§ SIR W. HARCOURT
rose to move the following Resolution:—That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business have priority on Wednesday; that, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet on Friday at Three of the clock; that Standing Order No. 11 be suspended, and the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to the other days of the week; that the Reports of the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, though opposed, and the proceedings thereon be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, except of Standing Order No. 5.I think I may say that a Resolution of this character has been for some time anticipated. Indeed, the Amendment to it standing in the name of the hon. Member for St. Helen's rather indicates that; for the preamble of the Amendment, though in some sense it administers admonition or chastisement to the present and previous Governments and Parliaments, does not dispute the urgency of the present occasion, and, after admonishing us in this matter, proposes to grant our request, which, of course, is very satisfactory. This Resolution is proposed on the ground of urgency, and urgency under exceptional circumstances. I know it is supposed that I have postponed the Resolution till to-day with some sinister object with reference to the Orders of the Day. I do not say that is unnatural suspicion, but I ask the House to believe that it is unfounded. The real truth is, I was ignorant of what the Orders of the Day were to be yesterday, but what I did wish to see was the sort of progress we were likely to make in Committee on Monday and Tuesday on the Finance Bill. I found this Motion upon no complaints against any section of the House in the past, nor do I found it upon any anticipations of unfair dealing with public business in the future. I should be quite unjustified in 44 assuming that the House of Commons or any Party in it were not desirous and did not intend to give absolutely fair play to measures which have for their object to make provision for the Public Service. Those are questions that are not in themselves of a highly Party or controversial character, the discussions in Ways and Means providing for the extraordinary supply which we have already voted for this year. Now, I need not refer to the exceptional circumstances of this year, of the overlapping Session of last year, of the change of Government which took place, all of which have reduced the ordinary margin which is at our disposal. With reference to the Finance Bill, I am the first to acknowledge that the measure contains large and novel principles which justify and demand proper examination by the House of Commons. In these days it is idle to refer to precedents, because I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Leader of the Opposition might think I was going back to feudal times. I am rather ashamed in his presence to remind him of the advantages I possess over his comparative youth, and especially to inform him of what took place 40 years ago at the time of the Succession Duty Bill. I can just recollect that Bill, though I was not in the House, but I would inform the right hon. Gentleman' that that Bill was fought with the greatest animosity. It raised new principles; it taxed new property; it was a very elaborate Bill. It was a Bill of 55 clauses, and any gentleman who looks at it can see it was a measure of a most technical and controversial character. That Bill was really analogous to the first part of the Budget Bill, because in these days it was the practice to have separate Bills. There was a Bill for the Succession Duty, a Bill which included the question of the Income Tax; there was an Excise Bill, and there was a Customs Bill. The time consumed upon them was 28 days. But what happened in the case of the Succession Duty Bill—a Bill at least as contentious and more than twice as voluminous as the present Finance Bill, containing, as I have said, 55 clauses, whereas the present Finance Bill has 20 clauses? There were two days taken on the Resolution when principles were discussed. On the First Reading there was 45 no opposition and no Debate. On the Second Reading there was one short Debate. On going into Committee there was another Debate, and in Committee on the 55 clauses there were six days occupied. We have already occupied three days on the first clause. The Report took up one day and the Third Reading one day. So that that Bill occupied 12 days of the time of the House of Commons. I admit frankly the accuracy of an observation made by the hon. Member for King's Lynn when he said that all the principles raised by this Bill were included in the first clause. That is true, and that I believe to be the proper way of drafting such a Bill. You should, as far as possible, place before the House of Commons in a condensed and comprehensive manner all the principles which you intend to embody in it; and the subsequent clauses should be, as they are here, supplementary to those principles, and in the character of machinery. Therefore, I do apprehend and anticipate that when we have disposed of the first clause the progress of the subsequent clauses will be accelerated. We have got this Bill in Ways and Means to dispose of; and, also, the Supply of the year. It is quite plain that when I speak of urgency on the eve of the 1st of June that is a case which the House of Commons will consider with a view to placing further time at the disposal of the Government. I perfectly admit the preamble of the Amendment of the hon. Member for St. Helen's, that this is not the best manner of dealing with the question of Government time. I quite think that the House ought to consider in the future the re-adjustment of its time as between the Government and private Members, and with that admission on my part I hope the hon. Member will not think it necessary to insist upon his preamble, arriving, as he does, at the same conclusion as ourselves. Now, I daresay I shall be asked by the supporters of the Government what measures we intend to promote, and the opponents of the Government will perhaps be still more anxious to know what measures we intend to drop. I am sorry to say that I can give no information on that point until the Finance Bill has passed through the House. It is perfectly obvious that we cannot do this, because the time at our disposal must depend on 46 the margin of time we have after the passing of the Finance Bill. If I entered to-night into the competition of rival friends and of united foes I should never get to the end of the discussion. I should be overwhelmed by the kindness of the one and devoured by the other, and I decline at the present time to give information which I really am not in a position to give. Of course we shall endeavour, as far as we can, to satisfy the pledges we have given, and the expectations we have held out. That I say to our friends. I cannot expect that we should satisfy our opponents; that would be probably asking too much. No doubt we make a large request to the House; and we can only make it in the hope and in the expectation that, if the House should grant it, they will grant it because they have confidence that it will not be abused by Her Majesty's Government.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business have priority on Wednesday; that, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet on Friday at Three of the clock; that Standing Order No. 11 be suspended, and the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to the other days of the week; that the Reports of the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, though opposed, and the proceedings thereon be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, except of Standing Order No. 5."—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I think everybody must feel that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in undertaking the task which he has just performed, has performed it in a tone and a temper seldom to be expected from an opponent. He has made as light as possible the proposals of the Government. I go further, and I make the admission that at this time of the year, when the Government business is considerably in arrear, and when a great deal of necessary financial work of the year is still to come, some proposal of this kind to still further trench on the time of private Members was to have been expected. But I confess that I should have liked to see the demand for time accompanied by some more explicit statement as to the policy of the Government. I do not wish, I do not expect, the Government so early as May 31 to go through the painful operation of slaughtering the innocents. That will have to come; the massacre need 47 not have been anticipated by a month, and we cannot expect the Government publicly to give up the hopes which no doubt they have privately ceased to entertain, at so early a date as that at which we have now arrived. But it must be recollected that the Government have only told us, in asking for the time of the House, that they wish it for the Finance Bill and for Supply. No pledge or assurance has been given with regard to other measures, and I think in these circumstances the Government should have limited their demand for time to the subjects they have explicitly told us they mean to deal with. They give us no promise, no pledge, and no indication with regard to their intentions on other matters; and therefore I think they might properly cut down their Resolution to the limits of their own announcement and explanation of that Resolution, and only ask for the time of the House and for precedence for the Budget, while refraining from the immense generality of the powers they have asked for in the Resolution on the Paper. I think, therefore, it will be well worth considering whether it would not be proper to move as an Amendment to the Resolution that it should be limited to the Finance Bill and the operations in Supply. The right hon. Gentleman has very carefully refrained from throwing any blame or any imputation on any section of the House with regard to the discussion connected with the Budget, and I am sure he did so, not merely from the natural reluctance of any Leader of the House to introduce irritating subjects of debate into discussions which he naturally wishes to get over as quickly as possible, but from a sincere conviction that the Budget is a matter necessarily demanding great attention on the part of the Members of the House. The right hon. Gentleman recalled to our minds the great Debates in point of ability of the gentlemen who took part in them which occurred when the Death Duties were first proposed; and he told us that, controversial and novel as the subject then was, and complicated as the Bill was, yet the then House of Commons was able to get through their work in the relatively small number of six days in Committee. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has accurately represented the history of those days, but I have had the 48 privilege of talking to one of the most distinguished of those men who took part in the Debates, and, unless my memory has deceived me, that authority gave me to understand that one of the chief reasons why the Death Duties were so soon disposed of was because there were only about three gentlemen in the House who understood them. Either, therefore, we are much more intelligent than our predecessors, or we know much more than our predecessors, or we are more ready to discuss that which we do not understand. I do not know which of the three alternatives is the one we ought to select; but, at all events, I can imagine no Government in these days, from whichever side of the House it may be drawn, would for a moment anticipate that a Budget like this one, or like the old Budget imposing the Death Duties, could in 1894 ever be got through the House of Commons after so brief a discussion. The right hon. Gentleman rightly anticipates that when we have passed Clause 1 our progress through the Bill will be more rapid—at least, it will be, as far as I can judge. The right hon. Gentleman has drawn a picture of the mode in which this Bill has been drafted, which he says is the pattern to which the drafting of all Bills should conform. It is a very good way to draft a Bill from the point of view of getting it through the House of Commons, but I am not sure that it is equally good for future interpretation by the Courts of Law or by the offices which have to employ it. To cram all the leading propositions into one clause, and to make all the other clauses of the Bill mere machinery, has been carried to perfection in this Bill by the skilled workmen who assist each Government in turn. The necessary evolution of draftsmanship imposed upon us by the increased difficulty of passing anything through this House is one to be deplored from the purely drafting and legal point of view. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for having adopted it in this Bill. If I had been in his place I should probably have adopted the same course, but, after all, the people who chiefly suffer are those who have to interpret it. Those who gain are those who chiefly plead before the Courts; the Judges are well paid, and as the barristers are a very deserving class, I do not know that we should much deplore 49 the new style of drafting in favour of the old which prevailed when the Death Duties were originally proposed. The Government will have gathered from the few remarks I have made that I do not regard with hostility the proposal that they should obtain further facilities to get through the financial work of the year. Had the Government been content to limit their demands to that necessary request, I should not have had a word to say against their policy; but I think they have drawn their Resolution too wide and have made an unnecessary draft on the available time at the disposal of the House as a whole. I, therefore, suggest whether it would not be desirable, in the interests of public business, that the Government should for the present limit their demands to the only business on which they have made an announcement—namely, the business connected with the taxation and the expenditure of the year; and I seriously press on the Government the desirableness of coming to an understanding on the basis of that suggestion.
§ MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helen's)
said, he desired to speak on the Resolution from the private Members' point of view. He had an Amendment on the Paper designed to earmark this Motion of the Government and to show that it was of an exceptional character. What he objected to as a private Member was the almost brutal frankness of the wording of this Resolution, because it was obviously intended to establish the principle as a matter of course, while there was nothing on the face of it to show that it was a serious inroad on the privileges of private Members. Instead of the Amendment standing in his name on the Paper, he proposed—acting on the advice of Mr. Speaker—to move an Amendment which would have the effect of allowing this Resolution of the Government to come into operation only "after this day four weeks for the remainder of the Session." He had no desire to hamper the operations of Her Majesty's Government, because he assumed that their checkered career was rapidly drawing to a close, and that they would not be a much longer time in Office. He desired to move his Motion on the ground of time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had not told them what part of this confused mass of Government 50 business they intended to throw overboard. He thought private Members were entitled to say, "We shall not part with the time of the House until we know what measures you are going to go on with, and what you are going to abandon." Private Members were used now over a long series of years to having their heads cut off, and he supposed they were now getting used to it, as eels, it was said, got used to being skinned; but he thought he had a right to record a protest against this state of things. He would trouble the House with some authorities on the principles involved in this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had, on more than one occasion, spoken with contempt on the subject of the value of private Members' time. But it must be remembered that that gentleman was not a private Member in the strictest sense of the word. He was an ex-official Member, who stood on a different platform, like the Members on the Front Benches. He was one of those fortunate individuals who could always get the ear of the House whenever he wished to speak. Private Members were entitled to regard with the greatest suspicion upon what came not only from official Members, but Members like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. On the 13th of April, 1888, on the Motion to give precedence to the Local Government Bill, no less an authority than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian laid down the principle to be followed. He said—However, he did not wish to discuss that matter further than to say that he thought that the arrangement of the business of the House with regard to its division between the Government and private Members was a matter which had reached a point—after the experience of last year and the initial experience of this—which made it very necessary that it should, in a very short time, be made the subject of general consideration.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian from that day to this, however, had done nothing to bring the matter forward as "the subject of general consideration." He would appeal to another authority — the Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) who, on the same occasion—namely, on the 13th of April, 1888—said—The ordinary usage was, that private Members' days were only taken for the Second 51 Reading of opposed Bills which involved the fate of the Government, and that was not the case at present.The time of private Members was asked now not for Bills involving the fate of the Government, but on general grounds. In 1889 an important principle was laid down as to the grounds on which this Motion should be made. On the 8th of March, 1889, a Motion was made to take Morning Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays for Committee of Supply until Easter. On that occasion the late Mr. W. H. Smith said—The absorption of the whole time of the House by the Government has been necessary in the public interest, but it is an exceedingly unsatisfactory condition of things, and it is one which, I hope, may be avoided by the assistance of Members on both sides of the House.That was a direct challenge to private Members, who, if they chose to set the matter right, could do so. On that occasion the present Leader of the House, who was then one of the leading Members of the Opposition, said—I will be no party to limiting the liberties of private Members, but I will not oppose the facilities asked for by the Government in the special circumstances and under the necessary conditions.The Under Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. S. Buxton) on that occasion opposed the Motion asAn unwarranted infringement of the rights of private Members,and the present Solicitor General (Mr. R. T. Reid) seconded the opposition. He said he was—Somewhat disappointed in his right hon. Friend (Sir W. Harcourt).… He had not confidence in him on this subject. … These encroachments on private Members' rights were continually going on. From 1880 to 1885 there were few encroachments, and in 1886 and 1887 they increased, and in 1888 the time of private Members was entirely taken away, and now at an earlier stage than ever the process was continued against all the traditions of the House. … It has always been the custom to allow Members facilities for bringing on matters of public interest, and public attention being thus directed, they frequently afterwards became the subjects of important measures.They, therefore, had it on the authority of the present Government that private Members not only had rights, but that they were important and useful rights. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had not justified the Motion at all, and he had not in any way shown the necessity of the Government having such an un- 52 warrantably large programme that they had been obliged to make this demand upon the time of the House. The Government did not attempt to cut their coat according to their cloth. They had introduced measures which they could not hope to pass, and supported them by speeches, and the result was that they found a Motion like the present necessary at a comparatively early period. To his mind, it was time that private Members united against this sort of thing. His Amendment would alter the form of the Motion so as to delay the taking away of private Members' rights for four weeks, on the grounds he had stated—namely, that those rights were useful and that the Government were solely to blame for the present pressure of business. In 1886 there was only one Motion made to take up private Members' time by the Government. That was moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian. The time was asked for then for the remainder of the Session for a specific purpose—namely, Committee of Supply and Ways and Means, and the Wednesday Sittings of the House were not touched. In 1887 the Government made a slight demand, and on February 17 a special exception was made in regard to the discussion on the Rules of Procedure. But that year the whole private time of the House was not taken until July 4. This would form a precedent for his Amendment which would operate somewhere about, the same period of the year as the Motion of 1887. In 1888 the Government did not ask for the whole time of the House. In 1889 no such proposal was made by them until July 11. In 1890 they did not ask for the whole time of the House except in the Autumn Session—namely, on November 28. In 1891 the Government took the whole time of the House, with the exception of the Wednesday Sittings, from June 15, but then the circumstances that prompted them to do so were somewhat peculiar. However, he did not justify the proceedings of the late Government. He held that they had committed the same fault, only in a lesser degree, as the present Government—that was to say, the fault of bringing in too large a programme. In 1892 the time of private Members was not taken, but last Session it had been appropriated in a manner which was unprecedented. Last 53 year on the 30th of March all the time of the House was taken for the Home Rule Bill, and the Opposition were not responsible for the introduction of that Bill. Now the Government asked for all the time of the House from the 1st of June without saying what measures were to be proceeded with. This system of Governments filching away the rights of private Members had been growing until now it had culminated in a robbery the extent of which had never before been equalled. He submitted that on these grounds he was justified as a private Member in bringing forward his Amendment. He was not particular as to the form of the Amendment. He did not wish to take away from the Government any responsibility they had of getting themselves out of the mess they were in. On the advice of the Speaker he had altered his Amendment to the insertion in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Resolution of the words "after this day four weeks," and he asked private Members to vote for it by way of giving a warning to this Government and to future Governments that private Members had rights which they would protect, and that a Government must arrange its programme so as to leave to private Members the time to which they were entitled.
§ Amendment proposed, after the first word "That," to insert the words "after the 28th July."—(Mr. Seton-Karr.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, he did not wish to enter into an examination of the value of the rights of private Members. He was afraid they could not hope that the Amendment was likely to be accepted. The hon. Member had changed his Amendment from what was a harmless admonition to the present and succeeding Governments into an Amendment which would practically adjourn the consideration of the question of the Resolution for four weeks, and in the meantime nothing would be done under it.
§ MR. SETON-KARR
said, the effect would not be to adjourn the consideration of the question. That would be decided now. The Amendment would only postpone the operation of the Resolution.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he should have said the adjournment of the operation of the Resolution. The difficulty the Government was in was that they wanted at the present time to go on with the Finance Bill from day to day, and that was business of an important and pressing character, which it was the interest of the House and of the whole community should be done as speedily as possible. Therefore the Amendment could not be entertained by the Government; but he had risen for the purpose of making a practical suggestion that they might entertain. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had made a conciliatory speech, and the right hon. Gentleman would admit that the right hon. Member for Manchester had spoken as one who had been responsible for the conduct of the business of the House, and might be so again, who knew the character of the work to be done, and who appreciated the reasons which enforced the appeal of the Government for more time, and was therefore disposed under certain conditions to assent to the demand made. If that was the frame of mind of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, it occurred to him that an arrangement might be made which would shorten the discussion, and enable them to enter on the immediate work of the House—namely, the further discussion of the Finance Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was in a position in which he could not say what other measures he would deal with in the way of saving or abandoning. He (Mr. Courtney) appreciated the difficulties of the right hon. Gentleman's position. Time was wanted to get the Finance Bill through, and until that was disposed of the right hon. Gentleman could not say how other Bills would be dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman would see that if he did not give any intimation of the future action of the Government with reference to those Bills he did not facilitate by that reticence the passage of the Finance Bill, and those who were opposed to this or that measure would not give him facilities for the general conduct of business irrespective of the Finance Bill if he did not say what Bills he would go on with and what Bills he would drop. But the right hon. Gentleman might accomplish his object if, instead of proposing the Motion for the remainder of 55 the Session, he restricted it to the time until the Finance Bill had passed all its stages in the House of Commons, or had been otherwise disposed of. If he agreed to alter his Resolution in that way, he would secure all the power he sought, and he might obtain the assent of the House to his proposal in a short space of time. He would, also, probably avoid the inconvenience of entering into details with respect to other measures. He made this suggestion in a friendly spirit and with a disposition to forward the business of the Government.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, ho was gratified at the extremely reasonable and, if he might say so, favourable manner in which the general proposal of the Government had been received. He could not assent to the Amendment of the hon. Member for St. Helen's (Mr. Seton-Karr). It was of the utmost importance, because it was important, as affecting the Revenue for the financial year, that the Budget Bill should be carried without delay. The suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition and of his right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) was that they should confine their proposal to the time necessary for passing the Finance Bill. He need not say that was a matter which the Government had carefully considered, and they had come to the conclusion that they ought to insist upon the larger proposal. There were controversial matters to be disposed of. He understood that an Amendment was to be proposed—
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, that according to his suggestion the Resolution would not be confined to the Finance Bill, but would extend to all the business of the Government until the Finance Bill was disposed of. The right hon. Gentleman might reconsider the matter.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, it came to the same thing as limiting the Resolution to the Finance Bill. With the exception of the discussion on Uganda, the Government meant to proceed with the Finance Bill to the practical exclusion of all other measures until it was disposed of. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin seemed to think that if they took the course proposed they might retard the progress of the Finance Bill. He seemed to assume that a practice they had heard of would 56 be indulged in—the practice by which some Bills were obstructed in order to prevent others from coming on. That would be a very unparliamentary proceeding, and one which he (Sir W. Harcourt) was unwilling to assume would be pursued with reference to a Bill of the character of the Finance Bill. Therefore, he could not base the action of the Government upon an assumption of that kind. He was willing to believe that the House would deal fairly with the Finance Bill. They must feel that questions of finance stood upon a footing of their own, that they must be treated accordingly, and not be unfarly obstructed on account of what might subsequently happen. As to the larger question, he did not think it was well to make two bites at a cherry, and the suggestion made would only mean postponing discussion until a future period. He did not wish to make this a matter of vehement controversy; but he thought it was a subject on which the opinion of the House might well be taken without delay—as to whether the Resolution should be limited in the manner proposed by the Amendment or whether the House would at once give the Government all the time of the House to the end of the Session.
§ MR. J. REDMOND (Waterford)
said, that the objection he had to the proposal of the Leader of the House was not that it extended to the whole of the Session. That part of the time seemed reasonable. He went a step further, and said that the right hon. Gentleman, as representing the Government, was justified at this period of the Session in making a further claim on the time of the House. He was not one of those who sympathised very much with the claims of private Members, but the objection he had to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was that while he was properly asking for the time of private Members for the whole of the remainder of the Session, he was not specifying, to any extent whatever, what the Government measures were to which that time would be allotted. The right hon. Gentleman had made his proposal in what had been described as a conciliatory speech, but those hon. Members who were satisfied with the character of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman would find, when all was said and done, that they got little solid satisfaction out of it. The right hon. Gentle- 57 man was conciliatory in his tone, but he asked the House for an absolutely blank cheque upon its time. For his part, he was not disposed to give a blank cheque to the right hon. Gentleman or his Government. What he would be inclined to ask from him—and he would endeavour to be as conciliatory in tone as the right hon. Gentleman himself—was whether it would not be reasonable and fair for the right hon. Gentleman to give certain assurances with reference to certain particular, exceptional measures, which stood upon his programme? First, he would take a Bill about which the right hon. Gentleman apparently was not so much concerned—namely, the Bill for the repeal of the Crimes Act. A statement appeared in many newspapers that the right hon. Gentleman had postponed his Motion for the whole time of private Members in order that he might afford au opportunity for the further discussion of that Bill yesterday. It seemed to him, from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that that was au entire misapprehension. The right hon. Gentleman had no such goodwill towards the Bill for the Repeal of the Crimes Act as to spare yesterday for the purpose of discussing it, and so far from that being so, the right hon. Gentleman was actually unaware—and he ventured to say he was the only man in the House in that position—that the Crimes Act Repeal Bill was among the Orders of the Day yesterday.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I was informed that there were two Bills before it on Yesterday's Order Paper, and that those two Bills would probably occupy the whole of yesterday's Sitting.
§ MR. J. REDMOND
said, his point was that the Motion of to-day was not fixed for to-day out of goodwill for the repeal of the Crimes Act at all. The repeal of the Crimes Act was a measure to which the Government stood pledged more deeply, perhaps, than to any measure in their programme. Although it was not a measure in their programme at all, and although, since they had been in Office, they had not thought it worth while to bring in a Bill for the repeal of that Act, still they were pledged to the lips to do so. The Chief Secretary for Ireland made use of the phrase on one occasion, that the first work to which the Liberal Party and the 58 Government would put their hands when they came into power was the repeal of this iniquitous law. They had not, however, put their hands to the work, which had been taken up by other hands; and surely it was not au unreasonable thing to ask from the Leader of the House that some portion of the time of the House they were asking the House of Commons to give up for the remainder of the Session should be allocated to the further discussion and passing of this Bill through the House. That was not a large claim. The Bill was practically a Bill of one clause, and one Sitting of the House, commencing at 10 o'clock, with the suspension of the Twelve o'Clock Rule, would easily dispose of the four or five lines of the Bill in Committee. There need be no Report stage, and the Bill could be read a third time at another Sitting. It might be said that that was practically asking for two days from the Government; but, considering the pledges of the Government and the statements made by different Members of the Government upon hundreds of platforms, it was not unreasonable to ask the Government to give two Sittings for the passage of the Bill. The other subject upon which he thought the Government were bound to say something was equally exceptional. He referred to the Bill for the restoration of the evicted tenants. This was, no doubt, a disappointing and defective Bill. In one essential particular it was a Bill disappointing to all the hopes raised for years past in Ireland. At the same time it was a Bill which, as far as it went, might contribute something—perhaps a good deal—towards the future peace and tranquillity of the country and the welfare of a brave and suffering class. It was therefore a Bill that naturally every Irish Member wished to see disposed of. The Government were pledged more deeply, perhaps, upon this subject than they were upon any single English, Scotch, or Welsh reform. There was no portion of their programme upon which they were so deeply pledged, and none so urgent. Welsh disestablishment and other measures of that character were of the gravest and most far-reaching importance, and naturally attracted enthusiastic support from large sections of Members of this House. But there was no comparison in the 59 urgency between the particular matter to which he had referred and other questions. The postponement of Welsh disestablishment, for instance, for one Session could not possibly inflict upon the people of Wales anything like the hardship which would be inflicted upon the evicted tenants in Ireland by the postponement of the Evicted Tenants Bill from Session to Session, and perhaps from Parliament to Parliament. The Finance Bill must occupy a large part of the remainder of the present Session. Hon. Members seemed to think that at least four weeks more would be taken up in the consideration of that Bill. This would bring the House to July 1. It was also generally understood that the House would not be asked to sit this year during an Autumn Session. [Cheers.] He heard those cheers coming from the supporters of the Government on the other side of the House. [Cries of "No" from the Ministerial Benches.] He was glad that he mistook those voices. He was glad that the supporters of Her Majesty's Government were willing to come to Westminster for an Autumn Session. So far as the present Session was concerned, if the Government intended to persist in taking the Registration Bill before the Evicted Tenants Bill, he declared that it would be an absolute impossibility for the House to pass an Evicted Tenants Bill before the adjournment of the House. If, on the other hand, it was the intention of the Government to pass the Finance Bill and the Registration Bill, and then to adjourn for a month and come back and pass an Evicted Tenants Bill in an Autumn Session, he could not see why the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not state that intention. As, however, he had already stated the general view to be that there was not to be an Autumn Session this year, what would become of the Evicted Tenants Bill? The Chancellor of the Exchequer might have good reasons of his own for refusing to answer, and might think it wise and prudent not to do so; but the right hon. Gentleman could not deny that the question was reasonable, neither could he deny that the attitude of himself (Mr. Redmond) and his friends, whose votes depended on the answer which the Government might give, was an absolutely consistent, logical, and reasonable 60 position. He asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he was willing to give an assurance in regard to the two subjects which he had mentioned, and to which he and his Government were most solemnly pledged, that a portion of the time of the present Session should be devoted to passing into law these two measures, which, from the point of view of himself and his friends, were regarded as far more urgent than any other Bills in the Government programme?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I do not rise, like the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, in order to plead for the attention of the Government to any particular measure; and I must admit that if I did desire to direct the attention of the Government to any Bill in particular, it would not be the two Bills to which he referred that I should have placed first in my appeal. I should rather, I think, have pleaded, as an humble individual, in favour of the Local Veto Bill, which seems, somehow or other, to have been unaccountably squeezed out of the Government Programme. The hon. Member gave as reasons for pressing forward the two Bills to which he directed attention that the Government are pledged to them. But if we are to sit here till the Government have dealt with all the Bills to which they are pledged we shall have to sit into the next century. I rise, however, to plead rather for the ancient practice and precedents of this House. I do not complain of the decision at which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government have arrived, to ask, once for all, for the whole time of the House during the remainder of the Session. I quite think, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that, though he might have gained time for the moment, he would lose time hereafter, if we were to have a second discussion four weeks hence upon the conduct and order of business. But if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to take the whole time of the House it is a corollary that he should now state to the House the use to which he is going to put that time. I think there is no precedent—certainly not within my experience in this House—when a Government have come down and asked for exceptional facilities, for their refusing to give even the slightest indication as to their intentions with 61 regard to the measures which stand on their programme. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has not said one word as to the length of the Session or as to the Bills which he proposes to bring forward. Under the wording of the Resolution, if it be passed as proposed, should the Government desire to sit again as they did last year, this rule would apply to the whole which of the Debates up to Christmas, and even during an adjourned Session which might be carried on far into next year. I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer would consider that it is right to ask the House for these facilities without making some such kind of preliminary statement as is usually made on similar occasions. I do not ask him to conclude now the massacre of the innocents, and to give us the names of all those Bills with which he will not proceed; but, at least, he might relieve our minds of anxieties as to some portion of the numerous list, and, if not, I think the House is bound to vote against his proposition. This is a most inconvenient precedent. This Government is making precedents very fast, and they must expect that their opponents in turn will take advantage of the precedents they are setting. There was no one who was more decided than the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Leaders of the present Ministerial Party in denouncing the late Government for insufficient statements of their intentions whenever they asked the House for additional facilities. Here we have not only an insufficient statement, but we absolutely do not know whether we are going to have an Autumn Session, and whether, after the Finance Bill is passed, we are not to be called upon to consider in turn every single item of the Newcastle Programme. The position taken up by the Government is very unreasonable and very arbitrary, and we are bound to make a protest against it.
§ MR. PICKARD (, W. R., Normanton), York
alluding to the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill, said, he considered that as that Bill during the last few Sessions had been carried in that House by a large majority on the Second Reading, facilities should be given for its passage during the present Session. The Government had given pledges in regard to that Bill, and he believed that the Government intended to carry out those pledges. He therefore urged the Representatives of 62 working men to give the Government the additional facilities for which they asked.
§ MR. J. WILSON (Durham, Mid)
said, he also was interested in the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill, but on the opposite side to the hon. Member for Normanton, and he wished to have an explicit statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this subject. So far as he understood the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, they were that the Government would honourably carry out the pledges they had given. The hon. Member for Normanton had said that the Government had given a specific pledge upon this question, and he desired the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state candidly and clearly before the Division was taken what were the nature of the pledges given to those who favoured the Eight Hours Bill. He did not think he was making any discourteous demand, for if there were those who were interested in promoting this Bill, they from the North of England had just as much interest in opposing it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer could decide this matter by stating distinctly whether the Government had given pledges to further and promote this Bill or whether they had not.
§ SIR J. LUBBOCK (London University)
said, the Member for Normanton had mentioned the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill, and he should like to say one word with reference to the Bill for shortening the hours of labour in shops. He thought the case for the consideration of that Bill by the House was in three respects stronger than that for the Bill for the miners. The hon. Member had said that the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill had been passed by considerable majorities in this House. But the Bill for shortening the hours of labour in shops was drawn up in accordance with a Resolution unanimously adopted in this House. Then the Bill which dealt with miners was a Bill which dealt primarily with men, whilst the Bill which dealt with the labour of those employed in shops was a Bill which dealt to a very great extent with the labour of women, and that, he thought, was a second reason which gave the Bill a special claim on the attention of this House. The third ground upon which he asked for consideration for that Bill was that the Miners' Bill related to 63 a question of eight hours' work, but the Bill which related to those employed in shops referred to 10, 12, and 14 hours' work. He submitted that these were three very strong reasons why a grant of time should be given by the House to the passage of that Bill. He had moved the Bill several times after 12 o'clock or after half-past 5. He did so only the previous night, and it was blocked by a supporter of Her Majesty's Government coming from the Sister Isle (Dr. Tanner). What he wished to ask was whether the Government would use their influence with their supporters so that the Bill when it came on might not be blocked by a single Member of this House, but might be referred to a Select Committee, where it could be considered and whore it would really take up no time whatever of this House? It was a Bill which related to the lives, comfort, and health of hundreds of thousands of their fellow-countrymen and country-women, and if the Government would use their influence with their supporters not to block this Bill they might place it on the Statute Book this Session without occupying any part of the time of the House.
§ MR. J. STEWART WALLACE (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)
reminded the House that there was a Bill in which the London Members were deeply interested—namely, the Equalisation of Bates Bill (London). They should be glad if facilities could be given for passing this Bill. At the same time, they did not wish to press the Government unduly, and should be prepared to agree to their having the additional time for which they asked.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, if they were to consider the claims of various Bills he would like to refer to two to which he respectfully asked the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One was a Bill which had repeatedly passed this House by large majorities, in which great interest was felt in various parts of the country, and with reference to which they had last year a promise from the late President of the Local Government Board that he would do what he could to promote its passage. He referred to the Rating of Machinery Bill. The other was a Government Bill, not a Bill exciting interest from a Party point of view, tout a Bill in which great interest was 64 felt in this country—namely, the Railway and Canal Traffic Bill. That was a Bill which they had reason to expect that the late President of the Board of Trade would have used his influence to obtain precedence for, and he trusted that such a Bill would not be lost sight of.
§ *SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
observed, that there was a certain hollowness and want of reality in the discussion. They all knew that the business of the country must be carried on, and that if the Amendment of the hon. Member for St. Helen's were passed, the business of the country could not be carried on. He rose for the purpose of saying he could not help feeling in some agreement with what had been said by nearly every speaker—namely, that if the Government took the whole time of the House, Members ought to have some notion of what they were going to do with it. It was perfectly natural that hon. Members should seek for precedence being given to the measures in which they felt particular interest. There was one measure, however, for which he claimed special consideration, not only because that measure was placed second on the Newcastle Programme, but because he believed that it was the only measure ever introduced into Parliament which had been supported practically by the unanimous vote of every single Representative of the country affected by it. For that reason, he ventured to press on the Chancellor of the Exchequer the claims of Welsh Disestablishment. The only just and proper way of measuring the urgency of a question was to take the opinion of the persons representing the country or nationality affected. That, at any rate, was the view of the Leader of the Liberal Unionist Party. There was another reason why the Bill should receive the consideration of the Government. Since the First Reading there had been a cry to arms in every diocese in the country, and the drum ecclesiastic had been beaten in every parish, and a number of falsehoods had been uttered and written with reference to the Welsh Members and their supporters. The only opportunity Welsh Members had of refuting these abominable calumnies on themselves, their supporters, and their country was on the floor of the House of Commons. Upon that ground, and not at all because they commanded 30 or 40 65 votes, and could, if they pleased, place the Government in a minority—he should be ashamed to rest his claim on such a ground as that—he asked the Government to give some promise that they would press forward the Bill this Session.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I would point out to the House that what is now before the House is the Amendment of the hon. Member for St. Helen's. That, I take it, is not an Amendment which is likely to receive general support; but I understand there is an Amendment going to be moved to limit the operation of our request to the financial proposals of the Government. I have stated already why the Government cannot accept that proposal, and why I think, without any undue controversy, we might settle the question by the vote of the House. The hon. Member for Waterford and others have appealed to me to answer questions. The hon. Member for Waterford said he thought it was a very reasonable question on his part to ask, though he did not know whether I would think it discreet on my part to answer it. But I would remind the hon. Member that there is a very old French saying that there is no such thing as indiscreet questions; it is only the answers that are indiscreet. That is a distinction which has an application in the present case. I think the various questions that have been addressed to me justify the statement I made at the opening—that it would be highly indiscreet on my part to answer one or the other, or to answer at all. The real truth is, that I am extremely well affected to all these Bills. It is the sincerest desire of my heart to carry them all into law and during the present Session. No doubt I am regarded by private Members, as I have been more or less described by the Member for St. Helen's, as the highway-man who is robbing private Members of their time, and therefore I might be allowed to adopt the language of the most celebrated of that class, who, when hesitating between Polly and Lucy, said—How happy could I be with either,Were t'other dear charmer away.Among these conflicting claims it is not in my power to say now what are the measures the Government will be able to deal with, or what is the order in which they intend to take them. Whether the 66 House is satisfied with that declaration or not I do not know, but I am obliged to put the request of the Government in the way I have done. I have said before that I put it to the House knowing that it is a large demand, knowing, if my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham thinks fit to say so, that it is a demand not justified by former precedents. But still, under the circumstances of this case, and in the position which the Government find themselves, we ask the House to give us the time upon the terms that we ask for it. I hope I have not put it to the House in a manner which would affect any section of it. I am desirous that a matter in which the whole House is interested should be judged of and decided by the House, and I hope, therefore, the hon. Member for St. Helen's will withdraw his Amendment and allow the other Amendment which has been suggested to be put forward, and then the opinion of the House may be taken upon it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
I think I may appeal to my hon. Friend as to whether he thinks it worth while to divide upon the Amendment which he has moved. In his speech my hon. Friend seemed to think that the two Front Benches were leagued together in a conspiracy against the rights of private Members, but I can assure him that that is not so. It is not in my power to deny that the Government, if they will only give us a clear statement of what their intentions are, have a right to make some demand upon us. In these circumstances I think it would be worth while for my hon. Friend not to press his Amendment and to allow us to get to the subject which, after all, is the one in controversy between us at the present moment. I think it will be most convenient for us to move an Amendment, broadly speaking, declaring that until the Government do give us their intentions with regard to the course of public business they shall have no privileges other than those they now possess, except possibly with regard to financial business. That raises the issue which, I think, in all quarters of the House we desire to raise, and I therefore appeal to my hon. Friend, if he sees fit, to withdraw the Amendment which he has a right to move, a right which I recognise fully. We should then be able to raise the one question which ought to 67 be raised, and upon which we ought to divide and take the sense of the House.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's,) Hanover Square
I now beg to move—That, until this House is placed in possession of the views of the Government as to the measures with which they intend to proceed, no additional facilities should be granted for the discussion of Government measures except only for the furtherance of financial business.The Government must be aware that not only on this side of the House, but in all quarters of the House there exists a desire that it should be known with what Bills they intend to proceed after the financial business has been disposed of. We have a right, I think, to claim the support of all the hon. Members who have spoken in this direction. The hon. Baronet the Member for Denbighshire said he believed the Government ought to state their intentions, and from various quarters their own supporters have pressed the same claim. The right hon. Gentleman has not been able to give any reply to any of the questions that have been put to him. He said how happy he would be with either were t'other dear charmer away, but he did not quote the next two lines, which are—But as you both tease me together,To neither a word will I say.We wish that he should say a word to his supporters, and also that the House should be informed, before it gives these large powers, what the policy of Her Majesty's Government is to be. What possible objection can the Government have to show their hand? It must be shown at some time or other. The moment must come when the Government will have to choose to which of these charmers it will ultimately yield, and why should not that be done now? Has the Government got so little confidence in its own supporters that it thinks that if it makes a statement of any kind it will cool the enthusiasm of some of its supporters? I will say in the most couciliatory manner that the House generally, I think, is entitled to know something more of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government. We are now parting with the time of the House for financial business. That we are entirely agreed upon. That has been accepted, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows, 68 with the greatest promptitude by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition; but are we now to take this leap in the dark and to give the whole time of the House without knowing whether it is to be given to the Evicted Tenants Bill, to the Repeal of the Crimes Act, to the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, or to the Equalisation of Rates Bill, or to any other Bill? The House, I am sure, has never been placed in such a position of doubt as to the intentions of Her Majesty's Government when making a demand like this; and I think we are entitled, if the Government should not see fit to make any reply as to any other business beyond financial business, to ask the opinion of the House on the question.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the first word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words,
Until this House is placed in possession of the views of the Government as to the measures with which they intend to proceed, no additional facilities should be granted for the discussion of Government measures except only for the furtherance of financial business."—(Mr. Goschen.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am a little surprised at the form of this Amendment after the statement of the Leader of the Opposition that he considered it would not be reasonable to ask me at this time to state what Bills the Government meant to proceed with or what measures they meant to drop. And then the Member for St. George's, who, I must say, on many occasions lately has not been absolutely in conformity with the views of the Leader of the Opposition, gets up and says, "Tell us the measures you are going to drop. Why should you not tell us at once?" Those are statements I find it rather difficult to reconcile. I have said before that, until I know what time we shall have at our disposal after the financial business is done, it is impossible for me to make such a statement. If you ask me now—and you know I cannot make that statement of the Bills the Government intend to drop—I can only give you one answer, and that is—they intend to drop none of them. [Cheers and Opposition laughter, and cries of "Oh!"] That is the result 69 of asking a question, which can only be answered in one way, and of asking it at the wrong time. I cannot tell you what Bills I intend to drop or that I do not intend to drop. That has been admitted by the Leader of the Opposition to be an unreasonable demand, and I hope it will cot be persisted in. I do not wish to waste the time of the House by repeating what I have already said. I have told the House why I am not able to make that statement, and, if I were able to make it, I should only be too glad to lay it before the consideration of the House.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, he very seldom found himself in a position to sympathise with the Government, but he confessed that he did sympathise with the position in which they now found themselves. To ask them to state now what Bills they were going to drop was a very largo order. Suppose the Chancellor of the Exchequer were now to state that, after giving due consideration to the claims of the different Bills, the Government found they would be unable to proceed with the Welsh Disestablishment Bill. Just fancy what would happen in Wales! The revolt of the four Members would be nothing to what would take place immediately on such an announcement being made. And if the right hon. Gentleman proposed to drop the Evicted Tenants Bill what a difficult position the Government would be placed in in Ireland! Had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's no bowels of compassion for Her Majesty's Government under such circumstances? Then there was the Local Veto Hill. That had been a most useful Bill for Her Majesty's Government. It secured for them a great many valuable votes at the last General Election; it served the most admirable purpose of getting the temperance votes without doing anything for the Temperance Party. Why should the Member for St. George's ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to prick that bubble at this early date when it could be made to do duty for a month or two longer? He entirely approved of the refusal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give an answer to such an awkward and inconvenient question as that addressed to him by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. They had heard that this proposal was entirely unprecedented. 70 Was it any the worse for that? He remembered the Chancellor of the Exchequer getting up a few weeks ago and saying that this Government was as justly entitled to make precedents as any other Government. But the question he wanted to ask was this. As they were now close upon the month of June, perhaps the Leader of the House would tell them what facilities were to be given for Supply. It was only in Supply that they could discuss the administration of the Government, and things were getting into such a state that it was quite impossible to get any discussion of administration at all. He had very little sympathy with those who demanded facilities for Bills of all kinds. But who were to blame for such demands being made? The Government were to blame, because of the reckless promises they had made. He thought the Government wore bound to give information as to their intentions in respect to Supply.
*MR. KEIR-HARDIE (West Ham, S.)
said, that year by year this same Motion came up when the Government of the day had got the business of the House into a state of absolute confusion. However, his object in rising was to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer not for a pledge as to what Bills he was going to drop or to carry, but what pledge ho had given as to the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill. His hon. Friend the Member for the Normanton Division (Mr. Pickard) had said he had received an assurance from the Government which satisfied him. Having had one experience of a Government pledge, they had a right to ask that what had been promised in private should be disclosed in public. Last Session, when the fate of the Local Veto Bill seemed to be in the balance, an hon. Member interested in that most important measure said he had just had an interview with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his statement was that, if ever two men were pledged to the lips in regard to a measure, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were so pledged in respect to the Local Veto Bill—not that it would be passed last Session, but that it would have the place of honour this Session. The Notice Paper to-day showed hon. Members interested in the temperance question how that pledge had been kept. 71 Under such circumstances, if the Government were not prepared to make the statement in regard to the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill which they were said to have made in private, those Members who desired to see the Bill passed would be justified in supporting the Amendment.
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
agreed with the hon. Member for South Tyrone when he said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been very profuse in his promises; the right hon. Gentleman was really a perfect cornucopia of promises. But in regard to the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given a promise upon which he could hardly go back. The right hon. Gentleman would remember, too, that the Second Reading of the Bill was carried by a very large majority; that the Home Secretary strongly supported it, and that the First Lord of the Treasury was most strongly in favour of it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had pledged himself to carry or to give great facilities for carrying the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill, and he called upon him to say what they were and whether they were to be given this Session.
§ *MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said, he did not think the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer could be aware of the words of the Amendment now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman said he thought it was unreasonable that the Government should not be held obliged to pass their measures. Was there anything conflicting with that statement in the Amendment? The justification for the Amendment was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not put the House in possession of the information which would enable the House to judge which of the Government measures he intended to proceed with. The only justification attempted for the course proposed was, forsooth, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer wanted money. If the House adopted the Amendment as they should do the Government would get all they asked; and the Opposition were really, and not for the first time, rendering a service to the Government by offering them an Amendment which would postpone the evil day when they would be obliged to announce to the House which of their numerous pledges they would be 72 unable to redeem. By consenting to the Amendment the Government would get perhaps another six, certainly four, weeks more of the advantage which, as had been pointed out by the hon. Member for South Tyrone, they had derived from having placed on record a large number of promises. Their programme had been described by one of their own supporters as a "promising" one. Let them get from it as much advantage as they might derive from the postponement of the repudiation of a large portion of it.
§ *MR. ROBY (Lancashire, S. E., Eccles)
said, if the Amendment were adopted the Government would get no time whatever. He would vote most heartily for the Government Resolution both on account of his sympathy generally with their programme and his interest in one particular measure, the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill. If the Government found it necessary to take the whole time of the House he was quite ready to give it them. In his opinion, they wished to redeem their promises; and as regarded the Miners' Bill, his impression was that the Government, if they carried this Resolution, would so arrange matters as to afford time for the full discussion of a measure the success of which was desired not alone on one side of the House.
*MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, he had no wish to follow the example of hon. Gentlemen who had been industriously grinding their own axes, but desired to draw attention to an important paragraph of the Resolution, which had not yet been referred to by any speaker—that portion of it touching the suspension of the Twelve o'Clock Rule. Last Session when appeals were made by the Member for Midlothian as Prime Minister for additional time for discussing his favourite measure, the Home Rule Bill, he always said the very last step he would take with the view of affording facilities for that purpose would be the suspension of that Rule, and the right hon. Gentleman at the same time went on to say that if such a course had to be adopted it would be necessary to engage an additional staff of undertakers.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, as the Sessional Order had been drawn per incuriam, the Government had been, obliged to make special reference to the suspension of the Twelve o'Clock Rule. 73 On many occasions revisions had had to be made in that way in order to carry out the business of the Session.
said, he was going on to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the main business of this Session was evidently finance. That was the main Government business this Session, and for which the right hon. Gentleman asked for the whole time of the House. But that was unfortunately, so far as the Finance Bill was concerned, unnecessary, for that Bill would escape the operation of the Twelve o'Clock Rule through a technicality, though it would be contrary to the general understanding if it were to be proceeded with at a later hour. He could understand the augmenter of the Death Duties not having the same fear of the contingency referred to by the late Prime Minister as would an ordinary mortal. He was asking the House to give him all the time at its disposal, involving a series of late Sittings, without any assurances whatever. Neither in his own experience nor in that of any other Member of the House had such a proposal been made to enable Government business to be proceeded with unless it had been preceded and accompanied by a full statement by the Government of the use they proposed to make of it. That had been the invariable rule. Some reference had been made to a process known as the "Massacre of the Innocents," and the right hon. Gentleman had said that it would be premature to take such a step; but he would remember that it had been almost the invariable practice to announce a preliminary massacre. He could not remember a Session when there had not been two massacres at least. It had always been the practice, when any application was made to the House for additional facilities, for the Government to state precisely what measures they intended to carry, what measures they hoped to be able to carry, and those of which they could speak with no great confidence. The right hon. Gentleman had issued his advertisements of measures to be brought in—had, as it were, placed them on all the hoardings, and he was hoping to get hon. Members into the Lobby to support him now, each hoping that perhaps his own particular hobby might hereafter be included. He had seen that process 74 adopted before, and he did not think it would succeed now. The House had a right to ask the right hon. Gentleman to take it into his confidence, otherwise it should decline to grant his request.
would like to hear some explanation of the remark made by the hon. Member for Eccles that the reason he was going to support the Resolution was that the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill would be carried through.
§ MR. BARTLEY
said, that was so, but also because it would be the means of passing the Miners (Eight Hours) Bill. Was the House to understand that in addition to their long programme the Government were going to pick out certain private Members' Bills and make them Government measures in order to pass them? Did the hon. Member's statement mean anything of that kind? Were they to understand that there was some secret arrangement between the Government and one or two sections of the House that their particular measures would be adopted by the Government, and so brought within the purview of the House? If that was the case a discovery had been made which deserved serious consideration. It was bad enough to give up the whole time to Government measures, but the House would be altogether stultifying itself to do so in order to enable the Government to adopt a selection of private measures. That was never contemplated by the Standing Orders. Difficult though it was to get an answer from the Government about anything, he must request an answer to that question, and also to be informed when their various measures were to be brought forward. He acknowledged the conciliatory manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had introduced the Resolution, but he would like to refer to two or three points which had struck him. ["Time!"] He was not going to have the whole time taken from private Members without protesting in some way about it. If the Government could get through their Finance Bill and Supply, that was all they would be able to do this Session. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman had stated so himself, for he could not tell the House what measures they would 75 bring forward until they were got rid of. It was a very common thing for private Members to be abused for having done so little, but, as compared with what the Government had done, private Members had, on the five or six Wednesdays at their disposal this Session, brought in some nine measures of public importance, including Bills dealing with the Patent Law, the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Criminal Law Procedure, Miners' Eight Hours, Church Patronage, Outdoor Relief, and Friendly Societies—measures which had passed their Second Heading. While private Members had set to work in that business-like way the Government had only been able to pass two measures, the Registration and Budget Bill, to a Second Reading. Private Members, therefore, could not be accused of wasting time, whatever might be said of the Government. Only last Friday a Conservative Member had to move the Closure against a Radical opposition. The Chancellor of the Exchequer hoped to be able to pass all his Bills. No doubt he was keenly anxious to bring on the Local Veto Bill, and nothing would delight him more than to obtain a Second Reading for it. For the last two years he had been putting that Bill down, but through unfortunate circumstances over which he had no control he had not been able to secure a Second Reading for it. Well, the House would let him take all the time at its disposal if he would state what Bills he would take and the order he would take them in.
§ MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
reminded the House of au occasion when he was asked to withdraw an Amendment he had placed on the Paper, and hoped they were not to have a repetition of what had occurred last year. He trusted they would not have to sit through August and September in order to discuss Supply. The right hon. Gentleman should inform the House what he intended to do, and that they would have a fair chance of discussing the question of finance without having au Autumn Session and a Winter Session to follow it.
§ MR. BENN (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had rightly said the House had not much to thank hon. Members opposite for their services during their Parliamentary career. No doubt the behaviour 76 of certain Members had been unsatisfactory. Why was it that the Government were compelled at this stage to ask for the whole time of the House? The hon. Member for North Islington had invited attention to what private Members had done. As a private Member he had a grievance that private Members on the other side of the House made it impossible for others to do anything. He had gone into the matter and had found that three Members in particular on the opposite side had during the last 12 months addressed the House no less than l,5CO times! It was as well the country should know how the time of Parliament was occupied. The hon. Member for North Islington had risen no less than 429 times. Indefatigable as he had been, however, he was beaten by the hon. Member for Preston, who had appeared 532 times. But the prize in this time-wasting competition was due to the hon. Member for King's Lynn, who had to be credited with 533 speeches and questions. ["Question!"] This was a very important question, and it was desirable the House should know why they were in this position. The Member for South Tyrone asked who was to blame? He was endeavouring to show. Had other private Members exercised their rights to the same extent there would have been something like 300,000 speeches and questions in connection with the business of the House. Those gentlemen should give other private Members a chance. Then as to the doings of the party of obstruction last year. Parliament sat on 216 days, giving an average of eight and a-half hours for Members' attendance each day. Allowing half the time to the Front Benches, it left about 900 hours for private Members, or one and a-half hours each for the year. Yet the hon. Member for King's Lynn had taken up 44 hours of the time of the House.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The record may be interesting in the proper place; but I do not think it is relevant, either to the original Resolution or to the Amendment, to go into the past history of private Members.
§ MR. BENN
thanked the Speaker for his indulgence up to that point, and desired only to say that, in consequence of the conduct of particular Members of the House, it had been impossible for other private Members to do anything. He 77 expressed the hope that in future those gentlemen who were so solicitous about the rights of private Members would so shape their Parliamentary conduct that some of those Members who were not so accomplished or so forward would have a share of the time of the House.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down informed us that, according to an elaborate calculation which he has framed, every private Member of this House might have been allocated an hour and a-half during the Parliamentary year without trenching on the time enjoyed by his neighbours. I do not know whether the portion of the 1½ hours which he considers his right has, in his opinion, been well occupied on the present occasion. It appears to me that he was not altogether felicitous in the occasion which he chose to go into the past Parliamentary history of other Members and to tax gentlemen with irrelevance or undue prolongation of debate. However, I will not follow the hon. Gentleman. I rise rather to bring back the Debate to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the very important issue on which we shall divide. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in dealing with this Amendment, observed that there was, in his judgment, a difference of opinion between the right hon. Member for St. George's and myself, and that the Amendment on which we are about to divide was in direct contradiction to the sentiments I had expressed at an earlier period this evening. I may say, in order to remove from the right hon. Gentleman's mind any suspicion that there is any divergence of opinion between my right hon. Friend and myself, that I was myself the drafter of the Amendment, a responsibility I am the more anxious to admit because, while the Amendment expresses with sufficient clearness the opinions which we entertain, it would not, I am afraid, bear very close scrutiny as a matter of Parliamentary drafting. It was drawn up in great haste, and I do not say it is beyond criticism as a question of Parliamentary language; but passing by the question of the language of the Amendment and coming to the subject of it, I wish to call the attention of the House to the extraordinary position in which we are placed by the Government. Three at least of 78 the hon. Members sitting on the other side of the House have told us that they or their friends have received official assurance with regard to the business of Parliament, and as to the course which the Government mean to adopt. We have been told that with regard to the Mines Bill certainly, and with regard to the Crimes Act Repeal Bill possibly, there have been declarations made in private, on the part of the Government, as to the course which they will adopt. So that the Government are prepared for their own purposes to take certain sections of the House into their confidence; but when the Government come to ask for the whole time of the House, and that hon. Members shall resign the small fragments of liberty which remain to them, they cannot take the House into their confidence. Is that a fair thing? Is that fair treatment of the House? The right hon. Gentleman has heard these statements made, and he has not ventured to contradict them, so that we are bound to assume them to be true, and, for anything we know, each one of the numerous sections into which his followers are divided—the gentlemen from Wales who are so patient, the gentlemen interested in Local Veto, gentlemen interested in the Evicted Tenants Bill, and all the other sections who are looking forward, I will not say with expectation or with hope, but with vague longings towards something in future to be given, each in turn has been quieted in private in order that they may give no trouble to the right hon. Gentleman in public. The right hon. Gentleman is, of course, at liberty to take what steps he likes in dealing with his recalcitrant followers and in crushing out the beginning of the conflagration which may threaten the fortunes of his Party. But I think that the Government, if they are in a position to give private pledges, ought not to feel themselves precluded from giving public pledges also. All we ask is that upon an occasion when so much is asked from us we shall not be treated worse than small knots of private Members who come forward and threaten the Government with destruction unless they get their fair share of the Government time. Let the House notice what we are asked to give up in this Resolution. We are not even told that we are not to have an Autumn Session, although, as 79 far as I know, a pledge may have been given that we are to have an Autumn Session. Indeed, rumours are going about the Lobby—possibly ill-founded rumours—that we are to be troubled with an Autumn Session in order to meet the claims of one or the other of the contending factions which support the Government. Surely the Rules of business under which an Autumn Session is to be conducted should be settled when the time comes, and not now at a time when we know nothing of the policy of the Government? Never before has the House been asked to settle procedure the circumstances of which have not arisen, which may not arise, and with regard to which no indication whatever has been given. The Government will see by the very terms of our Amendment that we are, as we have already stated on previous occasions, prepared to give every assistance in the transaction of the necessary financial business. We shall be prepared when the time comes to help them in the case of any reasonable schemes of Government business. But to give them these enormous facilities for a scheme that may be unreasonable, that may require us to sit into September, and even throughout au Autumn Session, without telling us what they are doing, is surely to make a demand on our confidence that nothing the Government have hitherto done entitles them to make. There is one further point to which I wish to call the attention of the House; that one of the Bills, in fact the main Bill, upon which we have been assured on the faith of hon. Gentlemen in this House that private pledges have been given by the Government, is not a Government Bill at all, but a Private Bill. That is a Bill which I quite admit is not a Party measure. It is a Bill in which my noble Friend near me takes a deep interest, and which others who agree with me in politics are also anxious to support Therefore, it is not from a Party point of view, but from a public point of view, that I wish to criticise the policy of the Government. That Bill was passed through a Second Reading on a Wednesday afternoon as a private measure. Had it been a Government Bill at that stage of our proceedings, it would never have got through in four hours' discussion. [Cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen who cheer that statement, and who apparently approve of 80 passing controversial Bills through the Second Reading after only four hours' discussion, have not one of them when in opposition favoured such a policy. I challenge any hon. Member on the Front Ministerial Bench or on those behind it to go back upon his own Parliamentary experience when in opposition and say that he would have tolerated the passing through the House in such a manner a Government measure so important and naturally leading to so much legitimate Debate as the Eight Hours Bill. Not one will dare answer that challenge. Let the House observe the position we are in. The Government give private pledges about Private Bills, and tell their followers, in order to conciliate them on occasions like this, that they mean to give facilities for the consideration of those Private Bills at some date unknown; but they will not tell us what their policy is, or what measures they are going to carry forward, and we are asked to grant the whole time of the House, not for a brief and limited time, but for anything we know until the end of the year, or oven possibly until next March, for the last Session lasted until March, and no pledges are now given that such shall not be the case as regards this Session, and yet not the slightest idea is afforded of what is to be the character of the legislation which the Government propose for our acceptance. No such proposal has over before been made by any Government. We desire to meet them in a conciliatory spirit, to give the Government all the facilities they want for the transaction of the business they have declared themselves prepared to pass, and I certainly have no wish to hold out that it is my intention to oppose any reasonable facilities for carrying out the general programme of the Government that might be reasonable. But to ask me or those who agree with me to vote blindly and in absolute darkness for this enormous extension of the Government power, when the Government themselves deliberately tell us that they will not give us any information as to how that power is to be used, is to make a demand upon our forbearance and confidence in them which they have no right to make. No other Government has ever made such a demand, and to no other Government has such a power been granted. I think that 81 the House ought to retain that portion of our liberty which remains to us, and should insist that full information shall be given before giving up the whole of our time to be used as the Government may choose.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, he was only going to take one or two minutes of the hour and a-half that was allocated by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Benn), but he would like to know from the right hon. Gentleman how he knew that private assurances had been given by the Government?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It has been so stated by the hon. Gentlemen themselves to whom the pledges were given.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he had listened to the Debate, and, so far as he could gather, hon. Gentlemen had only stated what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said in the House.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he had been listening, and he gathered they only repeated what had been said in the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he gathered they had stated that Ministers had expressed a sympathetic hope in private as well as in public. Well, that was the mission of Ministers, to express a sympathetic hope; but if they were private pledges let them distinctly understand whether they were made. As the matter at present stood, the right hon. Gentleman had got sufficient data on which to found a charge against Ministers of giving specific private pledges that were not given in the House. As regarded the question itself, what was the argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite? Hon. Gentlemen said they would be perfectly ready to agree to the proposal of the Government to take the time of the House during the remainder of the Session if the Government would state to them what Bills they were going to bring in during the Session and in what order. [Cries of "No!"] Yes, it had been said, but he did not say it had been said by the right hon. Gentleman. [Cries of "By whom?"] A legion. How, possibly, could Ministers say what Bills they intended to bring in until they 82 knew precisely themselves what amount of time they would have at their disposal? The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he was not going to make two bites at a cherry. He (Mr. Labouchere) seldom supported the two Front Benches; but now that there was contention between them, and he had to make a selection, he selected his own side, as he thought his own side had the best of the argument. By hon. Gentlemen opposite it was said that the Finance Bill would take a month, which would bring them to the 30th of June, and did hon. Gentlemen doubt that if on that date Ministers came forward and asked for the whole time of the House that it would not be given to them? Therefore, not to take the whole time now would be making two bites of a cherry. If the Finance Bill was finished before the 30th of June no doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer would tell them of a great many Bills he proposed to go on with; if it finished on the 30th of Juno the right hon. Gentleman would tell them of some Bills; if it went beyond that he would not be aide to tell them of many Bills, simply because there would be no time. But the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, "Tell us now whether there will be an Autumn Session?" Why should the Government tell them? He would like to know himself. He had often asked Ministers, in private talk, if there was likely to be an Autumn Session, and they had said they really did not know whether there would or not, but that was no pledge either way, because they really knew nothing about the matter, and on the last day of May it was hard upon hon. Gentlemen to say they would vote for this and not for that unless they got a pledge as to whether there was to be an Autumn Session or not. He had sometimes opposed this inroad into the time of private Members, but he did think, judging the matter fairly and impartially, that Ministers at the present time had got a fair and legitimate claim considering the mess they had got into—if the Opposition liked to put it that way—to ask for the whole time of the House, and he should vote with them.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, he also agreed that Ministers had a good claim to ask the House to give them time—[Cries of "Divide!"] He should only detain the House just for a few minutes. He admitted that 83 Ministers had the right to ask for the time of the House at this period, and they were by no means indisposed to give the time, but to give the time that was required for the purpose specified. That was reasonable, and he submitted the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unreasonable to ask for more. The right hon. Gentleman had told them he wanted the time for the Finance Bill and for Supply. They were ready to give that time, and why should the right hon. Gentleman ask for more? The right hon. Gentleman had been extremely amenable; lie had shown such sweet reasonableness that he (Mr. Gibson Bowles) imagined there ought to be no difficulty about it. [Cries of "Divide!"] Yes, they would divide in time. He submitted that no ground was shown for asking for this time except for the Finance Bill and Supply. [Here the interruptions and cries of "Divide!" became so frequent that the rest of the hon. Member's observations failed to reach the Reporters' Gallery.]
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 258; Noes 233.—(Division List, No. 68.) Main Question put.
The House divided: — Ayes 234; Noes 217.—(Division List, No. 69.)
Ordered, That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business have priority on Wednesday; that, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet on Friday at Three of the clock; that Standing Order No. 11 be suspended, and the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to the other days of the week; that the Reports of the Committee of Supply and Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, though opposed, and the proceedings thereon be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, except of Standing Order No. 5.—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)