HC Deb 25 February 1896 vol 37 cc1092-102

moved:— That the consideration of the proposed now Rules of Procedure have precedence of the Orders of the Day and Notices of Motion on every day for which they may be appointed.

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

said, that he had anticipated that the Leader of the House would make some statement in support of this unusual Motion. The view which many independent Members in the House took with regard to the Procedure Resolutions was closely connected with the use to be made of Tuesdays; and in recommending his Resolution as to Supply last week, the right hon. Gentleman had made no mention of Tuesdays. It was always absurd for any hon. Member to complain of time being taken because of the sacrifice of some Motion interesting only to himself; but Tuesdays were now the only Motion days left to the private Members. The Leader of the House would admit that there were many questions of the highest importance to the country which could not be adequately raised in Supply and Private Members' nights were the only occasions on which attention could be called to questions which it was essential should be discussed if Parliament were to continue to discharge the functions which it had discharged in the past. He balloted very seldom for precedence on Tuesdays and Fridays last Session; but on one occasion he was successful, and his Motion was accepted by the House and acted on by the Government. This Session he was asked by a representative body to bring forward a Motion, and in the ballot he was fortunate enough to get the first place. He inquired what would be the best day to choose for his Motion, and was informed that the first Tuesday after the Address had been disposed of would be best. That day he chose therefore. That right hon. Gentleman had scoffed at the use which was sometimes made of private Members' nights; but the good use of that time depended on the certainty or uncertainty of Members being able to bring on the Motions for which they had secured a place. If there were uncertainty, Members refrain from balloting, because it was unwise to excite anticipations in the country which were not likely to be realised. The Government were evidently surprised by the early conclusion of the Debate on the Address, and were not prepared with their business on Thursday, and on Friday, Motions which were quite unexpected were brought forward. Yet now the Government were taking away the first opportunity which private Members, who had given due notice of their Motions, had of bringing those Motions forward. How was it possible to consider the right hon. Gentleman's Motion for taking Fridays without regard to the one remaining private Members' night? In 1869 or 1870, he remembered that the then Leader of the House appealed to him privately and publicly to give up to Government business a certain Tuesday he had secured for a Motion; but then a Government day was offered in exchange. But now times had changed. The Motion in which he was at present interested he had been asked to bring forward by the West Riding Textile Workers and Weavers Association—one of the bodies most representative of the working classes. It was in the terms of a Resolution passed at the Leeds Trades' Council, and supported by a large number of trade unions. The question (an Amendment of the Truck Act), was of more importance to the unorganised and feeblest portion of the labour of the country than to the organised portions; and if the great trade unions took up the question it was not in their own interest. Having himself inquired into the matter in every part of the country, he thoroughly believed that the Measure called for in his Resolution was more generally demanded by the working classes than any part of the Government programme destined for the benefit of the working classes. It affected all working people. The necessity for it was admitted by the Chief Inspector; and both the late and the present Home Secretary had said that the question deserved immediate consideration. The late Government in troduced a Bill, but by the present Government no promise of legislation had yet been made. The Home Secretary could not hold his office, and receive the reports made to him year after year, without recognising the urgency and importance of this question. It was hard, therefore, and it would be the cause of great regret outside the House, that when such a favourable opportunity presented itself of raising this important subject, the Government took that opportunity away.

MR. W. ALLEN (Newcastle-under-Lyme) rose to move the following as an Amendment to Mr. Balfour's Motion:— ''That, in view of the proposal of the First Lord of the Treasury to deprive private Members of Friday Motions, the House declines to give Tuesday to the Government at so early a period of the Session. He thought it was a very high-handed proceeding on the part of the Leader of the House to move a Motion taking away a private Member's right, when a most valuable Resolution was on the paper, without a single word of explanation. When oil former occasions Leaders of the House proposed similar Motions they always supported their Motions by weighty arguments, such as the urgency of legislation, but on this occasion not a word had been said on behalf of the proposal of the Government. The Government could not complain that they had been met by obstruction on the part of the Opposition; they got their Address in a much shorter time than they had expected, and yet the only reward the Opposition received was a Motion taking away the time for the discussion of two Resolutions—one on the Truck Act and the other on Mining Royalties—in which they were greatly interested. He thought such a proceeding was not calculated to aid the Government in getting through their legislation harmoniously during the Session. In the last Parliament there was a far larger and more contentious programme of legislation, and yet the Government made no attempt to take away private Members' time so early in the Session, but had allowed them many opportunities of bringing forward Motions. There was no reason for urgency in the present circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman was not pressed for time, and he had no very contentious Bills to bring before the House; and yet, with the prospect of a short and peaceful Session before him, he proposed to deprive private Members not only of their Fridays but of their Tuesdays a few days after the opening of the Session. As a protest against such conduct he would divide the House.


The hon. Gentleman's Amendment is not, I think, in order. It has been the practice to disallow an Amendment which merely amounts to a reasoned negative to a Motion of this kind. He proposed to substitute after the word "that," another proposition which merely gives a reason for rejecting the proposal, and is therefore out of order.


Then, Sir, I meet it with a direct negative.

MR. PAULTON (Durham, Bishop Auckland)

could not think that the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman was very wise in the circumstances. He was prepared to support the new Procedure Rule, and the reason which induced him to come to that decision was that he felt certain that under it Tuesdays would not be taken from private Members as in past Sessions. He was afraid that confidence was somewhat shaken by the present action of the Leader of the House. He could not think that that action would tend to further the object the right hon. Gentleman had in view. As it was not yet too late the right hon. Gentleman might reconsider his position as the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean was of great importance to the working classes.

MR. B. L. COHEN (Islington, E.)

desired to address one word to the House on behalf of the Irish evicted tenants. It was a course which it had not been his good fortune to be able to take up before. But hon. Members would recollect that the hon. Member for Waterford made an appeal to the Leader of the House on behalf of the Evicted Tenants' Bill which stood on the Paper for to-morrow. He did not wish to be understood as in favour of that Bill, but he wished to second the efforts of the Leader of the House in the direction of giving the Irish Members the opportunity of discussing a Bill which they thought of great importance. The desire of the Irish Members to get to that Bill would be frustrated by a lengthened discussion on a Motion that was neither intricate nor obscure, and he therefore put it to hon. Members opposite, who boasted of their monopoly of interest in Ireland, to justify that boast by allowing the House to come to an immediate decision on a perfectly plain Motion, which would give the hon. Member for Waterford the time he desired for the discussion of his Bill.

MR. R. McKENNA (Monmouth)

said, that if the Leader of the House would postpone his Motion until 9 o'clock, it would give to his right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean the opportunity of discussing his Resolution, which was as important to the working classes of Great Britain as the Evicted Tenants' Bill was to the people of Ireland. The Leader of the House asked private Members to sacrifice this day to the Government, in order that they might decide as to the desirability of sacrificing many more of their days. Was that reasonable in view of the attitude of private Members on the Opposition side towards the Government? The right hon. Gentleman could not say that they had shown any marked hostility to the proposals of the Government. There had not been a single half-hour of obstruction, and the right hon. Gentleman proposed to reward their want of obstructiveness by taking away their privileges. If the whirligig of time brought its revenges the right hon. Gentleman would have only himself to blame. He also had a Motion on the Paper in reference to Mining Royalties which was interesting to the working classes, but he would be quite willing to sacrifice it if the right hon. Gentleman gave time, by withdrawing his Motion till 9 o'clock, for the discussion of the Resolution of his right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean.


The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down asks me to admit on behalf of the Government that there has been nothing in the nature of an undue prolongation of Debate on the part of the Opposition this Session. I am glad to make the admission he asks for. ["Hear, hear!"] I hope he will on reflection make the admission to me in return that I am following strictly in the lines that Leaders of the House have taken on similar occasions in the past. I did not begin with a statement of the reasons for giving us these specific facilities until the new Rule is passed; but really no explanation is necessary. It is quite true that when the Leader of the House, at a later period of the Session, asks for more time for the Government, he explains that he is driven to do so by the backward state of the supplementary Estimates and the impossibility of fulfilling the requirements of the law without additional time; and then additional time is given him. If, still later, he asks for more time to pass Government Bills, he is naturally called upon to take a survey of the Session and to explain why it is he requires more time. None of these necessities exist now, and I thought the House understood that, in asking for the time of the House in order that this matter should be disposed of, I was only doing that which any reasonable man would do and which all my predecessors have done in similar circumstances. It is unfortunately impossible, when the Government have to take the time of the House, they should avoid interfering with Motions which have been put down. But this discussion arises out of the good nature of the Government, who had hoped to bring on this Resolution last Thursday, and if they had done so there is no reason why the Motions on the Paper should not have been taken to-night; but an appeal was made to me by the Irish Members and others to defer the discussion till Monday, and it is because we, without remonstrance, at once acceded to that request that the Motions on the Paper are interfered with. However valuable might be a discussion on the Motion of the right hon. Baronet (Sir C. Dilke), even the adoption of the Motion would not alter the law; and neither this Government nor the late Government require to be converted to the importance of the subject. Therefore the interests of the working classes will not suffer materially by the discussion not coming on. I am desirous that Wednesday should be given to an important Irish Bill on the Paper, but it does not rest with the Government to determine whether it shall be or not.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

said, he was in hopes the right hon. Gentleman was going to give them a precedent on which he was acting. For himself he could not call to mind any occasion when, so early in the Session, the time of private Members was pounced upon by the Government and taken for their business.


In view of the adoption of the new Rules of Procedure.


continued, that he could not recall a Motion of this kind being made in connection with Rules of Procedure. He must remind the House that, the moment the Queen's speech had been read from the Chair, the First Lord of the Treasury made a special Motion; and upon that Motion, by an elaborate system of ballot, Members obtained precedence for Motions, including the Motion of the right hon. Baronet opposite, which stood first on the Paper for that day, and the Bill which stood first on the Paper for Wednesday. The result of the introduction of the new business was to throw the whole of these proceedings to the winds and to resolve their arrangements into absolute chaos. What they had to decide was whether the arrangement of business was to be left to the chance of the moment, and whether everything was to be reduced to anarchy so that Members would never know whether a Motion would come on or not. If the Government would propose to take all Tuesdays or a certain number of Tuesdays then private Members would know where they were; but the system now inaugurated was almost without precedent. There might be a bad precedent for it in late years, but he could not recollect Government asking for additional time so early in the Session except for a very pressing and urgent reason. They ought to have some understanding as to what was to happen next Tuesday, when he desired to submit a Motion on Armenia; and they had a right to ask what course the Government intended to pursue with regard to that and following Tuesdays. There was nothing more disagreeable than for Members who were attached to these political principles to be continually finding fault with the arrangements made by those with whom personally and politically they were warmly associated. It would conduce to the dispatch of business if some indication could be afforded as to the way in which it was to be conducted.


I have the deepest sympathy with the wail of private Members on this occasion, and especially when it is consistent with their former action, as it is in the case of the right hon. Member for Thanet; but as regards the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, their interest in the case of private Members appears to be altogether new. Let me remind the House what has happened in recent years. In 1894 private Members had one Tuesday, and in 1895 two; and in 1893 private Members obtained three-and-a-half full days. I am not suggesting that these are desirable examples to follow; and the Government are not now proposing that any Tuesday but the first shall be taken. We are asking for that Tuesday in accordance with general precedent when it is desirable to complete a discussion on the subject of the Rules of Procedure. Hon. Members opposite who make such protests now were silent in the time of the late Government, when for three succesive Sessions private Members were practically deprived of all their Tuesdays. Hon. Members speak of Fridays; but in those Sessions when they had Fridays they had only evening sittings. Hon. Members who think we contemplate anything like that to which they have quietly submitted are very much mistaken, for nothing of the sort is intended.

MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

observed that the right hon. Gentleman had said that this proposal was in accordance with precedent; but if it was, why did he break through the precedent and try to make bargains with hon. Members on the back Benches? The Secretary of State for the Colonies justified the proposal as being in harmony with all the precedents. The right hon. Gentleman said it was in accordance with precedent that any Government making any proposal dealing with the procedure of the House, should take all the time until the question of procedure had been discussed and dealt with. But a short time before the right hon. Gentleman had shown himself willing to disregard this precedent, and to make a bargain here and another there if hon. Members would only deliver few speeches and make that progress with which he would be satisfied. The Secretary of the Colonies taunted right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House with their attitude when this question was before former Parliaments. But there was no analogy. In former Parliaments, whatever was done with regard to Tuesdays, they had the satisfaction of knowing that any Motions they had to bring forward they could move on the Friday evenings. But to-night, on a Tuesday which belonged to private Members, they were actually discussing Government business, namely whether or not the Government should take away Fridays. He contended there was no justification whatever for the action of the Government in taking away Tuesday, a private Members' night, in order to discuss whether they should also take Fridays away. The First Lord of the Treasury said that although they might to-night discuss the Resolution of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, they could not get any further forward with it, and that the discussion would be practically useless for legislative purposes. He differed from the right hon. Gentleman in that conclusion. The Motion which was first on the Paper dealt with an evil which was admitted both by the late and by the present Government. The late Home Secretary, indeed, brought in a Bill to deal with the evil, and he had publicly admitted the pressing need for legislation in this direction. Would the discussion of such a subject not be a practical result? He maintained it would be. Hon. Members might be able to convince the Government of the urgency of dealing with the matter. At any rate one result of such a discussion would be that the Government would see there was a possibility of bringing forward a Bill and passing it through the House without any prolonged discussion. There were two things hon. Members ought to have before this Debate concluded. They ought, in the first place, to have a pledge from the Leader of the House that when private Members' days were going to be taken in future, any discussions upon the proposals should be conducted on Government days. It was not fair on a private Members' day to come forward with a proposal to take away the remaining days which ought to have been appropriated to private Members. Let them have full notice, and let the matter be settled on a Government day instead of upon a day which did not belong to the Government at all. They had, up to the present, received no assurance as to what the Government were going to do with Tuesdays in future. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had said that in previous Sessions private Members had only one or two Tuesdays, and that therefore the present could not be much worse than previous Sessions. But what was the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman himself when these proposals were made? The right hon. Gentleman had taunted other right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House on their attitude in not opposing proposals of the kind when made by the late Government; but there was not one single such proposal in any Session in the late Parliament that the right hon. Gentleman himself did not oppose to the utmost of his power, so that if right hon. Gentlemen of the Opposition were inconsistent, they were inconsistent in good company. They ought to have an assurance from the Government that this Tuesday was only taken under very urgent circumstances, and that in future Tuesdays would not be taken, or if they were, adequate notice would be given of any such proposal, together with ample time for discussing it.

MR. H. H. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)

desired, if possible, to narrow the area of controversy which this Motion had aroused. He thought the Government were fully alive to the importance and urgency of dealing with this question of fines and deductions from workmen's wages referred to in the Motion of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean. He was certain no subject was more interesting to the working classes, nor was there one in which an amendment of the law was more generally called for by their representatives without restriction of party. If the Government would give an assurance either that they would provide time for the discussion of this question on some future day, or, what would be infinitely better, that they would themselves be prepared to submit to the House legislative proposals dealing with the matter in the course of the Session, he thought that most hon. Members would be satisfied with that assurance and would not oppose the Motion any further.


was prepared to promise that a Bill should be introduced by the Government on the subject, and if it was regarded as a non-controversial Measure, there would of course, be no great difficulty in passing it.

The House divided:—Ayes, 336; Noes, 125.—(Division List No. 13.)