§ Sir M. HICKS-BEACH,
Member for West Bristol, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, "the statement made yesterday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to Public Business during the remainder of the Session;" but the pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. Speaker called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen:—
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
said: Sir, I certainly do not intend in any way to apologise for occupying for a short time the attention of the House on this matter in the only way it is possible to call attention to it, because I think there never was an occasion when a subject more urgently demanded discussion than the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday. What was that statement? I think it was received by the great majority of this House with a feeling of disappointment and surprise, a feeling by no means confined to Members of the ordinary Opposition. I do not mean that many, if any, Members were disappointed by the list of measures which the right hon. Gentleman stated it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to withdraw, and which have now disappeared from the Order Book. I cannot suppose that the least experienced Member of this House cannot have realized, many weeks before this time that these measures were nothing more than promises never expected to be fulfilled. Her Majesty's Government, in the most solemn way known to Parliament, inserted in the gracious speech from the Throne, a notice of their intention to ask Parliament to reform completely our system of Parliamentary registration, to adopt their favorite nostrum of one man one Vote, to disestablish and disendow the Churches in Scotland and Wales, to give to the people direct control over the liquor traffic—well-known items from the celebrated Newcastle Programme—bubbles blown to delude votes for other objects, which have now burst and disappeared into space. Sir, I do not know whether any hon. Member of this House regrets the disappearance of these measures, or is disappointed by their fate. For myself, at any rate, I pretend to no such feeling. They never ought to have been proposed or suggested by a responsible Government, and I am glad that they have disappeared. The disappointment to which I allude is of a very different kind. May I, in a couple of sentences, remind the House of the parliamentary history, so far as it affects the House of Commons, of the last two years? This Parliament was called together in the summer of 1892. Her Majesty's Government were not in a hurry—were wisely and properly 387 not in a hurry—to submit to Parliament any list of the measures which they intended to propose. They delayed to call Parliament together for the work of legislation until the 31st of January, 1893, and since that 31st of January, with the exception, I think, of five weeks last autumn, and a month last winter, this House has been in practically permanent Session without those ordinary relies from our labours which have been known in the history of all previous Parliaments. Sir, I believe we are all tired to death of this. I believe that is a feeling which is shared by all of us, from the Leader of the House to the youngest Member among us, and I think I might even appeal to hon. Members who are specially anxious for shortening the hours of labor of the working classes throughout the country whether among them there might not be found some who would most readily admit that the far more arduous and more difficult task of administering and legislating for this great country ought not to be attempted by jaded and wearied men and cannot be successfully conducted except by Ministers and Members of Parliament who, at any rate, for a considerable time during the course of every year, are free from the harassing and engrossing work of this House. The right hon. Gentleman has, I think, himself readily admitted the argument which I venture to put before the House. He has said if I remember aright, that continuous and continued work is neither good for the House of Commons or for the country. In the whole course of the present year the policy of bringing the Session to a conclusion in a reasonable time has been avowed by the right hon. Gentleman. When on April the 9th, many weeks earlier than I think ever fell to the lot of any former Leader of this Heuse—he invited the House, and successfully invited the House, to give up for Government business Tuesdays and Morning Sittings on Fridays, he then, I am sure, accepted that principle. When, again, on the 31st May he went further and took up the whole time of the House, he again, I think, urged that the concession should be made to him mainly on the ground of his desire that the Session should be brought to a conclusion in a reasonable time. On neither 388 occasion did the right hon. Gentleman ask for these exceptional facilities to be afforded him because of any unreasonable delay in the progress of business which the Government had brought before the House. On the contrary, he cordially recognized the assistance which he had received from us in carrying through the financial business which had to be completed for the first quarter of the year. He expressly stated at the end of May that he made no complaint against any section of the House, and said that he did not base his request for the whole time of the House on any anticipations of unfair dealing with public business in the future. He admitted that the financial proposals of the Government must take a considerable time, and that they contained large and novel principles which justified and demanded proper examination by the House of Commons. That proper examination they have received. Some hon. Members opposite may consider they have received it at too great a length. If that is their opinion, I would appeal from them to the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, who never, throughout the Budget Bill, for a moment suggested that he could ask the House to give him any greater powers to facilitate its progress than the Government possessed, and on only one occasion—an occasion which afterwards he practically had to admit was a mistake—attempted to closure the Debate during all the discussions on that Bill. Therefore, Sir, I do not think it will be denied by the right hon. Gentleman that it is necessary that this Session should be brought to an early termination that he has always held out that as his opinion, and that nothing has occurred during the progress of the Session which in any way justifies a departure from that determination. I think it was, therefore, with both disappointment and surprise that the House heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman yesterday. What are his premises? The Session is to terminate by the end of August. Very well What is to be done in the interval of five and a-half weeks between now and the end of August? We are to deal with Supply, the Evicted Tenants Bill, which has not yet been read a second time, the Equalisation of Rates Bill which is in a similar position, the 389 Report on the Scotch Local Government Bill, and an indefinite discussion on the Miners' Eight Hours Bill, in addition to an uncertain number of measures which the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to think were unopposed, but with regard to some of which, at any rate, I think he will find himself mistaken. That is the programme. In the first place Sir, I complain that that is not a redemption of the promise made to the House by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to Supply. The right hon. Gentleman, on one occasion, when he obtained from the House facilities for the conduct of Government business, promised us that Supply should be fairly dealt with. I do not for a moment say that the right hon. Gentleman up to this time has not fulfilled that promise. But what is his present intention? Why, he has borrowed it from hon. Gentlemen from Ireland below the Gangway who, in the terms of a Motion which curiously enough appears on the Paper to-day in the name of the hon. Baronet the Member for Kerry, desire to ask the House to resolve that further proceedings in Committee of Supply, except in case of urgent need of a further Vote on Account, shall be postponed until four Bills have been disposed of by the House. Now, what is the condition of Supply? Fifty-six Votes have been passed; 114 still remain to be discussed. I do not wish to attach undue importance to the number; but the Votes not yet disposed of include the whole of Class II. of the Civil Service Estimates, which hon. Members from Ireland were exceedingly anxious to discuss when we were in Office. They include also the Education Votes and a very large proportion of the Votes for the Navy Let the House consider what is the nature of discussion on Supply in our present system. It is not merely a criticism of the financial proposals of the Government; it has got far beyond that. The effect of the action of one Government after another in making more and more claims upon the time of the House has been to deprive Members of the House of opportunities which the ordinary rules provided for calling attention to various matters and for criticizing the conduct of the Government in the administration of the affairs of the country. The result has been, that on every Vote 390 which relates to the Department of a responsible Member of the Government we must necessarily and properly have not merely financial criticism, but criticism of most of the administrative action of the Government. This is a privilege to which the House is entitled, which it is right to exercise, and which it is bound to exercise; and any action on the part of the Government which deprives us of the full extent of that privilege is action against the true interests of the country.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
The right hon. Gentleman cheers that sentiment; but what does the right hon. Gentleman do? He postpones until the four Bills have passed through this House any opportunity of carrying his own principles into effect. What are those Bills? Take the Evicted Tenants Bill. Whatever the merits of that Bill may be, I think it will be universally admitted it is a Bill on which there is a very wide difference of opinion between the two great forces that are always contending in Ireland; it is a Bill which, however well intentioned on the part of the Secretary for Ireland, as far as we can judge from the Debate on its introduction, does not absolutely satisfy any party among the Irish Representatives. It may be none the worse Bill for that, but the inevitable result will be that it will require lengthened discussion. Can one who remembers our Debates on Irish questions suppose that this Bill is likely to be passed through the Second Reading, the Committee, the Report stage, and the Third Reading in three or four days of the time of the House? Why, Sir, the idea is absurd. I now come to the Equalization of Rates Bill. It is a Bill earnestly desired by the hon. Member for Shoreditch and those who follow his lead in dealing with the municipal affairs of London. But it is also strongly opposed by some powerful forces in the Metropolis; and it contains principles which may be applicable to all the rest of the country, and will, therefore, demand very careful examination on the part of all interested in such matters, whether their interests are in London or in the country. This, therefore, is not a Bill to be passed in a couple of days With regard to the Local Government for Scotland Bill, the Government wasted days and days of the time 391 of the Session in carrying through that wonderful Scotch Committee. So far as I have seen, the result has been to place the Secretary for Scotland perpetually in hot water. He has had to give up, I am told, a very large portion of that Bill, and it will come down to the House maimed and shorn of proposals which the Government thought necessary; but it will also come down in the form to which it has been reduced by a Committee the majority of whom hold views on public affairs at variance with those held by the Opposition in this House, and it will therefore demand, even although it relates to Scotland only, fair and reasonable discussion on the Report stage, which, indeed, we were promised when the Committee was appointed. I come now to the Miners' Eight Hours Bill. I do not think anyone knows what is the position of that Bill; it is between heaven and earth if not between heaven and a worse place. I gather from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that his desire is to give the House in Committee an opportunity of expressing its judgment upon the Bill. What that meant he was asked by the hon. Members for Ince and Durham, who take opposite views on the merits of the Bill, and he gave them, I venture to say, no satisfactory answer at all. If it is the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to do no more than give the House the opportunity of doing what it has done already on the Second Reading of the Bill, what is the good of wasting the time of the House in the month of August, as it has been wasted in previous months by Debates on the Welsh Church Bill and the Registration Bill, which everybody knew would never be proceeded with, on further Debates on a Bill introduced by a private Member? I do not know why Her Majesty's Government are granting this exceptional favor to the Miners' Eight Hours Bill, for it is not a Bill as to which they were pledged as a Government; it is no part of the Newcastle Programme; it has supporters and opponents on both sides of the House, and among its strongest opponents are some of the best of our laboring population. It has not arrived at as forward a stage in the proceedings of the House as another Bill, the Church Patronage Bill, to which Her Majesty's Government might much more usefully devote any spare time. I contend there is no justi- 392 fication for their taking this Miners Eight Hours Bill out of the ruck of private Bills and asking the House to consider it in the month of August with no real intention of passing it. So much for the four Bills I now come to Supply. How long does the House consider the discussion of the remaining 114 Votes might be expected to occupy, many of them being important Votes which the Government cannot deny the House ought to have the fullest opportunity of discussing? I have here a statement which shows the time that has been taken up by Supply during the last seven years. I will not suggest that we are entitled to expect that the same amount of time should be devoted to Supply this year which was given to it, mainly through the eloquence of the friends of the right hon. Gentleman, when we were in Office in 1889. In that year 45 days were occupied by Supply, and if you deduct the 18 days that have been given to it this Session, there is a margin of 27 days which at this rate would still be required for Supply. I will take the average of the last seven years, and will include in it the year 1892, in which Supply was accelerated by the approach of the General Election and lasted 20 days; and I find the average for the seven years to be 35 days. On that average we ought to give 17 more days to Supply this Session. If we were to commence on Monday next and take all Parliamentary time, Supply would take us up to the 19th of August. The suggestion is that we should rise by the end of August; and that means that the four Bills must be passed in a fortnight. Why, Sir, the proposition is absurd. Such a suggestion with regard to the conduct of our business I venture to say was never made by a responsible Minister. Coupling the date at which the right hon. Gentleman suggests our labors are to terminate with the work he has suggested to be done, he cannot believe in his own proposal. I would hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take warning from the laughter with which his suggestion was received, and which was by no means confined to the Opposition Benches. I hope the night's reflection has convinced him that he is attempting to put on the House work which cannot properly be performed in the time he desires to 393 devote to it. I hope he will realize that in what he is proposing to do he is not fulfilling his promise to give a fair amount of time to Supply. He is anxious, no doubt, to save something from the wreck of promises in the Queen's Speech; but he will defeat his own object if he attempts, towards the end of July, to force the House of Commons to do work which it cannot possibly perform.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Sir M. Hicks-Beach.)
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman began by speaking of disappointment and surprise, and then proceeded to say, in the most solemn manner, that measures had been put into the Queen's Speech which it was found at the end of the Session could not be gone on with. That is a matter of surprise to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Well, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of those measures, and said they ought never to have been put into the Queen's Speech. That is the opinion of every Opposition in regard to the measures proposed by the responsible Government of the day. The right hon. Gentleman must excuse us for holding a different opinion on the subject of our measures from that which he entertains. For how many years was the promise unfulfilled by the late Government to follow up by a Parish Councils Bill their County Councils Bill?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Year after year that promised was renewed, and it never was fulfilled. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that I had held out the expectation that the Session should be concluded within a reasonable period. I did hold out that expectation, and the proposals I made are perfectly conformable with that statement. I will now proceed, if the House will allow me, to make good that assertion. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the question of Supply. He has put forth figures which, in my opinion, are absolutely unfounded, and which I will now proceed to refute. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I have always maintained that Supply 394 affords a proper opportunity for challenging the action of the Government. We have now given to regular Supply this Session 16 days In 1891, when we were in opposition, the days given to Supply were 26. Therefore, if 10 days more are given by us to regular Supply that will be equal to the time given in 1891 by the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues. That is the first refutation of the right hon. Gentleman's figures. In 1892 there were, owing to exceptional circumstances, 15 days only given to Supply. In 1893 there were 29 days given to Supply, the average of those three years being 24 days. [Opposition laughter.] What is there inaccurate in that?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
If the right hon. Gentleman objects to the year 1892, I will take the years 1891 and 1893, and then you will have 26 days in one year and 29 in the other, which will give an average of 27 ½ days for each year—and that is against the 16 days that have already been given this Session to Supply. There have already been given to the Army and Navy Estimates a larger number of days in Supply than have ever been given to them before. Therefore, I say that if 10 or 11 days—which may be considered as a Parliamentary fortnight—be further given to Supply we would be giving as much time as was given on the average during the last year of the late Government and the first year of the present Government.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman says, "What nonsense this is." I hope he will be courteous. It does not, however, depend upon the opinion or upon the good manners of the right hon. Member for Bordesley what the facts are which I have given upon the authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for India. You say that the time given to the Estimates is not sufficient; but, if that be the case, take more time. That is a matter for the House of Commons itself to determine. The House can take what time it likes in reference to that subject. I admit that there remain Votes in Supply which ought to be fully discussed. But, 395 take for Supply as many days as you have taken before, and you will find that you will not exceed the time which I have allotted to it. The right hon. Gentleman objects to the Evicted Tenants Bill. He is going to oppose it, as is natural; and I do not complain of that. But for how many days are you going to oppose it?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
A month! I thank the hon. Gentleman for that word. He has let the cat out of the bag. I will thank the hon. Gentleman for an answer to another question. How long are you going to take over the Equalization of Rates Bill—another mouth? [Cries of "Two months!"] This appears like putting up to auction the public time of this country. As to the Local Government (Scotland) Bill the right hon. Gentleman comes from Bristol to tell us what the views of the Scotch Members are with reference to that Bill, but I would rather take the opinion of the Leader of the Opposition on the subject, who told us yesterday that it would take a day or two. I venture to say that that right hon. Gentleman knows as much about the matter as the right hon. Member for Bristol. Therefore, if you take a fortnight for Supply and give a day or two for the Scotch Local Government Bill the only question is how long you are going to take over the Evicted Tenants Bill and the Equalization of Rates Bill. That is really the whole question. It has been suggested in the newspapers that I said—if I said so I must have expressed myself very inaccurately—that it was not until we got through the non-controversial Bills that we should get to Supply. I never intended to say anything of the sort. If those Bills in the third category are non-controversial measures you may carry them pari passu with Supply. The right hon. Gentleman said that we ought not to have given time for the discussion of the Eight Hours Bill, because that is a Bill which the Government have not taken up as their own, and which they have not undertaken to pass. I would call his attention to a remarkable similar circumstance which took place in 1873. In 1873 my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, who was not at that time a Member of the Government, had 396 on the Paper a Bill for the restriction of the hours of labor in factories. It was a Nine Hours Bill, It was put down on July 30th by the then Government, and the right hon. Member for Midlothian gave it precedence. Mr. Collings asked whether it was a proper proceeding on the part of the Government to take a Bill of that kind out of its order, and put it down for discussion; and whether that proceeding was in accordance with the Resolution which had just been passed giving precedence to Government business. The Speaker replied that the proper construction of the Standing Order was that the Government had power to place, not only their own Orders, but the Orders of private Members according to their own pleasure. Mr. Hunt then asked whether the Bill referred to had been adopted by the Government, and Mr. Gladstone said it did not follow that because the Bill had been placed No. 4 on the Paper that therefore the Government were going to support it or make it a Government measure.—In the case of a Motion of Want of Confidence in the Government"—continued the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian—to which the Government gave precedence, could it be said that by that proceeding on their part they had adopted the Motion. That was simply absurd; and, accordingly, the Bill was put down by the Government in order that it might be discussed.Therefore, in taking the course we are taking in regard to the Miners' Eight Hours Bill, we are taking no unusual, no unprecedented, and no improper course at all, but one that has been thoroughly sanctioned by Parliamentary procedure. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion; but so am I entitled to mine, and I maintain that in the five or six weeks available before the end of August it is perfectly possible to give the average amount of time to Supply and to deal fairly with the measures to which I have referred. It is perfectly possible to give an average amount of time to Supply, and if the House of Commons intends to deal fairly with these measures there is plenty of time to deal with them consistently with giving that period to Supply. There is, in my opinion, a very important question involved in this. What 397 Gentlemen opposite want is that this Session shall close without our doing anything more than has already been done, and I think the sooner the House of Commons comes to an understanding upon this point the better. The point is whether it is to be regarded as a legitimate weapon of opposition to injure the Government by paralyzing the House of Commons. That is the real question we have to deal with, and I would venture to say that gentlemen opposite are as much interested in that question as gentlemen on this Bench. I suppose that in some dim and distant future gentlemen opposite cherish the hope that they may one day occupy these Benches. When they do they will be sorry if they give their sanction to the policy upon which the speech to which we have just listened is founded. The object of that speech, and the object of that policy obviously is to injure the Government by endeavoring to introduce such delays that the House of Commons shall do as little as possible, not in regard to measures of a highly contentious political character, but even with regard to questions which are wholly or partly controversial—their whole object being that it shall be possible when the Session is closed for the Opposition to go to the country and say that the House of Commons has done nothing. That is a question which is outside Parties, and which, in my opinion, ought to be above Parties. I think that the object of hon. Gentlemen should be exactly the opposite—that while we fight here as hard as we can on the great political issues which divide us, and always must divide both sides of the House—consistently with that, we should endeavor in this great Assembly to transact as much useful business for the advantage of the country as we can possibly do. Therefore, I say if consistently with those interests it is still possible for us to pass a number of really substantially non-controversial Bills we ought to do so for the advantage of the country and for the credit of the House of Commons. Now, as regards those Bills which we have really left to the determination of the Opposition in the House of Commons, I said the other day that I believe those Bills to be useful Bills. I believe it would be a great advantage to the country that these Bills should be passed. I understand that it is 398 argued by hon. Gentlemen opposite that these Bills are of so controversial a character that we cannot pass them without a considerable amount of discussion. Then, as I said yesterday, these Bills will not be proceeded with. On the other hand, I say that if the House of Commons is prepared to deal honestly and fairly with these Bills they can pass, leaving 10 days for Supply, making up the amount of time given in former years to Supply. I shall be surprised if the Leader of the Opposition gets up and says that the character of the opposition is such that it will take many days to pass these Bills—the Evicted Tenants Bill and the Equalisation of Rates Bill. I do not believe it will take many days. I believe a great many gentlemen who represent the Metropolis, and who sit behind the right hon. Gentleman, are supporters of the Equalisation of Rates Bill; therefore, it is only natural to suppose that two or three days will suffice for it. I am certain that unless there is some intention unduly to prolong the Debate the Local Government for Scotland Bill will also take a very short time—a day or two.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my statement with regard to that Bill. He has led the House to suppose that I suggested that all the subsequent stages of the Bill could be disposed of in a day or two. I said that not more than a day or two would be required on the Report stage.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, not as a Scotch Member, but as a Scotchman, whether, if it had been two or three days under discussion on Report, there is a single Scotch Member who would reject the Bill on the Third Reading? The right hon. Gentleman may have changed his opinion since yesterday, but I venture to say that the whole of the Scotch Members desire for the sake of their country that this Bill should pass, and pass without delay. All depends upon whether you intend and whether you will succeed in spending a month—which is the period the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite claimed—on the Evicted Tenants Bill. In my opinion it would be a most improper and unjustifiable proceeding to spend a whole month of Parliamentary time in that way. That 399 the Bill should be fully and adequately discussed I admit; but to spend a month on it would be indefensible, and I believe the majority of the House of Commons and the great majority of the country would disapprove of any such proceeding. That, of course, remains to be seen. So far as the Government are concerned, we think we have made no unreasonable demands upon the House of Commons, and it will be for the House of Commons to say hereafter whether they will support the Government in these demands. I will only repeat that, from what consideration I have been able to give to the matter, I think that with a fair and reasonable allowance of time for each of these measures and to Supply we may fairly hope and expect that the Prorogation will take place in the month of August.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I do not know how many more speeches the Chancellor of the Exchequer means to make, but I observe they proceed on the crescendo scale, and that each successive one is more than the last in the nature of an appeal to the electorate. The right hon. Gentleman began to-day in an extremely moderate fashion. It is true he protested against the taunts addressed to him and the Government that they have introduced more Bills in the Queen's Speech than they have been able to carry, and he said that had been the case with previous Governments; but that is not the gist of the accusation which has been brought against the Government. What we complain of is not they that have introduced more Bills in number than they were likely to be able to carry, but that they introduced such Bills that they could not have believed there was the slightest chance that they could carry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it is an extraordinary doctrine that anyone should endeavour to injure the Government by preventing them doing anything in the House of Commons. No such doctrine has been advanced. I entirely repudiate any such doctrine. It has never been advanced by any Member of the Opposition. It is an equally reprehensible doctrine that the Government should go on piling Bill after Bill into a programme merely for the purpose of diverting and deceiving public opinion. Let us take the matter from the reason- 400 able standpoint of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He adheres to his previous statement that there is plenty of time between now and the end of August for the House of Commons to accomplish the work he has laid before it. How much time have we? We have 32 days of Government time up to the 31st of August, including to-day, and in those 32 days we have to accomplish the list of work the right hon. Gentleman has put before us. The Chancellor of the Exchequer refuses to allow that Supply should take more time than in average years. Let me point out that there is good reason why Supply should take longer time this year than in other years. The reason is that the Government took the whole time of the House earlier this year than they ever did before, and the only opportunity left to us to question the administration and policy of the Government on a heap of miscellaneous questions is on Supply. That is the only opportunity private Members have. This year private Members have been deprived of almost every other opportunity of raising questions of importance. Accordingly it would be perfectly reasonably for us to contend that the time to be taken for discussions in Supply should be more liberally allotted to us than it has ever been before. But I am going to take the Chancellor of the Exchequer where I can, on his own argument. He is gracious enough to say that we may have 11 days, which is the average of the last, three years, including the year of the General Election.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I am much obliged. Then I suppose we may take it that there are 12 days for Supply. Well, 12 days from 32 leaves 20 days. Then there is the Indian Budget. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer tell us what time should be given this year to the discussion of the finances of India? Will he give us less than two days? Very well, then, there are two days necessary for the Indian Budget, and two more days for the Vote on Account and the Report. That makes four days, leaving 16. Now, there are no less than nine Bills which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has called non-controversial measures. I admit that they are non- 401 controversial measures, although they include such important questions as the attendance at elementary schools, building societies, railway and canal traffic, and conciliation in labour disputes. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer tell us that it is the duty of the House to pass Bills of this kind without some reasonable chance of discussion? All these Bills are in their infancy and will have to be passed through their three or four stages. I will undertake to say that with these nine Bills there are no less than 20 stages to be gone through.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
That is not the point. So far as I am concerned, I am certainly not going to oppose any one of these Bills, because, so far as the principle of these Bills is concerned, I approve of them. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer was justified in saying that they were what are ordinarily called non-controversial Bills; but does he mean to tell the Labour Party in this House, for instance, that, because these are non-controversial Bills, a Bill so important as one to establish Boards of Conciliation is to pass through the House after 10 minutes' discussion, because, forsooth, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is bound by a contract with the Irish Members to give an indefinite time to the Evicted Tenants Bill? No, Sir; this question is not disposed of by an interruption of the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking me whether I am going to oppose these Bills. I am not going to oppose them, but I claim that when we have to deal with nine Bills having 20 stages we cannot possibly get through them without allowing—what will the most moderate man in the House say is the least time that can be properly given to these nine Bills?—I take it five days for the whole nine Bills, four or five of which are of the very utmost importance, although they are non-controversial. Taking, therefore, five days from the 16, that gives me 11 days. Then there is the Local Government for Scotland Bill, for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives me three days.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said it was not reasonable to ask for more than one or two upon a Bill which has been hotly contested in the Grand Committee, and 402 which has occupied 14 sittings of the Committee. Is it reasonable to say that a Bill of this kind is likely to pass the Report and Third Reading stages in less than three days?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Well, I want to carry the Chancellor of the Exchequer with me. I will say two days if he likes, and that will leave me with only a balance of nine days. Then how much is to be given to the Equalisation of Rates Bill, which has not even passed its Second Reading? It has four stages to go through, and, although it is not in one sense a Bill which necessarily divides us according to Party lines, it is a Bill for all that which proposes to alter the whole finance of London and to transfer property in the shape of rates from 28 districts to 42 districts. Is it possible that the 28 districts whose property is going to be taken away and given to the 42 districts will not have something to say on the subject? I think I should be very moderate indeed if I put the whole four stages down as likely to occupy six days. [Cries of "Oh!"] Then how much will the Chancellor of the Exchequer give me? Will he say four days?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
What a perfectly irrelevant interruption from a usually relevant man. I am not going to take any part in the discussion myself. It does not especially interest me. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks four days too much—I wish to come to an agreement with him—I will reduce it to three days. The result of that will be that we shall have only six days left in which we shall have to deal with the Evicted Tenants Bill and the Eight Hours Bill. So far as the Eight Hours Bill is concerned—I am sorry I do not see the Member for Durham in his place—the Chancellor of the Exchequer has entirely misapprehended our position. I, for one, do not complain of the Government adopting or not adopting this measure. All we ask is to what extent are they going to give it their patronage, and to what extent have they agreed to give facilities for the Bill? We want to know whether these facilities are to extend to the whole of the Committee 403 stage, and we have been totally unable to extract a definite answer from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Supposing it is not to extend to the whole of the Committee stage, then this House is going to be asked to stultify itself by wasting precious time at the end of August in discussing a Bill which the Government themselves do not mean to proceed with. We are expected, for the pleasure of enabling the Government to satisfy some mysterious and secret pledges which they have given to certain Members of the Labour Party, to discuss a Bill which, under the circumstances, is a mere make-believe. If, on the other hand, the Government mean to give facilities for the full discussion of this Bill, then I say, Sir, it is perfectly absurd to suppose that a Bill of that kind, affecting as it does one of the largest industries in the country, and deeply affecting it, and upon which there is a division of opinion extending to both sides of the House, can fully and fairly be discussed in less than the whole of the remaining time of the Session, and that will leave absolutely no time at all for the Evicted Tenants Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said it would be monstrous if we took a month for the Evicted Tenants Bill. But the Evicted Tenants Bill is a new Land Bill for Ireland, introducing into that much distressed country—for I cannot say how many number of times—another and new system of legislation, and with it new principles of legislation, interfering with, and necessarily upsetting existing legislation, and destroying the principle upon which the present Land Purchase Acts are based. Do not let us diminish the importance of the measure. I do not know whether 20 days is a fair time to take for it, or whether it could be discussed in less time; but, at all events, it is perfectly evident that a matter raising such very important questions will require a very large amount of time. What I ask the House to see is that the Government have not left it any time at all; or, to put it another way, if they give the time to the Evicted Tenants Bill that it will require, then undoubtedly those other Bills must be crushed out of existence. Unless, indeed, we are to adopt another theory which seems to find favour, I do not say with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but with the organs of the Government, 404 and that is that this House is to be penalised, and that, like an able-bodied prisoner who, with a certain task set him, is not allowed to go to rest until he has accomplished his stint of work, we are to be kept at work until we have accomplished the task set the House by the Government. I believe there are some Members who would support that view. It is a view which is certainly extremely convenient for the present Government and for all who expect to be in future Governments. This is to make a Government, which may be only representative of a very small majority in this House—a majority of one is as good as a majority of 20 for all practicable purposes—absolutely masters not only of the time of the House, but of the business of the House. And a Government, however unreasonable it may be, may fix the labours of the House of Commons at the beginning of a Session and keep it sitting until it has finished all its work. If hon. Members support that view, then under the circumstances the only complaint I have to make of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is as to his extreme moderation. Why, under the circumstances, does he withdraw the Welsh Disestablishment Bill? There is plenty of time if you are to sit through August, and if you think you can bully the Opposition into passing these measures before you prorogue why not include the Local Veto Bill? I see the hon. Member for Carlisle in his place, and I should like to call his attention to this fact—that the Local Veto Bill is everywhere popular. It is not merely the hon. Baronet and his friends on this side of the House who wish to see it passed, but the Opposition and the Liberal Unionists are burning to see it passed. If my hon. Friend will get up a Petition to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to introduce it I believe nine-tenths of the House will sign it. What sire the grounds upon which we are asked to sit until we have accomplished the work provided for us? Have we injured the Government by undue or deliberate obstruction? If so, why does not the Chancellor of the Exchequer say so? As Leader of the House, as promoter of the Budget Bill, he was more interested than anyone in the conduct of the Bill. Why does he not call attention to illegitimate obstruction? I 405 will state the reason for the information of the gentlemen who cheered just now, not one of whom, I venture to say, attended the Budget Debates. The reason is that, unless the Government had themselves accepted or proposed something like 200 Amendments to this Bill—for they recognise that the discussion was useful and advantageous, and has led to the improvement of the Bill—it would have been a worse Bill even than it is now, and the country would have suffered but for this legitimate discussion. Under these circumstances it is absurd to accuse us of obstruction. There is a general answer to that which I would quote from the words of the right hon. Member for Midlothian. Since I have been in the House of Commons, I admit that every Government in turn has accused the Opposition of obstruction. Opposition to the Government always appears like obstruction, and I think great credit is due to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for not having adopted that hackneyed cry. What did the right hon. Member for Midlothian say in 1890 when a similar accusation was made against the then Opposition which he was leading. He said—Of course, it is just as easy for us to go about the country and say this charge of obstruction is an impudent imposture;—this is for the gentlemen who cheered just now—there is no foundation for it at all. It is the miserable device of men who resort to it because every rag of every other pretext has been stripped from their backs, and, in the absence of any decent clothing in which to present themselves to the world, they have concocted and weaved together this miserable cloak of obstruction.I venture to say that a misapprehension exists in the country to some extent as to what the Government is entitled to expect from the House of Commons during a single Session. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that it is the object of the Opposition to go to the country and to say that the Government have only carried one Bill. If that were the only accusation we had to make against the Government, it would be a poor thing upon which to rest our claim to the support of the country. In the first place, let us consider what Bill it is that the Government will have carried. The Bill of the Government was really three distinct Bills. It was an ordinary 406 Budget Bill in the first place; it was a Bill for the equalisation of the duties upon personal and real property in the second place; and it was a Bill, introducing for the first time the great principle of graduation in our national and Imperial finance. To all intents and purposes, therefore, there were three equally independent and important principles, every one of which required a very considerable amount of discussion, and they might very well have formed the basis of three great Bills. The Government, in carrying them under cover of one Bill, which they called a Finance Bill, have practically carried three Bills through the House of Commons. My second point is this: that the actual Session only began on March 12, and it has been a short Session; but if you take the real Session you will find that it has included the Employers' Liability Bill and the Parish Councils Bill, which were passed at all events through the House of Commons. Is that a good record for the House of Commons to make in a single Session to carry three such Bills as the Budget Bill, the Employers' Liability Bill, and the Parish Councils Bill? I do not think in the history of our legislation for the last 20 years you can find any Parliament in which more has been done—that is, as to the importance of the Bills which have been passed. It is a matter of fact. Let us take the time when there was no obstruction at all—at least when obstruction was not heard of, at all events, in its present developed form. Of course, obstruction, as we know it, was developed and perfected by Mr. Parnell and the group of Members who followed his leadership. Until the advent of Mr. Parnell as a great political force obstruction was, comparatively speaking, unknown. I take, therefore, the time before Mr. Parnell introduced this novel weapon of political warfare. In 1869 I find two great Bills were passed in the Session—the Irish Church Bill and the Endowed Schools Bill. Next year there were the Land Act and the Education Act; next year Army Purchase and University Tests; next year the Ballot Act and the Licensing Act; and in 1873 there was only one Bill, the Supreme Court of Judicature Act. Now, I say again, in these circumstances, this Session of Parliament has done more legislative 407 work as far as I know, or at least has done as much legislative work, as any Parliament which has sat for 20 years. Hon. Members cheer that statement. I hope that they will not go back from that cheer. If that is so, then with what face do you accuse us of obstruction? With what face do you pretend to have a right to keep us here until October, when you admit that you have done as important work as may fairly be expected from any Parliamentary Session? You may say that this Parliament has done as much as was accomplished through all the eventful years of 1869 to 1874. It is perfectly monstrous to contend in such circumstances that we should be forced to sit longer in order to do more work. The last point to which I wish to call attention is this. If it be agreed that we are to do more work, at least I think the House has a right to express an opinion as to the work it should be called upon to do. Allowing that we have 32 days at our disposal, surely it is worth while to consider whether the best use is going to be made of that time. I want to ask the House what principle has presided over the selection of the measures which we are now called upon to consider? I think we shall find a clear and definite principle running through this selection. It is entirely devised to satisfy, in the first place, the largest number of votes, and, in the second place, the greatest amount of importunity. I think I shall show that. Everyone knows that the Liberal Party is divided into sections. The most important section is the Irish section, with 70 votes, and I am sure I shall not be considered offensive if I say that they are also the most importunate section. Accordingly, they come off best. They are to have all the time required to pass all the stages of an important Bill like the Evicted Tenants Bill. But, not only that, we have heard through the usual channels of information that they are also to have the first place next Session for another Irish Bill pari passu with the Welsh Members. That is the position of the Irish Members. Then come the Welsh Members with 30 votes; and I judge that as they have only half as many votes as the Irish, they are only half as importunate. Accordingly, all they can get is the promise for first place next Session, when they are to run in double harness with the Irish Members; 408 and I fancy they are easily satisfied. I think I know which of that team will do the most of the work. Then we come to the London Members who support the Government. They number about 20, and they are entitled to a smaller Bill than either the Welsh or the Irish. Accordingly, they are let off with the Equalisation of Rates Bill, which is put in the third place. Then there are the Labour Members, who have the dubious promise of doubtful, not well-explained and defined, facilities for the Eight Hours Bill of which a majority of them are in favour. Then I come to another class, in which I take a considerable amount of interest, though they represent a small section in this House—the crofter interest. Inasmuch as they have only two Members, they are told that they may have their Bill if it is entirely unopposed. Now I come back to my hon. Friend the Member for Cockermouth. What is the position of the great Temperance Party? I do not dare to give any guess as to the number of that Party. I have said that those who favour the introduction of the Bill will be found to constitute a large portion of the House, but the number of the actual followers of my hon. Friend I would not venture to indicate. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: Russell.] I have no doubt there are many equally influential Members who follow my hon. Friend; but I ask them to consider what they have got, and I couple that with the question, "What did they expect to get?" Nothing? Oh, no. My hon. Friend does himself an injustice. Here is what my hon. Friend said on July 8, 1893, now more than 12 months ago. No doubt he was in presence of a certain uneasiness in a section of the Party, and in order to raise their spirits and encourage them in the good work, he wrote a letter to "Dear Mr. White," the Secretary, I believe, of the United Kingdom Alliance—I do not wonder," wrote my hon. Friend, "at your being a little anxious when you see so many political prophets forecasting the course of Public Business and studiously avoiding any mention of the Government's Liquor Traffic (Control) Bill; but I do not think you need be much troubled on that account. It is evident now that after the Irish Bill has been got out of the House of Commons we shall have an Autumn Session to forward the measures promised in the Queen's Speech. Surely you need not be under the apprehension that the Liquor Traffic (Control) Bill will be suddenly dropped out of the list.409 Then my hon. Friend went on to give his reasons to these doubting friends. He said—Remember also how gallantly Sir William Harcourt, who takes charge of the Bill, has nailed his colours to the mast. There is not the slightest evidence that the Government have any disposition to play fast and loose with the Bill, but they could not do so even if they had such a disposition. Lord Rosebery has declared that the temperance men are the backbone of the Liberal Party. Is it possible to suppose that the Government, having finally estranged the great drink monopoly by introducing the Bill, will straightway proceed to alienate the Temperance Party by withdrawing it? It is difficult enough for a Government to get on nowadays when supported by one Party, but when it is supported by neither Party it is easy to see what will become of it. … Our friends need have no fear. Our position is growing stronger every day.The Autumn Session came and passed, and the Liquor Traffic (Control) Bill did not come with it; and now, 12 months after that letter was written, this Bill is actually withdrawn. My hon. Friend prophesied on grounds, no doubt, which justified prediction at the time. He declared that the Bill would not be withdrawn, and indicated if it were that the Temperance Party, who are the backbone of the Liberal Party, would withdraw their support from the Government. I have no doubt my hon. Friend meant what he said at the time, and I wait to hear what he means now. In any case I have no doubt the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have rightly gauged his threats, and they have concluded that, on the whole, of all the sections of the House to whom they are obliged to look, the temperance section is the one which they can neglect with the most absolute safety. I can only congratulate the Government on the success of their strategy and on the docility of their followers. I believe Sir Robert Walpole said that every man had his price, and that the height of statesmanship was to know how to buy men cheap. If Sir Robert Walpole were alive now he would, I think, be lost in admiration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who buys his Party so cheaply that they take his promissory notes as if they had some real and substantial value.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
said, he was surprised that no one had risen to answer the last speech—or, rather, he was not surprised, for the 410 simple reason that the speech was un-answerable. It proved that the Session would be extended far beyond the end of August, or else that it would be necessary to have a fresh slaughter of the innocents. As to the Eight Hours (Miners) Bill, the right hon. Gentleman said that in giving facilities to this measure he was taking no unusual or unprecedented course. It was possible that the course was not entirely unprecedented, though the right hon. Gentleman had to go back 20 years for a precedent, but it was very unusual. He was not aware of the circumstances which accompanied the occurrence to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said, the right hon. Gentleman only quoted one, and he must repeat that even if the Government's action was not unprecedented, it was very unusual. The Bill was not a Government measure, nor was it supported by all the Members of the Government. It was of a highly controversial character, and had a considerable number of opponents on both sides of the House. Yet it was selected for discussion at the expense of other Bills which were originally included in the Government Programme. The Government would not state what were the facilities which they promised; and it might be assumed, therefore, that a certain number of days were to be given to the Committee stage, and that if the Bill were not through then it would be dropped and no further facilities would be allowed for it. What were the Chancellor of the Exchequer's reasons for this extraordinary action? He was unfortunately unable to be present when the right hon. Gentleman made his statement on the previous day, but he had since carefully read the speech and had discovered two reasons for the attitude taken up by the Leader of the House. He first said that the Bill was of great importance, and that the House of Commons ought to have an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion upon it; and, secondly, that the Government having taken the whole time of the House, and the Bill having a favourable position, the Government were bound to give 411 facilities for the House to prononnce an opinion on it. These reasons were very unsatisfactory. It might be said that the Government had given a pledge to the Representatives of the miners who were in favour of the Bill. But why was that pledge given? He had sought for the reason, and in the course of his investigation he remembered that the Prime Minister in platform speeches had made references to the Bill which must have influenced the Government. At Edinburgh, on March 17, the Prime Minister said that the Bill would have the great mass of the Government support, and would be given a day and every facility consistent with the work of the Session. They would spare no efforts, as individual Ministers, to pass it into law. But the noble Lord went further, and later, at St. James's Hall, said that the Government had promised Government support of the Bill, and that was a recognition of the Government's viewing this new force as one on which it must rest for support. He would point out the difference of tone between these utterances of the Prime Minister and the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lord Rosebery said that the Government would give the measure their cordial support and would try to pass it through Parliament. The Chancellor of the Exchequer simply stated that the subject was important, and that the promoters had been successful in the ballot. Something must have happened in the interval; and he would suggest that he was not far from the mark when he said that the Government had found that there was much more opposition to the measure on their own side of the House than they had supposed. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Newcastle had reminded the Government that his views were not the same as the Prime Minister's. He himself protested against the course which had been adopted; and he hoped that if this Motion were pressed to a Division those on the other side of the House who were opposed to the Bill would join in protesting against exhausting the time and energies of the House for these exceptional facilities, which ought never to have been given.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, that practically the hon. Member complained of the Government's taking 412 the liberty to arrange their business as they thought best, and without consulting him. The real answer to the speeches of the right hon. Members for Bristol and Birmingham was this: The Chancellor of the Exchequer had submitted a modest programme for the end of the Session. The complaint of hon. Gentlemen was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was wrong in supposing that the programme could be carried out by the end of August. If it could not, what would happen? What ought to happen? That hon. Gentlemen ought to sit on into September until the programme was carried through. He was really an impartial "bottle-holder" in the matter; for, while he greatly admired the stalwart spirit of Ministers and of the Members round them, the state of his health would deprive him of the pleasure of taking part in their heroic determination to carry this programme. He was not, therefore, concerned, unless, as the Leader of the Opposition had suggested, the House went on sitting till November, when he had no doubt that the state of his health would permit him to come back. There was another point to which he wished to call attention. His complaint was that the programme was not larger. There was one subject on which he had hoped to hear some statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They had heard a good deal about the Newcastle Programme. The House was aware that the Government Party had the advantage of what might be called a Liberal Parliament. Delegates from all the Liberal Associations throughout the country met occasionally and laid down what they thought ought to be the programme of the Liberal Party. That they did at Newcastle before the last Election, and their programme had been accepted by the leaders of the Party. Since then there had been another meeting of this Liberal Parliament at Leeds, and it passed a resolution declaring that it was desirable and necessary that any Bill passed through the House of Commons should become law during the same Session. The meeting called upon the Leaders of the Liberal Party to give effect to that view in the present Parlia- 413 ment. Of course, one could quite understand that after the fatigues and labours of the Session Ministers were not prepared to go into the question exhaustively during the present Session; still they ought to have some understanding with Ministers that they on their part accepted in its entirety the resolution of the Leeds Conference, and that they would table a Bill which they should propose to carry, if not in this, at all events in the ensuing, Session. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had already projected his mind into the next Session. He had told them what Bills were to be brought in; would he add the information whether the Government Bills would include one altering the present methods of Parliamentary procedure? Speaking not only for himself, but for a large number of Radicals in the country, there would be very great dissatisfaction if something was not done in this matter very soon. If there was not an announcement at the commencement of next Session that the Government accepted the resolution of the Leeds Conference as the irreducible minimum, he was afraid it would be necessary for those who agreed with him to take active measures, either by Resolution or by Amendments, in order to ask the Government to express their views and submit the question to the House upon these matters.
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
said, he should like to say a word with regard to the neglect of the House of Indian affairs. The people of India were almost in despair at the habitual disregard of their grievances. It was the duty of the Government to hold the balance as between competing claims and interests, and to see that fair play was given to those who had no Representatives in this House and no votes to give to the Government.
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
said, he was very much surprised at the selection which the Government had made of Bills which they had determined to press forward. The Evicted Tenants Bill referred to but a comparatively small number of persons. The Equalisation of Rates Bill, again, dealt 414 with a very complicated and difficult question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that it would be supported by the majority of London Members. That might be so, for it transferred large sums from some 28 districts to 40 others. It was reasonable to suppose that it would be supported by the representatives of most of the 40, though it had by no means their unanimous support, because some of them felt that, though they might gain for the moment, still it would offer such inducement to extravagance that they would suffer in the long run. Moreover, if the principle was adopted for London it must be extended to the rest of the country. Then the Government were going to give facilities to the Eight Hours Bill, and he should like to make an appeal on behalf of the Shops Early Closing Bill. The Shops Bill relieved not men only, but would be a precious boon to a great number of women and young persons who had no votes, and were on that very account especially entitled to the consideration of the House. Secondly, it dealt not with eight hours, but with persons working 12 and even 14 hours; and, thirdly, it rested on a unanimous Resolution of the House, supported by Her Majesty's Government. He greatly regretted that they had taken no steps to promote a measure which was not controversial, and the importance, he might say the necessity, of which they had themselves recognised.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, the Government was already responsible for a large expenditure of the time of the House, and had in fact practically taken the whole time of the Session at a period early beyond all precedent. That being so, they ought to have been a little modest in their demands for the remainder of the Session, and the Bills they proposed to press forward. As a London Member he took a deep interest in the Equalisation of Rates Bill, and he and those who thought with him on this question, although they were in favour of a re-arrangement of local taxation under which the poor should pay less and the rich pay more, must necessarily occupy some of the time of the House in pointing out that under the provisions of this Bill in some cases the poor would have to 415 pay more while the rich would obtain a benefit which they had no desire to have conferred upon them. It must be remembered that this measure would be the foundation upon which future proposals for effecting enormous changes in relation to local taxation would be based, and therefore it was only right that it should receive adequate discussion before it became law. He had done all in his power to secure the passing of the Building Societies Bill, the progress of which was stopped by one of the supporters of the Government. That would be a most useful measure, because it was hoped that it would put an end to any cases of fraud and irregularities that might exist in some of these societies. He did not think that the Government had acted very fairly by the House in picking out from among the numerous private Members' Bills the Eight Hours Bill for advancement simply because it was promoted by one of their own supporters. The Evicted Tenants Bill was of a most revolutionary character, and if it were not for political considerations no human being on either side of the House would support it. That Bill would have to be resisted to the utmost, and the time that would be occupied in discussing it must necessarily be considerable. In addition to the time that would be required for the discussion of the measure to which he had referred, a considerable further portion of the time of the House would have to be occupied in bringing forward questions arising on Supply. The programme of the Government, therefore, was a sham one, and had merely been brought forward by the Government with the hope of keeping the various sections of their supporters in good humour. In his opinion, all that the Government should demand of the House was that they should pass the necessary Votes in Supply, and perhaps one or two non-contentious Bills, and then allow them to separate for their well-earned holiday.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
There appears to be a general agreement between the two sides of the House that the end of August probably represents the limit of Parliamentary endurance; and not a single word, I was glad to notice, fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to contradict the opinion, of which 416 he himself was the exponent earlier in the year, that if this House is to continue adequately to discharge its functions, if the health of its Members is to be preserved, if the whole machinery of legislation is not to break down by being overstrained, it is absolutely necessary that the holidays this year should not be deferred to some extravagantly late period. We do not differ on that point. But we do differ with regard to the possibility of carrying out that programme which, with conscious or unconscious humour, the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented to us yesterday, for the purpose, as he told us, of bringing the Session rapidly to a close. I do not think, Sir, such a statement ever was so prefaced in the annals of Parliament. When I heard the welcome words of the right hon. Gentleman, I, for my part, thought that some modest proposals of legislation were going to drop from his lips, and that he was going to tell us that, after one Bill, or at most two Bills, of no very contentious character had been disposed of, the House might then deal with the great questions raised by Supply, and might then amicably prorogue in the third week in August, or perhaps as late as the fourth week in that month. But when the Chancellor of the Exchequer began to develop his programme there was not a man on either side of the House who did not know in his heart that the calculations as regards time with which that plan was accompanied were absolutely ludicrous and absolutely impossible, and therefore were likely to raise fallacious hopes in the minds of his hearers, if they raised any emotions at all except those of ridicule. We are accustomed to such calculations at the beginning of a Session. Every Government that I have ever heard of always begins the Session by promising their followers and the country a programme in the Queen's Speech which persons of a less sanguine temperament than Governments are at that period of the year would know could never be really carried out. But we forgive that. We have all done it. But what we do complain of is that the youthful folly which is excusable in February should make its appearance on the 18th of July. By that time the spirit of sober seriousness should come over a Government; they should have sown their wild oats; they should know what it is that 417 life can give and what life cannot give; and really, at a period when the Session is approaching the natural term of its existence, to indulge in these illusory hopes and vain dreams of future glory is as foolish as it is for a septuagenarian to indulge in visions which we all admire in youths of 18 or men of 25. I do not know that there is anything that I can add that will increase the force of that pregnant almanac or forecast of our time which was given to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham. He went through the promises of the Government item by item. He cut down to the narrowest limits the amount of time which would be taken by each of those items in turn; and he showed, I think, to demonstration—at all events, no refutation has been attempted—that if all the other things promised by the Government were performed it was absolutely impossible to leave a single hour to be given to the Evicted Tenants Bill, the consideration of which we are about to commence. How is it that the Government have been led to such a very different conclusion? I think I can point out how it is that the right hon. Gentleman has made his false calculation. The right hon. Gentleman made a most extraordinary calculation which will not stand a moment's examination. In the first place, it cut out all discussion of Supplementary Estimates. Why? What is it that takes time in the discussions of Supply? It is the discussion of the action of the Government, and questions can be raised just as well upon the Supplementary Estimates as upon the main Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman, however, made a more important and a more curious error when, like other statisticians, he insisted on taking as the basis of his calculation the figures that happened to suit him, and leaving absolutely out of account all the figures that did not happen to suit him. He took the years 1891 and 1893. Why did he not take 1890, or 1889, or 1888, or 1887? When you are dealing with averages it is always well not to take too small a basis on which to build your superstructure. If the right hon. Gentleman had taken the average of all the years during which he led the Opposition he would have found the figures as to the time given to Supply very different from those which 418 he produced. The figure which the right hon. Gentleman gave was 27½ days, and the average number of days occupied with Supply in the years to which I have referred was 38. The right hon. Gentleman should have included the supplementary Estimates in his calculations, but I observed that in the years he gave the difference between Supplementary and other Estimates was four or five days. The total number of days in 1893, which was an exceptional year, was, including the Supplementary Estimates, 34.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My figures are carefully made, and, though I have not the figures excluding the Supplementary Estimates, I make the average number of days occupied, excluding 1892, to be 38. If that average is going to be adopted by the House, then the calculations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are ludicrously off the mark. The second mistake made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is with regard to non-contentious business. He assumed not only throughout his speech, but throughout the supplementary interruptions with which he greeted the right hon. Member for West Birmigham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) that a non-contentious Bill was a Bill that was not debated. That is not the definition of a non-contentious Bill. A non-contentious Bill is a Bill on which Parties are not keenly divided, upon which there is no desire to run counter to the general principle of the measure; but it does not mean, and never has meant in our Parliamentary vocabulary, a measure which do not require amendment and discussion and full consideration by the House in its various stages. And if you refuse to give to so-called non-contentious Bills the amount of discussion they require, the result will be that your legislation will be full of blunders which will have to be corrected, and you will throw upon the House of Lords work which you ought to have undertaken, but which, no doubt, they are quite as capable of performing as you are, if you choose deliberately to divest yourselves of the duties with which your constituents have entrusted you. The third blunder of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which affects the results of his calculation, relates to the Evicted Tenants Bill. It 419 would be entirely out of place here to discuss that measure even in the most cursory manner; but to suppose that the House is not going to debate a measure like that, which, though it is not a long measure, bristles in every clause with new principles and the new application of old principles, and with new machinery is surely absolutely ludicrous. What constitutes fair discussion? I will give the right hon. Gentleman a measure of fair discussion; I will give him a standard by which fair discussion may be approximately estimated. The Government of which he is a Member, in their wisdom, decided to establish a Scotch Grand Committee. That Committee was deliberately created by them as an instrument for the rapid discussion of the measures entrusted to it. One measure, and only one measure, was entrusted to that Committee. It was a measure non-controversial in its general character, and a measure upon which no Division had been taken on the Second Reading. It was a measure constructed upon similar lines to the English Bill, which had been most thoroughly threshed out in the House within the last six or eight months. It was entrusted to a Committee composed of the most business-like section of the House, countrymen of my own, who notoriously measure their words, and press into the briefest possible compass what they feel it incumbent upon them to say. It will be admitted, I think, that if ever there was an instrument calculated rapidly to go through the details of a Bill the Scotch Grand Committee was that instrument. And what has been the result? It has been occupied 14 days over the Bill, and the Government who are in charge of the measure find at the end that they could not carry the Bill in its entirety without unduly prolonging the labours of the Committee. They have therefore thrown over one part of their scheme, the discussion upon which is not finished yet. If that is what is done in a Committee, not of the whole House, but of 60 or 70 Members—about a tenth part of the size of the whole House—on a measure which is uncontroversial and is strictly upon the lines of legislation already passed in the House, what are we to expect of a Bill which has to be discussed in a House of 670 gentlemen, which is entirely novel in all its proposals and in all its policy, which 420 is so far from being uncontroversial that it probably will raise more bitter controversies than any legislation introduced into this House since the Crimes Act was discussed and passed, and the discussion of which is not to be carried on by Scotchmen, but is to be carried on by Irishmen? If this uncontroversial Scotch Bill took 14 days in the Grand Committee for one of its stages, how long is the same stage going to take in this House, when the Bill is discussed by 670 gentlemen, or, rather, by all who are left alive, during the next three or four weeks? It is really absurd for any Government to be so wilfully, or, at all events, so fatuously blind as to suppose that a measure of this kind, though it only consists of eight clauses, is going to get through this House without an expenditure of Parliamentary time, Parliamentary labour, and Parliamentary discussion, which of itself would be sufficient absolutely to upset the calculations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is another Bill, any mention of which was conspicuously absent from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He did allude in a passing phrase or two to the Mines Eight Hours Bill, but he did not give us any estimate of the amount of time he was prepared to give to the discussion of that measure or the number of stages that measure was to be allowed to pass through under the protection of the Government. I quite agree that the Eight Hours Bill is a most important question, and it may or may not be right to give time for that Bill; but what is not right is that the Government should ask this weary and jaded House, after 18 months of almost continuous work, to sit down and deal in Committee with this Bill for an indefinite period and without any pledge from the Government or any decided hope being held out either to us or to the miners, or to any section of the community, that the labour so bestowed will not be absolutely thrown away. The phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman in talking of the Eight Hours Bill was that he desired to have the judgment of the House upon it. What kind of judgment is this House capable of giving to any Bill at the end of August, when August will be the 19th month in succession since we began our labours? Everybody knows what a state the House will be in at that time. There will be 421 200 pairs or more. The House will be reduced—I will not say to the dregs.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
There will be a survival of the most vigorous constitutions. It will be left to those who are physically strongest—to the smallest fraction of the House. Hon. Gentlemen sometimes argue as if the House, when there are 200 pairs, was as well qualified to represent the country as when all the Members are present. That is not the case. No doubt the House equally well reflects the balance of Parties, but it does not and cannot represent public opinion in the same way as if there were a full attendance. That argument has less weight when you are dealing with business of so Party a character that practically all the Members of one Party are found in one Lobby and all the Members of the other Party in the other Lobby. But when you are dealing with a Bill like the Eight Hours Bill, where Party discipline is not exercised and where the Divisions do not correspond to the division of Parties, I ask what kind of reflection of the opinion of the country will be got out of the House at the end of August? Whatever else it may do, it will not give the country the judgment of this House on the Eight Hours Bill. I do not know what has passed in private between the right hon. Gentleman and the miners' representatives; but of this I am quite certain: that if these miners' representatives either have deluded themselves or have deluded their constituents into the belief that the Government mean business over this Bill, and really means to get it through the House, they are the most deluded even among the many deluded mortals of which this Assembly consists. All the Government want to do—a most legitimate object—is to secure their attendance and their votes while they are legislating for Ireland. When they have legislated for Ireland I think these gentlemen will find that, though a day or two may be tossed away in Committee for the purpose of airing this or that clause or this or that provision of the Miners' Bill, the right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Harcourt) has no more idea of sacrificing his holiday or his health for the purpose of passing this Bill than has the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who told us that he was all in favour of sitting on 422 until October, though, for his part, business would take him into foreign parts. Sir, we all appreciate the difficulties in which the Government find themselves, but I would put it to all sections of the House, irrespective of Party, whether we do not as a legislative machine exist for some better purpose than merely to reconcile the different fractions of the Liberal Party? That is an honourable and estimable task to pursue, and anything I can do towards that end I should be glad to do. But we may make too great sacrifices even for an object like that, and I think that to ask us to go through the parade of legislation, when neither by our numbers nor by our individual vigour we are capable of really doing the work entrusted to us, is to destroy this House, to injure its reputation in the country, and to greatly impair its power of doing good work. I say nothing of the officers of the House, because it is easy to trot out their interests for the purposes of debate, but I ask the House to remember that we have arrived at the end of a period of labour to which Parliamentary history offers no parallel at all. I myself, and of course there are many others, have been engaged in the active work of discussing legislation continuously since the 1st of February of last year. I do not believe that it is physically possible for Ministers to do the work of this House and the work of their offices if they are called upon to do the work of this House for so long a period. It may be that we are blessed with Ministers who are so richly endowed with physical vigour that they are not the slaves of the weaknesses which attach to other men, but I am perfectly certain that unless they are these happily-gifted and exceptional mortals, it is quite impossible that they should be able to give the freshness of their minds to their departmental work, and, at the same time, carry on the continuous, the wearisome, and the exhausting labours imposed upon us by the programme of the Government. Sir, I will say no more except again most earnestly to urge the Government to remember the pledge they have given us with regard to the early termination of the Session. Their calculation as to the time that may be taken may be right, or our calculation may be right; but whoever is right, I am convinced that paramount above the petty interests of this 423 section or that section, and all the small considerations that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has laid before us to-day, rises up that extreme necessity of preventing the House of Commons, by sheer exhaustion, from losing all its efficacy for public purposes and work which can only have the result of degrading us in the public mind and of throwing on the other House of Parliament work which it is our business primarily to perform.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 205; Noes 256.—(Division List, No. 187.)