THE FIRST LORD or THE TREASURY moved:—
That, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet on Tuesdays at Two of the clock, and that the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to such morning sittings.
He said: I do not think that any long explanation of policy is required from me
in moving this Resolution. It will be sufficient if I remind the House that in 1895 Tuesdays were taken by the Government for the whole of the Session from a very early date. In fact all the Tuesdays were taken except two, and Friday mornings were taken from March 1 until Easter, and from April 29 to the end of the Session. My only doubt is whether I ought not to ask the House to give me also the Wednesdays before Whitsuntide, because no private Member's Bill brought forward on a Wednesday between Easter and Whitsuntide has the slightest chance of becoming law, and because a precedent for that course was set by right hon. Gentlemen opposite in 1893, when they found it necessary to take Wednesdays at a very early date. But I shall not ask the House to make that sacrifice at this time, if sacrifice it be. When, however, the Second Reading of a large Government Measure is brought in on a Monday, and that it appears unlikely that the Debate will be concluded before Wednesday I may have to ask the House for that particular day. In the meantime, I only ask the House to grant the Government such privilege as it has never refused to grant to other Governments, and to permit us without lengthened Debate to transact Government business on Tuesday mornings.
§ MR. DALZIEL
wished to say a word or two as to the circumstances under which this Motion was brought forward. When the House adjourned for the Easter Recess they were told that the first business on the Paper for that evening would be the Irish Land Bill. Members had come up from the country expecting that that business would be the first order, but if the Debate on this Motion lasted but three-quarters of the time that similar Debates lasted when the Opposition was led by the present Leader of the House, there was no chance that the Land Bill would be reached before a very late hour. Hitherto, it had been customary to give some kind of notice of Motions such as this. [Mr. BALFOUR: "I did give notice."] The right hon. Gentleman no doubt gave notice on Friday that he was going to introduce a Motion relating to Tuesdays that afternoon, but as hon. Members were not made acquainted with the terms of the Motion it was impossible for them to prepare Amendments.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
If the hon. Member was present on Friday night he will remember that I stated distinctly that the Motion was one for taking morning sittings on Tuesdays, and that I should be glad to give the terms of the Resolution to any hon. Member who wished for them on the Motion for the adjournment of the House. No hon. Member, however, did ask for the terms.
§ MR. DALZIEL
contended that even if notice of the terms had been given at the time of the adjournment, it would still have been impossible to put down Amendments on the Paper for to-day. In future, they would, he trusted, be given longer notice of Motions of this character. When the late Government submitted a similar Resolution, the Opposition put down four different Amendments. They had just given up their Fridays, and now they were asked for the Tuesdays, though the expectation had been that Tuesdays would not be demanded until after Whitsuntide. The right hon. Gentleman had not said on what he based this demand. When previous Motions of the kind had been made, the Leader of the House had always made out some special case. As far as the state of public business was concerned, there was no reason for passing this Resolution. What did the right hon. Gentleman say himself in 1894 when a Motion similar to this one was made by the present Leader of the Opposition. He said:—The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that in however soft and tender accents he makes this proposal to us, the substance of his request is of such a character as to make it impossible for us to give a willing assent to the policy he asks us to assent to.Then last year the right hon. Gentleman observed on a similar Motion:—I think it is very likely that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House has done the very best from his point of view, but if that is the way to manage the Liberal Party it is not the way to manage the House of Commons.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Those words were used at the beginning of the Session when it was proposed to take all Tuesdays.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said, the right hon. Member was trying to confuse the issue. 754 The circumstances of the occasion when the right hon. Gentleman used those words and the circumstances of the present occasion were almost identical. Private Members were now to have Tuesday evenings only, then they were to be left Friday evenings only. The result was the same as far as the interests of private Members were concerned. The right hon. Gentleman had made no complaint whatever with regard to the manner in which the business of the Government had been transacted since the beginning of the Session. Neither the Bills of the Government nor the Estimates had been discussed at any undue length, In fact, Supply had progressed with exceptional rapidity, and on Friday night quite an unusual number of Votes had been agreed to. He was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman had not given any indication an to what he was going to do with the time for which he asked. When this Motion was brought forward by the late Government, the right hon. Gentleman himself complained that the Government were asking the Opposition to give them a blank cheque, and urged that it was customary to give some indication as to the manner in which the time asked for was to be occupied. At the beginning of the Session the House was told that certain Measures were to be brought forward; but while they had been waiting for the Measures promised in the Speech from the Throne, the Government, day after day, brought forward Bills of which no mention was made at the beginning of the Session. First of all, there was the Diseases of Animals Bill. That Bill in no way altered the law so far as the powers of the Government were concerned; yet the Government wasted the time of the House in discussing a Bill which would practically give them no more power than they had at present. Then a Bill was promised at the beginning of the Session to give assistance to Voluntary schools; but the Government had brought in a Bill of an entirely different character, which raised the whole of the Education Question over again. Then with regard to the Military Manœuvres Bill, nothing was heard of that Bill at the beginning of the Session. He thought that the House was entitled to some explanation as to why these Bills were being brought in day 755 after day, when other Bills, which had been promised to the House, had not been introduced. He would like to know when the Bill dealing with prison-made goods was to be laid on the Table. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies would remember that during a Debate in the previous Parliament, when the previous Administration were challenged to state their policy with regard to prison-made goods, he said, "We have a prescription. Give us the fees and we will give you our prescription." The present Government had since come in with a vast majority, and still not a whisper of the Bill was heard. Votes were won and seats were captured on the faith that this question should be dealt with. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman now give the House his prescription? Then there was to be a Bill dealing with old age pensions. Where was that Bill? He should hope that before the Debate closed the House would have some assurance that an Old Age Pensions Bill would be brought in. Then there was the Employers' Liability Bill. Did the Government intend to pass that? If they would give the House a pledge that they did, it would, he believed, materially affect the vote of hon. Members on this Motion. He would also like to know whether it was intended to bring in a Bill dealing with alien immigration? Having regard to the opinions expressed by the Prime Minister on this subject, the House was anxious to know whether he intended to take advantage of the present Session to deal with it. He wanted also to know in what way the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House was going to arrange the Votes in Supply, and especially when the Vote for the Colonial Office would be taken. So far as many Members on his side of the House were concerned, they were perfectly satisfied up to the present point with the administration of the Colonial Secretary in regard to the Transvaal; but no one could fail to see that there was a deep-rooted distrust of the right hon. Gentleman's policy on the Benches below the Gangway on the Ministerial side of the House. Day after day most embarrassing questions were put to the right hon. Gentleman from that quarter, which showed, at any rate, that some doubt was felt as to whether the right hon. Gentleman was 756 pursuing the right line of policy with regard to South Africa. He contended, on behalf of the independent Conservatives, that the Leader of the House ought to afford at the earliest possible moment, an opportunity to the Secretary for the Colonies to make clear his policy with regard to the Transvaal, and to once more rehabilitate himself with the Party below the Gangway on his own side. Then there was the Foreign Office Vote. Would an opportunity for discussing Foreign Affairs be afforded within a reasonable time? No matter what questions were put to the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, he always answered that it was against the public interests that these matters should be discussed. The right hon. Gentleman, at any rate, did not approve of the policy of the Secretary for the Colonies of taking the public into his confidence. The House had a right to know when the Foreign Office Vote would be taken, and when they would have an opportunity of discussing the policy in the Soudan. The Foreign Secretary had been away for a fortnight and would probably not be back for another ten days, and he thought that in view of the position in the Soudan, and in view of the number of important questions affecting the Foreign Office, the House was entitled to a promise from the Leader of the House that at no distant date he would take the Foreign Office Vote. He hoped that before the House agreed to this Resolution the right hon. Gentleman would give some information on the various points he had raised.
§ MR. GEORGE WYNDHAM (Dover)
said, he ventured to put in a plea for private Members that afternoon, because he thought this Motion was distinguishable absolutely from its predecessors, both in respect of the condition of public business at the present moment, and also in respect of the arguments put forward in its support. He had not sat very long in that House, but he had heard many such Motions made, and he never remembered one of them being brought forward except upon the allegation that some definite reason of urgency existed, and upon an elaborate comparison between the conditions of the Session in which it was brought forward and the conditions that existed in other Sessions. Only last year, when the right 757 hon. Gentleman the present Leader of the Opposition moved a similar Motion on the 9th of April, he based his claim on a definite ground of urgency. The right hon. Gentleman said that the De-hate on the Address had taken a fortnight. This year it had taken only a week. The right hon. Gentleman also said that a new practice, which he deprecated, had sprung up, of prolonging the discussions on First Readings of Government Bills. This Session there had been no prolonged discussions of the sort. In the second place the right hon. Gentleman founded his Motion on a careful and elaborate comparison of the practice in former years, and pointed out that in the previous year the Government had committed this outrage three weeks earlier. Perhaps it would be fairer to compare the action of his right hon. Friend that afternoon to his own action in 1892. In 1892, when the right hon. Gentleman had asked for morning sittings, he limited the business to be taken at these sittings to questions of finance and the First Readings of Bills, and he certainly never dreamed of taking them for the general business of the Government. Yet even that comparatively moderate proposal was severely criticised by Mr. Gladstone, who always showed the greatest consideration for the rights of private Members, and who never subscribed to the recent doctrine that the rights of private Members constituted a public nuisance. It could not be alleged that the right hon. Gentleman had based his present Motion on the ground of urgency because no financial exigencies existed at the present time, seeing that the new financial year had only just commenced, and that greater progress had been made with Supply than had been the case within the recollection of the oldest Member of that House. The Debate upon the Address had been brought to a conclusion within a week, and the very next day the right hon. Gentleman had brought forward his Motion relating to the new procedure, with the result that the very first private Members' Tuesday had been wiped out. The right hon. Gentleman had taken the Fridays without argument, without excuse, and without plea, and had then taken one-half of the time to which private Members were legitimately 758 entitled. Now the right hon. Gentleman, by his present Motion, proposed practically to take away the other half of the private Members' time. They had been told that the Debate upon the Address afforded sufficient opportunity for private Members to bring forward subjects in which they were interested, but if that were the case, their opportunities had been curtailed by one half this year, seeing that the Debate had only lasted a week instead of a fortnight, as in previous years. This Motion was a complement to the action of the Government at the commencement of the Session, and therefore they were bound to look back and ascertain how it was that the Government obtained the sanction of the House to their new procedure proposals. With the view of obtaining that sanction, the Government held out certain distinct inducements to the House. In the first place there was an understanding—he did not put it higher than that—that if the proposals were accepted the lights of private Members to Tuesdays would be held sacred. Their confidence in that understanding, which had been shaken a week ago, was now altogether crushed to the ground, because it was clear from the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman that it was intended practically to take the whole time of private Members for the remainder of the Session. It might, however, be said that that inducement amounted merely to an understanding that could not be enforced against the Government. The next inducement that had been held out by the Government took the form of a very distinct and explicit pledge on their part. The right hon. Gentleman had declared that the new Rules of Procedure would not limit but would extend the opportunities of private Members for bringing forward subjects in which they were interested, and now that the right hon. Gentleman proposed to take away half of the Tuesdays as well as the whole of Fridays, the obligation upon him to redeem his pledge to which he had referred became the more stringent. The right hon. Gentleman had said that one result of the new Rules would be that private Members would have greater opportunities in Supply for criticising the action of the Government both at home and abroad. 759 The right hon. Gentleman had offered that constant opportunity for criticising the conduct of the Government, and for demanding explanations from them in exchange for the great concession he had asked for, and he had, moreover, pledged himself distinctly that the Government would always put forward on each day devoted to Supply some Votes of public interest and importance, and he went on to say that it was not necessary or desirable that the discussion upon any particular Vote should be finished before another Vote came on, and that the interrupted discussion could be resumed on any convenient occasion. The right hon. Gentleman was even more explicit in the assurance which he had given to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on the last day of the sitting of the House before the Recess, when he said that the Colonial Vote would be put down for discussion on the first day after the Recess. That was a distinct bargain entered into by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, that upon a subject of public policy of very wide interest, an opportunity was to be afforded to hon. Members to discuss it. Hon. Members had certainly performed their part of the bargain, but the Government had neglected to fulfil their part of the engagement. The right hon. Gentleman had said that private Members could not resist the temptation to prolong the Debates upon a certain class of Estimates, and yet the whole of that class had been passed in less than a single sitting of the House. He thought that the Government should, and indeed he believed that they would, adhere to their bargain in the future. Of course, he should perhaps be out of order if he ventured to argue that the interests of private Members in certain particular Votes was discreet and judicious. It was, doubtless, impossible to pretend that any contribution on the part of private Members in the House to a discussion upon Colonial Affairs could carry with them as much weight as leading articles in The Times or The Chronicle, which were repeated in every newspaper in Europe, but nevertheless hon. Members had a right to discuss such questions. To illustrate the matter he would take the Egyptian policy of the Government, of which he was a warm supporter. Did anyone 760 apprehend that that policy was so obvious that it had been foreseen, or that it was so unattended by danger that there was no necessity to discuss it? With regard to our foreign policy if the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs were to say that it could not be for the public advantage that he should answer this or that question, did the Government not know that such a plea would always be received with respect in that House. But what was necessary was that such matters should be discussed, and that hon. Members should not be left to be the victims of rumours, which the right hon. Gentleman said came from interested sources, and for which there was no foundation, and which formed the pabulum upon which they had to feed. He thought that it was the duty of the Government to put an end to such baseless surmises. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies, on the other hand, gave the House every information in his power; in fact, he fed the House with stimulants which gave rise to a craving for further information. He had explained that he did not wish to criticise the policy of the right hon. Gentleman in the past, but to make suggestions as to his policy in the future, and his action in this respect was analogous to that of the man in the gallery who stamped when he wanted to hear a popular favourite again. [Laughter.] He was content, therefore, to ask that the Government should endeavour to discover whether the interest of the House was widespread, because if they did he was confident they would put down the Colonial Vote first for next Friday. If they did not he must suppose that they believed that Members opened their papers in the morning, and, skipping the page of heavy-leaded type with the exclamation, "Oh! bother the Matabele!" or "The Transvaal again!" plunged with the keenest anticipation of pleasure into a discussion on the salaries of school teachers or the merits of the metric system. [Laughter and cheers.]
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
thought the House was to be congratulated on the interesting and refreshing speech of the hon. Member. The questions which the hon. Member had referred to had been exclusively, he thought, questions of foreign policy, and 761 he failed to see how, by taking away one portion of the sitting at 3 o'clock on Tuesday from private Members, and giving them another portion at 9 o'clock, would interfere with the discussion of the foreign affairs in which the hon. Member was interested. The questions which the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy desired to have discussed were in regard to Bills relative to prison-made goods, old age pensions, employers' liability, and alien immigration, and he had complained, not that the opportunity of discussing these questions would be taken away, but that the Government had not included all these subjects in their programme. But if they were to be included in the programme of the Government, he should have thought that the time at the disposal of the Government should be increased. He maintained that, there was a definite reason of urgency for this Motion. The Government were pledged to introduce a Measure dealing with the Irish Land Question, which might, or might not, be a great comprehensive Measure, but at any rate it was of vital interest to Ireland that there should be sufficient time for this question to be discussed, if it were capable of amendment, and passed into law this year. But this would be impossible unless a certain portion of the time of private Members was taken from them. Very nearly half the discussions on private Members' Resolutions had been counted out, and with a few exceptions, such as the ballot question, there had been very little result from these discussions on Tuesdays, which were really opportunities for private Members to air their fads.
§ MR. J. REDMOND
said, the question of amnesty had been brought on, and would be brought on again, but if the hon. Member thought it was a fad, he should like to know what his Irish constituents in Kirkcaldy would think about that opinion.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said, the hon. Member had alluded to certain Motions brought on by private Members as fads, and he wished to point out that the question of amnesty was brought on by private Members. Therefore, he supposed, the hon. Member should call that question also a fad.
§ MR. J. REDMOND
said, he desired in every way to shield the rights of private Members, but it would be impossible for the Government to devote sufficient time to the Irish Land Question unless they took a certain portion of the time of private Members, and therefore he should support the Motion.
§ MR. J. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said, he felt a considerable difficulty, and he dared say many other Members of the House did also, in deciding what vote he should give on this Motion. The reason was this, that, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Dover, the First Lord of the Treasury departed from the usual custom in Motions of this kind, and did not give them any indication of the causes why he wanted this time of private Members. Nor did he back up his demand by any argument drawn from the course of business during the Session. He rose at the same time as the hon. Member for Waterford, because he wished to state that if the First Lord of the Treasury could have based his demand for this inroad upon the time of private Members on two claims he should have been prepared to support him. If he could have postponed his Motion until after they had been made acquainted with the terms of the Irish Land Bill, and had been in a position to say whether that Bill gave any prospect of relief for Irish farmers, or did not give it—if they had teen, in fact, in a position to know whether the time was being demanded for what might be made a valuable Trish Land Bill, that would have been a strong argument for supporting the right hon. Gentleman. Secondly, if he had said that he required and was prepared to use honestly any of the time he was demanding for the purpose of forwarding the Irish Land Bill, then he, as an Irish Member—much as he objected to these inroads upon the time of private Members—should have thought that he had made out his case. But neither of those claims had been substantiated, still less made, and they were asked to give this blank cheque to the Government without the slightest indication as to what use the Government proposed to make of this time. While he entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Waterford that if this time were asked for the purpose of passing a valuable Land Bill it would be reasonable, 763 he did not at all agree with him that they should support the right hon. Gentleman without knowing if that was to be the case. He thought Irish Members were peculiarly bound to be jealous of inroads on the time of private Members, and he entirely differed from the hon. Member for Waterford that the time of private Members was useless, and was devoted to what he described as fads. He thought many of the most valuable reforms which had been ultimately placed upon the Statute-book, had originated in this very shape. Therefore, unless some strong solid reason was given for this inroad, he did not see why the Government should have this time given them. There was one other point. He did not understand that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy complained so much of the Government not having introduced a number of Measures which he alluded to, as of the fact that they had introduced a number of Measures of which they had given the House and the constituencies no warning, and had not applied the ample time which had been at their disposal up to the present period of the Session in such a way as to give the House the idea that they were earnestly desirous of pressing forward those great Measures. For his own part, he felt bound to dissociate himself from the attack made on the hon. Member on the question of amnesty, for, if he mistook not, the hon. Member had always been a constant supporter of amnesty in that House. He thought it was a great mistake to make these attacks and assaults.
§ MR. J. REDMOND
said, he made no attack or assault with regard to amnesty. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy interrupted him by calling out amnesty, and he then said that if the hon. Member called amnesty a fad, some of the Irish electors in his constituency would have something to say to him.
§ MR. DILLON
continued, that every hon. Member saw quite plainly that the hon. Member did not allude to amnesty as a fad; and he was bound as an Irish Member and a supporter of amnesty, to say that the hon. Member had been a consistent supporter of amnesty, and the attack upon him was made amid the cheers of those who had constantly voted against it. He did not believe that the 764 cause of amnesty was served by observations of that kind. If the Leader of the House would give an undertaking that the Committee stage of the Irish Bill should not be pushed behind the Committee stage of the Education Bill, and that the time they were now asked to give to the Government would be devoted in large measure to getting the Irish Land Bill through Committee, then he should be glad to support the right hon. Gentleman.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, that it was strange to see Her Majesty's Government getting their only encouragement from hon. Members opposite, while for prudent criticism they were obliged to rely on their own side of the House. It was to him surprising and astounding to find the Leader of the House coming down and claiming Tuesdays as a matter of right, and saying that he had no explanation or apology to give. This was most unprecedented and improper—[laughter]—yes, improper. Let hon. Members remember that the time of the House was allocated by Standing Orders, two-fifths to the official Members, and three-fifths to private Members. He did not say there might never be a case for interfering with this official allocation, but that case must be made out as in former times it always had been. The right hon. Member for West Monmouthshire had always shown that in this matter he respected the rights and privileges of the House, and when he came down and asked for Tuesdays or Fridays he was always deferential and caressing—[laughter]—putting them on the hooks as though he loved them. [Renewed laughter.] The First Lord of the Treasury treated them as if they enjoyed it, as if it was what they had to expect; he had no explanation or apology to offer; but the Leader of the House had no right to these Tuesdays, and, for one, he meant to vote against the right hon. Gentleman [Ironical Ministerial cheers.] He was sorry to see Her Majesty's Government taking this mistaken course; what could be the urgency, what the cause for pressure? The House was most tractable; the new Members did as they were told; the Government had experienced, and would experience, no difficulty in passing any reasonable, or, in fact, any unreasonable, proposition 765 they might lay before the House. Why was it the right hon. Gentleman came down and, without suggesting a reason, asked the House, which had given up Fridays, to give up Tuesdays too? He was afraid the right hon. Gentleman had been taking bad counsel. [Laughter and cheers.] If he had consulted with the "old men who stood before Solomon," they would have advised him as the old men did Rehoboam; they would have said, "Be kind to this people, speak good words to them, and they will be thy servants for ever." This was what the old men said. But the hon. Gentleman had gone to the young men of Birmingham at the Colonial Office—[laughter]—and they had given him some bad advice; and so he came down without explanation, without apology, without reason, and said, with Rehoboam, "My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins; my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions." Was the time wanted for Supply? That never was so forward; never had so much money been voted in so short a time and with so little discussion. Here was his old Friend the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hanbury), an old poacher turned gamekeeper—[great laughter]—he had taken to the business as if he had been born in the velveteen—[continued laughter]—he had reared a head of game of the most marvellous description for the time of year, and was strictly on guard against all suspicious characters; the Members for Aberdeen, Ross, and King's Lynn dare not so much as look at a rabbit, much less set a snare. [Renewed laughter.] What was time wanted for? It was not for administration, or Foreign Affairs, or Colonial Affairs. Foreign Affairs were quite safe; there was the Under Secretary (Mr. Curzon) to look after them; he could always give the soft answer which turneth away wrath — and information—[laughter]— except when he was going about the country uttering prophecies or writing letters to explain the meaning of his book. [Laughter.] He did not know whether the House remembered there was a programme before it, that this Government was pledged to a policy of constructive legislation made in Birmingham and adopted and improved upon at Manchester. This programme included 766 a good round dozen of matters, such as old age pensions, provisions of workmen' s dwellings without expense to them, compensation for injuries to be borne by the trade. These and other Measures which need not be named would take a long time, and would absorb the Tuesdays of this year and many a year; but meanwhile they offered no justification for taking away what little remained of the time of private Members. He had looked into the celebrated precedent for this. When Joseph was first brought into the Government — [laughter]—of Egypt — [renewed laughter] —he, too, adopted a policy of construction, and it was interesting to see how he worked it out. The first thing he did was to bring in all his brethren and plant them down in the land of Egypt—[great laughter]— and "in the best of the land," the land of Goshen; and he received the commandment that if among his brethren there were any "men of activity" he was to "make them rulers over my cattle'—a sort of whip—[great laughter]—" rulers over my cattle" [the hon. Member pointed to the Liberal Unionist Benches]. [Renewed laughter.] What were the next steps in Joseph's policy of reconstruction? He deprived the Egyptians themselves of all their money, of all their cattle, and of all their land, and finally of their own liberty, and made them servants, slaves, bondsmen of Pharaoh, which meant, of course, of Joseph. [Laughter.] He trusted that the borrowed policy of the First Lord of the Treasury was not going to be pursued to its bitter end. He was not prepared to be anything less, but it was his ambition to be an independent Member of Parliament—[laughter]—prepared to do what he believed his highest duty, and to keep in check, so far as he could, the depositories of power whether Crown or Minister. He was not prepared, without a protest and a struggle, to give up the little opportunity that was left to him of endeavouring to perform his duty as a Member of Parliament. The claim to the whole time of the House rested on the assumption that the Government possessed all the knowledge and wisdom to be found in that House, whereas it had been acknowledged again and again that useful Measures often owed their initiative to private Members. Many things had been called "fads" which 767 bore the germs of beneficent legislation. What was Home Rule at present but the "fad" of a private Member? Private Members might be feeble folk, like the conies, but they should not be treated as if they were non-existent. He appealed to Joseph and to Pharaoh not to deprive them of all opportunity of doing the duty for which they were sent to the House; and he appealed to new Members and to old ones not to make the sacrifices that were asked of them without any plea of urgency.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
said, they had heard witty if not flippant speeches on this Motion. But he was not sure that it had gratified the supporters of the Government to hear the suggestions, as he had called them, of their "familiar friend" the Member for Dover, or the friendly smitings of the righteous and unambitious Member [laughter] for King's Lynn. But what were the Government and their supporters returned for at the last election? What did they put prominently forward as their policy?—to settle the Education Question for one thing, and to redress the injustice under which denominational education has been suffering. To the agricultural interest they made some appeals and promises. [Opposition cheers.] Were the Unionist Party sincere in their promises, and did they intend to carry them out? If so, he hoped the followers of the Government would have no hesitation in supporting them in spite of the hostile and unfair attitude of certain hon. Members.
§ MR. J. M. PAULTON (Durham, Bishop's Auckland)
complained that the Motion, which had been brought forward without excuse, reason, or argument, would be a precedent which would guide the House in future on the principle which always guided the House, and the Government would "go one better" in future years, and the time would come when the annual farce of discussing the liberties of private Members would be abolished, and private Members might as well be abolished altogether. This would be the result, if the present Motion were adopted as a precedent for depriving private Members of the time certainly guaranteed to them by the 768 First Lord of the Treasury, as an argument for passing the Procedure Rules in connection with Supply.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The chief gravamen of the various speeches against the Motion appears to lie in the fact that I did not introduce it in a long explanatory speech dealing with the peculiar necessities of the Session, and quoting a whole list of precedents as showing what had taken place in previous Sessions. I confess I thought the circumstances and the justification for the Motion we have made was known to every human being in the House who paid the slightest attention to the course of public business, and I did not think it necessary to waste the time of the House, as I thought by going through the well-known precedents of the past or explaining that the amount of work that lay before us in the present Session was of such magnitude and character that it was absolutely necessary we should follow the example of our predecessors and ask for an increase of the legislative time at our disposal. I have stated our reasons, but I will state shortly what the precedents were. During the time of the late Government in 1893, Tuesday mornings were taken from March 7 to March 28, and afterwards all Tuesdays were taken for the rest of the Session. Friday mornings were taken from March 3 to the end of the Session, except when the whole of Fridays were taken. Wednesdays were taken from April 12. In 1894 all Tuesdays were taken from April 10 to August 21; Friday mornings from April 13 to May 25, and afterwards the whole of Fridays until the end of the Session. In 1895 the whole of Tuesdays was taken for the whole of the Session with the exception of two, and Friday mornings were taken from March 5 to April 5, and from May 3 to the end of the Session. When I have enumerated all these precedents I hope I have infused some balm into the anxious soul of the hon. Gentleman who preceded me who says:—If you pass this Motion, next Session you will be expected to make even greater sacrifices.As a matter of fact the sacrifice, if sacrifice it is, is less now than that asked 769 for by those who preceded us in office. Let me point out that it is a great misuse of Parliamentary terms, technical and substantial, to say that what we have done is to take away Fridays from private Members. It is not technically correct, because Fridays have always been Government nights; and devoting Fridays to Supply gives private Members an opportunity of carrying on the very discussions which they may desire to carry on at other times. Let me give an illustration. The hon. Member for Dover had a Motion on the paper a few days ago to call attention to affairs in South Africa. The same hon. Gentleman begs me to put down Supply for an early Friday that he may discuss that very subject. Can there be more conclusive evidence or a stronger example of the fact that at this moment, by devoting every Friday to Supply throughout the Session, we have given private Members facilities for the discussion of subjects in which they are interested greater than they have ever enjoyed before in the whole of my Parliamentary experience, whatever may be said of the conduct of public business by the Government, I hope it will not be said that we have been more neglectful of the rights and privileges that ought to be enjoyed by private Members than other Governments that have preceded us in office. The hon. Member for Dover described his speech not as a criticism but as a suggestion. His principal suggestion was that we should take next Friday for the discussion of Colonial matters, and he reminded the House, with perfect accuracy, that I had stated, when bringing forward the new Rules, that it would be my desire so to arrange the business of Supply that the fullest opportunity might be given to private Members of the House to discuss the large questions of policy in which they might feel interested. But with regard to discussing the Colonial "Vote on Friday the position of the South African question is this—that the Colonial Secretary, if that Vote were put down, would not be in a position to make any full or complete statement of the policy of the Government. Therefore the House has to determine whether it will have the Colonial Vote put down at a time when the discussion of Colonial questions must be unsatisfactory and 770 incomplete—if not worse—or else defer it to a time when, without injury to the public service and with fuller knowledge, it may be discussed. I believe I am consulting the general wish of the House when I say hon. Members would rather not have the Colonial Vote put down on Friday. If evidence to the contrary is brought I shall be glad to consider it. I do not think it is necessary to dwell at length upon the legislative necessities which require us to ask for these facilities from the House, for, in truth, every single Member who has risen to criticise the action of the Government has himself, in the course of his speech, incidentally and parenthetically—possibly not knowing what he was about—advanced conclusive arguments in favour of this Motion. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy occupied half of his speech complaining that Bills not promised in the Queen's Speech had been brought forward and the other half in complaining that the Bills which were so promised had not been brought forward.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I do not desire to enter into controversy with the hon. Gentleman, but he must be well aware, as an experienced Parliamentarian—[laughter]—that if we are to deal with any success with the legislation which has been, or is about to be, put before the House, facilities must be given to pass those Measures. He said we came in with certain promises and pledges, and he asked when we were going to fulfil them. We are going to fulfil them as rapidly as Parliamentary time and opportunity will permit, and it is because we do not desire to postpone for one day the fulfilment of those pledges that we invite the House to give us the facilities asked for by the Resolution before it. [Cheers.] I turn from the speech of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy to that of the hon. Member for King's Lynn, who, incidentally, in the course of his remarks, said if we were to deal with half the Measures which we had promised it would not be the Tuesdays of this Session but the Tuesdays of all Sessions and for all time that would be required. I do not know whether he intended that as 771 an argument against the Motion, or whether he intended to make a speech—not wholly, I think, in very good taste—[prolonged Ministerial cheers]—designed with the object of relieving the tedium of Debate and affording amusement to hon. Gentlemen opposite. [Cheers.] If he got up with a view of seriously, arguing the Proposition before the House, could there be a more conclusive argument in favour of the proposal than his own statement that not only the time we ask but much more would be required to carry out the programme of the legislation which we have laid before the House? [Cheers.] I agree with my hon. Friend, and, holding that view, and holding the view that we are not stretching precedents but keeping well within them, I ask the House with some confidence, having heard the arguments on both sides, to give us, without undue delay, the small privileges which we ask. [Cheers.]
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I have myself taken part in too many of these Debates to find in them a great deal of novelty. The fact is that these are demands which are always made, which are always opposed, and which are always carried. [Laughter.] I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that he has not introduced some novelty into his proposal, both in the character of the proposals themselves and in the manner in which they have been introduced. As to the character of the proposals in the precedents the right hon. Gentleman quoted, I do not believe that at so early a period of the Session all the time except Friday night has been taken. Of course every Government will always get as much time as the House of Commons will give it. That is natural. Every Government in the inroads upon the territory of private Members will be governed by a strategy which will be limited only by the resistance with which they meet. I do not find that private Members seem disposed to offer great resistance to this demand of the Government. I have never myself taken the view which is adopted by the hon. Member for Waterford that all private Members' motions are fads.
§ MR. J. REDMOND
I never said that all private Members motions are fads. There are private Members and 772 private Members, and there are motions and motions. [Laughter.]
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
The hon. Member said that Tuesdays might be taken as they were given to the fads of private Members. I have never taken that view of private Members' motions The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House rather dissents from that view because on a former occasion he urged as an argument against giving Tuesdays to the Government that the House lost the advantage of counts out. This is, I think, an advance in the appropriation of the time of private Members upon any former precedent, except that of 1893, when the time was given for the Home Rule Bill at an earlier period of the Session. Complaint has been made of the manner in which this demand has been put forward. I must say I do think that when private Members are having their time taken from them they are at least entitled to have it said to them "By your leave." ["Hear, hear."] After all it is depriving Gentlemen of a privilege which they highly value, and if in the crowd of your Measures you are obliged to tread upon Gentlemen's toes, the least you can say is, "I beg your pardon for what I am doing." ["Hear, hear."] It has always been customary for the Leader of the House when he asked for this time to point out the Measures which the Government have before them and the amount of time which they think ought to be devoted to them. I do not wonder the Government are now feeling they will be pressed for time. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy said, that they have introduced a good many Measures that they did not promise, in order to make up for not introducing Measures they did promise. I might include in that the Education Bill, because the Education Bill they have introduced is not the Education Bill they promised. It is a wholly different Bill. The Government announced in the Queen's Speech that they meant to do something for Voluntary schools, but they have introduced a Measure which is to destroy the whole of the existing system of education in this country—[Ministerial cries of "No" and Opposition cheers]—and put a brand new system in its place. Having done that, of course they want time, and it will not be only Tuesday that it is likely they may want. 773 ["Hear, hear!"] If the Government had any notion whatever of bringing forward in the present Session one-fourth of the Measures they introduced in the Queen's Speech, it is not Tuesday mornings they will want, but weeks of fourteen days apiece, in order to give effect to their Measures. The right hon. Gentleman might, for the satisfaction of his chief supporter the hon. Member for Waterford, have said that one of the main Measures was to be the Irish Land Bill, but he took care not to say so. We shall know very soon what that Bill is to be, and whether it is a Bill of the proportions of the Education Bill; and, if so, in what manner and time it is to pass. In all the precedents to which the right hon. Gentleman referred us there have been reasons alleged why the time of private Members should be given up, and under such cir-stances the House has never refused to give it. There is one important point to which I would ask the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, and that is the question of what is to be done with the Votes upon Friday. I did not understand his observation when he said the House had rejected the proposal that when a Vote like the Foreign or Colonial Office Vote was brought on that it should be postponed so that it might be brought up at a later period. He entirely misunderstands the observations I made at the time the question of procedure was under discussion. I asked if you brought on this Vote at an early period of the Session what opportunity we should have of discussion at a later period, and the right hon. Gentleman suggested that the Vote need not be disposed of then, and that there would be a further opportunity if the Vote was adjourned. I understood that suggestion was accepted, and in that manner we were from time to time, if the necessity arose, to have an opportunity of discussing these matters, which at the present time are of paramount importance. I say it is perfectly impossible in the present state of affairs abroad and in the Colonies that this House should not have an opportunity of such discussion. Do not let us be under any misunderstanding upon this subject, otherwise the House will be inevitably driven to those measures, which I have always objected to, and which have been very improperly used on 774 former occasions, by which the House has a safety-valve, and must obtain that information which the country ought to receive through the House of Commons. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will not consider that the suggestion he made has been put out of court by anything that took place upon that matter. With reference to the business that is to be taken next Friday, if the Government say, upon their responsibility, that they do not think that Friday next is the time at which colonial questions can be discussed, that the Government are not able to give that information which the House is desirous to obtain, and that a discussion of that character is likely to embarrass the situation, of course it is impossible for the House to press a demand of that kind. But the Government ought to recognise the fact that there is a feeling of deep anxiety in the country; that there is a situation in South Africa of the most perilous character, and that the House of Commons does desire in some form or other to have information, with reference to the condition of things in South Africa at this moment, which it does not possess; and I am quite sure it must be the desire of the Government, as it is their highest interest, to give to the House all that information which it is possible safely to give, and to relieve the country from an anxiety upon that subject which is very deep and very real. [Cheers.]
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
rose to move, as an Amendment, to insert before the word "do" the words "after this week" with the object of saving to-morrow (Tuesday) from the Resolution which the right hon. Gentleman had moved. He would remind the House that the question which he had hoped to raise to-morrow was not one which could be raised on the Estimates in the ordinary course, and if, owing to circumstances over which he had no control, the House should not have the opportunity of considering the question to-morrow night, it would be absolutely impossible for him to bring the question forward at any other period of the Session. This question was one in which Members on both sides of the House were interested, and though they might be a small section, and though they might be very deeply 775 affected in the question, and profoundly affected by it, still, if it did not affect the whole of the House, it might be difficult for them to make a House. There was also on the Paper for to-morrow night a Motion of a very important character in the name of the hon. Member for St. Helens. He did not see the hon. Member in his place. The probability was that he had been unable to take part in the Debate owing to the excessive shortness of notice that this Resolution was to come on to-day, for he had in the past been such an ardent and eloquent supporter of the rights of private Members that he was sure he would have been present on an occasion of this kind if it had been possible. The probability was that if the right hon. Gentleman's Motion was carried, the hon. Member for St. Helens would be entirely unable to bring forward the important Motion of which he had given notice. The Motions which were to come forward to-morrow night could not, he thought, be called "private Members' fads." One question affected the interest of Wales very deeply, another was a great imperial question, and the third was a question relating to their national food supply, and he ventured to think that the Military Manœuvres Bill was hardly an efficient substitute for them. Welsh Members had lost two Fridays already, and the right hon. Gentleman's Motion affected not only next Tuesday but also Tuesday three weeks, when an important Welsh Motion would also come on. No section of Members had suffered more severely by the inroads that had been made by Government this Session than the Welsh Members, and it was on that ground and as a protest against the abstraction of to-morrow that he begged to move the Amendment.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
said, that as this Motion would give the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury the opportunity of rising again, he would respectfully suggest to him that he should make some reply to the hon. Member for Waterford. That hon. Gentleman had made a contribution, not only to the Debate, but to the forces of the Government, and, although his forces were small, yet, he imagined, the widow's 776 mite in the war-chest of the Treasury was not unacceptable. But, as he tinder-stood, the hon. Member for Waterford added his forces to the Government on a very distinct position, namely, that the Government Land Bill was going to be a very large and useful Measure, and also that the Government were going to press it forward with all the vigour at their command. The right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his very careful reply, carefully avoided replying in any degree to the very remarkable support he got from the hon. Member for Waterford. He would ask him were they to assume from his silence on this matter that, as some of them had suspected, the Government Bill was really intended to be used as an extinguisher upon the hopes of Irish agrarian reformers, some of the enthusiasts of whom, such as the Solicitor General for Ireland, the Member for Guildford, and the Under Secretary for the Admiralty, occupied so distinguished a position on the Committee of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mont-rose. The Government were in the position of step-fathering the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, and there was always a suspicion attaching to the functions of step-fathering. The Bill of the right hon. Member for Montrose——
§ *MR. SPEAKER
reminded the hon. Member that the only question before the House was whether the words "after this week" should be inserted in the Motion—that was to say, whether the time proposed to be taken by the Government should begin on Tuesday of next week. The hon. Member would not be in order in referring to the question of the Irish Land Bill on that Amendment.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said, he had hoped he should be in order in referring not only to the Amendment itself, but also to the main question to which it was an Amendment.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, he would suggest to his hon. Friend the Member for Flint Boroughs that there was no likelihood of the success of his Amendment as distinguished from the main question. Those who desired to oppose the Motion of the Government had better take a Division on the main question.
§ MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon)
said, the only ground on which 777 he understood his hon. Friend wished to press his Amendment was that Welsh Members had a particular grievance against the Government this Session. The Government had already taken three or four nights which had, by the luck of the ballot, been secured by Welsh Members, and they wished to take the opinion of the House upon this particular point. He hoped the Amendment would be pressed unless the Government could give some sort of pledge that they would at any rate assist the Welsh Members to keep a House to-morrow night to enable them to discuss a matter of considerable importance.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, he did not quite understand the grievance of the Welsh Members, because they would have three hours to discuss the Motion which they had on the Paper. If he had been depriving them of the whole day he could have understood them feeling aggrieved, but, as he did not intend by his Motion to take away from them the right of having the opportunity which the luck of the ballot had given them, it was not possible for him to make the exception aimed at by the Amendment. He could not accept the Amendment.
§ *SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
said, that whenever an attempt was made to encroach upon the rights of Members, it was always the Welsh Members who suffered. His hon. Friend the Member for Flint Boroughs had obtained first place to-morrow for a Motion dealing with a subject which was a burning question in his part of the country; but that was not the only important Motion on the Paper, and he did think that his hon. Friend and the other hon. Members in whose name those Motions stood had a right to complain that the First Lord of the Treasury, on very insufficient grounds, and without pleading urgency, should ask them to give what was practically the whole of Tuesday. In no year during his experience in Par- 778 liament could he remember when Supply was in so forward a condition as it was this Session, and in the circumstances he thought his hon. Friend the Member for the Flint Boroughs would be strictly within his right in pressing his Amendment. If Welsh questions were neglected or overlooked it was the duty as well as the right of the Welsh Members to show that they, at least, were alive to the interests of their constituents, "Hear, hear!"]
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 108; Noes, 242.—(Division List, No. 93.)
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I understand the hon. Member for North Louth merely desires to repeat the question he was asking when I interrupted him while speaking on the Amendment. If he only desires to ask whether there is any answer to be given to that question I will not stand between him and the House, otherwise I shall accept the Closure.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 237; Noes, 117.—(Division List, No. 94.)
§ Main Question put accordingly.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 220; Noes, 124.—(Division List, No. 95.)
That, unless the House otherwise order, the House do meet on Tuesdays at Two of the clock, and that the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to such Morning Sittings.