HC Deb 28 February 1895 vol 31 cc54-83

*THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (SIR W. HARCOURT, Derby) rose to move: "That, until Easter, Government Business have priority on Tuesdays, that on Friday the House do meet at Two of the clock, and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to Tuesday and the Morning Sitting on Friday." He said: We have now arrived at the time at which it has been usual for the Government to ask the House for additional time for the transaction of Public Business. An application of this kind was made by the late Government in 1892, on March 3; and in 1893 it was made a little earlier—that is, on February 27—by my right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian. Therefore I am making the application at a time when it is usual to make this demand. Let us see exactly what the situation is, and what the time at the disposal of the House and the Government. There are fixed dates for certain business, dates which may be taken as unalterable, on my authority, and on that of those who have preceded me in the office which I hold. First of all, the latest date when the Royal Assent can be given to the Ways and Means Bill, which authorises the financial arrangements of the year, is March 28. It is taken before the actual close of the financial year, because there are demands in respect of the Irish Constabulary and of the Education Department, which the Treasury must be prepared to meet on April 1. March 28 is, therefore, the last day on which the Royal Assent can be given. Her Majesty will be abroad at that time, and, in order that the Royal Assent may be given on the day which I have named, the Bill must be read in the House of Lords a third time on March 26, and that again is a fixed date. We are now in the habit of doing things very rapidly, and it would be possible to condense into one day the Third Reading in this House and all the stages of the Bill in the House of Lords. This would permit of the Introduction of the Bill in this House on the 21st, and it would have to be read a second time on the 22nd. The Report of Supply, which gives rise generally to considerable discussion, and the Report of Ways and Means could be taken on Thursday, the 21st. So, if you use every possible means of compression, the very latest day for closing Committee of Supply and introducing the Bill will be the 21st, but I cannot say that it is safe, in my opinion, to fix a later day than the 18th. The House will remember the great pressure under which the Government found themselves last year in consequence of the change of Administration, and yet even in those circumstances the day on which the Ways and Means Bill was introduced was March 19. Whether you take the 18th or the 21st, those are the dates by which you must have completed your Supply in Committee and your Reports of Supply and Ways and Means. Just consider what the situation of the Government will be if we are confined to the regular rule. The time available for the financial business of the Government will be three days or four days, according as you fix the 21st or the 18th for the Introduction of the Bill.

MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how there will be only three days?


I am counting Government days only. I am assuming that we only have Mondays and Thursdays. What are the obligations that have to be fulfilled in those three or four days? I will state what the circumstances are as explained by an authority whom hon. Gentlemen opposite will respect—I mean the Leader of the Opposition, whose absence we all regret. As I have said, the application for further time was made to the House by that right hon. Gentleman in 1892 on March 3. It was made under circumstances which made it of much earlier application in regard to time than we are in to-day. Parliament met on the 9th of February in that Session—that is, four days later than we did this year. Then they had this advantage—that they were allowed to get the Address in answer to the Speech from the Throne in a week; we have had to wait for a fortnight. That is to say, the Opposition has demanded this year twice as much time from the Government. I am not aware what all the Motions were, but I do not wish to introduce controversial matter. As a fact, there was only one week occupied that Session in the Debate on the Address; this Session there has been a fortnight occupied. Parliament met in 1892 on February 9th, and the Debate on the Address closed on the 15th; this year we met on the 5th, and the Debate on the Address closed upon the 18th. That, of course, has left less time at the disposal of the Government. We have had, besides, Motions of Adjournment, which have taken up a considerable portion of time. Therefore, we are worse off, in respect of time, than the Government was on March 1, 1892. The Motion made in 1892 was a far more comprehensive Motion than the present. That Motion was not confined to Easter, but extended to the whole Session. There was no limitation to the Motion. It is sometimes said—in fact, it is always said—that a particular Motion brought forward has no precedent. Why, of course, it has not. The Motion itself is the precedent. It always has references to the necessities and conveniencies and particular circumstances of the time. There was absolutely no precedent for the Motion made on March 3rd, 1892. Not one of these Motions made in any year was exactly the same as the Motion made in any other year, and therefore in that sense, no doubt, each Motion is without precedent. The Motion in 1892 was in these terms— That the House do meet on Tuesday and Friday at Two o'clock; that the principal business at such morning sittings shall be Financial Business and proceedings on the Introduction and First Reading of Bills; and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to such sittings. In one respect, as I have said, it is more comprehensive, because it covers the whole Session; in other respects it is more limited, because it is limited to particular objects. Now, I will confine myself for a moment to the Financial question to see how we stand. We have the whole of the Supplementary and other Estimates to get through before the end of the financial year, just as the Government of that day had. But there is another material circumstance, for I may inform the House that there is a very large Supplementary Estimate for the Navy, which, probably, will require discussion in this House. Therefore, the Supplementary Estimates that have to be dealt with are larger and heavier than those of 1892. The right hon. Gentleman on that occasion said that, in addition to the Supplementary Estates— there are the first Navy Vote and the first Army Vote to be got through; and we also require to take a Vote on Account. I believe that, though it is not absolutely necessary that all of these Votes should be taken before the Appropriation Bill is introduced, it is absolutely necessary they should all be taken before the end of the financial year, but it would be a matter to be regretted if you could not, before the Introduction of the Consolidated Fund Bill, take the Preliminary Votes for the Army and the Navy. Now, see what that means. This means not only a Vote in the Committee, but it means the discussion, with the Speaker in the Chair, before you go into Committee. Therefore, you have to dispose of the Supplementary Estimates and the Preliminary Army and Navy Votes, and you have to get the Speaker out of the Chair and these two Votes taken, if you want to do the Financial Business of the country by March 21. Is the House of Commons going to say that four days are enough for that? They could not say it in 1892, and they did not say it on February 27th, 1893. I undertake to say the House as a business assembly would not say the financial work of the House could be transacted within the time that is available. So much for Finance. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with the other branches of his Motion, and I ask the attention of the House to this as coming from the Leader of the Opposition— A fashion for discussing measures before they are seen appears to be growing in certain quarters of the House, and I am far on this occasion from desiring to raise any question of debate; but the fact, at all events, will be admitted, and that it is highly inconvenient, both from the point of view of hon. Members who wish to acquaint themselves with the real provisions of a Government measure, and also from the point of view of the outside public, that Bills should be suspended, that they should not he placed before the country, and that we should be deprived of the advantage of hearing the criticisms which would be passed upon them by the various parts of the country affected by them. Therefore, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman claimed two things. He claimed for the whole of the Session that the discussions, not on merely the Supplementary Estimates, but on the whole of the Estimates for the next year, should be in the time which was to be given to the Government by this Resolution, as also should the discussions of the First Reading of Bills on account of what he described—and I heartily agree with him—as the extremely unbusinesslike and mischievous practice of protracting Debates on the First Reading of Bills before they were laid before the House. I think that is one of the most unbusinesslike things it is possible to do and a great waste of public time. That, Sir, was an unprecedented proposal on the part of the Government. How was it met by the Leader of the Opposition of that day, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian? Did he come down here and say it was monstrous to make such a Motion, that it was an unprecedented proposal, that such a thing had never been heard of, and that the Opposition would not consent to it? On the contrary, he said it was a wide proposal to be made on the 3rd of March, Parliament having only met on the 9th of February, and that it was a proposal to give away the whole of Tuesdays and Fridays—that was, the Morning Sittings—for the entire Session of Parliament. He said it was a wide proposal, and unquestionably it was, but he did not offer it uncompromising opposition. He made a suggestion and an Amendment that the proposal should be confined to the period before Easter, and that was carried and accepted by the House. That is exactly the proposal we have made. We have not made a proposal to cover the whole of the Session, but we have made a proposal for the time up to Easter, which is identical with the proposal which, as I have said, was on the occasion to which I refer accepted by the House on the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Midlothian. I think the Government have pretty fairly followed the precedent of the previous Government, and I hope the Opposition will follow the precedent of the Opposition of that day in their manner of dealing with the matter. So much for that part of the proposal. I have said with reference to the date, March 21, that that is necessary for dealing with the subjects which must be included in the Ways and Means Bill. The Supplementary Estimates will be in it, and the Preliminary Votes for the Army and Navy ought to be included. But suppose you postpone beyond that date any one of these Votes, you will then only have two days under the present circumstances at the disposal of the Government between that date and the close of the financial year. That is the precedent of 1892 brought forward by the Government of that day, and most properly brought forward, in my opinion; and I think properly amended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian, so far as his amendment confined it to Easter. What was done in 1893? In 1893, the next year, application was made on February 27—a day earlier than we are to-day making it—upon that subject, and the following Resolution was proposed by the Prime Minister:— That until Easter the House do meet on Tuesday and Friday at Two o'clock, and that the provisions of Standing Order 56 be extended to the Morning Sittings on those days. And then mark this proyiso:— Provided always that if the Government of Ireland Bill be appointed for any of such days the House do meet at Three o'clock, and the proceedings on that Bill do have precedence of the Orders of the Day and Notices of Motion. That was the Motion which was submitted to the House and accepted by the House; therefore, the precedent of 1893 is a much stronger precedent than anything we have asked for here. Not only were you to give up on Tuesday and Friday Morning Sittings, but the whole day whenever the principal Government Bill was put down. I do not know whether it will be said in reference to our Bills that they are certain not to pass, but certainly the Motion of 1893 applied to a Bill which, in the opinion of of hon. Gentlemen opposite, would not, and, as it turned out, did not, pass. That was the Home Rule Bill, and yet in 1893 the House, by a great majority, ordered that the Government should have Tuesdays and Fridays and the whole of the sittings for the Home Rule Bill whenever it was brought on. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, when he made his proposal on the 3rd March, concluded his speech by saying— I hope the House will give us the very modest powers we ask for without any prolonged debate. Well, if those were very modest powers, ours are much more modest powers than those asked for either in 1892 or 1893, both of which were granted by the House. I would ask the House to consider what is the position of the Government with reference to public business, both with regard to Finance and with regard to Legislation. Anybody who knows anything about government, knows that it is absolutely impossible that the business, which the Government are expected to do in this House, can be done in the time allotted to them by the Standing Orders. What is that time? Two days a week, or eight days a month. They have to pass these Estimates—the Supplementary Estimates—before Easter, and the Army and Navy Votes, and the Vote and Account for Civil Services. They have pressed upon them, as we had pressed upon us to-day and always on Government nights, 80 or 90 questions, which take up a hour and a half of the time. Then we have a new and portentous evil in the private Bills, which are generally put down upon Government nights, and all these occupy a great part of the time at the disposal of the Government. Then we have Motions of Adjournment, which take up whole days which belong to Government time; and out of the residue of the time the Government is expected to transact the business which devolves upon them. Now, I am speaking not in the interest of one Government or another, not in the interest of Gentlemen who to-day sit on this Bench, but of the Government which expects to sit on this Bench to-morrow. "Let no man consider himself happy until his death" is a good maxim, and I would advise gentlemen opposite not to lay down doctrines from which they will suffer very much themselves. They will find it just as difficult as we find it, under the existing modern condition of things, to transact the business which they will be called upon to transact; and I advise them to consider this question from that point of view. Some people say that this ought to be done by an alteration in the Standing Orders. I do not think so. I think it much better it should be done according to the necessities of the time. In some years it may be that more time is wanted than in others, and I think it would not be of advantage to dispose of this matter with a cast-iron rule which in one year might give too much time and in another year too little. It is for the House to judge according to the circumstances of the time how much relaxation or how much larger expansion of time shall be given in one year than in another. That has been the practice for many years past. I believe it is a sound practice; I believe it is a convenient practice; and I should be very sorry to see that practice altered. Now, Sir, with reference to the question of Finance, I really think there is not a word to be said. No one can pretend that by the 21st of March if you give us every second of Government time that the financial business can be satisfactorily transacted. You cannot do it in the time, and nobody possibly could. As regards the question of the Introduction of Bills, is it not a reasonable thing that the Government who are responsible for the main Legislation of the Session should lay before the House and the country the measures upon which they ask Parliament to occupy its time? It is idle to say that the Opposition do not approve of the Bills the Government introduces. That is always the case with every Opposition, and must be so with reference to what may be called the great political measures. The majority who support the Government will always have views which are not shared by the Gentlemen who sit opposite, and therefore you must always have the Government introducing measures of which the Opposition do not approve. Those measures ought to be laid before the House and the country, unless you are going to accept the doctrine, which would be most injurious to the character of Parliament, that the proper function of an Opposition is really to prevent the Government from legislating at all. That is a game two can play at, and if once such a doctrine is accepted great injury will be done to the character and the efficiency of the House of Commons. I What is to be the situation, then? When we come back after the Easter Holidays very nearly half of the Session will have gone; and if the Government were to be confined to the days which I have mentioned, and to the four days in April which they would have, assuming the House adjourned on the Thursday before Good Friday, that would be the whole time they would have in which to do the additional Estimates and to introduce all the Bills on which they wish the opinion of Parliament. Would it represent the House before the country as a business assemply if, when three months of the time of Parliament had expired, it could be said:— You have practically made it impossible for the Government to lay before the House and the country the Legislation upon which they desire the opinion of Parliament to be taken. In my opinion you would paralyse the action of the House of Commons by any such proceeding. Much as you disapprove of these Bills, it is, at all events, the duty of the Government to lay them before the House and take the judgment of the House upon them. We are making a proposal which is absolutely in conformity with the principles—I do not say with all the details—of Motions that have been made and accepted by the House before. Some of these Motions were for Morning Sittings on Tuesdays and Fridays, therefore the whole difference that exists between our Motion and the other Motions is that we take the whole of Tuesdays instead of only the morning. I have a strong personal opinion on the subject of Morning Sittings. I do not believe that when you take a Morning Sitting the remanet you leave to private Members is of great value. On the other hand, a Sitting in the Morning is very inconvenient to a great number of Members—to business and professional men. While I like a nice, quiet Morning Sitting myself for getting through Government business, I think that unless you get some great advantage by taking a Morning Sitting on Tuesday it is much better that the whole day should be taken. The Government is held responsible for the principal Legislation of the Session, and it is only reasonable they should have such time as will enable them to do their business. I have endeavoured to state the case as fairly and as frankly as I can. It is for the House to decide. In my opinion, it is as much to the interest of one Party as another, of one Government as another, that these facilities should be afforded; and I hope the House will, as it has done on previous occasions, give to the Government under this Resolution power to carry out the functions which are by the Constitution devolved upon it. I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name.

SIR M. E. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)

did not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer ever appeared in the House to such advantage as when he was moving a Resolution of this kind. His manner was so suave, his reluctance to blame his adversaries was so unusual, his disclaimer of all Party motive was so delightful that he prejudiced them all in favour of the Motion he proposed. A Resolution of this kind proposed by the Government, as necessary for the transaction of the business of the House, must command some sympathy from those who had been responsible for that business. It might sometimes, perhaps, be thought by hon. Members who had not had official experience that right hon. Gentlemen were too apt to look favourably on such Motions; but in one thing they would agree—that the Government was always bound to show a necessity for its demand in each particular case. The right hon. Gentleman divided his speech into two parts. Hedwelt at very considerable length upon precedents, and at one time he thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to base his case entirely upon those precedents. The right hon. Gentleman relied mainly, if not entirely, on the precedents of 1892 and 1893. He welcomed the allusion to the precedent of 1892, for the reason that they who knew something of what was passing in political circles at that time remembered that the facility with which the time of the House was granted to the Government on that occasion was largely due to the knowledge on the part of the Opposition that a Dissolution was impending. [THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER: "Not in March."] Yes, in March. He hoped he might accept the precedent to its full extent. He hoped they might take the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman alluded to the precedent of 1892 as an omen of the intention of Her Majesty's Government to do that which the Opposition desired above everything else, and to give them an appeal to the country, But, however that might be, the precedents of 1892 and 1893 were clear. In the first place, the Minister proposing the Resolution proposed it for the transaction of some particular business, which he named to the House. [THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER: "Not in 1893."] In both years. In 1892 the present Leader of the Opposition specified the supplementary Estimates and the introduction of four measures—the Local Taxation Relief (Scotland) Bill, the Fee Grant (Scotland) Bill, the Assisted Education (Ireland) Bill, and a Bill relating to Private Bill Legislation in Scotland. The first three of these measures were of small importance, and were non-controversial; and it was necessary, for financial reasons, to pass two of them before a certain date.


There was no limitation in the Resolution.


said, there was a limitation in the speech of the Minister, and the right hon. Gentleman would not deny that a limitation in the speech of a Minister was as binding as the terms of a Resolution. In 1893, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian took precisely the same course. He told the House he wanted additional facilities for the transaction of financial business and the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill.


said, that was not so. The morning sittings were taken without any reservation. The Government of Ireland Bill was taken at whole day sittings. With regard to morning sittings on Tuesdays, no limit was made.


said, he had not stated there was any limitation in the Resolution. What he said was, that the purport of the speech of the Minister was, that financial business and the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill was the business he intended to take. As a matter of fact, the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Bill was not proceeded with until after Easter, so that practically the effect of the Resolution of 1893 was to forward financial business only. There was another substantial difference between what was done on those two occasions compared with what the right hon. Gentleman proposed to do now. In 1892 and 1893 morning sittings only were asked for. The right hon. Gentleman made light of that by saving that the evening sitting was of no use at all to private members. Then why did he not ask for Fridays as well as Tuesdays? What was the use of leaving Friday evenings, which, according to him, were of no service whatever to private Members? But what they were entitled to, according to all precedents, when the time of the House was taken before Easter for the transaction of special business, was, a statement from the Government of what that special business was to be. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that, in the first place, it was to be finance. They were to have the supplementary Estimates, and also certain votes of the ordinary Estimates. He believed that neither the supplementary nor the ordinary Estimates had yet been circulated. He hoped they would be circulated immediately and the Government would lose no time in asking the House to devote itself to the necessary work of Supply. He did not wish to accuse the right hon. Gentleman of breach of faith, but he wished to impress on the House what passed in relation to this matter last year. On April 9, 1894, the right hon. Gentleman came down to the House and said that he had to make a very large claim upon their time, and moved precisely the same resolution which he had moved on the present occasion. To that resolution an amendment was moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Heneage), to the effect that Supply should be put down as the first Order for one day in every week until it was concluded. There were probably, very practical objections to that proposal, but how did the right hon. Gentleman meet it? He met it by undertaking to give full and adequate time to Supply.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pardon me, but I desire to make the position clear. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that the subsequent part of the Session, or the whole of the time referred to, was practically given up to financial business, in the way of the Committee on the Budget.


said, his recollection did not quite tally with the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman. After the debates on the Budget were concluded the right hon. Gentleman insisted upon the House dealing with the Evicted Tenants Bill, the Equalisation of Rates (London) Bills, and with a private Member's Bill—the Eight Hours Bill—on which two days of their time were absolutely wasted, and it was not until the middle of August that, with the exception of two Irish votes, the slightest attempt was made by the Government to proceed with the Civil Service Estimates, nearly the whole of which were voted after that date without any real discussion. He did not wish, any more than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to make a party matter of this question; but he appealed to hon. Members in every part of the House whether that was a convenient, a proper, or a right way for the House to discharge one of its most important and necessary functions. He hoped, therefore, they were justified in understanding the right hon. Gentleman to make now a definite promise that not only would he pass the supplementary Estimates before the day on which the law required them to be passed—but that he would also utilise the time before Easter in making real progress with the ordinary votes in Supply. But what else were the Government going to do? Was the right hon. Gentleman going to utilise the rest of the time for which he asked in introducing all the measures named in the Queen's Speech; or was he going to utilise any portion of it in moving the second reading of any of these Bills? They should in all fairness have a definite statement from the Government on that matter; but he was afraid they would not get it. A similar request was made to the right hon. Gentleman last year, and he absolutely declined to tell the House in any degree what he was going to do. What had been the practice of the Government in this matter ever since they had come into Office? In their first year they gave in the Queen's Speech a list of 12 Bills of great importance. Then on March 30th the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian told the House that it was absolutely necessary that the whole of the time of the House for the rest of the Session should be devoted to Government Business. The House assented to that course, after a vain protest from the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman did his best to dragoon the House into Legislation, but of those 12 Bills only four ever passed the House, though the House sat for 11 months after that proposal was carried. He should have thought that the ill success of that precedent would have discouraged any subsequent leader of the House from attempting to repeat it. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in just the same way, appealed to the House on April 9 last year, on behalf of what he described as a precious cargo. And what happened to that precious cargo? The right hon. Gentleman was told that he would have to jettison most of it, and at the end of the Session again only four of the 12 Bills promised in the Queen's Speech had passed the House of Commons.


And the Budget.


said, he included the Budget in his list. A few weeks ago the Prime Minister, who always spoke in a way the Opposition thoroughly appreciated, made a speech at Cardiff, in which he said the Government were not going to have this year a barren Session of First Readings, and that, having learned wisdom from experience, the programme of 1895 was to be confined to measures that might be reasonably expected to become law. But was that promise kept? Let any hon. Member, no matter what his political opinions might be, look at the history of the Legislation of the past 30 years, look at the amount of work it has been given to any Parliament to do in a single Session, and then ask himself how many Bills out of the 12 Bills promised in the Queen's Speech were likely to pass this House in 1895. The right hon. Gentleman told the House that evening that he based his demand, not solely on the ground of precedent, not solely for the purpose of forwarding any particular business, but that he based it upon the ground that it was absolutely impossible that Government Business could be done in the time allowed to it by the Standing Orders of the House. That was a general ground. It practically amounted to saying that the Standing Orders were inapplicable to the present circumstances of Parliament and ought to be changed. The right hon. Gentleman added, that there was a fresh difficulty in the path of every Government at the present day, because there had arisen a new practice of lengthened discussions on private Bills. But if that were so, to whom was it due? Why, to the right hon. Gentleman's own supporters; for the Bills on which the longest discussions had taken place, were the Bills promoted, with but little hope of success, by the London County Council. The right hon. Gentleman whiie asking that greater facilities should be given to the Government on general grounds for the conduct of their business in the House—objected to deal with the question by an alteration in the Standing Orders, and argued that their rules had better be relaxed year by according to the necessities of the time. But if any one would examine the series of precedents in this matter he would find that those precedents were growing; he would find that the Government of the day—be it a Liberal Government or a Conservative Government—never went back upon a precedent when once it was made, so that year after year more of the time of the House and more control over the House were obtained by the Government. Now what was the precedent they were asked to establish on this occasion? Within 10 days of the termination of the Debate on the Address, private Members were to be deprived of any opportunity of bringing forward Motions, except after Nine o'clock on Friday evenings, and of any chance of having discussions on Bills which they had introduced unless they had been fortunate enough to secure the first or second place on the 13 or 14 Wednesdays before Whitsuntide. That might be a necessary change in their procedure; circumstances might have arisen which rendered it right and proper to make it. But he was absolutely certain that this Resolution, or something more stringent, would again be proposed after Easter, and would practically apply to the whole of the Session; and if it were once adopted not for exceptional reasons, but on general grounds, it would be applied in all future Sessions by all successive Governments. They would have made in that way, by what might seem a succession of small steps, a great and important change in the conduct of the business of the House. It might be right and necessary to make that change, but it should only be made after full consideration of all the circumstances of the case, and of the whole of the rules under which the business of the House is at present conducted. What had happened already? When hon. Members were deprived of the opportunities allotted to them by the ordinary rules of the House for bringing forward matters in which they took an interest, they persistently bubbled up on every other occasion. Adjournments were moved, and Debates were started on questions of principle in Committee of Supply, instead of Supply being confined, as used to be the case, solely to questions of finance. Questions were thus raised in the House in a way which was not only unsatisfactory in itself, but far more inconvenient to the Ministry of the day than if they had been discussed in the old fashion. He admitted that the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was only the last step in a gradual series of precedents; but such a change ought to be fully and fairly considered in a proper way before it was accepted by the House. What were the Government going to do with a considerable part of this time? They were going to devote it to the introduction of a number of Bills, hardly any of which had a chance of any subsequent consideration in the House during the Session. Would there be any greater gain to the public, or the House, by the Government obtaining the time of the House for that purpose, than by their time being devoted, for instance, to such Motions as were brought forward by hon. Members on the last two Tuesdays? Those Motions were of greater interest to a very large number of people than many of the Kills in the Government programme. Those motions might not have quite the results which were desired by the authors, but they certainly referred to subjects which deserved the attention of the House. He should be ready to give the Government any facilities which previous Governments had enjoyed with reference to the transaction of the necessary business of Finance. They might fairly claim to be enabled to place certain definite proposals before the House before a certain date. But he must frankly confess that he did not care to take away from ordinary Members of the House the time allotted to them by the Standing Orders, in order that the Government might dovote the time to the Introduction of Bills which were never intended or expected to be proceeded with, but which were merely introduced as baits to attract certain sections of their supporters into the Lobby—[cries of "Oh!"]—in support of Bills for which a majority could in no other way be obtained.


said, that the House was not likely to get much assistance in the elucidation of this question from the Front Opposition Bench; because in previous year there had been a consensus of opinion between the two Front Benches as to the practice of infringing on the time of private Members. If the precedent of 1892 were referred to, it would be found that the Government at that time, at the instance of the present Leader of the Opposition, made a much larger demand upon the time of the House. It was for Morning Sittings on both Tuesday and Friday, and not only until Easter, but for the whole of, the Session. He altogether challenged the statement which had been made—that the time of private Members was a matter of small importance. The discussions initiated by private Members were of great value in ripening subjects for the Government to take up subsequently; and he found from the Order Paper that there were many most valuable and practical proposals, including that of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green, which would be removed from the consideration of the House, if the Government were successful in their demand. The only case which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had made out was this—that under the worst possible conditions there could only be three days for the discussion of the Estimates, and that under the best possible conditions there could be four days. That was a case for a large amount of time being conceded to the Government; but it was not a case for all the time for which the Government asked. He would suggest that the Government should take the whole of either Friday or Tuesday, or else, Morning Sittings on both days. In the latter event, if the Motions standing in the names of private Members proved to be of little importance, the House would undoubtedly be counted out after the Morning Sitting, and in view of the pressure put upon the House by the Government, it would not be an un welcome contingency. But if the Motions were important, then private Members, notwithstanding the strain on their time, would certainly make a House. He believed that he was expressing the opinions of a considerable number of private Members, when he suggested a compromise on these lines; and the moderate speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer showed a desire to meet the reasonable wishes of the Government's supporters. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had followed the advice of the illustrious. Member for Midlothian, who in 1892 said that he would be prepared to assent to the Government's Motion for taking the time of the House if it were not to be applied to the whole Session. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given no assurance that he would not after Easter appropriate a still larger share of the time of the House; and if that were his intention, it was one which could not be blamed.

MR. J. REDMOND (Waterford)

said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House had made out an absolutely conclusive case for asking for some time for the Government; and the case which the right hon. Gentleman had made out was not merely for this Government, but for all Governments. It was nothing short of an absurdity that there should be under the ordinary Standing Orders only two days a week reserved for Government business, which included not only financial business, but the programme of public Legislation. He was not one of those who sympathised very much with the grievance of private Members. He agreed that many great public questions had ripened into useful Legislation by being discussed in the House, time after time, on private Members' Motions. But neither this nor any Government proposed to deprive private Members of facilities of that kind. Under the present proposal private Members would have Wednesdays for their Bills, and Friday evenings for the discussion of matters of importance. As the right hon. Gentleman had said, many of these Evening Sittings resulted in the House being counted out, which meant that the subjects were not of enough importance to keep 40 Members. Holding these views, he could apply himself to the consideration of the motion without any danger of his judgment being upset by the piteous appeal of private Members. The House was aware of the fact that it was his view that Parliament should be dissolved. They were aware that his view was that the continued life of this Parliament could not result in any benefit to any part of the United Kingdom, and that since the Session commenced he had done his best to give effect to his views. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might congratulate themselves on the fact that he failed in his action. He was not quite sure that when a Dissolution came they would still be of opinion that it would have been unwise to dissolve now. The first fact in the present situation was, that Parliament was not going to be dissolved, and that this Session was going to be continued; the second was, that it was going to be a barren Session. The Leader of the House supposed that some of them would say that the Bills to be proposed by the Government would not pass. They were not saying so. The persons who had said so were the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. But if these Bills would not pass, neither would the Bills or Resolutions of private Members. The House of Commons was to be turned into a great debating society. As a member of that debating society, his desire would be that the subjects for discussion should be as interesting and exciting as possible, and if he had to choose between such topics as he might fairly describe as the fads of individual private Members, on the one side, and great topics of public interest, such as Welsh Disestablishment, Irish Land, and Local Veto, on the other, naturally he would decide in favour of taking topics which would be exciting and interesting. For these reasons he would be inclined, if nothing else intervened, to support the Motion of the Leader of the House. But, before going the whole length of supporting that Motion, he would like to ask the Government respectfully whether they would give a little information about the course of business. There was a great Irish Land Bill on the stocks. It was probable that that Bill had not a chance of passing, but the "odds," the Chief Secretary for Ireland told them, had been "shortened." Still, the odds were heavily against it. But if there was to be a discussion on the Irish Land question at all, it would be interesting for the Irish Members to know at what period of the Session that discussion would take place.


At once.


resuming, said they had been told that the Bill would be introduced as the Welsh Bill had been; and that, after the Welsh Bill had been disposed of, the Irish Land Bill would be read a second time. But when would that be? They had heard from the Leader of the House an account of the remaining time that the Government would have at its disposal, and it was perfectly evident to anybody who listened to his speech that the Second Reading of the Welsh Church Bill could not possibly be taken before April 1. For his own part, he did not see how, according to the time at the disposal of the Government, and the business to be done described by the Leader of the House, it was possible for the Welsh Church Bill and the Irish Bill to be read a second time before Easter. The time after that was what he, himself, was anxious about. He had tried to gather opinions as to the length of time the Welsh Bill would take in Committee, and it seemed to be the general view that it would take two months. This opinion was not confined to Members of the Opposition. He had heard it expressed by enthusiastic supporters of the Government and its Bill. If this was so, and the Committee stage of the Irish Land Bill was to be deferred until the Welsh Bill had been disposed of in Committee, the Irish Land Bill would not be taken until the middle of the dog days; and if the Government desired to afford the House of Lords an excuse which, in itself, would be considered sufficient for them to reject the Irish Land Bill, it would be by sending it to them, as it did the Evicted Tenants Bill—at the fag-end of the Session. Would the Leader of the the House get up and state that he would push on the Committee on the Irish Land Bill concurrently with the Committee on the Welsh Bill? In other words, he would have four days a week at his disposal under the rule which, of course, would be extended to the rest of the Session—everybody knew—for Government business. Would he give two of those days every week to the Welsh Bill and two to the Irish Bill, or was it his intention to leave the Irish Bill to be taken up after two months in Committee on the Welsh Bill? He wished to make another suggestion. Last year a Scotch Grand Committee was appointed to deal with a Scotch Bill. This Irish Land Bill was a purely Irish question. Those in favour of the principle of Home Rule—and there was no more doughty exponent of the principle than the present Leader of the House—ought to be in favour of the details of this great Irish Land Bill being settled in a Committee entirely composed of Irish Members. If the Leader of the House would not give two days a week in Committee to the Irish Land Bill and two days to the Welsh Bill, would he refer the Irish Bill, after it had been read a second time, to an Irish Grand Committee? If he would do either of those things, his benevolent attitude towards the Resolution might carry him to the unwonted length of going into the Lobby with him, but, in the absence of such a declaration, while he did not intend to vote against the time of the House being taken by the Government, he could not see his way to support it.

MR. H. W. PAUL (Edinburgh, S.)

said the hon. and learned Member for Waterford had told the House that this would be a barren Session, and that the Irish Land Bill would not pass into law. How did he know that?


Because the Prime Minister has said so.


But was that the opinion of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, who was as well acquainted with the Irish land question as the hon. and learned Member; was it the opinion of many Irish Members opposite? Would they do their best to prevent the Bill from passing into law? The hon. and learned Member knew perfectly well they would do nothing of the kind. The hon. Member had referred to the speeches of the Prime Minister during the Recess. He himself had studied those speeches carefully and respectfully. He was prepared to defend the arguments used in them, but he was not prepared to defend arguments imputed to the Prime Minister which he had never used. Lord Rosebery did not argue that it was useless to bring Bills into that House this Session because they would be thrown out by the House of Lords. What he said was that it was no use for Liberal Governments to introduce Liberal measures into that or any other House after the next or any other General Election, backed by a majority small or large, so long as a permanent Tory majority existed in another place to throw out every Bill a Liberal Government introduced. The right hon. Member for West Bristol did not say the House of Lords would throw out the Bills of the Government, but that this House would be unable to pass them, which was an entire change in the argument of the Opposition before and since the Session began. He did not altogether agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the importance of evening sittings; he had had some experience of Friday evenings, and had beaten the Government of one of them. There was one point upon which he desired to express his cordial concurrence with the right hon. Baronet, and that was the importance of bringing forward Supply at as early a period of the Session as possible. This motion would facilitate that object. The right hon. Baronet had taunted the Government with their failures in Legislation, but in that respect he was not in agreement with his political friend and ally the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. He should give his hearty support to the Motion, in order that the right hon. Baronet and the hon. and learned Member for Waterford might have an opportunity of obtaining that early Dissolution of Parliament which they desired.

MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said, that events would prove whether this Session would be a barren one or not; he himself thought that "ploughing the sands of the sea shore" was not exactly the way to get a plentiful crop of anything. Like his hon. Friend who had just sat down, he had read the speeches of the Prime Minister carefully and respectfully, but he did not derive the same conclusions from them which his hon. Friend did. But when his hon. Friend went on to explain what these speeches were, so far as he could understand, his hon. Friend and himself were entirely of the same mind. His hon. Friend had pointed to the fact that Lord Rosebery had said that Liberal measures cannot be passed in this or any other Parliament until some alteration had been made in the Legislative powers of the House of Lords; but what was predicated of the whole was predicated of every part of it, and if Liberal measures could not be passed in this or any other Parliament, surely the idea was involved that Liberal measures could not be passed in this Parliament until the obstruction in the way of their becoming law was removed. He thought, therefore, that there was a good deal of agreement between his hon. Friend and himself upon the matter. He was able further to say that there was a good deal of agreement between his hon. Friend, the Prime Minister and himself upon this matter. He entirely agreed with his hon. Friend in saying that they must not expect much from the front Opposition Bench. The difficulty of the Front Opposition Bench in this matter always was that they had done much the same thing themselves, and they contemplated, when they managed to get themselves on to the Treasury Bench, doing the same thing again. He had not the slightest confidence in either of those two Benches in regard to matters relating to the rights of private Members. Sometimes they confederated together; sometimes, whoever was the Leader of the Opposition got up and said that he would oppose this particular proposal, because the circumstances of the particular moment rendered it necessary for him to do so; but when he got on to the Treasury Bench he proposed either the same thing, or something very like it. He professed he had not much confidence that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give back to private Members their time after Easter. It was very much like a lion offering to make two mouthfuls of him instead of one; they knew that appetite came from eating, in these matters. He had looked back to see how he had voted In regard to the motion of 1892, and found that then he voted for the proposal of the present Leader of the Opposition, the Member for Manchester, but the proposal then was that private Members should be left Tuesdays and Friday evenings, and if such a proposal were now made he would vote for it with the greatest pleasure. When first he came into the House private Members were looked upon as human beings; they then banded themselves together, and therefore they maintained their rights. Then they could, on going into Committee on Supply, move any Motion they liked, and then the Estimates were brought on at an early period of the year; occasionally, at the end of the Session, such a proposal as the present was made, but no one dreamt that private Members' nights should be swamped entirely, as it was now proposed. They were told that on private Members' nights the House was counted out. He had been very much struck by what was said by the hon. Member for Waterford, who pointed out thot every reform that had ever been carried in that House had been first aired by private Members. Private members put down Motions in favour of a reform, the majority in favour of it gradually increased, and then the Government took it up. Moreover, if they did away with the rights of private Members, they would deprive the Ministry of the day of all control except when the Opposition moved a vote of no confidence in the Government, and he thought that control over a Government by its followers was just as necessary as by the Opposition. That the Government should thus became absolutely independent of control or criticism, especially in regard to colonial and foreign matters, was, he thought, most undesirable, and he was unable to vote for the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

MR. ELLIOTT LEES (Birkenhead)

had placed on the Paper an Amendment to this Motion, but believed he would not be in order in moving that Amendment. The question raised, however, by the Amendment, seemed to him very much the same as that raised in the last two speeches, whether it was desirable that a Government, the members of which had announced in the recess that they could not carry out any useful public business during the Session, should take also the time which might be utilised by private Members to carry out measures of public utility. There was no urgent reason put forward why this should be done. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would promise that after Easter, when the financial requirements of the country had been dealt with, he would give back to private Members the time he was now taking, he would support the Motion; but no such assurance was given. If this Motion was carried, very little time would be secured by private Members during the rest of the Session. Many of the Bills and Motions put down on the Order Book by private Members were quite as important to the people of the country as the measures announced in the Queen's Speech. They affected all classes, for among the questions to be dealt with were Old Age Pensions, Agricultural Holdings, the Condition of Factories and Workshops, the Housing of the Working Classes, the Eight Hours Day for Miners, Trade Disputes, and the Payment of Members. There were also Motions down to call attention to the Armenian Atrocities and to the question of a Referendum, a matter which it was most important that the House should discuss as a preliminary canter to the great Resolution against the House of Lords which the Government had declared their intention to move. Now, some of those matters were in the hands of private Members opposite, and he was curious to know how they really regarded the proposal of the Government. He could understand a Government with an important policy and a serious determination to carry it out, bringing forward such a Motion, but the present Government had no such policy, and they all knew that it was not intended that the measures foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech should pass into law. They were only intended to be the means to an end. There was a proverb which declared that he who wished the end wished the means also. That might be true, but surely they had a right to demand from the Government that they should state, before this Motion was granted, what the end on their part was. Hitherto all information of the kind had been concealed from them, even concerning the great Resolution against the House of Lords by means of which the Government intended to frame a new Constitution. But, surely the Government could not suppose that any Resolution on so important and vital a question as this could be adequately and satisfactorily discussed at the fag end of a Session. It was only just and respectful to the House of Commons, therefore, that Ministers should explain how they meant to use the additional time if it was granted to them. Many hon. Members opposite had boasted to their constituents of the importance and advantages of the private Bills they had introduced and were going to place on the Statute Book. The absorption of the time of private Members, however, would prevent them from bringing those measures forward, and he should like to know, if they voted for this Motion, how they would explain their failure to their constituents, especially in the absence of any declaration from the Government how they were going to utilise the additional opportunities they had obtained. At any rate, believing that the Motion was not calculated, under the circumstances in which it was proposed, to exalt the character of the House, he should vote against it.

MR. S. T. EVANS (Mid Glamorgan),

who had an Amendment on the Paper exempting to-morrow's Sitting from the terms of the Motion, said he did not intend to move it. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford had stated that he was very anxious for a Dissolution on the ground that the present Session was going to be a barren one. He could not agree with the hon. Member. When the Home Rule Bill was before Parliament in 1893, the hon. Member and his Friends did not think that Session would be a barren one if only that House passed it, notwithstanding that it was well known the House of Lords would reject it. The Welsh Members held much the same opinion in respect to the present Session and the Bill for the Disestablishment of the Welsh Church. If they could obtain the imprimatur of the House of Commons for that measure, they would by no means regard the Session as a barren one, although the House of Lords might afterwards throw it out. The effect of the Amendment that stood on the Paper in his name was only to postpone the request of the Government for one day; otherwise he thought the Motion did not go far enough, for after Easter they would have to waste another day on a similar Motion, The object of his Amendment was to give the House a chance on the following day of discussing the question of Self Government for Wales. It was true that the Motion relating to the question was third on the Paper; still, there might have been a chance of reaching it, and the House of Commons would then have had an opportunity of asserting the opinion that when the time came for a devolution of powers all round, Wales would be no less entitled to Home Rule than Scotland or Ireland. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, that private Members had practically no grievance. The time had come when the Government might do what they proposed by Standing Order and not by periodical Motions like the present. The oppor- tunities now given to private Members were really opportunities for wasting time. In the Sessions of 1891, 1892, and 1893, a Bill introduced by himself as a private Member was passed by huge majorities, and on one occasion it passed through the Standing Committee. But the whole time spent upon it was wasted, because its further progress was blocked in the House. He wanted the Government, if they took the whole of the time, to use that time. Let them make up their mind that work was to be done. It was of no use taking the time if there was to be no end of talk. And the Government might themselves set an example in this direction. He did not know why the First Reading of the Welsh Disestablishment Bill was not taken on Monday night, but it was probably by arrangement with the Front Bench. They had had quite enough of these arrangements between the two Front Benches, and he hoped that, in future, two or three Sittings would not be spent on the question of asking leave to introduce a Bill. In the case of the First Heading of the Irish Disestablishment Bill, the only speech made was by Mr. Disraeli, and it only occupied a quarter of an hour. It was quite touching to see the mutual admiration of the occupants of the two Front Benches; but Members in other parts of the House felt strongly that some other method might be found and adopted for the expression of this mutual admiration than by dishing up at great length old speeches, made in years gone by, by those who occupied the Treasury and Front Benches, in which those who had to listen to them did not take such an interest as the authors themselves. Much as he desired to get the opinion of the House on the question of Self Government for Wales, yet he was not unmindful of the fact that the Government had taken up as their first legislative business a measure in which he took the extremest interest, and in the circumstances he did not intend to move the Amendment.


hoped the House would not assent to this proposal. The division of time between the Government and private Members had been very carefully considered, and ought not to be lightly disturbed. It was very important that private Members should have the opportunity of bringing forward questions in which the country was interested. The Government of the country did not consist merely in Legislation, but in Administration, and if the Tuesdays and Fridays were taken, the House lost the opportunity of making suggestions and criticisms. It was, of course, true that on private Members' nights the House was sometimes counted out. But that was not altogether a disadvantage. A rest now and then was a great relief, not only to hon. Members, and especially to Government, but above all to the Officials of the House. It would be easy to show that a great deal of useful Legislation was the wish of private Members. He might mention the Public Libraries Act, the Open Spaces Act, that regulating Cheques and Bills, and many more. Besides which, many which were eventually carried by Government, had been rendered possible by the previous labour of the private Members. Indeed, there were many Bills which were more easily carried by private Members, because if they were supported on both sides of the House, as happily was often the case, they were divested of any party character. There had been two Tuesdays since the closing of the Debate on the Queen's Speech; no one could say they were wasted. There had been two important Debates, and the House had passed the second reading of the Early Closing Bill, which shopkeepers and shop assistants all over the country were watching with intense interest. Moreover, if Government carried their motion they would but out several subjects of great interest. Next Tuesday, there is a motion respecting the Taxation of Ground Rents. Probably it might require amendment, but a Committee of this House, presided over by the right, hon. Gentleman, the Member for St. George's, had reported in favour of modifying the present system, and the London County Council had passed an unanimous resolution in support of it. Would hon. Members representing Radical constituencies, assist in shutting out the consideration of this question? If so it would be felt that they had no real anxiety for the change. He passed over several important motions, and would only refer to one other, which also affected London interests. The London Members believed that London received from the Imperial Exchequer some £300,000 less than her fair share. He had brought the question before the House more than once at the suggestion of his colleagues on the London County Council. He proposed to ask for a Committee, which be thought was a reasonable request, and had put it down for Tuesday 12th. If the motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was adopted, what possible chance would there be of bringing the question forward this Session. He hoped his hon. Friends in the London County Council would not throw him over. If they did, London would lose this large sum of money, amounting to a rate of more than 2d., and they must answer for it to the people of London. He appealed then to all London Members not to vote for a motion which would shut out the consideration of a question so important to London Ratepayers.

The House divided:—Ayes, 236: Noes, 221.—(Division List, No. 17.)