised edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith. They were not intended to pass, but were intended to satisfy those who drew up the Newcastle Programme. The Government, however, were mistaken if they thought that these people would be satisfied with the more introduction of Bills, and they would find they would have to pay in different coin. What the noble Lord had said was true. The 1546 Government was trying with its slender majority to carry this coercive measure in the House of Commons. The Government which had denounced coercion in all the moods and tenses was endeavouring to coerce the House of Commons. He saw perfectly well that they could carry the Motion by their majority, and all he could say was that he hoped both sections of the Opposition would not lie calmly or tamely down under this coercion. There was an easy way of curing it: Let hon. Members refuse to pair, and vote against this policy. If hon. Gentlemen who passed such Resolutions and went straight off leaving other Members to fight the battle, found that that could be done no longer because of the refusal to pair, the tone of the Treasury Bench would change immediately. The Members of the Opposition had the matter in their own hands, and he hoped they would not lie down, but fight like men in support of a great cause.
MR. Buchanan rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must point out that there are several Amendments to the Motion on the Paper. I think, however, it is almost time that some of them should be moved.
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR C. DALRYMPLE (Ipswich)
said, it had been made perfectly plain that this Motion was not going to be accepted in silence. He confessed he thought the difference of opinion as to precedents on the Government Bench was it remarkable one. The President of the Board of Trade had quoted a variety of precedents, according to which he imagined the Government to be acting; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the other hand had declined to be guided by precedents. There was one thing that no gentleman had had the hardihood to quote a precedent for, and that was the taking of Wednesdays immediately after an early Easter. The President of the Local Government Board had not asserted it was ever done before.
§ SIR C. DALRYMPLE
said, it was only done in one special case for a Bill of an exceptional character, and not with 1547 the intention of robbing private Members entirely of their rights. Whilst the present Government was absolutely at the mercy of small sections of its own Party, private Members were free men, and on the whole were somewhat more disinterested in the measures they brought forward. His experience was that the measures of Governments, as a rule, were the result of reckless election pledges, whereas the Bills of private Members were the result of hard work and patient thought. He had been successful in obtaining the 26th April for bringing forward a Bill which proposed to carry out the recommendations of a Royal Commission which sat for five years, and of which he was almost the only survivor; but his opportunity, like that of his right hon. Friend, would also be swept away. They were living under it coercion Government; and of all the tyrannies on God's earth, there was nothing more severe. He warned the Government and hon. Gentlemen opposite that the weapon they were now forging against the minority might hereafter be used against themselves with deadly effect. He should be sorry to think that any succeeding Government would take a leaf out of the book of this Government in its monstrous proceedings, but still the weapon they were now forging might hereafter be very mischievous to themselves. The Government had now taken almost all their time from private Members, and the next step, he supposed, would be to close their mouths. They had had a little experience of that during the present Session, Members below the Gangway making systematic efforts to drown the expression of opinion on the part of the Conservative Members. He did not think any good work would be done in that House until there was some authoritative arrangement as to the way in which Members sat on different sides of the House. He entered his earnest protest against the proposal of the Government, which was of such an oppressive character that he believed it would defeat the object for which it was brought forward, and would not conduce to the rapid progress of the measures before Parliament.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
thought the House could not fail to have been struck by the remarkable contrast 1548 between the tone of the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury and that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The first speech was conciliatory; the latter speech was aggressive. The first called a parley; the latter sounded a charge. The First Lord of the Treasury said he could have made a fighting speech, but would not. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had proved to them by his speech that he would have made a fighting speech, but could not. The only pointed part of the latter right hon. Gentleman's speech consisted of quotations. They had had from him references to the Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau— whoso works he should be surprised to see in any decent library not a reference library—and the Confessions of an Opium Eater. There was one book of confessions which the right hon. Gentleman omitted to mention—The Confessions of a Thug. They all felt and knew that this Resolution placed upon the Table was "Thuggery." It was of the same order as that process which took place in India when an apparently respectable person in the guise sometimes of a minister—it might not be of the Crown—accompanied an honest and unsuspecting merchant, and, in a moment when suspicion was lulled, threw the fatal cord around his neck and strangled him. That was what was intended to be done with the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman did his best to give point to his speech by quotations from his (Mr. Bowies'). But for some reason he had omitted some of the very best points in that speech. He had omitted, in particular, a description which he rather prided himself on, of an inflated "Stiggins," introducing a Temperance Bill to the notice of a popular assembly. The right hon. Gentleman also adverted to the fact that he (Mr. Bowles) stated he had been called a "Corsair," but he did not tell the House that he complained of it. He did not take it as a title of praise. He complained that ribald newspapers had called him a Corsair, an obstructionist, and other evil names. He expected that treatment from a ribald Press, but did not expect to hear those terms of reproach repeated by a ribald politician. He was a humble follower of the right hon. Gentleman in the art of political vituperation, but he trusted that in time he might be able to 1549 ruffle it with the best of them. He had not yet repented, either of his speech or of his conduct which he frankly avowed in that speech. If he were inclined to repent, he should say with St. Augustin— "Lord, convert me, but not yet." Coming to the subject of the Rules proposed to be suspended, he had looked up precedents extending from 1878 to 1888, including the classical periods of the First Lord of the Treasury's two last Administrations with regard to this matter of the claiming of Tuesdays and Wednesdays by the Government for their own Business. He found that it had been occasionally done, but always under one of two conditions. He was confining himself to the Liberal Administrations of 1880-85 and 1886. No demand for precedence for all Government Business had ever been made, except either in the months of July and August, at the end of the Session in order to wind up the Session, or if at an earlier period, not for Government Business generally, but for one special purpose alone—for a Debate on the Address, or for one of those Acts relating to Ireland, the object of which was to put into the pockets of one set of Irishmen something out of somebody else's pockets, or for coercing Irishmen. They were not unreasonable; they admitted the very great importance of the measure for the government of Ireland, and claimed that it should have the freest, fullest, and fairest discussion, and in order to secure that discussion; they were not inclined to resist the proposal that the Government should take the time of the House on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when that measure had precedence, but they claimed that that proposal should not be extended to other matters.
§ SIR J. GORST (Cambridge University)
Before the House proceeds to discuss the Amendments to this Resolution, of which notice has been given, I wish to call their attention for a few moments to one part of the Government Programme, which is commonly called labour legislation, and to make a representation, and appeal to the Government themselves. This is an appropriate occasion for making it, and it is probably the last chance, if this Resolution be passed, that any Member will get for making such an appeal. The Government has introduced either in the 1550 Speech from the Throne or by Bills a considerable number of what are known as labour measures, and to that none of us on this side of the House can possibly take exception or objection, because they are for the most part Bills which many of my hon. Friends sitting on this side of the House has spent the last two years in going about the country and recommending to their constituencies. We rejoiced to see those Bills introduced by Her Majesty's Government, but our pleasure would be very much enhanced if there was the slightest chance of more than one or two of them becoming law in the present Session.
§ SIR J. GORST
I am only going to call attention to the mode in which these labour Bills have been treated, and the opportunities there have been for discussion of these matters of such transcendent and enormous importance. Of all the labour Bills which the Government have introduced, there are only two with which they have made any progress whatever: one is the Bill dealing with the hours of railway servants and the other is the Employers' Liability Bill. I would like to ask that, before the Government take the whole time of the House, they will give us an assurance that their conduct in the future shall not resemble upon these questions their conduct in the past. The Bill dealing with the hours of railway servants is no doubt one of very great importance. It is important in three distinct aspects: It is important, first of all, to the railway servants themselves, who complain of the excessively long hours to which under some companies they are subjected; secondly, to the public, whose safety is jeopardised; and, thirdly—and in this aspect it is far more important—because it raises that great question of the conditions under which, and the extent to which, the State should interfere with the hours of labour of adult males. The fact is, this Bill has never been discussed in this House at all. It has never been discussed even in this Parliament. It is quite true that it was discussed in the last Parliament, and a Select Committee recommended a certain Bill, and I believe the Bill which the Government brought in is simply the recommendation of the Committee of the last Parliament. Surely it is important 1551 that the present Parliament, which is expressly returned to deal, among other things, with these kinds of matters, should express its opinion upon these various points; and if there are Members in the House, as there are, who consider that the provisions of the Government Bill are not adequate for the protection of railway servants, it certainly is desirable that those Members should be heard. I speak with some warmth on this subject, because this particular mode of conducting labour legislation has received the stamp of the Prime Minister, even in this House to-night, because the right hon. Gentleman at the meeting at the Foreign Office was reported to have referred with immense admiration to the President of the Board of Trade for having conducted the Bill in that fashion. The right hon. Gentleman praised the action of the House in passing en bloc a Bill of this importance without any discussion whatever. Is that the way in which this House should deal with labour Bills? If the House is to abdicate its functions, if Members are only called upon to regard the ukase which comes out of the pigeon-holes of a Government Department, we might as well be Russian legislators. The conduct of the Government with respect to the Employers' Liability Bill has been even more reprehensible. That Bill is correctly described by the hon. Member for the Ince Division of Lancashire as the greatest and most vital question that would be discussed during the present Session, and that statement was cheered by the Treasury Bench and the Members behind it. Therefore, I think I am justified in assuming that, in the opinion of the Government and their supporters, that measure is the greatest and most vital that would be discussed during the present Session. There is another particular in which that Bill is important; it is almost the only one of the Government Bills yet introduced which has much chance of becoming law during the present Session, and it is essentially deserving of attention. Having established the importance of the measure, let us consider for a moment how the Government have treated this measure which was said by them to be so vital and important. It was brought on for Second Reading on February 20, and was taken when the House was exhausted by the 1552 discussion on the Registration Bills for England and Scotland. The only speeches made on that occasion were the speech of the Home Secretary and the speech of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. The Government were urged to continue the Debate on the next Government night, but they declined to do so, because they had pledged themselves to waste that night in the introduction of the Welsh Suspensory Bill, that abortive attempt of which, it is understood, we shall hear no more. This vital and important question was not again brought under consideration until March 24, when only a part of a Morning Sitting was devoted to it, and now the Government invite the House to conclude the discussion on this vital and important question the day before the Easter holidays, when everybody, from the Speaker to the doorkeeper of the House, is anxious to get away, and when Members can only debate the subject in a very thin House, and under the most depressing and discouraging circumstances. That is the way in which the Government have treated the labour Bills with which they have made progress already. I said I rose for the purpose of making this appeal. This is the last appeal I can ever make, because we are muzzled and strangled after to-day, and I am only expressing my most earnest hope that, in the interests of the people of the country at large, when the Government have got the whole command of the time of the House, they will allow reasonable time for discussion on these most important and vital measures. Their treatment of the Railway Servants Bill and of the Employers' Liability Bill should serve as an object-lesson to those Members who specially represent the working classes, who are not blinded by Party prejudice, and should show how little some Party leaders care for social questions when they cannot make Party capital out of them.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the zeal which he has shown for the achievement of labour legislation. The right hon. Gentleman was perfectly well aware that every moment he occupied in his speech he was retarding the possibility of the House discussing one of those Bills 1553 which he himself has described as the most vital and important that Her Majesty's Government proposes. I am not going to follow him at any length, but I think it very desirable that this matter should be plainly and clearly stated, so that the country may understand what the facts are. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the measure relating to the hours of railway servants, and he seems to complain that that measure has actually got, through a Grand Committee without opposition, and is now in a position to be considered on Report, and read a third time. How did that measure get to the Grand Committee? Whenever it was before the House for Second Reading—I am certain I am right in saying that on two occasions —hon. Gentlemen opposite objected to its being proceeded with, although it was a non-contentious measure, and although it was founded on the Report of a Select Committee, and although it was known that in its essential features it would have been proposed to this House by the late President of the Board of Trade. It was only by a special appeal made by that right hon. Gentleman to hon. Members behind him that the Bill obtained a Second Reading at all, and was sent to the Grand Committee. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he and others mean to raise important questions with reference to this Hill. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman himself sat upon the Grand Committee, and had an opportunity of raising every one of these questions, and, as I am informed by I those who were present, he did not on one single occasion go to a Division. Now I come to the measure in which I myself am concerned—the Employers' Liability Hill. I do not in the least degree quarrel with the right hon. Gentleman as to the expressions he has used with reference to the magnitude, importance, and urgency of that question. It is the first of all the Bills introduced by Her Majesty's Government which they have brought on for a Second Reading, and they have shown by taking that step what an important position they themselves attribute to it in their own Programme. I moved the Second Reading of that Bill on the 20th February, not at any late hour of the evening—the Debate, if I remember 1554 aright, began about 10 o'clock. I am afraid I made rather a long speech myself, I do not complain of the length of the speech of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who followed, but the Government, on the first opportunity that was open to them—after they had introduced the Welsh Suspensors Bill and one other Bill, and after the Business of Supply had been reached—put down the resumption of this Debate, and this Debate would have been resumed on Monday, 20th March, if hon. Gentlemen opposite would have allowed us to get the Supplementary Estimates, which we had a right to expect. Yes, the zeal of hon. Gentlemen opposite for economy and prolonged debate on every item of the Supplementary Estimates was so great that this vital and important question, which the right hon. Gentleman would have us believe he and those behind him are so anxious to put in the forefront, was postponed until the 27th March. On that date the Government again put down this Bill for the Second Reading, and it was announced as being first for that day. Now, how was Monday, the 27th March, occupied?—in what I venture to call one of the most futile and theatrical demonstrations which this House has lately witnessed—the discussion of that farcical Vote of Censure on the Irish Government. As the last chance of obtaining this Bill, upon which we set the greatest store, we have put it down again for to-night, but what chance do hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen opposite give us of bringing it on? The Debate on this Motion has already occupied some of the best hours of the evening; we have not vet approached the first of the Amendments put down. I make the charge deliberately, and I am prepared to substantiate it inside and outside this House, that if the Second Reading of the Employers' Liability Bill is not taken to-night, if the House rises for the Easter Vacation without having accomplished that important task, the responsibility lies on the Party opposite.
§ MR. H. MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down appears to me to have totally misapprehended the grounds and the meaning of the complaint made by my right hon. Friend. His complaint is that the Employers' Liability Bill has been put down for this evening at all, that it 1555 has been put down for an evening when most of those who are interested in the question are not here, and are necessarily absent from the House. One would really think, to listen to the right hon. Gentleman, that the House of Commons was no longer a deliberative Assembly. I thought that the whole principle on which the House of Commons is based is that we are taught by each other and by the clash and conflict of debate, but the right hon. Gentleman makes it a ground of complaint against us that we do not think vital and important measures should be put down at a time when many of those who are interested in the Debate, and whose opinions are most valuable, are necessarily absent. He calls that waste of opportunities. He actually has the courage to make it a ground of reproach against the Opposition in this House, that the Employers' Liability Bill did not succeed in obtaining a hearing on the 27th March. But why did the Government and the right hon. Gentleman, in his great zeal for the interests of labour, in his overwhelming interest in this vital and important question, set down a Bill of this magnitude and importance after a Vote of Censure on the Government had been given notice of?
§ MR. MATTHEWS
But it was on the Paper for that night, and that is one of the opportunities that the right hon. Gentleman charges us with wasting. The right hon. Gentleman is good enough, with that supreme contempt which appears to fill his mind for everybody's opinions except his own, to call that Vote of Censure a farcical Motion. It was a Vote of Censure which imputed to the Government that they had neglected the means in their power for preserving law and order in Ireland, and that they had neglected to enforce the law of the land. He may call that a farcical Vote of Censure, and he treated it so lightly that he put down this measure of vital importance at the fag end of a Debate which he must have known would be a long Debate. The complaint against the right hon. Gentleman and the Government is this: That they disregard the value of the deliberations of the House of Commons by putting down Bills "which there is no intention whatever to 1556 obstruct, which there is no intention even to oppose in any serious or acrid manner, and that they put them down for nights when full, fair, and satisfactory discussion of them is impossible. It is childish for the Government to put down for Maundy Thursday such a measure as the Employers' Liability Bill, when they must have known that a long discussion would take place upon the extraordinary Motion by which they propose to monopolise almost the whole of the time of the House henceforward. They must have known that this would prevent a complete and satisfactory discussion of that important Bill to-day, and it is childish on their part to turn round and say. that the Opposition are responsible for such a state of things. No, Sir; these reproaches of the right hon. Gentleman are made really without any foundation at all. I do not know personally much about the Railway Servants Hours of Labour Bill, as I have not long returned to the House of Commons; but from what I can gather, what the right hon. Gentleman complains of in regard to this measure, is that hon. Members on this side of the House object to a discussion of a Bill of this sort being taken at midnight, I reiterate the complaint of my hon. Friend. Are labour questions to be relegated by the Government to the hours after midnight when many Members are absent, when the speeches cannot be listened to and certainly will not be reported, and, therefore, when the discussions must be unsatisfactory? Are we to be reproached, forsooth, because we desire that questions of this importance and magnitude should not be discussed at an hour and in a manner which will not be satisfactory to those who take an interest in these things? Ultimately, as I understand, the patience of the House was exhausted and no opportunity having been given for a reasonable discussion of that Bill, it was allowed to go to a second reading without a Division. Does the right hon. Gentleman tell us that a discussion in Committee upstairs will throw as much light upon a subject as a discussion in this House? My experience of that tribunal does not lead to a belief that arguments there are urged with the force, fullness, and completeness that they are in this House. Sir, the charge which is made by the right hon. Gentleman that we are answerable for the manner in 1557 which both of those labour questions are treated is an altogether groundless one. If the House is to fulfil its functions with regard to legislation, it must have an opportunity given it not for hurried discussion put at the end of other Debates which have exhausted the strength, the attention, and the energies of the House, but for discussion which shall commence when our energies are fresh and on days properly set apart for the purpose. That has not been so with regard to the Employers' Liability Bill. I remained in the House to-night in order to take part in a discussion of that Bill if it came on, and I do not think even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is not very scrupulous or careful in the charges he makes, will charge me with obstruction or having unduly taken up the time of the House, for I have spoken only on one or two occasions. I think the Employers' Liability Bill is one at the discussion of which I may ask the House to allow me to be present. I shall not oppose going on with discussion this evening, but I do protest that it is neither fair nor right to go on with the Bill on such a day as this, and to approach it at such an hour, and I say that the Government have not treated fairly those who take an interest in the subject.
§ MR. JACKSON (Leeds, N.),
who rose amid cries of "Divide!" said: I desire to say a few words, and I hope hon. Members will not think I am going to occupy them very long. It was my duty for some time to be to a considerable extent, under the Leader of the House, largely responsible for the arrangement of the Business of the House. A good many charges have been made against the Opposition to-night, and the President of the Local Government Board was, I think, not very happy in the precedents he quoted to the House, because I venture to say, and I shall endeavour to show, that the Motion which is now made is absolutely unprecedented in two respects in the annals of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the Resolution that was passed in 1891, and he also pointed out that on a certain occasion 12 measures had been mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but he did not tell us what happened to 1558 those 12 measures, or whether they were all passed through Parliament. I venture to express my opinion that, so far as regards the arrangement of the Business of this House, it is comparatively easy to lead the House of Commons, but the man is unborn who can drive the House of Commons; and I will venture to say, if I may do so with respect, that the Business of the House is not facilitated by speeches such as we have listened to from that Bench. I have sometimes wondered at those speeches. I have listened to one or two speeches from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that made mo think they were uttered for the purpose of creating opposition on this side of the House. I do not think that that is a method which will ultimately forward the Business of the Government. The late Mr. Smith was frequently charged with taking much too sanguine a view of the ability of the Government to get measures through this House. It is true that he took a sanguine view, but it is also true that he endeavoured to carry these measures by conciliating every part of the House. I am afraid that has not been done on the present occasion. We have been charged with obstruction, but we are prepared to justify our conduct to the country. The Home Secretary said that there had been discussion of every detail of the Supplementary Estimates. Not since I have been in the House have there been any Supplementary Estimates presented that raised so many questions of a contentious character as those presented this year, I may tell the right, hon. Gentleman there were several Members on this. Bench who desired to raise questions, on the Supplementary Estimates, but who postponed the discussion of those questions in order to enable the Government to get through Business, and those discussions at present stand adjourned. But I rise for the purpose of moving an Amendment which I hope the Government will see their way to adopt. I venture to say that the Government gain nothing by making so unprecedented, and so large, a demand upon the confidence of the House as they make by this Motion. The Motion is unprecedented in two respects: In the first place, there is no precedent for a Government at so early a period as the 30th March asking for the whole time of the House for 1559 Government Business; and, in the second place, it is unprecedented because it fixes no limit of time within which the Motion is to operate, and it makes no discrimination as to the Bills to which it is to apply. On former occasions the Opposition has always demanded from the Government, when Motions of this kind have been made, that the Government should, at all events, not take from Members the whole of their power at once. I propose to move, after the word "Easter," the insertion of the words "until Whitsuntide," which will have the effect of limiting the operation of the Motion to the weeks between Easter and Whitsuntide. If the Government accept this Amendment, they will not be precluded from asking at the latter period for further facilities if they find it necessary. The Motion is also unwarranted by the circumstances of the scale. By accepting the Amendment the Government will get the House out of what I cannot but feel is a great difficulty; and if I may venture to say so, there are times when it is wise in a Government to make some little concession to the opinion of the House, even though it may be only one side of the House.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 1, after the word "Easter," to insert the words' "until Whitsuntide."—(Mr. Jackson.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I cannot help thinking the right hon. Gentleman has not been in the House this afternoon.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Well, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer made a proposal of this kind to the Government, which the Government said they could not accept.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Yes, and this proposal will limit it to half of that Bill. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Home Rule Bill will be read a third time before Whitsuntide? If he is ready to give us that assurance, the Government might accept his Amendment. The late Chancellor of 1560 the Exchequer made a proposal that we should limit the Motion to the Irish Home Rule Bill. Then the right hon. Gentleman comes forward, after what I must call a waste of time, and waste of time the very object of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge has stated.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
I rise to Order, Sir. I wish to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is in Order in imputing improper motives to those Members who protest against the Motion?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I did not say they are improper. I have no doubt hon. Gentlemen think they are proper motives. I dare say they have good reason for desiring to postpone the Bill. This Amendment is most extraordinary. It means that before the Irish Bill is carried we are to have another obstructive night. The hon. Gentleman cannot be serious in making that proposal, and I can only regard the Amendment as another part of the method of prolonging discussion.
§ MR. KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
said, he had been waiting for some time to say a few words on this subject, especially with regard to the time after Whitsuntide. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had twice swept aside the olive branch which had been offered to him across the Table with as little consideration as he had swept aside the precedents of the President of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman, in an earlier part of the Debate, seemed to sympathise with private Members, and especially with the younger Members of the House. He (Mr. Knowles) had never done anything that might be called obstructive, and he had had the good fortune to put five Acts of Parliament upon the Statute Book, so that he felt he had some right to make a few remarks upon the proposal of the Government to take the whole time of the House. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman would later call the attention of the House to the fact that only one private Member belonging to his own Party had joined in the appeal made on behalf of private Members. No doubt one reason why others had not spoken was that Members 1561 opposite had the ear of the Government. They could obtain from the Government privately what Members of the Opposition tried to obtain publicly. The hon. Member for Glamorganshire (Mr. S. Evans) had described the Debate as an unreal Debate. The Debate, however, was real as far as that hon. Member was concerned, because he had made one request which the Government had immediately granted. The Government were adopting a sort of pick-and-choose policy. They had allowed one of their own supporters to retain his rights yesterday, when they might have put down some business of their own, and they had excepted from the operation of the Motion the Wednesday on which the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill was to be discussed. [Cries of "Divide!"] If hon. Members would not let him speak he should certainly move the Adjournment of the House. He would point out that, unless the Government accepted the Amendment, they would actually set on one side one of the Rules of the House—namely, Rule 112, which provided that after Whitsuntide private Members' Bills should be arranged on the Notice Paper so as to give priority to those which were most advanced. Private Members, therefore, had a special reason for keeping their Wednesdays after Whitsuntide. He hoped that upon this ground alone the Government would be willing to accept the Amendment. He himself had a Bill down the first Order of the Day, in progress in Committee—and it was in a similar position on the Wednesday of the Dissolution—on Wednesday 31st May, and, of course, his rights were to be swept away by the present arbitrary proposal. He hoped that even now, at the eleventh hour, the olive branch which had been extended across the Table by his right hon. Friend would be accepted by the Government.
Mr. Oldroyd rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."1562
§ The House divided: — Ayes 176; Noes 84.—(Division List, No. 53.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The House divided: — Ayes 83; Noes 172.—(Division List, No. 54.)
§ Mr. Brunner rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Main Question be now put."
§ MR. SPEAKER
I wish to act as fairly as possible, but there does appear to me to be one Amendment on the Paper which needs a vote of the House, and that is the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Preston.
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
said, he wished to move the Amendment standing in his name, and he hoped that now the right hon. Gentleman would feel able to accept that which, at au earlier period of the evening, he said he could not agree to when the conditions, no doubt, were somewhat different. The main object of the Government in putting down the Motion that night was to prevent the Employers' Liability Bill from being properly discussed, as was clearly shown by the great anxiety of the Government to put on the shoulders of the Opposition the responsibility for that result. The Government might well accept at 8 o'clock that which they refused at 5.30. The Opposition had done their best to protest against these labour questions being brought on at the fagend of the night; that was the motive which had actuated their Party with regard to this Employers' Liability Bill, They had some little experience in the late Parliament, when they brought in a Bill on the subject.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Resolution before the House deals with Government Business generally, and the object of the Amendment is to confine its operation to one Bill. The hon. Member must direct his remarks to the Amendment.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he would confine himself to the Amendment. He objected to the Government taking so large an amount of public time. He did so because, in the first place, labour questions ought to have a better oppor- 1563 tunity of being discussed than they would have under the Resolution as it stood; and, secondly, because hitherto there had been no opportunity of discussing them. He feared the Government would not allow labour questions to be discussed, because in the last Parliament a Bill like the Employers' Liability Bill was thrown out through the action of Mr. Broadhurst, who had had his reward. Others, however, might have the same objection Mr. Broadhurst had. He was expecting to have heard some reasons given why the Government should have made so large a proposal. The Opposition were perfectly prepared to let the Irish Home Rule Bill be discussed—they wanted it to be discussed—they wanted the country to understand it; but they objected to a lot of other measures being read a first time and never proceeded with. No reason had been given by either the Prime Minister or by any other Member of the House why the Government should ask for so much time. The President of the Local Government Board, who was an old-fashioned politician, gave some precedents; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer gagged him, and said, "I will not be bound by them; I am Leader of the House now, and I will make my own precedents." The House had been treated with absolute contempt. Reasons, no doubt, were given for this step at the Foreign Office, but only a minority of the Ministerial Party was at the Foreign Office, because the Irish Members were not there, and therefore, for all that was known, the Government were making proposals that had the support of a minority 40 less in number than the Opposition. Their opposition to this proposal was completely justified therefore. It was a suspicious thing that the Irish Members were not at the Foreign Office meeting. ["Order!"] He thought he was in order in enforcing these facts. The Prime Minister distinctly stated that the Irish Members were absent from the Foreign Office because they maintained their independence of both Parties. The fact was that they had tasted the iron of the right hon. Gentleman's Government before.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member had better keep more strictly to the Amendment, which is whether the Motion should extend to Government Business or be limited to one Bill.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, his argument was twofold. He wanted the Government Business limited to the Irish Bill; and, in the second place, he contended that Ministers had no right to apply such a Resolution to English and Scotch Business, because so far as England and Scotland were concerned they were in a minority. He must refer to the meeting at the Foreign Office, because he had some suspicion that the Home Rule Bill, after all, was to be crowded out, and he wanted to have it properly brought on. It was suggested that the Home Rule Bill should be discussed for no more than three days, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he thought that was a reasonable suggestion—that it was sound advice.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
My remark applied only to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Northampton that very few speeches should be made from the Treasury Bench. I think that extremely sound advice, and I hope that it will he followed.
§ MR. HANBURY
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to pick and choose, but I referred to the hon. Member's advice generally.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It is usual in this House when a gentleman explains his own speech for that explanation to be accepted.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, he perfectly accepted the explanation of what the right hon. Gentleman meant, but he could not deny what he was reported to have said. What he objected to in this instance, was that Government Business meant not the Business of the country, but Party Business, and Party Business of which no definition was given, so that it was possible for the Government to repeat their conduct of the previous day, and take over Bills which were not Government Bills. Surely, if they took over the time of the House it should he devoted to purely Government Business. Supply was most important; private 1565 Members ought to have an opportunity of discussing various grievances, but no provision was made for meeting that necessity. Much of this waste of time might have been avoided if——
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he should confine his remarks strictly to the terms of the Amendment.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, it was extremely difficult to discuss a large Motion of that kind and at the same time to keep to the particular Amendment before the House. He would add that he bad objected in the first place to the Resolution coming on that day, because it stood in the way of discussing the Employers' Liability Bill; and, in the second place, he opposed it because no reasons had been advanced in support of it, and because this was a new departure, and the Government declined to be guided by any precedent whatever. This proposal, for a short time, would put a weapon into the hands of the Government which would probably be used for a longer time by those now opposed to it. It was a tyrannical proposal, and would justify the Opposition in protesting vigorously for the rest of the Session—as they protested that night— against the measures of the Government.
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'Government Business' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
In dealing with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Preston, I think I shall do my best to preserve order by taking no notice of observations which were perfectly irrelevant. We have practically been discussing the Amendment for four and a half hours. We first had the speech—a very moderate and certainly not an offensive speech—from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, who always promotes with courtesy the views he entertains. We are asked why this power should be given to the Government, not only with regard to the Home Bill, but with regard 1566 to other measures proposed by the Government. The answer has been given in one sentence by the hon. Member for Preston. He says that the power ought to be given to the Government for measures which have the support of the people of the United Kingdom. In our opinion these measures have the support of the people of the United Kingdom. We represent the majority in this House, and, as we believe, the majority in the United Kingdom. We, therefore, ask for time to promote not only the Home Rule Bill, but other measures for the advancement and benefit of other parts of the United Kingdom. These are some of the reasons why I cannot assent to this Amendment.
Mr. J. Havelock Wilson 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. A. J. BALFOUR
I have listened with the profoundest regret to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. For the reasons which I have already had the honour of laying before the House, I regard this proposal as an unprecedented and monstrous proposal. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to throw his recollection back to a period, not far removed, when much smaller proposals were made by the late Government. He complains of three hours being taken up now, but he himself was responsible for three days being taken up under similar, or nearly similar, circumstances.
§ An hon. MEMBER: Four days.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I complained that I should have to give now an answer which I gave three or four hours ago. I do not complain of the length of the discussion as to time.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Complaints of the time taken by the discussion have come from the right hon. Gentleman, and through the mouth of the Home Secretary and the mouth of the President of the Local Government Board; and the right 1567 hon. Gentleman has caused the Closure to be moved by his satellites.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It is an astronomical metaphor, not of a very offensive description, but I can assure the hon. Member that when I used the word I had not him in my mind. All I wish to point out is that, when the Government complain that the discussion of this unprecedented proposal has taken three hours, the right hon. Gentleman himself took four days to discuss a proposal in the form this would take if it were modified as proposed by my hon. Friend's Amendment. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman, who has done everything he could to embitter this controversy and to make the minority feel that, whatever resources they have, they certainly have nothing to look for either in courtesy on consideration from the majority—the right hon. Gentleman has now an opportunity of showing that at all events he is prepared to modify the Resolution so as to bring it into harmony with the great traditions of our Debates. If the right hon. Gentleman conceives himself, in the absence of the Prime Minister— who, like so many other hon. Members, has left for his holidays—to have sufficient authority to deal with this question, I think an opportunity he ought, in the interests of his Party, to avail himself of is now open to him. He might turn this into a proposal which the minority would not only not resist, but which they would think came fairly within the rights, and even the duties, of those who are responsible for legislation in this House. In the absence of any concession of that kind, the bitterness of feeling which he has driven into the minds of the Opposition cannot but bear fruit in the Debates during the remainder of the Session. I do not believe Government Business will profit by the Motion, and I am perfectly certain the traditions of the House will gravely, and perhaps permanently, suffer.
§ MR. HAYES FISHER (Fulham)
said, that if the Government did not accept the Amendment of his hon. Friend, and if the Resolution were adopted as it stood, it would give to future Governments one of the most dangerous weapons a Government could have in its power. The Resolution amounted to this—it gave the Government power to take up the Bill of any private Member they pleased, and give it the title of Government Business. The Opposition was naturally suspicious when they saw the Resolution on the Paper; but the Prime Minister had aggravated these suspicions. The right hon. Gentleman was asked what was Government Business within the meaning of the Resolution, and he said—It would be in the power of the Government to take up any Bills of any private Members, but it is not our intention to do so at present.But the Opposition wanted to know when it would be the intention to take up private Members' Bills, and what private Members' Bills would they take up? If the Government were actuated by an intense hostility against the Church—if they determined to desperately resist any effort of a private Member to bring forward measures in the interest of the Church——
§ CAPTAIN SINCLAIR (Dumbartonshire)
I rise to Order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to ask whether the attitude of political Parties of this country towards the Church of the country bears directly on the question before the House?
§ MR. HAYES FISHER
said, that these points of Order come mostly from new Members, who were ignorant on points of Order. He was saying that under this Resolution it was possible for the Government to pick and choose amongst private Members' Bills, and to say in regard to any measure, like a measure in, the interest of the Church, that it was inconvenient to them, and to put down Government Business on the Wednesday the Bill had a place. The Resolution, if passed, would therefore destroy the inherently equal privileges amongst private Members, and would place in the hands of the Government a weapon they should not possess. He regretted that Unionist 1569 Members were not present he sufficient numbers to defeat this tyrannical Resolution which proposed to put a most dangerous weapon into the hands of the most impractical sot of Ministers that ever sat on the Treasury Bench.
Mr. Havelock Wilson 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 170; Noes 70.—(Division List, No. 56.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words 'Government Business' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 165; Noes 73.—(Division List, No. 57.)
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer claimed, "That the Main Question be now put."
§ Main Question put accordingly.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 163; Noes 75.—(Division List, No. 58.)
Resolved, That after Easter, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, except Wednesday the 3rd of May, Government Business have precedence of the Notices of Motions and Orders of the Day: That on Fridays the House do meet at Two o'clock, and the provisions of Standing Order 50 be extended to the sittings of Tuesdays and Wednesdays and the morning sittings of Fridays: provided always, that whenever the Government of Ireland Bill is appointed on Friday, except for proceedings in Committee, the House do meet at Three o'clock, and that Bill do have precedence of the Orders of the Day and Notices of Motions.