Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [20th February]:—
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."—(The First Lord of the Treasury.)
§ Question again proposed:—Debate resumed:—
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
, who, in continuation of his speech, which was interrupted last night at midnight by the Standing Orders of the House, said that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury could scarcely be congratulated upon the success of his proposals for saving the time of the House, seeing that, in the discussion upon them, already two days had been wasted. 1104 The right hon. Gentleman had, in the course of his observations, suggested that this was a subject for compromise, but in his view there ought to be no compromise entered into by hon. Members which would have the effect of curtailing their rights and privileges. It was impossible that the rights and privileges of private Members could become a matter of compromise, or of bargain and sale between those Members and the Government. If he had any influence with his hon. Friends he should ask them most earnestly not to accept any compromise which would touch, by one hair's breadth, their rights and privileges. He should call upon them not to touch the unclean thing. He wanted to know who was the father of these proposals. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury was their putative father, but he wanted to know who was their real father. To do the right hon. Gentleman justice, he did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman, with his high and elevated tone of mind, could have formulated these proposals, which appealed to the worst instincts of hon. Members. The Resolution was so drawn as to fit in with the personal convenience of hon. Members, and was not intended to meet the wishes and desires of their constituencies. Private Members were sent to the House for the service of their constituencies and not in order to take holidays at such times as might be most convenient for themselves. For his own part he should be glad if that House were to sit all the year round, and if they made Rules of the House to suit their private convenience they would be acting the part of unjust stewards in this matter. He doubted whether hon. Members fully realised the effect that these Rules would have upon the Irish Members, who refused to have any official connection with either one side or the other in the House. As far as the Irish Members were concerned these Rules would act like a muzzling order. He did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury was really the author of these proposals, but he rather thought that he could trace the authorship of them. When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking last night he made some small mistake, and was at once put right by the 1105 right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies. The Irish Members in opposing these proposals were fighting for their Parliamentary rights and privileges, and the right hon. Gentleman had no greater rights and privileges in that House than any private Member had. The Irish Members demanded that those rights and privileges should be safeguarded and preserved, whatever alterations might be made in the Rules of their Procedure. How was it that these proposals were supported by the party who had always professed to be the guardians of the Constitution? Why, no more unconstitutional proposals had ever been laid before that House than those which were embodied in this Resolution, Those proposals constituted an invasion of the rights and privileges not only of private Members, but of their constituencies, of the most vital kind. The proposals had been supported on the ground of pure benevolence, on the pretence that they were to do hon. Members good. But it was impossible to do them good against their wills. The right hon. Gentleman had relied upon the evidence of experts to which but little weight was attached in the Courts of Justice. There had been during the last few years a growing tendency to attack the rights and privileges of private Members by means of so-called new Rules of Procedure. The attack had commenced in 1878 and was continued in 1881 and 1882. In 1887 Mr. Arnold, in opposing one of these attacks, had prophesied that the Closure, which was then only proposed to be applied in the case of a single measure, would in time come to be the general rule of the House. That prophecy was now altogether fulfilled. He remembered that a great sensation was produced by those words, and that there was a murmur of "No, no" when they were uttered. But here they had their fulfilment. Were hon. Members to do their best to get into Parliament, and when they got there, were they to form part of the retinue of hon. Gentlemen opposite? That was not his idea. So long as he was in Parliament he would never be tongue-tied by any Resolution. Where did the First Lord of the Treasury get his constitutional law when he contended that the discussion of questions in Supply was not nearly so important as an ordinary 1106 Second Reading? He did not know where that doctrine was to be found. He had always understood that discussion in Supply was the great safeguard against grievances. Did hon. Gentlemen opposite know what they were doing? Did they not know that they were doing much more than suppressing obstruction? Did they not know that there was no method whereby a private Member could, in the slightest degree, attack the foreign policy of a Government on great questions of peace and war, except by calling attention to it in the Vote for the Foreign Office? It was incredible that any such proposal as this could be made. It was amazing to him to hear hon. Members who had been but a few days in the House get up and tell the House how admirable the proposed Rules were. It was only evidence of the ignorance of a large proportion of Members in the House. They were willing to rob themselves of the only privilege they had because they knew nothing whatever about it. For his own part, he would not give up to the dearest friend he had one atom of his Parliamentary privilege. Those who opposed the Resolution were trying to defend their rights, and they were determined to do it. The right hon. Gentleman was in the forefront of the fray, with the Irish Members during the discussions of the Irish Land Act of 1881, and a very capable disciple they found him. The first line of that Act occupied four days, and the first clause occupied nine days.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member forgets that the subject before the House is the mode of procedure on Votes in Supply, and to go into the history of the conduct of an hon. Member on a Bill is irrelevant.
§ MR. MACNEILL
bowed to the ruling of the Chair, and proceeded to contend that this proposal was insidious, in that it affected Supply and did not affect ordinary Bills. They were on the downward grade, and he was sorry to think that a Conservative Government should be the first to lead this crusade against the privileges of the House of Commons. He hoped that, whatever else they might call themselves—and they gave themselves many different names—they would no longer presume to call themselves the Constitutional Party.
§ SIR R. T. REID (Dumfries Burghs)
said, that it was his intention to support the Resolution throughout. Anyone who had been in the House as long as he had been would know that Supply had been for many years a scandal. ["Hear, hear!"] The health of Members had been impaired, the proper business had not been taken, while immaterial business had occupied much time, and it seemed to him that the honour and dignity of the House of Commons had suffered very severely in consequence. ["Hear, hear!"] Therefore, notwithstanding his aversion to all measures of the character of the guillotine, he thought that these measures were unavoidable. Each Government that had proposed any alteration in the direction of the Closure had found that the succeeding Government had not only followed, but bettered its example. This step was rendered necessary by the fact that the House of Commons had far more business on its shoulders than any such assembly, by any amount of diligence, could by any possibility discharge. ["Hear, hear!"] There were only two ways by which the difficulty could be met. The first was a method which it was useless to discuss in the presence of the majority he saw before him. It was the method of devolution, of enabling Parliament to get rid, by way of Home Rule, or whatever other name might be applied to it, of a large amount of its present business. Since they were not able, even if they were all willing, to do the business of the country, they ought to commit some of it to hands that were able and willing to do it. He hoped that the progress of opinion that had led the Conservative Party from opposition to all Closure to this proposal, would bring them to see that they could safely devolve to different parts of the country a very great portion of the business of the House. Meanwhile, they, on his side of the House, could wait patiently until the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite should come round to their way of thinking, and until that occurred they must be content with what they could get. He agreed that the proposal now made was an imperfect method of meeting the difficulty, but it was the only method by which it was possible, by establishing some time-limit for the transaction of 1108 business, that the House could, in some degree, discharge the work before it. He should be sorry if the Irish Members had to suffer, but he did not believe that they would suffer, because most Members of the House were determined that they should have fair play in Debate. It was his conviction that the cause which the Irish Members advocated, a cause that must prevail by its own justice, had not been served but disserved by any obstruction that had been indulged in. It could not advantage the cause of Home Rule that Irishmen should have recourse to methods which were dishonouring to the reputation of Parliament.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
said, that he had seen these Resolutions on the notice paper with surprise and regret, and he found it impossible to support these Resolutions as they stood at present. He could not but think that some of the support which the Government had received from the other side of the House ought to be viewed by them rather in the nature of a warning than as an encouragement to persevere with these proposals. What was the main argument of some hon. Gentlemen opposite in favour of the Resolutions? It was that they would enable an immense mass of legislation to be passed through that House, legislation which included, of course, a Home Rule Bill. But neither the Conservate Party nor the country wanted a plethora of legislation. Rest and good administration at home and abroad, were the real desire of the people. The Resolutions as moved by the First Lord of the Treasury were crude and revolutionary. They were crude because they were, by the confession of Ministers themselves, incomplete and open to much amendment. They certainly needed amendment in the direction of breaking up Supply in compartments, and a term must be fixed towards the usual close of the Session to the period during which legislation could be actively proceeded with. These Amendments were vital to the scheme, and yet they found no place in the right hon. Gentleman's original plan. The proposals of the Government were also revolutionary, and that was the chief reason why he could not support them. Many Members now on the Ministerial side of the House 1109 had denounced the gag and the guillotine when they were proposed by the late Radical Government, and they could not consistently support such extreme expedients when they were proposed by the Conservative Leaders. The only difficulty that he felt in opposing these unhappy proposals was the fact that these Resolutions were proposed by the right hon. Member the Leader of the House. That fact was practically the only argument in favour of these proposals, and it was, looking to his great ability and popularity, he admitted, a very strong argument. Leaving that factor out of consideration, there was little or nothing that could be urged in support of the proposed plan. He objected specially to the proposal for a fixed automatic time Closure; but he admitted that the adoption of this as a Sessional Order merely was some amelioration of the situation. He protested against the principle of the gag as being not only contrary to the immemorial practice of Parliament and the theory of the Constitution, but as likely to be most injurious and disastrous to the interests of the Conservative Party and the Constitution in future. The right hon. Gentleman had been warned, for had not the Leader of the Opposition told the Government distinctly that this change would not stop at Supply, and would be applied to Bills. And when it was applied to Bills and a Radical Government was in power, there could be no doubt that an immense mass of revolutionary legislation would be forced through the House by means of this gag and guillotine. There were now comparatively few Members of that House who had seats in the eventful years between 1880 and 1885. There were, therefore, but few Members who could realise what the tyranny of a big Radical majority was. The Radical Ministry between 1892 and 1895 was always in a precarious condition—not in a condition to tyrannise over the House; but if these Rules had been in existence from 1880 to 1885, probably not a single institution in this country would have remained untouched. Supposing that five or six years hence there was a Radical majority of 140 such as existed in the years 1880–1885, the Members of the present Government would find that they had forged shackles by which they would themselves be firmly bound, and 1110 that their present so-called reform of procedure would be used for the destruction of all that they held most dear. He would make an observation with regard to certain statements that had been made respecting the old constitutional theory that the redress of grievances should precede the voting of Supply. He was sorry to hear the Leader of the Opposition ridicule that theory, but he was not surprised, because most constitutional theories were at some time or other ridiculed by the present occupants of the Front Opposition Bench. But however much it might be ridiculed, that theory had been for hundreds of years the basis of the Constitution, and it was so still. The redress of grievances ought to precede the voting of Supply, and the right of calling attention to grievances, and, if need were, the reiteration of grievances on the Votes, constituted the main bulwark of the liberties of the House of Commons and of the people, whom the House of Commons represented. Of course a Vote given in support of a certain specific Closure necessary for the completion of some particular Act of legislation, regrettable as even such a remedy must be, was a very different thing from a Vote given for a fixed and permanent guillotining rule. They all knew that a time came near the end of a Session when with regard to some great Bill special measures might have, to be taken; but his argument was that every case of the kind ought to be judged separately on its own merits, and that it should be left to the whole House to decide in each particular case whether it was necessary that the gag should be applied or not. The work and the rights of private Members had been steadily underrated during the Debate. The great bulk of valuable legislation passed by the House had been originally initiated and brought to public attention by private Members on Tuesdays and Fridays. Not only had these private Members' nights been of the greatest advantage to the House as a whole but they had paved the way for valuable legislation thereafter. It was probable that this Resolution would be passed. He did not think, however, that the general feeling of Conservative Members was in favour of it, if he might judge by private conversation. There was a very widespread feeling of 1111 regret that the proposal had been introduced in its present form; but he had no doubt that the devotion of the Conservative Party would lead them into the Lobby in support of the greater portion of the proposals. Assuming that to be the case, he wished to appeal to the Leader of the House with regard to one alteration which he thought would go some way towards making this Rule at least tolerable. He referred to the division of Supply into compartments. The right hon. Member for Bodmin, with his unique experience of procedure, laid great stress on the necessity of dividing Supply into compartments; and in his opinion that was the only way in which this Resolution could be prevented from working grave mischief and preventing the discussion of important questions in Supply itself. He had an Amendment on the Paper dealing with this question. He did not wish the Government to divide Supply into compartments, for the Closure to be applied at the end of each period, but he wished to see a certain proportion of days out of the 20 allotted by Government to the discussion of the different classes of Estimates. If the Government introduced some such system of division of time among the Estimates they would remove a good deal of the objection at present felt to the new proposals.
*SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.) rose to move the Amendment standing in his name, providing that:—
A Select Committee be appointed to consider the proposals of the Government on the Business of the House, and that such Committee have power to make additional or alternative recommendations.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
on a point of order, said that there were several Members who proposed to speak on the general question. If the hon. Member moved his Amendment those hon. Gentlemen would be prevented from continuing the general discussion.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that hon. Members would not necessarily be cut off from the general discussion. After the Debate had lasted a considerable time the Speaker called upon any hon. Member who intended to move an Amendment, and thus he had called upon the hon. Member for South Islington. The moving of the Amendment might 1112 preclude the general discussion, but on the Amendment almost every question which had been debated yesterday and to-day was open for Members to discuss.
§ MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
Do I understand that the general discussion cannot be renewed before the Amendments are gone through and that we are now to go through the Amendments?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that so far as nineteen-twentieths of the general discussion was concerned, it might take place on the Amendment to leave out all after line 7.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
said, he still retained the opinion that these Resolutions were not only insufficient and inadequate on certain points, but they ought to be more comprehensive in character in order to effect the object they had in view. He still thought that the proper and best way of attaining their purpose would be consideration by a Select Committee. It would render the procedure more deliberative than it possibly could be in the whole House, in itself a source of danger, and would enable precedents and alternative proposals to be considered, and it would have the great advantage of enabling the House as a whole, through a representative Committee, to deal with its procedure which should reflect the general opinion of the House rather than bear the appearance of having been imposed upon it either by a mere Party majority, or by the Government of the day. He thought also that some opportunity should be given of more fully considering the proposals. The more they were debated the more in his opinion did they disclose dangers and doubts. There had been intimations thrown out in the course of the Debate that the Government would probably accede to the views expressed that this proposal should not remain a Standing Order but be merely made a Sessional Order. If that was so he would be satisfied, and would not move his Amendment, because practical experience and trial for some temporary period would be some, though not a better, substitute for previous careful consideration.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, he had no hesitation in saying that the Government recognised the desirableness of seeing how this 1113 Resolution would work experimentally one Session, before it was decided to embody it in permanent legislation.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. Member would be out of order. It would be impossible to deal with a Resolution of this kind if after the Amendments had begun, or while they were being gone through, hon. Members intervened with a general discussion. After the Amendments were gone through, then it was open to take a general discussion if the House was disposed to listen further; but practically hon. Members could review the general discussion on the Amendment at the end of line 7.
§ On the return of MR. SPEAKER after the usual interval,
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, the Amendment he proposed to move was on the Paper in the name of his hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Burghs (Mr. Lloyd-George) who was very anxious to move it. But as his hon. Friend was not present, and as he had a somewhat similar Amendment on the Paper, he would ask the House to adopt the proposal. At present the whole of Friday was taken away by the Government for Committee of Supply; and the proposal of the Amendment was that on Fridays there should be morning sittings; that the Government should have from 2 to 7 o'clock for Supply; and that at the evening sittings, beginning at 9 o'clock, private Members should have the opportunity of proposing the Resolutions for which they had secured places in the ballot. A good deal had been said against the Resolutions of private Members. It was asserted that they were mere abstract propositions; and they served no good purpose; and no one gained by having them discussed; and that the sooner they were abolished the better. It was also said that every criticism that could be raised by Resolution against the Government could be better raised in Committee of Supply. That was our entire mistake. There were a vast number of subjects that could not be discussed in Committee of 1114 Supply. Complaint could be made in Committee of Supply of what the Government had done; but complaint could not be made of what they had not done; and very often their sins of omission were of greater importance to the country than their sins of commission. He did not say that private Members' Resolutions were all of very great importance. Everybody, perhaps, had not a proper sense of proportion. Resolutions were the result of the ballot; and he had often urged that the way to meet Resolutions of trifling importance which had not the concurrence of 40 Members was that everybody should have the right to move a Committee, and that if the Committee were successful the House, instead of adjourning, should pass to the next Resolution on the Paper. Why that should not be done he could not understand; and if it were done it would give the House a very necessary power of selection between different Resolutions. The proceedings of Friday last had been quoted as an example of the uselessness of private Members' nights. He had not had the advantage of being present in the House that night, but he saw by the newspapers that some valuable suggestions were made by various hon. Gentlemen on important subjects. These Resolutions might not have an immediate effect on the country, but the hon. Gentlemen who moved them were sowing in order that they might eventually reap. For his part he had no doubt that private Members' Resolutions fulfilled a very useful purpose. They would find that the source of all reforms could be traced to this power of private Members to move Resolutions, First there was a feeling outside the House in favour of some reform; then a Resolution was moved in the House; it was beaten perhaps three or four times, but it was persisted in, and if it at all accurately gauged public opinion the majority against it gradually decreased, and in the end it was passed. Then the Government shirked—as they usually did—bringing in a Bill to deal with the subject, and again the Resolution was moved and carried, until the pressure of public opinion compelled the Government to give it legislative effect. Now, if there was no power of moving Resolutions they would never have arrived at that point. His name, for instance, 1115 was associated with a Resolution, against the House of Lords. The first time he proposed it there were only about three Members in its favour. In the end the whole Liberal Party supported it. Of course, it was perfectly true that when the Liberal Party were in power they did not fulfil their duty by giving effect to the Resolution—a fact which had shaken his confidence in the Liberal Government—but he thought the overwhelming defeat which the Government had sustained at the General Election was due to this dereliction of duty. [Laughter.] These Resolutions undoubtedly did great good; and it would be a great mistake to prevent their being moved. He thought there was a certain method in the action of the Government. The object of the Motion was not to expedite business. It was intended to relieve the Liberal Unionists from a difficult position. The Liberal Unionists professed to their constituents that they were still Liberal. They were consequently in favour of Resolutions of reform. But on the other hand they were now less of a Party which supported the Government. Therefore the Government, very wisely from their point of view, said:—If we can put an end to these Resolutions, or reduce them in number, we relieve our Liberal Unionist supporters from the difficulty in which they find themselves in regard to those proposals.He did not see the First Lord of the Treasury in his place. He did not complain of the absence of the right hon. Gentleman, for he could not be always in the House. But the Secretary to the Treasury was present, and no doubt he understood a great deal more about the Estimates than the First Lord of the Treasury. He was sure the Secretary to the Treasury must deeply regret that he could not second the Amendment. [Laughter.] But he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman whether he was prepared to stand up, with his post behind him [laughter], and tell the House that he did not consider it right or proper that private Members should have the small modicum of time asked for in the Amendment, and left to them in order that they might at least have the chance of moving one Resolution per week. He begged to move in lines 2 1116 and 3, to leave out "so soon as the Committee of Supply has been appointed and Estimates have been presented," and insert "after Easter the House do meet on Fridays at 2 o'clock, and that."
§ MR. ALLEN
seconded the Amendment, and said he endorsed the plea for private Members which had been made by the Mover. If the Government would consent to modify their plan and to leave to private Members Friday evenings, he did not think it would make much difference to them getting Votes in Supply, and it would meet the wishes of many private Members. Exception was taken to finding time for what were called frivolous Motions, because there was less and less danger of their coming on, because it was becoming a custom for Members to ballot in groups who had agreed to support a particular Motion, and thus the Motions of individual Members had less chance of securing days. When last Friday was pointed to it must be remembered that the ballot for that day took place when it was thought that other business would not be concluded, and when it was believed that the first chance of securing a discussion would be on that day. The House would not make the great difference between the Motions down for last Friday and those on the Paper for this day. When Members had a fair chance of securing a discussion, it would be found that the subjects put down were of general interest. The Government did not act straightforwardly in discrediting Friday Motions by referring to those of last Friday. There were many matters which could not be brought forward except by Resolution, and it was important that the way of expressing their views should be reserved to private Members.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. R. W. HANBURY, Preston)
said, he was afraid that if he were in Opposition he would not be able to accept the Amendment. As a matter of fact, it was a Motion in favour of Resolutions as against Supply being set up on Fridays. ["No, no."] At any rate, it was a Motion in favour of Resolutions as against discussions in Supply. Since he took an interest in this subject he had hardly ever advocated Resolutions as against Supply. He always believed that discussion of Supply was much 1117 more practical than general discussions on Resolutions. He had always felt that Supply afforded to private Members their greatest privilege—that of criticising the proceedings of the Administration. Therefore, when he was quoted as being in favour of Resolutions as against the ordinary business of Supply, he had to point to his past history and to say that, while he had advocated the rights of private Members, it had always been in the direction of the practical work of Supply rather than of abstract and academic discussions on Resolutions. It being admitted that the work of Supply was the more practical work of the House, the Amendment was intended to curtail the opportunities of discussing Supply, while the object of the Resolution of the Government was to increase opportunities for discussion in Supply. Therefore, it was utterly impossible for the Government to accept the Amendment, which would curtail those opportunities in two directions. It would give a portion of a day instead of a whole day, and it would postpone the operation of the Resolution till after Easter. The Amendment would, therefore, defeat the objects the Government had in view.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
said, it had been found difficult to get 40 Members to return to the House at 9 o'clock on Friday evenings, and in the last Parliament Members who desired to secure a House took to feeding a certain number of Members in order to keep them on the premises. [Laughter.] The whole tendency of the Resolutions of the Government was to throw more weight and more power on to the Front Benches, and the effect of that would be that there would be more set Debates during the Estimates. He did not think private Members would lose much by losing Friday evenings; but they would lose a little. If the House thought it desirable to continue with the sittings let it do so; but there were many things to be said on the other side of the question, and, on the whole, he thought he should Vote with the Government.
§ DR. CLARK
said, that one of the effects of Governments depriving private Members of opportunities for bringing grievances before the House was to drive them to do so in an illegitimate manner. 1118 A few years ago they had the right of "grievance before Supply" on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays; and when the right was taken away on Mondays and Thursdays, Mr. Gladstone said that Fridays would never be surrendered. Now they were to be limited to three occasions on which a division could be taken on going into Supply, once for the Navy, once for the Army, and once for the Civil Service. It was in these Estimates that the Amendments sought to retain a part of the day for private Members, while giving to the Government the morning sitting. The last relic of the old power of private Members to bring forward grievance was being swept away. His hon. Friend thought they could bring them forward in Supply, but they could not unfortunately. They would have to bring them forward in instalments, and they would occupy as much time in discussing one instalment as they would in discussing the whole question. There was one great question which they could not enter into as far as he was concerned. They had Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and Colonial Affairs, but they had no Estimates for India. Indian Affairs could not be discussed except on a Motion to leave the Chair on Friday night. The result of previous attempts to take away the time of private Members was to compel them to move the adjournment of the House or to bring the matters forward on the Address, and that was why in the last few years—for eight or ten years—the Debate on the Address had been spun out. If they could not bring it forward in one way, they would in another. So it would be again. They could always make sure of 40 Members, so that instead of bringing a subject up in a regular form they were driven to moving the adjournment of the House. He contended that this irregular procedure would waste more time than if a subject was brought forward in the proper manner. The condition of things was now worse than before, when the Government put off Supply to the end of the Session, and then rushed 8, 10 or 16 millions through between 10 and 3 in the morning. This question might be finished to-night if there was a division of time made between the Government and private Members. He wished to point out to the 1119 Government that, if they tried to prevent a fair and legitimate mode of expressing grievances, they would not save the time of the House but waste it.
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
said, he should like to say a few words on behalf of the most oppressed minority in the House—the minority consisting of Members who occupied themselves about Indian questions. He should like to ask the Leader of the House what he was able to do for that group of Members? At present they had lost their Fridays, but nothing whatever had been given to them instead. The Leader of the House had promised to some Members that they would have better opportunities in Supply of bringing for ward grievances, but this did not apply to Indian questions, as not a single item of Indian expenditure appeared upon the Imperial Estimates. Therefore there would be no opportunities for bringing forward Indian grievances. He must point out that those Members who tried to support the cause of India required the fullest indulgence of that House. They had no Voters behind them. He thought he might say that in bringing forward Indian grievances any hon. Member had a difficulty and a danger to confront. The subjects were unfamiliar and even distasteful to the House. Anyone who brought an Indian subject forward was likely to be regarded as a bore, and that was a danger at which the stoutest Parliamentary heart might quail. The one really valuable weapon was the power of making objection upon the Estimates.
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN
claimed that if Fridays were to be taken away some equivalent should be given. The way he would suggest was that the salary of the Secretary of State for India should be brought into the British Estimates.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not entitled to argue that Indian finance should be dealt with differently from the way in which it is now dealt with.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 191; Noes, 84.—(Division List, No. 14.)1120
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES moved in line 5 to insert "after two days' previous notice," after "on the Motion." As the paragraph now stood it laid down—
That as soon as Supply has been appointed and the Estimates have been presented the business of Supply shall (until it be disposed of) be the first Order of the Day on Friday.
Then came the proviso—
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.
That proviso put it in the power of a Minister of the Crown at any moment, without any notice, without any reason assigned, without any Debate, without anything but a Division, to abrogate the rule. That was a very dangerous power to give to a Minister, a power he should not seek. It was well to recollect that by a later portion of the Resolution, Standing Order 17, which gave a Member power to move the adjournment of the House on a definite matter of urgent public importance upon the rising of 40 Members and the Speaker's permission was to be abrogated. While no Member of the House other than a Minister would have power to stop the Juggernaut car of Supply, her Majesty's Government would have the power to do it at any moment on any Friday, without notice or without reason given. The Government proposed to take to themselves more power than they would leave to the whole of the House itself. To meet the convenience of the Irish Members, who, on account of the distance they had to travel, occupied an exceptional position, the First Lord of the Treasury had offered to give them the first Fridays in May, June, and July. [The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY: "A Friday."] If that arrangement, were made Irish Members might find when they arrived at the House on one of the Fridays, and no sooner, that the Government had determined at the last moment to take away that particular Friday. The matter was one really of bargain between the House at large and the Government, and therefore it was hard indeed that while the House was to give up its privileges, the Government should retain the power of taking the Friday, suddenly, and at the very last
moment, without giving the House any quid pro quo, and moreover be able to take the day, without reason assigned and without Amendment or Debate. That was not a fair bargain. ["Hear, hear!"] In the case of the Irish Members it might, as he had said, operate very hardly. They might come over from Ireland on purpose to take part in a Debate on certain Estimates, and when they came to the House they might find that the Government, without notice, announced that they intended to take the day for some other purpose. In the same way any private Member might be treated in the same way; he might absent himself from the House, in the belief that some triviality was to be discussed, but in his absence the Government might suddenly, and without any notice whatever, take the Friday and bring on some question in which he was deeply interested. ["Hear, hear!"] That would be extremely inconvenient and unfair, and he contended that the power referred to should be exercised only on fair notice. The whole of the merits upon which those proposals had been recommended were based on the contention, that by means of them there would be a certain amount of system in the work done, and foreknowledge of what was going to happen, on Friday; but unless notice was given they could never be sure that the plan would be carried out. He, therefore, thought that his Amendment commended itself to the consideration of the Government, and he trusted that they would not refuse to give the two days' notice asked for. If they refused to do so, then he urged that the power should not be given without Amendment and Debate. He begged to propose the Amendment.
§ MR. HANBURY
remarked, that if the Amendment had proposed some general scheme applying to all days, making it always a rule that certain notice should be given of the alteration of the business of the Government, it was possible, at any rate, that something might have been said in favour of such 1122 a proposal. In the present case, however, the Amendment applied only to Fridays, and he thought it was incumbent on the hon. Member who moved it, to show that there were particular reasons why this notice of two days should be given in the case of those particular Fridays. The Amendment in fact, if it were carried, would only cover a portion of the evil of which the hon. Member complained, because it was limited to certain days. His hon. Friend, however, had shown no particular reasons for adopting the piecemeal proposals he had submitted to the House, and he would point out that it was only in cases of emergency that the power would be exercised. Such a power certainly ought to be reserved to the Government to meet emergencies, when they suddenly arose; but in other circumstances, so far as any grievance generally to private Members was concerned, through absence of notice of such a Motion being made, he would point out that it was possible for hon. Members, two or three days beforehand, to ascertain by question, whether the Government intended to take the Friday or not. In these circumstances the Government could not accept the Amendment.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY (Cork City)
in supporting the Amendment said, he wished to call attention to the fact—that was the first time it had been proposed—that it should be possible to suspend a rule of this kind. In fact, so far as he was aware, there was no precedent for permitting a Motion to be made suspending a rule, and fixing business for a particular day without allowing Amendment or Debate. The Amendment simply asked that the Government should give notice of the course they intended to take in certain circumstances, and it was only fair to the House that that notice should be given. It appeared to him that this Amendment tested the sincerity of the Government, for they had indicated that they had no desire to oppress any part of the House, or to gain any unfair advantage for themselves, but that all they wanted was to see Supply properly discussed. If that was so, let the Government bind their own hands as well as the hands of Private Members, so that it should not be in their power to play fast and loose 1123 with this rule, or to take undue advantage of it. The right hon. Gentleman had said there was no grievance to hon. Members in the Resolution, because they could ask the Government a day or two beforehand, whether they intended to suspend the rules or not. That might to some extent apply to English Members, but not to Irish Members, who lived hundreds of miles away, and who would have no such protection open to them. He granted that cases of real emergency might suddenly arise, and no one would wish to question that the Government should have the power in such cases to suspend the rules without notice. It should not be forgotten, however, that the Government already had the power. It was always open to them, if circumstances required it, to propose a Resolution to that effect; the only difference was that at present the Motion would be open to discussion. ["Hear, hear!"] But the Resolution proposed would take away the power, and surely, in common fairness to hon. Members, if that was done, at least fair notice should be given by the Government to the House of their intention to move the Resolution. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 100; Noes, 208.—(Division List, No. 15.)
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY moved to omit, in line 6, the words "to be decided without Amendment or Debate." He said his reason for moving this Amendment was, that the Resolution proposed to establish a principle with regard to business on Fridays, which did not prevail on any other day of the Parliamentary week. The Rules of the House fixed for each day its appropriate business. It was competent in spite of the Rules, for a Minister, at the beginning of public business, to move that the Standing Order be suspended, and that some other business be submitted. When he undertook to do that he had the penalty of having his Motion 1124 discussed. In other words, if he proposed to abrogate the Rules of the House, he had to make a case for it. The First Lord of the Treasury had said that, for the proper discussion of the Estimates, it was necessary that Friday should be devoted to Supply. But he also wanted to retain in the hands of the Government, the power to appropriate Friday for any other class of Government business, and to do this without giving to the House the power to debate or discuss the proposition. The right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary to the Treasury, had said that emergencies might arise which would not render it necessary to take other business on Friday, and it was, therefore, essential that the new rule should reserve to the Government power to suspend the Standing Order and place other business on the Paper. He quite conceded that such an emergency might arise, and he also conceded that the House should have most complete power as to the disposal of Parliamentary time, but the right hon. Gentleman had shut his eyes to the fact that the House always had the power, quite irrespective of the Standing Order. The Government had power now to abrogate any rule which said they should take Supply on Friday, and they could put down other business for that day, but they had not, and ought not to have the power to make that change without Amendment or Debate. Hon. Members were asked by this rule to make a large sacrifice of Parliamentary time, but he protested against the notion that it was a fair thing to bind the House down by a hard and fast rule, to take away from the ordinary private Members the rights which he had at present, to allocate Fridays for the purposes of Government business, as Supply was, and, at the same time, to reserve in the hands of the Government the power to appropriate the time intended for Supply to ordinary business, whenever they chose to do so. What the Government contemplated was that this rule should be abrogated for 1125 the purpose of devoting Friday to ordinary Government business. What they now proposed was quite different to what was done under similar circumstances at present. As matters now stood, if they wished to take Friday for their business, all they took as a rule, was the morning sitting. But if this rule was carried, notwithstanding that the Government abrogated that portion of it, which bound them to devote Friday to effective Supply, it would be in their power to appropriate the whole of Friday for ordinary Government business, a thing which they could do under the ordinary Rules of the House. That was unfair, and it was ten times more so when they made the proposition that it should be put to the House, without discussion or Debate. The Secretary to the Treasury had based this proposition on the ground that it might be necessary in cases of emergency, but if such emergencies arose, it would be possible to show them in Debate. If not, the rule should be abrogated, and the Government bound to do as much as other portions of the House. When Members had surrendered their Fridays, it was not fair they should have the Government coming down and saying "We have given Friday to Supply, but we propose that the rule should be abrogated and we shall devote Friday to our Bills." All he asked was that this should not be a one-sided bargain, but that if there was to be a bargain, the two Parties to it should be equally bound. What the Government wanted, however, was a bargain that should bind private Members but not the Government. He and those who thought with him, protested against that, and at any rate, they asked that if the bargain was to be abrogated, and Friday was to be taken for ordinary Government business, it should not be so taken without discussion or Debate. If the rule passed in its present form, it would be the only instance on record in which it was possible for the Government to change 1126 the business that had been fixed for a particular day without discussion or Debate. At the present, if a proposal was made to abrogate any Standing Order, which fixed the particular class of business for a particular day, it must be done on a Motion which must be fully debated. Now, for the first time, and with regard to a wholly novel and revolutionary proposal, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that after Friday had been allocated to Supply, and after Private Members had surrendered their vested rights in Friday, it should be possible for the Government to devote it to other purposes. If that was to be done it was only fair to ask, that at any rate, it should not be done without discussion or Debate, and to secure this he begged to move the Amendment.
§ MR. COHEN
, in opposing the Amendment, said, its effect would be to deprive absolutely of all their value the whole of the proposals of the Government. These were not intended to abridge discussion or the privileges of private Members, but, if possible, to divert those discussions from useless, impracticable fads to the ordinary business of the House of Commons.
§ MR. HANBURY
pointed out that the proposal of the Government was intended to facilitate business and not to tie the House to hard-and-fast rules, and if in any given week it was found more convenient generally to have Thursday for Supply and devote Friday to other Government business, the Government would be willing to agree.
§ MR. REES-DAVIES (Pembrokeshire)
said, the Government simply proposed to suspend their own rule at their own sweet will, and allow any particular Resolution which might affect them to be taken on Friday, and thus to deprive private Members of their rights.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said, it would be a serious state of affairs if a Member stayed in town the whole of the week in expectation that a certain Vote would be taken on Friday, and then on Thursday 1127 night, without notice, the Leader of the House gave notice that next day he would move that other business be taken. It might be said that the proposal of the Government was to meet an emergency. But when the Leader of the House considered there was an emergency they might take an opposite view. In the interests of private Members, and to guard against abuses on the part of any Government, he hoped the Amendment would be favourably considered. The Government should bind themselves to give private Members notice of any intention to suspend their Rule.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
thought it right that the Government should have the power in the case of any emergency arising to suspend the arrangement with regard to taking Supply on Fridays. But the question was how that power was to be exercised. Was it to be exercised upon reasonable grounds shown or not? In his opinion either notice should be given of the intention of the Government to exercise that power or else good grounds should be shown for exercising it. In his view the right hon. Gentleman in dealing with this subject had failed to use that convincing line of argument and that brilliancy which had so distinguished him when he and the right hon. Gentleman sat upon the Opposition Benches. It was the custom of that House not to decide upon any subject without due reason given. All the arguments that had been addressed to the House were in favour of giving the power in question to the Government, but that did not absolve the Government from giving reasons for their action. He could not conceive the Government saying, "the emergency is tremendous, the reasons of State are overwhelming, and therefore, we will not tell you what they are." The Government might state their reasons for exercising the power in three words which would be sufficient to satisfy the House of Commons of the necessity of their action. The hon. Gentleman behind him had said that the 1128 Amendment would deprive the whole Resolution of its value, but in his view it would give it additional value. He admitted that this was a matter of bargain and that private Members would acquire under that bargain more valuable rights than those they parted with, but at all events their rights should not be taken away from them without notice, without reason given, and without Debate. Although he agreed with the spirit of the paragraph, he felt bound to support the Amendment.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 248; Noes, 123.—(Division List, No. 16.)
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe) moved to insert after the word "debate" "and the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 shall be extended to Friday."
§ MR. HANBURY
explained that the effect of the Amendment was to authorise the Speaker to leave the Chair without Motion put.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE moved after "debate" to leave out to the end of the question and insert "and the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 shall extend to every sitting day of the House." He explained that his object was to cut out the muzzling portions of the Ministerial Resolution. A more gross and outrageous invasion of the rights and liberties of that House was never before imagined by any Government. When the Leader of the Opposition was opposed, as he was on this occasion, to an attack upon the privileges of private Members, that was the best proof that could be adduced that the restrictive proposal ought not to be passed. Ordinarily, when attacks were made upon Members' rights, it was because both the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition were 1129 in favour of the change. He agreed that their present system of procedure was exceedingly bad, but he could not sanction the very drastic remedy that was proposed. It seemed to him that almost every Member who had spoken failed to understand what the Estimates really were. Undoubtedly one of the uses to be made of the Estimates was to criticise the conduct of the Government, but another was to criticise the general manner in which the affairs of the country were administered. The Leader of the House said that the financial control exercised by the House in Supply was absolutely useless, and he gave this extraordinary reason—"that the days of extravagance and jobbery were over." But the days of extravagance and jobbery were not over. Those faults had been scotched unquestionably, but only in consequence of the control exercised by that House. Under the present system, when a Member found something objectionable in a Vote he could ask for an explanation, and if it was not satisfactory he could insist upon a division. When the House was told that the fact of its not having investigated all the Estimates, and that it voted away millions a night without investigation, was proof that it ought to be deprived of the power of investigating them, he replied to the right hon. Gentleman by saying that the argument was a perfect non sequitur. The House wanted the power to investigate the Estimates when any hon. Member deemed it to be necessary, and it was for the good of the country that investigation should take place. He thought that the right was a most useful one. For example, he was looking into the Supplementary Estimates the other day, and he noticed that there was a supplementary Vote of £8,000 or £9,000 for paper, and it was stated that the Vote was due to the fact that the price of paper had risen in the market. When the time came he would naturally wish to know why the price of paper had 1130 risen to the Government and to no one else. The right hon. Gentleman spoke scornfully of complaints made as to Royal palaces. He called them "trivialities." As a loyal subject, he was perfectly horrified. [Laughter.] Those items, however, were not so unimportant as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to think, because he generally found that in the items for Royal palaces, and other minor subjects, there lurked a suspicion of jobbery. Mr. A. C. Morton, in the last Parliament, raised the question of the Royal ratcatcher. He honoured and respected Mr. Morton for raising this small point, because it prevented more rats and more mice from eating into the Royal palaces than the Royal ratcatcher himself. The right hon. Gentleman said that the tendency of a discussion on the Estimates was to increase—not to diminish—expenditure. He admitted that there might sometimes be a tendency to increase expenditure, but the object of private Members was to see that the money was usefully expended, and in trying to obtain the reduction of useless expenditure he suggested that the money should be usefully expended. Generally speaking, he had found that the big men were paid a great deal too much and the poor men a great deal too little. He had often suggested a reduction in the salaries of Ministers. If they could find a gentleman to do exactly the same work for £2,000, why in the name of common sense should they give £5,000? With the most touching unanimity, ex-Ministers and Ministers had gone into the Lobby invariably against him. The main plea of the right hon. Gentleman for this change in the Rules was the most extraordinary one of the guillotine. Of late the Estimates had been thrown back to the end of the Session; and there was a certain feeling then that they might as well come to an end as soon as possible. But the right hon. Gentleman said that hon. Members had been put on the rack for the last few years, and he now came forward as 1131 a benevolent person, saying: "I feel I ought to kill you at once, and save you from the rack." But the plea of the Government fell to the ground, because they proposed to take the Fridays, and therefore they would have no object in putting off the Estimates. He could not see that the first portion of the Resolution hung together with the second portion. The right hon. Gentleman practically said to the House: "You have acted so nobly as to merit a holiday earlier than usual." But this portion of the Resolution had nothing to do with the Estimates; it was simply a golf-and-grouse Resolution. He always admired the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, but he particularly admired his speech in proposing his Resolutions. From paradox to paradox the right hon. Gentleman arrived at this conclusion, that the less time you have for discussion the more time you have to discuss. Those who had at heart the sound procedure of the House had urged that Bills should be carried on from one Session to another, and that would entirely meet the difficulty the hon. Gentleman behind him had pointed out. What would be the practical working of this Resolution? The right hon. Gentleman proposed to give 20 days to the Estimates. Now, on the more important Foreign and Colonial Votes, there were serious matters to be raised, such as Venezuela and the Transvaal, which would occupy not less than nine days. Then there was the Army, on which the Colonels developed themselves lengthily, when they talked about guns and arms and all sorts of things. When the Navy Vote was reached the same story was carried on by the Colonels. He was not putting it too high when he estimated that the Army and Navy Votes together ought to last eight days. That disposed of 17 days out of the 20. Then there were, say, two Votes on account to be thrown in. Thus one day was left for the whole of the Civil Service Estimates, and the Scotch, Irish, 1132 Welsh and English Votes. He sympathised with his hon. Friends from Ireland. These hon. Gentlemen complained that Ireland was governed from Dublin Castle. Here in this House then was the only place where they could develop their grievances. Then there were the Scotch. Had any gentleman ever been present at a Scotch Debate? [Laughter.] He had never been able to get through it, but he had looked in occasionally and seen Scotch gentlemen, each armed with a sort of pamphlet, jumping up one after the other trying to catch the eye of the Chairman of Committees. How long were these to go on? One quarter of a day. Then there was gallant little Wales. The other day the Welsh Members had an interesting Debate, about a museum, he thought it was [laughter], but Wales wanted a great many more things besides a museum. So poor England, the predominant partner, was left with three hours for all the Estimates! He defied the right hon. Gentleman to say that these calculations were exaggerated. He had under-estimated the time generally taken with these different Votes, when there was a fair field for discussion. The right hon. Gentleman had cited the experience of the last Parliament to show that 20 days was a fair time to allot to the discussion of Supply. But not only during the last Parliament, but ever since 1886, the Estimates had been discussed under "the rack"; and if the right hon. Gentleman went back to the time before 1886, he would find that Supply generally occupied twice 20 days, or even more. The right hon. Gentleman had given away his case by admitting that if his Resolution were carried a great many Votes would not be discussed at all. It was urged that a great many Votes were unimportant; but it would not necessarily be the unimportant Votes that were left undiscussed. There were six classes, and it might happen that all the time would be occupied on the first or the first two classes. The right hon. 1133 Member for Bodmin had suggested that the time should be divided into compartments. But even then, it would be easy to exhaust the whole time in any compartment with the first few Votes. And if there were merely a limit to the time for each Vote, the time might be occupied in discussing unimportant subheads of the Vote. He had often seen the House get so weary of the discussion of the first sub-heads, that the rest passed without notice. Arrange, this matter as they would, if there were a hard-and-fast time limit to Supply, the Committee of Supply would necessarily be in the hands of a small minority, which would be able to concentrate the discussion on one or two Votes or subheads of Votes. Sufficient weight had not been attached to the fact that, as a rule, Ministers did their best, under the present system, to restrain the loquacity of their followers. But if this rule passed, the muzzle would be taken off. They might even encourage talk. Of course, Governments never attempted to evade criticism when they could not evade it; but there were a large number of minor questions which Ministers did their best to prevent from coming on. It was possible to imagine a Ministry who would wish to put off certain Votes, and with the power to closure at a certain date, that would undoubtedly be done on occasions. What surprised and almost sickened him with official human nature was the utter ingratitude of the Leader of the House and his colleagues. That they sat now on the Treasury instead of on the Front Opposition Bench was due entirely to the Estimates. If the right hon. Gentleman's Resolution had been in force in the last Parliament the interesting Cordite Vote would never have been reached. Yet in spite of the fact that the Members of the Government owed their position to there having been no Closure on the Estimates, the first thing the Government did was to kick away the ladder by which they had mounted, and to rule the Committee 1134 of Supply with a rod of iron. What then ought they to do? The whole system of Supply was utterly bad; and what they ought to do was to revise the whole system, in order to fit it to modern requirements. Thirty years ago there was time for Estimates and time for Bills. Now the Estimates were thrown to the end of the Session and few Bills were passed. The secret was that 30 years ago Members were not so eager to go to bed at the early hour of 12 o'clock as they were now. [Laughter.] The bane of the House was the 12 o'clock Rule. [Laughter.] He never knew of anyone, in the years of which he was speaking, feeling old or tired or flagged from remaining in the House. In those years they used not only to remain in the House, but to sleep in the House; and sleep, too, like owls, until the turn of each came to speak. The custom on Fridays was that Resolutions were moved by private Members until about 9 or 10 o'clock. After that effective Supply was set up, and as there was no sitting on Saturday they generally made a night of it. If at 2 o'clock any Member got up to suggest that it was getting late, he would be howled down; and it would be said that it was ridiculous that Members should not pass their nights as well as their days in the service of their country [Laughter.] They went on again for another hour, when some one got up and said that the Vote under consideration was an important one and ought to be postponed till a more favourable time for its consideration. "Very well," the Minister would probably say, "we will adjourn this Vote; but we will take the six following Votes." That was agreed to, and they went on again for another hour, and finally got home at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. In that way the Estimates were got through very efficiently. At the present time the difficulty was that they had more business to do and more Members anxious to take part in the Debate than 1135 in previous years. But the great block of business was to a great extent due to Ministers themselves, and he was bound to say that both Parties were equally responsible for it. Each Party went into office with a huge legislative programme. They knew it was not going to pass; but they held it up to show people what great, wise and eminent legislators they would be if they could. Then came a Motion taking away private Members' time; and when anyone protested he was answered from the Treasury Bench, "Look at our programme." If the Government would only bring in such Bills as they knew they could pass in a Session a good deal of the present difficulty would be got rid of. But he suggested that the best way to get rid of the deadlock was by giving Home Rule not only to Ireland, but to every part of the country, and also by throwing on the Municipalities a good deal of work which they could do better than Parliament. The main thing was to establish what Mr. Gladstone was always urging—some system of delegation, which meant division of labour; and he would have it not only in regard to Bills, but in regard to Estimates. The First Lord of the Treasury truly said that the Estimates were now used for the purposes of political criticism. Then let the right hon. Gentleman adopt some system by which the Vote of the head of each Department on which the whole of the political issues might be raised could be retained for discussion in the House, and all the other Votes sent to Committees. He would have a Committee for every Department—an Army Committee for Army Votes, a Navy Committee for Navy Votes, and the Irish, Scotch and Welsh Votes considered by Committees formed of Members from those countries. So long as all the Estimates were submitted to the House, the House was responsible; but under the new rule of the right hon. Gentleman there would be only a sham audit of accounts. The right hon. Gentleman told them that a large number of Votes were not to be submitted to the House at all. Why, it was such a proposal that Jabez Balfour proposed to his Directors, and it was for adopting such a proposal that those Directors were sent to prison. Members were sent to be the guardians of the public purse; yet, the House 1136 adopted a system by which they could not go into the greater part of the Estimates; and any Judge would say they were acting dishonestly and dishonourably. At Elections they said they wanted to serve their country, but when they got to the House they threw to the winds the opportunity of checking the expenditure; and the electors might well say that the House was the last refuge of humbug. Ministers would have Members believe that they were so wise that they ought to be trusted; but he did not consider that Ministers were angels; and, even if they were, he would put only a qualified trust in angels after they became Ministers. The tendency of the later action of the House had been to part with its control over the Executive; but he held that it was their duty to keep a control over the Executive in great as well as in small things. He asked Members to pause before they adopted a Resolution which practically destroyed the control exercised—the control that ought to be exercised—over the Executive in its administrative capacity. He detested the gag, and Members purposed to make that gag a permanent article of furniture. They were to be treated to the old French parliamentary lit de justice; they were to discuss everything as if on a scaffold, with a rope round their necks, until the fatal moment which launched them into eternity—or the holidays. [Laughter.] Ministers held it to be the business of private Members to make a House, to keep a House, to cheer Ministers enthusiastically, to groan and moan when anyone attacked them, and to vote as if they were machines. The more private Members were like children, the better Ministers appreciated them; and, like children, they were to be seen often but seldom heard. An independent Member did not accept the Whip as his master; he looked only to the electors; and he did his best to further the interests of the country at large, irrespective of Party ties. That was his ideal of a model Member. Hon. Members ought to be specially independent on questions of Procedure. In the present alteration of Procedure, the First Lord of the Treasury did not come forward as the Leader of a Party; he came forward essentially as the Leader of the House With all 1137 respect for that right hon. Gentleman, private Members would find in himself a better guide in regard to their interests. That right hon. Gentleman had a great mind, and did not condescend to small details; but for himself he had a small mind, and did condescend to small details. The right hon. Gentleman would treat private Members like kittens before their eyes were opened on the floor of the House. Private Members would do well to allow him to protect them from the attacks made upon them by Ministers. All plans were tentative and there could be two lines of rails at the present moment. The great trouble as to the Estimates was that there frequently happened that the obstruction to the Estimates prevented Bills coming on, that was why he was in favour of one day a week for the Estimates or with the two only, the blocking of the Estimates could not block the Bills. One would be entirely independent of the other. Why not try this plan and see whether it was successful? The Leader of the House said "Oh, if you do not give me Fridays and these 20 days, I won't accept the Fridays." They were not there to force Fridays on him. If he did not like them let him leave them. ["Hear, hear!"] He could not himself see why one was dependent on the other. They bad in fact two plans—one the guillotine plan which was a brutal plan, an indecent plan and the plan of Mr. Gladstone—the plan of devolution—which was an honest plan, a practical plain and sound plan. He recognised in the plainest and fullest way the objections to the present system. He should never vote for the guillotine plan until Mr. Gladstone's plan of devolution had been thoroughly tried. He had no objection on principle to what is called revolutionary legislation, none in the least. He had no prejudice. He thought it would be desirable to have a good deal of revolutionary legislation, but when he found a Conservative Government coming in saying, "Let us have one revolution, one good, sound revolution, against the rights, liberties, and privileges of the elected Members of the country," then he was against that species of revolution. ["Hear, hear!"] They had now a Conservative House, and why should it indulge in this wild, reckless proposal? Let them be cautious. The Radicals 1138 were also cautious. Let the Government propose their Resolution as to Fridays and try what would come of it. If they did not get the fair number of Bills, then let them go back to Mr. Gladstone's system of devolution. Until that had failed—and he was certain it would not fail—let them not go and adopt the guillotine principle. [Cheers.]
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
begged to second the Amendment. He said that his right hon. Friend would not be surprised if those who found in this Resolution a principle of the widest scope—one that they thought would gravely affect their Party and Constitutional history—had not had their objections removed by the two speeches he had made. On the other hand, those who did not find a material principle, but to whom on other grounds the Resolution was generally distasteful, might well have had their dislike overcome by the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman. They regarded the proposal of his right hon. Friend as of wide scope, and one which would have very severe effects on the rights of private Members. It was destructive of much of their Constitutional history. The analogy which was attempted to be drawn between the application of this Rule to the Estimates, and its application to legislation, was entirely at fault. In his speech last night the right hon. Gentleman argued that analogy was perfect. If the Resolution was applied to the Estimates it must certainly follow, as had been avowed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that it would be dragged into a precedent in order that it might be applied to legislation. Let him cite the case of two very recent Bills. In. 1889, there was introduced a Bill for strengthening the Navy. It was admitted by the Government of the day there was no necessity for placing the particular proposals in a Bill, and that they might have been submitted as Estimates. That case showed how analogous were Estimates and Bills. It was argued that it was unnecessary to place in a Bill the proposals contained in a Finance Bill, and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted that he might have proceeded in the ordinary way in Supply; the right hon. Gentleman, however, thought it would give greater opportunity to the House to discuss the 1139 proposals if they were placed in a Bill. The First Lord of the Treasury rather scoffed at the fears of some Members that the Resolution would be dragged into a precedent for placing an automatic Closure on Debates on Bills, and told them, with great truth, that if a Jacobitical revolutionary Government were in power, they could take a short cut. Such a Government would, no doubt, cut off all Members' privileges—for all he knew they would cut off their heads, but that was not the sort of Government they had to deal with. They rather feared the ordinary wicked Government which brought in the sort of legislation they had seen in the last two or three years, and which would carry great schemes of legislation rapidly through the House by means of automatic Closure. He imagined that one of the great reasons why so much success had attended our Parliamentary institutions, why the legislation that came from the House was generally received in the country with approval, was that that legislation was rarely repugnant to any large section of the people, and he believed it could be shown that the reason for that was the power of free debate which had prevailed in the House. If they took the power of free debate from the House of Commons, they took away the only weapon the House had by which it could compel a Government to withdraw or to modify any proposal which was repugnant to any considerable section, of Members. The weapon had been used all through our Parliamentary history, and he believed it was that power, and very largely that power alone which was answerable for the general success of our Parliamentary institutions. The right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House, had argued closely, eloquently, and with his usual skill on most of the other features of the proposals he had introduced, but he did not endeavour to allay the feelings of hon. Members with regard to the particular and important principle which he (Captain Bethell) had endeavoured to bring before the House. That principle was a true one, a live one, and a real one. For his part he firmly believed that if the right hon. Gentleman was successful in depriving them of the power referred to, he would be taking the first step to depriving the House of 1140 perhaps the only weapon it had to insist on legislation, before it issued from Parliament, being of such a character that, on the whole, it should meet with the general approval of the country. He was aware that he was speaking now in a considerable minority on this question. He could only regret that his right hon. Friend had rather disturbed the peace of his Party with this rather startling proposal. He regretted also that the right hon. Gentleman had brought it forward at this particular time, when there were something like two hundred new Members, who had been recently elected; for it was quite impossible that gentlemen who had had no previous experience of the House could estimate fully the importance of the change that was proposed. The Debate had taken place largely upon the question of the Estimates themselves, and it had been stated by his right hon. Friend that the discussions on the Estimates were of little value as far as the financial part was concerned; and that, as far as the Administrative Department went, they were, to a large extent, useless. He had been inclined, from his experience of these matters, to doubt that statement. It was quite true they never did succeed in Supply in getting a reduction of the sums proposed; but that was not quite the direction in which they could assert, much influence. What they wanted to do by these discussions was to keep the attention of those who were responsible for these Estimates perpetually on the rack, so that they might be fully alive to the fact that, if anything unusual was done, it would be discovered, and that they would be held answerable for any remissness of which they might be guilty. He had taken the opportunity of seconding the Amendment, because he was very anxious, being in opposition to the bulk of his Party, to place before the House his reasons for the action he took. The change proposed by the Government was so great, and possibly so far-reaching, that he thought it ought not to be made, not only at this particular time, but unless the general consent of both Parties was obtained to it. He regretted, therefore, that his right hon. Friend had not thought it better, before bringing in the proposal, to try some more moderate arrangement to secure the end he had in view—that he did not invite the House 1141 to give him, say, the use of the Friday, or some other day, and see what effect would be caused in the course of a Session by such an arrangement. Certainly, a concession had been made by the Government to the effect that this proposal should be a Sessional, and not a Standing Order; but everybody who held the views that he did on points of principle would surely see that such a change could be of little value to them.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS (Herts, St. Albans)
said, he rose to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Northampton. He viewed with great regret and surprise the action on which his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury had embarked at this early hour of the Session. He put a very heavy strain on his faithful and loyal followers, and they were placed in the position either of voting with those who desired to embarrass and injure the Government, or of voting against their consciences, and going contrary to their own clear and positive statements in and out of the House. His right hon. Friend drew the distinction that this was a matter of the Estimates and that the other was a matter of a Bill. But the examination of the Estimates had been declared by Mr. Gladstone and other persons of authority to be one of the most important functions of the House; and his right hon. Friend seemed to consider it a reasonable and proper course that they should automatically cut short the discussions on Bills. He could not forget the language they had used when the late Government applied the guillotine. There was not then one single Member on that side of the House who said that if the Government had applied the guillotine to the Estimates they would have been acting rightly. They had no light to support their own Government when they were taking a leaf out of the book of the Party opposite, and thus do them a bad turn in the country. They would give the country a bad opinion of the Government and of themselves if they joined in supporting any such Measure as that which was now before them. What was the reason for the Measure? They were told it was because their Supply was ill-managed. He saw no connection between the remedy and the evil. He saw no remedy in this proposal for futile discussion, and no reason why 1142 Supply should not be discussed just as ill when there was a guillotine to come later in the Session, as it had been hitherto. He had heard no argument which would lead him to believe that any hon. Member would refrain from boring the House because there was to be a guillotine later on. He could not help feeling that this Measure was introduced more or less in the interest of legislation. He could quite understand the right hon. Gentlemen on both Front Benches had a parental regard for legislation, which was not altogether shared by private Members, some of which they regarded with a feeling that was not enthusiastic and a great deal of which they distrusted. There was one matter to which he would like to call the attention of his right hon. Friend, and that was to ask him if he could see his way to accept the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for the Newton Division, which was practically that there should be no contentious business taken after the 5th of August.
§ And, it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Thursday.