§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
In submitting to the House the Resolution of which I have given notice, I am extremely desirous to avoid any language which may give offence to any person or to any Party in the House. In making this Motion I would rather rely on what I believe to be the sense of the great majority of this House—I had almost 1410 said the unanimous feeling of the House—as to the necessity of such a Motion. We, at least on these Benches, regard this measure of the Evicted Tenants Bill as one of urgent necessity, as an administrative measure conducing to peace and goodwill in Ireland. The time we have proposed in this Resolution to allot to this discussion, we believe, if fairly employed, is adequate and ample to dispose of the debatable questions which this measure certainly involves. I confess, speaking for myself, that I am not enamoured of these exceptional measures, and I resort to them with a sincere regret. But if I am asked for a justification of this Motion, I would refer to the Order Book of the House of Commons. I would beg leave to alter a celebrated inscription, and say, "Si argumentum quæris, inspice." Those who look at the number of Amendments to the Bill, which, I think, cover 22 or 23 pages, will realise that they are a sufficient argument in this case. In my opinion, these 22 or 23 pages of Amendments are not an index of what is requisite for the reasonable discussion of such a measure as this, or fair Debate upon the question it involves. I will not go into an analysis of these Amendments. Each man is capable of forming his own judgment of how far these Amendments are confined to raising reasonable issues upon the question. I may refer to what has already taken place. We have had two full days of Debate, and I doubt whether we have accomplished two lines of the Bill. I do not know if this is intended to indicate a similar rate of progress on the Bill. If that is so, what is the prospect of the future? If any reasonable expectation were held out that fair limits would be placed on the discussion of this Bill I should not make this Motion. I am sincerely desirous of avoiding giving more offence than is necessary in this matter, and, therefore, without using any words which are calculated to cause irritation, I submit this Motion to the judgment of the House.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the proceedings in Committee and on Report, and on the Resolution relating to Guarantees and Expenses, on the Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Arbitration Bill, unless previously disposed of, shall be brought to a conclusion at the times and in the manner hereinafter mentioned:—
At the said appointed times the Speaker or Chairman shall put forthwith the Question or Questions on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair, and shall next proceed successively to put forthwith the Question on any Amendments moved by the Government, of which Notice has been given (but no other Amendments), and on every other Question necessary to dispose of the allotted business. In the case of new Clauses and Schedules he shall put only the Question, That such Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill. Until the conclusion of the Committee, as soon as such allotted business has been disposed of, the Chairman shall report Progress, and at the conclusion he shall report the Bill to the House. The Question on the Motion appointing the next consideration of the Bill shall be put forthwith.
Proceedings under this Order shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
After the passing of this Order no dilatory Motion on the Bill, nor under Standing Order 17, nor Motion to postpone a Clause, shall be received, unless moved by a Minister in charge of the Bill, and the question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith."—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has told us that he moves the Motion you have just read from the Chair with a great feeling of reluctance, and nobody who heard what I suppose he would describe as a defence of the proceeding, which has just come from him, can doubt the absolute sincerity of the avowal. Never in the history of Parliament has a proposal like this been made; never in the history of Parliament has it been suggested after two days' Debate in Committee, and two days only, that our further proceedings should be gagged; and yet the Minister who is capable of making this proposal 1412 thinks it enough to come down to this House and express in a few perfunctory words his regret at the proceedings he has adopted, but neither by argument nor in any other way to offer the slightest defence of his course. Sir, perhaps I do the right hon. Gentleman an injustice. He said one thing that bears some shadowy resemblance to an argument. And what was it? That when he took up the Order Paper he saw a large number of Amendments down to the Bill he proposes to gag. Was ever such a reason given before in this House for such a proceeding? Because the House on the face of the Order Paper shows that a desire exists to discuss this Bill that therefore the discussion of the Bill is to be stopped; and because Members of the House, in the exercise of their undoubted rights, have suggested alterations in the proposal of the Government; therefore, on that account, no Amendments are to be discussed at all. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman imagines he improved his case by giving us that solitary specimen argument in favour of it, because it appears to me that the condemnation of the course he asks us to pursue could not be stated more clearly than in the arguments advanced in its favour by the Leader of the House. I shall not be long in laying my case before the House, although I shall take a little longer to do so than the right hon. Gentleman did, for I have something which I, at all events, think substantial to say in defence of the policy which I earnestly press on the House on the present momentous occasion. I do not wish to put the rights of individual Members or even the rights of a minority too high. I admit that there may be grave crises in the history of the country, practical necessities which have to be got over, which might justify or even, under certain circumstances, compel this House to suspend the rights which for centuries have guarded liberty of Debate. But is this case one of those cases? Is there some practical menacing necessity overhanging us which must be dealt with, which, if not dealt with, will imperil our whole social system or the public external security of this Empire? We have been told, of course, by those who have defended this Bill, that it means to deal with a great social crisis in Ireland. I 1413 should not be in Order were I to discuss the magnitude of that crisis or how far this Bill is calculated to meet it; but I am strictly in Order when I remind the House that this social crisis, if it exists at all, has existed for the whole of the two years during which the Government have been in Office, and it was not until the last week in July of this year that they made the slightest endeavour to deal with it. Do not let them tell us—I do not think they will have the courage—that the business on which they have occupied us was of a kind so pressing that a great practical measure would be left undealt with while other measures were being passed. We have too fresh in our recollection the abortive discussions upon their Registration Bill, their Welsh Church Bill, and other measures never intended by their authors to get through the House in the course of the present Session, to leave us in any doubt whatever that if the Government really felt the existence of the kind of necessity which alone would justify such a measure they, as responsible for the executive government of the country, would have brought forward the Bill, not at the end of July, 1894, but early in 1893. Perhaps it may be said even by those who, in the face of what has occurred during the last few years, have given up the argument of imminent public necessity, that this is a measure so clearly just on the face of it that it is absurd for any minority in the House to exercise even the most moderate discussion upon it. Well, Sir, I could not deal with that contention, if seriously made from any quarter of the House, without trespassing on the indulgence of the House more than is desirable and without going into the merits of the Bill, which I wish to leave as much as possible on one side. But let the House recollect that into the merits of the Bill as it stands there never has been any inquiry at all. We are sometimes told that the Bill has been based on the recommendations of the Mathew Commission. In the first place, the Mathew Commission itself was a gagged Commission. In the second place, the Mathew Commission did not examine into things which by the terms of the Reference they were required to do; and, in the third place, this Bill going beyond the terms of the Reference to the Commission. In these 1414 three respects, at least, this Bill is before us not based on any examination by a Commission, partial or impartial, not resting upon any knowledge of facts of which the House has cognizance. It is thrown down at this late stage of our proceedings on the responsibility of the Secretary for Ireland, and no other, and we are to be deprived of any opportunity of finding out on what he bases his justification of a measure which we are asked to pass through the Committee stage within the space of seven days from the time the Committee commenced a Bill which covers matters which have afforded this House for the last 14 years subjects of unending controversy. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the brief observations he thought sufficient for the occasion, did not tell us what exactly his proposal was with regard to the time we were to spend in Committee. Seven days from the time of our proceedings in Committee is the time the Government have allotted. The time actually taken up, not in Committee of the House, but in the Scotch Grand Committee, in discussing a non-controversial Bill has been 17 days. [Cries of "How many hours?"] Perhaps hon. Gentlemen will allow me to pursue my argument in my own way. These 17 days were not full Parliamentary days. [Ministerial cheers.] Of course not. During part of our proceedings we sat from 12 to 3, and during the other part of our proceedings the sittings were extended till 4 o'clock. Recollect that if you are going to put that on one side of the account you must put a great many other things on the other side of the account. The discussion occurred in a Grand Committee composed not of 670 gentlemen, but of about 70. One-tenth of the House only was engaged in that discussion. In the second place, the Scottish Local Government Bill passed the Second Reading without a Division, and almost without Debate. It is admittedly non - controversial, and it is framed strictly upon the lines of its sister English measure, which has already received full discussion and consideration by this House. Compare that with this Bill. This Bill, of course, is not so long, but it raises, and legitimately raises, almost every question which has ever been debated among the innumerable questions that have ever 1415 been debated between the two sides of the House on the subject of Irish land. The whole turbulent and melancholy history of Ireland from 1879 down to the present time comes naturally and necessarily within the scope of discussion. The "No Rent" conspiracy of 1882, the "Plan of Campaign" conspiracy of 1886, every incident of the land war in Ireland, the whole subject of evictions and land tenure—all these things rise directly before us, and cannot be avoided if we are to do our duty in discussing this measure, and yet you ask us, who have spent week after week, and weary night after weary night, in discussing Land Bills proposed by gentlemen opposite or proposed by us, to hurry through this Bill in the space of seven days, and send it up to the House of Lords undiscussed, undealt with, and unconsidered. I do not pretend that the personal sacrifice entailed by this proposal of the Government is very great. We have been 18 months continuously at work on your legislative business, and everything that comes in the shape of a promise of some release from this intolerable burden must be welcomed by the weakness of the flesh. What we are sacrificing is, however, something more important than our personal ease and our personal convenience—it is the tradition of the House of Commons. It is this: that in return for the Leadership of the right hon. Gentleman—the not very zealous Leadership of the right hon. Gentleman—you are asked to give. And what is it we are expected to get in return? Who are the dupes of this proceeding of the Government? Not the English Members who reluctantly support the Government on a Bill which they but half approve; not the Irish Members, who know perfectly well that the Government in the course they are adopting, taken in connection with the course they have adopted, make the fate of this Bill almost certain when it reaches another place.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My hon. and gallant Friend may have expressed that opinion on the Second Reading, and he 1416 may speak with as much authority as I do, but my opinion is that it is by proceedings of this kind that you make the fate that is awaiting this Bill absolutely certain and inevitable. And why? You have been endeavouring to make it plain to all men that you will not accept Amendments from "another place." You have sacrificed one Bill altogether which you professed to attach, and perhaps did attach, great importance to, because you would not accept any Amendments. On another Bill you rejected many Amendments, but it was nevertheless passed into law, but under the circumstances you cannot expect the House of Lords to correct your errors or to make any great effort towards the end of August to turn your Bills into sense. If you send up this Bill unamended and undiscussed, as you propose to send it up to the Lords, and if you make it clear for the Lords to amend it and improve it is but to waste their time and our time, may I ask what fate can you possibly expect for your measure? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman in taking all this trouble to send up a Bill only to be rejected is doing so with the view of getting up a cry against the House of Lords. If so, I cannot congratulate him upon the particular methods he is using for attaining that desirable result. If you neither wish to get up a cry against the House of Lords nor expect to pass your Bill into law, what is it you do expect? What, in other words, is it that you expect to get in exchange for the sacrifice of our dignity and our honour? I will tell you. You expect to get the votes of the Irish Members now and hereafter, and the Irish Members expect to be able to go to their constituents and say they did their best to obtain £250,000 of public money for the evicted tenants of Ireland to eke out the Paris Funds, but the wicked House of Lords would not let them have it. The only dupes of your proceedings are the Irish public who return the Members below the Gangway to the House of Commons. Those Members know perfectly well that they are doing nothing for their clients in Ireland. They know perfectly well the promises which they and their English followers have lavished upon their "Plan of Campaign" dupes in Ireland are further from fulfilment than 1417 ever owing to the very proceeding you are now forcing down our throats. Knowing that, I wonder if they think that the Irish peasant is so simple-minded a person that he will give thanks and gratitude to them for undertaking a task which by the very method in which they have gone about performing it must necessarily end in emptiness and vanity. In my judgment the course which we ought to pursue as to the methods you mean to associate with this proceeding is perfectly clear. Indulge in this petty and sordid trafficking for votes if you like, but do not ask us to help you. Make the honour and the dignity and the traditions of this House the counters in the sorry game you are playing for Irish support, but do pot ask us to take a hand.
MR. MAC NEILL (Donegal, S.)
We will not ask you.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
For my part, Sir, now that I am no longer to be permitted to perform those duties with which I was entrusted by my constituents, I shall not disturb the harmony which I suppose will henceforth reign between those Benches and these. I feel no natural aptitude and no acquired inclination to act a part in this farce. My duty, as far as the Committee and Report stages of this Bill are concerned, will be sufficiently fulfilled if I warn, as I most solemnly do—and I can assure the House with the deepest feeling of responsibility for what I say—that this kind of proceeding must inevitably end in our abasement as a great public legislative Assembly in the eyes of our countrymen. Do not suppose that it is necessary or even a common consequence of the democratic form of government that the Assembly which represents the democracy stands high in the opinion of that democracy. We know of plenty of cases to the contrary. Hitherto this House has, at all events, through the continuity of its great traditions held itself high among the Assemblies of the world, and has been able to point back to its history without any feeling of shame or self-abasement. But carry on the procedure which the Chancellor of the Exchequer recommends, and see how long that feeling is likely to last. It will be a melancholy reflection if, from less than a decade after popular rights were extended to the whole community—from seven or eight years after the passing of the last great Reform Bill 1418 —historians should date the decadence of this Assembly, and should point as its great signs and its great causes to such unhappy Resolutions as that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now proposing. At all events, Sir, we will be no parties to that process, which we regret, and in order that our opinion may remain on record in the Journals of the House I shall conclude what I have to say by moving an Amendment to the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which embodies our regrets and our condemnation. I shall move that all the words be omitted after the word "That," in order to insert these words:—But this House regrets that Her Majesty's Government, having thought fit to urge upon the attention of a Parliament exhausted by 18 months' continuous Session a measure violent and novel in its character, based upon no adequate inquiry, and involving the most controverted problems connected with the agrarian question in Ireland, should endeavour to pass it through its various stages by methods which deprive the minority of their just rights, make fair discussion impossible, and are calculated to bring the proceedings of this House into deserved contempt.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words—
This House regrets that Her Majesty's Government, having thought fit to urge upon the attention of a Parliament exhausted by 18 months' continuous Session a measure violent and novel in its character, based upon no adequate inquiry, and involving the most controverted problems connected with the agrarian question in Ireland, should endeavour to pass it through its various stages by methods which deprive the minority of their just rights, make fair discussion impossible, and are calculated to bring the proceedings of this House into deserved contempt."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. J. MORLEY,) Newcastle-upon-Tyne
The right hon. Gentleman who has just moved this Amendment wound up with a very eloquently-worded description of the traditions of this House, of the dignity and honour of this House, and of the duty which is incumbent upon all of us to preserve the dignity of this House unimpaired. Who is the right hon. Gentleman who uses that language as to this particular Motion? It is the ex-Minister who not many years ago moved, or was a party to the moving of, 1419 a similar proposal to that which we now make. And on what ground and on what occasion? Was it an occasion which, as he said, menaced the security of the Empire?
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The right hon. Gentleman does not understand what I am referring to. I am referring to the Bill constituting the Parnell Commission.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
That is not the question. Did not the right hon. Gentleman assent to the Second Reading of this Bill?
§ MR. J. MORLEY
Well, you cannot get over this: that on the Bill constituting the Parnell Commission a similar measure of Closure was resorted to. I ask the right hon. Gentleman again, Will he contend that that was an occasion menacing the security of the Empire or making pardonable the abandonment of the sacred traditions and the dignity and honour of this House? Will he contend that the importance of the Parnell Commission, as far as it affected the peace of Ireland, was comparable with the Bill which I have now had the honour of producing to the House? The right hon. Gentleman talked of the Scottish Local Government Bill. I think there never was a more absurd and preposterous parallel. The Scottish Local Government Bill, it is quite true, occupied 17 days in the Grand Committee, but those days altogether amounted, I am told, only to something like 60 hours, or something less than eight Parliamentary days. What are we going to give for the Committee on this Bill? We are going to give seven Parliamentary days for the Committee. And what a difference between the Bills! This Bill contains five operative clauses, eight clauses in all, and the Scotch Local Government Bill contained 69 clauses. It is quite true that the Bill may be made to contain a vast multitude of clauses if you will set Irish lawyers to work to exercise their ingenuity in framing Amendments which will introduce clauses or at all events multiply Divisions upon them. But the real basis of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman was that in framing legislation our 1420 eyes are to be directed to what will be done in another place; that was his main and substantial argument. ["No, no!"] It was that we are to frame measures in this Honse to suit gentlemen in another place. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that the attitude of another place must be the governing consideration. ["No, no!"] If it was not why did the right hon. Gentleman introduce the reference to another place at all? The right hon. Gentleman said we needed another place to correct our errors—the wisdom of another place to turn our Bill into sense. All this is said, I suppose, on behalf of the honour and dignity of the House of Commons.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The more gentlemen in another place contest our dignity in the way in which we are now menaced with having it tested the more shall I, for one, rejoice. The right hon. Gentleman taunted us with being English followers of Irish leaders—
§ MR. J. MORLEY
And my right hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley approves of that description. Why, it is notorious, as I pointed out in a remark I made on the Second Reading, that the right hon. Gentleman himself and the Gentlemen who sit around the right hon. Member for Bordesley—they are English followers of Irish leaders—have most improvidently surrendered themselves, fast bound, to what I must call the irreconcilable section of Irish landlords. It is for that reason we are driven by their action to the Motion made by the Leader of the House. The Leader of the Opposition talks of hurrying this Bill through. I submit that 12 days for a Bill of this character is ample. There is no Legislative Assembly in the world, having such a Bill before it, that would not think 12 days far more than is necessary. The right hon. Gentleman said I had not taken the trouble to make out any case for the Bill. I have not taken any great trouble to show the necessity for it; why? Because the necessity of the case has been admitted from every quarter of the House.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The point of the right hon. Gentleman was that there was no urgency in this case, that I had made out no case for urgency, that there was no necessity in this case. I repeat that from every quarter of the House, and not the least emphatically from the Bench on which the right hon. Gentleman himself sits, and certainly from the Bench behind him, there was full recognition that there was a case which required to be met, that the sooner it was met the better for the peace of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman who was my predecessor in the Office of Chief Secretary admitted three or four times that there was a condition of things in Ireland in this matter of the tenants which needed to be dealt with.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
He admitted the case; and, if it was urgent enough to justify the Government of the day proposing the clauses in the Act of 1891, how can it be said that there is not the same necessity three years later? The hon. and gallant Member for Down admitted the difficulty of the situation, and that there was a case to be met, though he was certainly no friend to the policy of Her Majesty's Government and he did not like the particular plan of the Bill; even he, coming from a North of Ireland constituency, was obliged to admit that he desired to see the case dealt with. Then the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham), whose authority on Irish questions is not inconsiderable, and whose Irish experience is not inconsiderable, admitted that there was a difficulty to be met. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) did not deny that there was a difficulty to be solved and a case to be met, and he did not conceal his desire to find some means of meeting the difficulty and solving the problem. The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), although I cannot reconcile the vote he gave with what he said, expressed the same view. I hope the right hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) will tell us he takes the same view of the urgency of the Bill which he did on 1422 the First Reading. The existence of the case is not denied; the plan is no doubt open to criticism, and we give you ample time for it. Seven days in Committee for a Bill of this kind is an ample allowance. Whatever may happen to this Bill in another place, we at least—and I particularly, as the Minister responsible for the peace and order of Ireland—shall have done our duty in bringing this Bill in and in doing our very best to pass it through Parliament.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I cannot congratulate my right hon. Friend on his interference at this stage in defence of the proposal which was introduced to this House in a magnificent and memorable oration by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had an excuse for his brevity. He said he desired to be conciliatory, but my right hon. Friend has no similar excuse for his length; and even with regard to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I think we may point out that when you propose to knock a man down with a poker there is not any necessity for a lengthened description of what you are about to do. Now, what was it the Chief Secretary added to this Debate? He, in the first place, indulges, as usual on these occasions, in the tu quoque argument, appealing to the fact that in past times similar Motions, as he says, have been made. But not on similar occasions. The Chief Secretary omitted to notice what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in his opening remarks—namely, that he, for one, did not preclude himself from recognising the necessity for some such Motion on occasions of great national crises or of importance to the dignity of this House. What was the occasion to which the Chief Secretary referred? It was the case of the Parnell Commission, which was brought in with the full assent of the House, which was supported on Second Reading by both sides of the House, and which was only obstructed in the most daring and deliberate way at a late stage of the proceedings by a small knot of Irish Members. I say undoubtedly that if this House is to preserve its character at all it must always reserve to itself the right of interfering when a very small minority attempts such an abuse of the power given to it by the Rules of the 1423 House. I never should stand up to say that a Resolution of this kind might not be a necessity, and, as is well known, I have advocated such a change in the Regulations of the House as would give it greater power over its proceedings; but I have never advocated that that power should be given into the hands of the Government of the day, representing only a small majority in this House, whom, by your proceedings, you make absolute masters of its business. The issue now is something quite different from the issue raised either in regard to the Parnell Commission or in regard to a previous discussion on a Coercion Bill. The Chief Secretary talks about this Bill as being a short Bill, and gives that as a reason why there should only be a short discussion upon it; but let me remind him that the importance of a Bill has no relation whatever to its length, and the very Coercion Bill to which he referred was a shorter Bill than the Evicted Tenants Bill, and yet it occupied a much longer time than is proposed to be given to the discussion of this Bill. The Chief Secretary tries to divert attention by saying that the Leader of the Opposition has appealed to the House of Lords. No, Sir; that was not what my right hon. Friend did in his speech. What he did was to point out to you who are desiring, as is notorious, to pick a quarrel with the House of Lords, that by your action you are justifying any proceeding which that House may be pleased to take in regard to this Bill. I do not presume to offer an opinion as to what the House of Lords may do with this Bill; but there is one thing I am justified in expressing an opinion on, and that is this: that there is nothing they can do which will do them or the Unionist Party the slightest harm in the country after the action which you have taken. Now, Sir, what is the pretence of the Government? The pretence is that there is an urgent necessity—not an urgent necessity for this Bill—that is not the point. They have to show that there is an urgent necessity for this stringent form of Closure. What reason have you to say that it is absolutely necessary that the discussion in Committee on this Bill must be closed in seven days? You have only allowed us to go on for two days, and yet before you know what may happen upon the subsequent stages of the Bill, 1424 and without regard to the fact, which is of common notoriety, that the later stages of a Bill always proceed with much greater rapidity than the first and operative clauses—in spite of that you propose, after two days' discussion, to limit us to seven days. What is the urgent necessity? The urgent necessity is the holiday of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is simply in order that his holiday and the holiday of his friends may not be shortened that we are called upon now, almost before we have entered upon the discussion, to Closure it in seven days. "But, oh!" says the Chancellor of the Exchequer, "look at the long list of Amendments." He will not say, because he wishes to be conciliatory, whether these Amendments are fair and reasonable. You can only judge of the Amendments still to be discussed by the Amendments which have been discussed. Now, what is the object of discussion in this House? I venture to say there are two objects. The first is in order that our constituents and the people of the country may thoroughly understand what is the nature of the legislation we are discussing. Do you pretend that they understood the nature of this legislation when it was brought into the House? Do you deny that the two days we have already spent upon the discussion has thrown a flood of light upon this Bill? Why, you cannot do it. I do not know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been present during any large portion of our Debates; but, if not, I will tell him that in the course of these Debates we have proved that the Government have brought in an irregular and disorderly Bill. We have proved by the statement of the Chairman of Committees himself that this Bill is not in accordance with its title, and that its irregularity is such that if attention had been called to it on Second Reading the Bill would have had to be withdrawn. Do not let the Chancellor of the Exchequer imagine, in his ignorance of the nature of this Bill, that this is a technical point. It is not so at all. The Chief Secretary has been shown, in letters to the friends of this Bill, to have declared his intention, in bringing it in, of confining it to a certain class of tenants, and above all to tenants residing in Ireland. It is proved that, in spite of the title and the declared intention, the Bill is not confined to tenants 1425 of that class, but will include within its ambit tenants of quite a different class and persons who are not tenants at all. If you want a justification of the discussion as far as it has gone you have it clearly in the fact we have shown that the Government themselves did not know what was the nature of their own Bill, and that it was a much wider and more important Bill than the country could possibly have conceived from its title and description. That is not the only thing we have shown. We have brought out what was confirmed by an answer to a question to-day, that the Chief Secretary has been utterly in the dark in making estimates for the Bill. In the first instance, he proposed to deal with a sum of £100,000. He has had to admit that it is altogether insufficient. [Cries of "Order!"] I am in Order. I am showing the value of the discussion to which we have subjected this Bill, and I say that the Chief Secretary, having in the first instance proposed £100,000, and having then submitted a proposal for an increased sum of £250,000, now finds that the calculations upon which he estimated that sum are altogether wrong, and that the total amount of rent to be dealt with is enormously greater than he himself imagined. I say, then, that if our first object in discussions in this House is that our constituents may at least know what is the nature of the legislation proposed, we have amply justified our proceedings. But there is another object which is of even greater importance, and that is that by discussion, not always hostile, especially in reference to a Bill of this kind—as to which the Chief Secretary has said there has been from the first some agreement, at all events, as to the conditions which have given it birth—we improve a Bill, brought in by whatsoever Government, and to secure that the object it is intended to obtain shall be arrived at. It is quite true that I cannot prove to the House that we have hitherto been permitted to make many Amendments. Not one single Amendment suggested has yet been accepted by the Government. But I do say that at the time this monstrous proposal was made to us we were apparently on the eve of what might have been a most important settlement. What is the use of the Chief Secretary getting up, as he has done, 1426 again and again, and appealing to me and to my friends around me and saying, "You are seriously anxious to arrive at a settlement of this Bill," when at the very moment we were working for this settlement, and when this settlement was apparently within reach, we are met by a blow in the face such as this Resolution is, and in view of which it is absolutely impossible to continue any amicable negotiation whatsoever? I say that a settlement seemed to me, and I believe it seemed to others, to have been possible. What was the state of the case? On Friday night, when this most useful and valuable discussion closed, it had brought out the willingness of the Leader of the Opposition to agree to a measure which would, at all events, have dealt with the vast majority of hard cases of evicted tenants, provided this measure were voluntary. It had brought from the Chief Secretary himself a confession that, as far as he was concerned, rather than that the Session should be barren of legislation, he would agree to a transformation of his Bill—
§ MR. J. MORLEY
I said it was a great pity, and that if the same spirit had been shown, some transformation of the Bill might have been effected, but that spirit had not been shown.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
But why? Can anything be more ridiculous, more petty in spirit, than the statement just made by the Chief Secretary? He says that when there was a spirit in the House tending towards agreement, his view was that that spirit could not be accepted, and that no agreement could be come to, because, at some previous time, there had been a different spirit. I am sure the better sense of my right hon. Friend will never stand to such a statement as that. I go on therefore to say that on Friday night the Chief Secretary stated that if a good spirit prevailed, a transformation of his Bill might have taken place. [Mr. J. MORLEY: Perhaps.] I referred on Friday night to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Louth, who, without binding himself strictly, said, in answer to the Leader of the Opposition, that he was prepared to adopt the principle of the Arrears Act, and I say—
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. What occurred was this: I asked the 1427 Opposition why it was they allowed the principle of compulsion to appear in the Act of 1882 without protest when they were now so strongly opposed to it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
As I have been referred to, I may say that that is not according to my recollection. I understood the hon. and learned Gentlemen distinctly to suggest, as a possible arrangement, the adoption of a clause like that in the Arrears Act, for he said, if you think the clause in the Arrears Act is not a compulsory clause, why do not you accept it in this Bill?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Of course, the hon. and learned Gentleman will express what his present opinion and intention are, but I confess I was extremely hopeful from what he said that we had, at all events, the foundation for an arrangement which would have united all sections in the House. If it had united all sections in the House, is there anybody who will tell me it would not have been an advantage to Ireland? It is the interests of Ireland, after all, that ought to be paramount in the mind of the Chief Secretary, and yet, when the Chief Secretary has the chance of carrying out a plan which would undoubtedly have given to the majority of Irish evicted tenants some opportunity of being reinstated upon the land, he refuses that opportunity, and he meets the opportunity of reconciliation with a Motion of this kind. He meets the conciliation, which he recognises we have been showing with a Motion of this kind, which makes it absolutely impossible that we should continue the discussion any further. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has expressed his opinion that it would not be consistent with his dignity, in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, to continue the discussion either upon the Committee stage or upon the Report stage. I entirely agree with him, and, so far as I am concerned, I shall certainly leave the discussion during these two stages entirely to the Government and the Irish Members. And I do so with this warning. It is perfectly evident that the Amendments which are down upon the Paper are not exclusively in the names of English Members. There are many Amendments of the greatest importance down in the name of Irish Members. Are the Government going 1428 to accept these Amendments or are they going to reject them? If they are going to reject them they are going to do what they blame us for doing. They are going to pass Irish legislation in opposition to the views of those who claim a monopoly of the representation of Irish opinion, and they have been warned from the Irish Benches that any legislation of the kind will be futile, and will, as was said by an hon. Member opposite in the course of the Debate, be a guarantee for further agitation. If, on the other hand, they are going, under pressure, to accept the Amendments which will be proposed from the other side, then it will not be the Bill of the Government that we shall be asked to carry on the Report stage, but it will be a totally different Bill, going very far indeed beyond it, and not merely going beyond it, but inconsistent with the pledges that have been given over and over again by the Chief Secretary. That is a dilemma in which I do not envy the position of the Government, and in which I am perfectly content to leave them entirely alone.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, it seemed to him that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would do well to alter his Resolution. The House had received the joyful assurance from the Leader of the official Opposition and from the right hon. Member for West Birmingham that they and their supporters intended to take no part in the further discussion of the Bill. That was the best proof that could be given of the wisdom of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in moving his Resolution. What was the complaint of the Member for West Birmingham? The right hon. Gentleman never could get out of his mind the idea that, though he was in the minority, he ought still to dominate in the House. He complained that there had been no settlement by arrangement. But settlement by arrangement meant absolute surrender to the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman said it was the business of the Opposition to alter and amend the Bill; but surely he did not contend that every one of the 23 pages of Amendments would improve the Bill. He would suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman changed his mind, and wished to discuss the Bill, he should hold a committee of his friends for the purpose of choosing those Amendments 1429 that would alter and amend the Bill, and confine the discussion to them. Everybody on the Opposition side really rejoiced at the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The fact was they had had enough in these 18 months, and they all wanted to get away, hon. Members on the other side sharing this anxiety as much as they. He knew perfectly well it was usual on such an occasion to go through a certain amount of fireworks, but they all wanted to get away, and hon. Gentlemen opposite would be in despair if they were taken at their word when they said they were willing to remain for ever in order to discuss the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had a second line of defence in the House of Lords. They might enjoy their holiday, perfectly certain that so long as the House of Lords existed any Radical measure brought in by a Liberal Government would be thrown out. He would like to know what was the view of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham as to the veto of the House of Lords. In his former speeches the right hon. Gentleman certainly did not adopt an attitude of abject servility and admiration of the House of Lords. Did he justify them in throwing out this Bill?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Then I am afraid there is a split between the two Leaders of the Opposition. For my part I take the word of the Leader of the official Opposition, who said he was absolutely certain that the House of Lords would throw out the Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member puts words into my mouth which I never used. What I said was, that the course which the House has pursued in connection with this Resolution, and has pursued on previous occasions when the Lords have sent down Bills with Amendments, made it hardly open to doubt that they will be driven to reject the Bill.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, it seemed to him that he had fairly represented the right hon. Gentleman's statement. He was told that the actual words of the right hon. Gentleman were that the Lords would inevitably throw out this measure. He knew the right hon. Gentleman agreed with him. He supposed there was not any doubt that the 1430 Lords would reject the Bill. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it was really a waste of time on the part of the Liberals and Radicals who were sent to this House to support Liberal and Radical measures, to discuss and carry Bills through this House so long as they were thrown out by the House of Lords. He should like the Estimates passed and the Appropriation Bill brought in at once, for he did not see the use of discussing a Bill day after day, and week after week, when they were told by those who held the House of Lords in their pockets that that House would throw it out. It would be much better that they should as soon as possible appeal to the country as to whether the majority of the Representatives of the nation were to be masters of the situation, or whether they were to be the subservient, humble servants of hereditary legislators, Peers, and Bishops, who rendered it absolutely impossible for any Liberal Government whatsoever to give effect to the grounds on which they were placed in Office. That was the question which he wished to impress, not upon the Opposition, but upon the Government; and he hoped that they would have no more of this nonsense in future Sessions, but that they would as speedily as possible go for the abolition of the House of Lords.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I am afraid it is of very little use attempting to add any words to the discussion in which we are engaged, but I cannot help expressing my profound regret at the deplorable condition in which we are landed. I regret it on two grounds. I regret it, first, with regard to the condition of Ireland. I, at all events, have no doubt as to the profoundly important character of the subject dealt with by this Bill. I do not commit myself for one moment to the particular method which is adopted in the Bill, but that it is desirable, urgent, and necessary to deal in some way with the crowd of evicted tenants who are found in a landless and workless condition near the places where they once dwelt and worked as tenants is in my mind an abiding conviction. I learned it from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, when he was conducting his Bill through the House in 1891, when he was in touch with Irish affairs, and 1431 knew exactly the conditions of life in the West of Ireland, when reports came to him daily and almost hourly as to the relations between the guardians of order and this ragged regiment. And what did he do? He did not want seven days; he did not want seven hours to agree to a clause in his Bill affirming the expediency and the Imperial desirability of dealing with this question. It is quite true that he did not introduce the element of compulsion, but that has nothing in the world to do with the argument now submitted as to the importance of dealing in some way or other with this phenomena in Ireland. Much might be said on that question, if it were proper at this stage in relation to this Motion to enter upon it. But I confess that it is difficult to take up the position of affirming that it is desirable, expedient, and reasonable that the credit of the State should be used and the procedure of the Court extended and made more elaborate in order to bring back tenants to their holdings, and that, at the same time, it is reasonable to allow an unreasonable landlord to object. The thing in itself is a thing we desire as a matter of Imperial policy. You may get half a dozen individuals—certainly not expressing the views of the majority of the Irish landlords—unreasonably preventing what you say is a reasonable solution, and you will not allow the interference of the State to prevent these plague spots being removed. In the interests of Ireland I am profoundly moved by the spectacle before us of the certain failure of the Bill. It is not necessary to mince words about it. The step you are taking to-night destroys the chance of the Bill being read or treated in any fashion in another place. There would have been difficulty in any case. There would have been some obstacles no doubt, but perhaps not absolutely insurmountable, elsewhere. But this is a difficult Bill to recommend to the limited English intelligence. They are not wholly acquainted with the condition of Ireland. They do not see the facts and circumstances which make the thing not only expedient and desirable, but moral and just, which to them appears to be immoral or wrong. There would have been great difficulty, no doubt, in inducing the other House to entertain and to return this Bill in a shape which might have been approved. 1432 But that is not possible now. To-night it has been made impossible, and who is responsible for it? Is it the impetuosity of the Government? Perhaps it is. But in order to consider that, I have to turn to the next subject which excites my feelings, and that is the condition and conduct of business in this House. To what are we coming? One precedent follows another and improves upon it. This Motion now before us goes further than any previous Motion. It embraces two series of Acts, the Committee as well as the Report stage in a single Resolution. Some Government in the future may possibly go better, and put three transactions into one Resolution, until we reach a certain Transatlantic condition in which a Bill is put upon the Table and ordered to be reported immediately. Here the same question arises, Who is responsible? There is a very ready trick of carrying back responsibility from one Government to its predecessors, and of pointing to the Parnell Commission and the Crimes Act. It needs must be that offences come, but woe to them through whom they come. From whom does the offence come that this Resolution and similar Resolutions have been proposed? Surely the original offence lies in those Members of the House who, disregarding the true use of its functions, and disregarding its high mission and purpose, abuse their powers so as to destroy what should be the right conduct of public business. One side to-day, another yesterday, and a third to-morrow. Shall We get any reform out of these moralities? Not, I think, until we get a sound conviction among the less responsible Members of the House of the mischief they are doing this great Assembly, and some conviction also on the part of Leaders, whether in or out of Office, to use their power to coerce the irresponsible friends behind them. We are in this situation, not only in respect to the Bill itself, but also as to the way it is conducted—that the true conduct has passed from those who know to the less informed as well as less responsible members and partisans. Whereas we had the evidence and testimony of people who had the conduct of the government of Ireland in their hands on one side, we have now on the other got a junta of irresponsible landlords putting their power on those who 1433 ought to resist them. It is in them that the evil, the foolish motive, and the vainer thoughts lie—persons less calculated to deal with such exigencies in this House. Is it now too late? My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham in the really valuable portion of his extraordinary clever speech said, "You have been too eager; on Friday night we were approaching something like a settlement out of which an agreement might have been come to. How can we go on in that manner when the reward of the temper we then showed is a slap in the face and a knock on the head which brings us to the ground?" If that was the temper on Friday night—and I note with great satisfaction the report that such temper was being developed—has the impetuosity of the Government been such as to prevent a return to that temper now? If that was my right hon. Friend's feeling of the judgment of the Leader of the Opposition, is it too late even now to say in that temper, "Withdraw this Closure Resolution and let us agree within a reasonable time that the proceedings on the remaining stages of the Bill shall stop." [Sir W. HARCOURT: "Hear, hear!"] If we were approaching a condition on Friday in which some settlement might have been arrived at, surely it should not be too late, if the Government will admit that they are ready to consider it, to come to a reasonable solution even yet. Then we may rescue out of this ruinous situation, not only the House of Commons, but also the Bill, and we may send it to the other House in the hope of seeing some settlement arrived at. I left out one of the elements of the picture when I was speaking of the position and degradation of the House. We are threatened with a further abdication of Debate and judgment, for, if this Resolution is passed, my right hon. Friend says he and his friends will have nothing to do with it. I hesitate to come to that line of action. Even in the last necessity something is due to ourselves and to the House of which we are Members, and the great traditions of which we are the inheritors. Even if but a limited time were allowed for the consideration of this Bill I would go on trying, even in that minimum of time, to improve it. I cannot think that we are furthering our own dignity, or showing ourselves 1434 true Members of the House, by abdicating and refusing further to discuss this measure because the time is short. Perhaps what I say is like the voice of one crying in the wilderness and saying, "Peace, peace," where there is no peace. Yet I would even repeat what I have already said, if there is the temper which was shown on Friday night still present, something ought to be capable of being made of that temper. Some solution ought to be possible—something which would redeem this House from this worse than degradation, the saving for Ireland of a measure which would be the means of bringing peace and relief to that most distracted country.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin has made a speech which, I think, in the opinion of every man who heard it, was worthy of himself and of the House of Commons. I stated in the few remarks which I used in commencing this Debate that I have made this Motion with great reluctance, and only because I was convinced of its necessity. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well what reasons I had to be convinced of its necessity. I used these words, and I used them deliberately, in introducing the Motion. I said if any reasonable expectation were held out that fair limits would be placed on this discussion I should not make this Motion. I have sought, and sought eagerly, for some assurance that any such reasonable limits would be put on this discussion, and it was not until these hopes and these expectations were disappointed that I found myself compelled to make the Motion that I have made.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Sir, I repeat the words which I have used already, and I say now, if any reasonable expectation were held out that fair limits would be placed on this discussion I should not make this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman has threatened Parliamentary secession.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
But even Whig precedents are not always fortunate precedents. I remember Lord Beaconsfield saying that England does not love coalitions. The political history of this country and the verdict of posterity have not been favourable to Parliamentary secessions, which, in my opinion, mean nothing else but Parliamentary cowardice.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The men who secede because they cannot have their own way, I agree with my right hon. Friend, are not doing their duty to the House or the country. In my opinion, at this moment if there was any prospect of this Bill being fairly dealt with and fairly discussed—
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman knows what I mean by "fairly," and he knows also perfectly well, and the House and the country know perfectly well, that it never was intended by the Opposition from the commencement to deal fairly with the Bill. If that be not so, what was the meaning of the announcement made by the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh when he moved the Amendment to which hon. Members opposite were obliged to submit? He said that the Bill was going to be rejected by the House of Lords. That announcement he placed at the very fore-front of his battle-speech. Did that announcement indicate that the Bill was going to be discussed here in a fair spirit? Sir, in conclusion, I repeat again that if we had any assurance whatever that there was a disposition to deal fairly by this Bill Her Majesty's Government would not stand in the way of such a settlement as the right hon. Member for Bodmin has recommended.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I scarcely know in what tone to answer the right hon. Gentleman. At one time it seemed as if he was under the influence of the speech of the right hon. Member for Bodmin, and was prepared to extricate the House from the difficulty in which it finds itself, but before he sat down he brought into play the usual hostility of his partisan mind. [Ministerial cries of "Oh, oh!"] Yes, the right hon. Gentleman 1436 could not sit down without having a fling at this side of the House and without throwing down a challenge, which, of course, makes it extremely difficult to entertain any of the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions. The right hon. Member for Bodmin spoke with a deep sense of the dignity of this House, and expressed a desire, which all must sharer that our Debates should not be reduced to the position of discussions under the gag. [Cheers and interruption.] Well, under a time-table. Upon a Bill of this kind it would be a farce to endeavour to argue if a time limit is imposed. The right hon. Gentleman says that if we made fair proposals he would wish to meet them. But what does the right hon. Gentleman think is a fair proposal? We know he thinks that seven days are enough for this Bill. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes, but there are important issues raised by this Bill which cannot be discussed adequately in the time given by the right hon. Gentleman. [Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] Hon. Members opposite perhaps do not know to what extent the taxpayer is-interested in this measure. We have not examined yet the question whether £250,000 will be enough. Hon. Members do not realise the risks that will be run under the Purchase Clauses. The right hon. Gentleman thinks this Bill can be disposed of in seven days. I remember what he thought could be done in seven days when we sat upon the Treasury Bench. Then even the smallest questions were argued for more days than the right hon. Gentleman proposes to allot to the whole of this important measure. This Motion has been made after two days' discussion of the Bill in Committee. That is an entire novelty. The right hon. Gentleman takes the Order Paper in his hand and says, "There are a great many Amendments here, and therefore I will limit the discussion; I will only give it seven days." I invite everyone who takes an interest in the Constitution of this country to mark this new principle, that notwithstanding a number of Amendments may be proposed the Minister of the day is to decide how many days are to be given for the discussion of a Bill. Is the same method to be applied to the Equalisation of Rates Bill? Are you going through your Order Paper and then fix your limit of two or three days? Are these to be 1437 the conditions under which Parliament is to legislate in the future, and if not, why not? That is the precedent the Government is setting, and that is why my right hon. Friend opposite has spoken on the subject. I do not believe that a proposal like this has ever before been made by any responsible Government. I deeply deplore that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have thought it necessary to set a precedent of this kind. Why has he done it? Was it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham said, in order to hasten the holidays? Are we to be subjected to this simply because the supporters of the Government are getting tired and think that the end of the Session ought to come? [Ministerial cries of "No!"] If not, then let them sit on. Let this gag be removed, and let us see whether in a regular discussion of this Bill we cannot make sufficient progress. Let the right hon. Gentleman not press this Motion if he believes that his English friends will sit on. The hon. Member for Northampton said that everybody would be glad of this Motion because it would enable hon. Members to take their holiday. I trust that there are many Members of this House to whom the precedents to be set in the House of Commons are of greater moment than their own personal convenience. This is an entire departure from all Parliamentary traditions, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to remove this Resolution from the Paper and let the discussion proceed. He will then see whether the length of it is such as to justify this application of the gag.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I rise to make a personal explanation. Some words fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer which, I think, could only be interpreted by those who heard them in this way, that reasonable suggestions or offers were made to me and that I refused them. I desire to say that if such an impression is derived from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that impression is not correct.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
desired to make an appeal to the House in support of the admirable speech of the right hon. Member for Bodmin. Surely it was impossible for them after listening to such a speech to degrade themselves to the level of aspersions, 1438 provocations, and recriminations. He did not wish to blame anyone. What he meant was that hon. Members should put strife aside and do the best they could for the poor creatures whom they all professed a desire to serve, who had been evicted from their homes, and who, as all had admitted, ought to be restored if possible. During the last 25 years every measure for the benefit of the Irish tenantry had been ineffective by the action of a few bad landlords. Time after time opportunities had been lost, because at the end of a Session Members would not take time to consider how to complete and carry out the necessary work. The Leader of the Irish people said that the Conservative Land Act, if the arrears question was settled, would be a message of peace to Ireland. The House should not repeat old errors, but should give this Bill sympathetic consideration. They all felt in their hearts that the question of evicted tenants ought to be settled, and they could settle it now if they would take the matter into their own hands and disregard the pressure exerted by a few extremists who would be themselves the first to regret, when they came out of the combat and arrived at a cooler state of mind, that they had not been compelled to do that which their own hearts would not have prompted them to do. What they all desired to do was to remedy the present condition of things in Ireland due to a few bad landlords, who had dealt unjustly and cruelly with their tenants. Let them, therefore, show themselves willing to make the required alteration in the law, and not forget the result of foolish action in the past. If the Leader of the Opposition would make a reasonable offer they would be prepared to listen to it. No one was better aware of that than himself. Let him remember the numerous cases in which he had made the same kind of mistake, and not lose an opportunity like this. If they failed to take advantage of it now, the speech of the right hon. Member for Bodmin would go out into the country in condemnation of the Leaders of the House, and in witness that they had failed to do what they ought—a failure which would be a disgrace to them.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
said, that the right hon. Member for Bodmin had made one of those speeches 1439 which were supposed to appeal to the better feelings of hon. Members sitting on all sides of the House, and which often elicited much cheering, but to him it appeared to be a one - sided speech. The right hon. Gentleman had so evenly balanced a mind that sometimes neither he nor his friends knew exactly what line the right hon. Gentleman was going to take, and on this occasion he did not think that the right hon. Gentleman had dealt with the subject under discussion with the distinctness which generally characterised his observations. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the "plague spot" in Ireland, and he thought that he had done something towards making that "plague spot" more visible. According to the right hon. Gentleman there was a plague spot in Ireland which this Bill was brought in to obliterate, and that was the conduct of what were termed the "irreconcilable landlords of Ireland," who were or should be deserving of condemnation. That was the sense in which his observations were received by his friends below the Gangway. The right hon. Gentleman had referred in the course of his speech to those unhappy tenants who were at present living in huts in view of their own homes. But who had put those tenants there? They were placed there, not by their landlords, but in consequence of being the dupes of the leaders of the Plan of Campaign. It was very easy to say that the Irish landlords were irreconcilable, and no doubt they were irreconcilably opposed to the principle of compulsion proposed to be adopted in this Bill. But it must be remembered that without that principle being contained in it the Bill would never for a moment have been accepted by hon. Members below the Gangway. The Opposition had put down many Amendments to the Bill, and during two days there had been an animated discussion in Committee; but there had been nothing on their part which savoured of what was called obstruction. The speeches on those Amendments had been remarkable for their brevity and also for their cogency, but the Opposition were in this difficulty—that they could not get the Government to meet their arguments, and probably the Government would not have answered them at all had it not been for the right 1440 hon. Member for Birmingham putting on the last twist of the screw, which they could not resist. There had been no obstruction, and there was no justification for the proposal of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that there was a great necessity for this measure, but he did not tell them what constituted that necessity. Yes, there was a great necessity for this measure, but it was to be found not so much in Ireland as in the House of Commons. If the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench had not brought in this Bill, they themselves would have become evicted tenants. They knew that as well as he did. Had the Government really meant the Bill to be passed into law, could it be conceived that they would have brought it in at the tail end of the Session? The Bill was full of contentious matter such as had never before been introduced into any measure that had been brought into that House. With regard to the probable action of the House of Lords in relation to this Bill, all he had done was to express his opinion that when the measure came before that body—which was not usually supposed to be affected with lunacy—it would receive at their hands, as it ought from any intelligent body of men, emphatic rejection. The Government had refused to accept any Amendments to the measure on the ground that if they accepted one it would only be made a peg upon which to hang others, and at length they had resorted to the argument, which they really could use with some prospect of success—they simply said, as they had said in regard to the Home Rule Bill, "Go and be gagged." That was the conciliatory spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman opposite dealt with his political opponents. As far as he was personally concerned, he did not think that it was fair for any man to accuse him or his friends or colleagues of being irreconcilable landlords. However much the landlords might oppose this Bill, they were justified in doing so, as they regarded it as an abominable injustice to 1,500 tenants, who under it would be—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. and gallant Gentleman is now going into matter which is outside of the Question before the House.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said, he supposed that he might go so far as to say that he and his colleagues who were accused of being irreconcilable were only irreconcilable to an act of injustice, for they regarded this Bill as an act of injustice not only to themselves, but to the 1,500 Irish tenants who had never broken the law. Had the measure been framed on another principle and in a different spirit, and had the principle of compulsion been omitted, they would have given it a fair and candid hearing. There was another respect in which they were irreconcilable, and that was that they regarded the present proposal of the Government as a degradation of the House of Commons. What would be the position in future of any minority, however large it might be, if the House assented to this proposal of the Government? The Government whenever they pleased could cram down the throats of the minority any measure they pleased practically without argument, and all that the minority could do would be, as they did last year, to make peripatetic protests in the Lobby against the policy with which they disagreed. If the House of Lords threw out the Bill, their action would meet with the acclamation of 19 out of every 20 Radicals themselves in the country. They had heard vague threats of what would happen if the Bill met its deserved fate in another place. They all knew how these threats were fulfilled. Similar threats were made in connection with the Home Rule Bill, and now it was said that, if the House of Lords ventured to make use of the power which it was its special function to exercise, and to reject the Bill because they believed it, in their consciences, to be an unjust and an unrighteous measure, they would meet with the condemnation of the country. In his opinion, the House of Lords in such an event would have nothing to fear from the attacks of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. He believed that the House of Commons was in far more danger of public condemnation than the House of Lords in this matter, and he ventured to say that, if the House of Commons cringed to the Government and accepted such a proposal as this, it would meet with that condemnation throughout the country which it would richly deserve. In accepting this proposal the House of Commons would be wiping out 1442 of the flag which the Liberal Party, of all Parties, was the most proud to bear the two mottoes "Fairness of Discussion" and "Freedom of Debate."
§ MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
said, before the effect of the right hon. Member for Bodmin's speech passed away at the moment he would say briefly that he could scarcely describe the pleasure and admiration with which he had listened to it, for it was one of the noblest efforts which it had been his lot to hear in the House of Commons. He saw no advantage in discussing then what was likely to be the fate of that Bill when it got into the House of Lords. All that they were concerned with was to make it the best Bill they could in the House of Commons, whatever might be its fate elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman had made an appeal which, he thought, must have touched the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman had been followed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in the most conciliatory tone made an offer to withdraw this Motion if there was any reasonable prospect that proper progress would be made with the Bill. That offer was as conciliatory as anything could be. He would not now stop to question some words which fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer afterwards. The House of Commons and the Front Benches fortunately had not come to the condition that because of some slight war of words they were unable to exercise a calm and proper judgment upon a question of vast importance. He confessed that he always voted with pain for any form of Closure and never did so till he believed it to be necessary. He set the House of Commons and the interests of the House of Commons above the value of any Party. He thought that the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin and the offer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer deserved from the Leader of the Opposition something more than the mere retort that no offer had been made to him. The Leader of the Opposition had the power, if he liked, to impress upon those Members who sat behind him the necessity for moderation in the discussion of this Bill. Nobody doubted that if the right hon. Gentleman chose to exercise that power this Bill could be got through in a reasonable 1443 time. Upon whom would the charge of unreasonableness rest, if nothing came from the Front Opposition Bench but the offer of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, that if the Closure Resolution were withdrawn, the Government would see how long Members of the Opposition would be willing to sit on?
§ MR. WHITBREAD
would make one more appeal to the Leader of the Opposition to use the power which he undoubtedly possessed to bring this matter to a conclusion, and bring about the withdrawal of the Closure. That was what they all really desired; but if the Leader of the Opposition would not use his power to bring that about, he and other Members on the Ministerial side of the House would support the Government to the full. But he and others on that side of the House earnestly desired that the Opposition should take a reasonable view of the situation, and see whether they could not give such pledges as would lead to an amicable solution of the present difficulty.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have no right, nor had I the slightest intention, to say another word; but the challenge of the hon. Gentleman, coupled with considerable blame for my previous silence, does seem to impose on me the necessity for saying, with the leave of the House, one or two words on what has passed. I got up, and, by way of personal explanation, attempted to do away with the idea which some persons might gather from what fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that reasonable proposals had been made to us, and that these reasonable proposals had been rejected. Nothing of that sort has occurred; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will bear out what I say. Then, says the hon. Member for Bedford, an offer has been made to you across the floor of the House that this Motion would be withdrawn if an assurance were now given that the Bill would be proceeded with in a reasonable manner; and, apparently, it is to that challenge that I am asked to reply, and am reproached with not having replied to before. In the first place, I never gathered anything of the kind from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One's attention sometimes wanders for a moment, and I may have missed some- 1444 thing; but I did not hear him offer to withdraw this Motion on that or any other condition. Did any other hon. Gentleman except the hon. Member for Bedford hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer make that offer? I do not think anybody did. It is evident, then, that I am right, and that no offer has been made, and it is all in the imagination of the hon. Member who has just sat down. Then, why am I reproached for refusing to reply to an offer that was never made at all, except in the imagination of the hon. Member? Under these circumstances, it is not necessary for me to say another word, nor do I see that another word can be appropriately said. The fact is that the Government, I presume, in the terms of this Resolution have told the House of Commons what they think is a reasonable time in which to discuss this Bill. To me it appears to be grossly and flagrantly unreasonable and unfair, and I do not think that it rests with the Leader of the Government, on the spur of the moment, or, indeed, at all, to lay down either in public or private the number of days that he thinks this discussion should last. As far as I understand the matter, should the Government think better of their present policy, there would be no desire on our part for unreasonable discussion on this Bill. But we cannot, in justice either to our constituents or to the traditions of this House, agree to fetter ourselves in the way that the hon. Gentleman opposite appears to suggest. [Mr. J. MORLEY: Hear, hear.] Nor do I augur from the cheer of the Chief Secretary for Ireland that any arrangement could be come to. I can only express, on behalf of myself and my friends, my deliberate intention, if this Motion is withdrawn, to discuss the Bill in a perfectly reasonable spirit; and I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman that I am abrogating any duty when I refuse to discuss this measure further under the conditions that he desires to impose on us. Nor do I think that we are guilty of all the errors that he now seeks to attribute to us. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who made the appeal to me will feel that no offer of the kind he indicated was made. I do not see that the initiative lies with the Opposition in this case, though I can repeat to him the assurance that neither I nor my friends have any desire that this Bill 1445 shall be discussed at any unreasonable length or in an unreasonable spirit.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, that he did not think that the Chief Secretary would hold that on this question he was an "irreconcilable," and he certainly would not say he had ever denied the existence of a great evil which required to be met and dealt with. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his opening speech that evening, had pointed to 23 pages of Amendments, and then threw the Order Book down on the Table as if that settled the question. In the first place, he desired to submit that the diagnosis of the right hon. Gentleman might be absolutely wrong, and he would show him why. He himself had put down eight Amendments to the first clause. With the negativing of the first of those Amendments the other seven would be disposed of, and, therefore, it was not fair for the right hon. Gentleman to take the 23 pages of Amendments as an accurate estimate. The second point was, that, looking at the two nights spent in Committee on the Bill, he was unable to say that there had been anything like obstructive procedure. He did not put that forward on his own bare statement, but simply pointed out that the three chief matters discussed were all points that the Government might have conceded without injuring their Bill as originally introduced—namely, tenants evicted for breach of statutory conditions; tenants evicted by order of the High Court of Justice; and evicted tenants not now residing in Ireland. The Government, at that time, never intended to include within the scope of the Bill tenants evicted for breach of the statutory conditions, nor tenants who no longer resided in Ireland. His reason for saying so was the letter of the Chief Secretary to the hon. Member for Longford. Moreover, the Government ought never to have left the decrees of the High Court at the mercy of two solicitors. The Government might have accepted most of the Amendments proposed without in any way affecting the object for which they had introduced the Bill. Not only did he deny that there had been any obstruction in Committee, but he maintained that the Debate and the Amendments were in Order on all the points discussed, and that 1446 those points were strictly relevant to the question. From the beginning, ever since the Bill had been introduced, he had seen that it must either be a question of compromise or no Bill at all. There had been a good deal of appealing to Leaders on one side of the House and the other, but he was going to make an appeal to a quarter of the House to which no appeal had yet been made. He believed that this Bill represented the irreducible minimum of the Irish Members, and he believed that the Chief Secretary was tied down to that, and that this was really the reason why the right hon. Gentleman would not either accept Amendments or agree to compromise. It was all very well for hon. Members and for the hon. Member for Bedford, who was accustomed to this sort of thing, but who never gave up anything on his own side, to make those appeals; but there was a far more potent quarter to which he now desired to appeal. Everybody in the House and outside was aware that if the compulsory principle in the Bill were abrogated, a settlement could be arrived at in that House. What stood in the way of that compromise was the position of hon. Members opposite, to whom he now appealed. Their position no doubt was perfectly straightforward; they did not believe that the Bill without compulsion would serve their purpose, and, therefore, the Chief Secretary found himself unable to accept Amendments in that direction. If this Bill was lost it would be because of the extremists on both sides of this question, and that was a miserable result. If Irish Members opposite would be reasonable, then this question could be settled. If there was no reasonableness shown there, and no disposition to accept any Amendment or compromise, he was afraid the Bill would go to its own place, and that place would not be the Statute Book. It might easily have been otherwise, and he, for one, would always regret that in a case where compromise was possible compromise could not be brought about in consequence of the inflexibility of extreme men on both sides.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 217; Noes 174.—(Division List, No. 204.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.