HC Deb 24 February 1896 vol 37 cc952-1031

gave notice that to-morrow he would move:—"That the consideration of the proposed new Rules of Procedure have precedence [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] of the Orders of the Day and Notices of Motion on every day for which they may be appointed." [Cries of "Oh, oh!"]

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

presumed he would not be in order in discussing the Motion unless he moved the Adjournment of the House, which he did not wish to do.

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [20th February]:— (1) That, so soon as the Committee of Supply has been appointed and Estimates have been presented, the Business of Supply shall (until it be disposed of) be the first Order of the Day on Friday, unless the House otherwise order on the Motion of a Minister of the Crown, moved at the commencement of Public Business, to be decided without Amendment or Debate; Not more than twenty days, being days when the Speaker leaves the Chair for the Committee of Supply without Question put, counting from the first day on which the Speaker so left the Chair, under Standing Order No. 56, shall be allotted for the consideration of the Annual Estimates for the Army, Navy, and Civil Services, including Votes on Account, the Business of Supply standing first Order on every such day; On the nineteenth of such allotted days, at 10 o'clock p.m., the Chairman shall proceed to put forthwith every Question necessary to dispose of the outstanding Votes in Committee of Supply; and on the twentieth of such allotted days the Speaker shall, at 10 o'clock p.m., proceed to put forthwith every Question necessary to complete the outstanding Reports of Supply; On the days appointed for concluding the Business of Supply, the consideration of such Business shall not be anticipated by a Motion of Adjournment under Standing Order No. 17; nor may any dilatory Motion be moved on such proceedings; nor shall they be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House; Provided always, that the days occupied by the consideration of Estimates supplementary to those of a previous Session, or of any Vote of Credit, shall not be included in the computation of the twenty days. Provided also, that two Morning Sittings shall be deemed equivalent to one Three o'clock Sitting; and that, except in the case of a Dissolution of Parliament or other emergency, the said twenty days shall be allotted so that the Business of Supply be concluded before the 5th of August."—(First Lord of the Treasury.)

Question again proposed:—Debate resumed:—

MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

said that, on Friday night, his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury appealed to those who had experience of Supply whether the picture, half humorous and half sad, which he drew of the present conduct of business was not accurate. It could be said that in more than one capacity he had some little experience of Supply, and he was bound to say that, in the main, the description which the right hon. Gentleman gave was accurate. He would not say that the right hon. Gentleman's speech contained the whole truth—few speeches on any question did contain the whole truth—but in the description of the defects of the present system he certainly did not use too dark a colour. It was impossible to condemn too strongly the waste of time—["Hear, hear!"]—which accompanied the early sittings of Supply or the indecent haste which characterised the later sittings. ["Hear, hear!"] He also agreed with his right hon. Friend that the financial criticism of Committee of Supply was for the most part, if not altogether, worthless. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not know that in the criticism of finance as distinguished from the criticism of Administration the Committee of Supply had ever presented a very valuable spectacle; it certainly had not in recent years, and the observations made tended rather to indicate the unprepared condition of training and educational thought of the Members who engaged in financial criticism than anything else. [A laugh.] He believed it would be as advantageous if the financial work of the Committee of Supply were removed altogether from the House ["Hear, hear!"] and were confided to a small Committee, which, sitting regularly like the Committee on Public Accounts, might do some little useful service in examining whether too much money had not been spent for the piece of work here or there, or whether the salaries of the officials of this or that office were not unduly high, and what explanation was to be given of the fact that a particular person had got a personal allowance during his tenure of a particular office. All those questions were valuable in their way, but they might be asked with equal effect, with more effect, round a table upstairs than in this House, and there would be a considerable saving of time if the kind of criticism to which he referred, and of which there was a good deal in the last Parliament, could be relegated in the way he suggested away from the floor of the House of Commons. He also agreed with his right hon. Friend that a fixed term for Supply was a fact based on the nature of things. He would not say there was not a certain elasticity, a very small elasticity, about the length of time to which the sittings of the House might extend, but, so far as it depended upon Supply alone, the sittings never would be carried beyond a term which might be easily indicated, and that term was one which might be described as fixed, and so it might be said without much exaggeration or misrepresentation, that although they had not now got a peremptory closure of the Debates in Supply, it was in fact at a particular period brought about. ["Hear, hear!"] What the right hon. Gentleman said was true. They might not have the guillotine, but they had the rack. It was quite true that the rack did get applied somewhere about the first week of August, but it was not every joint that would bear the penalty of the rack. The rack was applied with discretion. A good deal of manœuvring and negotiating went on as to what limb should be amputated and what should be preserved, and, instead of the application of the remorseless machine proposed to be set up by these rules, what prevailed now was that when the early part of August approached men of both sides, especially those who were charged with the business of the House, began to negotiate with one another and to arrange what could be dropped and what could be saved, and a small minority, if they were bent upon securing the consideration of a particular Vote or a particular class of Votes, could get that Vote or class of Votes debated. ["Hear, hear!"] He recognised with the First Lord of the Treasury the desirability of getting a term fixed within which they might reasonably hope to get the business of Supply completed. Whilst he regarded the criticism of finance in Committee of Supply as farcical, it was, he thought, impossible to exaggerate the value which they should attach to the functions of the Committee of Supply as to its criticism of the Administration of the Government ["Hear, hear!"], and in any alteration which might be made in their machinery they should take some steps so as to secure that the different branches of the Administration should be brought in a definite, inevitable way under the consideration of the House, sitting in Committee, so that each branch of the Administration should be arraigned and investigated. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not know whether they would be warranted in saying that if the criticism of the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office had been more authoritative in past years we should have been spared some of the difficulties of to-day, but, if it be true that the Administration of the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, the Board of Trade, with its influence on trade, the Treasury, and other departments should be carefully investigated, how much more true was it in the case of the Irish Department. ["Hear, hear!"] Ireland, unfortunately, had an extremely different local political life to England, and its government was largely directed through officials who, in the past if not in some respects in the present, were apt to look on the people as belonging to a different family to ourselves [Irish cheers], and the criticism in the past of the Administration of Ireland had fraught with the greatest good. He thought they might ask the Government that, while desiring to get the work of Supply done within a reasonable time, they would make an effort to improve the functions of Supply. ["Hear, hear!"] An improvement in the machinery, especially in relation to Supply, must be secured in order to attain the object which the Leader of the House had in view. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman said that the proposals would, he thought, not take away any of the opportunities of private Members, and he added that it would increase the time at the disposal of the Government for the work of legislation. He did not understand how the right hon. Gentleman had arrived at either of those conclusions. [Opposition cheers.] If Friday was to be given up to the Government from the beginning of the Session there would be a loss of opportunity to Private Members and a gain to the Government in regard to time for legislation in consequence of the Friday being devoted to Supply. They were therefore, he thought, entitled to ask the Government to assist Private Members in securing that the amendment of the Rules should really effect some improvement in the transaction of the work of the House as a whole, especially in respect to Supply. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought there should be a fair guarantee given to the House that the great branches of administration would be efficiently surveyed during the time. For instance, a re-arrangement of the Votes would be required according to the subjects dealt with. The Votes might be divided into compartments, a certain allotment of days being allowed to each, thus securing a provision by means of which each branch of administration would receive proper attention. He would, therefore, ask the Government to present a scheme for carrying out the allotment of days to each Department of Supply. The Government came before the House with important proposals involving a radical change, and hon. Members were entitled, he thought, to call upon them to present a really working scheme, and the scheme could then be considered by the House. ["Hear, hear!"] No Private Member could possibly undertake such a task. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought that, upon the most moderate computation of the hours that should be allotted to the different branches of Supply, it would be found that 20 days were too few. ["Hear, hear!"] The House must have more than 20 days if it was to do justice to the principal departments of administration. ["Hear, hear!"] He would not undertake to say how many days were requisite, but he would defy anyone to make out a scheme which would not involve the necessity of a greater number of days than 20 being devoted to the work of criticism in Supply. It might be said, with some force, perhaps, that about the arrangement which he suggested there would be too much rigidity; but to meet that difficulty it might be arranged, instead of the automatic closure of Debate in Supply, that when the allotted number of days had expired on any particular class of Votes, the Minister in charge of the Votes under consideration might be left to claim that the Debate should be closed. With a scheme such as he suggested, giving a moderate increase of days, and insuring a proper classification of Votes into compartments, the whole work of Supply might be got through creditably to the House and usefully to the nation. ["Hear, hear!"] He would also suggest that great advantage might be derived from continuity of discussion, either in regard to legislation or Supply, and if Thursday, Friday, or Monday were devoted to Supply one week, those days in another week could be given to legislation. If it could be guaranteed that Supply would be disposed of at reasonable; intervals, the Government might be left free to decide whether or not any particular Friday should be given up to Supply. What he thought hon. Members might do, considering the practical question before them, was at once to give Fridays to the Government, and then ask them to submit to the House a scheme with regard to the allotment of the work of Supply in the sense he had suggested. It would be said that in the result there would be the same waste of time during the present Session as the House was familiar with in past Sessions. He did not think there would be. He thought that Committee of Supply would feel in entering upon its work this year it was rather on its trial, and that, if the sittings were given to Supply which the Government, proposed, hon. Members would find the work done in a satisfactory and businesslike way. But with the guarantees which would be provided he thought the House might hope for the removal of the scandals under which it had suffered. He was prepared to assent to the scheme of the Government, inasmuch as it gave them complete command of Friday, and inasmuch as it gave a certain number of days for the consideration of Supply; but at the same time he submitted these suggested modifications of what he thought would prove a working scheme for the disposition of Supply which in the future might save the House from the miserable spectacle it had witnessed in former years in the conduct of Supply. ["Hear, hear!"]

SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)

I think this House will feel that this is a matter to be governed very much by individual opinion, and that it is not one to be treated on the lines of Party organisation. [Cheers.] We have had the counsels of one who is, perhaps, more experienced in the business of the House, than any other Member of it, and I confess that the conclusions I have arrived at do not materially differ from those which my right hon. Friend has expressed. I agree in the general objects which the Government have in view. When I was responsible for the conduct of the business of the House and it was my duty to ask the House for additional time I have over and over again pointed out that the allotment of time for Government business is wholly insufficient for the present wants of the House of Commons. [Cheers.] Two days a week given to the Government and three days a week given to what are called private Members obviously constitute an arrangement which cannot work, never has worked; and it has always been necessary to make frequent applications relaxing the rule. There has been a sort of feeling in the House as if the interests of Government and of private Members were opposed, as if the Government are the inveterate enemies of the private Members. But, after all, what is the position of the Government in this House? It is the representative of the majority in this House and its authorised agent, and the business which the Government bring forward is the business which the majority desire to have transacted. [Cheers.] Therefore, it is plain that the majority of the House would desire, and do desire, that the Government should have adequate time to carry out that business; and it is only through the Government that any effective legislation, or, indeed, so far as the Estimates are concerned, any administration can be carried out. For these reasons I entirely agree with the general object of the proposal of the Government that Friday should be given up to the Government for Government business. It is a concession which takes the least away from the private Members. Then I come to the question of Supply. There I agree with the Government and my right hon. Friend that the present condition of Supply, and the manner in which it is transacted, is not creditable to the House of Commons. I agree with all that has been said as to the waste in the earlier days of Supply upon very trivial matters. ["Hear, hear!"] But the First Lord of the Treasury has intimated a very obvious remedy for that—namely, to put forward the important questions and to put the least important questions in the background; that is a remedy for the evil from which we have suffered. I also concur in the proposal that one day a week at least should be set aside for Supply. ["Hear, hear!"] I made that proposal last year. It has often happened in life that one suffers more from one's good work than from one's misdeeds. [Laughter.] The first day I set apart for that purpose was fatal to the Government. [Laughter and cheers.] Absit omen. [Laughter.] Then we all agree that there ought to be a rearrangement of the order of Supply. ["Hear, hear!"] That really is this most important reform placed before us, but I also agree that the Government have not thought it convenient to place this most important consideration before us in a manner we had a right to expect. It is in a very crude shape. We do not know how Supply is to be dealt with, whether, in point of fact, we are to be secured in the objects which everybody has in view—that Supply should be treated in a manner really useful to the House. I concur in what has been said that the economical treatment of Supply is no longer really an active force. You can do nothing in that direction with the Estimates. The only body that really controls the Estimates is the Executive Government; they endeavour to keep down the Estimates and to restrain the extravagance of the House of Commons. It is not the House of Commons that restrains the extravagance of the Government—it is exactly the other way round; and the Government will always endeavour to control the extravagance of the House of Commons, because they know very well that, though the House of Commons is always very anxious to spend money, it will not find the money which is to supply that extravagance; and therefore this consideration leads the Government always to keep down the expenditure so far as they can. Nor, again, do I set much store by the ancient maxim that grievance should always go before Supply. That maxim belonged to other days and to conditions which have ceased to exist. It belonged to the days when the Crown never called Parliament together, except to get money, and as soon as it got the money Parliament was dismissed, and no one knew when it would come together again. Therefore, it was absolutely necessary that grievances should be brought forward before Supply was voted in a lump. But now that we have an annual Parliament, and the Estimates voted in detail, the spirit of the maxim is no longer applicable, and, in fact, on Mondays and Thursdays any amount of Supply can be taken without the form of making any preliminary Motion. Therefore, as far as that part of the proposal of the Government goes, I think there will not be much difference of opinion. There is one part of the speech of the Leader of the House that I do not comprehend. He indicated a proposal that important Votes should be brought forward, should be debated, and then that the decision upon them should be postponed.


The decision of any Amendment might be postponed.


That is to say, having discussed the Foreign Office Vote, it should be postponed, and no decision upon it taken, and then the Committee might go on, say, to the Colonial Office Vote. As I understand the suggestion, then, these Votes themselves would be reserved for the guillotine at the end. That might be very convenient for the Government, but it would be very inconvenient to the House as a whole to postpone Votes in this fashion. But no doubt we shall have further explanations on this point. I agree that what we want is to have Supply properly marshalled for the purpose of discussion, and I am in accord with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin. But all this, I think, points in the direction of not having a cast-iron rule with reference to the number of days or to the closure of Supply. The important subjects one year will be very different from the important subjects another year. [Cheers.] You may have a year in which you have no great foreign questions, no great colonial difficulties such as those we have to face to-day; and in this year I think you would want a far larger number of days for discussing these matters than you would need in the ordinary days of usual business. Agreeing, therefore, so far with the objects of the Government and their proposals, we now come across the proposal for a time limit which the Government have brought forward. I ventured a day or two ago to offer a friendly warning against the employment by Ministers of the word "never." [Laughter.] I think that if a week ago gentlemen opposite had been told that a Conservative Government would have come forward to make as the first proposal of a Conservative Administration the gag and the guillotine, they would have cried out with one accord "Never!" [Laughter.] That shows how short-lived "Nevers" are—with Ministers. [Laughter.] Why, the words "gag" and "guillotine," of which we have a painful recollection, which were shouted from those Benches (pointing to the Opposition Benches) flowed glibly the other night from the tongue of the First Lord of the Treasury. [Laughter.] He seemed to enjoy with unction repeating "gag" and "guillotine." He prefers the "gag" and the "guillotine" to the "rack," but the rack has only fallen into discredit since the Grand Inquisitor has become the Secretary to the Treasury [Mr. Hanbury]. [Laughter.] Now we are delivered from the rack and the torture-chamber is closed, and he is to put an end to the existence, by the guillotine, of his familiar who sits behind him [Mr. Gibson Bowles] by a merciful process of painless extinction. [Laughter.] These are marvellous revolutions in opinion in great parties. I ventured to point out the other day that changes of opinion of that kind were not infrequent in the Party that sits opposite. Why, no cause is desperate under these circumstances. [Cheers.] No conversion is beyond hope. Obviously, if we only wait a little time there is nothing which we may not effect. Well, Sir, we have had the gag and the guillotine—the names are not ours, the thing was not our invention—in operation three times I think. But these were under exceptional circumstances. They were remedies for what were considered desperate obstruction, but this is a proposal of a different character. It is to enshrine the gag and the guillotine, which have hitherto been exceptional measures, in the Standing Orders of this House. [Cheers.] I do not commit myself to the opinion as to whether or not under certain circumstances principles of this kind should not be applied. I am not at all averse to Gentlemen opposite casting down their ancient idols and worshipping new gods, and, after their manner, adoring what they burned and burning what they adored. [Laughter.] For the benefit of that happy openness of mind on the part of Gentlemen opposite has for generations enured to the interest of the Liberal Party. [Cheers.] If you choose to call this—the phrase used to be the "liberties of Parliament" and the "freedom of discussion"—if you choose to call it the rack I do not object to your using a shorter phrase. But I would ask the House to consider, if it is wise to do this thing, the conditions under which it shall be done. My right hon. Friend pointed out just now that it requires a great deal more consideration than the Government have bestowed upon it, and it ought to be brought forward in a manner far more considerate. I see the Secretary for the Colonies in his place. We shall hear him on this subject, because he is the real patentee of the project. His plan in its essence has been before the public now for a good many years. If I remember right, the title was "Shall we Americanise our Institutions?" But the views of the Secretary for the Colonies were a good deal more enlarged than those which are now before the House. The plan that he broached was the outcome of a larger mind than has yet developed itself in the Leader of the Conservative Party. Why is this to be confined to the Estimates? If there was any subject to which I would not apply the guillotine it would be finance. [Ministerial cheers.] I have myself been responsible for finance, and I have always declined to apply anything like violent closure to financial measures. ["Hear, hear!"] I have what is called a financial conscience. The First Lord of the Treasury the other night used a sentence which I cannot understand proceeding from so acute an intelligence as his. He said that "the Estimates were old and that Bills were new." The real truth is that exactly the opposite is the case. Bills, generally speaking—at least Bills which have any chance of passing—are old and familiar. We are going this Session to have an Education Bill. That is not a new subject. And so with all the great subjects which are dealt with in legislation. But, the Estimates are necessarily new in application, though they may be old in form. The subjects that we are going to discuss on them this year—the present situation of the country—are absolutely new. On the Foreign Office you are going to discuss Venezuela, and on the Colonial Vote the Transvaal. These are essentially new subjects, and the Estimates are much more novel in their character than are the Bills. It would be an idle delusion for anybody to suppose that you can introduce this system for one subject and not for another. ["Hear, hear!"] If there is to be the gag and the guillotine you will inevitably have it applied to matters other than the Estimates. In my opinion, if it is to be applied to finance, it ought to be applied ten times more to legislation. [Cheers.] Indeed, as I understand it, it was the idea of the Colonial Secretary that, with reference to every Bill introduced, a certain number of days should be laid down within which the Bill should be disposed of. I should have been glad enough in 1894 if I could have laid down the number of days which the Finance Bill of that year should occupy. I was put under great pressure to do it, but I steadfastly refused. [Ministerial cheers.] And what was the number of days occupied upon it. Thirty-seven days. That is, as nearly as possible, double the number which you are going to give to the whole Estimates. At all events, I think I may say that I acted up to the principle I am professing. And what was the consequence? The Finance Bill began not much before May, and in spite of the 37 days we got through that and a good many other Bills, and the House rose before the end of August, though the Session necessarily, in the condition of things then existing, began much later than usual in dealing with business. The right hon. Gentleman on this subject made a remarkable statement. I have always thought it was the case, but I never heard it so frankly avowed before. He said:— Every Opposition is under the belief that by hampering the Government in carrying out its programme it is dealing, if not a mortal, at all events a serious blow to the Administration. Well, no man is more entitled to make that statement with authority than the Leader of the Opposition in the last Parliament. [Cheers.] "He best can paint it who has worked it most." No doubt those were the principles on which the Opposition was worked in the last Parliament. I have never myself admired that principle, nor do I think it to the advantage of Parliament—[Ministerial cries of "Oh, oh!" and laughter]—I understand these interruptions, and I challenge an examination of my record upon that subject. ["Hear, hear!"] I have never opposed a Bill, nor have I thought it a fair or useful means of opposition to discredit a Government merely by obstructing their legislation. We have given such opportunity as we had of proving that we agree with and act upon that principle this Session. Although the Queen's Speech involved, I should say, ten times more matter for Debate than any Queen's Speech I ever recollect, the time taken in disposing of the Address was about half that which it occupied last year, when Amendment after Amendment was piled up. There is another thing I protest against and should be sorry to see acted upon now, and that is the system of endeavouring to prevent the Government from bringing in their Bills without protracted discussion. That again, I think, is a thing which ought to be avoided. I say, then, that it is quite obvious that if you are going to apply this principle to finance you must apply it to legislation also. You may depend upon it that in this Resolution you are only in the Girondin stage of the revolution. [Laughter.] You may set a good example, but your example will be bettered naturally in due time. I, for my part, am willing to give every possible assistance in improving the procedure in this House. I have the misfortune to be one of the oldest Members of it, and I have suffered for a good many years the "rack." [Laughter.] But I confess I am not enamoured of those scenes which I have witnessed at 10 o'clock, when, against the will and without the consent of the House of Commons, a vast number of Votes are taken. This I will say, that those scenes are amongst the most painful of my Parliamentary memories, and I am not very willing to see them made perpetual. ["Hear, hear!"] I do not think that, at all events for the present, it is the least necessary that we should go as far as the Government are proposing to do. ["Hear, hear!"] I am quite willing to give the Friday. I am quite willing, and indeed desirous, that Supply should be marshalled in a manner so as to secure full discussion of the most important subjects. But I want to know why more is necessary, at all events for the present. ["Hear, hear!"] Why don't you try how far that will carry you first? [Cheers.] I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. I do not understand what the Government means by saying:— If you don't give us all we will take nothing, because by giving us Friday we obtain nothing. They obtain, from the beginning of the Session, 25 days which may be devoted to the Estimates; and of course all the rest of their time is discharged of that burden, and is applicable to other Government business. And they gain a great deal more than that, because I think they give general satisfaction to the House in feeling that in thus ordering Supply it has the opportunity for important discussion which it wishes, and if you satisfy the House of Commons in that matter you will get on much better than you would under present circumstances or under a reign of coercion. ["Hear, hear!"] I have never been myself a very great closure man, and I was thinking the other day that in August last the Closure was applied more frequently than in the whole of the two preceding years. [Cheers.] But it is necessary at times to employ the closure, and it is a useful power to possess, though it never puts the House in a very good humour. And when the House is not in a good humour none of these resources really avail you to save your time. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House says that to take Fridays will not give the Government more time for legislation. I cannot understand that. It seems to me that every additional day you get for Supply must give you some more time for legislation; and by taking Fridays you get a large number of days for the purpose.


Not before the 5th of August.


I do not understand that. But the right hon. Gentleman says, "When we come to the fateful 5th of August there will probably be an increase of the number of Votes which will remain undiscussed." Well, that is a very serious state of things. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman has already said: "It is true that it is a disadvantage that so many Votes should be passed without discussion;" and yet he tells us that under this system we shall have more Votes passed without discussion than at present. I confess, if you are to have Votes undiscussed, I would rather have it by the consent of the House than against the sense of the House. [Cheers.] I would rather that discussion faded out if under the rack, than that it should die a bloody death under the guillotine. [Laughter and cheers.] I venture to say that if the Government will trust to the good sense of the House of Commons in this matter they will save a great deal more time than by the closure. ["Hear, hear!"] If you hold up to the House of Commons this menace of a violent end on a particular day, the shadow of that coming death will cast a gloom over the whole of the Session; and a great part of the Session will be occupied in endeavouring to defeat that impending fate. [Laughter and "Hear, hear!"] I do not believe that that is the way in which you will best come to an end of the Session. In stopping one hole you will, I believe, open a great many more. If you endeavour to fix a limit of this kind you will set a great many ingenious people to work to try and defeat your purpose, and they are extremely likely to do it. [Cheers.] I have experience of this fact. If the House of Commons finds that in your regulation of Supply you have practically given it the opportunity for those important discussions which it desires, it will have no greater wish than you have to unduly protract the Session. I confess that I have not a great deal of sympathy with those moans which we have heard over misery and exhaustion. ["Hear, hear!"] They seem to me rather to indicate something of that degradation of the race of which we have read. [Laughter.] I remember Mr. Disraeli in this House saying how shocked he was by people saying they could not sit up till two o'clock in the morning. In the old days people were not so delicate. It may be that in these respects we are inferior to our fathers; but if the right hon. Gentleman will only try persuasion in this matter instead of coercion I believe that he will get away as soon as he desires to the golf links. [Laughter and cheers.] I think it will be far better to take Friday to reorganise Supply, and to make an appeal to the House of Commons that we may all work together in order to make the Committee of Supply what it ought to be in order to conclude the business of the House at a reasonable time. The right hon. Gentleman will find that there is no truer maxim than this—that if you want to lead the House of Commons you should not endeavour to drive it. [Cheers.]

SIR JOHN MOWBRAY (Oxford University)

The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down declared this to be a matter which should be settled by individual opinion rather than by Party organisation; but those who listened to his amusing speech will regret that in the latter part of it he departed from that excellent principle. As a private Member who was in the House some 15 years before the right hon. Gentleman himself, I desire to intervene in this Debate. [Cheers.] There is a considerable difference between the opposition of the right hon. Member for West Monmouth and that of the right hon. Member for Bodmin. The former asks the Government to trust to the sense of the House of Commons, and complains that this scheme is too definite. But the latter asks for more particulars, for a full and complete scheme, and if necessary for a reference to a Committee. If there is one thing I wish it is that, for heaven's sake, this matter should not be referred to a Committee. [Cheers.] If there is one thing more than another for which, as a private Member, I feel grateful to the Government, it is the promptitude with which they have come forward at this early stage of the Session with a scheme of their own, carefully thought out, to put an end to a state of things which has produced many scandals in the House of Commons. ["Hear, hear!"] I could not tell the number of these Committees on which I have sat within the last 40 years. In 1878 I sat during the whole Session under the chairmanship of Sir S. Northcote, and in 1886 I sat under the chairmanship of the present Leader of the Opposition. Everyone knows what Committees on this subject mean. They are very large; they call before them the Speaker and the ex-Speaker and all the learned authorities. About midsummer comes a Report. Then in a month or so the evidence is printed. The dog days have arrived, and it is too late to discuss the Report. And so another Government might possibly imitate the example of Mr. Gladstone's Government in 1882, and call the House together in October to consider the Report. I support the proposal of the Government because it is intended to restore Supply to the position it ought always to occupy and long did occupy in the House of Commons. Both the First Lord of the Treasury and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin agree as to the importance of having ample time for discussing the administrative action of the Government in Committee of Supply. But that is not the only value of the Committee of Supply. It is quite true, as the First Lord of the Treasury said in moving this Rule, that the days of jobbing arid wasteful Government were at an end. But on the other hand our expenditure has for the last 40 years, ever since the Crimean War, gone up by leaps and bounds. I am aware that a great deal can be said in defence of that increase in expenditure. Mr. Gladstone said over and over again that the tendency of the House of Commons in late years had been to increase and not to diminish expenditure. But the House of Commons can and ought to do much towards keeping down expenditure by careful investigation of the Estimates in Supply; and I believe the new rule by securing for Supply a regular and continuous consideration, will greatly conduce to economy in expenditure. We shall have under this Rule 20 working nights for Supply. Every Friday night Members will come down to the House and give all their time to the consideration of the various questions raised in Supply. It is said that the private rights of private Members will be interfered with by this proposal. I do not agree with that. I believe that what the First Lord of the Treasury said is literally true, that the opportunities of private Members for useful work will be greater under this Rule than they have been for many years. Why has not careful attention been given to Supply? I am old enough to recollect the days when the seat now occupied by the hon. Member for King's Lynn was filled by Mr. Hume, who attacked the expenditure of the Liberal occupants of the Treasury Bench of those days as the hon. Member for King's Lynn is expected to attack the present Secretary to the Treasury. Mr. Hume was a thorough economist. He was born with a thirst for thrift. But, apart from that, he was one of the most conscientious and indefatigable workers that ever sat in the House of Commons, and he made his mark as a private Member in the consideration of the Estimates because he brought to bear on all matters that came before the House in Supply a knowledge generally beyond the knowledge of the Secretaries of the Treasury of the time, and to show that private Members may obtain honourable distinction in this House by their labours in Supply. I need only remind the House that the bust of Mr. Hume occupies a conspicuous place in the Library of this House. Members latterly have had no opportunity of achieving such distinction. Intervals of three weeks have often elapsed between the occasions of Supply. Half a night might be given to it and it would be then postponed. It would be adjourned again and again until August, when it would be rushed through. But Members will now know that they shall have a night set apart every week in which to discuss the Estimates, and they will come down and join in the discussion. I think far greater importance has been attached to the guillotine, the rack, and the gag than they deserve. The Government, I feel sure, do not stand to 20 days' time for Supply, or 21, or 25 days. This Resolution is elastic as regards the number of days. For myself I hardly think 20 days is sufficient. If the Government will accept this Rule as a Sessional Order, they will gain by the experience of seeing how it works; they will be able to elaborate in detail that which is now sketched in outline; they will see how to improve the Rule, and when next February the time arrives for the Government to ask the House to turn what is a Sessional Order into a Standing Order, it can be finally settled with general assent of the House. I hope the House will cordially and gratefully accept in their main outlines these Resolutions, for I do believe it is an honest effort on the part of the Government to restore the dignity of the proceedings of the House, and give a useful turn to our Debates in Supply.


said, he did not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin that the House ought, without knowing the intentions of the Government, to give up Fridays for the purposes of Supply. No matter what might be said on the subject, it must be clear to the minds of every hon. Member that if Fridays were given to the Government, the Government would thereby secure 25 days more in the Session than they now possessed, except so far as they took Fridays towards the close of the Session by special Resolution. He would like to point out to the House the circumstances under which the Resolution was proposed to the House. His experience was that he had great difficulty in understanding what the bearing of the Resolution was. He thought that as the Resolution originally appeared on the paper, it was a perfect absurdity. In its original form it stated that "the provisions of Standing Order No. 26 shall extend to every sitting of the House." Now, what was Standing Order No. 26? It ran—: That whenever Committee of Supply takes the first Order of the Day on Mondays or Thursdays, the Speaker shall leave the Chair without Question put. How could that Standing Order be applied to every sitting of the House? The First Lord discovered that, and he altered the Resolution by leaving out those words and substituting for them the words: "That Standing Order No. 26 be amended by omitting Mondays or Thursdays." Again at question time that day, his hon. Friend, the Member for Cork, further illustrated the carelessness with which the Resolution had been drafted by pointing out blots which the First Lord acknowledged and said that the Government were prepared to meet them by Amendments. He would also like to point to the provision that on the nineteenth day, when the guillotine began to operate, the proceedings could not be interrupted or shortened by any Motion for adjournment, or by any dilatory Motions. But so far as he could understand the Rule there was no provision which would prevent a Motion for the adjournment of the House being made on any of the other days allotted to Supply. Within two months of the first Session of the late Parliament there were no less than seven or eight Motions of adjournment—all on questions affecting the Irish Administration and directed against the late Chief Secretary; and there was nothing in the Resolution to prevent those tactics being followed on seven or eight of the 20 days set apart for Supply. All this showed that this most revolutionary proposal—the most revolutionary, in his opinion, that had ever been made in connection with the procedure of the House of Commons—had been introduced by the Government with great haste, carelessness and levity. A man in the position of the First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House ought to be ashamed of himself to propose as a Standing Order a new Rule in which private Members, in a few hours, could pick so many holes. It had been argued that in recent Sessions the condition of Supply had been scandalous and that a remedy ought to be applied. If that were so, whose fault was it? If the discussions were too long the Government had the Closure to resort to, and they had not hesitated to use it when they thought it necessary, the discretion of the Speaker being the only check upon their doing so. It was rather hard on private Members to blame them when the Government had it in their power to stop obstructive discussion at any moment. This proved irresistibly that discussion on Supply had not been of that character. The conclusion to be drawn was that Parliament was over-weighted with business; and the only alternative conclusion was that the Government had deliberately allowed Supply to be obstructed. The ground was completely cut from under the feet of the Government; they had power to regulate discussion and to keep it within due limits; and, if they had not used that power, it was their fault that the discussions had been prolonged. Further evidence of the levity with which these proposals were submitted was furnished by the interesting speech of the First Lord of the Treasury in the fact that it did not throw any light upon the subject of the Resolution; it produced the impression that he had not applied his mind to the question how it would work, and that he had no plan in his mind as to the arrangements for taking Supply, if the Resolution was to be carried out. The right hon. Gentleman made some most extraordinary propositions which would result in enormously increasing the congestion of business in Supply and adding to the delay in the voting of money. This was the first time in the history of the House of Commons that a revolution in its proceedings had been proposed without any cause being shown. For all previous proposals of the kind excuse was found in prolonged struggles, all night sittings and what was accounted gross obstruction; but now nothing of the kind was alleged to have occurred since the Debates on the Home Rule Bill, when the Opposition was led by the right hon. Gentleman himself. If ever there was a time when the Leader of the House might be expected to carry on business with existing machinery that time was the present, when the Government had an almost unparalleled majority. No case had been made out; and in that respect the present proposal stood entirely apart from any previous one. Then the proposal was made in a House which had just been elected and which contained about 200 new Members with no experience to guide them. This was not the first time they had to thank the right hon. Member for Bodmin for a far-minded and sympathetic reference to the opposition of Irish Members; and as an Irish Nationalist Member he was bound to oppose this new departure. It would undoubtedly strike a new blow, and the heaviest ever struck, at the rights of minorities. The Irish Nationalists always had been, and always must be, a minority, for they neither expected nor desired to occupy seats on either of the front Benches. So centralised was the Government of Ireland in the absence of local institutions that Irish Members were forced to much more detailed criticism of the action of the Executive than English Members felt called upon to give to Government in this country. The Irish matters furnished the Irish Members with their opportunity of criticising their centralised departmental Government. The First Lord of the Treasury was obliged to admit that the discussion of the Estimates on successive Fridays, with intervals of a week, would be an intolerable grievance to Irish Members, if adopted in the case of Irish matters, and he said there was nothing to prevent a week or a fortnight being continuously devoted to Supply, and that the Government would of course take care that the time devoted to the Irish matters would be allotted in such a way as not to put Irish Members to inconvenience. True, it was no necessary part of the Government scheme to go from Friday to Friday, but it would be the normal condition of things. The right hon. Gentleman said that no Government within their memory had been known to arrange business with a view to evading criticism or putting a considerable section of Members to inconvenience; but Irish Members could remember the time when the Government of the day, whether Liberal or Conservative, habitually arranged the Irish Estimates, so as to inconvenience Irish Members or evade their criticisms. He remembered well when it was the customary practice to postpone the Irish Estimates till the dog-days in the hope that, wearied out, they would go to Ireland and would not return; and that was at last met by organisation among Irish Members, so that the Government did not succeed in evading their criticisms. He quite admitted there had been a great improvement in the deliberations between the Irish Members and Secretaries to the Treasury to whatever Party they belonged, and the convenience of Irish Members had been more amply consulted as regarded the arrangement of the Estimates. But that practice, he held, arose from the fact that Irish Members, like other sections of private Members, had it in their power to put the Government, to a certain extent, on the rack if it were not followed. The Leader of the Opposition had said it was a choice between the guillotine and the rack. The enormous difference to them was this. In the past the Irish Members, and in fact all private Members, had certain resources against the Government, and they could put the Government, to some extent, on the rack. But the right hon. Gentleman now proposed that the rack should be taken from them, and that the guillotine should be placed in his hands. The difference was an extremely important one to them. The right hon. Gentleman had held out the prospect that under this new Rule it would no be at all necessary—and he thought he hinted that it would not be at all desirable—that an important Vote proposed in Committee of Supply should be concluded on the night when it was proposed. He quoted the case of the Foreign Office Vote, and said that if that Vote were taken up say on a Thursday and debated on Friday, it might be adjourned to some other day. He assumed that that was thrown out as a bait for the hon. Member for Northampton, to whom, he imagined, it would be delicious to have an innings at the Foreign Office one or two days every month. But that was not a course likely to lessen the congestion in Supply. He would, however, make a proposal to the right hon. Gentleman. He had thrown out a great bait to the hon. Member for Northampton. Let him throw out a bait to the Irish Members. He did not say they would take it, but the right hon. Gentleman might angle for them. Let him promise that the salary of the Chief Secretary should be dished up every first or second Friday for a month. That was in accordance with the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. It might go a long way to disarm their hostility. He did not commit himself at all on behalf of the Irish Party, but he did say that they would be obliged, in his judgment, to take time to consider the proposal. It was all very fine to talk about the convenience of the Irish Party being conciliated. They had learnt not to trust such statements. Speaking as a private Member, he accepted the statement of the Leader of the Opposition that there were many occasions when the two Front Benches confederated against private Members. It was not in human nature that they should not do so. It was only in human nature that those who had been in office and on the rack, and who hoped to be on the rack again, should have a common desire to facilitate the transaction of the business and to ease the labour of the Government. The private Members looked at the thing from a different point of view. They wanted to secure the rights of minorities and the rights of criticism, and when he was told by the right hon. Gentleman that they could absolutely rely upon the convenience of Irish Members being consulted in the future, he replied that, if this Rule were passed, he did not believe a word of it. The pressure of circumstances, and the pressure of Ministers' convenience, would drive them to ill-treat minorities, and to deprive them of a full discussion of the Irish Estimates. The proposal was to give 20 days to the Estimates. Those 20 days must be apportioned and parcelled out by some process between the different classes. He would rather take his chance in the apportioning out of the Estimates by means of private negotiations with the Secretary to the Treasury than he would to the hard-and-fast and cast-iron arrangement of Committee. But whichever plan was adopted, what would inevitably happen? Ministers would say: "We have the Army, four days; we have the Navy, five days; we have the Colonies and the general administration of the Empire, so many days; and is it for a moment to be supposed that Ireland, a small corner of the Empire, is to take up the same space of time as these matters?" These subjects would be pressed on the Government, and their own view would tend in the same direction; and, therefore, he foresaw that, by the inevitable operation of a great and irresistible force, in the apportioning and measuring out of the time for the Estimates, Ireland, year by year, would be pushed more and more into the background. He wanted to turn for a moment to a great and historic Debate which took place on the earliest of these proposals for limiting the right of speech in this House—the proposals which were made by the then Member for Midlothian in the year 1882, which were not made with the levity of the present proposals, and which had their justification in all-night sittings, in scenes of violence—it was just after all the Irish Members had been expelled—and extreme obstruction. Those discussions were prolonged for 30 nights, although that change of procedure was not nearly so violent or so far-reaching as that proposed in the present Rule. He was reminded, too, that the Debate on the Closure Rule took 20 nights. The opposition to the Rules of 1882 was led by some of the men who were now engaged in so lightly proposing the present Order. At that time the right hon. Gentleman who was now the Leader of the House was an independent Member sitting below the Gangway, and he delivered a speech the sentiments of which he more cordially agreed with than those of the present occasion. The right hon. Gentleman was then opposing the Closure Rule. What enormous progress had been made by the Tory Party since then. He regarded that Resolution then as tampering with the Constitution in the most reckless manner, and as revolutionising the Session. Although a great number of the Members of the House had been expelled, after scenes of violence, and although there had been sittings of 48 hours and 60 hours, the right hon. Gentleman thought there was no justification for such a Resolution as Closure by a bare majority; and now, without a shred or a shadow of an excuse, he proposed a Resolution which was far more drastic and far more reaching in its operation. If they once introduced this principle of a time closure, there would be nothing illogical in a powerful Minister saying, "Why waste 20 days on Supply?" If 20 days devoted to Supply resulted in the guillotining of a number of measures, Ministers would then say that 20 days were too much and would propose a further limitation. No such thing was ever proposed before as to interfere with the liberty of discussion except cause was shown and the circumstances were urgent. They were now asked, without cause shown, and without any urgency of circumstances, that they should measure out the time and the liberty of speech of Members just as a man measured cloth over a counter, or tape to a customer. They were asked to make a totally new departure in the history of the House of Commons, and to introduce a principle that no Minister had ever dreamt of asking the House to adopt. He would read one of the most remarkable passages he ever listened to in that House from a man who, all through the years of his membership was in opposition to the Irish Members, but those of them who knew him privately knew he had a warm heart for Ireland and the Irish people, and was really anxious to convert his Party to a true policy towards Ireland. He alluded to Lord Randolph Churchill, who, on the occasion of a great Debate, broke away from his Party, saying he could not imagine— Any thing more deplorable, more full of evil and disaster than the continual recurrence of the spectacle of two great Parties uniting only for the purpose of suppressing the Irish Members. He defied anyone to conjecture any method more certainly and infallibly calculated to produce not only an Irish Parliament, but perhaps even Irish Independence. That was the deliberate opinion of Lord Randolph Churchill at the time, and had not the last 15 years amply justified that view? Every single concession that had been won for Ireland by Parliamentary action alone had been won by the persistent criticism of the Irish Members on the Estimates. That had been, practically, the only means they had of bringing the force of public opinion to bear on the Government of the day, and it was by the Estimates alone they could make known to the House and the Government what were the feelings and wants of the people of Ireland. This gagging Resolution, which had been introduced without a shred of excuse, was really, when stripped of the glamour thrown around it by the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury, mainly and primarily directed against the Irish Members. The right hon. Gentleman or his brother, who was governing Ireland, ought to be the last man to attempt to take away from the Irish Members the one power remaining to them in that House. He ought not to be the man to direct against Ireland and her representatives the most disabling and gagging measure ever proposed by any Minister in the history of Parliament. The right hon. Member for Bodmin spoke of alternatives, but the simple truth of the matter was contained in the fact that the House of Commons undertook to do too much. The greatest authority on Parliamentary Procedure and the greatest Leader the House had seen during the present century, had laid it down as his deliberate conviction that the real and only cause of the congestion of business in Parliament was that the House of Commons had imposed too much labour on its shoulders, and when they endeavoured to remove that congestion by Rules and Regulations, they were putting the cart before the horse, and they would never succeed in remedying the state of congestion by that means. What had been the history of the past 10 or 15 years? Government after Government had propounded fresh codes of Rules and Regulations to expedite business, and now, after fifteen years of this work, they were beginning it all over again. Those new Rules and Regulations had, to some extent, curtailed the rights of private Members, but they had not removed the evil which Ministers, indeed, had failed to understand. The only effective remedy that had hitherto been applied was that of Standing Committees, which had undoubtedly done something to remove the congestion and facilitate the work of Parliament. He would suggest two remedies. The first was to devolve on other bodies a great part of the business done in Parliament, reserving to Parliament the right of supremacy and the control over the forces of the Crown. As regarded the wish expressed by the First Lord of the Treasury to have the chance of enjoying part of the summer out of London, there was only one way of doing it. If the Twelve o'clock Rule were applied to Midsummer, and Parliament met earlier in the year, it would be found that just as the Twelve o'clock Rule had saved them from sitting until two or three o'clock in the morning, so a Midsummer Rule, requiring the House to adjourn on the 15th July every year would be effective in giving them some of the summer months. When the Twelve o'clock Rule was introduced, prophecies were made that nothing would be done, and that all business would be brought to a standstill. The rule was, however, introduced, and that was not the result. In the same way he ventured to say that if it were made a Standing Order that the House should rise in the middle of July every year, Parliament would be astonished how well such a rule would work, and would wonder it was not made half a century ago. The House would, of course, have to meet at an earlier period. One element that stood between them and the enjoyment of summer in the country was the hunting indulged in by certain Members of the House. He would conclude, as he began, by entering, on the part of the Irish Nationalist Members, a solemn protest against this Rule as a fresh invasion of their rights as a minority in this House, and an attempt to prevent them availing themselves of the only practical means which hitherto had been afforded them of bringing under the notice of the Government and the House the grievances of the Irish people.

MR. C. A. CRIPPS (Gloucestershire, Stroud)

desired to give the opinion of one who had chiefly looked upon a question of this sort not from the point of view of the House itself, but from the point of view of those outside, who had criticised the procedure of the House upon points of this kind. Some of the Members best known in the House, looking at the question from the point of view of the House of Commons, had stated that the whole procedure on this question which arose in Committee of Supply was little less than a scandal. He should like to add to that the opinion of one speaking from outside, but who had watched with great interest what had passed in the House of Commons in recent years, and that was that the present procedure, if they took it as a test of the real business capacity of the House, or of its ability to deal with the great questions of national and Imperial importance which came before it, was looked upon as a scandal not only by Members but by those who criticised the conduct of Members of the House from outside. In answer to the remarks of the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) he might say that he did not believe that there was a single hon. Member on the Unionist side of the House who would vote for any proposition which he thought would curtail in any way the right of free discussion, which hon. Members from Ireland rightly and honourably claimed in that House. The view of the Unionist Members, however, was that, so far from these proposed new Regulations interfering with the rights of Irish and other Members, they would, by regulating the course of Debate, give every section of the House a fair chance of bringing their measures under consideration. The hon. Member for East Mayo had referred to what he termed the tyranny of the Closure, but in his opinion, if the Closure were regulated by rules that were known beforehand to all hon. Members, it would involve less tyranny, and would raise less party animosity than when it was suddenly applied in particular cases and under particular circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire (Sir William Harcourt) had referred to what he termed the cast-iron character of the proposal. His reply to the right hon. Gentleman's observation was that when a rule was imperative in all cases it was less tyrannous than if it were applied from time to time, according to the will of a temporary majority, or according to the power of the Ministry of the day. For his part, he should support the Resolution, and the whole of the Resolution which had been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. Of course, it was almost impossible to bring forward a Resolution of this kind which should not be open to criticism on the one side or the other, but no one could doubt that it was the desire of a large majority in the House to see this proposal carried into effect. He believed that the result of the proposal would be not to gag hon. Members nor to strangle just Debate, but to bring it within due limits so as to operate in favour of freedom of discussion. Debates in the House ought not to be conducted after the manner of those in debating societies, in which academic questions were discussed, but with the desire to carry out speedily and effectively the real and practical business of the country. What was the real object of the Resolution which had been brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury? He took it to be that when discussion arose in Supply every hon. Member should know that at a certain time that discussion should cease, and that, therefore, it should be the interest of every hon. Member to address himself to those points that were supereminent in Supply. He would not reiterate what the right hon. Gentleman had said in reference to the business of Supply, but it would be admitted that the question of economy was no longer the most prominent in the discussions that took place when they were in Committee of Supply. It was the object of a great number of hon. Members that the constituencies in which they were interested should have a full share of the benefit that resulted from the Imperial and national expenditure. That was true, not only of that House, but of other representative assemblies. It had been urged that this proposal would be an invasion of the rights of private Members. In his view, however, so far from the proposals invading the rights of private Members, it would protect and preserve those rights. Private Members desired to take their fair share in the real business of the House, which was that brought forward by the Government. He was sure that hon. Members would rather have an opportunity of discussing measures of importance that were brought forward on the responsibility of the Government, than mere academic questions which could have no practical result, and which could be more usefully discussed in other places than the House of Commons. It had been said that the Resolution would interfere with the time-honoured traditions of that House in favour of the freedom of Debate. But freedom of Debate meant freedom to all and not to the few alone. If they wanted freedom of Debate they must so regulate Debate that every hon. Member should accord to others the same freedom that he demanded for himself. Freedom of Debate did not mean that the greater part of the time of the House should be occupied by a few free lances to the disadvantage of other hon. Members who might wish to bring forward Measures in which they were interested. In his view nothing could be better calculated to secure freedom of Debate than the very temperate regulation of the Debates that was proposed in the right hon. Gentleman's Resolution, which he hoped would be carried in its entirety not by a majority of any Party, but by a majority of the whole House.

MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said, the proposals of the Government were a step in the right direction, although they were not sufficient, from his point of view, for what was required to make the House able to fulfil its functions better than it fulfilled them now. With one criticism he would have to make upon them he would give them his support. The criticism was that he believed that in order to be effectual in securing the end at which they rightly aimed, Supply would not need to be closured so much if dealt with in compartments. He had watched the progress of Closure from its commencement in that House, and he was convinced that, to make this rule work properly, Supply should be divided into compartments, and these compartments should each be nearly finished at a given time. He would not support these proposals if he thought, with the hon. Member for Mayo, that they would destroy the discussion of great subjects such as Ireland. On the contrary, he believed that if the scheme were adopted they would be able to prune from the discussion of the Estimates what were unnecessary and redundant, and would have more time for the purposes for which more time was required for discussion. No doubt the rights of private Members would be curtailed by the proposals of the Government if adopted, but, after considerable experience of the House of Commons, he would rather give time to Supply than to private Members. The object of the House was to get the business of the nation done, and he considered that one of the reasons for which they were assembled there was that the majority of the House should be able to carry into law the Measures they were sent there to pass. But if they were to take days from private Members and merely devote them to Supply, they might increase rather than diminish their difficulties. The curtailment of the number of days to be given to Supply was the essential part of this proposal. The Leader of the Opposition said the guillotine would cast a shadow on what preceded it. For himself, he believed it would have a good effect on what preceded it. The end of the Session Estimates led to time being wasted in the earlier part of the Session. He did not find fault with the proposals of devolution made. He was certain that the business of the House would never be effectively carried out until there was a greater amount of devolution to Standing Committees and other assemblies. The proposal of the Government, as far as it went, was good and in the right direction, and subject to the remark that he believed it would not be capable of being worked to advantage unless they had the Closure in compartments in some form or other in practice, he considered the Government were moving in the right direction, and he would give them his hearty support.


said, that his only complaint of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was that he (Mr. Bowles) had not made it himself. The Member for the Stroud Division had given them as a new Member an improving homily on their duties from what he called the outside point of view—the view of those who did not know anything about the business of the House. The suggestion had been made that this should be, not a Standing Order, but a Sessional Order. Now if he were reconciled to the Resolution at all he should prefer to see it adopted as a Standing Order, but he could not accept it even as a Sessional Order. He considered the matter from the point of view of a supporter of the Government. He was disposed to find every excuse for them, but his difficulties were great. [Laughter.] Of all Sessions in the world there seemed to be less necessity for such a Resolution this Session than ever there was. The present House was disposed not to over-debate, but under-debate matters. The Debate on the Address so unexpectedly collapsed that the Government were in a difficulty to find business for the next sitting. The Government were returned to power by a large majority, which gave them a distinct direction what they were to do. They were to give the country rest, to eschew earthquakes and avoid revolutions [laughter], and to occupy the House with the useful concrete work of debating the Estimates and Amendments to the Address. As soon as they left this work they entered upon the dangerous ground of passing Acts of Parliament which the country distinctly told them it did not want. So there was every temptation to the Government to hold its hand this Session. It was a great regret and surprise to him to find the first use the Government made of its position was to bring out the instruments of torture and bid them to choose between the rack and the guillotine. He imbibed the principles and learnt the language of liberty on the Benches opposite. [Laughter.] It was from Brutus and Cassius themselves—from the Brutus of the Colonial Office, from the Cassius of the Treasury, that he learnt to call Coercion by its name. When his Party sat opposite they ransacked the dictionary [laughter], they exhausted the vocabulary of the torture-chamber, in describing the proceedings of right hon. Gentlemen who now sat opposite, and of their former chief. He was speaking of the year 1893. They talked of the gag, the garotte, and the guillotine being applied to Members of Parliament, and he was greatly disadvantaged and disappointed that on this occasion there was a strong probability that he would not have, in resisting the gag, the garotte, and the guillotine, the assistance he used to have of the two right hon. Gentlemen to whom he had referred. He regretted it much, because it would greatly enfeeble the defence he wished to make. I am no orator, as Brutus is … But were I Brutus And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony Would ruffle up your spirits, and put a tongue In every wound of Cæsar's. … [Loud laughter.] On the Estimates, too, this was to be done. Why, in his Parliamentary infancy he was suckled on the Estimates and weaned upon Motions for the reduction of Ministers' salaries. [Renewed laughter.] His nurse was the Secretary to the Treasury. [Laughter.] Nobody rejoiced more than he did when his right hon. Friend received office, not only because he was an old and valued friend, but because he knew him to possess the qualities most useful to the public service; but when his right hon. Friend crossed the floor of the House and joined Ministers whose salaries would be half as much as they were if he had had his way [laughter], he did not expect to see him put an impious hand on the Estimates to which he owed his being. He felt very much as the quiet and virtuous villager felt when he awoke one morning to find a new-born baby in a basket at the door of the parson of the parish. [Laughter.] He agreed that the Estimates were postponed till too late; and he also agreed that that was a matter in which by a very small effort on the part of the Government a great improvement might be effected. It was absolutely impossible to exhaustively discuss the Estimates in any one year; but they might alter the order of the Estimates by turning them end for end, and taking the last classes first, or they might take in each year the Estimates which in that year appeared to be the most necessary and most interesting for discussion. The proposal to carry on Votes was a very good one if fairly applied, but under it a system might be applied by which the most important Votes might be postponed until the fatal nineteenth and twentieth days. It was said that too much time was spent in trivialities. Did the Government never spend time in trivialities? Were they all expected to be perfect? They were not capable of it. They must have their little moments of aberration when they might think that the affairs of crofters and trawlers were more important than anything the House had to deal with. [Laughter.] If the Government wanted to improve the perspective of hon. Members they must go down to the constituencies. They must closure and guillotine Ross-shire and Peterborough, and perhaps even Preston. [Loud laughter.] Even then they would not get perfect Members. No doubt there was too much time spent on trivialities; but such was the haste and want of reflection with which this proposal had been put forward that he was not quite sure whether the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury himself quite understood what he was after. The right hon. Gentleman said:— If there be a Republican Member in the House, he might wish to raise the question of Republican institutions, but he cannot. Under Class I., you can discuss nothing but drains, windows, roofs and matters of that sort. Therefore"—— in order to enable a Republican Member to discuss Republican institutions— I should propose that we should always put first on every day Votes in Supply are taken. some Vote of public interest and importance. Could the right hon. Gentleman tell him of any Vote of public importance on which a Republican Member could raise the question of Republican institutions? He was not aware of one in which the most simple and amiable Chairman of Committees would not call a Member to order if he sought to raise the question of the Monarchy or Republican institutions. The right hon. Gentleman also told the House that to suppose that a discussion of the Estimates tended to economical administration was a superstition which had no justification, and that the effect of discussion was always to increase rather than to diminish the Estimates. Even if this were true discussion had an economical effect, because, even if no reductions were made, the fear of what might befall them when discussion took place kept the Government in order and made them more careful in the preparation of the Estimates. But it was not true that no reductions were made. He himself obtained from the late Secretary to the Admiralty—and only by threatening to reduce his salary—a promise of the abolition of the Jamaica Dockyard, though it came to nothing, because the right hon. Gentleman did not keep his promise. [Laughter.]


Perhaps I may be allowed to say that the promise was not kept because it was never made.


said, his memory was better than that of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman told him that the admiral himself had reported against the dockyard, and that it would be abolished. If the right hon. Gentleman doubted him he should be tempted to refer to the great precedent of 1746 [laughter], when an hon. Member bet Sir Robert Walpole a guinea that he was right, and won it. [Laughter.] Many and many a time he had walked up the floor of the House in company of his right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury on the unfortunate mission of bearing the numbers of a small and down-trodden minority. On one occasion, however, they went to victory. His right hon. Friend moved a reduction in the salaries of the officials of the House of Lords by £500. It was carried, and £500 a year was saved for ever to this Kingdom in consequence of the patriotic endeavours of the Secretary to the Treasury and himself. [Laughter.] Another argument of the right hon. Gentleman, the First Lord of the Treasury, was that the Session was much too long. That was a miserable, grovelling argument. [Laughter.] As soon as an election took place 1,200 or more public-spirited Gentlemen went down into the country professing that they wished to come to the House of Commons in the public interest. They moved heaven and earth—and sometimes money [laughter]—to get into the House, yet no sooner were they there than they began to make excuses to get out of it, to deny the service they had proffered, and to whine about their shooting or yachting or some other trivial matter. He had no patience with such men. [Laughter.] His belief was that the Session was far too short, and as to the talk about waste of tissue and danger to nerve and temper—they were not a House of young ladies. [Laughter.] He was ashamed to listen to such talk, and as far as he was concerned his withers were unwrung. He attended the House conscientiously, not because it was entirely delightful, but because he thought he had undertaken an obligation to his constituents which he ought to fulfil. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] The proposal that Fridays should be devoted to Supply was, in his opinion, entirely good, but the other proposals of the Government were correspondingly bad. There were in the Resolution three propositions neither one of which had anything to do with either of the other two. The first was to give Fridays, or more time for Supply; the second to limit the total number of days to 20 or to apply the gag; the third to guillotine everything on the 4th August. The first was as good as the last two were bad. Why were they conjoined? The Leader of the House said that they could not have the good proposal unless they accepted the bad as well. The right hon. Gentleman's attitude reminded him of a money-lender who told a borrower that he could not lend £100 unless he was willing to take as part of the loan some old sherry and a certain number of cigars. [Laughter.] The Leader of the House talked of the Government giving up everything and getting nothing in return. In fact, the proposal of the Government was that private Members should give up everything and get nothing in return. The Government were going to be patriotic, and proposed to supply time for discussing the Estimates by appropriating private Members' Fridays. That reminded him of Sydney Smith's story of the man who was so powerfully impressed by a charity sermon that he was impelled to pick his neighbour's pocket of a guinea in order that he might put it into the plate. But here, inasmuch as the Government retained the power to take away the Fridays, they picked their neighbour's pocket, put his guinea in the plate, and then took it out again and slipped it into their own pocket. [Laughter.] Were not the existing powers for the limitation of Debate sufficiently strong? There was the Closure, which had been freely used. It had even been used against himself [laughter], but only once, and then only because he professed not to have a complete knowledge of agriculture. [Laughter.] The Closure was moved in 1893 168 times, 23 occasions being in Supply. In 1894 it was used 36 times; in the first part of 1895 it was used 29 times, and in the second part of the same year 11 times, six of the occasions being in Supply. What more did the Leader of the House want than this power of silencing any Member at any moment by the exercise of the Closure? The right hon. Gentleman's majority was large enough. Fifty or more of his supporters could be away at any time shooting or yachting, and he would still have sufficient support to carry the Closure. The Closure, too, could be moved by others besides the Government. Why, the hon. Member for Battersea, who being a Radical, of course wanted to prevent discussion, had moved it four times in one day, three times unsuccessfully. [Laughter.] These powers were surely sufficient; yet he would not object to an addition to them if emergency could be shown. The case of the Government, however, disclosed no emergency, they had a large majority and a very pet lamb of a Parliament, and yet they asked him to sanction the establishment of a permanent guillotine—nay, a very hay-cutting machine. He could not consent to it. [Laughter.] Of course he only spoke for himself, yet they must remember they were each and all trustees for those who would come after them in that House. The Members of the Government should recollect that they were not eternal. The day would come when they would cross the floor of the House and then the machinery which they proposed to set up would be used against themselves. Did they suppose that then their opponents would not say to them in the words of Shylock— The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction! Year by year the rights and privileges of the Members of that House were being filched from them by the exclusive oligarchies that successively occupied the Front Ministerial Bench. One by one the rights of private Members, as distinguished from placemen, had been taken away. The system of coercing the House of Commons was new—barely 20 years old. Peel, Palmerston, Russell were content to manage the House by persuasion and dexterity. They handled it as a good horseman handled a high-spirited, mettlesome steed. They had a light hand and a firm seat, and with the imperceptible touches of heel and hand that show the perfect horseman, knew how to turn and wind a fiery Pegasus and witch the world with noble horsemanship; and then the bungler came, having neither seats nor hands, and he had recourse to gag bits, martingales, and horrible ironmongery, and cast the horse and sat on his head, and said that he too, forsooth, was a horseman, he too a Leader of the House. They might thus break its spirit and turn it into a sorry jade, but never again would they get from it the generous effort, the untiring exertion. That was not the way to treat the House of Commons. These new methods would not improve, but would destroy the House. Every day that passed, his veneration for the forms and privileges of the House increased, and he could not but place on record his earnest protest against a plan which tended to destroy the rights, impair the dignity, and end the usefulness of the most venerable deliberative Assembly the world had ever seen. ["Hear, hear."]

Mr. T. R. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)

said that when the Leader of the House agreed on Thursday to postpone the discussion of his proposals until Monday it might have been thought that the right hon. Gentleman was taking a rash course, but his boldness had been justified by results, because the more his proposals had been considered the more had they commended themselves to the dispassionate opinion of the House. By common consent it was agreed that there should be a re-arrangement of business in Supply so that important Votes might be considered at reasonable dates in the Session, and it was also felt that private Members might fairly be called upon for that purpose to give up Fridays to the Government. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had asked for more than that, saying that if the business of Supply was to be rearranged the Government must have a quid pro quo. Well they obtained a considerable quid pro quo by getting three nights a week instead of two. Supply was just as much Government business as legislation, and if the First Lord of the Treasury obtained from the House an extra day for Supply, he was obtaining a tangible advantage in the progress of Government business. As to bringing the business of Supply to an end by August 5th, he said that he had no doubt the Government had carefully considered the exigencies of the case. He was inclined, however, to agree with the statement of the right hon. Member for Bodmin that, in looking at the calendar, he was at a loss to see how the Government would be able, or how future Governments would be able, to carry through an active legislative programme in the time. Allowing a week for Easter and a week for Whitsuntide, there would be available but 21 weeks; and, therefore, the doubts which had been expressed lent force to the argument that the proposed Order should be made a Sessional one, and not a Standing Order. As to the arrangement of the Votes, he thought that the responsibility of arranging the business of Supply, as of other business, ought to be left to the Government itself. Unless good cause to the contrary was shown, he hoped that the Government would stand firm to their resolution that the arrangement of the business of Supply should be kept in the hands of the responsible Government. The right hon. Gentleman spoke almost exclusively of large questions. No one who had any experience of the House could doubt that important questions, like education, foreign and colonial affairs, and Irish questions, would certainly be fully discussed; and he did not believe there was the slightest substance in the argument that the Government would try to shirk the discussion of important subjects. But what about other matters, such as Scottish subjects? As the right hon. Gentleman had himself said, the Scottish Members were God's creatures. They were unoffending members of the creation, and were sent to Parliament to look after the business of their country. With regard to the smaller groups of subjects, therefore, which interested only a section of the House, he thought that there ought to be in the proposals of the Government some definite means by which those subjects should be discussed when there was occasion to do so. He thought it was expedient that the Government should formulate more definitely the kind of arrangement of the Votes which they proposed. He welcomed heartily the proposal for a time limit. He believed it to be an excellent thing for speeches, Supply, and Bills, and for the Session itself; and he hoped it would be made a regular part of our Parliamentary procedure, as in the United States Congress. We must alter our Parliamentary rules to conform to the altered conditions under which we now lived, and to the altered nature of the business submitted for public discussion. If the time limit proposal was loyally adopted by all parties, he believed that it would be found to promote the progress of business and the interests of free discussion.

On the return of Mr. SPEAKER after the usual interval,


said, that he for his part had no fear of the introduction of changes into the procedure of the House. On the contrary on more than one occasion he had sought to invite the House to make those changes, and so to develop its practice and forms as to make them consonant with the requirements of modern times. Some systems of procedure—and theirs was not unfrequently one—were made to prevent proceeding, and, therefore, every reform should be welcomed that would induce the House to do its work in a more businesslike way, and more in accordance with the manner in which public opinion outside expected Members to perform their duties. He was glad that the House, which had created by legislation a close time for a great many animals, were now about to fix a close time for itself. He thought the proposal that the House should be prorogued in August a good one. Again, an expression in favour of an eight hours' day for labour, coming from Conservative Members, was to be welcomed. His name was on the back of an Eight Hours' Bill, and, therefore, he was specially glad to find a proposal that their work in the House should be based on the eight hours' principle. Besides, everyone must welcome any change in the transaction of the business of Supply; because he did not hesitate to say that Committee of Supply had hitherto been attended by a waste of public and private time without any real saving in public economy. But what had been said against Supply was not wholly true, not even as regarded Class 1 of the Estimates with their architectural trivialities, as they had been described. Some of them had raised on the Estimates in Class 1, in connection with the new Admiralty Offices, the most important point as to whether the Estimates for public buildings were properly prepared, and whether the expenditure did not exceed the Estimates. Again, last Session, on a Motion which he moved, the Government was sustained only by a majority of one in the exemption of Government property from local rates. The Government had, however, since taken steps—thanks to his right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury—in the direction suggested; and now paid contributions to local authorities in the Metropolis which were equal to the rates it ought to pay for its buildings. These instances showed that, after all, practical good often came out of discussions in Supply. But while some measure of reform was necessary, the question to be considered was whether the Measures proposed by the Government were suited to meet the case, or whether, by some simple arrangement which the House could make at any moment of necessity, all that was desirable could not be achieved. The guillotine and the rack had been alluded to. These were instruments of historic interest, which had always been worked for a purpose and worked intelligently. But there was another instrument of torture of a more modern date and less reputable in character—namely, the gag—with which it was proposed to replace the guillotine and the rack. The gag was chiefly known as an instrument of robbery, and in this case the parties to be robbed were the private, or as he preferred to call them, the unofficial Members of the House. For his part he had nothing to say against the Closure when it was applied intelligently and by a responsible person. But, on the other hand, they must remember that the proposal of the Government was a new Closure, and a new form of suppression of freedom of speech in the House. And he was sure the encroachment on the time of private Members would not end with the present action of the Government. If the House allowed this first step of appropriating Friday to be taken, Tuesday would not long be saved to private Members. He could not help noticing in the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury a considerable tone against Tuesdays because of the use to which they were put by private Members. "Tuesdays and Fridays," said the right hon. Gentleman, "are scenes of anarchy in this House." For his part he did not want to vindicate the private Members. But he thought it would not be difficult to prove that the unofficial Members had often been the means of introducing very good Measures into the House—Measures so good that they had been frequently adopted by the Government and passed into law. Even less difficult would it be to prove that the unofficial Members had by discussion in the House initiated good legislation, and what was more important had prepared public opinion outside for it, and had, therefore, been of great use and benefit to the Government. He ventured to say that the evil lay in the House being compelled to rely in the matter of business too often on the principle of chance. Was not the remedy an obvious one?—namely, that instead of proposing isolated Measures like those now before the House, the opportunity should be taken of surveying the general procedure of the House and adapting it to present-day purposes. What was wanted in order to make the House thoroughly effective for its work was to substitute "choice" for "chance," and that could be done by establishing some system of selection on the part of the House as to the business that was more worth its while to entertain. Fridays were wasted, and Wednesdays were not as profitable as they might be; but if, when Bills were introduced, there were some means by which Members could express their preference for certain Bills, those days would be much more fruitful in legislation. Then take the regular order of public business. The Government had the power of making discussion in Committee of Supply much more useful. The relative importance of the Estimates could be judged by the Secretary to the Treasury, who was an expert on the subject, and the House might resolve that the arrangement of business could be altered so as to discuss a subject altogether, and not over several Estimates; and if it were desirable that an Estimate should be Closured—as he knew of no sanctity in finance as compared with a Bill—a Minister of the Crown could in such a case put an end to a discussion that was not useful. Another simple change would make a revolution in the transaction of business on Tuesdays and Fridays, and, perhaps, on Wednesdays. Instead of counting out the House because the business before it was not useful, the particular Bill or Motion should be counted out, and the House allowed to proceed with the other Orders of the Day. In his opinion the proposal of the Government was too fragmentary. If the procedure of the House was to be made more consonant with modern ideas and requirements, some systematic plan of reform should be adopted, and not the mere piece of patchwork which the Government proposed. He had looked out the time occupied by the Estimates in the past, and he believed that 20 days was considerably under the average. If private Members were to be crowded out by the absorption of time by the Government, then, as in the past, their refuge would be in Supply, and, therefore, the time required for Supply was likely to be increased. The Report of a Committee had indicated that as a fact and a probability. Further, he demurred to the view that Debates in Supply could be a substitute for Debates on Tuesdays and Fridays. There were many subjects that could not be raised in Supply and required a direct Motion. The view that private Members would be compensated by opportunities in Supply was, in his opinion, illusory. A much more fundamental remedy was required than the mere substitution of Supply on Fridays. A Committee of the House had recommended that Estimates should be sent to a Grand Committee, which could be attended by Departmental officers who would afford information. Such a Grand Committee would have a real opportunity of discussing financial points and exercising economy. This would be a relief to the House, and give it more time for the discussion of points of policy which were incidental to the Estimates. It had been suggested that the more important business should be taken earlier than at present, and that this was a matter that could be dealt with by the Government without any additional power. But who was to judge of relative importance in these matters? It often happened that the importance of a matter did not appear until it was introduced by an individual Member. The way that questions were raised was by individual Members giving attention to them, by research and the collection of statistics; it was only then that, in many cases their importance struck the House; and he doubted whether the discussion of some subjects could be initiated in any other way. ["Hear, hear."] What had to be looked to in Supply was not so much the great questions which took care of themselves, but the lesser questions which could not be raised by Motions for the adjournment of the House, and for which days were not found by the Government. In these matters the 20 days of Supply would not be a beneficial change. The proposals of the Government, dictated he was sure by a desire to render the business of the House more effective, would, in a large measure, fail in that object. He did not object to revising the order of the Estimates, but he hoped, at any rate, part of the plan would be the appointment of a Committee so as to deal with the Estimates by compartments instead of the present casual system. The intermittent discussion of any subject was, if practicable, highly unwise, and interest and usefulness would be increased by continuity of discussion. The real remedy required must be wider than these proposals. They were partly too drastic and too rigorous, and partly wanting in the scopefulness and system which he believed to be essential in dealing with this matter. He did not say they would not be more acceptable to him if they took the form of a Sessional rather than of a Standing Order. In his view, the best means of dealing with this complex question would be a Committee on which all parts of the House would be represented by expert knowledge. Many new Members had appealed to him for information respecting the Business of the House, which it took years to learn, and there was a general demand for more simplicity in its forms and procedure. It was suggested that one motive for Obstruction would be removed if Measures could be carried over from one Session to another. On some early occasion, he hoped that a wider and broader view of the subject would be taken, and that, instead of a fragmentary and partial reform, they would have a general scheme for improving the whole system of the House. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. H. SETON-KARR, (St. Helens)

said that he approached the question from the standpoint of an unofficial or private Member, who, on an occasion of that kind, had a right to a private and individual opinion. He was a loyal supporter of the Government, and as such he was rather staggered to find this Motion on the Paper when the Session was hardly a fortnight old, and when there appeared to be absolutely no reason for it. The Government was not committed to any sensational legislation, and he could see no reason at this time for putting the Notice upon the Paper. Private Members on his own side had one consolation, and it was that the present Government would make better use of the time they gained than their predecessors would have done. The Leader of the House could hardly have been serious when he said that it was only those who were accustomed to attend the House up to September who were entitled to criticise the proposal. That would exclude one-half the Members of any House of Commons. [Mr. BALFOUR: "Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman cheered that; but he would point out that there were Members who were busy men, who had duties outside the House of Commons, and who were able to take a holiday only in the summer, although personally he had often attended the House in August. Because some of them paired—it was the only chance they had of getting a holiday—that was no reason why they should be debarred from voting on the subject. He would state his main grounds for dissenting from the Resolution. Its object was (1) to improve discussion of Supply; (2) to enable the Government to carry out their legislative programme; and (3) to enable the House to rise before the middle, or at all events the end, of August. With regard to the first and third, he was entirely in accord with the right hon. Gentleman, and so long as the present Government was in power he was in accord as to the second; but he was entirely opposed to the machinery by which it was proposed to carry them out. ["Hear, hear!"] He could not approach anything like the authority of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Courtney) who had spoken from the Bench, but he had 10 years' experience of the House. He had seen the hateful and dangerous principle of the guillotine twice applied. An HON. MEMBER: "Three times!"] Two important occasions—in 1887 and in 1893—and he could not bring himself to agree with the right hon. Gentleman, in spite of his able speech, or to support a Resolution to put that hateful principle on the Standing Orders. It had never been done before. Where the guillotine and time limit had been put in operation, it had always been when there was urgent necessity, and when special grounds, not anticipated, had rendered action necessary. But on this occasion these Rules were to be put on the Standing Orders as a principle, and they could never take them away once they got there. Something had been said about making them a Sessional Order, but for the life of him he could not see any difference in the danger. They would have established a precedent, and they all knew the power of precedents in that House, and before they would know they would find that the guillotine had become a Standing Order. The right hon. Gentleman had made some ingenious distinctions between the guillotine in Supply and guillotine as to Bills. Practically the conclusion to be drawn was that the only real solid power to control the administrative and executive power of the Government would rest with the Front Benches. If adequate time for discussion of Supply was given, and if they had power to exercise their functions as to the administrative and executive functions of the Government, the guillotine was absolutely unnecessary. On the other hand, if the time was not long enough, their most important functions in that House were impaired. Another objection, which had been ably and amusingly put by the Member for King's Lynn, was that the guillotine was capable of serious misuse. An unscrupulous and despotic Government might misuse it; at all events they were putting into their hands most dangerous weapons. The right hon. Gentleman said there was nothing to prevent a week or a fortnight being devoted continually to Supply. Let them suppose a Government with a revolutionary programme, they might proceed with Supply for the first 20 days after the Address and then proceed with any number of Newcastle programmes that they liked. He should like to hear some answer to this from Ministers. The object aimed at by the guillotine could be attained in other ways, and there was no reason why the House should not rise in July. The point was that they must use the guillotine when they could not make progress in any other way. On that ground they could not justify this Order. Why not take the Fridays, re-arrange the Order of Supply, and then leave the guillotine or time limit to be used if necessary if the Opposition showed gross obstruction. It seemed to him there was one serious fallacy underlying the argument of the right hon. Gentleman as to the time limit. He argued that if they had a time limit you made Members more reasonable in the discussion of the various Votes. He submitted that the history of the past 10 years showed that the operation of the time limit had precisely the opposite effect. They all knew that the friction engendered on one occasion nearly caused a free fight on the floor of the House, chiefly due to the guillotine. On the occasion of the Coercion Bill Members talked most unreasonably on minor points. The object was plain. That of the Party to which he belonged was to put the Government of the day in a difficulty. What they resolved to do was to talk on minor and unimportant points, compel the Government to drop the guillotine on the most important points, and thus have a good cry with which to go to the country. That was just what would happen again. There were other fallacies about the Resolution, but he would only detain the House by mentioning one. It was obviously the opinion of his right hon. Friend that the Government of the day were entitled to have facilities to pass their legislative programme. As a private and unofficial Member he absolutely denied that proposition; it depended entirely upon the Government and the measures they had to pass. [Laughter.] That was perfectly obvious from a Party point of view. He would be delighted to give reasonable facilities to the present Government to pass their programme; indeed, he was sent here by men who desired that this Government's measures should be passed, but if he were in Opposition he should certainly decline to admit the proposition that the Government of the day were entitled as a matter of abstract principle to have facilities to pass any legislative programme they chose to put forward. He greatly regretted to find himself in opposition to the First Lord of the Treasury and his colleagues, and if the right hon. Gentleman would only drop or modify those clauses of his Resolution which introduced into the Standing Orders the dangerous principle he had referred to be would not vote against the Resolution, and possibly he might vote for it. He trusted the House of Commons would never see the day when the guillotine principle would be introduced permanently into the Standing Orders.

MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northants, E.)

, did not intend to occupy time by discussing the rights of private Members as against the Government, but wished as one who had sat for some years in the House and taken some interest in the question of procedure, to make some remarks. He was the more anxious to express his opinion because two hon. Members who belonged to the same political Party as himself had expressed their approval of the introduction of the principle of the guillotine in the case of Supply. He disapproved of that principle, and based his disapproval on the experience of the last few years. He had listened with interest to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Stroud (Mr. C. A. Cripps), but thought that if that gentleman had witnessed the painful and almost degrading scenes in the House on the application of the Closure in great and important measures he would hesitate before he supported the guillotine principle. He said this knowing well that he voted for the guillotine Resolution, and was somewhat responsible for the bringing about of the scenes to which he had alluded. He did not think anyone who had the interest of the House at heart would care to see a repetition of those scenes. If they were to have a check on the discussion in Supply, or upon any Bill, it should be of a more elastic and flexible nature than that proposed in the Resolution of the Government. He desired to draw attention to one or two points which seemed to him strikingly objectionable in the present proposal. The First Lord of the Treasury pointed out that in his opinion this would enlarge the opportunities for criticism by private Members and Members of the House generally of the action of the Government. If there was any conceivable ground for that opinion how could they take an average of previous years, striking that average at 20 years, as sufficient for discussion of Supply? They knew nothing of what this Session might bring forth under such a rule as this. This might be one of the most critical Sessions in the National history. They could not know from day to day whether the most urgent and pressing questions might not come upon them, yet they were asked, with a light heart by the Government, not only to limit the number of days in which they could discuss the administrative action of the Government, but to limit it to 20 days. That limit was to apply to all Sessions, though some might be full of exciting episodes requiring discussion in Supply, and others absolutely the reverse. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had admitted the objection to his proposal by saying it would be necessary to introduce some new principle of order and classification of the Votes. The First Lord of the Treasury had expressed his disapproval of the arrangement or classification of the Votes being undertaken by anybody outside the House, but what would be the result of any attempt to classify the Votes in the House? On the one hand the Government would be squeezed by some section of the House into placing their Votes in the forefront or, on the other hand, there would be a resort to some of the numerous stratagems known to the Party Whips to oust certain subjects from discussion. He firmly believed that if the arrangement of Votes was to be left to pressure on the floor of the House the result would be that the Irish Members would secure more than a fair share of the time. He was not prepared to admit that this or any Government were to be trusted with the arrangement of the Votes of Supply, and still less were they to be trusted when the time for discussion was limited to 20 days. The value of the present proposal must depend upon a true and genuine, and impartial classification of the subjects coming before the House, and he thought anyone who had a true regard for the interest of the House must feel that the proposal of the Government would place upon them or anybody to whom the arrangement of the Votes was entrusted, the gravest possible responsibility, and a task of supreme difficulty. He had always thought a great reform in the conduct of Supply would be obtained if it became the rule of the House that discussions in Supply should have order of precedence according to notices of motions specifying the object with which the notice was given, and he would be quite willing to leave to the Chairman of Committees, with or even without assessors, the order of motions of that kind. But, unless there was a fresh and impartial classification, he must protest against the proposal of the Government, and in any case he must protest against the limit being fixed at 20 days.


said, that whenever an hon. Member rose in that House to make a few remarks in support of liberty of speech he was always exposed to the imputation that he wished to hear his own eloquence. He had been eight years in Parliament and during the whole of that time he did not speak in Supply for as many minutes, and whenever he had made a long speech it was at the request of some Member of the Government. [Laughter.] On this occasion he was in the somewhat unenviable position of having to oppose his Leaders; but he could not defraud his constituents by making addresses on one line and then come back to that House and under the guidance of his Leaders adopt another line, and one which he had already denounced. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] He was a Member of the House when the guillotine was introduced for the first time by the late Mr. Smith. [The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY: "That was not the first time."] However that might be, it was a very unusual proceeding, and he well remembered how it was recommended by the Ministers who proposed it. Mr. Smith told the House in sorrowful tones how greatly he regretted being obliged to bring in such a Motion. He felt obliged to introduce it in terms of apology, and admitted that he must have ample excuse for doing so. Mr. Smith said the necessity for such a course being taken must be absolutely imperative—nay irresistible. He pointed out that the House was then in the fourth month of the Session, that there was a paralysis of Parliamentary business, that 35 days had been applied to the principal Measure, of which 20 had been devoted to discussing the First and Second Readings, and 15 to discussing four Clauses in Committee, and that the Bill was, in the opinion of a large majority of the House, absolutely necessary for the preservation of law and order in Ireland. In June, 1893, when Mr. Gladstone made a similar proposal to that which they were now asked to agree to the present Leader of the House said that the proposal was absolutely inconsistent with the very elements of the life of a free representative assembly. The right hon. Gentleman said that the House of Commons was the guardian of the public purse, and that our Parliamentary liberties were involved in the proposal. ["Hear, hear!"] He could not have supposed that in the short space of three years his right hon. Friend could have changed his mind so completely. [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman was now himself proposing by this Measure to destroy their Parliamentary liberties, and he was not going to help him to do so, but would certainly do his best to preserve them. [Opposition cheers.] It was supposed by many, right or wrongly, that the Minister for the Colonies was at the bottom of those proceedings. [Laughter.] How did that right hon. Gentleman meet the proposal of the guillotine in 1893? What did he say on the matter? He said that it was the commencement of a system on which, if they did not take great care in time, they might be certain to go as far in a wrong direction as their brethren in America had done. He said that they were on a declining plane—a fatal plane, and that "the compartment arrangement was worthy of the artful Minister who drew up the Resolution." That was the opinion of the present Secretary of the Colonies in 1893 regarding the guillotine, and now he was supporting it. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman went even further, for he added on that occasion that it would be better to summarily suspend all who objected than to pass resolutions of that kind. There was no doubt that in this scheme it was a case of facilis descensus Averni, and that with reference to this Parliamentary vice they might say with Pope:— Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, As to be hated needs but to be seen; But seen too oft, familiar with her face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace. He regretted that his right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House, who in former days had stood up as the champion of free speech had so quickly reached the embracing attitude; he now came down gaily to the House and in a clever and humorous speech, which was received with cheers and laughter, sought to destroy their liberties. The right hon. Gentleman did not try first what the new Parliament would do, but without any experience of the kind brought an indictment of incapacity against it. As to their discussions in Supply in previous Parliaments, the right hon. Gentleman had said that "they were perfectly futile, empty and foolish." [Mr. Balfour dissented.] He had a copy of The Times before him with a full report of the Debate and the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and the words used by him were "perfectly futile, empty and foolish." Thus, at the commencement of a new Parliament, before he had had any opportunity of seeing how they would behave, the right hon. Gentleman described the discussions in Supply as futile, frivolous, and useless. [Laughter.]


did not say that of all discussions in Supply. [Cheers and laughter.]


said, of course not; he was not suggesting anything of the kind, but for all that the right hon. Gentleman was seeking to punish the House before he waited to see how it would conduct itself in Supply. The proposal, indeed, was much like a kind of Jedburgh justice, in which they hanged the prisoner first and tried him afterwards, for they were to be guillotined first and tried afterwards. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman had said he was most anxious that Members should get away by August 12. He (Mr. Gedge) had enjoyed many days on the golf links and grouse moors, but he should be sorry to tell his constituents that he had consented to destroy the liberties of the House of Commons in order that he and other Gentlemen might be able to go grouse shooting. [Laughter.] Their constituents—the horny-handed sons of toil—[Laughter]—sent them there to do their business and not to scamp it in order that they might get away to their holidays. ["Hear, hear!"] It was, ingenious, but rather misleading for the right hon. Gentleman to say that if they passed this Resolution certain other reforms would follow as a matter of course, which really had nothing whatever to do with the guillotine Resolution. If they were desirable improvements they could be made without passing this Resolution. But in his opinion the passing of this Resolution would increase rather than diminish futile discussions. At present futile and foolish discussions were, as a general rule, made by Members of the Opposition in the hope of embarrassing the Government and of preventing them getting this or that Vote by worrying them on points of detail in Supply. But supposing this guillotine Resolution passed, and the Government had certain Votes on which alone their conduct could be challenged and which they did not wish to be discussed on that very ground? What would be easier than to give the word to their own supporters that if they would come and talk the time would be taken up with discussion more or less frivolous on unimportant points, and then these important Votes would be quickly passed under the guillotine and there would be no discussion. The voting was no doubt invariably in favour of the Government, but the discussion did a great deal to promote economy and to put the Government on their guard and make them careful in the Estimates they brought forward and in their administrative conduct. And then the right hon. Gentleman said voting was useless, and therefore he allowed the voting to go on, but that discussion, which he admitted to be useful when properly conducted, was to be cut down by the guillotine. The right hon. Gentleman also said there was the widest possible distinction between a Bill and a Vote in Supply, because the Bill was for all time, while the Vote was for this year only. There was that distinction, but he would point out that when once they passed a Vote one year, it had a wonderful tendency to have a recurring character. There was this further to be said with regard to the distinction. When a Vote was passed it was absolute. There was nothing to override it. When a Bill had been passed in this House, the very fact that it had been gagged and discussion stopped was a very sound and good reason why the House of Lords should throw it out. It was perfectly well known that, when the application of the guillotine was fought so long and manfully by his right hon. Friends below him with regard to the Irish Home Bill, the discussion of that Bill was only academic, and in their hearts his right hon. Friends and all the Party welcomed that guillotine because they knew it must give to the House of Lords a strong reason for throwing out the Bill. And at the following election did not they hold up large sheets, prepared on purpose, differently coloured, showing the clauses that had been passed without discussion and thereby justified the House of Lords? How could they, who had taken that course before their constituencies, then come here the first thing, not yielding to any pressure, not taking a desperate remedy for a desperate evil, but simply vote, in this cool and placid way, to put a guillotine upon that important part of their work—discussions in Supply. If he could get another hon. Member to tell with him, he should certainly go into the Division Lobby against such a proceeding in order that when the evils came upon them which had been so ably pointed out by the hon. Member for King's Lynn, he should have the satisfaction of knowing that he had done his best to prevent the occurrence of any such thing. While he was cordially in favour of the Resolution for taking Fridays—which seemed to him to be giving the Government a good deal—he for one was most intensely surprised and shocked when he saw what was the character of the Resolution to be brought forward. If it had been brought forward by right hon. Gentlemen opposite it would have been received with the strongest disapproval by those who are now supporting it.

MR. W. S. ROBSON (South Shields)

said, this proposal appeared to him to involve a good deal more than the mere regulation of business. It was a constitutional change which probably would have results which the most experienced would not, perhaps, be the first to anticipate. The First Lord of the Treasury laid the proposal before them as a simple affair of procedure. Measures of coercion were always introduced as mere alterations in procedure. They always came forward as modern improvements for replacing some obsolete safeguard which had had its day, and in introducing them in this pleasing guise there was no master of ceremonies in Europe more effective than the First Lord of the Treasury. They all remembered that in his last period of power as Chief Secretary for Ireland, in the name of legal procedure, he did some very effective things indeed with regard to constitutional safeguards. He thought they were entitled to look with some distrust when, in the same seductive name of procedure, he asked them to surrender one of the most ancient and valuable privileges of Parliament. This subject ought not to be treated as if it were merely a question of equalising the business of Parliament. It was a constitutional change of a very novel and startling character. He had no doubt that, like all constitutional changes, it might be justified on the ground of temporary expediency, but he thought they ought to look to its possible consequences as well as to its immediate effects. Its possible consequences were serious indeed, because the whole tendency of their progress hitherto had been to subordinate the Executive more and more to the control of Parliament. The result of that policy had been to give them an administrative system which was not surpassed in the world for purity and efficiency. It had been said that night that the tendency of Debates in Committee of Supply was to increase expenditure, and he had no doubt that hon. Members were often inclined to make large drafts on the Exchequer. But, whatever might be said of the tendency of such Debates, it was certain that they were the most effective checks on jobbery; and they had to consider whether or not among the dangers to which these proposals would give rise they had not to reckon the chance of a revival of jobbery. It was quite true that, under the present system, all the Estimates could not be discussed; but any Estimate might be, and the choice of the item that could be discussed rested with the Opposition rather than with the Government. The most vital change which these proposals appeared likely to make was that in future the choice of items for discussion would rest not with the Opposition, who were most inclined to criticise keenly, but with the Government, who were rather inclined to praise than to criticise. That seemed to him a change that was bound to have important effects. It was suggested that probably a Committee might be appointed to assist the Government in selecting the items for discussion; but such a Committee would still be appointed by the majority of the House, which would mean the Government, and a small Committee would not prevent the Government having effective choice of the items to be discussed. How would the Committee know which item might conceal a job? The chances of jobbery in that House were very slight and precarious, thanks to the keenness of criticism; but, under such proposals as those under discussion, what might happen? After all, the Government of the day was the out come of Party organisation, subject to Party pressure and imbued with Party spirit. He need not dwell upon the tendency of Party spirit and Party pressure to bring about corrupt expenditure of public money. With regard to most proposals, they came before the House in the form of Bills, and if they were corrupt in character hon. Members could go to the country and make them the occasion of condemnation of the Government proposing them. But that was not so with regard to Departmental Expenditure, which was not only increasing, but in relation to which more power was being given to Departments to allocate the money. Under the Light Railways Bill, introduced the other night, it was proposed to place £1,000,000 at the disposal of the Treasury. The officials in the Treasury were high-minded and honourable men, but were such men always going to be at the Treasury? Remember they were discussing a constitutional change, and they were bound to take into consideration the possibility that they might not always have men of the highest honour at the head of every Department, and particularly were they bound to consider that when they remembered that the tendency of Party pressure was to tell with increasing effect on these men. What would be the effect if they had at the head of their executive a number of men who were the heads of their Party and able, on Party pressure, to withdraw from discussion by the House, any particular group of Estimates? His first objection, therefore, to the proposal was that it would deprive the House of the choice of subjects for discussion, but another objection, scarcely less fatal, was that that discussion which had hitherto remained in the hands of the Opposition, whose criticism had been keen because it was hostile, would under this system be mainly in the hands of the Government. He was told that on Government nights Governments generally did not encourage oratory on the part of their supporters, and he could not help thinking, judging from his own feelings in addressing that audience of orators, that they must find the task of self suppression very easy. But once the Government had a time limit and was sure of its Estimates, instead of pressure being put on its own men to keep quiet the pressure would be to make them speak, because every Government speaker would displace an Opposition speaker, so that obstruction which had hitherto been the last support of a weak minority would become one of the arts of Government. It would no longer lurk on the back rows of the Opposition, but would cross the floor of the House and take its seat on the Treasury Bench. It was often said that Providence was on the side of big battalions, but the Government were not content with that ally and wanted the aid of the other Potentate. The First Lord of the Treasury had said that this was a question of choosing between the guillotine and the rack, but the right hon. Gentleman appeared to have forgotten that the guillotine was to be used by him and the rack was to be used upon him. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed to the inconvenience that resulted from Supply being pushed off until the end of the Session, but that very inconvenience, serious although it might be, made the Government anxious that the Estimates in arrear should not provoke suspicion or controversy, and was in some degree a guarantee of administrative purity. If this Resolution were to be adopted there would be an end of that guarantee. In that case they would be giving the Government the choice of subjects of discussion, and an unduly large share in that discussion, and he believed that in the existing circumstances of Party Government that would be a dangerous and a rash innovation. In conclusion he begged to thank the House for the courtesy with which they had listened to him, and he rejoiced that the first words he had addressed to them had been in defence of their most essential constitutional right and duty.

SIR W. HART DYKE (Kent, Dartford)

said, that he was not ashamed to claim the indulgence of the House, while he addressed a few observations to them on the subject of these far-reaching and important proposals. Speaking as an old Party Manager he could not help noticing that Her Majesty's Government thus early in their career appeared to be having a fairly lively time of it. He could not, however, complain either of the spirit of the speeches to which they had just listened from hon. Friends of his, because this was a subject in connection with which they ought to deal leniently and generously with the opinions and sentiments and even the prejudices of hon. Members, it being one that intimately concerned the proceedings and even the good name of the House. In his view Her Majesty's Government had taken a very bold step in bringing forward this Resolution and in the time in which they had brought it forward. He had always noticed that when such proposals as these were brought forward at the commencement of a Session, hon. Members on both sides of the House always received them with suspicion, if not with actual disfavour, and that they again and again opposed them with horror and alarm, whereas, when the holidays of July set in, and when the Order Book was completely blocked with Measures, and a Parliamentary deadlock occurred, the same hon. Members were ready to vote for some far worse and more stringent proposals which might be put forward for the purpose of getting them out of the difficulties in which they found themselves placed. Therefore, in his opinion, Her Majesty's Government in bringing forward these proposals at this period of the Session had done not only a bold thing but a wise one, because if the proposals received the assent of the House, they would receive the assent at the most advantageous time under the most advantageous conditions. As an old Member of the House, having had some experience in the working of Governments, he might say that he had found that every Government approached its work by earnestly resolving, at the commencement of the Session, to do two things—first, to take Supply early, and often, and next, not to overcrowd the Order Book, so as to conduce to a congested state of public business. Such resolutions as those were invariably made, and they were as invariably broken by every Government. As far as Her Majesty's present Government were concerned, if the number of Bills introduced were looked at, it would be seen that they had already fallen into the second trap to which he had referred. Supposing Her Majesty's Government were to proceed in the ordinary way, they would occasionally take the Estimates up and would drop them again, with the usual disastrous result. After giving very careful attention to the proposals which were now before the House, he had come to the conclusion that they were large and sensible in their character and that they were, in the main, subject to some modifications, deserving of a trial for one Session. ["Hear, hear! and laughter.] He was glad to find hon. Members opposite in such good humour that evening. He proposed that they should be tried for this Session as an experiment, with a view, if successful, of making them permanent. He had said that these proposals involved a very important question. Hon. Members must look upon proposals of this kind in the light of past experience, and they must ask themselves whether they were satisfied with the existing state of things. Those of them who had sat in the House, as he had done, for the last 30 years, had undoubtedly a great affection and respect for its old procedure, but they must feel that the time had arrived when, in some respects, that procedure required modification. What about the proposals before them? This was the first serious effort that had ever been made to take Supply in a business-like fashion. It was the first honest proposal that had ever been made to provide properly for the discussion of the Estimates. He quite admitted that objections which were well worthy of debate in that House had been raised against these proposals, and that many hon. Members on the Government side of the House were terrified at the extent to which those proposals went. He was not at all surprised at that. It was very natural that hon. Members should ask how and why it was that their own Government should at the commencement of a Session, and of a Parliament, bring forward such proposals. The Government however, had had in view the action of an ill-managed House of Commons, which, Parliament after Parliament, had stretched out their proceedings indefinitely, and that Governments, by permitting them to take that course had disgusted, not only their own followers, but those whose Votes had returned Members to that House. What had happened might have actuated Ministers in the production of their proposals. But then hon. Members on that side of the House said, with every show of reason: "We are willing to give up Fridays to the Government, but cannot for one instant sanction the application of the guillotine." He respected the objection to such a proposal, but in discussing it he would like to take two concrete instances. He would take two Sessions and consider the course of business—the Session of 1895 and the Session in which they were engaged. What happened in the early part of 1895 to the discussion of Supply? On March 11th and 12th, the Navy Estimates were considered; on March 14th and 15th, the Army Estimates; March 18th and 19th, Navy Estimates and Supplementary Estimates; and 29th April, the Navy Estimates, but the Civil Service Estimates were not taken until 24th May, and it was not until the 14th June when Class 1 of the Civil Service Estimates were taken. He need hardly picture what the concluding days of the Session would have been if a certain catastrophe had not happened to the Government. There would have happened what he had seen year after year in that House. He spoke, not as an hon. Member who went away for his holiday in August and left a scattered remnant of Members to conclude the business of the Session. He spoke as a Member who, for twelve years, was largely responsible for the business of the House, and as one who, for twenty years, had never paired. [Cheers.] But for the catastrophe which happened to the late Government, they would have found themselves in September discussing heavy Votes in Supply, with only a few stragglers of Members left. [Laughter.] Ten or fifteen—he spoke from experience—was generally the maximum number of Members who sat in the House towards the end of the Session to discuss Supply. He agreed that discussion on the Estimates was a valuable way of criticising administration, but under the system that had too often obtained, a more ghastly farce it was almost impossible to imagine. Before the wretched gagging rule was passed—which no one disliked more than he did, but it was a disagreeable necessity like having a tooth out—he had seen millions of money voted in a House of 55 Members—just enough to form a quorum. The Government themselves would constitute 35 or 37 of these. A pretty criticism of the Estimates! To pretend for one instant that there was any discrimination or difference between that and the guillotine, leaving, as it did, the Government absolutely omnipotent over a scattered remnant of Members! So much for the existing state of things, and he thought he was right in pressing for some support for these proposals. But it might be urged that there was something behind them, that the Government were trying to get more time to pass their Measures, that there were some old campaigners among them and that they would not unite in advocating these changes unless they were for their own benefit. Besides "the flowing tide" was with them. [Opposition Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite had been a little "down on their luck" lately. [Laughter.] It was said that when the flowing tide was with them they might be fairly satisfied with things as they were. As a second object lesson let them look at the present Session. Let him suppose that his Party were in Opposition, that these proposals were in force, that a proper number of days were accorded to Supply which was to be concluded by a certain day, and Parliament was to be concluded by the first week in August. If his Party were in Opposition and Measures were being introduced which they regarded as inimical to the best interests of the country, they would be in no worse position than they were now. They would stand in no worse position whatever under these proposals. Taking the Session as it stood, they had an early Easter; a vast number of important questions concerning foreign and colonial affairs must be considered during the Session, as well as great questions connected with the Navy. Unsuspected matters were always turning up. It was impossible for any Government to allocate its time for the Session without complete disappointment arising before it concluded; and under these proposals they on his side of the House, under the conditions he suggested, would be in precisely as good a position as they were today as regarded their duties as an Opposition. It might be as well for him to state in a little more detail his views with regard to the proposal to limit Supply to a certain number of days. First of all, they were taking a departure so grave that it was absolutely essential that the number of days allocated to Supply should be a very liberal percentage of the time taken in previous Sessions. He did not know whether it was considered that 20 days, or 160 hours, was sufficient, but his own idea was that 200 hours would be a fairer estimate. The next question to be asked was whether it would be possible to support these proposals without being most careful to secure that Supply should not be carried on in a helter-skelter fashion. There must be some method of systematising Supply, and of securing that not only big Votes should receive proper discussion, but that if necessary supply should be divided into something like instalments. He could not conceive that it was impossible, but so anxious was he to see these proposals adopted that, rather than not give them a trial, he would hand the matter over to a hybrid Committee of the House to consider. He should support the Resolution because it was one of the first steps that had been taken to release the House from a long-standing evil, which had done much to injure its popularity. As to the position of private Members, he thought one of the chief advantages of the proposal was that it would, if carried, once and for all do away with that most objectionable sham, the private Members' Friday evening. He believed there was no more ridiculous farce than what were called private Members' privileges on Friday evening. What miseries unfortunate private Members had to go through when they got the chance of utilising the wretched three hours on Friday evening. They had to exercise herculean efforts to keep a House, and then, after two or three counts out, the Government, having previously taken Tuesdays, came down and said: "If hon. Members cannot keep a House on Fridays, we will take Fridays as well as Tuesdays.'' He did not believe that under these proposals any Government would have more time for the discussion of Government business than they had under the existing system, and private Members would have a far better chance of bringing forward motions in which they were interested at the beginning of the week, when they had Tuesday evening to themselves. Provided Her Majesty's Government would concede the point that this should be only a Sessional Order, and would give some guarantee that in making this vast change in the proceedings of the House, the Estimates should be taken in proper order, and some security that the Estimates of the greatest importance should be taken first each day the House met, no vote he had ever given in the House would be given with greater assurance of the good it would do to that assembly and to the country at large.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

said, his right hon. Friend had gone into matters of detail rather than of principle. His right hon. Friend had told the House that in his judgment this motion of the Government would in practice work better than the present system. He did not defend the present system. He admitted that nothing could well be worse in practice than the manner in which Supply had been dealt with by successive Governments. In his opinion the main business of Parliament was the regulation and control of Supply. The House of Commons, as a constitutional body, ought to devote its chief and primary attention to the ventilation of grievances and the discussion of Estimates. If unofficial Members gave up all the Fridays in the Session for the consideration of Supply they would have done all that they could reasonably be called upon to do. If millions of money were sometimes voted by half a hundred members at an advanced period of the Session, it was the Government that was to blame for deliberately retarding the Estimates until a period of the year when they could not be discussed adequately. The First Lord of the Treasury had said that prolonged Sessions—which he joined his right hon. Friend in deprecating—had been caused in the past by the backward state of Supply. He denied that that had been the case. The real course of prolonged Sessions was the practice of Ministers of filching the time that ought to be devoted to Supply for the furtherance of measures which they thought would redound to their reputation. That was the real reason why Sessions had been unduly long. The moment it was given out by the Government that no further business would be taken except the winding up of Supply, there was no undue prolongation of the Session. When the Bills before the House had been disposed of, Supply always went through with a run. The First Lord of the Treasury, with the object of shortening Sessions, asked the House to sanction a great constitutional change. Hitherto he had been under the impression that the Conservative Party was sincerely and honestly opposed to the use of the gag. He remembered the Secretary of State for the Colonies saying that coercion was with one Party a settled policy, and with the other a hateful incident. He had himself believed hitherto, that when a Conservative Government found itself bound in the interests of the public service to curtail the liberties of Members, it regarded that course as a hateful incident. Now, however, it was to be a "settled policy." Before this new Parliament had had any opportunities of showing its capacity to deal with public affairs the Government asked them to curtail the privileges of Debate. The proposals of the Government as a whole constituted a deliberate encroachment upon the privileges of Parliament. He affirmed that the Government had advanced no good reason for this encroachment. Whilst he was ready to concur in the allocation of Fridays for the consideration of Supply, he thought the House ought to bear in mind that already, owing to successive encroachments upon Members' privileges in Committee of Supply, the Estimates no longer afforded, as they once did, full and free opportunities for criticising affairs of State and the conduct of the Government of the day. The right hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney), whom he saw in his place, would admit that during the period of his occupancy of the Chair in Committees, he drew the reins tighter and curtailed discussion as it had not been curtailed before, and it now came to this, that any Member who endeavoured to draw attention to any subject in Supply was liable at any moment to be pulled up and to be told that he was transgressing the limits of order, as the subject to which he referred did not fall within the ambit of the Vote. It behoved them, therefore, to be very careful before they parted with any privileges which they still possessed. If they consented to give up Fridays what course, he asked, did the Government intend to take with respect to Tuesdays? He might point out that private Members were already threatened with the loss of their first Tuesday in this Session. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, whose Notice stood first upon the Paper for to-morrow, was apparently to lose his opportunity. If private Members gave up their Fridays they ought to insist upon getting a guarantee that they would not be cheated out of their Tuesdays. He thought that the hon. Member for South Shields deserved the thanks of the House for the able speech he had delivered, and for having lifted the question outside the range of mere Party considerations. They had no guarantee that the proposal of the Government, applied in the first instance to Supply, would not be steadily advanced until it was made to curtail all discussion in future. Those who had gone in for a penny need not shrink from going in for a pound. If the Government took away the old constitutional right of the House of Commons with regard to Supply, ho wanted to know what security existed for freedom of debate on any subject whatever. As to the attitude of unofficial Members with regard to proposals of this kind, he ventured to say it ought to be one of strenuous resistance to proposals which they believed to be unconstitutional, uncalled for and unwise. They were now told that the Estimates would always be so arranged that no attempt would be made to take an unfair advantage of Members and so provide that awkward subjects would not be relegated to the time when the gag came to be applied. He was aware that his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, with his innate courtesy, always endeavoured to meet the general convenience of the House, and had never been known to press unfairly on what he conceived to be the rights or even the prejudices of those opposed to him. While he did not wish to raise any controversy with right hon. Gentlemen opposite, he thought that the First Lord of the Treasury was uncommonly bold in going bail, not only for his own conduct, but for the conduct of all those who might succeed him. His right hon. Friend the Member for Dartford had referred to incidents which occurred on May 24th, 1895, which was the day when the House for the first time went into Committee on the Civil Service Estimates last year. But his right hon. Friend did not remind the House of the agencies through which it was enabled to enter Committee of Supply. The discussion was on the Education Estimates—on Mr. Speaker leaving the Chair; and attention was being called to alleged improper conduct on the part of the Education Minister with regard to the Voluntary schools. It was a controversy which engaged a large amount of public attention. He had never hesitated to charge the right hon. Gentleman opposite with having placed unfair pressure on Voluntary schools by insisting upon rules as to cloak-rooms and things of that sort, with the view of ousting Voluntary schools out of existence. He did not say whether he was right or wrong in that view; but he said that the charge was a grave one and it was made by an hon. Member in a speech of considerable ability. Did the Minister wait with a view of rising in his place and stating the grounds on which he repelled that serious accusation? No! The Chancellor of the Exchequer got up and moved "that the Question be now put."


The right hon. Gentleman is not in order in criticising the exercise of the Closure on that occasion.


said, that his remarks should have partaken of a more general character, and he would simply say that there might be Ministers in 1905 who would follow the examples of previous epochs. The House might have the Estimates so arranged that Ministers would protect themselves by the Resolutions which the Leader of the House asked them now to adopt, and they might even shield themselves behind them when called upon to answer for their official conduct. He therefore thought that the House would realise that it was placing in the hands of the Government of the day a most dangerous power—a power which he would have urged, had the rules of Debate allowed him, had been exercised in a bad way in the past, but which in the future the House would not be justified in placing in the hands of any Government, however composed. This was in no sense a Party question. When the privileges of unofficial Members had been under the consideration of the House it had rather been the Gangway than the Floor which had formed the line of cleavage. Those who dissented from the proposals of the Government sprang from all quarters of the House. It was, perhaps, true that in the Division Lobby some hon. Members might hesitate to record one of their earliest votes against the leaders of the Party to which they belonged; but no Member who had any practical experience of the House of Commons would go into the Lobby in favour of these proposals with any feeling other than that of the deepest regret.


In rising to say a few words in reply, may I remind the House that there will be a full opportunity for hon. Gentlemen to deal with the most critical part of these proposals upon an Amendment which will come hereafter, and, therefore, I trust we shall now be permitted to begin the discussion of the details ["No!"] which will have to be dealt with before this Resolution is finally disposed of. It is apparent from the discussion that we are all agreed upon one or two very important points. Every speaker who has risen, to whichever Party he belongs, has admitted in the first place that the discussion of Supply as at present carried on is eminently unsatisfactory; in the second place, that it is impossible under the existing system that all the Votes should be discussed in any one year, and that the Resolution, whatever else it does, gives to the House a power of discussing all the Estimates of the year; and, in the third place, that the present method of finishing Debates in Supply is also eminently unsatisfactory. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down told us that if the House had really finished their ordinary legislation they never have any difficulty in "running through Supply." What does that mean? It means that when we do not run through Supply it is not because we wish to discuss Supply, but because we wish to stop legislation. [Cheers.] It means that the interest at present taken in Supply is largely imaginary, and has to do really with other interests altogether; and that if you only bring on Supply late enough in the dog days and only sit up late enough, you will get it through with very little discussion at all. I think, further, we are, or might be, all agreed that, if the proposals of the Government were carried into effect, there would be more time given for the discussion of Supply before the 5th of August. Here are the statistics of the last few years on that subject. In 1890, before August 5th, there were 21 days given to Supply; in 1891, 23 days; in 1892, seven days; 1893, 11 days; 1894, 13 days; and 1895, 18 days. So that the result of the proposal that the Government lay before the House is that the House will have a very much larger time given to the discussion of Supply before the 5th August than they have had on the average of the last five years. We are all agreed then as to the magnitude of the evil, and the only problem we have still to solve is whether the evils attached to the Government plan are so great as to outweigh what everybody admits are the merits and advantages which our proposals carry with them. I will briefly examine the main objections which appear in the speeches of hon. Gentlemen who have spoken to-night. In the first place we have been told by many speakers that the proposals are revolutionary. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, with tears in his voice, spoke of me as a traitor to the cause which he and I up to this unfortunate hour had been engaged shoulder to shoulder in attempting to carry forward. He has quoted speeches of mine made in connection with the Home Rule and other Bills, and he seems to think that these are in direct and violent contradiction of the proposals I am now making. He has hinted that this obnoxious Resolution is, after all, no scheme of mine, but the suggestion of sinister influences to which I ought not to listen. [Laughter.] If my hon. Friend had really considered not words but things, not phrases but realities, he would have seen that there is really no foundation for this charge which he has made. [Cheers.] He seems to think that there is a parallel between the proposals of the Government and the proposals which have been made by Unionists and Home Rulers in the past in connection with the closure of certain Measures. There is no resemblance at all. ["Hear, hear!"] I will not argue with reference to the Irish Crimes Bill, because I was one of those who voted in favour of that Measure; I will leave that to hon. Members on the other side of the House. But I will argue as to the action in connection with the Home Rule Bill; and I say that if that Bill was part of the ordinary policy of every Government; if it were brought forward every year as Supply is and discussed as Supply is—a First and Second Reading and the rest of it—every Session of Parliament as part of the ordinary administrative work of the country; and if I found that, in order to pass a Home Rule Bill every year in such circumstances, such and such a number of days was required; then I should not think that I was making a violent inroad upon the liberties of Parliament if I said, "it is better to give a certain amount of time to discussing the measure in May, June, and July, than to put off the chief part of the discussion until August and September." [Cheers.] The truth is that nothing can be more misleading than these parallels between Bills and Supply. ["Hear, hear!"] It is admitted by those most opposed to our proposals that all Supply cannot be discussed in one Session. Who has ever admitted that with regard to a Bill, and more especially with regard to a Bill which was to change the constitution of the country? [Cheers.] The truth is that the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who repose upon this imaginary parallel are cheating themselves with words and are not looking at the reality and truth of our Debates. They are feeding themselves upon empty phrases which have no real bearing at all upon our discussions in this House. ["Hear, hear!"] The next accusation brought against the Government is that they have startled the House with these sudden proposals—that there has been no cause shown why they should have been brought in at this time rather than another I have a few observations to make upon that. I notice that those who made this accusation were not those who took part in favour of bringing Supply to a conclusion in the middle of last August. [Cheers.] I am perfectly certain that every man who now listens and who was present during those Debates felt as keenly as I felt—and probably recorded a Resolution as strong as any that I then recorded—that that system was one which was absolutely intolerable. [Cheers.] And if I bring these proposals forward at a moment when the memories of those long nights have passed from our minds and have lost their vividness, I am not wrong in asking the House in cool blood to consider my proposals, and in not taking them when Members were irritated and driven almost wild by procedure which they thought to be gross obstruction, and when in their irritation they might have accepted proposals which cool reflection might cause them to condemn. [Cheers.] We must lay the flattering unction to our souls that we are better than our predecessors. This may be, and I believe is, an excellent House of Commons; but depend upon it all Houses of Commons, whatever Party may be in power, are very much alike; and all Governments have the same interest. It will be found that if you refuse this Rule the present Government will be compelled to follow the policy of their predecessors, and the present Opposition will follow the policy of their predecessors, and the result will be, as always, that we shall defer Supply until we are obliged to take it, and hon. Gentlemen opposite will obstruct it until they are obliged to give it. [Laughter and cheers.] The third objection is that in the hands of the Ministers of the Crown are already placed such powers of closure that further powers ought not to be asked for. I speak in the presence of a large number of Members who have great experience in this House—some of them have a unique experience—and they will admit that, though the Closure may be and must be used in Supply, it is an instrument absolutely powerless for getting Supply through. [Cheers.] A Vote is brought on; the people really interested in it say; and then, when the House is exhausted—and I will add, when the subject is exhausted—two or three other gentlemen—who make it a profession to come in at the tail of the Debates of this kind [Cheers.]—rise in their places and insist upon continuing the Debate. [Cheers.] The unfortunate Leader of the House is then placed in this dilemma. If he closures he loses a quarter of an hour in the Closure Division and another quarter of an hour in the Division on the main Question, with the additional result that his opponents' tempers are considerably ruffled and they are not at all in an amiable frame of mind for the discussion of the Votes coming on after. [Laughter.] It is therefore a choice between allowing the bores to talk themselves out [laughter.] or, by applying the Closure, arousing one of those storms which interrupt the smooth proceeding of business painfully and so unfortunately. ["Hear, hear!"] And when any hon. Gentleman talks of the ordinary closure being an adequate instrument for dealing with Supply, I would remind him that there are 148 Votes to be taken both in the Committee and on Report, and, leaving the question of discussion out of account, if we were to use the Closure there would be half an hour occupied on each Vote, and I leave to Gentlemen more expert at calculation than I am [laughter] to make out the number of days it would take to closure the Votes, leaving as I said, Debate altogether out of the question. I am told it would take 18 days. [An OPPOSITION MEMBER: "No, nine days."] Well, nine days then. [Laughter.] Including both Committee and Report of Supply, I think it would take nearly the whole of the time which we suggest is sufficient for the consideration of the Estimates. Therefore, I suggest that, although you may rely on the exhaustion and worry and weariness of bringing Supply to a close, you cannot rely on the Closure. ["Hear, hear!"] The next objection is that we have no plan for allocating the Votes within the limit of our 20 days. My idea is that if the time-limit be 20 days, or whatever period the House fixes, it should be left to the Whips of the two sides—and mainly, let me say, to the Whips of the Opposition—to determine the order in which the Votes should be taken. ["Hear, hear!"] I would put that suggestion even more strongly. I would say let it be left entirely to the Opposition Whips, if there were not such questions as the Army and Navy, on which hon. Gentlemen on this side would desire some opportunity for speaking, and on which, perhaps, there is not the same desire for debate on the other side. But, at all events, so far as the Government is concerned, we have no desire to interfere with the convenience of private Members, whether on this side or the other side, as to the mode in which these 20 days should be allocated. [Ministerial cheers.] The hon. Gentleman the Member for Mayo said, that if I would dangle before the Irish Members the hope of having one Friday in each month on which they might bait the Irish Secretary [laughter.] they would feel, whether they agreed to the Rule or not, that a good deal had been given to them. Well, the Estimates cannot be introduced until after Easter, and if it be possible I should be delighted to give to the hon. Member and his colleagues a Friday in April, May, June, and July, on which they could choose beforehand the Irish Votes to be taken and discuss them to their hearts' content. [Laughter.] There remains only one other argument, which was advanced in a very interesting speech by one of the two new Members who have to-night shown that the House has added to its ranks debaters of which we may be proud. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Robson), speaking against the Government, said that, if we were to allow the choice of the Votes to rest with the Government, all sorts of nefarious jobs might be hidden away in the Estimates and no opportunity would be given for bringing them to light. If the hon. Gentlemen were acquainted with the forms of the House he would see that that danger is illusory. ["Hear, hear!"] No doubt it is possible that, owing to the big Votes occupying so much time, a job in the lesser Votes might escape notice. But, let it be remembered, that on Report any subject relevant to the Vote is in order, so that if there is a job there will be an opportunity of bringing it to light and exposing the Minister responsible for it, ["Hear, hear!"] It is not possible for the Government to prevent an exposure of that kind, and I do not believe that any Government would ever try so to manipulate the arrangement of the Votes as to divert the discussion of what they believed to be dangerous topics. There remains but one objection I need call attention to, and I put it last because I wish to emphasise it. I know it has largely moved the minds of many hon. Friends behind me. They say:— We have got a good Government in office, and as long as they are in office they can be trusted not to abuse this Rule, and not to take undue advantage of the privileges which Parliament may give them, but when the inevitable change comes we shall have in office a Government who will turn the Rule to purposes unsatisfactory to us on this side of the House. The particular form in which this dark conspiracy is to effect its object has been adumbrated by critics on this side of the House; when Supply has been obtained in 20 days they are to go on with any number of enormous and monstrous Bills which the unhappy Opposition will be powerless to stop. I do not think a more visionary dream was ever offered by the misguided fancy of a Member of Parliament. [Laughter.] In the first place they must get through all their supplementary Estimates without any closure; they must pass an Appropriation Bill, finish this financial business, and then introduce what they can of their Bills. After Easter they have got their Budget, which they must bring in and discuss. Then it may be they will go on with this 20 days' Supply; and what will they get by it? Twenty days of Supply at the rate of four weeks means more than a month of the best time of the Session occupied. When they have had their 20 days, how are they better situated to pass wicked measures than if they had pursued the old course irrespective of Supply? I am quite sure our successors will be very bad men [laughter.], but, bad as they may be, I can see no weapon that is to be put in their hands by this Resolution to carry out the most nefarious designs. Let the Government remember what the late Government did in 1893. They spent the whole summer in passing the Home Rule Bill. They then spent a large portion of September in passing Supply, which the Opposition had no particular desire to give them. Then they brought us back for an autumn Session. They took 27 eight-hour days for Supply in that year. The Opposition were not anxious to give them Supply, but they got it in 27 days; and I put it to the House whether the Constitution, of this country depends upon seven days. Can there be a more grotesque, view than that you can make the difference between a productive and an unproductive Session for revolutionary purposes by taking 27 instead of 20 days for Supply? The thing is absurd. Those who hold out to you, for natural purposes, the nightmare that we are giving a precedent which they will use for extending the proposal are talking about imaginary dangers. If ever—which Heaven forbid—a Government comes into office which desires to prevent the fair discussion of legislation, do you suppose they will defer for 24 hours the passing of the rules necessary to carry out their designs? If we are to have a revolutionary Government, they will not be restrained by flimsy safeguards, but they will have a short cut to their object, and what we do to-day or to-morrow will not influence them in the slightest degree. I quite recognise what has fallen from some of my hon. Friends as to making the Rules a Sessional Order. ["Hear, hear!"] The only ground on which I suggested that the Rules should be permanent was that I have absolute confidence that they can be worked; but I feel the force of what has been said, and I will, therefore, regard it as an experiment to be tried for one year [cheers], to be dropped if the experiment proves a failure, to be made permanent if it proves to be a success, and to be amended if it proves in any way to be defective. ["Hear, hear!"] I respectfully urge that the House will, recognising this concession, not take any long time in debating matters the importance of which I fully admit, but with regard to which all the arguments in their favour may be summarised in a brief space of time. I hope, therefore, before Twelve o'clock strikes it may be possible for us to come to the Amendments. [Cheers.]


, who spoke at first amidst cries of "Divide," said there was an attack on the rights and privileges of private Members which they were bound to resist. They were then absolutely independent Members, and their object was to insist, as long as they remained there, on their rights and privileges as Irish Members. Now, of course, these Rules must be viewed by British Members in a different way. For 50 or 60 years they had been travelling on an inclined plane, so to speak. During that period great privileges had been taken away from Irish Members. There was within living memory that great privilege of presenting a petition and making a speech on it. That privilege had been taken away, although it was a remarkable thing that many large measures of reform had been introduced by private Members in a speech made in relation to a petition. Such reforms as Slave Emancipation and Catholic Emancipation had been introduced in this way. In 1870, before he had a seat in the House, the late Mr. Isaac Butt wrote in respect to the invasion of the rights of private Members. He pointed out that within the previous 30 years great changes had been made in the manner in which business was conducted in the House of Commons, and the direction of all the changes had been the abridgment of Debate and the curtailment of the privileges of private Members. The Irish Independent Members alone had a pure record in reference to the Closure. They had always opposed it, and in the first instance had the present First Lord of the Treasury as an ally. He contended that Supply was infinitely more important than legislation, and yet this guillotine resolution was not intended to apply to Bills. The granting of Supply was the appropriation of public money, and therefore this resolution was analogous to a garrotting process. They first tonguetied the representatives, and then appropriated the money which the representatives were there to help the Government to use properly. On October 26th, 1882, Mr. Gladstone declared that Supply was the most important business of Parliament, and therefore it ought to be the last to be submitted to the gag. Mr. Sclater-Booth, who now was either dead or a peer, actually proposed in the Closure Debate in the House of Commons in 1882, that the consideration of Supply should be exempt from the Closure. That proposeal was enthusiastically adopted by the whole mass of the Conservative Party, but now the first Act was to gag Supply. How had the Irish Members been met in this matter? He had been accused—sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly—of Parliamentary offences, but he had never been accused of obstruction, and it could hardly be applied persistently in regard to the granting of the necessary public money in that House. The money was sure to be obtained. What the Irish representatives wanted was, not to obstruct, but to be sure of their full opportunity and power of criticising the Estimates of the Government of the day, in order that it might be possible to bring every detail of Irish Administration before the public. The Debate had enlightened him on various points. The Government, for instance, had been reproached for having no programme; but the Debate had shown the contrary. Their programme apparently was to attack the privileges of the House of Commons. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] But the Leader of the House had proved that he was too clever by half. He had brought forward his Resolution without reckoning on the support he could command. His own Party had failed almost utterly to support him, and he must be a very courageous Minister if he persevered with a measure with such a dead weight attached to it on his own side. There was one thing he could assure the right hon. Gentleman, and it was that the Irish Members would never consent to have their right of criticism and discussion in Supply curtailed in the slightest degree.

And, it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow.

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