§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
rose to move:—That for the remainder of the Session the House do meet on Tuesdays at 3 o'clock; that Government Business have priority over all other Bills and Notices of Motion on any day for which it is appointed; and that the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to every day of the week.He said: The Motion I move will, if carried, practically give the control of the time of the House for the remainder of the Session to the Government. It is, therefore, desirable, and the House will probably expect, that I should give some survey of what we have already done, and some forecast of what we hope to accomplish. Looking back to the portion of the Session that is already passed, I find that 16 days have been given to financial business, including the Budget, and private Members have had 15 days, two of them, however, being reduced to half days. For Government legislation we have had ten days, two of which were but half days. Of these two half days, one was nominally given to Government business, but it was almost entirely occupied by a discussion on a private Bill commencing at 2 o'clock, 1738 and on another day a large portion of the time was taken up by the statement of my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty in introducing the Navy Estimates and the Naval Works Bill. So it cannot be said that for doing the whole of the legislative work intrusted to us we have had more than nine days. In those days we have passed the Naval Works Bill and read the Light Railways Bill a second time and sent it to the Grand Committee, which, I believe, has pretty nearly got through it. The Military Manœuvres Bill has nearly reached the end of the Committee stage; while the Diseases of Animals Bill has been read a second time. The three remaining more important Government Bills have been read a first time. So much for the past. As regards the future, we are in possession of two-and-a-half days in the week. Friday, of course, as the House knows, is permanently devoted to financial work. At present Wednesdays and Tuesday nights belong to private Members, This being the time at present at our disposal, what is the task we have got to accomplish? I will not refer to the smaller Government Measures which have been mentioned during Question time, and which we may reasonably hope will pass this House without any long discussion, nor is it necessary to allude in detail to such administrative Bills as the Military Lands Bill or the Uganda Railway Bill, which will have to be passed in the course of the Session. Everybody knows that the main outline of the Session will have to be determined, not by what we do with regard to those Measures but by what we do with regard to the three important Bills which at present are read only a first time—the Rating Bill, the Education Bill, and the Irish Land Bill. The Rating Bill, T am given to understand, is a Bill likely to be regarded as controversial — [Opposition cheers] — but it cannot be regarded as one embodying provisions of great detail, or, indeed, as involving more than the affirmation by the House of a single principle, which may be good or may be bad, but which has been already discussed for one night on the introduction of the Bill, and which, I imagine, will alone concern us when we are discussing the Second Reading and which, again, I imagine will occupy 1739 the time legitimately spent in Committee in discussing the clauses of the Bill. In fact, the Bill consists of at most two clauses; the rest is merely machinery; I therefore may say that the Rating Bill, if a controversial Bill, is not a complex Bill. The Education Bill, on the other hand, I gather from statements made on the other side, is also a controversial Bill, and I cannot deny that it is complex. As the Rates Bill is not complex, but is controversial, so the Education Bill is both. There remains only the Irish Land Bill, and I shall be willing to admit that that Bill is undoubtedly complex; it was impossible to deal with such a topic except in a complex Bill; but whether that Bill can be regarded as controversial will depend upon the representatives of those classes in Ireland for whose benefit it is intended. Those are the three great Measures to which I wish to call the attention of the House. As regards the Rating Bill and the Education Bill, the House will not receive with surprise the statement that those are the Bills, which, in any and all circumstances the Government mean to pass into law. [Cheers.] On the other hand, the fate of the Irish Land Bill trembles in the balance. [Mr. DILLON: "Why?"] If that Bill be treated by Irish Members as a Measure requiring elaborate discussion, if they are going to treat it as a controversial matter, then I boldly say, whatever may be the time the House is prepared to give the Government, it will be impossible, in view of our other legislative engagements, to get that Bill through without throwing a burden on this House which, for my part, I say will be extremely inexpedient. But I hope for better things; I hope that the Irish Members, whether they sit on that side or on this side, will be prepared to treat it as a Bill introduced with the solitary object of benefiting those engaged in agricultural pursuits in Ireland, that they will recognise the spirit that has presided over the construction of that Bill, and that they will endeavour to meet the views of the Government of the day in framing that Bill, and will discuss it at much less length than former Irish Land Bills have been discussed. But even if Irish Members are prepared, as I hope they are, to meet us in the spirit I have indicated, I do not think we can look forward with confidence to 1740 the passing of that Bill, if the House insists upon confining us to two-and-a-half days a week, if it refuses to consent to turn that two-and-a-half days into three-and-a-half days, which will be the result of the proposal I have now to make.
§ MR. DILLON
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can now answer my question about the date of the Second Reading of the Irish Land Bill.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I will endeavour to give the hon. Member my view of the position of that Bill. It will be gathered from the statements made by the Government since the delivery of the Queen's Speech that we regard the Rating Bill and the Education Bill as having precedence of the Irish Land Bill; we cannot allow ourselves to be involved in Irish controversies until those Bills are, from a Parliamentary point of view, out of danger. It is not in the interest of the Irish Land Bill that we should sandwich it, in the way the hon. Member has suggested, between the chief stages of the other two Bills, because the result of such a course, if it were taken by the Government, would be to provoke discussion on the Irish Land Bill for the purpose of delaying the stages of the other two Bills, which meet with great hostility from the other side of the House. Therefore, in the interests of the two English Measures, and also of the Irish Measure, it is not the intention of the Government to allow the two Measures to be blocked by the stages of the Irish Land Bill. But it is my intention to give time for the Second Reading of the Irish Land Bill before we commence work on the Committee stage of the Education Bill. I do not know that any greater forecast of the future can be made at the present time, and I do not know that anything more can be required, seeing the task that is before the House. It will only be necessary, therefore, to explain the views of the Government with regard to one portion of the Resolution—one phrase—which is, perhaps, not very usual. It will be seen in the Resolution that the Government only obtain the right to take the time of the House when they put down business for discussion. That will give a certain elasticity with regard to the Wednesdays. [Ironical Opposition cheers.] I propose 1741 to explain to the House how that elasticity will be made use of. In the first place, with regard to Wednesdays after Whitsuntide: as the House knows, several Bills have passed the Second Reading stage. It has usually been the practice, and it is a fair practice, if possible, to give some privileges to such Bills on Wednesdays after Whitsuntide, and not proceed to the discussion of new proposals. So, Sir, I propose to give two Wednesdays at least after Whitsuntide, and, if we are fortunate in the progress of the general business of the Government, it is possible that they may be extended to three Wednesdays. As regards the Wednesdays before Whitsuntide, I do not desire to speak absolutely. The business in each week must be got to a stage which would justify me in giving them up. I will explain what I mean. I should not ask for next Wednesday if the Second Reading discussion on the Rates Bill is finished to-morrow night. ["Oh!" and laughter.] If, if! [Cheers.] If that Bill is disposed of on the second stage to-morrow night, I should be very glad to give up the right to Wednesday. If the Second Reading be not taken on Tuesday night, is there a single man who does not think that we ought to take Wednesday? ["Hear, hear!"] With regard to next week, I hope on Monday next to bring on the Second Reading of the Education Bill, and, if arrangements can be made, familiar to Parliamentary practice, that the Division should take place on Thursday night. ["Oh, oh!"] If any arrangement of that kind can be made, of course I should have no desire to take the Wednesday for Government business; but I think it will be felt that to take the discussion on Monday and not carry it on to a conclusion would be an abandonment by the Government of all proper control of the Government business, which neither Gentlemen on this Bench nor Gentlemen on the Bench opposite would ever consent to. ["Hear, hear!"] We shall, on the Monday following, take the Committee stage on the Rates Bill, and continue it de die in diem, excepting, of course, Fridays, which are given up to Supply. I hope it is felt by the House that I am asking no more than what is absolutely necessary if we intend this to be not an impotent and barren Session. I hope I 1742 have explained our intention—that, if business goes on more rapidly than we have contemplated, I would be able to restore to private Members some of those privileges I am most reluctantly asking them to give up. Under these circumstances I trust the House will do its best to meet the views of the Government on this point—views in which the Government are not necessarily interested, except as the guardians of the business and rights of the House. I therefore now have the honour to move:—That for the remainder of the Session the House do meet on Tuesdays at 3 o'clock; that Government Business have priority over all other Bills and Notices of Motion on any day for which it is appointed; and that the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to every day of the week." [Cheers.]
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman I could not help asking myself what he would have said last Session if such a proposal as this was made by the Government of the day. ["Hear, hear!"] He has, in the course of his statement, said what he knows to be a fact, that never before was such a proposal as this made at this time of the year. He says it is made not in the interests of the Government, but on behalf of the general business of the House. It is on that account that he asks all that time for the exclusive use of the Government and a few selected Bills. The right hon. Gentleman began by enumerating the days that have been employed in the past upon the various sections of the business. This I will undertake to say—that no Government, certainly of recent years, I may say for 20 years, has ever had such favourable facilities given it in the early part of the Session for the transaction of business. [Cheers.] They got through the Debate on the Address in a remarkably short time compared with the practice of recent opposition. They have had, I am bound to say, remarkable and most unusual facilities in getting Supply. None of their large Measures have received anything that can be called obstruction—["Hear, hear!"]—or even extended Debate upon their early stages—facilities which were not extended to us. ["Hear, hear!"] Therefore, I ask, what is there in the circumstances of this Session 1743 which induces the Government or justifies the Government in making these unexampled demands? Is it to carry on their legislation? ["Hear, hear!"] We were told that we were to enter on quiet times. We were not to have exciting Measures. We were to have moderate Measures of social reform. The moderate Measures of social reform have disappeared. One of them was announced as already withdrawn. Others have been spoken of in a rather light manner by the Leader of the House, and he has concentrated his attention on the principal Measures of the Government. Why is it that the Government, in this state of premature panic, come to the House and ask these further facilities? What is the character of these Measures? We were told in the Queen's Speech that there was to be an Education Bill to give some slight additional assistance to voluntary schools. It would not have been necessary to take the whole time of the House to pass a Measure of that kind; but, having announced a Measure in those terms, there has been some eruption or convulsion in the Cabinet which has resulted in the production of a wholly unexpected educational Measure to overthrow the whole of the existing system, and substitute a new system of education in its place. ["Oh, oh!" and cheers.] It may be a good system or it may be a bad system, but nobody can deny that it is a complete change. Then the Rates Bill; the right hon. Gentleman says this is a one clause Measure, and a one-principled Measure. It is not a one-principled Measure, and it is not a one-clause Measure. ["Hear, hear!"] It is a Measure which involves, either now or immediately hereafter, an entire revolution in all the local taxation of the country. Do you suppose that you can make a breach in the system of local taxation in this country without discussion on a scheme which in its results must affect every class in the community? If the right hon. Gentleman thinks so, I venture to say he is entirely mistaken. He has said that these Bills will require four other days. Then there are the Bills which are to carry out the equivalent for what is done in the English Bill with regard to Ireland and Scotland. ["Hear, hear!"] These are what you may call the corollaries of the Bill which the Government 1744 has introduced. That is equally true of the Education Bill. That Bill, no doubt, applies solely to England, but it will not be denied that there must be complementary Bills dealing both with Ireland and with Scotland. ["Hear, hear!"] These are the things which the right hon. Gentleman says must be disposed of before we enter on what he calls Irish controversy. [A laugh.] Then the right hon. Gentleman thinks that these things are likely to be disposed of in a day or two. Why, really, if the dulcet language in which the right hon. Gentleman spoke as to the time to be occupied by these Bills were the truth, or anything near the truth, you would not want any additional time at all. He talks of finishing off these Bills in two days, and though he speaks with soft tones, he holds a rod behind his back, and says, "It depends upon your behaviour how I will treat you." There is one extraordinary part of this proposal, and it is this—what shall I call it—this local option which is reserved to the Treasury Bench in reference to the time of the House. I object to that altogether. [Cheers.] Either this time is wanted for the Government Measures or it is not. If it is wanted for the Government business these reservations ought not to be made. If it is not wanted for the Government business, it ought not to be in the power of the Government to deal with the time which in the ordinary course of events belongs to the independent Members of the House; that ought to be left to the regular course of business. I remember that when I was responsible for the conduct of business I once was foolish enough to reserve a single day for a Bill that was specified at the time, and I determined never to do it again. But this is a great deal worse than that. The right hon. Gentleman does not say he will reserve a particular day for a particular Bill, but he practically says: "We will keep in our own pocket these days and give them up to any Bill that it may suit us at the time." [The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY: That is not my proposal!] That must be so, because you may choose your Wednesdays.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I distinctly pledged myself to the House that, if the Second Reading of 1745 the Rates Bill is not finished, this Wednesday will be taken by the Government. If the Second Reading of the Education Bill cannot be finished by the Thursday of next week, then the Wednesday will be taken. The taking of the Wednesday following depends upon the course of business with regard to the Committee on the Rates Bill; and I have distinctly said that two Wednesdays after Whitsuntide will be kept for private Members. Under these circumstances I do not think it can be said I am not dealing quite frankly and openly with the House. [Cheers.]
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has mended matters. What he says to us is this: "Either you must confine yourselves to two days for the Rates Bill or you shall not have Wednesday." That is not a decent way of dealing with the time of the House. [Cheers.] The Government are, by this means, practically introducing a new form of closure, for they, in effect say: "We will introduce a Bill, however controversial, and unless you confine it to two days we will take Wednesday." That is not the way in which the time, of the House ought to be dealt with. If there is an indispensable necessity for taking the time, then take it, but do not say the question whether we have Wednesdays depends upon whether we finish the Debate on Measures like the Rates Bill and the Education Bill in two days. I do not think it is likely the Debate will be concluded in two days. In my opinion this House would very ill do its duty if it did not take more time than that in discussing Measures of such immense importance and involving principles of such great consequences as those which are involved in these Bills. The right hon. Gentleman calls this elasticity. It seems to me that is far too mild a name to apply either to the proposal itself, or to the manner in which he proposes to carry it out. For my part I shall offer my entire opposition to the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman has made. [Cheers.]
§ MR. H. SETON-KARR (St. Helens)
regretted that he was unable to support the Motion which the First Lord of the Treasury had made. [Opposition cheers.] His reasons were twofold; they were, in 1746 the first place, particular; and, in the second place, general. The carrying of the Motion would deprive him and those hon. Members who were acting with him in the matter, of the last chance they had this Session of making their Motion regarding the national food supply. Although in the first week of the Session the right hon. Gentleman told them this was to be a humdrum Session, that there was to be no sensational legislation, in the second week he introduced his new Sessional Order appropriating Fridays. He was thus deprived of an opportunity which he had secured of introducing his Motion on a Friday. He then, in the Ballot, secured the second place on a Tuesday; but that Tuesday the Government immediately appropriated. He had intended to ballot again to-morrow. This Motion, however, would deprive him of every opportunity of raising during this Session the question in which he and others were greatly interested. On general grounds he asked what was the meaning of running the business of the House on the present high-pressure system. The Government had a strong and compact majority; they had, in all probability, six years of office before them; and therefore there could be no necessity to pass this year all the important Bills they had introduced. The Government programme was too large; indeed, if the Government had had at their disposal the whole of the time from the first day of the Session to now, and had the whole of the rest of the Session in their hands, they could not hope to pass such a programme. Surely two of the six important Measures they had introduced, coupled with the ordinary business of Supply, would have been sufficient for one Session. If the right hon. Gentleman had said that he wished to bring the Session to an end at a reasonably early period, in order that he might go away and play golf—["oh, oh!"]—he would have regarded that as a very strong reason for the Motion, because he admitted that Ministers, as well as Members, required a certain amount of rest during the year. While he opposed the present Motion, he was prepared to vote for all the Government Measures, with the exception, perhaps, of the Irish Land Bill. He, as an English Member, 1747 knew absolutely nothing about that Bill—[Irish cheers]—and, with all due courtesy to the Irish Members of the House, he cared less. [Laughter.] For the last 25 years the House had been legislating about Irish land; they had never succeeded in satisfying Ireland—[Irish cheers]—and his opinion was that they never would. It would be a wiser and more common-sense proceeding to give up the task. When he found in The Times five columns occupied with the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland on the Irish Land Bill, he thought to himself: "This Bill will never pass. It is a Bill no British constituency cares anything about." [Nationalist cheers.] The Irish Question, in its different phases, has been before the House ad nauseam, and he submitted that if the Government had not time for the Irish Land Bill they should drop it before they trenched unnecessarily on the time of private Members. To his mind the proposal of the Leader of the House was unnecessary and uncalled for at so early a period of the Session. The Government had introduced an unwieldly programme, which it was impossible to carry out this Session, and before introducing such a Motion as the Leader of the House had done, they should have dropped some of their Bills.
§ MR. W. ALLEN (Newcastle under-Lyme)
expressed his astonishment at the statement of the Leader of the House that the Government had only had nine days of Parliamentary time during the Session.
§ MR. ALLEN
, resuming, said Supply was more forward than it had been for some years past. Supply was as much Government business as any of their legislative proposals, and if they counted the days the Government had spent on Supply, as well as those they had spent on their legislative proposals, they found they had had 26 days of Parliamentary time. He supposed the Leader of the House was asking for further facilities because obstruction to the Measures of the Government from their own supporters had grown during the past fortnight. Both to the Irish Land Bill and the Education Bill Amendments were 1748 put down by followers of the Government. He believed the proposal of the Government was absolutely without precedent, and that such a proposal had never been made with so little justification for it. In 1893, earlier in the Session (on March 30th), Mr. Gladstone proposed to take the whole time of the House. But in that Session there was the greatest controversial Bill that had ever been before the House, and the right hon. Gentleman himself said it deserved a whole Session of Parliamentary time for its discussion. In 1893, ten days were devoted to the Debate on the Address and eight days to the Supplementary Estimates. This year only six days were occupied with the Debate on the Address, and one day with the Supplementary Estimates. In 1894 there was as great a press of public business as during the present Session. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had to pass his Budget Bill—a more complicated and technical Bill than any the Government had to pass this Session—and he did not ask the House for its time, or private Members to give up Wednesdays until May 31st, and then he left three days for the Miners' Eight Hours Bill. If the Leader of the House would make a similar concession with regard to that Bill, and give an opportunity for the sense of the House to be taken upon it, he would support his proposal, strongly as he felt about the time of private Members being taken from them. Never had a weaker case been made out for taking the time of private Members. The Government got the First Reading of their two most important Bills in a day, and he did not think the Opposition could have treated them better than they had done. This Motion, if adopted, would establish a precedent, and private Members would never know what their time would be. Under the present system the Government could come down and take any single day which had been otherwise appropriated by a private Member, as they did the day that should have been devoted to the Resolution on the Truck Acts, which was to have been moved by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean. He suggested that the Government should arrive at some arrangement by which private Members would have a 1749 certain amount of time assured to them throughout the whole Session, rather than the present method, by which they got a good deal of time at the beginning and none at the end of the Session. Such an arrangement would be of great advantage, and one which the House, he was sure, would be willing to accept. However, they had now to take things as they were, and unless he could receive an assurance that the right hon. Gentleman would give them time to discuss the Mines Bill, for his part he should vote against the proposal made to-day.
§ *SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
observed that the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that what was, perhaps, the most controversial Bill ever introduced into that House, in which an enormous number of Members on both sides took an interest and wore anxious to speak, would only occupy three days.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, he had never expressed that opinion. He had always anticipated that the Bill would take four days.
§ *SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN
reminded the right hon. Gentleman that the Welsh Suspensory Bill, which never came to a Second Reading, took two days to discuss upon its introduction. The Welsh Disestablishment Bill, which no doubt was very controversial, took six days, two on the introduction and four on the Second Reading, and the Irish Home Rule Bill, which was also, of course, a controversial Bill, took no less than 12 days. It was a curious thing that when the light hon. Gentleman came down to claim some fresh portion of the time of the House it was always to displace, a Motion which stood in the name of a Welsh Member. The Member for Anglesey had for to-morrow put down what to the Welsh Members was a very interesting Motion, raising the question of autonomy or self-government for Wales. That question had never been discussed in the House, though there had been a good deal of vague discussion out of doors, and it was only by discussion in that House that a question of this kind found its scope and limit. The moment a day had been found for its discussion that day was immediately snapped up by the Government. It was not only for that reason he objected, but he did most 1750 strongly object to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman that the Government should be able to pick and choose any Wednesday they liked, and would enable them to favour particular Bills, and would thus indirectly add greatly to their power. It was said that the Government wanted the time of the House to pass their legislative programme, but as to two of the Bills which the right hon. Gentleman hoped to pass he could only say that he could not have asked for time for two Bills which were more controversial, or which would be more hotly and persistently resisted clause by clause.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
said, that for many years the Government had been encroaching more and more on the time of private Members, and he very much doubted whether the result was for the advantage of the Government or of the business of the House. However, he only rose now to say a few words as to the position of private Members' Bills after Easter. There was only one Bill, and could be only two—the Early Closing Bill and the Benefices Bill—which would have passed the Grand Committee. He submitted that it was a useless waste of the time of the House when a Bill had passed Second Reading and the Grand Committee that the time should be denied to pass the remaining stage. The Government announced their intention of looking on certain Bills with a benevolent eye. In claiming this power they would place themselves in some difficulty, and he appealed to the Leader of the Bill to adopt a principle, and to exclude from his proposals the Bills, the very few Bills, of private Members which passed through Grand Committee. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ *SIR C. DILKE
remarked that the weighty observations of the right hon. Baronet who had just sat down only showed once more the importance of full discussion of the forms of the House and the revision of the forms, and the necessity of doing something to remove the difficulties at present encountered, such as adopting the proposal of the right hon. Member for Bodmin, or some modification of it, and giving large groups of the House of Commons real control over portions of the time of the House. It would not be in order to discuss the 1751 details of any such proposals now, and he merely alluded to them to express the regret he had felt that the present Leader of the House backed up in the last Parliament the present Leader of the Opposition in preventing any such full discussion of the forms as to the business of the House taking place. With regard to the Motion now before them, he was bound to say that it appeared to him the Government had greatly mismanaged their business and were heavily responsible for the state into which the business of the House had fallen. If Governments intended to have programmes so large and detailed as that set forth in the Queen's speech and other proposals of this year, then Parliament must sit during a longer Session than the Session of this year or any ordinary Session. He would mention one Bill, which had occupied about a day and a half of their time in discussion, as an illustration of the confusion into which they had fallen—he referred to the Military Manœuvres Bill, which he understood was now going to be dropped.
§ *SIR C. DILKE
said, he was glad to hear it, but two or three days ago the right hon. Gentleman had indicated his fear that that Bill would have to be abandoned. He took the keenest interest in the Bill and had voted in every Division for it, but he had not said a word in regard to it because he had been so anxious that it should pass. He believed the Government during the Session had been given remarkable facilities for getting through their business. It was a poor reward for the help which the private Members of the House had given the Government in the transaction of their business, to sweep away the whole of their rights at so early a period of the Session. The only real cure for a state of things which was getting worse year by year would be for the House of Commons to take in hand the suggestion which had been made for the allotment of a certain time to the Bills of private Members.
*SIR W. HART-DYKE (Kent, Dartford)
said, the Motion was a disappointing one as regarded the aspirations and ambitions of many amongst them. He had been very anxious during the present 1752 Session to speak on a Motion, of which he had given early notice, with reference to the fraudulent marking by foreigners of our home produce. His Motion had been blocked by several Bills upon the Order Paper dealing with the same subject, and this Motion, by rendering it impossible for these Bills to be disposed of, would make it impossible for him to refer to the subject. No one had voted more often for these rapacious proposals for taking the time of private Members than he had when a Member of a Government, and he supposed the general verdict, of his colleagues at all events, would be, "Serve him right in the present instance." But was there not a great deal of humbug about these discussions? The time of private Members had been practically done away with for many years, and if they would recognise that fact they might save an enormous amount of time. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had asked the House if ever such a Motion had been heard of before from the Treasury box. It was only a question between two Front Benches and of who might be standing at that box. It had been the habit of successive Governments for years to encroach upon the time of private Members. They never had in that House a more genial, or kindly, or better Leader than the late Mr. Smith, and no man could take a big slice out of the time of private Members with a more genial countenance than he used to do. The right hon. Gentleman opposite appeared to be everlastingly taunting the Government for having said that the House should have quiet legislation, and he fortified his observations by stating that the Education Bill which the Government had introduced was a complete revolution, and they were also taunted in regard to the Measure for the relief of the unfortunate agriculturists, which they were told were also of a subversive character. He thought there was a tinge of exaggeration in all this, and that the right hon. Gentleman would find when this Resolution was passed that many of his fears were very ill grounded indeed. Although he had got a grievance he should vote for this Motion. Her Majesty's Government had four or five Measures in hand which were of the utmost value to the country, 1753 and he had therefore put aside the remainder of the principle which he had had with regard to the rights of private Members. He utterly disagreed with the suggestion that a considerable time, if not the remainder of the Session, ought to be spent on the Irish Land Bill, and he would advise hon. Members opposite to deal with that Bill on its merits, and to get the best they could out of it.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said, he had never before engaged in one of these discussions, which came on once or twice every Session, because he had recognised, with his right hon. Friend who had just sat down, whose confession was perhaps rather tardy, that these discussions were generally somewhat of a hollow farce. But he rose to approach the matter in a practical spirit. His right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had objected to the Motion exactly as a Leader of the Opposition should, and had done his best to turn it into ridicule, but the way in which his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had made his proposal was an illustration, to a great extent, of the wisdom of the late Mr. Smith, to which his right hon. Friend who had just sat down had alluded. It was an offer of give and take. Private Members might get something if they would sacrifice something. Was it possible to consider the offer? He thought it was not an unreasonable proposal that, if they could get through the Second Reading of the Rating Bill on that day and the next, the Scotch Local Veto Bill should be put down for Wednesday; nor did he think it unreasonable to hope that, if they could settle the Second Reading of the Education Bill in three days of next week [Opposition laughter], they should be allowed to discuss the Sunday Closing Bill on the Wednesday of next week. Hon. Members laughed, but if they did reorganise the disposition of their time, as had been suggested, an unlimited time would not be allowed to the discussion of the Second Reading of a Bill. Did any hon. Member suppose that the country at large would tolerate the suggestion that it was necessary that 20 Welsh Members should speak on the Education Question. It might be impossible to bring the scope of that discussion within the period he suggested, 1754 but he was quite certain that the popular judgment outside the House would be of opinion that three or four days were enough for the Second Reading of the most disputable, the most debateable, and the most complex Bill that could come before them. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Home Rule Bill!"] Hon. Members cried "Home Rule Bill," but he was going to say that even with regard to that Bill, popular judgment outside the House would have said that four days were enough, seeing that the subject had been discussed over and over again in the country before it was brought there. When they were going to reorganise their time, a strict limit would have to be placed on the time for Second Reading. Now, with respect to their position today. Hon. Members had not very much agreed with him so far, and they would probably disagree with him in what he was going to suggest. The point on which everything now turned with respect to the future disposition of the time of the House was the Irish Land Bill. If they could come to terms of a reasonable character with the large section of the House interested in that Bill, they might be able to get through their programme without any great difficulty, and with even more respect, possibly, to the rights of private Members than they got now. Was it impossible that this Irish Land Bill should have a way opened to it? The Leader of the House spoke of it as a complex Bill, but he said it was not a controversial Bill. It had not, indeed, been approached in a controversial spirit, but more was needed. They must have a fair agreement as to the principle on both sides, in order to make a Bill non-controversial, and it seemed to him that the Irish Land Bill had become of the character of a non-controversial Bill, in that it had not been approached by either side in a controversial spirit. If it was a non-controversial Bill, and if, as the Government admitted, they were going to read it a Second time before entering on the Committee stage of the Education Bill, why should they not—he threw out the suggestion, but did not invite an immediate decision—adopt in reference to the Irish Land Bill the process which they so successfully adopted with respect to a Scotch Bill in the last Parliament? Why not refer it to a Grand Committee, in which 1755 the Government had their majority securing its control, but in which they would have as large a constitution of Irish Members as possible. He thought the answer to that suggestion might clear the way with respect to the rest of the Session, and might allow them, while bringing their sittings to an end in the middle of August, to accomplish the main part of the Government programme, and also to satisfy some of the aspirations of private Members. Did they want this Irish Land Bill to pass or not? That was the question. If they wanted the Bill to pass, and it was not controversial, here was an opening for considering how it might be done, and if they got that opening and that means of settling that business accepted, then they greatly facilitated the conduct of the other part of the work. They might possibly then realise what had been scouted as absurd on the other side of the House, the conclusion of the Second Reading Debate in the time that had been mentioned, and they might even realise the conclusion of the Second Reading Debate of the Rating Bill. In connection with these Bills, it must be remembered both had been subjected to the bad and comparatively new habit of prolonged Debate on introduction—Debates which really were very difficult operations of most doubtful expediency. Hon. Members could not speak with authority on a Bill they had never seen, and they sometimes made very injudicious remarks, which they afterwards found it difficult to explain.
§ *SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I did not wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman when he was speaking, and I only rise now to say that I never said anything so absurd as to suggest that 20 Welsh Members should take part in the Debate. What I said was that I knew there were 20 Welsh Members who would be very glad to speak on the subject if they got the chance.
§ MR. J. DILLON
said he must at once confess that primâ facie, he felt strongly inclined to urge upon the Government that they should give the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin the most serious consideration before they rejected it. Such a proposal, coming from the present Government, would meet with a totally different reception at his hands 1756 than a similar proposal coming from the late Government, and for this reason. When the late Government introduced their Land Bill they were warned from this side of the House that it would be met with very considerable opposition. If the late Government, therefore, had made use of their majority to send the Irish Land Bill to a Grand Committee, he assumed that they would have been warned from the Front Opposition Bench that, if they did so, and that if the Bill, as a result, was passed through that House, it would be killed in another place. Therefore they would have approached such a proposition from a Government which was face to face with an irreconcileable Opposition, having the support of the House of Lords, in a totally different condition of mind from that which they would approach the present proposition if it were made by the Government. While he was not in a position to give any pledge as to what course would be adopted by the Party to which he belonged, and still less by the other Irish Party to which he did not belong, he thought it was a proposition of very great gravity, and one which ought to be very carefully considered by the Government before they decided what answer they would give. Turning to the general question of the Resolution, he wanted to point out, from the Irish point of view, that no inducement of any kind had been held out to them by the Government to support or abstain from supporting the proposal. If the First Lord of the Treasury had come forward and made some statement to them of a satisfactory character, that he would place the Irish Land Bill in such a position in the Government programme, that not only the Second Reading would be taken before Whitsuntide—a matter to which he attached very little importance indeed—but that the Committee stage would be brought on at such a date as would give them a rational opportunity, not of obstructing and delaying the Bill, but of endeavouring to amend it, and to remove the enormous defects it at present contained, then it would have been the duty of the Irish Party to very seriously consider the present proposal. But the First Lord had told them that the first use to which he would put the whole time of the House, if it were surrendered to the Government, would be to pass the 1757 Agricultural Rating Bill, to which they were opposed root and branch, and which he ventured to characterise as the most grotesque and indefensible attempt ever made in that House to treat Ireland unjustly from the financial point of view, and the principle of which they would oppose with all the resources in their power. If for that reason alone, he for his part would do everything in his power to oppose the First Lord's Motion. His statement, when it was read in Ireland to-morrow, would go a long way to enforce the view which had been prevalent there for the last three months, that the Land Bill had been introduced for the purpose of deluding and humbugging the people of Ireland. Some of them were old enough to remember the circumstances that attended the introduction of the Local Government Bill. They would recollect that the Bill was introduced in such a manner by the right hon. Gentleman who was now the First Lord of the Treasury, and who was then Chief Secretary for Ireland, as to convince everyone that it was not intended to pass. This was a similar case, for could anyone believe, after having heard the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that this Land Bill was meant to pass? The First Lord of the Treasury had stated that, as regarded the Agricultural Rates Bill and the Education Bill, the Government were determined to pass them, whether the Resolution before the House was passed or not; but, with reference to the Irish Land Bill, he said that it trembled in the balance, and that whether it passed or not would depend on the action of the Irish Members. What did that statement mean? It was one of an extraordinary character, the like of which, he believed, had never been made in the House by a Minister on an important Government Measure at a similar stage of business. If it meant anything at all, it was meant as a threat that the Irish Members were not to exercise their rights as private Members to criticise or oppose the Measure. But the threat was uncalled for, because the Irish Members had not given the Government the slightest ground for believing that they intended to obstruct the Bill. The circumstance would go a long way to convince the Irish people that the Government had no serious intention at all of passing the Irish Land Bill. 1758 [Nationalist cheers.] The Bill was dangled before the Irish Members as a Measure so magnificent and valuable that they ought to prostrate themselves in gratitude before the Government, and to allow the Government to quietly walk over their bodies with the other two Measures. ["Hear, hear!"] But this was a mistake. It would be idle to pretend that the Irish people or the Irish Members attached any great importance to this Irish Land Bill. [Nationalist cheers.] His position in regard to the Bill was perfectly clear. He thought the Bill contained some valuable provisions, which he should be sorry to see lost, especially those relating to purchase and the Land Court. The great body of the Irish people were anxious to obtain Amendments in those directions, especially such Amendments as would sweep away the complications that had been woven around the Ashbourne Acts. Were the Irish Members to be told that they were not to be at liberty to propose Amendments embodying improvements to which the Irish people attached such great importance? It had not been the intention of the Irish Members to offer any prolonged opposition to the Measure, or even to weigh it with a great array of Amendments; on the contrary, they believed the Irish demands, or desires, might be embraced in a very moderate number of Amendments, and he saw no reason why the Debate on the Bill should occupy a very long time. That was an argument, surely, in favour of giving the Bill precedence over the Agricultural Rating Bill and the Education Bill, both of which were extremely contentious Measures, and would occupy a long time. [Nationalist cheers.] The Irish Land Bill immediately and directly affected the interests of a very large class of people; in every respect it was more urgent than either of the Bills he had just named, and therefore he urged that it should have precedence of those Bills. But why should it be placed behind both of the Bills? If the right hon. Gentleman would give a pledge that the Irish Land Bill should be placed in front of one of the other Bills, say the Rates Bill, so that they might have some security that the Measure would not be pushed off to the very end of the Session, he would withdraw his opposition to the present 1759 proposal of the Government. ["Hear, hear!"] When the First Lord of the Treasury expressed the hope that the Irish Members would allow the Land Bill to pass in the course of a few hours —in a time too short, in fact, to permit them to express or enforce the views of their constituents, he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Bill was of so large and complicated a character that the Chief Secretary took three hours and a half merely to introduce it. ["Hear, hear!"] It would be hard, indeed, in such circumstances, that the Irish Members should be deprived of fair opportunity to express their views and the views of their constituents on the Bill. But this whole matter illustrated in a striking manner the radical evils of Irish Government. Why was it that in Irish Land Bills, and in other Irish Bills, there were so many points that required amendment? It was because the Irish Minister took his instructions and advice in such cases from persons of one side only. Men of Nationalist views, or men attached to the Nationalist cause, were never consulted at all; their opinions and their advice were entirely ignored. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for the St. Helens division had stated that the House had been more than 25 years discussing the subject of Irish land legislation, but that it had never succeeded in settling the question and never would. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member; the House of Commons never would settle it while the unfair course was pursued of trying to legislate on the question without consulting those who represented the opinions and feelings of the vast majority of the people. It was, therefore, all the more the duty of the Irish Members to insist on their right to place such Amendments on the Notice Paper as their constituents considered to be essential, with a view to making the Bill a really valuable one to the people of Ireland. Having repeated that he should be sorry to see the provisions of the Bill relating to purchase and to tenure lost, he said the Irish Members would do all they could to compel the Government to bring on the Committee stage of the Bill at such a period as would secure to them full opportunity of moving those Amendments which they deemed to be absolutely essential. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
said, he thought it was greatly to be deplored that those who led the House of Commons—on either side—should so overload the programme of work that it became necessary to ask the House for the whole of its time. It was a shortsighted course to take. The opportunities of private Members to initiate discussion or legislation could not be wholly taken away without harm being done to the House and the country. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not intend to oppose the Resolution, but earnestly invited the Leader of the House to take the matter into careful consideration; for all who had reflected upon it would admit that not infrequently the discussions and proposals initiated by private Members had proved of advantage to the House and the country. He believed that right hon. Gentlemen on both sides thought it essential to their popularity in the country to overload the Session. That idea of theirs was an entire mistake. [Opposition cheers.] One or two Measures thoroughly discussed would do much more to augment the popularity of any Government.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY,
who rose at the same time as several hon. Members, said: As there are Amendments to be discussed, perhaps it would be convenient to the House if I were now to reply to the speeches which have been made. [Opposition cries of "No, no!"]
§ MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside),
said, that he had a non-controversial Bill down for May 13—the Steam Engines (Persons in Charge) Bill. This Bill passed the House last year with the assent of all parties, and both employers and employed were agreed as to its value. As in all probability it would secure an early Second Reading if it came before the House, he hoped the Government would give facilities for its discussion on May 13.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said, that he took a very serious view of the situation with regard to the Irish Land Bill and its chances of passing into law. He was most anxious to make nothing in the nature of a partisan speech, but to say something which might lead to the passing of the Bill into law. He regretted extremely 1761 that the right hon. Gentleman had not made a more satisfactory statement with regard to the Bill. In the main he agreed with the hon. Member for East Mayo in his description of it. It was a Bill of the most vital necessity to the vast bulk of the population of Ireland. It was not satisfactory in all its details, and with regard to some of its clauses it required considerable amendment. But while the tenure clauses were in some respects not so satisfactory as those in the late Government's Bill, yet it was a more comprehensive Measure, and dealt in an eminently satisfactory way, on the whole, with the vital question of purchase. He did not believe that the discussion of the Bill would occupy any prolonged period. ["Hear, hear!"] It was not a case for a prolonged Debate on Second Reading. ["Hear, hear!"] On the principle of the Measure there was very little difference of opinion between the various parties, and a long Second Reading Debate must resolve itself into a discussion of those very details which could only be dealt with in Committee. ["Hear, hear!"] The Second Reading ought not to take more than one or two nights; and he should be content with a single night, provided that the time so saved should be devoted to the discussion in Committee. The hon. Member for East Mayo said that he should insist on the right of the Irish Members to move Amendments. It was scarcely necessary for the hon. Member to make that protestation. [Ministerial cheers.] The most sanguine Leader of the House who ever existed could not imagine that any Bill of consequence would pass without those specially interested having a sufficient opportunity to move Amendments. But while, of course, the necessary Amendments must be moved to give expression to the views which the Irish Members held with regard to the deficiencies of the Bill, yet, if the Committee stage were approached in a practical business spirit, and if the Irish Members of all parties were actuated in Committee by a bonâ fide desire to pass the Bill, the Committee stage would not take long. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not see why a comparatively short period should not suffice to pass the Bill into law—comparatively with the time occupied by such measures as the Act of 1881. He listened with 1762 the greatest possible interest and sympathy to the proposal made by the right hon. Member for Bodmin. On this point he was inclined to echo what was said by the hon. Member for East Mayo. Were the Government going to accept the right hon. Member's suggestion or not? If the Government would agree to it, and if all the various parties in the House would honestly and fairly agree to it, then he should be delighted to see it carried into effect, and he believed it would be a means of carrying the Bill with certainty this Session. ["Hear, hear!"] He regretted extremely that the Government had not put the Bill in an earlier portion of their programme. In past years the House had had occasion to complain of the Leader of the House because he was not sufficiently frank and candid in explaining the course of business. During the late Parliament he repeatedly addressed questions to the then Leader of the House, and never received a frank and candid answer. [Ministerial cheers.] But the right hon. Gentleman opposite had been most brutally frank and candid. [Opposition laughter and cheers.] They could not complain that the right hon. Gentleman was endeavouring to disguise his programme, which was that the Education Bill and the Rates Bill must absolutely pass. They were to be taken before any serious progress was made with the Committee on the Land Bill; and if the Land Bill were to pass at all, it could only be by Irish Members acting in a way which would only require a limited time to be occupied by the discussion. He greatly deplored this programme, and that the Land Bill had not been given the first place, which it deserved. He would do anything in his power to compel the Government to change their programme; but he had no power to compel the change, and he believed it to be his duty to get the Land Bill passed this Session. The Irish Nationalist Members had no power to compel the Government to take the Land Bill first. Unfortunately they no longer held the Government in the hollow of their hand. [Ministerial cheers.] It was better to look facts straight in the face. If the Irish Members held the Government in the hollow of their hand he would advocate a very different course. He did not gather from the 1763 speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo whether he and his friends were going to vote against this Motion. The hon. Member sat down without precisely stating his intentions. [Ministerial laughter.] But he had heard that it was the intention of the hon. Member to vote against the motion of the Government. His mind went back to what had happened in recent years on similar motions. On April 9th, 1894, the then Government—whom the Irish Members did hold in the hollow of their hand—[Ministerial cheers]—proposed to take Tuesdays. He had looked in "Hansard" vainly for any speech of the hon. Member for East Mayo or any Member of his Party on that occasion. [Laughter.] But he had found a short speech of his own. [Laughter.] He asked the Government then to state what the precedence of the Bills would be, and the Chief Secretary of the day, in reply, stated that in asking for the time of the House the Government were asking for an expression of confidence from the House, both as to their programme and as to the arrangement of it. There was at that time an Evicted Tenants Bill on the stocks which every Irish Nationalist Member regarded as of the most vital and pressing necessity; and the endeavour was made to get the Government to promise to take that Bill earlier. But those who made the attempt had not sufficient strength, and those who had the strength to exact the promise did not use it, but remained silent, and walked into the Lobby with the Government. [Ministerial cheers.] In May of 1894 the remainder of the time of the House was taken by the late Government; and again he asked the Government to state when they would go on with the Evicted Tenants Bill, but the Leader of the House then wittily replied by reminding him of the great man's saying that while questions were generally discreet, answers were very seldom discreet. [Laughter.] Again, those who held the Government in the hollow of their hands remained silent, and voted in favour of taking the time of the House. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ MR. J. REDMOND
said that it was passed late in August, when everyone knew it had no chance of becoming law. 1764 [Cheers.] He sincerely hoped that the present Land Bill would pass into law. He wished the Bill to pass; and he believed that the overwhelming majority of the Irish Members wished it to pass also. But they could only get it passed on the Government terms. He did not like those terms, and he thought they were unjust. But he had no power to compel them to change the terms, and the question for every Irish Member to consider was: "Did they want this Bill passed this Session or not?" That question he had answered in the affirmative, and he would take no title of responsibility for any action which would lead to the failure of its passage into law. He would, therefore, vote in favour of taking the whole time of the House for Government business, and he would strenuously advocate such an arrangement being arrived at between the Irish Members and the Government as would enable the discussions on the Bill, if retained in the House, to be regulated with strict regard to business, and in such a way as to insure its passage into law. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. BENJAMIN PICKARD (York, W. R., Normanton)
said he had no stones to throw at his own Party—[Nationalist cheers]—but he reminded the right hon. Gentleman of a small deputation which waited on him with regard to a day being given for discussing the Mines (Eight Hours) Bill.
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
said, he was anxious to loyally support the Government in this proposition as he had supported them in others, but on this occasion his loyalty was conditional—[ironical cheers from the Irish Members]—on the non-acceptance of the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Bodmin. The Irish Land Bill was not a Measure which should be remitted to a Grand Committee to be discussed by many who knew nothing about the subject. Nor could he join in the sanguine hopes of the hon. Member for Waterford that this Bill could be looked upon as non-contentious, or that it could be passed without a full discussion.
§ MR. HENRY LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
supported the appeal as to the Miners' Eight Hours Bill. By the chances of the Ballot he had brought in a Bill himself, and he understood that the Leader of the House or his colleagues 1765 had given some sort of assurance that a day was to be given for its discussion. He did not complain of the hon. Member for Waterford being ready to make a bargain, or to sell himself to the Government, but the hon. Member ought to take care to be well paid for it. [Laughter.] He was ready to sell himself—[laughter]—and if the Government would give him a Wednesday for his Bill he would vote for the Government Resolution, although he thought that it was an abominable one. The hon. Member had sold himself for a vague, indefinite promise that some time in September, or otherwise, the Irish Land Bill would be brought before the House. But the hon. Member should be well aware that this Bill was not intended to come before the House. The Government practically said: "Let us keep the Irish Members quiet during the discussions on the Education Bill and the Hating Bill by telling them that if they behave themselves properly they will have something to discuss in connection with Irish land."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that though the hon. Member might be silent on that Bill, he could not suppose other hon. Members would be silent. They intended to oppose those two Bills to the best of their ability. The Leader of the House had said nothing in his statement about the fourth Wednesday; but he observed that on that day there was a Bill down giving to women certain rights that they had not at any time possessed in this country—in fact, to absolutely unsex them. [Laughter.] He should like every definite assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that, if the Resolution passed nothing, more would be heard during this Session of the Woman's Rights Bill. [Laughter.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I think it may be convenient to the House that I should now briefly reply to the numerous questions which have been put to me, and to the not less numerous criticisms which have been urged against my Motion. Several hon. Gentlemen have put questions with regard to the Eight Hours Bill, requesting the Government to except the Wednesday on which this Bill stands first from the general operation of this 1766 rule. If I carried out the wishes of hon. Gentlemen, they would be no nearer the realisation of their hopes than they are now, because, by the Standing Orders, Wednesdays after Whitsuntide are practically earmarked for the Bills which have been advanced a certain stage.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I would refer the hon. Member to the Leader of the Opposition. In the earlier part of the discussion the Leader of the Opposition told us that once in his Parliamentary career he had given a Wednesday for the discussion of a special Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that, so hard had been his experience in consequence of that action, that he never would be betrayed into a similar proceeding. That Bill, I believe, was the Eight Hours Bill [laughter], and after that declaration from the Leader of the Opposition, I think hon. Members can hardly expect me to follow a course which has been condemned by that high authority. [Laughter.] Then questions have been asked as to the Bills that stood first for Wednesday May 13, and Wednesday, May 20. I have explained precisely what the Government propose to do with regard to both those Wednesdays. If the Committee on the Rating Bill is concluded before those Wednesdays, then they will be free; if it is not, then they will not be free. The policy is a plain one. Our course is taken simply and solely with a desire to promote the business of the House in accordance with the principles I have laid dawn. My right hon. Friend the Member for London University thinks that the House should not content itself with the definite promise, the explicit pledge given by the Government that the first two Wednesdays after Whitsuntide, and possibly the first three, would be set aside for the discussion of Bills that had gone through the Grand Committees. My right hon. Friend wished me to go further, and to embody in a resolution or give a pledge that no Wednesday would be taken after Whitsuntide until every Bill that had passed through a Grand Committee should have passed through the remaining stages and become law. I cannot give a pledge of that kind, and no such policy has ever 1767 been adopted in the past. It would deprive us of Wednesdays after Whitsuntide for an indefinite period. I hope, therefore, my right hon. Friend will be content with the general pledge which I have given, which shows, I think, a fair spirit towards those hon. Members who will have been fortunate enough to get their Bills through Grand Committee by Whitsuntide. I now come to the broader issues that have been raised. The first allegation against the Government is that they have committed themselves to a programme which is unduly long. I do not think, however, that the programme which I have unfolded to the House this evening can be regarded, when measured by any known Parliamentary standard, as excessive or extravagant. ["Hear, hear!"] When I am told by hon. Members opposite that the Education Bill is a Measure of such gigantic complexity, and of so controversial a character, that an almost infinite and illimitable period would not be too much to devote to its discussion, I must remind them that the Act of 1870, the first great educational Measure of this country, which laid down the great principles upon which public elementary schools are conducted, and which raised the most bitter religious and denominational differences, both inside and outside this House, occupied altogether only 23 days, including the First and Second Reading, the Committee and Report stages, and the Third Reading. The Second Reading took three days. The Bill contained 100 clauses, and no one who knows anything about that Bill can pretend that, in length, or difficulty, or novelty, or complexity, or controversial matter, there is any comparison between that Measure and the Bill that has been introduced by the Government. [Opposition cries of "Oh!" and cheers.] If hon. Members will but show the same moderation with respect to the Education Bill as was shown by their predecessors when dealing with a far more controversial Bill on the same subject, I see no reason why that other Measure which has been referred to—namely, the Irish Land Bill should not pass into law.
§ MR. J. MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
There is some doubt as to the exact plan which the right hon. Gentleman proposes with respect to this Bill. I understand that he does not propose to take the 1768 Second Reading of the Irish Land Bill until after the Committee stage of the Education Bill.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
No; what I said was that the Second Reading of the Irish Land Bill would be taken before the Committee stage of the Education Bill and after the Committee stage of the Rating Bill. Now I pass to what fell from my right hon. Friend behind me with regard to the Land Bill. He said that the Bill was regarded as non-controversial, and that it might, therefore, be referred with propriety to a Grand Committee. It would be quite wrong on my part to give any immediate answer to so novel a proposal. It is quite true that the objections that we have raised to the reference of certain Bills to the Grand Committees were based almost wholly on the fact that they were Bills of a very controversial character. If this Bill is not of a controversial character, that particular objection, of course, would not hold good. But I can say no more at present. The point will receive full consideration by myself and my colleagues, and at a later stage of our proceedings I shall be ready to communicate our decision to the House. In answer to the hon. Member for East Mayo, I have to say that he has misunderstood the whole scope of my speech if he thinks that I intended to threaten the Irish Members with the loss of the Bill if Amendments to it were proposed. I made no threats of any kind, but simply laid before the House the practical aspects of the case. I say now that, even if an almost immoderate amount of time is taken up by the Rating Bill and the Education Bill, there will still be time to pass the Land Bill if hon. Members who are interested in it will consent to pass it without raising every conceivable point that might be legitimately raised. It will be for them to decide whether the period allotted to the discussion is sufficient or not, and to determine whether or not their duties to their constituents dictate the policy of allowing the Measure to pass. The choice will lie with them, and to their consciences it must be left to decide what the decision shall be. ["Hear, hear!"] I think the House must see that our demand is not an unreasonable one, and I may fitly conclude by reminding the House that the Gentlemen who 1769 have told us that we ought not to ask for more time are the same Gentlemen who have exhausted all their powers of language to describe the long and bitter discussions of which the Measures of the Government are to be made the subjects. If these Gentlemen treat the Education Bill and the Rating Bill as they have threatened to do they will themselves supply a complete answer to all the objections they have raised against this Motion. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. JOHN WILSON (Govan) moved to exclude Wednesday the 29th instant from the operation of the Resolution, that being the day on which the Liquor Traffic Local Veto (Scotland) Bill was to be brought forward for a Second Reading. He complained that in the Ministerial cargo of Bills there was not one Measure of Scotch origin. The Bill which he had mentioned as standing on the Paper for Wednesday was a Bill to give the people power to protect themselves against a great and growing social evil. A very large number of the Scottish people were anxious that a discussion should take place on this subject in that House, and during the last two months shoals of petitions had been sent up in favour of the Bill. Sunday closing had been the law in Scotland for a great many years, and during the last 10 years the hours during which public houses could remain open had been shortened. Public opinion was now ripe for further restrictive legislation on this question. For the protection of homes and families, and in the interests of the religious life of the country, some thing more should be done to stay the ravages of this great evil. In almost every town in Scotland there was abundant evidence that the feeling of the people was that they should be empowered to deal with this question in their own way. He trusted, therefore, that the Leader of the House would recognise the propriety of excluding next Wednesday from the Resolution. If he should refuse to exclude it that action would not conduce to his popularity in Scotland. The great majority of the Scotch Representatives were in favour of the Bill. Those who were not in favour of the Bill knew that there was a strong sentiment in 1770 the country in its favour, and he felt persuaded that if hon. Members opposite would consider the strong injustice that was being done to the Scotch people in this matter they would really feel in their hearts that it would be very hard indeed, that after their patience and perseverance during the last 12 years, when an opportunity occurred whereby they were entitled to first place on a Wednesday, the Leader of the House should step in and take possession of that day. It was all very well to say that when the Rating Bill passed they would have Wednesdays. That would not satisfy Scotchmen. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to give Wednesday the 29th, for the discussion of this subject, and if he did so, it would be creditable to himself and to the House of Commons. He begged to move his Amendment.
§ MR. J. COLVILLE (Lanark, N.E.),
in Seconding the Amendment, contended that it was the duty of Scotch Members to protest most emphatically against the action of the Government in taking away the only opportunity that had occurred during the Session for the discussion of a Scotch Measure. The Government in this Parliament had received a much larger share of support from Scotland than on former occasions, for Scotland had sent more supporters of Conservative principles to the present House of Commons than previously. In three of the largest cities in Scotland, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen, the principle of this Measure had been affirmed by large majorities on a plèbìscite, and during the Recess the Secretary for Scotland at a Primrose League meeting frankly admitted that there was great need for a revision of the present licensing authority in Scotland.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member cannot make on this Amendment those observations which he might make on the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. COLVILLE
said, he would not pursue that line of argument. Notwithstanding the great changes in the Liberal Party during the last 16 years, Scotland had maintained her faithfulness to its principles, and notwithstanding the great change in political parties last 1771 year, there was still a great majority from Scotland in favour of this Bill. On both sides of the House there were hon. Members pledged to procure for Scotland what the Colonies had had for many years. He therefore desired to enter his protest against the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, and to say while it had not previously been his intention to offer a stubborn opposition either to the Rating or the Education Bill, he would consider it his duty to do so now.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I have already explained the reasons why I cannot accept the Amendment.
SIR HENRY CAMPBELL-BAN-NERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
said, he was surprised and disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not take more interest in this question, and give a more definite reply to the arguments of his hon. Friend. He entirely corroborated what his hon. Friends had said as to the importance of the Measure of which they were in charge. Its importance was fully recognised on both sides of the House. This was the only Bill relating to Scotland Scotch Members were likely to have an opportunity of discussing this Session. Not a single Bill relating to Scotland had been proposed by the Government. He admitted the force of the argument that the Government could not begin to make exceptions to their Resolution; but it did not apply in the present instance, because the Government had introduced into their Resolution a totally new principle, namely, that they should practically have the power of saying which Measures were to go on and which were not. He would point out, moreover, to the right hon. Gentleman that by his own statement of his intention he had declared that he was going to do so. The right hon. Gentleman had said that if the coming Wednesday was absorbed, as it would be, of course, by the Second Reading of the Rating Bill, private Members would have to be excluded. Next week the same thing would happen. The following week, according to the dispensation of time announced by the Government, the Committee on the Rating Bill would, of course, extend over Wednesday. It could not, however, be expected to cover the week after, and in the week after the right 1772 hon. Gentleman reverted to a private Members' day, and instead of proceeding with the Irish Land Bill he was to have an interval, when the private Member was to resume his rights, and after that the right hon. Gentleman would again appropriate the time. It was a remarkable fact, which could not be ignored, that the particular Measure for which a Wednesday was to be allowed, had, he believed, the support of the right hon. Gentleman himself. That was an unfortunate circumstance, which must come into play on men's judgment in the matter. That seemed to him an additional reason why a strong protest should be entered against the course the right hon. Gentleman was taking.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said, the First Lord of the Treasury had made a moving appeal to his Irish supporters, and had received a significant response from the hon. Member for Waterford. He thought the hon. Member was a little sanguine with regard to the Irish Land Bill. Let him remember that when he had the Government in the hollow of his hand——
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, he was about to adopt a line of argument which bore distinctly on the Amendment, but he would not pursue it. [Laughter.] If the right hon. Gentleman was going to make conditions as to the way in which he would carry out this Resolution and the order of Bills, any man who had taken part in the business of Opposition would tell him that those who were against the second and third Bills would subject the first to that full, fair, constant, and complete elaboration which on the other side of the House was called Debate and on the Ministerial side was branded as obstruction—[laughter]—with the result that it would eat up all the time of the House. He objected to these Resolutions——
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
(continuing): But I most strongly object—[Order, order!]—when they are left, as this is, with a dispensing power in the hands of the Government.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said that if this Resolution were to he adopted there ought to be no exception to it.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
asked the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair whether the Amendment now before the House would exclude the Amendment which stood upon the Paper in his name.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The Amendment now under discussion will certainly exclude that of the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
said that in that case, on the ground of sympathy for the Scotch Members, and because of the injustice that would be done to Wales, he should vote for the Amendment.
§ Question put: "That those words be there inserted."
§ The House divided.:—Ayes, 151; Noes, 312.—(Division List, No. 117.)
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.) moved as an Amendment to omit the, word "any," and to insert the word "every." The Resolution, as it was drawn would enable the Government to pick and choose as to what subject should be brought forward on Wednesdays, and what Member should be favoured, and that he thought was an entire revolution as far as the rights of private Members were concerned. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury had said earlier in the evening that he looked upon himself as the guardian of the interests of the House; but in his opinion the right hon. Gentleman was not the guardian of the interests of the private Members of the House. He hoped private Members on both sides of the House would consider the matter seriously before they allowed the far-reaching principle embodied in the Resolution as it stood at present to be carried. On other occasions, when the Government found themselves in an exigency, they had had Wednesdays taken from them, but it was never proposed that the Government should decide whether a Wednesday should be taken or not, and what private business should be selected for a Wednesday. 1774 Under their Rules, at present, the private Member was entitled to preference according to the fortune of the ballot. Private Members had done nothing to warrant their being placed in the position proposed. They had not discussed any proposal of the Government at. any length. Bills of a far-reaching character had been introduced, and yet no Bill had been discussed for more than a single night on its First Reading. During the last Parliament, on the other hand, there had been constant Amendments on the state of affairs, and the agricultural question was raised constantly, and the question of the condition of the unemployed. Nothing of the kind, however, had taken place in the present year. He would like to dispose of the Resolution altogether or to limit it to Tuesdays only, but certainly, if they could not obtain that, he thought it would be better to sacrifice their Wednesdays altogether. He did not believe that there was a chance of these two Wednesdays which the Government had referred to being utilised. What chance was there of the Second Reading Debate on the Rating Bill being concluded on the following night? What chance was there of a general understanding being arrived at that the Debate on the Second Reading of the Education Bill should be disposed of in three days? The Debate on the Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill lasted for three or four weeks. These Second Reading discussions were useful, inasmuch as they stimulated discussion outside in the country. He begged to move the Amendment.
§ *SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
seconded the Amendment. He thought the Motion, as it stood would place a most invidious power of selection in the hands of the Government in regard to the favoured Wednesdays. Many of them took very strong views as to the gravity of the two principal Government Bills that were before the House, and wished to discuss them quietly and fairly, and to take the judgment of the House upon them would occupy a good deal of time. He hoped the Government would not persist in the proposal to keep in their hands all power of selection in regard to private business, which would, he thought, be obnoxious. He would point out also that to accept 1775 this Motion would save the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House, from much pressure from those interested in various Bills and deputations.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said he was afraid he had expressed himself earlier in the day very imperfectly. He thought he had made quite clear exactly what would happen on Wednesdays under certain conditions, and by that declaration, made on his responsibility as a Minister and on behalf of his colleagues, he had put it absolutely out of his power, without a breach of faith to the House of Commons, to exercise that species of favouritism which hon. Members opposite appeared to suspect. [Ministerial cheers.] The Government did retain, by the common law of Parliament, those very powers of selection of which hon. Members tried to deprive them. The Amendment therefore left him the fullest power of favouritism where he could exercise it, and take it away from him where he could not exercise it. What was the common sense underlying a proposal of that kind? If these arguments were not sufficient, let him point out that the spirit of this Amendment would make it impossible after Whitsuntide to give precedence or any facility at all to any Bills that had passed the Grand Committee. That ought not to be the intention of the House. If it were the intention of the House, he must resist it on behalf of the Government, and, as he believed, of the general opinion of his side of the House. He hoped, therefore, the hon. Gentleman would not press his Amendment to a Division.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, that when the Leader of the House spoke of its being in his power at the present moment to show favouritism to any particular Bill by giving a particular night for the purpose of discussing that Bill, he forgot that such favourites would be indulged at their own expense. What the right hon. Gentleman proposed now was that a selection should be made of Wednesdays which belong to private Members, and that was what he objected to. The right hon. Gentleman had promised five Wednesdays, of which two were promised conditionally, but the conditions could not possibly be 1776 conformed to. The right hon. Gentleman must know perfectly well that the Rating Bill and the Education Bill could not be disposed of in the time proposed to be alloted to them. Three of the Wednesdays were given up unconditionally. Why? Simply because the Benefices Bill would be put down on those days, a Bill for which exceptional measures had already been granted to carry it through Grand Committee. It was a curious fact that these measures had never been proposed except in regard to clerical or ecclesiastical Bills. This was simply a measure of patriotism, and by way of protest he supported the Amendment.
§ Question put, "That the word 'any' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 289; Noes, 138.—(Division List, No. 118.)
§ MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.) moved to insert words providing that the Resolution should not come into operation before Whitsuntide. He had a personal interest, he said, in this, because on the 19th of May he had first place with a Resolution of great importance and general interest—the question of railway rates. If that Resolution were carried as it stood it would be carried by an unwilling House.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS, in seconding the Amendment, said the Welsh Members had been treated worse than any other section of the House. [Laughter and "Hear, hear!"] This was the first Session during the four years he had been in the House that they had been successful in the ballot, and now night after night was to be taken away from them. If they did not get the nights before Whitsuntide, when they could concentrate their discussion, it would be necessary to range all over the Estimates and Bills as well.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put." [Cheers and cries of "Oh, oh!"]
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 273; Noes, 130.—(Division List, No. 119.)1777
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words 'after Whitsuntide' be there inserted."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 123; Noes, 265. (Division List, No. 120.)
§ MR. R. J. PRICE (Norfolk, E.)
, who had the next Amendment on the Paper, providing that Wednesdays should not be taken for Government business unless three clear days' notice were given of such appointment, rose to speak, when
§ Main Question put accordingly.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 266; Noes, 124. (Division. List, No. 121.)
§ Resolved, That for the remainder of the Session the House, do meet on Tuesdays at Three o'clock; that Government Business have priority over all other Bills and Notices of Motion on any day for which it is appointed; and that the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 be extended to every day of the week.