THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Sir GEORGE TREVELYAN, Glasgow, Bridgeton) rose to Move—
That, in addition to the two Standing Committees appointed under Standing Order No. 47, a Standing Committee shall be appointed for the consideration of all Bills introduced by a Minister of the Crown relating exclusively to Scotland, which may, by Order of the House, be committed to them, and that the provisions of Standing Order No. 47 shall apply to the said Standing Committee; that the said Standing Committee do consist of all the Members representing Scottish constituencies, together with fifteen other Members to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, who shall have regard in such appointment to the approximation of the balance of parties in the Committee to that of the whole House, and who shall have power from time to time to discharge the Members so nominated by them, and to appoint others in substitution of those discharged; that Standing Orders Nos. 49 and 50 do apply to the said Standing Committee.''
He said: I rise to Move, once more, the Order of 27th April, 1894, in precisely the same terms as approved by the House after as searching a Debate as even such an Order could be submitted to. The proposal is that a Standing Committee be re-appointed, of all Scottish Members, with fifteen others, so selected as to tend to rectify the party balance; for the consideration of Scottish Bills introduced to the Government, which, by the Order of the House, are sent to that Committee. The appointment of such a Committee, and the re-appointment, are very different operations; and I earnestly hope that the comparative length of the Debate as compared with that when the subject was new will be a consideration which hon. Members will keep in mind. When this Committee was first brought forward there were very numerous objections. Hon. Members expressed apprehensions as to its working, and I am anxious to make a tribute to hon. Members who were very strongly opposed to this Committee at first, and notably to the Leader of the Opposition. When it was appointed they accepted the judgment of the House for that Session; and loyally and diligently endeavoured to make that Committee a
success. I do not mean to say that the Leader of the Opposition, among his many avocations, found time to attend frequently, but when he did come it was on critical and important occasions; and the support he gave to the business of the Committee was most marked. I do not of course consider that in doing so the right hon. Gentleman withdrew his general objections to the Committee. But most of those objections had been answered by the best of all arguments—namely, experience, and experience proves that such a Committee can do its work smoothly, effectively, and more swiftly than is done by other agencies of this House; that it fitted and dovetailed in successfully with the other machinery of the House; and that it secured for Scotland important legislation which no one grudges her, which bears in every line the mark of having been revised and worded by men who knew their subject and were interested in it, and which, therefore, to an unusual degree, meets Scottish needs and fulfils Scottish aspirations. There was great reason beforehand to believe that such a Committee would be a success. In order to make it a success it was necessary that the House should trust the Committee, that they should take their word for Scotland, and that when a Bill came back to the House the work should not have to be done over again. If we had not believed that, we never should have proposed it; but we had good reason to believe it. In 1890 the right hon. Member for St. George's (Mr. Goschen) gave a grant for the superannuation of the police. Parliament passed a Bill for the utilisation of England's share according to English views and wishes. When the turn of Scotland came, there was reason to believe that the views of Scotland would be different, and with great good sense the House sent the measure to a Select Committee of 21 Members. Every one was a Scottish representative except the Member for Ipswich (Sir P. Dalrymple), and he was a Scotchman of the Scotch. They thrashed out a scheme very different from the English measure, but such complete confidence had the House in the Committee that when the Bill was recommitted to the whole House the subsequent proceedings consumed only two pages of "Hansard." We augured from this, first, that Scottish business would
be amicably and thoroughly done in a Scotch Committee; and next, that the House would receive its decision with respect and acquiescence. And we were not disappointed. From the first to the last the Grand Committee of last Session was well attended; the speaking was brisk, brief, and to the point; and the divisions were very decisive, and less of a Party complexion than in Committee of the whole House. There never was any difficulty about a quorum. There were 59 divisions, and there were very few indeed in which less than 40 Members voted. On one occasion no less than 74 gentlemen, out of a possible 87, recorded their votes. It had been prophesied that there would be obstruction. But that was not the case. The public opinion of the Committee was strong in favour of its businesslike and prompt work. The Bill, as it left the Committee, was an unusually practical and workmanlike Bill. Whoever saw an existing defect, or a possible improvement, rose at once, and as he spoke to people who all understood the matter, his suggestion was at once accepted or at once dropped. When the Bill came back to the House, its reception was all that could be wished. It had been anticipated that no time would be gained, because the discussion on Report would take as long as the discussion in Committee. So far was this from being the case that it was disposed of in two nights—no longer than the English Bill, which had been discussed for 34 nights in Committee of the whole House. The Bill took 60 hours upstairs; it would have taken twice as long within these walls. The English Bill took 240 hours. The country gained 15 or 16 days of House of Commons time, and Scotland got a good measure which would have been got under no other circumstances. And what was there to set off against these advantages? Many things were feared beforehand; have any of them been justified by the event? Hon. Members dreaded the amount of personal fatigue to which Scottish Members would be exposed. One hon. Member went so far as to say that it would "shorten the lives of Scotch Members." One man's sensations are the measure of another's; and I can only say that there is nothing so wearying and dispiriting as seeing the business you care about, in which you
wish to take a part, which you understand, constantly postponed for other business, important, indeed, but which you have not so much at heart. The hon. Baronet the Member for Wigtownshire said, "One man cannot do two men's work." The most wearisome thing is to be allowed to do no work at all. Six hundred men cannot all have their say in the general business of the House, or, if they did, that business would never get along at all. All work and no play is bad enough; but no work and all waiting about is worse still; and from that fate this Committee sets Scottish Members free. It was said that the mere fact of a man being a Scottish Member did not specially fit him for dealing with Scottish questions. That in itself I do not admit; but if that was the case to begin with it soon was corrected. The local bodies and individuals in Scotland thoroughly understand their own affairs, and watch closely, with no unfriendly eye, the proceedings of the Committee. By letter, by resolution, by personal communication, Scotchmen take good care to make their views known to Scottish Members; and before many days were out the Committee very speedily became something very like a Committee of Experts. It was said that the House would lose its legitimate control over Scottish business. The House, under this resolution, has full opportunity of considering the general principles of the Bill on the Second Reading. Secondly, the House determines in each separate case whether it is a measure that can be safely entrusted to a Scotch Committee. If the House thinks matter can be introduced in Committee of which they disapprove, they can object to the title, and say that it is not too elastic and they could see no questionable instructions carried. And if, after this, they find their confidence has been misplaced, the House regains its full power on Report and on the Third Reading. It was said that provisions would slip in which would trench on English or Irish rights and privileges. For this apprehension there was no ground, and it had been proved to have no ground whatever. The presence of English and Irish Members would have prevented it; but the good sense of Scottish Members was a still better guarantee. Their own aim and
object was to do their own work in their own way; and they knew very well that if they had misused and abused their opportunity the House of Commons would take good care that they never should have that opportunity again. And finally, we were told that the proposal was "a new and revolutionary scheme for dealing with the legislation of one part of the United Kingdom." This view seems to inspire the first Amendment by the hon. Baronet the Member for Wigtownshire (Sir H. Maxwell). The hon. Baronet in his Amendment, said that—
this House declines to entertain a proposal to refer Bills to Standing Committees on the basis of separate nationalities.
Now, with regard to that Amendment, on which I suppose the sense of the House will be taken, I would refer to the opinion of an eminent man who thoroughly knew the House of Commons, and who took very strong views indeed, of the same nature as hon. Members opposite, on the subject of separate nationalities. This is the only extract I will read to the House, but it is an important one, as all will admit, when I tell them that it is from a speech of the late Mr. John Bright, in July, 1886, in regard to a proposal for an Irish Committee.
''I would form the hundred Members for Ireland into a Committee, that would be known and called as the Committee on Ireland or for Ireland. I would say that any Bill which any Member of the House of Commons brought in and proposed should be read a first time as a matter of course, as all Bills are in the House of Lords, and as they generally are in the House of Commons, but when it is read the first time it should always be referred to the Committee for Ireland. This Committee would have a proper place of meeting about the palace of Westminster, and they would appoint their own Chairman, or, if they liked, they might have the Irish Secretary as their Chairman, but probably they would like to appoint their own Chairman from among their own manner. They would take the Bill as the Chairman of the House of Commons takes a Bill now. Their Chairman would read it over, clause by clause; but the hundred Irish Members would make any alteration they pleased, would strike out any clause, would amend any clause, and would put in any clause they thought suitable, and by a majority they would decide whether this Bill was acceptable to them, and whether it was in a condition to be reported to the House. No English or Scotch Member would be present or take part in it. When the Bill came down to the House for Report, I would propose that it should not be subjected to a Second Reading, but that it should be merely subjected to what is called Report—
that is, the intermediate stage between the Second and Third Reading. But I would get rid of the Second Heading and proceed to the Report, on which the Members of the House, Irish or English, might, if they chose, move Amendments, and get up some discussion. When the Bill has passed through the stage of Report, it would go immediately to the Third Reading, and I should expect that, in the great majority of cases, a Bill that had gone through the Irish Committee upstairs, and in the stage of Report, and had gone through the House, in all probability would have an excellent chance of being Read a Third Time, and of going forward. This is a very simple plan. Very clever folks, you know, would not like it on that account.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
It was brought in in July, 1886. The date is July 1st, 1886. And how was that scheme regarded at the time? It was introduced at a time when Home Rule was the great question of the day—Mr. Bright took a very strong view on that question—when anything which smacked of separation met much suspicion and very little favour. Yet, even at that time and on that scheme, the Times newspaper commented in these words:—On the very simple proposal of an Irish Committee, or by what means the Parnellite Party could be got to accept it, we will not now argue; but it is it least intelligible, and is certainly not revolutionary.I think, Sir, that the Times was right. But, whatever was the case with Mr. Bright's scheme then, our scheme now, after the experience we have had, may be pronounced to be practical, effectual, moderate, and safe. I see that hon. Members have on the paper proposals to alter it in various particulars from the form and shape in which the House agreed to it last year; but, Sir, that is the form and shape in which Scotland has had experience of its working; and ever since Scotland has had that experience I have not heard any unfavourable body of Scotch opinion with regard to it, while favourable opinions have been expressed in unexpected quarters. There were no complaints of its composition being too partisan. Most certainly I have never heard, as some Members by their amendments appear to apprehend, that the Scotch element in it is proportionately too strong. It is in the belief 828 that the arrangement of last Session was as just as any arrangement could be, that it was based on sound principles, and that it has given general satisfaction in practice, that I ask the House to renew a form of procedure which last year I admit to have been an experiment, but which, after the trial we have had of it, we are justified in saying is an assured success. I beg, Sir, to move.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
said, that he made no apology in rising to reply to some of the observations of the Secretary for Scotland. He rose as an English Member, because this was a subject which ought to engage attention in all parts of the House. The Scotch Standing Committee could hardly be yet accepted as such a settled question that it ought to be moved as a matter of course, like the Standing Committees on Law and Trade. The Scotch Committee was proposed last year for the first time. It met with considerable opposition, not only as regarded its probable working, but on the strong constitutional grounds. It was, in fact, regarded as a great anomaly and innovation of constitutional procedure. Since the Union, English and Irish Members had regarded it as their duty to take part in discussing Scotch measures, so that questions relating to any one part of the United Kingdom should be dealt with on the broad grounds on which legislation ought to proceed, and not upon merely sectional lines. He quite admitted the businesslike spirit that pervaded the Committee last year, and that there was no obstruction. Undoubtedly this was due to the excellent management of the right hon. Gentleman who presided over it [General cheers]; but also, he thought, to the desire which every Member brought to that Committee to mould the Bill to the best use of Scotland. The discussions in Committee were, therefore, not tiresome. He thought that in the House itself, or in Committee of the whole House, they could always count on a sympathetic consideration of Scotch measures. The right hon. Gentleman said, in fact, that the unfavourable prognostications expressed last year as to the result of the Scotch Committee have been disappointed, and that the Bill emerged from the Committee as a useful measure, and that it was passed through 829 the House without trouble. But the Local Government Bill of last Session was a non-contentious measure. It was opposed by no Party in the House. It was the common desire of all that the Local Government which had been previously established in Scotch counties and districts should be extended to the parishes; that it would bring no danger to any institution in the country, but would give the people in the localities an opportunity of managing their own affairs. Going to the Committee in that spirit, it was not surprising that the result was as described. But he would ask, Did that result justify the Scotch Committee being adopted as a permanent part of their Parliamentary procedure? In the first place, he would say that the objections urged last year to the system as a whole existed still, practically unimpaired and undiminished. He stood there as an English Member to protest against Scotch affairs being treated in a provincial or partial manner. It was impossible that such a great innovation could stop here; for it was certain that other parts of the United Kingdom would claim the same treatment. Were hon. Members prepared to concede it? On the previous day, at the close of business, a proposal was made to refer the Bill for the repeal of the Crimes Act to a Standing Committee. Was that to be a Standing Committee of Irish Members? Nobody would suggest it. But if this claim for a separate Institution to Scotland was granted it would not be long before proposals would be made to extend it to other parts of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to a proposal made by the lamented Mr. John Bright, but he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that that proposal was made as a substitute for Home Rule, a plan which Mr. Bright so greatly condemned, and on which he separated himself from those with whom he had been long associated in political life. Mr. Bright thought that by such a proposal Irish local affairs might be managed to the satisfaction of Ireland by such a Committee, and that a great saving of time to the House might thus be effected. That proposal, however, was in substitution of Home Rule, but he was not aware that the proposal was accepted as such by any Member of the Home Rule Party. The 830 right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten, when he made the reference to the proposal of Mr. Bright, what the right hon. Member for Midlothian said when a similar proposition was made in the House by the late Mr. Parnell. The right hon. Member for Midlothian said that—The House was invited at that moment to sanction the principle that certain powers of the Imperial Parliament should be exercised by a body of Members taken exclusively from one part of the United Kingdom; that he doubted whether Parliament would ever sanction anything of the kind; that it would be a singular and extraordinary innovation, and one which he did not think the House would under any circumstances be prepared to entertain, and that it entailed an enormous constitutional innovation.That opinion, in regard to the setting up an Irish Committee was equally applicable to the setting up of a Scotch Committee. Why should Scotch affairs he treated as not worthy the attention of Parliament as a whole? It was true that the Scotch Committee was strengthened or supplemented last year by the addition of some Members for England, and those Gentlemen found no difficulty at all in understanding Scotch affairs, and the circumstances of Scotland with which it was prepared to deal. If that was the case, why on earth was the House, as a whole, not equally able to do so? Again, there were all sorts of inconveniences in setting up this Committee. In the first place Scotch Members took part, and not a silent part, in the deliberations of the other Standing Committees, and if they could deal with Bills relating to England before those Committees, why were Irish and English Members not to be on Committees dealing with Bills relating to Scotland? The composition of the Standing Committees was regulated so as to give a fair representation of all parties, and it was no light matter that a Committee appointed specially to consider the affairs of Scotland should consist so largely of Members of one Party, that it was absolutely impossible that, if a Division occurred on Party lines, it could only lead to one result. That objection was met to a certain extent last year by adding 15 Members from England, but, nevertheless, the disparity of Parties was very great. No doubt the disparity between Liberal and Unionist Members in Scotland was growing narrower—some 831 differences had taken place in their comparative numbers since last year—and probably that disparity would more and more disappear. But they had to deal with things as they were, and also with the principle, and it was evident that if this proposed Committee was to be regarded as fair, its composition as settled last Session was neither fair nor sound. That was recognised to be the case even with the non-contentious Bills of last Session. But how about the Bills of this Session? The first on the list was the Crofters' Holdings Bill. Was that a non-contentious measure?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN,) Stirling Burghs
Bills which may be committed to them by order of the House.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON
said, the right hon. Gentleman did not say whether the Crofters Bill was to be sent to the Committee.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON
said, that in that case his surmise was not incorrect, for if the Government wanted to send that Bill to the Committee they could do so by their majority in the House. The Bill was a highly contentious measure, and it dealt with the questions to which obviously the experience and judgment of the whole House ought to be directed. The next Scotch Bill standing as a Government measure was the Local Government Bill, and, no doubt, that was non-contentious. But the third Bill—the Fatal Accidents Inquiry Bill—had been strongly opposed by Members on the Opposition side of the House, and it was one on which there was much difference of opinion on both sides. It was highly desirable that Members for England and Ireland who had experience of public inquiry into fatal accidents should bring that experience to the assistance of the Scotch Members, and, in fine, it was just one of those measures that ought to be referred to the Standing Committee on Law. The proposal of the Government this year was as objectionable as that of last year. Indeed, it was more objectionable, because the circumstances were different. It contemplated the introduction of a dangerous innovation, and if the principle was extended—as it doubtless would be if the 832 present proposal was agreed to—it would have a mischievous effect on the character and business of the House. A particular nationality ought to have nothing to do with the consideration of the Bills introduced into the Imperial Parliament. Every part of the House ought to take its share in their consideration. It was not on a Standing Committee that the responsibility of dealing with measures affecting any part of the United Kingdom should rest, but on the House as a whole. They were entitled to look to the responsibility of the House and to Ministerial responsibility, and he put it to the House that no case had been made out for renewing, and attempting to perpetuate, so anomalous and irregular a proposal as that now made by the Government. He trusted, therefore, that the House would reject it.
§ SIR CHARLES CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
said that so far from the Scottish Standing Committee being denounced as a dangerous invasion, it had been vaunted by one Unionist speaker after another. (An hon. MEMBER: "By whom?"] He did not think there was any Member who was better entitled to the respect of the Unionist party than the right hon. Member for the Bodmin division of Cornwall. Speaking at Glasgow last year, the right hon. Gentleman said:—There was another thing which called for the attention of the nation and which must be pressed upon the Government, more especially with respect to the conduct of business in Parliament.He mentioned the great delay in business brought about in the House, and said:—The old spirit of Parliamentary life was changed. If such things were possible, it was difficult by a mere form of machinery to resuscitate a spirit which had passed into the worst conditions. But the germs of a better life were not extinguished. The means of maintaining a healthy Parliamentary spirit were not beyond them. They might revive what was threatened with extinction; they might bear up this great edifice of Parliament which had been handed to them from the past, so that they might look upon the House of Commons as an assembly fully representative in deliberating upon the affairs of the nation. Now, he had been finding fault; he had been suggesting projects for the future. He was glad that during the last Session they had done something of great promise in which they were specially interested.833 Then going on to the subject of the Scotch Grand Committee, he said:—By way of economising their forces, it was some years ago suggested that the House of Commons might be divided into Grand Committees. Two were appointed, one for Law and the other for Trade. During the past Session, the Government, taking hold of what was a good idea, came down with a crude project—a cruder never emanated from the hasty brain of the most hasty Minister. The crude project was to refer Scotch Bills to Scotch Members. He did not underrate the capacity of Scotch Members, but to refer all Scotch Bills to Scotch Members was at variance with the principle of an united Parliament. Whilst such a Committee should be animated by the representation of the locality concerned, each Committee should be a reflection of the House of Commons in its entirety, and the mind of the nation at large. (Opposition cheers). Well, after many days, the finding that was driven into the mind of the Government found expression in the Amendment of Mr. Parker Smith, which transformed the project of Sir George Trevelyan into one worthy of the House of Commons, and which had been justified by its fruit, because the Committee which was so appointed did exceedingly good work.Why did not hon. Members opposite cheer that statement? The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:—A good Bill came out, a Bill which was approved with very little change by the House of Commons, and subsequently by the other branch of the Legislature. Why not carry that experiment further? A Scotch Member, a Gladstonian—he would not mention his name—had said, 'What a triumph it was for Home Rule.' What a triumph for Home Rule! The essence of Home Rule was local independence, that they should have the will of a locality, or representatives of a locality, in respect of local affairs absolutely free from the intervention and supervision of the nation at large. That, if Sir George Trevelyan's original idea had been carried, would have approached Home Rule; but transformed as it was, they brought in the over-ruling wisdom of the nation; they got an ample supply of Scotch opinion to strengthen the Committee and inform it; they made the Committee as Scotch as possible in its composition, subject only to the addition of such poor Southerners and Irishmen as would make the balance correspond to the balance of the judgment of the nation at large. There was no vindication of Home Rule in that; there was a vindication of Unionism. Unionism which was intelligent and courageous, which was ready to give the amplest form to expressed local opinion, to take it up, to consider it, to pay it due deference, to give expression to its own judgment, and to base legislation upon the opinion of an undivided and united representative assembly.He thought the right hon. Gentleman's argument was perfectly logical. There were a great many things which were worthy of the attention of the House of 834 Commons, but which the House could not now manage to deal with. They wanted to get some business done, and were quite willing to do their share of it. They asked the House to give them an opportunity of getting through their business with the minimum of delay and of disturbance to the other business of the House. It had been shown last year that the Secretary for Scotland had been saved from repeated defeat by the intervention of the Conservative Members. He believed he was representing the feeling of the Liberal Members when he said that they were not quite satisfied with the Committee as it stood, but their policy was not to obstruct because they wanted to see some business done. They asked the House to allow them to attend to their own business.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
thought that hon. Members who had supported the proposal had not realised that there was a very important constitutional change at stake. This constitutional aspect had been overlooked, and instead of bringing forward any of their own arguments, hon. Members opposite had simply quoted arguments used by Unionists. He should very much like to know whether Mr. Bright continued afterwards to hold the opinion which had been quoted. He had no doubt the right hon. Member for the Bodmin Division of Cornwall would fully explain the purport of his speech, but it was quite clear that the arguments were very much more applicable to this Resolution plus some of the Amendments which had been put down to it, and he should be glad to know if the hon. Member who had just sat down was prepared to accept those Amendments. The Secretary of Scotland considered it sufficient to tell the House that the experiment of last year had been a success. He was not prepared to deny that, but there were, of course, special reasons for the success of the experiment last year, one being that the Bill referred to the Grand Committee was practically of a non-contentious character. This was not, however, a question between Nationality and Nationality, but between the Government and those who opposed the Bills of the Government. It was all very well to say that an experiment of this kind worked well when the proportion into which parties were divided on 835 the Grand Committee was somewhat similar to the proportion into which they were divided in the House itself. But if they wished to go to the principle involved in the Motion they should ask themselves how such a Grand Committee would work if a Unionist Government, which did not command a majority of the Scotch Members, were in office? And they should also see how the proposal would work if applied to England and if applied to Ireland. It was a rather curious circumstance that the passage from the speech of Mr. Bright quoted by the hon. Member for the College Division, referred, not to Scotland, but to Ireland. He would ask, were the Government prepared to apply this proposal to Ireland? The Government were, it seemed, willing to send the Crimes Act to an ordinary Grand Committee; but were they prepared to refer that Act to an Irish Grand Committee similar to the Scotch Grand Committee proposed in the Resolution? If the Government were not prepared to do that, they were admitting that the proposal they now made could not be consistently carried through without a grave alteration in the system of government which at present existed in this country. As he had said already, he did not deny that the experiment of last year was successful, but it was successful because the measure referred to the Scotch Grand Committee was a non-contentious measure. Last year there was a distinct understanding that the only Bill to be referred to the Grand Committee was the Parish Councils Bill. But the Bills to be sent to the Grand Committee were no longer to be confined to non-contentious Bills. All exclusively Scotch Bills are to be sent to it. He saw one very serious danger in that arrangement. Within the last two years a disposition had been shown by the Government to adopt, as their own, Bills brought in on Wednesday afternoons by Private Members. It was the custom of the Chair—a custom which the present Speaker had continued to observe—to allow Bills which were first on the Order Paper on a Wednesday to go to a Second Reading before the Sitting had concluded. It would be hardly possible to point to a case within the last two years, in which a Bill, which was the first Order on the Paper, was not either read a second time 836 or rejected before the afternoon was over. If the Government were going to adopt the policy of taking as their own Bills the Bills of Private Members, after they had reached a certain stage, it was clear that that was an arrangement by which they could avoid a short discussion on the First Reading and a long discussion on the Second Reading of those Bills. Take, for example, the case of a Bill for the Disestablishment of the Scotch Church. The hon. Member for the College Division who had last spoken, had brought in such a Bill, and the Government had indcated that they were prepared to accept it, if not to adopt it as their own. If such a Bill were debated on a Wednesday afternoon, and was then adopted by the Government, the Government would have got rid of the discussions on the First and Second Reading of the measure, and if it were referred to a Grand Committee and carried through the Committee without amendment, there could be no discussion on the Report stage. That seemed to him to open out a very grave prospect. But if they were really to consider the effect of a proposal of this kind, they must examine it in its relation to the other parts of the United Kingdom. He would take first, as an illustration, the case of a Bill which was as favourable to the Government as could well be imagined. He meant the Parish Councils Bill of England. That Bill, so far as its principle was concerned, was a non-contentious Bill; but if had been referred to an English Grand Committee, on which the preponderance of English opinion was similar to the preponderance of Scotch opinion on the proposed Scotch Committee, there was no doubt that it would have been seriously modified in many of its details by such a Committee. Then, take the case of a highly contentious Bill like the Local Veto Bill for England. Could a Radical Government refer such a Bill to an English Grand Committee? It obviously could not do so. It would therefore be impossible to carry out the Resolution to its logical conclusion. A Unionist Government would be unable to set up a Scotch Grand Committee, because a large majority of the members of that Committee would be opposed to it. A Radical Government would be unable to set up an English Grand Committee, because a large majority of the 837 members of that Committee would be opposed to it. And with regard to Ireland, neither Party could afford to send a contentious Irish measure to an Irish Grand Committee, because such a measure would be certain to leave the Committee in a form that would fail to recommend itself to any other section of the House. He did not deny that, if the proposal could be practically carried out, there was a certain attractiveness about it for some English Members, of whom he was one. It would be a good thing for English Members if they were enabled by the withdrawal of Irish and Scotch votes, to resist some of the Bills which were now being forced upon them, or, at all events, to alter the provisions of those Bills. But though such an arrangement might mean a gain to local interests, it would undoubtedly mean a serious loss to National unity. A somewhat similar course was suggested in 1886, when it was said that, if the Unionist Party accepted Home Rule, the Irish Members would be removed from the Imperial Parliament. But the Unionists were strong enough to resist the temptation in 1886, and they would resist it now in the form in which it was presented in this Resolution. The Resolution was, in truth, a partisan Resolution. It pointed to a bastard Federation, and must be obnoxious to every friend of Parliamentary Government, which had been brought in this country to a high state of perfection, but which, if a Resolution of this kind were adopted, would very soon vanish or decline.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said his hon. Friend the Member for the College Division had quoted some expressions of his which he had used on this subject in Glasgow. The same principles which he enunciated in his speech at Glasgow last year he had also expressed in the House. He was himself strongly in favour of trying the experiment of Grand Committees in relation to Scotch and other business which was of sufficient importance to deserve this kind of treatment, and which could be treated in this way subject to those guarantees which he had described with all possible fulness in that House and at Glasgow as to the maintenance of the judgment of this House on the action of the Grand Committee when proceeding, and also on the action of the Grand 838 Committee itself. He laid down the cardinal principle of carrying out the devolution of Scotch business or any other business appertaining to particular divisions of the country, to a Grand Committee so constituted that, whilst it contained the fullest possible representation of local opinion, it should be absolutely controlled by the introduction of representatives of other portions of the House, so that, on the whole, it should be a microcosm of the House. He was extremely desirous, as a Unionist, of seeing experiments of this kind conducted, and conducted with success. One of the greatest perils to the Union—that was the maintenance of the action of this united Parliament—might arise from the discontent of a portion of the United Kingdom which believed, rightly or wrongly, that it did not receive adequate attention from the Imperial Parliament, and it was essential that they, who were keenly desirous of maintaining the predominance of this Assembly, should prove that it was capable of doing the work it undertook to do. If, year after year, they had to confess that the House had not done the work which it might reasonably be expected to do, they were endangering the maintenance of the House in regard to its action as a united Parliament. He laid this down towards the close of the Debate of last year on this subject of a Scotch Grand Committee. That Debate lasted several days, and at the end of the speech he then made he referred to an Amendment which stood in the name of his hon. Friend the Member for Partick, and which embodied what he conceived would be proper conditions on which to set up such a Committee. But that Amendment was extremely unlucky. At an earlier period of this struggle a false issue had been raised, and a decision taken upon it, and the Speaker was of opinion that, after the decision which had been so taken, they were precluded from the consideration of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Partick, so that what he desired could not be brought on. They had to take what they could get, and the result was that there was launched, as the Scotch Grand Committee, a body which did not realise the ideal he had laid down, but which was, in fact, a very imperfect realisation of that ideal. But, as he had said, it was 839 the best they could get to do the work under the circumstances. It did its work very well, as had been admitted by the hon. Member for Leeds. Whether a Committee so constituted would always do its work well he did not know, but there was obviously this grave objection to a Committee so constituted, even though it was the best they could get under the circumstances: that in its present form it was inapplicable to other parts of the kingdom. What they wanted was not a proposal which should apply only to Scotland, but one which should be applicable to the inhabitants of other portions of the kingdom who might also reasonably complain that this House did not do its work; and he would desire to urge upon Her Majesty's Government not to repeat the blunder they made last year, when they fought for a week and at the last had to give in. The Government struggled for a purely Scotch Committee; they were beaten out of that completely, and a compromise was adopted which worked with fair success, but which was very far short of the ideal which he ventured to suggest as the proper solution of the question, and which was open to the very grave objection that it was not applicable except to Scotland. Now, if Members of the Government, especially those who were controlling the action on this Motion, would only avoid the blunder of last year, they would take the very earliest opportunity of considering how the question could be solved in a way satisfactory to all the points at issue, and the way it could be solved would be by making it applicable to further experiments of the same kind. There were two Amendments down, one in the name of the hon. Member for the Partick Division (Mr. Parker Smith) and the other in the name of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Major Darwin), which did not differ at all in principle. Each worked out the suggestion he had ventured to make before the House, and each started with the desire to create a microcosm of the House. The hon. Member for Lichfield laid down, next to that, this condition: that the microcosm should consist of 87 Members, and that it should have as many Members representing Scottish constituencies in that 87 as was compatible with the principle that the Committee, as a whole, should reflect 840 the House as a whole. That was the Amendment of the hon. Member for Lichfield. The hon. Member for the Partick Division, in his Amendment, started in a different direction. He said take as many Scottish Members as were willing to serve, and add to them as many other Members as were wanted to complete a Grand Committee which would be a microcosm of the whole House. It would, therefore, be seen that there was no difference whatever in principle between the two. The only difference was as to the maximum number of the Committee. The hon. Member for Lichfield fixed 87 as the maximum. The hon. Member for the Partick Division admitted as many Scottish Members as desired to come in, and to these added English, Irish, and Welsh Members, bringing in an unknown number, so that the body so augmented should be a reflex of the composition of this House. Either one of these Amendments was, to his mind, an admissible proposal. On the whole, having regard to the other portions of the kingdom, he thought it desirable they should lay down some maximum for the size of this Committee. They could not, for instance, refer an English Bill to as many English Members as chose to sit, and then add as many Irish and Scottish Members as would approximate to the balance of parties in the House. But they might do that in a limited way if they had a maximum for the Committee of, say, a hundred Members; therefore he thought the proposal of the hon. Member for Partick was open a little to the objection, that though applicable to Scotland, it was not applicable to deal with legislative proposals which came from other parts of the kingdom. The principle, in the form suggested by the hon. Member for Lichfield, might be applied anywhere if Bills were brought forward which, in the judgment of the House, were fit to be referred to such Committee. He was not going to lay down the principle that every Bill emanating from Scotland ought to be referred to a Scottish Grand Committee, or that every Bill emanating from Wales ought to be referred to a Welsh Grand Committee. The House must determine what Bills should be referred to the Committees. He did see in the idea of Grand Committees— 841 largely characterised by local feelings, local information, local interests, and local ideas, but, at the same time, so augmented by Members from other parts of the kingdom that the Committee as a whole should be a reflection and microcosm of the House itself—a means of discharging efficiently and satisfactorily a great amount of work which, it might be said now, was not done, but which ought to be done, and, therefore, he had not shrunk, in any degree, from what he said at Glasgow last year. On the contrary, he would urge upon his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland not to waste his time as he did last year. Let the right hon. Gentleman induce his colleagues, if necessary, to come to a reasonable frame of mind, and do not propose something suitable to Scotland alone. The Secretary for Scotland had put down his Motion so that there should be such an admission of English Scottish, and Irish Members as to produce as close an approximate as possible to the balance of parties in the House. Let him go a little further, let him rise above this provincial limitation to Scotland, and so frame his scheme that it would be applicable to other parts as well. He did not, himself, object to a Grand Committee for Ireland. Assuming that an Irish Grand Committee was a reflex and microcosm of the House it could deal with many Irish problems in a manner that would prove satisfactory. But do not let them waste night after night this year as they did last year, and in the end come to a conclusion satisfactory to no party, when they might have a realised idea if they would only bring independent judgment to the consideration of what he believed to be a practical problem of great interest, and which, he believed, could be solved in a way that would be satisfactory to all.
§ MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
remarked that the right hon. Gentleman had invited them to attempt to apply an idealism which, he was sure, they should be all desirous of embarking upon if their purpose was different to what he took it to be. The majority, at all events, of the House were content with the somewhat humble aspirations of passing through as quickly as possible certain Bills which were not of very great or large general interest. His 842 right hon. Friend suggested that they should improve the procedure of this Chamber in certain very material and important features. If time permitted, what the right hon. Gentleman had advanced with his great authority would be worthy of serious consideration. But what they wanted was, as quickly as possible, to set up this Committee and refer to it, as was done on previous occasions with success, certain Bills which were fit for the consideration of that Committee, and could only be dealt with in that fashion. He thought the Government might be excused if it did not embark upon the wider and more interesting scheme his right hon. Friend had submitted, There was one consideration to which his right hon. Friend had adverted, and for which he thought they might be grateful. He had told them he was entirely and altogether in favour of some scheme of this kind, and that he had none of the fears, shared by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the Government might send an important Bill to a Committee of this kind, and then having withdrawn it from the attention of the House, and from its control over details, pass it by a mechanical majority, and prevent the House again getting control over it. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed his approval from that point of view, of a proposal which was exactly the same as the proposal of the Government. Such a Committee as his right hon. Friend referred to would be a Committee of a party majority just as much as the Committee they were discussing at the present moment. It was only a question of numbers. Throughout the whole debate he noticed the assumption that this was a plan for withdrawing from the consideration of the House Bills of whatever kind and nature. But the proposition was not to send all Scotch Bills to a Standing Committee. It was a proposition to set up such a Standing Committee in order that it might be used whenever it was convenient and proper to do so. It was a proposition which would be controlled in its application entirely by the judgment of the House on each special occasion when a Motion was made to refer a particular Bill. Why was it that in this House more and more they had to consider schemes of this kind? It was 843 because of the congestion of business which made it even more difficult to find time even to consider great Measures, and absolutely impossible to get just attention to secondary and minor Bills which, nevertheless, must be dealt with. Look at the time spent on the discussion, of the Home Rule Bill in Committee. Look at the time taken on the Employers' Liability Bill, even on report. Look at the time the Welsh Disestablishment Bill was likely to take in discussing it. Quite so. Then how was it possible—if Bills were to be fought with such tenacity of purpose—to find time for those other matters, unless means were devised to meet the difficulties of the situation? It was not proposed to withdraw from Parliament matters which were proper for the consideration of the whole House. He should be ashamed of the Government if they sent a highly-contentious measure, such as the Bill for the Disestablishment of the Church of Scotland, to a Scotch Grand Committee. The Scotch Local Government Bill of last year, however, or that memorable Bill, the Burgh Police Bill, was a Bill which he ventured to say was wholly unfit for the consideration of English Members, because they would not take the trouble, and were under no pressure from their localities, and the subject-matter was dry and uninteresting. The Crofters Bill, he admitted, was near the line, but not over the line, because the few important principles it contained could be discussed on report, and the rest was more or less detail of a technical nature and of local character. With regard to the larger scheme adumbrated by the right hon. Member for Bodmin, it was obvious that, at this period of the Session-time could not be found for its consideration, and it went far beyond the immediate purpose. The refore, it seemed to him that the House would do well to confine themselves to a plan which had been tried and succeeded—a plan which could not be objected to, at all events, for a certain class of measures, and which, as regarded other measures, would be open to debate when the proposition to refer those measures came to be discussed.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I do not think that anybody will be inclined to complain of the tone of the very plausible speech to which we have 844 just listened, but I do think the hon. and learned Member has slightly confused, or, at all events, has not sufficiently distinguished between the general object which we all desire to attain, and the particular method which the Government propose for its attainment; and I rise now in the hope that some Member of the Government may be disposed to tell us how far they are willing to meet our just objections. My hon. and learned Friend, in his ingenuous way, said it was only a question of numbers. But surely he must see that the question of numbers in a matter of this kind is one which parties must carefully consider. There is one objection that we have taken all through to the proposals of the Government—namely, that they have been anxious to use the general desire of the House that more time should be given to public business for a party purpose, and in order to obtain a scheme which will give them more than their majority legitimately entitles them to. And although that may not be a matter of very great importance so long as the Bills are non-partisan Bills, yet we know perfectly well how easily the principle will creep on, how likely it is that before long Bills of a controversial character will be proposed, and how convenient it will be for any Government to take an arrangement of this kind, and to use it only for those portions of the United Kingdom in which it has the most decided majority. The hon. baronet the Member for the College Division of Glasgow, said: "It is not our policy to obstruct." Nobody has accused the hon. Member with obstruction during the existence of the present Government. If he had said:" It is not our policy to obstruct now," he perhaps would have more clearly expressed himself, and would have left no doubt at all as to his future intentions. I shall hope to remind the hon. Baronet in the next Parliament of his statement in this, but in the meantime there is no doubt we have about as much interest in the rearrangement of business as the Government and their followers. The discussion has been for the most part confined to the question of numbers, and I was very sorry the hon. and learned Gentleman, when we seemed to be about to come to an arrangement, interposed his great authority to recommend the Government to save time by 845 doing—what? By refusing any concession whatever. I endeavoured, while the hon. and learned Gentleman was speaking, to make a calculation, and I believe the addition of five Members to the 15 would absolutely redress the balance, and make the Committee what it ought to be, a representation of the House as far as the respective numbers of parties are concerned. Now, are the Government going to keep us discussing for four nights, as they did last Session, in order to secure for themselves an extra majority, above what they are entitled to, of five on a Grand Committee to which they say they are going only to refer Bills which are not of a very contentious character? That is the small point to which the matter under discussion has been reduced. At the same time, I do not think it is the only matter we have to consider in regard to this question. But a much larger question is raised by the fact that the Government confine this proposal to one part of the kingdom. If this Committee is set up for Scotland, why on earth should not a separate Committee of this kind be set up for London? What part of the kingdom has more distinct and separate interests than London in respect of the legislation specially required for the benefit of its citizens. Inasmuch as that legislation is to a large extent comparatively uninteresting to the representatives of the rest of the kingdom, why should not a Committee of this kind be set up if the London Members wish? It is probable that if Committees for London and Scotland were set up, Ireland would put forward a claim for similar treatment, which I certainly should be ready in those circumstances to consider favourably, on the understanding that in the case of England all matters similar to those referred to the Irish Committee in the case of Ireland would be referred to an English Committee. As regards a vast amount of what is really non-contentious, non-controversial legislation, a scheme of that kind might be carried out with the best results, because now a great deal of the opposition shown to measures which ought not to be contentious is of a Party character, and in discussions in Grand Committee Party strife would not be so manifest. But there is another point of even greater importance—namely, the need for a definition 846 of the character of the measures to be submitted to these Committees. If we refer to these Grand Committees highly controversial matters it is perfectly certain that we shall break down the institution altogether. These Committees were not instituted with any idea that matters of a controversial kind would be referred to them. I mean matters that Members in every quarter of the House consider to be controversial. It would not do to allow the Government of the day to define what is and what is not controversial. If we did that, we might perhaps have the present Government declaring that the Bill for repealing the Crimes Act is, not a controversial measure. I remember, when the right hon. Member for Midlothian proposed these Committees, he laid it down as of the first importance that it was only non-controversial legislation that should be dealt with in them. I think we have already begun to make considerable inroads upon that principle, and I am quite certain that if we go on in that direction these Committees will finally become quite useless, because they are only useful when they save the time of the House, and if controversial business is to be fought out in Grand Committee it certainly will be fought out over again in this House on the Report stage. When commercial matters, such as those dealt with in the Bankruptcy Act and the Patents Act, or measures like the Scotch Local Government Act of last year, are discussed in a business-like manner in Grand Committee, every one is satisfied and nobody has any desire to renew the discussion in this House. Having regard to these considerations, I ask the Government to give us an assurance which will be likely to shorten this discussion considerably. If they will accept the principle that not 15 Members, nor any fixed number of Members, should be added to these Committees, but that such a number should be added as would redress the balance and cause the Committees to represent accurately the state of Parties in this House, the Government will dispose at once of the first objection which has been raised. Then, if they would say that they will be ready to take into account the evident feeling of the Opposition with regard to the nature and character of any Bills which they 847 may desire to submit to these Grand Committees, I think they would remove the strongest objection to the plan which we entertain.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I fully recognise the conciliatory and almost amiable spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman has discussed this question. He has made certain suggestions, and said that their acceptance would render the present task of the Government easier of accomplishment. The Government showed last year a very strong desire to meet what appeared to be the general sense of the House with regard to this matter. Last year we proposed a Committee of Scotch Members for Scotch legislation. I do not admit now that there was anything unfair or unconstitutional in that proposal as originally made. The right hon. Gentleman asks why this procedure should not be applied to all the smaller and less important parts of the Kingdom—[Opposition cries of "Oh!" and laughter]—I mean less important in respect of size and population. [Cries of "London" and "England."] I was not referring to England as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman's question was why this procedure should not be applied to parts of England if it is to be applied to Scotland. The answer to that is that Scotland is a distinct political entity, with distinct legislation of its own, with different laws, and with a different system both of Church and State. It stands, therefore, on a totally different footing from other parts of the Kingdom, to which reference has been made. But if it is thought that we are likely to be frightened by the argument that this procedure might also be applied to England and Ireland, all I can say is that most of us would not be at all averse to see a somewhat similar plan proposed in respect of those countries. In fact, I and some of my friends have already indicated by our votes what we consider to be a better way of accomplishing that object. The right hon. Gentleman has inquired as to the disposition of the Government upon three separate points. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman leads the Opposition in this matter, but, answering him as a person of authority, I can say there is one at least of his suggestions to which we should not 848 be unfavourably disposed. The right hon. Gentleman said that it is desirable to make this proposed Committee a microcosm of the House of Commons. Well, we accepted that principle by the action which we took last year, and if the circumstances have in any respect altered, and if the same number of Members as were then added to the Committee will not enable the same results to be attained this year, I will not say that we are particularly bound to oppose an addition to the number. The object of the right hon. Gentleman, as I understand it, is that a certain number of Members should be added, it being left to the Committee of Selection so to choose the Members as to insure a proportionate representation on the Committee of the Parties in this House. We are perfectly ready to consider that proposal, and if the number—20—suggested by the right hon. Gentleman would effect his object, and if by accepting the proposal we could materially abbreviate this discussion and secure the establishment of the Committee, the Government would not be disposed to raise any objections to the plan. Then we are asked whether the Resolution ought not to be so framed as to be applicable to other parts of the country. To propose a scheme applicable to the three countries would be too large an enterprise at this period of the Session. But when the right hon. Gentleman indicated that the plan might in certain circumstances be applied to London, and even Ireland, I was filled with surprise, and I am inclined to ask, "Is Saul, then, also among the prophets?" and to doubt whether we unfortunate people who sit on this side of the House are the only Members who deserve the name of Separatists. But it is not we who will find fault with the right hon. Gentleman on this ground. If he thinks it desirable to propose, in another Session, that this procedure should be carried further, acknowledging that there are other nationalities in the kingdom besides Scotland which require similar treatment, I do not think he will find that much objection will be raised in this quarter of the House. But then another point has been raised as to the particular measures to be referred to the Committee when it is appointed. I should have thought that 849 the words of my right hon. Friend's resolution were explicit enough. The hon. Member for Leeds suggested, I believe, that they were so wide that it might be open to a Government, for instance, to adopt a measure dealing with the Disestablishment of the Scotch Church and refer it to this Committee.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
What I said was that that would be a very small step in advance of the Resolution.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Such a proceeding would be quite alien to the spirit of the Resolution. The Committee is to be appointed for the consideration—Of all Bills introduced by a Minister of the Crown, relating exclusively to Scotland, which may by order of the House be committed to them.''The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said that the Resolution ought to be confined to Bills which were referred by the common consent of the House. Does not the right hon. Gentleman see that that would give power to a small minority to prevent effective action being taken with regard to any Bill to which they took exception?
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
By "common consent," I meant, of course, the consent of a large majority. I did not mean that the unanimous assent of the House should be required.
Well that is so much to the good; but, really, what is it the Government propose? We indicate the Bills we have in view in the Resolution itself, and my right hon. Friend near me mentioned as a Bill which, in the opinion of the Government, the House would do well to refer to the Committee, the Bill relating to county government. I do not imagine anyone would say that that Bill was not a proper Bill to be referred to the Committee. Then there is the Bill relating to inquiries into fatal accidents. There is, no doubt, a little professional objection to that Bill in some quarters of the House, but in the main it is a Bill which is largely desired in Scotland. Then I come to the Crofters Bill, and I suppose the whole of this argument has been addressed to that Bill. Well, the Crofters Bill is the extension of an Act which has done almost incalculable good in the 850 north of Scotland, and when the Bill was submitted to the House the objection which the leader of the Opposition took to it was—not that it was a revolutionary measure to be opposed in every way the forms of the House allow, but that it did not go far enough, that it only related to the larger class of agriculturists, the crofters, and that the cottars were excluded from its application.
§ MR. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I do not present that version as strictly accurate in every point, but the right hon. Gentleman will admit that his objection was of that nature. [Mr. BALFOUR: "No."] He certainly urged upon the House the desirability of providing for the cottars. At any rate, though there may be great difference of opinion in regard to that Bill, it is a Bill which the general sense of the House would consider likely to be made into a beneficial instrument for the welfare of the people in a large part of Scotland. I trust that, addressing ourselves to the matter in what I think the House will admit is a conciliatory spirit, and seeking to meet as we do all the reasonable proposals for amendment that have been put forward, hon. Members on the other side of the House who have spoken on the subject will themselves change their views. I do not wish to introduce a single word that would strike a note of discord, but I confess I am amazed that Scotch Members should take any steps not only to prevent this Committee from being set up, but to prevent any Scotch legislation of a serious nature from being passed this Session. That will be the effect of any serious or prolonged opposition to the proposal of the Government. We put before the House a method by which useful Scotch business can be passed. If right hon. Gentlemen opposite and their followers take the other line and say:—We do not wish Scotch legislation to pass or this improvement to be made in the conditions of business in the House, and we will hinder the setting up of the Committee which last year was found to be almost a complete success,then I cannot wish the Scotch supporters of right hon. Gentlemen opposite joy of the reception they will meet with when they go to their constituencies.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman did no more than justice to himself when he said he met the proposal of my right hon. Friend opposite in a conciliatory spirit. The whole tone of his speech was calculated not to aggravate the Debate, but, as far as it went, to make our discussion harmonious. I would go further, and say that the right hon. Gentleman's speech shows that the Government have succeeded in altogether unlearning the doctrine they taught themselves and attempted to teach the House last year—that it was not an unjust proceeding for a Government to augment the small majority they possessed in the House by using that small majority for the purpose of creating a large majority in a Committee-room. That was one of the principles, perhaps the main principle, that occupied our attention last year; but now we have it finally recognised, never again, I hope, to be called into question by a Minister of the Crown, that every Committee of this House, be it Select Committee or Grand Committee, should be a faithful reflection of the balance of Parties. On the general principle of Grand Committees let me make this observation. I am entirely in favour of the machinery which was brought into operation some years ago, and which has worked extremely well and enabled the House to do a great deal of useful business. So much do I value the principle of Grand Committees that I should regret to see anything done which would bring that particular form of Parliamentary machinery into disrepute, and I have watched with growing alarm and disquietude the way in which the Government, Session after Session, have shown an inclination to refer to Grand Committees Bills of a more and more controversial character, until yesterday we reached the climax when a Minister of the Crown got up in the House and suggested the reference to a Grand Committee of the Bill for the repeal of the Crimes Act. I say it with all seriousness that if that is the spirit in which Grand Committees are going to be used they are doomed. We have already seen, in the course of this Session, two Bills which were referred to Grand Committees passed through, in spite of the protests of minorities, without Amendments, and the result of that is that the 852 House never at any stage was able to discuss the details of those Bills. And I do not doubt that if hon. Gentlemen below the gangway had succeeded in referring the one clause which seeks to repeal the Crimes Act to a Grand Committee, that Clause would have been passed without a word or a syllable being changed. Even with regard to this Scotch Committee the Government propose to refer to it one Bill at least which is of so controversial a character that, in my judgment, it falls outside the scope of the class of Bills which ought to be referred to Grand Committees; but let me recall to the recollection of the House that you cannot multiply Grand Committees indefinitely, for this, among other reasons—that the number of Members in the House is not adequate to do the work. I have here a paper showing the number of Members who, in addition to their ordinary work in the House, served on more than one Grand Committee. Ten Gentlemen served on the Scotch Committee and the Grand Committee on Trade. Ten other Gentlemen served on the Scotch Committee and the Grand Committee on Law, and there were two Gentlemen who served both on the Grand Committee on Law and the Grand Committee on Trade. It is impossible for any Gentlemen interested in the current work in the House also to work on these Grand Committees. The result last year was that some Members whose advice was most necessary in the Grand Committees practically never attended them. The Home Secretary attended the Scotch Grand Committee once for half-an-hour, the President of the Board of Trade once, the right hon. Member for Midlothian very naturally did not attend at all, the hon. and learned Member for Haddingtonshire—who has spoken of the enormous importance of Scotch Grand Committees—last year attended twice, the former Solicitor General, a Scotch Member, attended three times—for a brief space each time—and the Attorney General did not attend at all. Another Gentleman attended six times. I myself attended three times. This was not owing to idleness or indifference to the work of the Grand Committee, but because it is physically impossible for a man to sit here from half-past three in the afternoon until midnight taking 853 a leading part in the Debates, and, in addition to all his other work, to attend the labours of the Grand Committee. It cannot be done; and if you are immoderate in this use of Grand Committees, many of the most important Members of the House will be absolutely excluded from discussions in which they are well qualified to take, and it is almost essential they should take, part. The right hon. Member for Bodmin desires to see these Committees with a strong national flavour or element in them. I have no objection whatever to that in moderation, but I lay down as a general principle that these Committees should be composed of experts rather than persons from a particular locality. Scotch Members do not necessarily know everything about every question that comes before these Committees. A Member who represents an agricultural constituency in the south of Scotland is not thereby qualified to deal with the very peculiar circumstances of the population in the six crofting counties. The Secretary for Scotland said that, however ignorant Members might be at the beginning of the work of a Grand Committee, under the wholesome discipline of a series of visits from their constituents the Committee soon became a Committee of experts. But I should like them to begin as experts and not be left experts when the Bill is finished. The numbers of these Grand Committees should be limited to 70 or 80, or some other manageable number, and there should be a preponderance of Scotch Members who really have a special knowledge of the question, making up the total with English and Irish Members who would reflect the opinions of the House. On these lines you might have English Grand Committees which should deal with non-controversial Bills. A Grand Committee composed entirely of English Members would lie grotesque. It would remove some 400 Gentlemen from this House to a room yet to be built—Westminster Hall or some other large place of assembly—where they could carry on their debates in numbers probably not less than those that habitually take part in the business of the whole House. While I express this general concurrence with the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, I repeat that neither his plan 854 nor any plan is possible if once controversial Bills are to be referred to these Grand Committees. Would the Government dare to refer to an English Committee reflecting the balance of opinion in this House the discussion of such a measure as the Local Veto Bill? I do not think so. It would knock the Committee to pieces and discredit the whole system of Grand Committees The crucial point is, how are we to distinguish between controversial and non-controversial measures? The right hon. Gentleman opposite had the courage to tell the House that the Crofters Bill was not a controversial measure, and quoted what I said on the First Reading. I expressly stated that the First Reading was not the occasion for a critical survey of the Bill. But if he will read the rest of my speech he will see I showed that, in the extension of the crofter area and the breaking of leases and in other matters of not less importance, principles were raised of the utmost difficulty, necessarily controversial, and necessarily touching on the interests of important classes in the Highlands. I added that the Bill, as presented to the House, was ill-calculated to serve the interests of the poorer part of the crofter and cotter population, nor is that denied by anybody. Then I want to know how is that Grand Committee to deal with such a Bill? Will you permit the Grand Committee to suggest the expenditure of public money on light railways, to initiate a vast scheme of migration and deal with those difficulties? I do not believe that many of the difficulties could be dealt with. All I say is that a Bill which does not deal with them does not touch the crofter question at all. The Secretary for War jeered at the suggestion that a Disestablishment Bill should be referred to a Grand Committee. The right hon. Gentleman's own Lord Advocate suggested last year that a Disestablishment and Disendowment Bill was the very sort of Bill that ought to be and could be referred to a Grand Committee.
§ MR. BALFOUR
What the right hon. Gentleman stated was that under this Resolution it could not be referred to the Grand Committee because it was not initiated by the Government. But did 855 he or did he not give us to understand that it was the kind of Bill that ought to be referred?
§ MR. BALFOUR
Then I want to know where we are. Do the Government hold up their sleeve in some other Session a card not yet played referring to Disestablishment? The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us last year that the Crofters Bill and the Land Bill were not proper Bills to be referred to the Grand Committee. The Government seem to have advanced since then. What is to be the limit of that advance? Their old principles they have already abandoned; what are their new principles, and how are they to be carried out? It is a mistake—and I say this especially to English Members—to suppose that a Bill like the Crofters Bill is purely a Scottish matter. When you deal with questions of landlord and tenant that necessarily arouse deep feelings, it is absurd to say that Bills of that kind are not to be described as in the highest degree controversial. It is manifest that the right hon. Gentleman had made a great concession, the value of which I recognise, and which will largely shorten our Debates on this matter. But he has not gone, or attempted to go, the full length that is necessary. We cannot contemplate with any confidence the future of a plan which, in its present form, is not applicable to other areas than Scotland, and which is not safeguarded by a provision that no Bills subjected to its action shall be of a controversial character. The very fact that the Government have announced their intention of referring one of the most controversial Bills that could be brought into the House, shows how little we ought to assent to their proposal in its main scope until they have provided some safeguard which will prevent abuse, in the future, of this particular form of Committee, and which they show themselves only too ready to commit in the present Session. I believe the concession of the right hon. Gentleman will save us from the necessity of Moving one or two of the Amendments we have put on the Paper, but there are other matters, however, both on the general question and on the detail of the proposal, which we must debate. In conclusion, I have 856 only to say that, if this or any other Government are to set up Grand Committees, I have no objection to one nation being largely represented upon it if you choose the members of that nation because they know about the subject. I have no objection, in the second place, to the setting up of any number of Grand Committees provided you do not interfere with the general work of this House, and no controversial, business is submitted to them. Till those three conditions are fulfilled I shall look with suspicion upon, and I shall oppose, any proposal for dealing in the manner suggested by the Government with this vast issue. I beg hon. Members who are interested in the work of this House, and are anxious for its future success, to watch with great suspicion the beginning of a movement which, unless safeguarded at every turn, may end in bringing the whole machinery of Grand Committees into hopeless disrepute.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, the Government had undertaken to alter the Resolution. It was only reasonable they should state distinctly how the Amendment was to be altered.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said, it was proposed that the word "twenty" should be substituted for "fifteen." That would enable the Committee of Selection to secure absolutely a balance of Parties.
MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanarkshire, Partick)
said, it had been pointed out very strongly that one of the great objections to the scheme of a Scotch Committee consisted in the possibility of controversial Bills being referred to it. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Leeds that it would be only one step further for the Government next year to propose——
§ MR. BARTLEY,
rising to a point of Order, asked where they were. Had the Government moved their Amendment?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
There is an Amendment down in the name of the hon. Member for Wigtonshire, which I suppose would be excluded if the right hon. Gentleman moved an Amendment which comes somewhat lower down in the Resolution.
MR. PARKER SMITH
said the order of the Amendments was to be considered very carefully, because, if the 857 right hon. Gentleman now moved the words he had expressed his willingness to move, and which stood in his (Mr. Parker Smith's) name, all Amendments in front would be cut out. He was pointing out that a very strong objection was felt to referring to the Standing Committee Bills which were controversial. That had been enlarged on by two or three Members. But there was another point upon which they ought to receive an assurance from the Government. It was perfectly possible that a Bill, as referred to a Standing Committee, might not be controversial, but that when it came down from Committee it might be extremely controversial. Last year the Scotch Local Government Bill was discussed almost entirely on non-controversial grounds. One Amendment, however, was carried against the Secretary for Scotland by his own supporters, and the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the possibility of the Amendment wrecking the Bill. When the Bill came down to the House, the Secretary for Scotland accepted the Amendment on the ground that he felt he ought to take the Bill as it left the Standing Committee. If such a practice were to prevail in all similar cases, there was an end to Ministerial responsibility. Take the Crofters Bill—a small Bill—which it was proposed to send upstairs. Did anyone believe that if that Bill went upstairs to a Committee composed as last year's Committee was composed, it would come down a proposal of the same magnitude? The supporters of the Government would propose all kinds of extensive Amendments, which doubtless would be deprecated by the Secretary for Scotland. They would, however, be carried, and the Bill would come back, not in its present shape, but in a shape to which far more serious objection might, perhaps, be taken, by a very large part of the House. The Government would, by the use of the Standing Committee, have succeeded in getting to the Report stage a highly controversial Bill. That was a danger surrounding the reference of Bills to Standing Committee as to which they ought to have some assurance from the Government. Would it be the policy of the Secretary for Scotland to take the same course he took last year?
§ SIR MARK STEWART
desired some explanation as to the numbers of the 858 Committee, because he could not think that 20 added to 72 made a satisfactory tribunal. If they had a Committee of 60 Members, some of them representing Scotch interests, some of these gentlemen who had to do with matters cognate to those interests, and who were able to give a good and wise judgment upon them—gentlemen drawn from all quarters of the House and all parts of the country—they would have a good Committee and one which would inspire confidence. He could see a very great danger in the House losing control over Scotch measures by means of a Committee exclusively composed of Scotch Members. Again, there ought to be some intimation made to them in regard to the partisan question of Bills. It was nonsense to say that no Government would permit partisan Bills to be discussed by a Standing Committee. Great pressure was often put upon the Treasury Bench. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite might be quite willing and ready to say it was not their intention to launch partisan questions on the attention of Standing Committees, but they were helpless when their supporters pressed them. As a Scotch Member, he should like to hear a distinct statement made with regard to the Church of Scotland. There was a Bill before the House which, although it was a Private Bill fathered by an hon. Member for Glasgow, they were told that the Government had made their own. It was a contentious Bill, and if it came before the proposed Scotch Committee it would rend the Committee in twain. There would be no end of obstruction, by which the object of the Committee would be defeated; and there would be scenes unequalled since the meetings of Irish Members in Room No. 15. An illustration of what the Government might be induced to do was furnished on Wednesday, when the Chief Secretary entertained the notion of sending to an Irish Committee the Bill for repealing the Crimes Act. That was a course that would not be fair to Scotch Members, or Welsh Members, or English Members. The question of appointing a Scotch Committee was one that ought to be considered far more closely and attentively than it was allowed to be by this opportunity, and all the details ought to be fully gone into. If the Motion was 859 passed in a thoughtless manner, it would give rise to much difficulty. Let the matter be set about in a business-like way, and there might be good hopes of a satisfactory and fruitful result, realising the intentions of the Government. But if they did not do that, they would have constant difficulties and Debates as to what were contentious measures and what were not. It was understood that the Crofters Bill, which was on the Orders for that night, was to be one of the measures to be sent to the Scotch Committee; but he had understood that the idea of placing it in that position was repudiated by the Leader of the House, who said he would not be induced to let that Bill go to a Committee. The Local Government Bill would not take a long time in Committee: the Committee would not hesitate to pass it in one or two days. The Fatal Accidents Bill raised questions that were mainly for lawyers, and it would be better to send it to the Grand Committee on Law than to a Scotch Committee. The Grand Committee would have the help of Scotch experts, and they would be able to deal with the measure in a practical way. Yet these were the two measures the Government were going to send to the Scotch Committee. They spoke of the satisfaction given by the Scotch Committee last year; but the circumstances now were entirely different. Then it had to deal with the consequences of previous legislation. Both Parties were pledged to carry the Parish Councils Bill, and an objection to the constitution of the Committee was met by adding 15 Members. He sat on the Committee, and, if he missed one or two of the meetings, it was because he was engaged at the time on another Committee in which he took an equal, if not a greater, interest. What was his position now? That very week he was on four Committees; and while they continued to sit how could he attend the Scotch Committee if he was put upon it? Other Members were in a similar position; and how could they attend to Grand Committees and Select Committees sitting at the same time? Committees were multiplied regardless of the work they wore throwing on Members. Where would the Government find 60 fresh and unoccupied Members to form another Committee? There were not sufficient 860 Members available to man the Committees. Some Members had to attend to professional business; some were called out of London. All were striving to do their best; but the truth was that many were overworked, and work was ill-done. Members were obliged to absent themselves from Committees from causes over which they had no control; they lost the thread of the inquiries; their work was imperfectly done; and Bills did not return to the House amended as they ought to be. Sometimes Members were put on Committees without being in a position to render any useful service. He was put on the Committee of the Burghs Police (Scotland) Bill; but as a Scotch County Member he did not know any thing about boroughs. He found a great amount of ignorance of the subject on the part of Members of the Committee. By attending assiduously he learned a good deal, but he was not the right man to put on the Committee. Scotch Members could not be expected to know everything about Scotland, and Members ought to be selected carefully for the specific purposes for which Committees were appointed. This was an Imperial question. Scotch Members were elected in the first place to attend to Imperial interests, and in the second place to look after local interests; and those who made it their first duty to attend to Imperial interests made the best Members of Parliament. From this point of view he held that the Resolution ought not to be passed without careful consideration. If the Government did not get through more business it was because they tried to do too much. He agreed with the Prime Minister that there was no use in laying out a gigantic programme when so little could be passed. At the end of the Session it would be found they had not done one-tenth of what they ought to do. Why should they be anxious to help a lame dog over a style? They might work at a sound programme if it was placed before them; but they were not inclined to weary themselves on Scotch and Grand Committees for so little result. The success of the Scotch Committee last Session was attained by a sacrifice of health and strength, which Members were not disposed to go through again; and he asked the House to pause before it set up another Grand Committee.
*SIR HERBERT MAXWELL rose to move, as an Amendment, to leave out all after "that" and insert—
''This House declines to entertain a proposal to refer Bills to Standing Committees on the basis of separate nationalities and irrespectively of the subject matter of such Bills, and is of opinion that such a course would not only be contrary to the spirit and usages of the Imperial Parliament, but also undesirable in view of the Bills referring to Scotland, or parts of Scotland, now before the House.
The fortunes of war, he said, were somewhat unpropitious, in that it fell to his lot to move his Amendment at a moment when the Secretary for Scotland was absent from the House; and, seeing that Her Majesty's Government was totally unrepresented on the Treasury Bench, he was at a loss to know to what quarter of the House he should direct his observations. His experience of the House, which extended over a good many years, had led him to believe that the importance of the question under discussion was to be gauged—not accurately, perhaps, but approximately—by the amount of interest shown in it by the supporters of Her Majesty's Government. When the Speaker returned to the Chair there was not a single Member on the Benches opposite. However, matters were better now, and he would proceed to address himself to the subject under discussion, confining the scope of his remarks to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, and the Amendment he proposed to move. He could take no exception to the terms in which the Secretary for Scotland moved this Resolution, nor to the estimate which he had given of the valuable labour performed by the Scotch Grand Committee last year. But, at the same time, he detected in the right hon. Gentleman's Motion a proposition, which, if carried, would go very far to subvert the traditions, the procedure, and the spirit of the Imperial Legislature. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that the arguments which were brought forward against the proposal last year were over-ruled, and that their value was disproved by the result of the experiment. It was quite true that the evil precedent of a Standing Committee on a national basis was accomplished last year. But did the right hon. Gentleman suppose that their objections were so insincere and hollow as to be set aside by the
establishment of that Committee, and by the business-like way in which, as Scotchmen, they dealt with the questions which came before them for decision? Did he suppose that their objections, on principle, had been lulled by the practical effect which it had given to the measure which he put before it? Not only did their objections remain, but in some respects they were stronger than they were last year. If they agreed to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal now, they would be taxed in future years with having acquiesced in a definition of national representation as distinct from, and in a great measure independent of, the Imperial Parliament, and that they were not prepared to do. So far from acquiescing in this proposal, there were circumstances which deepened their distrust, and if possible strengthened their opposition to it. In the first place, the proposal of last year was put before the House as an experiment. The Scottish Members, he supposed, were deemed more patient and pliant than Members from other parts of the kingdom, and therefore they were put forward last year as the subject of this experiment. But they objected to be the subject of repeated experiments; they objected to be brought forward again as a corpus vile. Why should they be sent forth into the wilderness again, because the time of the House suffered from the redundant garrulity—he should say eloquence—of Irish Members, or the inconvenient importunity of Welsh Members, or the intolerable prolixity of English Members? Why should some other nationality be made a scapegoat? The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the irksome duty which lay upon Members of waiting about in the Lobbies, waiting for business in which they had a direct concern. But he did not show how Scotch Members in the future were to be exempted from hanging about. They were to have hard work upstairs and hanging about downstairs. There were this year's special and weighty considerations which disposed them less than ever to accept this proposal. Last year the only measure referred to the Standing Committee was one which, although very wide in its scope, was in its essence non-controversial. It was opposed by no Party in the House, and in the bulk of its details was uninteresting, and
in a great measure unintelligible to Members from other parts of the country. The Bill of last year, though it was a great one, was in its essence un-controversial. How stood the case this year? The Secretary for Scotland said that three Bills would be referred to the Committee. The first was the Fatal Accidents Bill. The Scottish Members, as such, could have no special faculties for dealing with such a measure. It was a measure which concerned the gentlemen of the long robe, and there was the Standing Committee on Law to deal with this Bill. Could anyone say that the Standing Committee on Law was not competent, with the addition of Scottish Members, to deal with a purely technical measure such as this? The next Bill was the Crofters Bill. It was a measure which bristled in every line with controversial matter. It was, moreover, a measure in which the majority of the Scottish Members, those representing lowland and urban constituencies, could have no special knowledge to enable them to deal with it. It was a measure, besides, referring not to the whole of Scotland, but to certain counties and parts of counties in which there had lingered an archaic, wasteful form of agriculture. But that form of agriculture the Government had determined to foster and to encourage. Over the greater part of Scotland that system did not prevail with which the Crofters Bill was intended to apply. The principles involved in that Bill were of much wider application than in those counties and parishes which were brought within the purview of the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. Last year the right hon. Gentleman said that no question which could seriously affect any other part of the kingdom directly could possibly come before the Scottish Committee. But in the Crofters Bill principles and practice were involved which might and almost would ultimately affect other parts of the United Kingdom, and notably that part of the United Kingdom with which the right hon. Gentleman was connected—Northumberland. It was a matter of common knowledge, not only in Northumberland but in the whole of the North of England and South of Scotland, there once prevailed the system known as crofting;
and in many counties in the south there still lingered shreds and patches where the people might be accurately described as crofters. Therefore the proposal to refer the Bill to the Standing Committee transgressed the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman laid down, last year that no legislation would be referred to that Committee if it could by any possibility be applied to other parts of the United Kingdom. He did not wish to underrate the importance of the third measure—the Local Government Bill for Scotland. It contained most valuable provisions, but was it a measure of such a scope that a Standing Committee should be set to deal with it pro hâc vice? It was a useful piece of domestic legislation. The most salient features in it were bridle-paths, manure heaps, milking cans, and house drains. It was a Bill indeed which the House itself could dispose of in two or three hours, but to send it to a Grand Committee was like cracking a walnut with a steam hammer. He appealed to the House to protect Scotland from these unjust attacks on the powers of physical endurance of Members. It would be impossible for Scottish Members to take their full and fair share in Imperial legislation, and at the same time to render service on this Committee. Overt attempts had been made in the past to impair the Imperial character of Parliament. Hitherto they had been successfully resisted; and he appealed to hon. Members to support the Scottish Members in protesting against this proposal. They ought not to look upon this as purely a Scottish question. They ought rather to make this covert and subterranean attack on the Imperial Legislature as abortive as the attempt that was made a few years ago. He concluded by moving his Amendment.
§ MR. T. H. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.),
in rising to support the Amendment, said that he thought the House was entitled to some reply to the arguments of the last speaker. There seemed to be a singular lack in the speeches from the Government Benches that evening, and the Secretary for Scotland, in his speech, seemed to display great want of argument. His quotation from Mr. Bright was met by a quotation from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian. Last year the one Bill before the Scotch Committee was an essentially 865 non-contentious and lengthy Bill, whereas one of the Bills now proposed would have passed through the House in the time occupied in the present discussion. He believed that it would. But the right hon. Gentleman further proposed to submit the Crofters' Bill to the Scotch Committee. That was a highly contentious measure, not merely between Party and Party, but between Members of the Opposition and Members of the Government.
§ MR. COCHRANE
Well, supporters of the Government—he might say intermittent supporters of the Government. Great fatigue was felt by the Scotch Members in attending the Scotch Committee, in spite of what had been said to the contrary by the Secretary for Scotland. He did not see why Scotchmen were different to any other men. He did not see why they should be boycotted from the House driven upstairs, and treated as outcasts, and as unfit to conduct their business in the House. The House was hardly ever fuller than it was that, afternoon, and the suggestion made last year that the House emptied as soon as Scotch business came under discussion was un-just to the Scotch Members and libellous on the House. He did not say that in any offensive spirit. All business was more or less technical, but Scotch not more so than other business. He did not see how the Crofters' Bill could be considered a more technical measure to understand and follow than the Irish Land Bill, which bristled with technical points. Was there any single point in the Crofters' Bill which so bristled with difficulties as that Irish case of Adams v. Dunseath? Then the right hon Gentleman stated that there was a good old Scottish way of doing business, which was not a good old English, or a good old Irish, or a good old Welsh way of doing business. But if there were such a way, would it not be a good example for those other branches and other Members to see? One point not mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, but mentioned by the Secretary for war (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) was, that Scotland differed from England, but that England was not different to Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out 866 that Scotland had different laws, a different Church, and was in other ways different to England, and whilst he said that this was a reason for giving Scotland a Grand Committee, he argued that it was no reason for giving England such a Committee. That was an argument he could not possibly understand, and he would leave it to the House. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to say that he thought Home Rule all round was better than Grand Committees. His hon. Friend the Member for Inverness-shire said "Hear, hear!"; then if the right hon. Gentleman and his friends earnestly believed this, why did they not propose Home Rule all round instead of the Grand Committees? The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had carried a Resolution in favour of Home Rule all round, and the Secretary for Scotland supported it, but no Bill had been brought in to follow out the Resolution. Was that Resolution, then, a sham, and merely a waste of time? If it was moved for the purpose of catching votes in the country he could understand it; but if the Resolution was seriously intended, it seemed to him, after what the Secretary for War had said about Home Rule all round that night, and after the support given to the proposal by the Secretary for Scotland, that it was a retrograde step on their part now to consent to the proposal merely of a Grand Committee for Scotland. But he thought it was not difficult to perceive the real reason why the Government had proposed the appointment of this Committee. They had a very limited majority—a majority quite insufficient to pass those important measures which formed their programme, and which the Prime Minister, he thought, had described as deadly and destructive. The object of the Government, then, it seemed to him, was to make use of their small majority twice over—first by using it upstairs on the Grand Committee, and afterwards by using it in the House. Evidently they thus thought they would double their majority. The Premier, in describing this state of affairs, spoke of the Government as a cannon, loaded to the muzzle with deadly and destructive balls, or measures, but he said they had a totally insufficient majority behind them to launch the balls at the enemy. It seemed to him that what the Secretary 867 for Scotland wanted to do by this proposal was to increase the power of this cannon, first by aiming it upstairs at Scotchmen and Scotch measures, and then bringing the weapon downstairs and discharging it at Englishmen, Welshmen, and Irishmen. But he doubted whether thus firing the cannon twice in one day would produce the results that were anticipated; greater noise might be made, but the destructive effect of the shots would not be increased. Now, he understood that it was the practice, that if the Government brought forward an important Bill, and a vital proposal in connection with that Bill was rejected by the House, or even by a Committee, the Government resigned. That very state of things had occurred more than once upstairs. On the question, he thought, of the erection of workmen's dwellings, an Amendment was proposed in Committee, which the Secretary for Scotland said would make the Bill unworkable if it was passed; and which, he said, the Government must oppose. The Government did oppose it, but nevertheless the Amendment was carried in the teeth of the Government by a considerable majority. If that had occurred in the House, after such a statement from a Minister, the Government would surely have had to reconsider their position. But no such course was taken on this occasion. The right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Government accepted the slap in the face; and afterwards feebly supported the Bill in the House. The House of Lords restored the Bill to the state in which it was when it was introduced into the Grand Committee, and then the right hon. Gentleman went down to the country and charged the House of Lords with having emasculated the Bill. He could not characterise that action too strongly. The House of Lords had merely done what the right hon. Gentleman would have done if he had had the courage of his opinions—if he had had a spark of the courage which he should have shown as the Leader of the Committee, he would have stood to his guns at any risk. This, he thought opened up a prospect of some importance and danger. A Government—for the sake of argument he might say an unscrupulous Government—might introduce an apparently innocent Bill, and 868 send it to a Grand Committee. By that Committee important Amendments might be proposed affecting the principle of the Bill, but the Government might consent to defeat and accept them. The result would be that the Bill would come back to the House completely altered, and in a form that the majority of the House would not approve. The Crofters Bill might be brought before the Grand Committee, possibly the Government might be defeated by their own supporters, on Amendments that entirely altered the character of the Bill, and thus it would come back to the House in an altogether different form. In that case it would be the duty of the House on the Report stage to thoroughly discuss those Amendments and to again raise the whole question. If he thought the appointment of a Grand Committee would be for the benefit of Scotland, and would be to the advantage of public business, he would not oppose it; but he thought, on the contrary, that it would be a disadvantage to the country, and would result in a great waste of time and energy. Until the House could elicit some scheme to regulate clearly the kind of Bills that should be submitted to a Grand Committee, it would be very undesirable to set it up.
§ MR. HARRY SMITH (Falkirk District)
said, that if this Resolution were carried it would give Scotland a privilege which was denied to England, Wales, and Ireland. [Cries of "No."] His hon. Friend had endeavoured to show that, if it was carried, it would be something in the nature, not of a privilege but an insult, and that it would be another Scottish grievance. He thought that was an entirely erroneous conception, and that the hon. Member would find that his constituents, so far from regarding it as an insult, would regard it as a very great boon indeed. The hon. Baronet the Member for Wigtownshire enlarged upon the greater amount of work which would be put upon the Scotch Members if this Committee was appointed, and urged that it would be more than they could do. No Member, however, of the Scotch Grand Committee last year was more constant in his attendance or more useful in the Committee than the hon. Baronet himself, and yet he had also found time for a great many literary productions, for which they were all 869 indebted to him. The hon. Baronet said it would be wrong to include all the Scotch Members in such a Committee as this, because the burgh Members, in particular, had no knowledge of Highland questions, such as the Crofter question.
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
desired to explain that he did not put the argument in that way. He had pointed out that there was no special reason for referring the Crofters Bill to a Standing Committee composed of all the Scotch Members, because the greater part of the Scotch Members, representing the burghs and the southern counties, had no special knowledge of the Crofter question.
§ MR. HARRY SMITH
said he was sorry if he had misrepresented the hon. Baronet's argument. He himself, however, represented a constituency that did not, so far as he knew, contain a single crofter or cottar in it; but there was no subject which excited more interest in the constituency, because Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, and other districts in the south of Scotland swarmed with the direct descendants of evicted crofters.
§ MR. W. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
admitted that when the proposal to delegate the business of the House was first brought forward, it had seemed to him at first sight to be a very reasonable proposal. He did not think it was quite fair to give the opinion which had been quoted from Mr. Bright, because at that time he had not had experience of what would be the working of this proposal. He assumed that, with the proposal to appoint 20 Members, the Grand Committee would be fairly representative of the majority of the House, but that was not all. There were many difficulties arising from Committees sitting upstairs at the time the House was doing its business. They found it very difficult indeed to attend those Committees, it was almost impossible, and a proposal to increase these Committees was not one, he thought, which deserved the attention of the House. Nor did he think that they could have the business of particular localities delegated to Members representing those localities, because when they got these Members with a certain amount of local knowledge they got also a certain amount of local prejudice, partisanship, and, in many instances, interest. That would not be 870 the case with the whole House. If they wanted really to have good legislation they must not have Scotland governed by Scotch Members, or else it would have been better that Scotland should never have been united to England at all. The very object of the Union was to bring to bear the unbiassed minds of men upon matters in which they had no particular interest, but upon which they could decide as Statesmen. It was urged that they would get through a great deal more business. The business of the House was too large, but why? Because of late years it had been obstructed entirely by proposed constitutional changes. If the devolution of local business to Grand Committees was to enable Parliament to continue in that course it would be decidedly a move in the wrong direction. The House should be engaged with the local affairs of every part of the United Kingdom. He saw no reason why Scotland should have a Grand Committee to herself; if the principle were adopted it would have to be applied to London, Lancashire, and other parts of the country also. The scheme was one calculated to lower the character of Parliament, and therefore he was in favour of the Amendment.
§ *MR. J. H. C. HOZIER (Lanarkshire, South)
said, that many people live and learn, but the hon. Baronet for the College Division of Glasgow seemed to live and learn with a vengeance. Few who heard his speech that evening would realise that actually that identical hon. Member had said in the House of Commons as recently as on March 6th, 1888:—As for this peddling and pottering through Grand Committees, it is not wanted by the people of Scotland. It would not satisfy them, and it would not cure the evils complained of.There was, it must be allowed, one thing they had succeeded in doing through the instrumentality of the Scotch Grand Committee, and that was to about double the salaries of the Scotch law officers. But he was not very certain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would care to have that sort 871 of thing go on much further, and remembering the weariness with which the Members of the Committee had sat during the long summer, last year, in a hot room upstairs, he hoped, if the Secretary for Scotland or anyone else wished to increase his salary, that some easier method would be devised for securing that end than the appointment of a Grand Committee. A favourite argument in support of the Resolution was the neglect of Scotch business by the House. That was a very curious argument for the Government to advance, for there had never been a Government which had so many Scotch Members—he would not say Scotchmen—in the Cabinet. That being so, it was little to the credit of those Scotch Members in the Cabinet that they had not pushed forward the business of the country which they represented, even if they did not belong to it. As a matter of fact, not a single day war, given to Scotch business up to Easter. He believed five minutes was given on one occasion before 12 o'clock, but up to Easter not a single hour was given to Scotch business; and since Easter only one day was devoted to it besides the present day, which was quite the most inconvenient day that could have been selected for Lanarkshire and Renfrew-shire. Another argument in support of the Resolution was that the United Kingdom was composed of separate nationalities and that those separate nationalities, deserved separate treatment. The proposal was put forward as a sop to the Home Rule microbe. But no one could possibly be more bitterly opposed to this system of Scotch Grand Committees than were the members of the Scotch Home Rule Association. Then there was also the argument that Members representing Scotch constituencies were special experts in regard to Scotch business. That was a very strange plea considering how frequently, from the Secretary for Scotland downwards, the Scottish Glad-stonian Members were wrong. Take the proposal for handing over the licensing question to the County Councils. There was not a single Scotch Member who would dare go on a Scotch platform and suggest such a thing, although the proposal had had the enthusiastic support of the present Secretary for 872 Scotland. Then, last year, the Scotch Fisheries Bill was brought forward with great parade by the Secretary for Scotland as a fulfilment of the aspirations of the Scotch people. The Bill was laughed out of Court, and everyone knew that it would have ruined the Government in Scotland had they proceeded with it. A great deal had been heard from the Secretary for Scotland and other Gladstonians about the Scotch Parish Councils Act when the Bill was passing through Committee, and the eagerness with which it was wanted and waited for. But the North British Daily Mail, the leading Gladstonian Liberal organ in Scotland, recently declared that there was any number of candidates for the Parish Councils, but very few electors; that it was disappointed with the absence of enthusiasm in connection with the elections, but hoped for better things next time. Then there was the Education Code of 1893. The Secretary for Scotland heard a few of his supporters attacking the proposal, and imagining that it was the throbbing of the great heart of the Scotch nation, he changed the whole of the proposal only to find himself wrong again. Then there was the University Statute of this year. They all knew that the Secretary for Scotland, who was always watching how the cat was going to jump in Scotland, was also entirely wrong in that case. The Suspensory Bill for Scotland was also another case in point.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is not entitled to discuss all the Scotch Bills introduced by the Government, except so far as they bear upon this subject.
§ *MR. HOZIER
said, he was only endeavouring to show that the so-called Scotch Members were not necessarily experts on Scotch business, and that the present Secretary for Scotland was an imperfect, even if willing, pedometer of the progress of the Scottish jumping cat. As to the doctrine of separate treatment for the various nationalities, he was glad to be able to quote two Leaders of the Gladstonian Party who were very seldom brought together in harmonious relations. The first was Lord Rosebery, who, in his great Edinburgh speech on March 19th last year, said "the Government had 873 carried the English Parish Councils Bill by Irish votes." That hardly looked at if the. Premier considered that English men were special experts in regard to their own Parish Councils Bill. The other Gladstonian leader whom he would quote was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, on being asked on the 20th of August last year by the hon. Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley) whether it was not the fact that the Home Rule Bill and the Evicted Tenants Bill had been rejected in the House by a large majority of the votes of Members from England and Scotland, replied—I have already stated that I am not a Separatist to the degree that are hon. Gentlemen opposite; and I recognise no distinction between the votes of Members of this House or between the nationalities from which they come.But the Government seemed to be rather divided amongst themselves on the question; for the Attorney General, speaking as the Member for Dumfries on March 6th, 1888, said—He would not for one moment ask for or care to see a Committee which did not consist of exclusively Scotch Members.And the hon. and learned Member added—Being now a Scotch Member, he would never think of voting against English opinion on any Bill exclusively relating to England,He earnestly trusted they would all carefully watch the hon. and learned Gentleman's votes in future. As to Members representing Scottish constituencies being exclusively experts on Scottish business, he could not do better than just refer for one moment to what was said by the Member for East Edinburgh. He did not think it had ever been put in clearer language. This was what the hon. Member wrote in a well-known article:—There is all the difference in the world between the real people and the M. P. people.Specially true is this of the Scottish people and the Scottish M. P. people. Were his hon. Friends on the other side really experts with regard to Scottish business? He (Mr. Hozier) put down a Motion shortly before the Easter holidays with a view to finding out how many Members representing Scottish constituencies were qualified to be Parish Councillors in Scotland. That Return had not been 874 granted him as yet, but he had ascertained that just about half the Gladstonian Members representing Scottish constituencies had no qualification to be Parish Councillors in any part of Scotland. That was to say, that just about half of them did not pay one single penny of rates in any single parish in any single county in the whole of Scotland. It was urged by the Secretary for Scotland that one effect of the sitting of the Scottish Grand Committee last year was that by the end of the year Scottish Members, who were not connected with Scotland, had really begun to know something about the affairs of that country; but surely they were not going to set up a Grand Committee in order that they might educate carpet-bag representatives for Scotland. What was the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the splendid results of this Committee last year? On the 21st August last, in reply to a question as to remitting Scottish Votes in Supply to the Scottish Grand Committee, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—Our experiences with reference to the Scottish Grand Committee this Session have not been very promising.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (interposing)
That was explained by me immediately afterwards. When it was represented that that observation referred to the working of the Grand Committee, I said it did not apply to that at all, but to our experiences in the Motion for the attainment of it.
§ *MR. HOZIER
said, it was true that, after an interval, and quite at the end of Questions, on the occasion to which he referred, the hon. Member for Kincardineshire was put up to ask:—May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he does not think the working of the Scottish Committee was a distinct success, and whether the only difficulty in connection with it was not met in obtaining the consent of the House to send a Bill to if?To that question the Chancellor of the Exchequer made the following reply:—Yes, Sir; so far as I have been informed, I understand the working of the Scottish Grand Committee in connection with the Scottish Local Government Bill, was a signal success.Then he (Mr. Hosier) asked:—Is not that exactly the reverse of what the right hon. Gentleman said a few minutes ago?875 and the Chancellor of the Exchequer replied:—No, Sir; it is exactly what I intended to say. What I intended to say was that our experience of getting the reference to that Committee had not proved very promising, I forget how many days it took.That was not what the right hon. Gentleman said—[Cries of "Oh!"]—He was sure he meant it, but what the right hon. Gentleman said, was that:—Our experiences with reference to the Scottish Grand Committee this Session have not been very promising.As a matter of fact, they did some work on the Grand Committee. They worked extremely harmoniously with reference to a portion of the Local Government Bill, but part 6, which though small was important, and which amended the previous Local Government Act, had been postponed till this Session, and now formed what was known as the Local Government Bill of this year. Moreover, the Bill which came from the hands of the Grand Committee was by no means a perfect one. It so happened that at the very beginning of this Session a Bill had to be brought forward by the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire, instigated by the Scottish Office, and it had to be hurried through the House to prevent a deadlock. So that practically since the Local Government Bill of last year had been passed, it had had to be amended. If this Grand Committee was such an enormous success, why was this proposal to be confined to Scotland? Because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian told them that if it was a success it was to be applied to Wales and other portions of the Kingdom? Why then was it not to be applied to England, Ireland and Wales, and why not to London? Let them see how that would work. Take the intoxicating Liquor Traffic Local Control Bill. That Bill would have to be referred to a Committee of Scottish and English Members, excluding Irish Members, and yet everybody knew that the Bill could only pass by means of the votes of the Irish Members, while Ireland at the present time was excluded from the scope of the Bill. Take again the Established Church (Wales) Bill. The Home Secretary was engaged in piloting through Parliament this very 876 Bill on which he, as a Scottish Member, according to this doctrine, if logically carried out, had no right to express any opinion whatever, arid that Bill, after passing through the House ought, according to this doctrine, to be sent to an English and Welsh Committee. He wondered how it would fare if it were sent to such a Committee? Besides difficulties of principles, experience had shown many difficulties in practice. In the first place, it was perfectly impossible for Scottish Members, if they attended religiously and properly to the Committee upstairs, to attend thoroughly to the regular business of the House. Most Scotch Members used to pair for the night after coming down from the Scotch Grand Committee. It was perfectly impossible for them to work double time if good work was to be done. A very great difficulty in connection with the Standing Committee was that there was no "Hansard" or other official report of the proceedings. He had been very much amused to see the Secretary for Scotland having to refer to a bound copy of the Scotsman in order to tell the House what had occurred on a particular day in the Grand Committee, the Scotsman being perhaps hardly the paper the right hon. Gentleman generally takes in. Another great difficulty was that; here was no Government responsibility. It was all very well to talk about non-contentious measures. A Bill might be as mild as milk when it went to the Scotch Grand Committee, but what happened then? One of the "bonnets o'bonnie Dundee" was put up, and he moved an Amendment. That Amendment was nominally resisted, or, it might be, cordially accepted by the Government, and the Bill which had gone into the Committee as non-contentious as possible, came back bristling with contentious points. Another difficulty was that the Government, at any rate last year, insisted on every single decision of the Committee being religiously upheld in this House. That was a monstrous thing, considering that upon many occasions the votes were snap divisions. He remembered perfectly well that on one of the very few occasions on which the Home Secretary attended that Committee was when he was brought down just in time 877 to support an Amendment of his (Mr. Hozier's) which the Government had pledged themselves to grant. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman and a few others had come in late the Amendment might have been lost, and the pledge of the Government would have been unfulfilled. Then, in the end, there was no proper discussion when the Bill came back to the House, because the Scotch Members were only given bits of two nights, and next, after the Report, was put the Railway and Canal Traffic Bill. It was then said—Oh! if you go on discussing the Scotch Bill the result will be that the Railway and Canal Traffic Bill will be ruined.Therefore, they had to work with a pistol at their heads, and there was no real discussion. For all these reasons, he had the greatest pleasure in supporting the Amendment.
§ MR. EUGENE WASON (Ayrshire, S.)
said, there was one observation made by the hon. Member who had just sat down which ought not to be passed over in silence, when he talked about "so-called Scottish representatives" who were not qualified to serve on Parish Councils. For his part, he thought of higher things, but, as far as he was concerned, he was qualified both as a parish councilor and a county councillor, and he lived in the county.
§ MR. WASON
asked how many Members on the opposite side, who sat on the Front Bench, would be qualified to sit on Parish Councils in England? He doubted if the Leader of the Opposition, or the right hon. Gentleman who was a constituent of his, the Member for North-East Manchester, would be qualified for a parish councillor in the places they respectively represented.
§ MR. WASON
Very likely; but is he qualified for the constituency he now represents? That was the point. Really, it was too ridiculous to say that a man was not qualified to be a Member of the Imperial Parliament because he had no property qualification in the constituency for which he sat fitting him to be a parish councillor. 878 He did not say that the Resolution of the Government would satisfy Scotch opinion, and he should like it to go further, but he knew that in matters of this kind it was necessary to compromise. He trusted that the Government would stick to their guns and insist upon sending the Crofters Bill to the Scotch Grand Committee. There was a great deal of sympathy felt for the Crofters in the south-west of Scotland. This Resolution was the very least that the Scotch Members could be contented with. They had been patient and long-suffering, but they could never forget that they had been sent to Parliament by their constituencies to do solid, substantial work which, as yet, they had not been able to get done in consequence of the congested state of business. He hoped that this Resolution was the beginning of a better state of things, and that to Scotland Wales, and Ireland would be given the right to manage their own affairs. Scotland claimed the right to be governed in accordance with Scotch opinion. The hon. Member for Harrow had talked about the business of the House being obstructed by proposals for constitutional changes. He would point out to the hon. Member that, when these changes should have been made, they would be relieved at any rate from the pressure of the great mass of Irish business with which that House had now to deal.
§ *MR. HOZIER
What I said was that half the Gladstonian Members who represent Scottish constituencies in Parliament are not qualified to be Parish Councillors in any parish in any county in the whole of Scotland.
interrupting, said his statement was that half the Gladstonian Members were qualified to be Parish Councillors.
§ MR. WASON
said, that might be so, but he was not qualified in the constituency which he had the honour to represent in Parliament, and that was the only point which he (Mr. Wason) desired to make. Really it was too ridiculous at this time of day to say that a man was riot qualified to sit in the Imperial Parliament because he was not qualified as a Parish Councillor.
§ *MR. HOZIER,
again interrupting, said, that his contention was that half the Members at present representing Gladstonian constituencies in Scotland were not qualified to be Parish Councillors in any single parish in any county in the whole of Scotland.
said, he did not think it necessary to pursue the matter further. He thought he had made his point, and he had got the admission from the Member for North-east Manchester that although qualified as a Parish Councillor both in Ayrshire and London, he was not so qualified in the constituency he represented in Parliament.
§ *MR. M. H. SHAW-STEWART (Renfrew, E.)
said, that the proposal of the Government was not desirable in respect of the Scotch Bills before the House. The Government apparently hardly realised that the Crofters Bill which they proposed to refer to the Scotch Committee was regarded by hon. Members on his side of the House as highly contentious. Many of his hon. Friends intended to oppose the measure on the Second Reading. The proposals for the extension of the Bill to other parts of Scotland besides the crofting districts would meet with strenuous opposition. He, and certainly two other members of the Highland Commission, never contemplated that an extension of the Crofters Act would be applied to the grazings scheduled in the Report. They thought, when scheduling those grazings, that they might be allotted to new holdings, formed under some large scheme of land purchase; but they should not be dealt with as the Government proposed by their Bill. The question was too large to be dealt with in a Committee upstairs.
§ MR. GEORGE WYNDHAM (Dover)
said, that he did not know whether on the present occasion they might hope that silence gave consent. Perhaps not; but at any rate, so far, the Government had not committed themselves against the proposal of his hon. Friend, and it might even now not be too late to invite them to pause before voting for the rejection of the Amendment. But, if that plea had no weight with the Government, he would seriously ask their supporters to reflect whether, in view of the peculiar circumstances of the present Session, the game was really worth the candle. The idea that this Scotch Committee could be some kind of substitute for Home Rule had been abandoned. The Government no longer made the nationality of Scotland the primary basis of their scheme. The theory of the microcosm of the House was what they based their scheme on now. It was not so last year. Then it could still be said that the principle of nationality governed the scheme of the Government; but that night the principle of reflecting the features of the House in the Committee was the primary basis of the Ministerial plan. The question before them was whether they should qualify that scheme or not. If they accepted the proposal of the Government without qualification they would inevitably sacrifice the present system of Standing Committees; the machinery of the Standing Committees would be wrecked from top to bottom. There would be so many Committees that it would be impossible to secure an adequate attendance of suitable Members upon them. There would be yet another loss. The confidence of the House in the system of Standing Committees would be shattered. The only other point he wished to make was, What was to be gained by the enormous sacrifice they were asked to make? All they could gain was to lighten the business of the present Session in one small particular. They all knew that the particular cargo which the Government were trying to bring into port was really unsaleable when it reached port, and the proposal now made was that they should lighten the ship by destroying the machinery, in order to bring into port a number of bales for which there would be no sale when they were landed.
§ *MR. H. T. ANSTRUTHER (St. Andrew's Burghs)
said, he was in great hopes that the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards those who were, in a modified sense, opposing the Resolution, would have been such as would render the Amendment of his hon. Friend, the Member for Wigtownshire, unnecessary. It would be in the recollection of hon. Members who had followed the proceedings, that his right hon. Friend, the Member for West Birmingham interposed at an earlier period of the Debate, in order to elicit from Her Majesty's Government some expression of opinion on three important points in which Members of the Opposition were much concerned, and as to which they had hoped to receive a more favourable answer. He desired to acknowledge frankly the tone in which his right hon. Friend, the Secretary for Scotland introduced the Resolution, and he desired also to acknowledge the readiness with which the Secretary of State for War, speaking on behalf of the Government, expressed his willingness to accede to some such Amendments as those which had been placed on the Paper with a view to approximating the balance of Parties on the Committee to that of the whole House. If hon. Members would carry their minds back to the Debates on this subject a year ago, they would remember that the principal objection taken then was that the Committee would have an undue preponderance of Members who supported the Government, and he was bound to say that his objection to this Resolution had been somewhat modified on that point. His right hon. Friend asked whether any Minister of the Crown who spoke on behalf of the Government would be good enough to say whether, in prosecuting the scheme they had laid before the House, the Government would consider whether it could not be based on such lines that it should be applicable to other parts of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State for War, who 882 was an accomplished debater, evaded that point in a skilful manner. The right hon. Gentleman abstained from making any declaration on behalf of the Government, and merely said that if such a proposal were laid before the House he, personally, would be glad to give it his careful consideration. Then there was another point on which his right hon. Friend laid especial stress, and he wished with great respect to draw the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to it. His right hon. Friend asked that there might be some clearly understood definition of the class of Bills which were in the future to be referred to the Committee. He wished to remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in the Debates on this subject last Session he was very closely questioned on this point, and the right hon. Gentleman said that if between that time and the time when the Government made a similar proposal in a subsequent Session, they had been able to arrive at some definition, he or some one of his colleagues would be glad to submit it to the House. The point arose in this manner. His noble Friend, of whom it was difficult to say at this moment whether or not he represented the Western Division of Edinburgh, but whose absence all on the Benches in which he sat especially deplored, made a Motion to provide that the Bills referred to this Standing Committee should be only Bills which related to Law, Courts of Justice and legal procedure, or trade, shipping, manufactures, agriculture, and fishing. The right hon. Gentleman the leader of the House asks said—When ho (the noble Lord) (Wolmer), asks me as to great Party questions—Land Acts, Church Disestablishment, and questions of that kind, which I may call of a high political and controversial character—whether they are proper subjects for a Committee of this character. I do not know if he will accept any statement of mine; but I have to tell him that this is not the object of a Committee of this character,And later in the same Debate the right hon. Gentleman said—To use an instrument of this kind merely for the purpose of securing the predominance of 883 a Party majority would be, in my opinion, an abuse altogether of a provision which is intended to relieve the House of Commons from a burden, and to relieve it in a manner which may be satisfactory to those parts of the United Kingdom to which these measures are more particularly applied.And, again, the right hon. Gentleman said—If I thought it possible to make a definition on this subject, I would gladly insert such a definition; but I do not think it is possible to frame a definition that would meet the right hon. Gentleman's object. If we find the system work well, then, when we make the same proposal next Session, we may, if we find it possible to do so, draw up a definition of the character of the Bills that are to be referred to a Grand Committee.Before they concluded their consideration of this Resolution, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman, on the authority of the Government, would favour them with a definition of that class of Bills which he thought were suitable for being referred to the Grand Committee. They were not in the least intimidated by the remarks—which had a suspicion of the electioneering character in them—by which the Secretary for War concluded his speech. He was good enough to warn them that if they said they would have no Grand Committee, no Crofters Bill, Local Government Bill, or Inquiry into Fatal Accidents in Scotland, he would not envy them the reception they would have when they met their constituents in Scotland. Threats of that kind were apt to fly about when a General Election was imminent. Their reply to the right hon. Gentleman would be: "If you and your many colleagues in the Government who represent Scotch constituencies—ten they were in number in the Session of 1894 and nine in the present Session—have so little weight against the influence of your leader, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as not to be able to command sufficient of the time of the House in Committee of the whole House on Scotch business, the responsibility will lie with those who had potentially the influence and failed to use it." 884 It had been suggested by the Secretary for Scotland that they who demurred to the terms of the Resolution were either opposed to the progress of Scotch business or to the principle of devolution, That allegation had been sufficiently disproved by the speeches of right hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite. For his own part, he desired to say that he was not opposed to devolution upon strictly fair principles, and so far from being opposed to the progress of Scotch business, he desired that more of the time of the House should be devoted to it. A point had been made by other speakers that it was something in the nature of a slight upon the Scotch Members that they should be thought to be good enough merely to be relegated to a Committee upstairs, that their business should not be thought worthy of the attention even of a Committee of the whole House, even perhaps on a Wednesday afternoon, and that the right hon. Gentleman under whose genial rule they lived and moved and had their being to the north of the Tweed, should come down to the House and say when a Scotch Member rose to speak every Bench of the House was empty. There were one or two other considerations with which he desired to support the Amendment of the hon. Baronet opposite. He urged strongly last year, and without reference to any Party considerations, that it was an erroneous assumption that every Scotch Member was necessarily an expert upon Scotch affairs; and it was equally erroneous to assume that every Scotch Member, whatever his position in life, whatever his business or occupation, was equally free to attend the deliberations of a Grand Committee. It was impossible for the Leader of the Opposition to give daily attendance to the Committee. He was added to the Committee, not as a Scotch Member, but presumably as an expert. But of the Scotch Members two might be named—hon. Friends who sat on the same Bench as himself—one an old and respected Member, namely, 885 the hon. Member for Wick. He was at the head of a world-wide commercial undertaking which occupied much of his time. He was a man of considerable age, and by his qualifications was in every way calculated to represent a Scotch constituency upon Imperial matters in the House of Commons. Could it be expected either that he had minute knowledge of the details of Scotch Local Government or that he had the leisure to give from 10 to 13 hours a day to the business of the House to entitle him to be rated as a Member to be placed above many others on the Committee. Other instances would suggest themselves. But there was one other point, and one alone, which had been slightly alluded to, but which, in his own opinion, was perhaps the most important of all with reference to the Resolution: it was the question of Ministerial Responsibility. The House had not been told the whole story. Last year an Amendment, moved by the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn, was carried in Grand Committee against the Government, and in spite of the warning of the Secretary for Scotland that the passing of the Amendment would mean the loss of the Bill. When the Bill came before the House on Report, the Amendment was supported by the Government on the allegation that the Minister in charge of the Bill and from whose office the Bill had emanated, was liable to be over-ruled by any chance majority that might happen to assemble at 11 or 12 o'clock on a sultry summer morning in Committee Room No. 10. In another place, to which frequent reference would have, for many a long day, to be made, the words so revolting to the Secretary for Scotland in Committee Room No. 10 were struck out, and when, upon a Wednesday afternoon at the end of August when they were still sweltering here, they were called upon to consider the Lords' Amendments, who was it to rise to move that this House do agree with the Lords' 886 Amendments? It was not the Leader of the Opposition, but the Secretary for Scotland himself. He had on Report accepted the words as coming from the Grand Committee, but he, no doubt for the sake of peace, as representing the Government in charge of the Bill, felt bound—perhaps it was owing to the exigencies of the circumstances—to recommend that this House do agree with the Lords in the said Amendment. Hon. Members spoke with great levity upon the question of Ministerial responsibility, but the history of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn proved most conclusively to him that there was something wanting in the theory upon which the Grand Committee system was based. They hoped, before the discussion was concluded, to amend the resolution of the right hon. Gentleman, but it was urged at an earlier period of the evening that the Committee of last year, although not properly constituted, worked well, and should therefore be repeated. The argument of the Secretary for Scotland was, that although he had a bad tool, he did fairly good work with it. If they were able to improve the constitution of the Committee, he could promise the Secretary for Scotland that when the Committee sat they would endeavour, with that loyalty which the right hon. Gentleman had already acknowledged with regard to their services last year, to take their share in its deliberations, even although they might go there against their will.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had appealed to him as to what he said last year, in reference to this question, especially bearing on the Scotch Committee. To what he said he entirely adhered. The Scotch Committee of last year did very useful work, not only to Scotland, but in relief of the work of the House of Commons. That was really what these Committees were wanted for. He quite agreed that these Committees were meant to do work 887 of a non-political and non-controversial character, such as the dealing with the Bills he referred to last year. The hon. Member had quoted words of his which seemed to imply that this year they might have a definition. His experience of definitions led him to avoid them. They had never been successful even in articles of faith. They led to a great many more difficulties than they solved. To take a common sense and fair view of questions when they arose, would be more satisfactory than any method of dealing with them under strict definitions ever could be. Therefore he strongly recommended the House to reserve the consideration of what questions should be submitted to this Committee until they arose, rather than to bind itself beforehand by elaborate definitions. He gathered from the speech of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham at the opening of the Debate, that he would not be unfavourable to the constitution of a Committee of this kind; and the Government was ready to meet him on details so far as they understood his view. Neither did he understand the Leader of the Opposition to condemn altogether the idea of a Committee of this kind—a Committee in which, without giving a predominance to one Party or another—there would be a predominance of the Scotch element. Surely it was not unreasonable that there should be a large predominance of Scotch Members on such a Committee. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes; but it seemed to him that the Amendment under consideration condemned that; it was fatal to the proposal altogether; and nobody, who was not prepared to condemn the thing root and branch, could support that Amendment. It condemned the very principle of there being a predominance of the Scotch element on the Committee. This was what the Government thought was a good thing, and they appealed to the experience of last year. A great many suspicions of what might happen in the Scotch Committee had proved to be unfounded. The 888 Scotch Members met together and dealt satisfactorily with the Bill submitted to them. If they were agreed upon that, let them pass the Resolution, moulding it as they might deem fit with reference to any desirable limitations. He understood the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was satisfied with their acceptance of the suggestion made as to the number of Members to be added to the Committee; and upon that point there was no difficulty. Unless the House was going to condemn the whole thing root and branch they could not accept the Amendment. What remained? There remained, What he imagined really lay at the bottom of the whole matter, what Bills were to be submitted to the Committee. That was a matter for separate consideration. When the Resolution was passed the Committee would be set up; then it would be for the House to consider what were the Bills that could fairly come within the scope and intention of this Committee. If they were all agreed that for some purposes and some Bills a Committee of this character, modified as the right hon. Member for West Birmingham desired, should be set up, then he did not understand it to be disputed that some Bills could be referred to the Committee. They was agreed that for some purposes and some Bills a Committee was to be set up. If they could conclude that it would be a matter for future consideration what were the Bills which the Committee should be competent to deal with. His argument was that the Amendment before the House was condemnatory of the whole system because it destroyed the proposal to refer Bills to Standing Committees on the basis of separate nationalities. What the Government proposed was a Committee formed on the basis of Scotch nationality with such safeguards as should prevent any of the evils that had been anticipated from such a constitution. If it were declared that they would have nothing to do with the basis 889 of separate nationalities, that would be equivalent to declaring that Scotland should not have the benefit of referring even non-controversial Bills to a Committee of this character. He believed the majority of Scotch Members on both sides of the House desired that there should be what might fairly be called a non-contentious Scotch Committee for dealing with matters which might be more satisfactorily dealt with by such a Committee than by the House itself. He therefore hoped the hon. Member would not press an Amendment fatal to any proposal of that character. Then it would be possible to deal with the Resolution, subject to the modifications which might appear necessary and subject to consideration of the Bills which should hereafter be referred to the Committee.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was conciliatory in spirit, but it betrayed misapprehension of the scope of the Amendment, which did not really differ from the principles laid down by himself and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. No one had any objection to the appointment of Grand Committees with a large proportion of Scotch Members to deal with Scotch business, those Scotch Members being selected, not from the fact that they came from Scotland, but from their having some knowledge of and interest in the question coming before the Committee. If that was all the Government meant, the Opposition would so far assent to the machinery being set up. Then came the more difficult and important question. What were the subjects to be dealt with by this machinery? The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that in his view no controversial or Party Bills should be referred to this Grand Committee. He said that he did not depart from the opinions he expressed last year, and last year he stated that the Crofters Act, or Acts dealing with the relations between landlord and tenant, were not 890 proper measures to submit to such a Committee. But those were not the opinions of the Secretary for Scotland or of the Secretary of State for War, for both of those right hon. Gentlemen had announced beforehand that they meant to set up this Sessional machinery on purpose to deal with a measure which was controversial and Party, and dealing with the relations of landlord and tenant. How could the House be asked to set up this machinery, and to blind its eyes to the uses to which it was to be put? It was not an instrument to further Parliamentary Business for all time, but simply to be of use during the few remaining months of the present Session in relation to business which did not come within the Chancellor of the Exchequer's definition. Unless the Government could give some assurance—not in merely abstract and general terms, which were left to the interpretation of the Government when the time came for dealing with particular Bills, but at once, and in explicit language—that only certain specific Bills would be referred to the Committee, the Opposition would be made to assent to the proposal. Let the Government name the Bills which, as they thought, came under the rules clearly laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and then hon. Members would be able to judge for themselves whether or not the Government idea of a non-controversial Bill corresponded with the idea formed in every other part of the House. In the absence of satisfactory assurances from the Government he should vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
said, that as the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had adverted to him in his speech he should like to say that he entirely agreed with what the right hon. Gentleman had said. The right hon. Gentleman, was quite right in saying that he (Mr. Chamberlain) was not hostile to this idea of Standing Committees, and he confessed that the 891 Opposition, in the present circumstances of the case, would be unwise if they committed themselves to a proposal which hereafter they might find to be of considerable disadvantage to themselves. But, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, his approval of the proposal of the Government was subject to certain conditions. In the first place, he thought that the numbers of the added Members of the Committee ought to be increased. It was true that the Government had handsomely met that suggestion of his, but he scarcely thought that the change in the number of the added Members from 15 to 20 was adequate to meet all his objections. What he had said was that the principle which he desired to see established was that in all cases the Committee should represent a fair proportion of the different Parties in the House. As it might happen that hon. Members might think it desirable that similar Committees for other nationalities or for other parts of the United Kingdom should be created it was desirable that they should deal once for all with the subject instead of having fresh discussions every time a Standing Committee was appointed. Upon the most important conditions upon which such Committees were to be appointed the Government and himself were entirely at one. He must say that after all this discussion they had so nearly arrived at an agreement, that it would not be creditable to their intelligence to go to a Division without settling the matter. He wished to know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer was prepared to adhere to his statement that no measures properly called controversial, such as a Land Bill, should be referred to such a Committee.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, that upon that point then they were agreed. The question, however, then arose as to what could properly be called a controversial 892 measure. Of course it was difficult to say what was a controversial measure. Do not let them have any mistake upon the matter. What could the House say to a proposal to refer an Irish Land Bill to a Standing Committee of this kind. The whole difficulty might be overcome, either by a general definition of a controversial measure, or by a particular statement having reference to a particular Bill. Let the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, now that he had called his attention to his own statement, say that he would not send such a controversial measure as a Land Bill to this Committee, and he would accept that assurance from the right hon. Gentleman, and would allow the Committee to be set up. If they wanted a definition, it seemed to him that it should be one that excluded Bills the reference of which to a Committee had not been carried by a certain and large majority of the House. If that were not adopted, then the right hon. Gentleman should adopt the second proposal—namely, that no Land Bill should be submitted to the Committee. When they had a Bill which was going to be hotly opposed by the whole of the ordinary Opposition, he called that a controversial Bill. He could conceive of no other definition that any sensible man acquainted with the House could apply to such Bills as that. If they wanted a general definition they would have it in the definition which would exclude Bills the reference of which to a Grand Committee was not carried by a certain large majority of the House—he did not care whether it was three-fourths or two-thirds; but it must be something more than half the House. A Bill carried by a majority of that kind might fairly be considered as non-contentious. But if the Chancellor of the Exchequer felt that at this late hour it was not desirable to enter upon the task of finding a general definition, he begged of him to settle the present matter by deciding that, at all events so 893 far as regards this temporary proposal, on Land Act—to use his own words—should be submitted to the Committee.
§ The House divided:—Ayes,162; Noes, 186.—(Division List, No. 68).
§ *MR. SHAW-STEWART
moved, as an Amendment, that no Bill should be referred to the Scotch Committee that did not embrace the whole of Scotland. There was, he said, more difference between the Highlands and Lowlands than there was between the Lowlands and the North of England. He submitted that there was no reason why a Committee consisting chiefly of Scottish Members was adapted to consider so technical a subject as land tenure affecting only the crofting population of Scotland. He quite admitted that something might be said for measures applying to the whole of Scotland being referred to the, Scotch Committee, but that Committee was not better qualified to deal with the Land Bill than the Committee of the whole House. He hoped that the Government would accede to this Amendment.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN
said, that this same Amendment was moved by the head of the Opposition last year, was debated, and finally, to the best of his recollection, was rejected or withdrawn. It was quite impossible, therefore, that a limitation which the Government could not accept last year, before the Committee had attained the success it had done, they could accept this year. The Government did not consider the change in the numbers of the Committee a limitation, but this Amendment was a distinct limitation. The object of setting up a Committee was, that as it became more established, more Scotch Bills of a certain order would be remitted to it, and those would be Bills referring to a part of Scotland. If ever there was a Bill which might have been legitimately 894 referred to a Committee of this character, it was the Borough Police Act, and that Act did not extend over the whole of Scotland. Bills referring to special industries affecting certain classes of the people were, if not too contentious, proper subjects for such a Committee. The Government could not accept the Amendment.
§ MR. W. WHITELAW (Perth)
said that what was proposed by the Amendment was simply to exclude from the Committee Bills which referred to only a part of Scotland. One of the main arguments for setting up this Committee at all was that Scotch Members were experts on Scotch questions. Then it followed from that argument, that when a Bill was introduced referring merely to a particular part of the country, a Committee ought to be set up of Members representing that part of Scotland only, in order to deal with it. For instance, to send a Bill affecting only particular counties and particular interests—say a Crofters Bill affecting the Crofters—for consideration to a Committee the majority of whose Members had no knowledge of the Crofters, and whose constituents were not concerned directly in crofting interests, was beyond his comprehension, and not in accordance with common sense.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 180; Noes, 155.—(Division List No. 69.)
§ Question put accordingly—"That those words be there inserted."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 154; Noes, 179.—(Division List No. 70.)
§ It being after midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.