§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I wish to move—That, for the remainder of the Session, Government business be mot interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House; and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed, and that at the conclusion of Government business each day Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question pat.I do not think it is necessary I should make any statement as to precedent. The Leader of the Opposition, I understand, assents to this Motion, which it is customary to make at some date before the expected close of a Session, when, practically speaking, the legislative work of the Session is finished. The Government do not contemplate late Sittings after this Motion has been passed. The question of the exclusion from consideration of all but Government business has been raised, and in my opinion it is desirable that Government business should be alone dealt with. I adhere to the words which I used when a similar Motion was made in 1891 by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square. I said then—I know the difficulty there is sometimes in distinguishing between opposed and unopposed Bills, and I think the best course to take at this late period of the Session is to lay down that no Business shall be taken except Government business. It would not be a kindness to private Members to keep this Bill in a state of suspended animation. It would be kinder both to the promoters and the opponents of the Bill that exceptional Rules should extend only to Bills brought forward by the Government, and not to private Members' Bills.I entirely demur to that view, and object to that exceptional proceeding for the 1259 closing of the Session. I think that Members should know what they have to expect and what they have not to expect, and that Members should not be kept unnecessarily waiting for Bills which may or may not come on. If this proposal be carried, there will be hardly any Government legislative business on the Paper at all, and it will be known that the business of the House is Supply. Members will then know that they can cease their attendance here for the purpose either of promoting or opposing private Members' Bills. I think that if this course he followed it will be for the convenience of all sections of the House, and that it will conduce to the greatest happiness of the greatest number. I hope, therefore, that this Resolution may be passed in the form in which it is upon the Paper.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Orders regulating the Sittings of the House; and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed, and that at the conclusion of Government Business each day Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put."—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
remarked that the Church Patronage Bill was read a second time unanimously by the House, that it had passed through the Grand Committee, and only had now to get through the Report stage and the Third Reading. If the Government had not taken the whole time of the House the Bill would now have been disposed of. The Government had selected the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill, and had devoted two days to it at this late period of the Session. It seemed to him to be a matter of considerable hardship that the Government should forward one private Member's Bill, and refuse to do anything for a measure which had reached the position now occupied by the Church Patronage Bill. No doubt the Government had to pay a debt for the support they had received from some of their followers, and he supposed that under these circumstances they had been bound to give time for the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill. He did not wish to divide against the Motion, but he thought that some protest ought to be made against the system of favouritism the Government had adopted. The prece- 1260 dent which had been established was a very dangerous one, and might lead to a good deal of confusion hereafter.
§ * MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said, he had been very badly treated indeed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to the Crofters Acts (Inclusion of Leaseholders) Bill, and he wished to know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take this Bill under his wing and pass it this Session. In 1886, when the Crofters Act passed, the Liberal Party had not sufficient backbone to assent to a clause including in its provisions small tenants who held under lease. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and his colleagues knew now that this was a mistake, and he asked them why they did not rectify that mistake. The right hon. Gentleman was in the position of one who owed a 3, 6, or 12 months' bill to the Highland Members. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman pay the bill so as to make things square? He (Mr. Weir) did not think the right hon. Gentleman was taking a straight or an honourable course in regard to the crofters, and he hoped he would avail himself of this opportunity of doing so. Everybody was anxious to get away for his holiday; but the right hon. Gentleman's holiday might be delayed if he did not promise to pass the Bill, unless he was going to flee from the House and the post of duty.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had expressed great kindness towards all private Members' Bills, but there was such a thing as killing a Bill with kindness. The Bill to repeal the Crimes Act passed its Second Reading by a majority of 60, but the Government afterwards took away from private Members 10 or 12 Wednesdays, on any one of which the Bill might have been discussed in Committee. The Government had given facilities for the discussion of the Eight Hours Bill. He (Colonel Nolan) had supported the Bill, but he must say that the next time the Government favoured one Bill to the exclusion of another, they ought to know whether Members had made up their minds to support that Bill. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer was going to favour any Bill, he ought to have favoured the Repeal of the Crimes Act Bill. He (Colonel Nolan) hoped the Government would grant an 1261 Autumn Session in order to pass this Bill, and perhaps to pass a second time the Bill which the House of Lords threw out the other day. This year three or four private Members' Bills had passed their Second Reading, but the only one of them that had got through Committee was the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Bill. If the Government would promise that the Bill for the repeal of the Crimes Act should be included in the Queen's Speech next year lie would be satisfied.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, he should feel bound to divide upon the Motion. There was a coalition between the two Front Benches, and whenever he saw that he thought it was the duty of private Members to vote against it. During the last two Sessions almost every hour of the time usually given to private Members had been appropriated for Government Business, and now the Government absolutely proposed to take away the last chance private Members had of passing their Bills. He quite admitted that where a Bill was seriously opposed, as the Church Patronage Bill and the Criminal Law Repeal Hill were, there was a great deal to be said for the Government proposal, but there were Bills and Hills. Ho had a Bill which had passed its Second Reading not by a, majority of 60, but without a Division at all. Its object was to enable women to become Poor Law Guardians in Ireland as they could in England and Scotland. The Government were destroying all chance of passing this Bill, and he felt bound to protest against the attack which was being made upon the rights of private Members.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
My hon. Friend who has just sat down has stated with perfect truth that in this matter there is an agreement between the two Front Benches. He says that when he sees the two Front Benches form such an unholy alliance he and other non-official or ex-official Members ought to band together to resist our oppressive proceedings. I would ask hint whether there is any agreement among the non-official Members with regard to any single proposal that is made? My hon. Friend desires to sec passed a Hill which I think is a very excellent measure, but one upon which there is not a universal agreement.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If we were to propose to allow the hon. Member's Bill to be discussed and were to put aside the Bills of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington (Mr. Bartley), the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Nolan), and the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Weir), all those gentlemen would go into the Lobby against him. The truth is, that on these occasions every Member who has a Bill which he believes in is anxious to get it passed, but the House at large is not at all prepared to give any Member exceptional privileges. That being so, it is evident that we must cither give everybody equal privileges or deprive everybody of all privileges. There is one good reason for not giving everybody equal privileges, and that is, that if we did so we should never get a holiday at all. I think the two Front Benches are quite as ready to do their work as any other Member, and even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose holidays are, I understand, to be curtailed, has given us the advantage of his advice and guidance through a very long and laborious Session. The question is not whether the Government have managed their business well in the past, but whether we can manage it in the future so as to secure the most convenience to the general body. It surely must be obvious to private Members that you cannot give special privileges to one class or one county, or one Member, which you are not prepared to extend to all Members.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It is not possible to give to one district, or to one county, or to one Member the privileges which you will not extend to every other district, and county, and Member. If yon give such privileges this Session would not only be not drawing to a close, but would hardly have begun its infant career. I do not wish to turn my eyes to the past, but to look simply to the future, and to see how the few remaining days of the Session can be best spent for the general convenience of the House. I shall most cordially support the Leader of the House when he follows the invariable practice of all 1263 his predecessors at this stage of the Session, and moves a Resolution which has been on every similar occasion found to embody principles which are intended to further the general convenience of all Members, to whatever Party they belong or whatever interest they may represent.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
With the indulgence of the House I should like to say a few words in reply. It is said that owing to the Government having taken a very large portion of the time of the House private Members have not had the opportunity of passing their Bills into law. Well, I hold in my hand a list of nearly 20 Bills that have been passed this Session by private Members, and I would draw attention to the number of Scotch measures that there are amongst them. The list comprises the Burgh Police (Scotland) Bill, the Charitable Trusts Amendment Bill, the Chimney Sweepers' Bill, the County Councils Association (Scotland) Bill, the Fishery Boards (Scotland) Bill, the Heritable Securities (Scotland) Bill, the Industrial and Provident Societies Bill, the Industrial Schools Bill, the Injured Animals Bill, the Locomotive Threshing Engines Bill, the Music and Dancing Licences Bill, the Outdoor Relief (Friendly Societies) Bill, the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Bill, the Public Libraries (Scotland) Bill, the Solicitors (Examination) Bill, the Uniforms Bill, the Wild Birds' Protection Bill, and the Public Libraries (Ireland) Bill. It will be seen, therefore, that private Members have not been entirely excluded from successful legislation this Session.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
said, the Bills mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman were those which had been passed after 12 o'clock, and they were unopposed Bills of very little importance. He should vote against the Motion. He had noticed that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. A. J. Balfour) was the only gentleman present who had cheered the Chancellor of the Exchequer during his statement. He had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) when again he had a seat on the Treasury Bench would go one better than the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would move a similar Motion to this a month or two earlier. By-and-bye Members would meet at Westminster to witness a game at chess played 1264 by a few gentlemen on the Front Benches, the non-official Members acting as the living pawns, whose duty would be merely to move through the Lobbies. He objected strongly to the course pursued by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he intended to move a reduction of his salary in Committee of Supply. The Crofters (Leaseholders) Bill, of which he (Dr. Clark) had charge, was merely the first clause of the Government Bill that was withdrawn a few days ago. Its object was sanctioned last Session, and had been sanctioned again this Session. The object was to admit 300 or 400 poor farmers to the benefits of the Crofters Act, from which they had hitherto been excluded because they were leaseholders. He had been very hard upon landlords; but he must say that, as far as the Crofters Act were concerned, the great bulk of the Tory landlords in the Highlands had acted most generously in bringing these poor leaseholders under the Acts. There were, however, Liberal landlords who had not done so. In his county the Liberal landlord was a rack-renter, and yet the Government would not give oven five minutes to pass a Bill for the relief of these poor people. They made promises, but never carried them out. The result would be that if the Government did bring in a Rill the men who would have been benefited by it would be bankrupt, and would be away to America. He objected to the Motion on another ground—namely, the humbugging—if he might use the phrase—of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, having promised at the beginning of the Session that he would appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the financial relations between Scotland and England, had failed to redeem that promise. Not a single Scotch Estimate had been taken this year. Never had the Scotch Votes been in this position before. He was not astonished at the Leader of the Opposition agreeing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the present occasion, because he had always noticed that when any bad work was to be done the Tories in Opposition got it done by a Liberal or Whig Minister, and then subsequently, when the Tories were in power, the wedge was driven home. Upon this and every similar occasion he would vote against such a Motion.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said, there had been a good deal of censure applied to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, some of which he thought the right hon. Gentleman heartily deserved. There was one point upon which he would press the right hon. Gentleman, and that was as to the qualification concerning the Twelve o'Clock Rule. He hoped they would not greatly exceed that hour. He believed the House was disposed to agree to the general principle of not doing much contentious business after 12 o'clock. His own experience led him to believe that when business of that character was dealt with it was seldom done well, and that time would be saved by adjourning to the following day. The time had come when an unofficial Member could not possibly pass a Bill through the House if it met with any opposition whatever. After 12 o'clock something might be done; but at the end of the Session the whole time of the House was taken, and Bills which bad been in progress were destroyed. That was, in his opinion, simply a great waste of public time. He should, therefore, oppose the Motion on principle. It was urged by the two Front Benches that this course had always been adopted at a certain period, and private Members were now making a protest, because they wished to prevent it, if possible, in the future. But he might remind the right hon. Gentleman that some qualification of that had been allowed, because the practice had been—at any rate in some cases where non-contentious Bills existed on the Order Taper which promised advantage to the State—to allow them to be "starred," and he himself hail to acknowledge considerable courtesy in that direction. But the chief purpose for which he rose was to say that he believed the reason why this time was wasted, and why these measures were prevented from becoming law was the faulty procedure of the House, and he also believed that there was a rising current of opinion to that effect. There were two sources of waste of time—the destruction of a great deal of legislation that had been carried almost to maturity, and the constant Motions to take further time. When they had nearly done their work it should be carried over to the following Session. A strong current of opinion 1266 was rising in that direction, and he hoped that when the matter was brought before the House next Session, which it would be from both sides, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would think that it was time to reconsider the procedure of the House, with a view to adapting it to modern requirements and to avoiding the further endangering of our Parliamentary institutions.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said, the Motion resolved itself into two branches, one of which was of use to the Government and the other of no use, and being of no use it made private Members "poor indeed." The Leader of the Opposition bad said that this was a course which had been invariably taken by the Leader of the House and his predecessors. He ventured to say that they were now asked to agree to a course never taken before—namely, that the Speaker should leave the Chair without Question put immediately after Government business had been disposed of. This kind of Resolution began with the new Rules of 1887. Then the practice was towards the end of the Session, for Mr. Smith, after the Government business was disposed of, to move the adjournment of the House. Now, however, an important departure had been made under the advice of the authorities of the House, who were always watching for an opportunity to restrict the rights of private Members, and the Government now proposed to take away from them even the right of making a few observations on the Motion for the Adjournment. Their rights as private Members were to be further curtailed. That was a course that had never been taken before, and he believed if any precedent could be shown for it it was not three years old. With what object was this course being taken? All the Government wanted was to go on after 12 o'clock with their business, and when they had got that right, why should they seek to deprive the Irish Members of the right of going on after 12 o'clock; and again, if any emergency arose, why should they not be afforded the opportunity of making a few observations on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House, which sometimes was an important matter? If any precedent could be found for this Motion he would be glad to see it, and he 1267 respectfully submitted to the Government that they ought to be satisfied to have the Motion passed down to the word "opposed," and allow the remainder to be omitted. That would concede to the Government everything they desired. Of course, it would be very unfair to proceed with Bills that were sprung on the House because of Government business collapsing suddenly; but he thought a Motion to deprive private Members of the right of proceeding with Unopposed Business after 12 o'clock was a very strong order, and that it was still more stringent to say that the Speaker should leave the Chair without Question put. He thought this proposed invasion of the rights of private Members, that the Speaker should leave the Chair without Question put, was one which should be opposed by all sections of the House. He regarded this Motion as another blow struck at the privileges of private Members by the authorities of the House.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
said, he heartily agreed with the remarks made by his hon. and learned Friend opposite. The Government ought to be allowed to go on with their business after 12 o'clock, but they ought not to take away all the opportunities of private Members. Both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Leader of the Opposition seemed to make a great point with reference to absent Members. Why should they do so? Surely Members who were away on holiday were neglecting their duties here and ought not to be considered; Members staying here doing the work of the country were those who ought to be considered. If a Division was taken, he should go into the Lobby against the Motion, because he always objected to an agreement between the two Front Benches. He rose more particularly to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he intended to force through the Draft Agreement with the National Telephone Company. So long ago as last November the Postmaster General promised that a copy of the Draft should be circulated before the Government agreed to it, not only amongst Members but amongst the Municipalities of the country, so that there might be ample opportunity of considering it. If the Agreement had been concluded, 1268 it would be a distinct breach of faith. Sir J. Hutton, Chairman of the London County Council, attended at the House of Commons yesterday, and told him that it would be utterly impossible for him to get the Council together to consider that Agreement. The Council was one of the parties to whom the promise was made. The latter part of the Resolution would still further restrict their rights in regard to the bringing on of this Agreement, and therefore he had additional ground for complaint. He was bound to say candidly to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, unless he would agree to put off the consideration of this Agreement until next Session, his wheels would drag heavily through the Estimates. This House ought to jealously watch Company promoters, and therefore he had a right to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give them the reasonable time they required, and that he would not allow it to be said of the Government that they distinctly broke a pledge given to the municipal institutions of the country.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
With reference to the question raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Louth, will he allow me to read to him the Resolution which was agreed to without a Division about the same period before the end of the Session of 1892? It was as follows:—That, for the remainder of the Session, Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House each day at the conclusion of Government business without Question put.With regard to what has been said by the Members for Peterborough, Ross, and Caithness, all I have to say is that if they disapprove so entirely of my conduct in the regulation and the furthering of the business of this House, it is perfectly within their power to dismiss me from the situation which I hold and put somebody in my place who will conduct the business of the House in a manner more to their satisfaction.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON
said, he would like to be allowed to explain that he had said nothing about the right hon. Gentleman's conduct of the Business of the House. All he asked about was the Agreement with the National Telephone Company.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
We will consider that matter, and we will not attempt 1269 to press the agreement at present if we find that there is a well-founded opposition to it.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, he thought it was only right that a protest should be made against the manner in which Supply had been treated. They found that almost every Vote that had to be taken would have to be discussed under the pressure of the Rule they were about to have, and in this attenuated House. He hoped the precedent of the Government would not be followed. The House had just reason to complain that they had not had earlier in the Session a fair and reasonable opportunity of dealing with the important questions that arose on the Estimates.
MR. HERBERT LEWIS&c.) (Flint,
said, he wished to point out, in answer to the protest made by the promoters of the Church Patronage Bill, that the loss of that Bill was due in a great measure to the conduct of those hon. Gentlemen in connection with the Places of Worship Enfranchisement Bill, which, having been read a second time without a Division in this House, was subsequently massacred by them.
§ COLONEL HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
asked whether, if the Motion was carried, it would prevent any discussion on the last day of the Session on questions which hon. Members might wish to raise with reference to the conduct of business during the Session?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
No, Sir; it did not last Session, for that was the only occasion on which I ever made a speech in this House before breakfast at 10 o'clock in the morning, in answer to a question raised by a colleague of the hon. Gentleman, one of the Members for Sheffield.
§ * SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
said, that the Appropriation Bill would afford hon. Members ample opportunity to raise any questions they might desire to raise. He agreed entirely with the remarks of his hon. Friend opposite, the Member for South Islington; but on this occasion he thought the Motion of the Government was reasonable in the circumstances of the case.
§ MR. BENN (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
said, he desired to associate himself with the protest made by his hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough with reference to the National Telephone 1270 Company agreement. He was glad to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that if he found a feeling adverse to that agreement he would defer the consideration of it. That was a very different statement to that made by the Postmaster General earlier in the evening. The feeling in the London County Council was very strong upon this question. They strongly objected to the absence of opportunity for examining its provisions.
§ MR. A. MORLEY
said, he would undertake to see the Chairman of the London County Council, and if he understood that there was a serious objection to the agreement taken he would reconsider the matter.
§ MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said, that, so far as he knew, there had been no expression of opinion by the County Council, nor was he aware that the Chairman possessed any authority to delegate the expression of the opinion of the Council to any Member or Members of the House of Commons who happened to be members of the Council.
§ MR. A. MORLEY
said, that if any Members of the House who were also members of the Loudon County Council would see him afterwards they might discuss the matter.
§ MR. STOREY (Sunderland)
said, that many large Municipalities would be affected by this agreement, and past experience had taught them that they should not accept what the Government and the Company had agreed to. They desired ample time to examine the agreement which had been made, and he himself would regard it as an evasion if the Government attempted to get consent to this agreement without giving to all the Municipalities of the country ample time to examine it.
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. A. MORLEY,) Nottingham, E.
said, he understood there was a general feeling that this agreement should be postponed, and under the circumstances he would assent to that course.
§ MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, that the conversation that had taken place showed the difficulty of 1271 bringing the matter forward at a time when the Municipalities were not easily reached.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 130; Noes 33.—(Division List, No. 233.)