HC Deb 18 July 1894 vol 27 cc277-89

Sir, the time has now arrived when we have to consider what arrangement can be made for the purpose of closing the Session within a reasonable time. As usual, the Government have to deal not with what they may wish, but with what is possible under the circumstances. The first thing that is clear is that it is impracticable to proceed now in the present Session with some of the great measures to which the Government is pledged, such, for example, as the question of the Church in Wales, the Registration Bill, and the Local Veto Bill. These, together with other measures, will be the work of the coming Session, but there is yet time within the compass of the present Session to accomplish some useful work which will be for the advantage of the country and the credit of the House of Commons. I will group these measures, as I ventured to do last year, in different categories. I will first take the legislative measures which the Government think they can fairly ask the House to dispose of in the next few weeks. I take, first, the Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Bill. That is a measure which we regard for many reasons as of pressing importance, and we shall accordingly deal with it first. The next in order is the Equalisation of Rates (London) Bill. That is a measure of vital interest to the poorer districts of the Metropolis. It is a Bill, I believe, which cannot be regarded as controversial in the Party sense of the term, for I believe the great majority of the representatives of London on both sides of the House are supporters of that Bill, Now, the third measure, on which I think there will be very little question that we can dispose of it this year, is the Scotch Local Government Bill. From what has taken place in the Grand Committee upstairs, we have every reason to anticipate that that measure will not require a large portion of the time of the House, and it is obviously necessary and fair that Scotland should be placed in as good a position as England with regard to local government. I now come to a Bill which is not a Government measure. It is a Bill certainly which I cannot call uncontroversial. On the contrary, opinion is greatly divided upon it on both sides of the House, but it does not follow Party lines. I mean the Eight Hours (Mines) Bill. It has supporters and opponents upon the Benches on both sides of the House—I may say on the Front Benches of both sides of the House. It is a Bill, in our opinion, which raises several questions of the highest importance, and we are of opinion that the House of Commons ought to have an opportunity of pronouncing a judgment upon it this Session. Therefore, we shall give facilities at our disposal for that purpose. That concludes the list of the Bills which we think can be disposed of—Bills which we admit are of a controversial character—this Session. I now come to the second category of purely non-controversial Bills—Bills of a highly useful character. I mean Consolidation Bills; and I think it has always been felt that when great trouble has been taken in preparing these Bills, and they are Bills of a most beneficial character, the House of Commons ought to take the earliest opportunity of passing them into law. There are two Bills in this condition. One is the Merchants' Shipping Consolidation Bill, and the other is the Perjury Laws Consolidation Bill. It would be a great pity that the work bestowed on them should be lost. Then we come to the third category of what I will presume to call substantially uncontroversial Bills; and when I use the word uncontroversial I would take as a primary test of the question whether a Bill is uncontroversial or not, the opinion on that subject of the responsible Leaders of the Opposition, I say that is the best test, but it is not the only test, and I do not exclude the judgment of other quarters of the House, because to do that would be to debar the independent Members of the House from dealing with small matters. I will now mention the Bills placed in that category. There is first the Building Societies Bill. That is a Bill in which great interest is taken by gentlemen opposite as well as by gentlemen on this side of the House. The right hon. gentleman the Member for Leeds and his colleague in the representation of Leeds are greatly interested in this Bill. I believe that this Bill is uncontroversial, and it is certainly one of very urgent importance. I hope that Bill will be allowed to pass. Then I come to another Bill, on which it is perhaps premature, during the negotiations which are going on with the Board of Trade, to say anything absolute. If there is a fair chance of a settlement being come to on that subject I think everybody will feel that the Railway and Canal Traffic Bill ought to be passed. Then I come to a Bill which I believe is uncontroversial—the Elementary Education Bill. Then there are two Bills belonging to the Home Office now in the House of Lords, which I believe may be treated as uncontroversial—one relating to quarries and the other to check weighers. Then there is a Bill for the facilitation of the settlement of labour disputes. My hon. Friend, I understand, is perfectly prepared to give a fair hearing to other Bills on that subject which have been brought forward, so that there may be no conflict. Then there is a Bill relating to the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act; then there is a Bill which I understand from my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland may probably be put into the same category—I mean the Elementary Education (Attendance Committee) Amendment Bill. [Laughter.] Well, perhaps my right hon. Friend is too sanguine. Now, when these legislative measures are disposed of—it will no doubt take some days to examine this matter—we can then proceed to take the Indian Budget. [Laughter.] I do not know why there should be this repeated laughter. My opinion is that the Indian Budget is a question of importance, dealing as it does with vast considerations connected with the Indian Empire. I think the question is one which requires that we should give to it great consideration, and that we should give it that consideration at an earlier period than hitherto, which has generally been at absolutely the end of the Session. And then we shall propose to proceed with Supply. I will say that we believe, allotting reasonable time for these matters, the House may well rise before the end of the month of August. I have now only to add that it will be necessary to take a Vote on Account on Monday, the 30th. It will be necessary to obtain the Royal Order on August 1. We propose, therefore, to take the Vote on Account on the 30th, leaving the 31st for the Report, and then on August 1 the Royal Order, which it is necessary to obtain. I think I have now finished.

DR. MACGREGOR (Inverness-shire)

What about the Crofters Act Amendment Bill? [Loud laughter.]


I am really very glad to see that the House is in an excellent humour, and I may hope from those indications that we may put the Crofters Act Amendment Bill into the category of uncontroversial measures, thus adding one more item to the list already given. As to the list I have placed before the House, no doubt there are many of these Bills which will not occupy any appreciable time. They are thoroughly uncontroversial, and I hope I may suggest to hon. Gentlemen on both sides that it belongs to the credit of the House of Commons that they will deal with these uncontroversial measures in that spirit.

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

I shall defer until I have had time to reflect further upon it any observations on the large and important programme of Public Business which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has laid before us—a programme, perhaps, more suited to the beginning of the Session than the close of it. I will only ask him what arrangements he is making for Supply reminding him that there is about a month's work left in Supply, judging by ordinary experience. We are now in the middle of July, and we are told that we are going to close the Session at the end of August, so that there are ten days left for all the other controversial work—the Evicted Tenants Bill, the Equalisation of Rates Bill, the Local Govern- ment (Scotland) Bill, the Eight Hours Bill, and the Vote on Account. I should like to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman referring to the promise he made earlier in the Session with regard to a day for discussing Indian finance. He has just told us that the Indian Budget is to come after that lengthy list of controversial measures which he has just read out. I presume, therefore, it would come on about the end of October or the beginning of November. I think that is rather too long to wait, and, therefore, I would ask him what steps he proposes to take to fulfil his promise? I do not know, also, what the right hon. Gentleman exactly means to do with regard to the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill. He tells us he intends to give such facilities as the Government have at their disposal. Does that mean that the Bill is going to be introduced in the interstices between the various stages of the discussion on the Evicted Tenants Bill, or are we to proceed de die in diem with that very large and important measure at some period in August or September? I would further ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that, although the question of the equalisation of rates in London has received a large measure of assent on both sides of the House, the particular plan by which it is proposed to be carried out will certainly arouse the liveliest, and, I should say, a rather prolonged, controversy? With regard to the Local Government (Scotland) Bill, the right hon. Gentleman has told us that certain modifications which the Government have recently made upon it while before the Grand Committee would probably facilitate its passage through the House. To that I have nothing to say, but I suppose from the time it has taken in the Grand Committee that a day or two at the least will be required for a full discussion of it on the Report stage. I abstain—indeed, I have no right to make a speech at the the present moment—from further comment on the plan which the right hon. Gentleman describes as one for rapidly winding up the Session. I simply ask for a reply to the two or three questions I have addressed to him.


said, he should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it was possible to give a Saturday Sitting for a small measure called the Crofters Act Amendment Bill. [Cries of "No, no! "] Hon. Members cried "No!" but did the right hon. Gentleman think it would be possible for the Representatives of Highland constituencies to continue in attendance at Westminster for an indefinite time unless this measure was given the support of the Government and brought forward at a specific date?

MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.)

said, he should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman, in his list of measures that would be taken that Session, had not by mistake omitted to mention the Copyhold Consolidation Bill?

SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

said, there was a measure of very great importance to Trade Unions throughout the country — the Factories Bill—which had not been mentioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Was not the measure less controversial and more likely to get through than the Conciliation Bill on Labour Disputes to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred?


asked whether a day, or half a day even, could not be promised to consider the Bill for the repeal of the Crimes Act?


It is impossible for me to increase the list of Bills I have already read out. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has given us his conception of what Parliament cau do and ought to do. I have proposed that the Indian Budget should be taken after we have disposed of three Bills—[An hon. MEMBER: Four, including the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill]—and he says that in order to dispose of those Bills, one of which he admits will only take a day or two, we shall be at the end of October or the beginning of November before we come to the Indian Budget. Therefore, his conception of the manner in which the House of Commons is to do its business seems to be this—that in order to dispose of measures of that character you must take half July, all August, all September, and all October. That is really a view of the matter that I cannot agree with.


I rise to Order. I have no objection to the right hon. Gentleman making a speech, but I should like to know whether I shall be allowed to reply to him?


I thought I was asked to answer questions.


I think it is better on the present occasion to avoid all controversial questions and arguments.


Then I will answer the question briefly in this manner. I do not think that these Bills will take to the beginning of November, and therefore I anticipate that the Indian Budget will come on before that date.

MR. WOODS (Lancashire, Ince)

said, he should like to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, after the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition, who seemed to cast some doubt upon his meaning, whether the Government intended to give ample facilities to get the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill through the Committee stage, and whether it would be possible to take that stage immediately after the Second Reading of the Evicted Tenants Bill—at any rate, at what particular stage of the Session the Government intended to give the promised facilities for discussing that important measure?

MR. J. WILSON (Durham, Mid)

said, he thought the time had arrived when hon. Members should have a definite statement given them as to the real intentions of the Government in regard to the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill. He asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make there and then a plain statement of what he meant when he used the words, "the Government intended to give facilities" for taking the discussion on that Bill. It was not a matter of discourtesy on his part to say that he was of a different opinion to the right hon. Gentleman when he said that this was a Bill which would bring benefit to the country and credit to the House of Commons. He wished to know whether the facilities which the right hon. Gentleman intended to give were such as were stated by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean last Saturday, when he stated that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the chief Government Whip had promised to give them sufficient time for the passing of the Bill?


Those are not the words that I used, and they are not in the least like the words I used. I quoted the actual statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


said, he had been reading from a newspaper report. Were these facilities such as were meant by the hon. Member for the Ince Division (Mr. Woods) and the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Pickard.) when they said that, if full facilities were not given for the passing of the Bill, they would consider the advisability of shifting their loyalty from one Party to the other?


I never made any such statement at all.


I think I had better make my own statement. The hon. Gentleman, I fear, was not very fortunate in his authority.


I have the authorities here. If the report is accurate the hon. Member for Ince said they "would force the Government to pass the Bill," and the hon. Member for Normanton said that "they would consider the advisability of shifting their loyalty."


I cannot answer for what hon. Members said they would do. That, of course, rests with themselves. I have never said that the Government would undertake to pass the Bill. I have always stated that the Members of the Government, like the Members of the Front Opposition Bench and Members of both sides of the House, are divided in opinion on this subject. I have never stated anything more than this—that I thought it was a matter of such importance that the House of Commons ought to have an opportunity of giving a decision upon it. I never pledged the Government to pass the Bill or to take measures to pass the Bill. What I have stated—and I never concealed it in any way—is that I thought the Government, having taken the whole time of the House, and this Bill having a favourable position by which the opinion of the House might, in respect of it, be arrived at—the Government, I said, were bound to use their control of the time to give facilities for the House to pronounce an opinion on the Bill.

MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick's)

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has made up his mind as to the course he will take with regard to the Coercion Bill?


In reference to the answer just given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, when he states that, in his opinion, the House ought to pronounce an opinion on the Eight Hours Bill, he means that he will give sufficient time to enable the House to pass the Bill through Committee? I may remind him that the House has already given an opinion on the Bill by passing the Second Reading.


I have no hesitation in saying that if the House, having passed the Second Reading, expresses the opinion that the Bill ought to pass, the House ought to have that opportunity.

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

I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman with regard to a Bill which he calls non-controversial—the Irish Education Bill. We have understood that hon. Members opposite object to the passing of that Bill unless concessions were made on the point of the Christian Brothers. I wish to know whether, at the fag-end of the Session, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to introduce into that Bill the proposals of hon. Members opposite with regard to the Christian Brothers?

MR. LEGH (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)

I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has not answered the question put to him as to when facilities are to be given for the Eight Hours Bill, and when the Bill is likely to be discussed.

MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it is not the fast that he, the late Prime Minister, and the Secretary for Scotland have, Session after Session, promised to press forward a Bill to give to the Highland crofters holding under lease the benefits of the Crofters' Act, and that that Bill has been introduced?


Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly answer the question that I have put to him?

MR. SNAPE (Lancashire, S.E., Heywood)

As to the Local Veto Bill—[Opposition laughter]—I wish to ask whether it is the intention of the Government, if the Bill is relegated to next Session, to give it one of the most prominent and earliest positions in the Government programme? As no mention has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Bill for the payment of Members and for the abolition of plurality of votes, I should like to know whether in the next Session of Parliament that measure will also have a prominent position?


As to the Irish Education Bill, unless we are satis- fied that the measure is practically accepted by both sides of the House, we shall not go on with it. We entirely recognise our responsibilities in passing a measure dealing with the crofters' holdings, but, unless we have more reason to believe than we have at present that the Bill would not be strongly opposed, I see no chance of being able to pass it this Session. We propose to give facilities for the Eight Hours Bill as soon as we have disposed of the three Government measures—that is to say, the Evicted Tenants Bill, the Equalisation of Rates Bill, and the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. In our opinion, those Bills cannot take a very long time. I do not believe the Equalisation of Rates Bill will last through August, September, or October. I do not believe that either the Local Government Bill or Evicted Tenants Bill is going to last many months; and, in these circumstances, we intend to give facilities to dispose of these Bills. As to the Local Veto Bill, all I can say is, speaking for myself, that the intention of the Government to press on that measure is unchanged, and will not be changed.


I should like to ask whether inquiry can be made as to a general desire on the part of the representatives of the working classes to press forward the Factory Bill for consideration as against the Conciliation Bill, which is by no means generally accepted?

MR. W. REDMOND (Clare, E.)

Can the Chancellor of the Exchequer give a day or two days before the House rises for the Committee stage of the Bill for the repeal of the Crimes Act? If this cannot be done this Session, will the right hon. Gentleman gave a distinct and definite pledge that a couple of days will be given to the measure when Parliament meets again? Is it the intention of the Government to finish all the stages of the Evicted Tenants Bill before proceeding with the Equalisation of Rates Bill and the Local Government (Scotland) Bill?


After the Second Reading of the Evicted Tenants Bill there must be an interval before the Committee stage, and during that interval we should proceed with the Second Reading of the Equalisation of Rates Bill. After that we shall go on with the Evicted Tenants Bill. As to the repeal of the Crimes Act this Session, it must be obvious that it is a Bill which we could not, in face of the opposition it will meet, proceed with this Session; and, as to a future Session, it must be obvious to the House that I have enough to do to deal with the measures of the present Session. I must decline to enter on an anticipation of the Queen's Speech of next year.

MR. DARLING (Deptford)

Will the Government during this Session give facilities for the passing of a Bill which has made progress in the House of Lords dealing with Anarchists and aliens—[Laughter]—and with those who make this country a refuge to conspire against foreign countries?


No, Sir; certainly not.


Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that the Bill for the repeal of the Crimes Act contains a single clause which might be dealt with in Committee at one sitting, or at the most two sittings? Are we to understand that he cannot give a pledge or an undertaking that if before the end of the Session two days cannot be given he will when Parliament meets again give the time for the passage of the Bill?


I have already said that I cannot undertake to settle the programme of next Session. I have experience enough of a Bill of a single clause, which is capable of being multiplied into many clauses, and to serve for the foundation of many Amendments upon it. There might be proposals to maintain particular parts of the Crimes Act. In answer to the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, I have to say that I have made inquiry with reference to the Bill of which he spoke, and I learn that, though great importance is attached to it, it cannot be regarded as non-controversial, and therefore capable of being put in that category.

SIR M. STEWART (Kirkcudbright)

said, he should like to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the order in which the Bills were to be taken?


Our present intention is to take, after the Evicted Tenants Bill, the Equalisation of Rates Bill, and then the Local Government (Scotland) Bill.

SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to leave the Indian Budget and all Votes of Supply until after facilities have been given for the Eight Hours Bill?

MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)

I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will see his way to give the promised day for the discussion of Indian finance.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

Does the Closure Rule apply to questions?


It may seem a singular statement to make, but as a fact there is no Question before the House.


Do I understand that there is no Vote in Supply to be taken until after the four main Bills of the Government?


There will be a Vote on Account.


What is the business for to-morrow?


The Second Reading of the Evicted Tenants Bill.

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

If the Leader of the Opposition is right in his opinion, and this programme of legislation takes somewhat longer than the Chancellor of the Exchequer anticipates, will he undertake that the House shall sit on until these arrears of legislation are overtaken?

SIR T. LEA (Londonderry, S.)

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he would put the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill in the same form as that in which it had hitherto been passed; whether it would include the Irish Sunday Closing Bill, which had been so renewed for the last 13 or 14 years; whether he would not, under the circumstances, accept the declaration of the late Prime Minister and of the Leader of the Opposition that the condition of this question was discreditable; and whether he would not this Session attempt to pass the amending Irish Sunday Closing Act? Would he not, in order to put an end to the position of things described as disgraceful, include that measure in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill?


The Expiring Laws Continuance Bill will be in the same shape as hitherto—at all events, as regards Ireland and this Bill. I am afraid that there are a great many Bills in a discreditable position, and I should be glad to amend it: but it is rather late in the day now.


The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not answered the question about a day for the discussion of Indian finance. I will also ask him to tell us what, I imagine, goes almost without saying, that the five Bills now on the Paper as Government Bills, and to which he has made no allusion—namely, the Fatal Accidents Inquiry (Scotland) Bill, the Surveyors (Ireland) Bill, the Dogs Bill, the Limitation of Actions Bill, and the Supreme Court (Officers) Bill, will all be dropped.


I do not propose to ask the House to go on with any Bills except those which I have mentioned. The Government have considered them as carefully as they could, and have formed their own opinion as to what are controversial Bills; but they are prepared to be governed by the opinion of the House, and especially by the opinion of the Front Bench opposite, on this subject. I repeat that we do not propose to go on with any Bills except those I have mentioned. As regards the day for the discussion of Indian finance, I fully recognise the pledge which the Government have given; and I will confer with the right hon. Gentleman opposite as to a day convenient for that purpose.


May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer another question—whether he will give me a day for discussing the action of the Government in knocking me down in my own constituency.?

[No answer was given.]