§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I promised last night to make a statement to the House with reference to the difficulty which arose on the Motion for the adjournment of the House. It will be in the memory of hon. Members that 157 on the last day of last Session, just before the Prorogation, there was a conversation as to shortening' the proceedings in this House by taking I he Ballot for Private Pills in one of the Committee Rooms so as to save the waste of two hours. It certainly was the understanding, I think, of everybody that the Rules applying to the proposed Ballot for the introduction of Bills in a Committee Room would be the same as those which apply to the Ballot taken in the House. It was not contemplated that there was to be any change except that of locality. Mr. Speaker was accordingly asked to draw up Regulations. The difficulty, as I understand, has arisen from the fact that the Ballot under these circumstances is to be taken on the second day instead of the first. Mr. Speaker was good enough to suggest to the House on March I certain Regulations, and the hon. Member for North Kerry thereupon pointed out an, objection to the form of these Regulations which be thought might deprive private Members of some rights. The late Prime Minister, on the last day of the Session, urged that the matter should not then be further discussed, but that communications should be opened between all Parties in the House as to what should be the form of the Regulations. I need not say that a good deal has happened since March 1: (he House has not been sitting, and there has been no opportunity, therefore, for such communications. But it certainly would not be the desire of the House, and I am sure that in the lamented absence of Mr. Speaker I may take upon myself to say it was not Mr. Speaker's desire, that the position of any Member should be prejudicially affected by anything that took place upon that occasion. Therefore, the only question the House has to consider is what is to be done under the present circumstances. It is desirable we should have a clear idea of what is the Rule of the House in these matters. A practice has grown up of combinations, or, to use the more sinister word, "syndicates," of members, co-operating for the purpose of promoting Bills in which they take a special interest. That is not a, new practice; on the contrary, it is an old practice. Now, we must lake care to do nothing inconsistent with the Rules of the House. The law on this matter 158 is an old one. Notice was taken of it as long ago as 1876, when the practice I have referred to was found to be in full operation, and then Mr. Speaker Brand laid it down that such a proceeding "was highly inconvenient, if not irregular." He also said that a Member could only give notice of one Motion with a view to obtaining priority under the Ballot for such Motion, and could not put his name down for several chances, and that if several Members combined to enter their names on the Notice Paper to give notice of one and the same Motion the Rule was practically evaded. I ask the House to note the word "evaded." It is not suggested that the practice is a violation of the law. Evasion is a different thing from violation. How did Mr. Speaker Brand suggest that that evasion should be dealt with? He said that if such a proceeding werePersisted in the House might feel it necessary to check such a proceeding by requiring each Member, when entering his name on the Notice Paper, to enter also the subject-matter of the Motion.The view of Mr. Speaker Brand, therefore, was that if the House desired to check the practice in question, there must be a new Rule. If it is desired to prevent the practice, it must be done by Resolution of the House. No one can alter, and certainly Mr. Speaker never (bought of altering, the Rule of the I louse without a Resolution of the House. That is a plain statement of the law. The question is—what are we to do now? Under all the circumstances, having had the advantage of the advice and assistance of the authorities of the House, what I think is the best course to take is that the well-meant attempt on the part of everybody to deliver the House from the incubus of these notices not having been entirely successful, we should regard the proceedings thereon, as the French say, as n'en est venu. I will venture to suggest that we should take our stand upon the existing law, that we should recur to the old Rule, or rather to the existing Rule, and that the Member who goes to the Ballot need not give his Motion or the name of his Bill beforehand; but I hope the House will still adhere to the alteration of the locality for the Ballot, and will carry it on in the Committee Room under the Rule of the House. If that is satisfactory to 159 the House I will move this Resolution,] which will help the authorities of the House—That all Members who desire to ballot for Bills, other than Government Bills, do hand in their names to the Clerk before the conclusion of Wednesday Sitting, and that a copy of the title of the Bill be handed in at the latest during the Sitting of the House on Thursday, and that the Ballot may be taken at noon on Thursday in Committee Room E.If that is a satisfactory solution of the difficulty, the names of the Motions put down will appear in the Votes, and business will proceed according to the established practice of the House. Motion made, and Question proposed,That all Members who desire to ballot for Bills, other than Government Bills, do hand in their names to the Clerk before the conclusion of Wednesday Sitting, and that a copy of the title of the Bill be handed in at the latest during the Sitting of the House on Thursday; that the Ballot be taken at noon on Thursday, in Committee Boom E,"—(the Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has gone beyond the actual necessities of the moment, and has given his views as to the general policy which ought to animate the House in drawing up Rules to regulate the introduction of Bills. I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman in that matter now, nor is it necessary to do so. The right hon. Gentleman has reminded the House that successive Speakers have laid down most distinctly that the practice of combination or forming syndicates breaks the spirit of the Rule if it does not violate the letter, and that any change which should make it impossible to bring in Bills by combination would be an arrangement which would carry out the ancient practice and traditions of the House. But on the general question I think this is not a proper time to come to a decision, if for no other reason, for the reason that the Speaker is not in the Chair, and the House cannot have the benefit of his opinion. Therefore, I will not resist the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman provided it is distinctly understood that by acceding to it we do nothing whatever to endorse the practice of bringing in Bills by combination, but are absolutely leaving it open for the further decision of the House. None of us on either side of the House are giving 160 our approval or adhesion to a practice which has grown up contrary to the ancient traditions of Parliament. Having made it quite clear that no general principle is involved in the course we are about to pursue, it is only necessary for me further to say that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, or something like it, may be accepted, provided it is made perfectly clear that gentlemen who have already given notices will be in no way damnified by the new departure made to-day. A certain number of Members have already given in the titles of their Bills; certain Members have since given in their names without the titles of Bills; if, therefore, gentlemen who have given in both name and title are held to what they have done they will be clearly in a much worse position than those who are going to be allowed to give in their titles afterwards. On the other hand, if the titles given in are to be erased injustice may be done to Members who have gone away not anticipating any change in the arrangements.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I think the right hon. Gentleman misunderstands my point. No Member who has put his name or name and title down need be in any way prejudiced; he need not withdraw anything, nor be debarred from availing himself of the procedure now agreed to.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am afraid that even then injustice would be done. I would suggest that the Resolution should be so altered that a Member who has already sent in his name should be considered as having sent in notice for a place, and not as having given the name of a Bill. That would clearly he fair. It will require some slight modification of the words of the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman; but, subject to such modification, the Resolution might meet with general approval.
§ MR. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)
said, they were agreed that the question of policy was not to be touched now; the material point was, that an alteration in the mode of introducing Bills could not be accomplished without the consent of the House. The scheme proposed by the Speaker would not exclude combination except to a limited extent; but the present system did rather tend to temper the blind despotism of chance by an element of rational choice.
§ MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I should like to ask whether Members will have to attend the Ballot personally?
§ MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
It seems to me personal attendance is not any more necessary than at the Ballot for seats in the Ladies' Gallery.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The practice will be the same as when the proceedings took place in the House. It cannot be known what the Motions are to be unless Members are in attendance to give the information.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, he could not understand the last difficulty raised by the Leader of the House. He could not see that it would be at all necessary for Members to attend the Ballot, as the Motions were afterwards to be handed to the Clerk at, the Table. Then on Friday the list would be read over and dates put down. It would be competent for a, Member who had already given the name of a, Bill to withdraw it if he wished to do so, and if he did not he could allow it to remain. That would suit him extremely well. He was very glad to think that although they changed the procedure somewhat they adhered to the essential points of the existing plan. Still, be was not altogether satisfied with the proposed plan. A proposal he would mention for the purpose of obtaining for it the consideration of hon. Members was that at the commencement of the Session any Member might inscribe his name in a list with the subject, attached to it, and that any other Member might underwrite the subject so stated, a Member being limited to one underwriting, and the order of precedence being determined by the number of signatures on the paper. [A laugh.] Hon. Members might laugh, but that would be strictly carrying out the principle of reasonable choice. If there was a considerable number of Members who wished to have a particular Bill brought in they ought to have the chance of combining to secure a good position for it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
To carry out the view which I think met with the approval of all the Members of the House I would suggest that these words be added to the Resolution— 162That with regard to the Notices already handed in the names should be published for the purpose of determining the precedence, and the title of the Bill be handed in afresh before the conclusion of the Thursday sitting.I would again question whether gentlemen should be required to attend the Committee Room. I do not think that is at all necessary. All we want is some method which everybody will know and by which all further trouble will be saved.
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words,
That with regard to Notices already handed in the names only be published for the purpose of determining the precedence, and the title of the Bill he handed in afresh before the conclusion of Thursday sitting."—(MR A. J. Balfour.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Of course, if that is what the House desires it will be well to add it, to the Motion at once; but I would point out to the House that some practical inconvenience nay arise from it If an hon. Member does not attend the Ballot he will not know what goes on there, and may have 20 or 30 gentlemen putting down the same Motion as himself. It seems to me that the result would be that, instead of being a mere lottery, the Ballot will be a blind man's buff.
§ MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
said, all difficulty would be obviated if a, list of Members we're placed in a book in some public place, sufficient room being left after the name of each Member for the title of the Bill he proposed to bring in. Other Members would then be able to see at once what Bills had been put down.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
If, say, No. 30 comes to the Table first without knowing what the previous 29 Members have put down before him great confusion and difficulty may arise.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, proposed.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer's remark had shown very conclusively the danger of interfering with the ancient and established procedure of the House. At the very moment when he was proposing that the Ballot should 163 be no longer taken in the open House he had given conclusive reasons to show why it should be so taken, and had shown that every Member would think it advisable to attend Committee Room E to learn his fate. If so, a kind of Monte Carlo would be established in Committee Room E, and the attendance would be very large.
§ SIR C. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
wished to know whether hon. Members were to be present to-morrow in order to introduce their Bills personally?
§ * MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
suggested that after the Ballot in Committee Room E a list of names and the order in which they stood might be printed before 3 o'clock and issued on Thursday.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Ordered, That all Members who desire to ballot for Bills, other than Government Bills, do hand in their names to the Clerk before the conclusion of Wednesday Sitting, and that a copy of the title of the Bill be handed in at the latest during the Sitting of the House on Thursday.
That the Ballot be taken at Noon on Thursday in Committee Room E.
That with regard to Notices already handed in the names only be published for the purpose of determining the precedence, and the title of the Bill be handed in afresh before the conclusion of Thursday Sitting.