§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
I have already stated to the House the course we propose to pursue on the Address, hut of course it can only he pursued when the Debate on the Amendment, now under consideration, has been concluded. But I have on the Paper a Notice referring to our business, which must be brought forward, and I propose now to make a Motion. Everybody in this House will feel that for the purpose of conducting the business it is necessary the Government should have the full time of the House up to the date mentioned in the Motion, which I now ask leave to move.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That until and including Thursday the 29th of March Financial Business do have priority on every day for which it may he appointed, and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed, and be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House except Standing Order No. 5; but after such business is disposed of no other opposed business shall be taken. That Standing Order No. 11 be suspended, and the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to every day of the week."—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not at all desire to delay the House over this Motion, but it is very desirable that we should come to a clear understanding as to where we stand in the matter. There should be no difficulty in knowing that exactly. The Government finds itself under the necessity, in order to carry out the law, to ask for exceptional powers, and to ask the House, in consequence, to curtail the ordinary privileges of discussion both on the Address and of the Estimates. Then, as I understand, in return for the concession on these points, they are prepared to give us after Easter days on which to discuss three important topics, which otherwise we should have had the opportunity of discussing at this 268 stage. These are the general policy of naval construction, East Indian finance, and Uganda. The Government also agree that no controversial business shall be introduced between now and the 29th or the 31st of March—that is, during the period for which the exceptional powers are taken—though, of course, public necessity may require the Government to go beyond the strict line of merely financial discussion. They also arrange that no private Members' business shall be taken on those days when Financial Business does not occupy the whole time of the House, and when the Financial Business is concluded they will move the adjournment of the House. There is one more point I wish to name. Last year a ruling was given, not, I think, by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but by some gentleman acting as Chairman of Committees, which, if it is to be held to apply to the discussions to which I have referred, will preclude the full discussion of questions relating to the Navy on particular Votes in Committee of Supply. It is evident that if that Rule is to hold good the discussion to be allowed after Easter must take place with the Speaker in the Chair. I hope, therefore, the Government, will make provision either that they shall be held with the Speaker in the Chair, or, if otherwise, that fair and legitimate latitude shall be given to all gentlemen who wish to discuss generally the questions involved. These are the points on which the Government have informally given us very satisfactory assurances; and if they are now prepared to repeat them, I shall not think it desirable in any way to resist this Motion or to prolong the discussion upon it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I accept fully what the right hon. Gentleman has stated. It is the intention of the Government, in asking for indulgence from all parts of the House, to arrange business so as to give hon. Members as little inconvenience as possible at Easter, when it is customary to take no controversial business of the character referred to. As to the Debate on the Navy, we will take care, as it must he the desire of the Government that there should be the fullest discussion of the subject, that, either with the Speaker in the Chair or in Committee, there shall be no limitation of the discussion.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Rochester)
said, he must press the right hon. 269 Gentleman for a more favourable response to the appeal he made to him on the previous day on behalf of private Members. He would like to receive if not an assurance, at any rate an expression of opinion, that on the conclusion of the Financial Business the first four Wednesdays would he left at the disposal of private Members; otherwise he did not see on what principle hon. Members were to act; in assigning dates for the Bills they wished to put down. Could not the right hon. Gentleman give them something to guide them?
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
said, that if they were to get the Government out of one of those difficulties it was always getting into some fair terms ought to be offered them. Important Votes affecting the Army and the Navy were to be taken before Easter, as well as some Civil Service Votes not quite so important perhaps. There was also a Vote on Account to be taken. Surely they ought to have some assurance as to the Army Estimates, which were in the same position as the Navy Estimates, and, from one point of view, were in a stronger position. There ought to be a reasonable opportunity for discussing them after Easter; and he asked for a promise that on some Vote in the Army Estimates there should be an opportunity allowed of raising the whole question of Army administration. As there had been a distinct promise that the Ordnance Votes should not be taken till they had the Report of the Explosives Committee, if the Votes for the Ordnance Factories could not be postponed, and they were told they could not, but he personally held there was no emergency in regard to them—he asked that some other arrangement might be made for discussing the subject. He was bound to point out that the refusal of the Government to treat the workmen in their explosives factories in the same way as workmen had to be treated in private explosives factories raised a very important question which needed full discussion.
§ * MR. HOZIER (Lanarkshire, S.)
said, he had to ask for an assurance that contentious Committees would not he appointed before Easter. There was, he believed, a proposal to appoint a Grand Committee of Scotch Members, with a certain number of English Members added, to deal with Scotch Bills, 270 He hoped no such contentious Committee would be appointed before Easter.
§ LORD G. HAMILTON (Middlesex, Ealing)
May I point out with reference to the Navy Estimates that the proposals of the Government for the increase of the Navy will not be in our hands till Friday next, and we are not to have the explanatory Memorandum until Saturday, and yet we are to be asked to discuss the Estimates on Monday? It is clear that this will not allow sufficient time, even to those who have knowledge of the question, to come to any conclusion as to the proposals of the Government, and much less to challenge them. Last year general discussion was restricted in Committee of Supply; and I therefore hope that, if no impediment is placed in the way of getting the Votes for men and money before Easter, it will be understood that after Easter the discussion of naval policy shall take place with the Speaker in the Chair, so that we may be able to go into the whole question without having our remarks curtailed, as undoubtedly they would be in Committee of Supply.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
We ought to have a pledge that the Government will not take Tuesdays and Fridays for a month after Easter. Private Members have given notice of a large number of Motions, and they ought not to be deprived of the opportunity of discussing them.
§ SIR G. BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
The subject of the Royal Naval Reserve;, which last Session we were unable to discuss, ought also to be discussed with the Speaker in the Chair.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The noble Lord opposite has asked mo for an expression of opinion, but I am afraid that an expression of opinion from a person in my position would be understood as a pledge. I am sorry to say I am unable to give any pledge or express any opinion as to the disposal of the time of the House after Easter. After Easter unquestionably the Army Votes and all other matters will have a proper amount of time allotted to them.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am not prepared to give any other pledge. As to the Shipbuilding Vote, I have already stated that every opportunity will be 271 given for discussing the Navy in all its branches. I cannot go further, and I hope that will be accepted by the House.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
As to the last declaration, I would remark that hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House wish to reserve not only full liberty for discussion, but the possibility of putting Notices on the Paper with the Speaker in the Chair, when an opportunity will be given to challenge the policy of the Government. It would be impossible to do that on a Vote in Committee, and what my hon. Friend wishes is not to be precluded from putting a Notice of Motion on the Paper which would be out of Order in Committee.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I cannot say more than this: that if the Opposition wish to challenge the policy of the Government there is always a very short way of doing so. I desire to act up to what I said, and to give every opportunity for discussion. I may remind the House of the difficulties in which we are placed. In 1868, when Lord Derby resigned and Mr. Disraeli succeeded him, the Navy Estimates were actually voted without any discussion whatever. The discussion on the Navy did not take place until May. We are in quite as great difficulties as to the point of time, but we do not ask anything like that indulgence, as we have assigned two days. I am sorry to make these demands on the indulgence of the House, and I hope that, under the circumstances in which the House finds itself, it will grant us that latitude and accept our assurance that it is not only our duty, but our desire, to give full opportunity for the discussion on the Navy.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
By the leave of the House, I desire to say that we have not the least desire to embarrass the Government, and we accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman not only in the letter, but in the spirit of his pledges. To clear up one question, I would say, with regard to the Ordnance Factory Vote, what my hon. Friend wants is a confirmation of the pledge given by the Secretary for War: that there shall be some pledge given that an opportunity shall be found at a suitable period to discuss the Vote.
§ * MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I readily give that pledge, and it shall be fulfilled in the most ample way. It is true that the Ordnance Factory Vote 272 is a separate Vote, but I think by a little ingenuity an opportunity may be found on the Army Vote to discuss it.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had great feeling for the difficulties in which the Government found themselves, but he (Mr. Bowles) had far more feeling for the difficulty in which Members of the Opposition found themselves. Before Easter last year the House had had 16 days in Committee, but this year they would only have four or five. They were asked to deal with the Army in one day, but one day was not sufficient. He rose, however, to point out that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had omitted to tell them when the Vote on Account would be taken.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The Secretary for War has stated, in reply to the hon. Member for Preston, that he will take care that an opportunity is given to discuss the Ordnance Vote. The Birmingham Members take a deep interest in this Vote owing to the new policy pursued with regard to the factory at Spark brook, and they desire to have full opportunity for discussion. There will be two opportunities, I understand, for this discussion before Easter—one on the Supplementary Vote and the other on the general Vote; but if it would be convenient to the Government that the discussion on this matter should be taken later, all I would ask is that we should have some pledge similar to that given to the hon. Member for Preston.
§ * MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The circumstances of the two cases are not similar. On the subject referred to by the hon. Member for Preston there is an inquiry going on. No Report has yet been received, and it is, therefore, impossible to discuss the matter at present. But the subject in which the Birmingham Members are interested can be discussed as well this week as two or three weeks hence; therefore, I see no reason why it should not be taken to-morrow or on Friday.
§ * MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
said, that ordinarily they had the general discussion on the Army on the Question that the Speaker do leave the Chair, or on the first Vote. Owing to the exigencies of the Service, they were asked to give up 273 those opportunities for discussion. If they consented, would some opportunity be given to discuss the general question of the Army on some other Vote?
§ * MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said, it was intended that there should be an opportunity for general discussion given on Friday; but if that was not sufficient, they could resort to the old plan that had been adopted on many previous occasions, of allowing the general discussion on some other Vote which might be fixed on for the general convenience of hon. Members.
§ Question put, and agreed to.