Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed [25th February] to Main Question [20th February], as amended—
(1) That, so soon as the Committee of Supply has been appointed and Estimates have been presented, the Business of Supply shall (until it be disposed of) be the first Order of the Day on Friday, unless the House otherwise order on the Motion of a Minister of the Crown moved at the commencement of Public Business to be decided without Amendment or Debate; and the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 shall be extended to Friday:
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 Chirman shall proceed to put forthwith every Question necessary to dispose of the outstanding Votes in Committee of Supply; and on the twentieth of such allotted days the Speaker shall, at 10 o'clock p.m., proceed to put forthwith every Question necessary to complete the outstanding Reports of Supply:
On the days appointed for concluding the business of Supply, the consideration of such business shall not be anticipated by a Motion of Adjournment under Standing Order No. 17; nor may any dilatory Motion be moved on such proceedings; nor shall they be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House:
Provided always, that the days occupied by the consideration of Estimates supplementary to those of a previous Session, or of any Vote of Credit, shall not be included in the computation of the twenty days. Provided also, That two Morning Sittings shall be deemed equivalent to one Three o'clock Sitting; and that, except in the case of a dissolution of Parliament or other emergency, the said twenty days shall be allotted so that the business of Supply be concluded before the 5th of August."—(First Lord of the Treasury.)
§ And which Amendment was, to leave out all the words from the word "Debate," in line 5, to the end of the Question:—(Mr. Labouchere:)—
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS (Herts, St. Albans)
, resuming his speech (which was interrupted at midnight on Tuesday) in support of Mr. Labouchere's Amendment, said, the more he thought of it the more he became convinced that the Government's proposals were a mistake. A sort of perverse spirit seemed to have entered into and possessed the minds of Ministers. Though a very small number of Members might vote against them, Ministers were too wise to suppose that the numbers in the Lobbies represented the feelings on their own side on these proposals. The First Lord of the Treasury knew very well how many Members were reluctantly supporting him, reserving their fire for another, and, as they thought, a more suitable occasion. For his part, he did not so regard loyalty. 1270 He did not think that convictions were things to be placed in a box arid carefully put away until we went into Opposition. He felt extremely strongly about this matter. He felt bound, in the interests of his constituents, to protest against a further attack upon freedom of speech and upon the opportunities of unofficial Members for bringing forward local grievances which could only be done upon the Estimates. What a paradox had they come to! The right hon. Gentleman told them everybody was dissatisfied with the way the Estimates were discussed, and what was he going to do? He was going to shorten the time in which the Estimates could be discussed. For, taking the right hon. Gentleman's own figures, there had been on the average the, last five years, practically about 23½ days given to Supply, and he proposed in future to give 20 days and no more. What sort of support had these Resolutions received besides official support? Certain grave and reverend seigneurs, amongst others the Member for Bodmin, had given their reasons for blessing the Government; but what a benediction it was! How hedged about with provisions and stipulations! The right hon. Gentleman said in effect that if they would take the horse and put a new head upon him and new legs, and if they would apply a good strong brake to the carriage, then he might be persuaded to ride behind. He himself admitted there was a great evil in the present system, but the proposed remedy would not touch it in the least. Leaving the old Members, and addressing himself to the new ones, he would venture to put before them this consideration, that they might find themselves, in 1900 or some time thereafter, in very much the same position that Ministerial supporters were in now. Unionists voted, spoke, and stormed against the guillotine in the last Parliament; and now they were asked to support it. If these Resolutions were passed, the principle of the guillotine would have been accepted; and, when the Party opposite came into power, what was to prevent them from making the time-limit still shorter? If they did, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman would get up and show that what was a most reasonable, moderate, and proper course when proposed by himself, was 1271 altogether revolutionary and mischievous when proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The right hon. Member for West Monmouth would retort, "You admitted the principle in 1896; "and in his rich, full-bodied, Parliamentary style, he would quote from the right hon. Member for West Birmingham in the American Magazine, the Nineteenth Century, and the Contemporary Review, to show that the proposals therein were infinitely more Radical and mischievous than his own moderate and Conservative suggestions. Then the right hon. Member for West Birmingham would get up and remind the right hon. Member for West Monmouth of the speech he made the other day; and the old game of pot and kettle between the two Front Benches would begin again.Clodius accusat Mœchos, Catilina Cethegum.But all this would not restore the self-respect of the House of Commons. The Leader of the House drew a wide distinction between closuring Estimates and closuring Bills; but, if these proposals were passed as they stood, the power would be put into the hands of any Government to introduce such a change as the payment of Members in the Estimates and carry it by the guillotine. Mr. Gladstone actually agreed to accept the principle of payment of Members, and to put the sum on the Estimates, provided that certain conditions were fulfilled by the applicants for payment. Those conditions were declined, and so the Scheme fell through. He could not, for the life of him, see why the Government should not content themselves with taking Fridays for Supply. That would have irritated nobody, and would have effected the purpose of getting Supply through quickly. But the Government had chosen to make a further attack on the liberties of speech in the House, and it would certainly do them harm in the country. Why was the country listening more and more to the press and less and less to the House of Commons? Because there was no fair dividing line between Parties. There were many Members on the Government side of the House who voted against the restriction of freedom of speech in the last Parliament, and who were now voting for it. And many of those who voted for it last year were 1272 now voting against it. The country was justly sick of that sort of thing. Those Unionists who voted against the Government now would at least show that they had the courage of their convictions, and really cared for freedom of speech. Some of the new Members at any rate could not yet have destroyed their reputation for consistency, and he begged them to keep it at least until they had accepted office.
§ MR. GEOFFREY DRAGE (Derby)
said, that so many allusions and appeals to the new Members had been made in the course of the Debate, that it was but fitting that something should be said on their behalf, and in explanation of their reasons for supporting the Government in the present case. He did not, however, represent the new Members in the sense that they formed a cave. These caves as a rule were tenanted by one person anxious to exchange solitude for the Treasury Bench, and grieved that the Government had not thought fit to call him to share its counsels. Of the technical procedure of the House he could not speak; but new Members had 19 days' practical experience of the working of the House last August, and that experience could only be described in the words of the First Lord of the Treasury, as "frivolous, futile, and foolish." There were Gentlemen on the other side of the House who, during that time, were continually rising to speak, and who did their best to exasperate the new Members to some expression of opinion, hardly within Parliamentary usages, by repeatedly calling attention to the fact that the new Members were there for the first time. Their experience of private Members' nights was supplied by last Friday's discussion on Welsh Museums. The existing evil was admitted by speakers on both sides of the House, and the Government had laid their remedy before the House. Those who opposed the Government, and who had been conspicuously absent from the House last August, had failed to suggest an alternative plan. The Government, at least, had the courage of their convictions, and their supporters might congratulate themselves on having strong men in office, whom they could be proud to follow. Some of the Unionist Members, who opposed the Government, owed their seats, like the hon. 1273 Member for Mid Hertfordshire, to the efforts of the First Lord of the Treasury. If the hon. Member were to stand for Mid Hertfordshire as the opponent of the First Lord of the Treasury there would be very little chance of his election. It was right on the hon. Member's part to make some apologetic remarks, in order to take away some of the unpleasant impressions left on the minds of new Members by the action taken by the hon. Member. He recollected well the proceedings in Supply last August. He remembered a speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Gedge), in which he related that he had been fined, as he described it, for bathing without pants in a Swiss lake. [Laughter.] That was a sample of the small and petty subjects discussed in Supply—subjects which many of the new Members thought below the dignity of the House. These arguments had been used to try to influence new Members against supporting the new Rule. The first was that it would be said they voted for the new Rule through fear of the Treasury Bench. The House would discover that when they came to subjects with which the new Members were in disagreement, the Treasury Bench would receive from them such criticism as they were able to offer. The second was that new Members would be influenced by a fear of their constituents. As to that he did not believe that anyone would desire to hold his seat in the House if it were a condition that he should act merely as a delegate. The other argument was that new Members, by supporting the new Rule, would leave themselves open to a charge of inconsistency. So far as he recollected, no point was made in his election contest of the use of the gag by the late Government. He was surprised to hear such an argument advanced by the Leader of the Opposition, who had been a monumental instance of inconsistency throughout his political life. [Nationalist laughter and Opposition cries of "Order!" and "Withdraw!"] He believed he was in order. ["Withdraw!"] At any rate the Speaker had not called him to order. ["Withdraw!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member has not used any unparliamentary language. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ MR. DRAGE
Then I return to the charge. [Laughter.] When the right hon. Gentleman went down to his constituency in Derby—which now returned two Unionist Members—he was, as they all knew, a strong advocate of the Local Option Bill. [Cries of "Order!"] If that was not in order he would not go further into the question. [Laughter.] But there was one more argument with which he would like to deal. It had been said that if the new Members voted for the new Rule they would be unmindful of the privileges and dignity of Parliament. The new Members might not be able to influence the House with eloquent speeches, such as could now be heard from the two Front Benches, but, speaking as a new Member, expressing, he was sure, the sentiments of all new Members, he could assure the House that the privileges of Parliament, and the good name of Parliament, would be as dear to them as they were to the hon Member for Caithness.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I said nothing to him to call for that remark. [Laughter.]
§ MR. DRAGE
It is just as well the hon. Gentleman didn't. [Laughter and cries of "Order!"] He begged the pardon of the House if he had exceeded the privilege of a new Member. He only wished to say that the new Members would do as much to maintain the liberties of Parliament and the great name of that Assembly as any that had preceded them in the House. He thanked the House for the indulgence with which it had listened to him on the first occasion he had addressed it, and he only hoped that he had not, owing to the interruptions which had been showered upon him, exceeded the privileges of Parliament.
§ MR. AUGUSTINE BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
said, that after the speech of the hon. Member for Derby, he did not wonder that the First Lord of the Treasury showed some anxiety to put the gag on his own supporters. [Laughter.] But, sympathising as he did so fully with the object which the right hon. Gentleman had in view in proposing the new Rule, and sympathising, also, as he did, with every remark the right hon. Gentleman had made on the subject in the course of the discussion, he regretted, as 1275 a private Member, that he found himself unable to give him that support which he was sorry to say the right hon. Gentleman did not need on that occasion. [Laughter.] He was not ashamed to say that he looked at the question—as he thought he was entitled to do—as a private Member. He was surprised at the callous indifference that had been displayed, for the most part, by hon. Members on both sides of the House, for what he did not hesitate to call the priceless freedom of their Fridays. [Laughter.] There were two ways of regarding the priceless freedom of Fridays. He thought some misapprehension existed as to one view of that freedom. He was astonished to hear so old a Parliamentarian as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Dartford Division of Kent (Sir W. Hart Dyke), who had been a Whip for many years, and therefore ought to have known the minds of private Members as fully as he knew the contents of his own pockets, use language which would lead them to infer that the priceless freedom of Fridays, which private Members held dear as the apple of their eye, was the freedom of the small number of hours, from 9 to 12, on Fridays, in which they could propose and oppose some two-penny-halfpenny Resolution of an academic character, or of pursuing through the lobbies some phantom of their fancy in the hope of pledging a Minister to take up a policy which he had no idea of adopting. But there was another view which private Members took of their freedom, and that was the freedom of going away. [Laughter.] When the clock struck seven on Friday evening every private Member knew that his labours were over, and that he need not return to that paradise of bores until the following Monday. [Laughter.] That was a freedom in which he did not hesitate to say all private Members indulged on every possible occasion; but they would never have the opportunity of doing so again. [Laughter.] The new Members of the House were full of vigour, full of hope, and full of courage. But this was not a question of this Session or of next Session. Session after Session, and year after year, they would be brought down to the House every day of the week—Wednesday and Saturday alone excepted—at the crack of the Party Whip, and, 1276 finding it difficult to get Pairs, they would be detained there during the fine summer evenings of June and July to make a House, to keep a House, and to cheer the Colonial Secretary. [Laughter.] He could assure the hon. Members that they would get tired of it before the century was out; and they would say, "O, call those Fridays back to me;" but the Fridays would not return—they would be gone, and gone for ever. [Laughter.] They need not rely on the new Rule being only a Sessional Order. The next step of Ministers would be to make it a Standing Order. Their Fridays were imperilled. They were almost gone. It was for the new Members to say, "We will protect them!" [Laughter.]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is dealing with a part of the Resolution which has been already passed. [Loud laughter.]
§ MR. BIRRELL
I regret, Sir, in the interest of order, that you did not stop me sooner, for I have said all I have got to say on that branch of the case. [Renewed laughter.] What concession did the First Lord of the Treasury give to private Members in exchange for their Fridays, which had made the House a little more tolerable or a little less harsh than it would have otherwise been? The right hon. Gentleman promised them that in future Supply would occupy 20 days. He was afraid that the necessary result of this proposal was that Supply would always, to the end of time, occupy 20 days. Supply had often gone through very much under that time. Twenty days might be, in certain circumstances too little for Supply. It might be, in other circumstances too much for Supply. Ten or twelve days might be sufficient for Supply some Sessions; but the result of applying 20 days automatically would be that 20 days would always be occupied in Supply. The Government had the means, without the gag or the guillotine, of discouraging or preventing their supporters from occupying time in discussing Supply. Of course there were some Members who could not be suppressed or compressed. [Laughter.] Some Members they could not gag. They could not gag Gargantua. [Laughter.] For his part he had never opened his mouth in Supply. He was afraid he would be encouraged to do so under the new Rule, as he would not be prolonging discussion, but only 1277 occupying time that would be otherwise occupied by someone else. [Laughter.] Well, there were 20 days fixed for Supply. They were told that Supply would come to an end by August 5th, and that Parliament would probably be prorogued in another week or ten days. He did not wish to be selfish in the matter, but by August 5th he was seldom in the House; the business being practically over, he had no difficulty in getting a pair; and he did not see how he was to be benefited by the Sessions being brought to an end about the time he always made his arrangements to go, whilst he was being deprived of that priceless boon to which he should be out of order in referring. Private Members had to live in the House under conditions which were well nigh intolerable. He had no sympathy with Ministers, and did not care at all about them. They were bold, bad men, and, if they were not, they would not be Ministers. [Great laughter.] And they became Ministers only by elbowing others—nice, quiet, private Members—on one side. Ministers had large salaries, paid quarterly, and he was told there was great consolation in a salary so certain to be paid. But they had something he should value more than salary. They had private rooms to which they could retire when they were bored by the ceaseless chatter of this House, where they could sit in silence, blissful silence, in solitude, delightful solitude, and from which they could be summoned to their places in this House should any ill-advised Member move the reduction of their salary by £100 in order to increase the Estimates by £100,000. [Laughter.] But they had something more precious than salaries and private rooms; they had occupation, something to do, interesting departmental work, which any man might be proud to do, and that saved their minds from feeding upon themselves [laughter]—a scanty herbage, he dare say [renewed laughter], and none the less disagreeable and bitter in the mouth. Nor did he care at all for his Friends on the Front Opposition Bench; they, too, had occupation; they had great oratorical reputations to maintain; they had repartees to reduce into writing [laughter]; they had the right—of which they freely availed themselves, and he was glad they 1278 did—of intervention in Debate just at the time those repartees were most naturally effective in argument. [Renewed laughter.] The private Member had none of these things; he had no salary, he had no room, he had no business to occupy his mind, and he had no reputation to maintain; and if he had repartees to make, they must be made on the spur of the moment—something quite out of character with the nature of the repartee. [Great laughter.] He was not now speaking of the labour in Committee-rooms Upstairs, recorded in so many Blue-books, which occupied the private Member, and gave him information of which he stood sorely in need; but on the floor of that House, unless the private Member was a bore of the first magnitude, what could he find to occupy his mind? There was in the building a magnificent library, full of books of historical interest and philosophical value; but he had been a Member for six years and had not read a single book in the library. [Laughter.] The reason was he had no mind to bring to bear upon a book in the asphyxiating atmosphere of the House, and the distress which came of being condemned to spend so much time in doing nothing. At one time the private Member had an opportunity of making some reputation by legislative effort, but now he had hardly any chance. His occupation was well nigh gone, and there was nothing for him to do but to stroll listlessly about the Lobbies, and to come in and out when a Division was threatened. Of course, he could spend time in the Smoking-room or other places. In these circumstances private Members ought to guard jealously the conditions of Parliamentary life. It might be, as an hon. Member said, that the House had fallen in public repute; but he could not agree with the suggested remedy that they should talk twice as much as they did. If they had fallen it was because, in the opinion of the country, they talked too much; and it was not by talking more their reputation would be regained. At the same time he could not see that the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman would confer upon private Members a boon comparable with that which it would take away, and therefore he must, with reluctance, vote against it. [Cheers.]
MR. HUBERT BUNCOMBE (Cumberland, Egremont)
said, that his natural diffidence in addressing the House for the first time was increased by the difficulty of following such a speech as that to which they had just listened. It had been said that the new Members formed a considerable portion of the House, and that they could not be experienced judges of its Rules of Procedure, and he would not deny these assertions; but, at all events, they did not apply to the First Lord of the Treasury, who deliberately proposed these changes. The principal pledges many of them had given to the electors were to the effect that they would do their utmost to ensure that the business of the House was conducted in a businesslike manner ["Hear, hear!"], and that individual hobby-horses should be ridden with a tighter curb than heretofore. Although their experience of procedure might be yet in its infancy, yet they had seen a short Session devoted to Supply, in a quiet fashion, and they had also seen one Friday of this Session devoted to what appeared to new Members to be that mysterious proceeding known as a Motion to go into Supply rendered more mysterious by the fact that that was the only thing the House did not do. ["Hear, hear!"] These two valuable object lessons had not been lost upon new Members. As to the suggestion that the new Rules might facilitate the perpetration of a job, his experience was that, if any attempt was made to increase the pay of a charwoman who might be suspected of sympathising politically with the Government, there were hon. Members on both sides who would detect and expose it, and who would hold up to contempt and obloquy any Minister who attempted to burke discussion of the Estimates on this question. Many of them were sent there to support, not any private Member, but the First Lord of the Treasury, and in such a matter they might well leave themselves in his hands, both as regarded the honour and independence of the House and the wishes and interests of their constituents.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
said, he had listened to the whole Debate in the expectation of hearing from some responsible person what the mischief was it was proposed to 1280 remedy, and in what manner the proposed Rules were expected to remedy it, and he had not heard any clear exposition of either point. They had heard a great deal about the present system and its shortcomings. What the present system was might be gathered either from the Standing Orders of the House, or by actual observation of their proceedings. The present system as gathered from the Orders and Resolutions of the House was one thing, while that witnessed in practice was altogether different. Had hon. Members asked themselves why the financial year ended on March 31 and not on December 31? The point was material in considering the arrangements made in connection with Supply and the details of what was called the present system. By a Standing Order of the House it was imperative that the Committee of Supply be opened immediately after the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne was disposed of, and by a Resolution of the House of very long standing it was incumbent upon the Government to present the Estimates for naval and military expenditure within ten days of the opening of Supply. But the standing Orders and Rules went a great deal further than that. According to the Standing Orders it was not only imperative to open Supply at the earliest possible moment, but it was also imperative that Supply should be put down upon three days in every week. It was also optional to the Government to take Supply on any and every day the House might meet for business. Another Standing Order provided that on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays the Orders of the Day should have precedence of Notices of Motion, and that except on Wednesdays the Government business should have precedence, and the Government could put down their business in any order they liked. Friday, like the other days, was a Government day with one important qualification—viz., that on the question that the Speaker do leave the chair, hon. Members could raise subjects in which they were interested. So determined had the House shown itself to give every facility to the Government to take Supply that a Standing Order had been passed to bribe, as it were, the Government to go into Supply on days on which 1281 they were not bound to. Thursday, which was not one of the days on which the Government were bound to put down Supply, was offered to the Government on the understanding that if they only put Supply as the first Order they should be allowed to go into Supply without any delay and to take it during the whole of the sitting. What could be more clear and emphatic than the manifestation in the Standing Orders of the mind and intention of Parliament with regard to Supply? In practice the present system left much to be desired. They had not heard a word about any of the blots on the system from the First Lord of the Treasury or other responsible Gentlemen. He would indicate one. He remembered that some years ago the Minister in charge of the Naval or Military Estimates, as the case might be, made his statement with regard to his general policy with the Speaker in the chair. Upon that occasion a full and satisfactory Debate relating to the whole policy and administration of the Department was had, and afterwards, when the House got into Committee of Supply, each particular Vote was dealt with upon its merits. Later on, independent altogether of the Rules, the exposition of the policy of the Minister was made in Committee, and after a while it was found that the time allotted to the discussion of the first Vote for men or for pay was not adequate to satisfying the requirements of hon. Members. Over and over again, before the discussion was over, the Minister had said it was absolutely necessary for the public service that the money should be voted that night, and suggested they should agree that the general discussion should be taken on some other Vote— say, the clothing Vote. The House had been constrained to allow a Vote of five or six millions sterling to go without any discussion worthy of the name, with the result that the general discussion on the administration of the Army had had to be taken on the clothing Vote. The thing was ridiculous. ["Hear, hear!"] The Minister was wrong in suggesting such an arrangement, and the House was wrong in ever accepting it. The result had been to introduce into the discussion in connection with the Army Estimates nothing but confusion, and to discount very much the value 1282 of discussion in Supply. The same thing occurred in respect to the Navy Estimates. The system had the further disadvantage that these large Votes, taken upon the assurance of the Minister that it was absolutely necessary to pass them, put the Government in funds. Six millions under Vote I. in the Army Estimates and six millions under the first one or two Votes in the Navy Estimates enabled the Government to go on for many months together without coming to the House for any further Vote. The result was that after these Votes were taken the rest of the Army and Navy Estimates might be relegated, and sometimes had been, to the fag end of the Session, when they got no discussion at all. ["Hear, hear!"] With regard to the Civil Service Estimates there was a still more serious blot, against which some of the most distinguished Members of the House had from time to time protested, but protested in vain. March 31 was the end of the financial year, and whatever unexpended balances existed remained in the hands of the Department; but it was necessary before that date that provision should be made to put the Government in possession of funds for the completion of the financial year. It was long ago urged that Supply should be taken in the beginning of the Session for that reason, In connection with the Civil Service Estimates the necessities were met by a Vote on account, and it was taken before the end of March in order that the inconvenience caused by unexpended balances might be got rid of. The first Vote on account was doubtless inevitable, and under our present financial system it could not be reasonably objected to. But of late there had been, not merely one Vote on account, but sometimes two and even three in a single Session. The same effect had been observed in relation to the Civil Service Estimates, by reason of those repeated Votes on account, as had arisen from the advances of large sums for wages and pay in respect of the Army and Navy. The Government had been put in the possession of funds for so long a period, and for such successive periods, by means of those Votes on account, that they had been relieved of the necessity of coming to Parliament for money until the time for an effective discussion 1283 of the Estimates had gone by. ["Hear, hear!"] Those were blots on the system of bringing forward the Estimates and on the procedure of the House which called for treatment and remedy, but they were blots which never would have arisen if Governments had only exercised the powers already intrusted to them for the transaction of public business. ["Hear, hear!"] If that were so, what was the use of making new Rules? Let the Government do their part in applying the powers they had; and they would find little or no difficulty in doing so if they were judiciously applied. ["Hear, hear!"] If the Government brought forward important Votes in the early part of the Session the House would not object, though perhaps some difficulty in doing so might be found among themselves in relation to the convenience and wishes of the various Departments. Anyhow, he believed the proposed new Rule would not in anyway meet the mischief with which it was intended to deal. It gave the House no power against the possible laxity of the Government; it contained no pledge which could bind them to better behaviour in the future, but it arbitrarily limited the time of the House for discussion—perhaps most important discussion. ["Hear, hear!"] The real point was not that the House needed to be coerced in this matter by a new Rule, but that the Government required to be reminded of its duty to bring forward Supply sufficiently early and so often in the Session as to enable adequate discussion taking place upon it. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. C. B. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said, he did not wish to say one word to detract from the authority and weight which attached to the utterances of the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House in matters of procedure, but he was bound to say that he thought the hon. Member had supplied two cogent arguments in favour of the Resolution. He had reminded them of the fact of certain important money Votes having to be passed before the end of the financial year on the 31st of March—that was under a time limit, and he was not aware that liberty of speech or the privileges of Parliament had suffered from that cause. The hon. Member had also reminded 1284 them of the peculiar laxity—as he called it, but which others might term elasticity—which enabled Members to discuss one thing while they were voting money for another. He hoped that that elasticity would long continue, and he did not think the proposed Resolution in any way threatened to curtail their liberty and privileges. He had long foreseen that, in regard to Votes in Supply, some such reform as that now submitted to the judgment of the House would inevitably become necessary. In its terms, no doubt, it appeared to involve a revolution, but he doubted whether it would turn out in effect to be such a revolution as it seemed to be, because the proposed change had been rendered necessary by changed conditions and altered circumstances. The substantial effect of the proposed change was that it shifted a great Measure of public responsibility on hon. Members from one side of the House to the other. While it took nothing from the responsibility of Ministers, it devolved a serious burden of responsibility on Members of the Opposition, reminded them that they had duties to the country, and that if they properly used the opportunities given them, they should exercise diligence and discretion in discharging their work in matters of Supply and not leave the task to others. The arguments of the hon. Member who had just spoken would be admirable if they were applied to those who lived in the days of the Stuarts. But since those days the presumption in regard to Supply had altogether changed. In those days the Crown was not considered entitled to receive any Supply whatever until cause was shown. In the present day, however, Supply was the business of the whole nation, and he believed the people were strongly of opinion that every year the work of Supply should be rapidly discharged. The presumption now, therefore, was not that cause should be shown for Supply, but rather that Supply, formulated and estimated for by responsible Departments presided over by Ministers, should be considered fit and proper to meet the requirements of the country until it was shown by the criticism of the House that Ministers were undeserving of public support. There was a great difference between the introduction of a Bill and of Votes in 1285 Supply. A Bill was never more—speaking of course of controversial Bills—than an expression of the views of a Party in the country, and it was but a short time since that a Bill was put forward and forced upon the attention of the House which turned out to be only the expression of the views of a particular Party, and, as events showed, that Party was in a minority in the country. At best the Controversial Bill to which they objected to have the gag applied represented Party views, whereas the whole nation required that Supply should be passed and passed expeditiously. He had had some experience in the exercise of private Members' rights, and whatever might be said of those rights, it was important to note the appearance of the House when those discussions took place—the small irresponsible character of the assembly, owing, perhaps, to the particular time in the week, or still more to the particular time of the year. What impressed him greatly in relation to this matter was the extraordinary indifference shown by the public outside the House as to the rights of private Members, and as to their criticism on matters in Supply. When Members complained to constituents of their long and weary work in August, they were very apt to be asked why they did not manage their business better. ["Hear, hear!"] If hon. Members were given a maximum number of days, say 20—though he thought, if Votes on account were to be included, 25 days ought to be allowed—and complained to their constituents that this prevented them from bringing forward grievances, the public would receive the complaint with the ridicule which it would certainly deserve. He did not believe that any Opposition, or any substantial part of an Opposition, could fail to obtain an opportunity, if they desired it, for any discussion in which they took a serious interest. An arrangement for grouping Votes, for placing them in compartments, would make the Resolution more effective, and, even if this were not included in the Resolution, he believed that the common sense of the House would manage in the future what had been so often managed in the past. The reason why he had this confidence was because this Resolution would have, as one of its 1286 most operative consequences, that hereafter the loss and waste of time would be that, not of the Government and the nation, but of the Opposition. The responsible Leaders of the Opposition would have put upon them the duty and the necessity of seeing that their time was not wasted by the less responsible views of the grousd and organisations that gave them their power. He admitted there was much to be said, for the fear this Resolution would make assured a repetition of what might be called the atrocities of 1893, when what had been described as "Crazy Bills," which the country did not want, were forced upon an unwilling House by totally unjustifiable means. That was not likely to recur again, because it was justly visited by public indignation. It was important to remember that the payment of Members was not one of those Measures, and he believed that right hon. Gentleman opposite made it impossible it should ever be one of those Measures, because, if he remembered aright, either Mr. Gladstone or the present Leader of the Opposition stated that they were advised that it would be necessary to achieve payment of Members by a Bill. Therefore the fear that such a Measure as payment of Members might be put down in the Votes and thereby made operative was a fear which hon. Gentlemen might dismiss, he thought, for a considerable time. As a further safeguard against such excesses and atrocities they had the Amendment which stood in the name of the hon. Member for the Newton Division of Lancashire. He was bound to say that that Amendment had some attraction for him, though he thought it was a dangerous thing to make too close a reservation in favour of a particular list of Bills. But he could not believe that if the House addressed itself to the task, it could not find some means of preventing the abuse of the time of the House by a Government keeping them sitting, after they had got their Supply, for the purpose of passing their Bills. This Resolution, he believed, really would effect very little more in actual fact than that which had been their practice in substance of late years. The difference would be that the discussions in Supply, while not necessarily shorter, 1287 would be better and wiser because they would be more responsibly managed, and conducted by more responsible persons. He supported the Resolution because he believed its equitable action would be really to give the House more time and not less. It was true that it took away what were called private Members' evenings on Fridays, but at the same time it gave them another kind of private Members' evening and probably a better one—a private Members' evening out of which the Government itself and the service of the country would derive advantage. For these reasons he thought it right to give a cordial support to the Resolution now before the House.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
said, the point they ought to be discussing that day was whether the new power given in what he might call the first paragraph was a special solution—whether these new powers were sufficient, or whether they ought to give the Government the further powers asked for. He had watched during the last 10 or 12 years, probably as closely as any other Member of the House, what had taken place in Supply. He had seen both sides of the House, when in Opposition, discussing Supply, and sometimes, as he thought, time was being used for the purpose, not of discussing Supply, but of bringing pressure to bear upon Ministers for other purposes. He had seen both sides, or sections of both sides, using Supply for other than legitimate purposes. Why was that done? Simply because they thought that by opposing Supply they would prevent some legislation that they were opposed to from being passed. As far as that reason for delaying Supply was concerned, it was now taken away. If they used Fridays for Supply, and if the latter part of the Motion was not used and the Government did not take Fridays for legislation, then it would take away that very strong inducement for Gentlemen in Opposition speaking on Supply in order to prevent legislation. The probability was that the form would change and that, as talking in Supply would not prevent legislation, then Gentlemen who desired to prevent legislation would require to move Amendments to the Bill. In 1888 the Conservative Party made as great a change in procedure as they were doing now. He took part in 1288 that Debate, and he then prophesied to the predecessor of the present Leader of the House that if he carried his procedure he must sacrifice one of three things—either his great Bills, or Departmental Bills, or Supply. The result was that both Departmental Bills and Supply were put off to the end of the Session. The Departmental Bills often got lost, and they rushed through Supply in the early hours of the morning in the "Dog Days." Now they were going to have a change in that matter. They were going to have a fair time at the early part of the Session, and if they had that time he thought all the talk in Supply could fairly be done in about 25 days, if they included the Votes on Account. He would like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House some reason for proceeding with the next point. They had got in the Resolution the power to remove obstruction upon the Estimates, and if they used the power for legislation then undoubtedly it would be used in the future as in the past. He would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he was going to make as great a change as his predecessor did in 1888? They were now asked to carry out the principle of the guillotine, and he should like to look at the precedents for it. This principle had only twice come before the House of Commons. The first occasion was he thought in 1888, when a Bill in reference to Ireland was before the House, and when it was being smothered with Amendments. A time limit was then brought in by Mr. Smith, and carried, and when the time came for it to be put into operation there were about 200 Amendments still undisposed of. There was a very strong feeling on that side of the House in regard to the matter. They had the choice of two courses—either to walk out of the House, or to keep the House walking through the division lobbies for about 48 hours. The first course was adopted, and when the motion was put Mr. Gladstone and every Member of the Party walked out of the door and refused to take any further part in the proceedings. Subsequently Mr. Gladstone and his Government brought in an exactly similar time Resolution, though he voted against it as he had voted against Mr. Smith's Resolution. The second occasion on 1289 which this principle was adopted was also in reference to a Bill affecting Ireland, and what had they? They had a free fight; the only occasion on which they had ever had a free fight in this House that he could remember. Those were the only two occasions on which the principle of the guillotine had been adopted. Those were the two occasions on which this principle had been adopted, and they were asked from the success which had attended those two occasions to make this a Sessional Order. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to give them some reason for this course. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman a method of doing the work properly, and one which he raised as a special Amendment in 1888. He did not think that House should sit at all in Committee, and especially in Committee of Supply. Committee of Supply in the House had always been a farce. What they ought to have for Supply was a Committee or a Grand Committee upstairs, consisting of specialists to whom Ministers could go and give explanations, and in that Committee all questions of finance and retrenchment could be determined. The only time that Supply should come before the House was when the Speaker was in the Chair, and when matters of administration or of policy could be properly discussed. He could assure the present Leader of the House that the new form of gag would not carry out the intentions he entertained. It was very much easier to lead the House than to drive it. This was one of the driving methods, and whenever any such had been tried they had always led to a loss of time and temper that would otherwise have been avoided.
§ MR. J. PARKER SMITH (Partick, Lanark)
regretted to find himself unable to support the Government in their proposal to limit the time for Supply. The Government had received some most valuable support from those Benches above the Gangway, and some support which he hardly thought could have given great satisfaction to the Leader of the House. He was not referring to the support hon. Members on the other side had given, but rather to some which the right hon. Gentleman had received from new Members on that side, because there was one point in the 1290 right hon. Gentleman's argument which scarcely seemed to him to be worthy of him. The right hon. Gentleman deprecated the action taken by the House under the pressure of irritation or annoyance, but all the same he made a very definite appeal to the Party he led on account of the irritation and annoyance which they suffered during what was for so many of them their first short Session of Parliament. He did not wish to give any opinion of what was done during the short Session as he himself was not present during that period. But he had a longer experience of the House than that fortnight, and he thought it was much safer to base one's action on that long experience than upon the irritation which was naturally aroused in new Members, who came back thinking they had an overwhelming majority, in that very short experience. They all knew the patience and long suffering of the Leader of the House, and they could perfectly trust him not to unduly cut short discussion. But it seemed to him to take a longer time of presence in the atmosphere of the House before a man could judge what was really obstruction and what was justifiable and right opposition to the views of his Party and Leaders whom he had been accustomed to maintain in the country as being so wise and infallible. This proposal to limit the time of Supply he disliked for two reasons. In the first place, he thought the time proposed not nearly enough; and in the second place, he felt a strong objection to any fixed limit at all. It seemed to him that the discussion of the Estimates was one of the two most important functions of a private Member. He did not, in the slightest, object to any change that was proposed to be made in the rules of the House with the view to facilitate or increase the opportunity for that discussion; in fact, he only wished the occasion had been taken of the present proposals to make further suggestions of change in the amount of time which private Members had and which they could use for the purpose of discussion of the Estimates. In this Debate nothing had been said in defence of the present state of things, and extraordinarily little on behalf of private Members and the time they had had. In fact, the only Member who had 1291 spoken for them was the hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington, who certainly had succeeded, he supposed more than any other private Member, to avail of the present opportunities of private Members. His own view of the value of the nights given up to private Members was very much that of the hon. Member for Fifeshire, namely, that they were useless except to give opportunities of holidays to other hon. Members. Hon. Members had an opportunity of criticising legislation in the Bills, and of criticising the general action of the Government, and the manner in which the policy of the country was carried on during the discussion of the Estimates. He agreed thoroughly with the suggestion that had come from so many quarters, that something should be done to obviate the mere financial criticism that took place on the Estimates upon the floor of the House. That seemed to him thoroughly useless, and in their endeavour to shorten time spent on some matters and facilitate discussion on large questions, he wished the Government would take into consideration the very varying quarters from which it had been suggested that these purely financial questions should be submitted upstairs to a Grand Committee on finance. Some criticisms had been made upon the Bills of private Members, but abstract resolutions of private Members seemed to be almost equally dangerous. On all the main questions they had opportunity of criticism in Supply. In some cases these abstract resolutions had been the precursors of action. There was much more temptation to the Government to accept such abstract resolutions—and find their hands unduly hampered afterwards—than to make a definite pledge on any question arising in Supply. Private Members' nights caused amusement, but hon. Members had better take the opportunity of flying their kites elsewhere. Believing, as he did, that the main function of a private Member ought to be criticism, he was entirely in favour of any proposal to bring the Estimates in a very leisurely and comfortable form before the House, and to welcome anything that would give a fair chance of discussion. If they examined the Motions down in the Order Book for Tuesdays they would find half of them were really Motions in Supply, and he suggested 1292 that they should be discussed in Supply instead of on Tuesdays. Let them clear Tuesdays by making a rule that no Amendment which would be in order in Supply should be set down on a Tuesday, and they would greatly reduce the number of Amendments suitable to be discussed on Tuesdays. Let them take the Tuesdays after Easter and use them for Supply, as also the Tuesdays before Easter. The time the Government proposed at present did not appear enough. From now to August there were 23 Fridays, and if they took off four or five for Easter and Whitsuntide, and at the same time if they remembered there would be various cases in which two or three days together were to be——
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! There are Amendments on the Paper raising the question as to whether the number of days should be 20 or 25, and it will be more convenient that the discussion as to the number of days should be taken on those Amendments.
§ MR. PARKER SMITH
would merely say he had two objections to the Government proposals. He thought the time indicated was not enough, and he further objected to the establishment of a limit of time, whether it be larger or smaller. It did not seem to him open to doubt that this proposal to fix the number of days for Estimates would, on the first opportunity, lead to a direct proposal for shortening the time and establishing the guillotine in the case of Bills also. When it was proposed to apply the guillotine to the Home Rule Bill, one of the strongest arguments used in favour of that course was the conduct of the Conservative Government in applying the Closure when the Crimes Bill was before the House. To his mind there was a clear logical distinction between the two cases, but both in the House and outside—where they did not understand mere logical distinctions—no argument was more useful to supporters of the Home Rule Bill than the precedent set in regard to the Crimes Act. So it would be in future. The precedent which the Unionist Party were now setting would be used against them and they would not be able to find logical distinctions strong enough to stand against the fact that the Unionist Government was the first to propose a time limit to Supply. But when a Government 1293 was formed with a large legislative programme strong enough to hold and carry the country, it would not be held back by any cobwebs of precedent but would insist on having its legislative proposals duly considered and passed through the House. He believed less and less in the power of stopping such proposals by any system of procedure. He felt more and more that it was within the range of possibility that a time limit applied to Bills as well as Supply would be part of their procedure in the future. After protesting so strongly as the Unionist Party did three years ago against a proposal closely akin to this, he was not prepared in a moment to accept these rules for which there was no immediate urgency. On the whole he welcomed the procedure of the Government, but in regard to the question of time he was unable to support them.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
said, that the hon. Member for Caithness who spoke against the time limit, was well known as a determined and consistent opponent of the Closure, but the general opinion of the House and the country had been drifting away from the position taken up by his hon. Friend, and, just as in the course of time hon. Members had come to regard the Closure first as inevitable and then desirable, so the moment had now come when they were approaching the same kind of view with regard to a general time limit. Though a supporter of the time limit, they should not be led astray by any distinction as to applying a time limit to Supply and Bills, and delude themselves by thinking it would not be made permanent in regard to other Bills. The House was most reluctant to make changes in its constitution and orders, but a great part of the reluctance arose from a strong aversion to novelty. But this proposal would place the time limit in such a position on the Orders of the House that it would never be novel to any hon. Member, but would become part of the recognised rules of the House, and when there were proposals to extend the time limit, so far from any novelty in the proposal, it would appear to be familiar, logical, and natural. Therefore, he was not deterred by that argument from voting for the proposals of the Government. But they should be clear as to the extent of 1294 what they were doing. There had certainly been produced in his mind first an opinion and then a certainty that a time limit had become necessary as a permanent institution of the House. There had been a great consensus of opinion in favour of a time limit. It was introduced in 1887 in connection with the Crimes Act. After that a remarkable article appeared by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham in favour of the extension of the time limit. Then Parties changed sides in the House, and that might have interrupted continuity of thought and policy on the question of a time limit. The result, however, was that the Government which preceded the Government of 1887 again had recourse to the time limit more frequently, and now they had a still larger proposal. There was surely great reason for such a growing consensus of opinion as this. The reason had been given in this Debate by Members of greater authority than himself, in language stronger than he should like to use, as regarded the scandal of the Debates on the Estimates. It was to avert that scandal that this proposal was made. Could they avert it by any other means? He did not think the suggestion of the hon. Member for Caithness with regard to changing the order in which the Votes were taken would remove the temptation to spend undue time over particular Votes. It would provide more material, and, it seemed to him if there were a great deal of Debate not only on the merits of a question, but a desire to occupy time, it was better it should take place on harmless subjects such as the Royal Palaces ["Hear, hear!"] than on larger and more important Votes. If hon. Members who wished the more important Votes taken first could prove that the temptation to spend a long time over the Debates would be removed by providing more important material first, he admitted it would be a strong argument. But, personally, it was one which he did not share. Was there real danger of the rights of private Members being interfered with and curtailed under this Resolution which would be a discredit to the House of Commons? One argument which had been used against the time limit was that it would not be effective, that there were so many other ways in which discussion might break out. If 1295 that were so there could not be such a great danger in the experiment it was now proposed to try. There were safety valves provided, and if it was the case that the time limit would prevent discussion of real grievances, surely there were other means by which those grievances could be heard. But they had to consider not merely the rights of private Members. There was a greater consideration—the credit of the House of Commons. [Cheers.] That was a question upon which he did not pronounce an opinion. A strong opinion was expressed by the hon. Member for Mid Herts. If the House was losing ground and credit in the country it was a serious thing. It was even a serious thing that the idea that it was losing credit should have got so far as to be expressed and to be received without demur on the floor of the House. If anything was likely to diminish the credit of the House in the country it was the waste of time. Impotent unintentional waste of time was bad enough, but deliberate waste of time was more certain to discredit the House in the opinion of the country than anything else. If they could not show they were masters of their own time and the conduct of their Debates they would never inspire the country with confidence that they were competent guardians of its interests. It was because he believed that a time limit would conduce to the more effective discussion of matters in that House and because he believed that it would involve no danger to the rights of private Members, that he hoped the proposal would receive the support of the House. ["Hear, hear."]
§ THE FRIST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I do not propose to repeat to the House for the third time the arguments I have already addressed to hon. Members on this subject. Our object in bringing forward this Resolution has been to insure that the discussions in Supply shall be conducted with dignity and conciseness. In reply to the charges of inconsistency that have been brought against myself and those who have assisted me in proposing these alterations, I can only say that I can see no inconsistency between the course I am now adopting and that which I adopted two years ago when the Home Rule Bill was before the 1296 House. I felt justified then in telling the House that, in my judgment, the discussion upon a Measure of that vast magnitude should not be subjected to a time limit; and, if ever the time comes when another Administration shall bring in another Measure involving a great constitutional change and shall endeavour to pass it into law by the same method, my voice will be raised as vehemently as it was two years ago against that method of procedure. In doing so I shall not feel myself guilty of any inconsistency in saying that there is a distinction between an attempt to pass a Measure involving a great constitutional change by means of the guillotine, and our present endeavour by this Resolution to make the discussions in Supply not less but more effective. ["Hear, hear."] I appeal to hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House to assist us in our endeavour to pass these rules tonight, and at once to come to a decision upon this Amendment. ["Hear, hear."]
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N.W.)
said, that he had no desire to set at defiance the appeal that had just been addressed to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, but he felt bound to make a few observations on the subject that was under discussion. If the right hon. Gentleman, in introducing these Rules, had stated that he intended the time limit to apply, not only to Supply, but to all Bills and Resolutions that might come before the House, he would certainly have received a very much smaller amount of support for his proposals on both sides of the House than he had done. The rule meant the absolute negation of the right of private Members to discuss the Estimates. The rule was the first instance in the history of the House of Commons of a proposal to apply a time limit to the discussion of Supply. If the time limit were to be applied to Bills what would be the consequence when after a time limit had been fixed, an Amendment had been moved which involved a much wider issue than the original Measure did? With the exception of official Members of the House, and ex-official Members, and new Members, not a solitary Member had risen to defend the proposals of the Government on this point. One 1297 new hon. Member, whose name and whose constituency he had not the honour of knowing, had said that he should support the proposals of the Government, because he had every confidence in the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the Government were fighting to defend the honour and the dignity of the House, but that was a matter not for either of the Front Benches, but for the House itself to decide upon. The first of these aggressions upon the rights of private Members was made in 1887, upon the recommendation of a Committee, and he ventured to submit, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that the proper course of proceeding upon the present occasion would have been to have submitted these Resolutions to a Committee chosen from both sides of the House. In his opinion, this unconstitutional, fundamental, far-reaching, and revolutionary change had emanated from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who had written an article in which he had advocated such a change being carried out.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham, W.
said, that the hon. Gentleman could not have read the article to which he referred, because it dealt with a totally different subject.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said, that in the article in question the right hon. Gentleman suggested that all Debates in that House should be limited. He regretted that hon. Members who opposed these innovations had not had the assistance of the Front Opposition Bench in resisting the proposed changes. The Front Opposition Bench were quite satisfied if those hon. Members who sat behind them confined their functions to cheering their speeches and to following them into the Lobby. In fact, they appeared to be desirous of reducing their supporters to a condition of intellectual impotence. He denied that private Members had been guilty of anything like waste of the time of the House. If they did occasionally speak too long, they were merely following the example of the right hon. Gentlemen on both Front Benches. In order to make up his average of time, the right hon. Gentleman took the year 1892.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have already told one hon. Member that the question of the number of days allowed as a time limit would be much better discussed on another Amendment.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES
said, he would only say in conclusion that all those who had had experience in the House were anxious to see the business of the House properly done; but they contended that the machinery available was sufficient for the purpose, though he, for one, would not object to see some power given to the Chairman of Committees to check discussion propriomotu. Although he recognised the concession made by the First Lord of the Treasury in consenting to make this only a Sessional Order, he looked upon it as only the beginning of a very serious suppression of the rights of private Members. Private Members always held that the House of Commons was not a mere legislative machine, but, primarily and mainly, a place where grievances might be discussed and remedies found for them.
§ MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon District)
much regretted that he could not respond to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman. No Welsh Member had hitherto taken part in the Debate, and, inasmuch as this Resolution would press very hardly on that nationality, he thought a protest ought to be entered on their behalf. A powerful minority could always protect itself in the House, whatever Rules were adopted by the House, but that was not the case with small sections of Members. This Resolution was designed to restrict the liberty of Debate, and he regarded it as the most mischievous of the series. The right hon. Gentleman had two objects in view. The first was to secure that important questions should receive a fair proportion of Debate in Supply; and the second was that Supply should not be debated to such a length as to stave off legislation. The right hon. Gentleman had not adopted the proper method to obtain those objects. Debate in Supply had two objects. The first was to criticise the national expenditure; and the second was to criticise administrative policy. This was certainly not the time to restrain the free criticism of national expenditure, for it was never so high as at the 1299 present moment, and had practically risen to the limit of the national resources. With regard to the criticism of policy, the object was to secure a fair proportion of Debate on important questions. He had no doubt that Foreign Policy, Colonial Policy, and Irish Administration were the important questions contemplated; but, as a matter of fact, there was no question more important to localities than a purely local question. He remembered very well, in 1886, raising a question with regard to the closing of a quarry in his own constituency. That quarry was the sole industry of the district; and, owing to the methods of the Department of Woods and Forests, the quarry was closed, and the whole trade of the neighbourhood completely ruined. That might not be so important to the nation as a question of goldfields in Venezuela, but it was of as much importance to the district concerned as any question that came before the House of Commons. If this time limit were adopted, the result would be that foreign politics and questions of that kind would take up the whole time of Supply, and purely local matters would be shut out altogether. The grievance with regard to the consumption of time had not arisen in Committee of Supply. In the Sixties and Seventies something like 25 days in the Session were consumed in Supply, while last year only 19 days were consumed; thus, so far from the evil becoming worse, they were better off than in the Sixties and Seventies. Yet he found that the number of volumes of "Hansard" in 1874 was 5; in 1886, 9; and in 1892, 10; but the extra consumption of time had not arisen from discussion in Supply, but from the fact that legislation was now considered of more importance. Parliament legislated more now than it ever did.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Member that that is hardly relevant to the Amendment. The question raised by the Amendment is, whether a time limit should be applied to Supply.
§ Mr. LLOYD-GEORGE
said, he only wished to show that the proper remedy for the existing state of things had not been applied, and that the time of the House had been occupied in matters that did not arise in Committee of Supply. The remedy was not to be 1300 sought in the curtailment of the opportunities of criticising the national expenditure and discussing grievances. They ought to go to the root of the matter, and to see that each locality should have the power to discuss its own grievances in its own manner.
§ Question put, "That the words 'Not more than' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 258; Noes, 124.—(Division List, No. 19.)
§ On the return of the Speaker after the usual interval,
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs) moved, in line 6, to leave out the word "twenty," and insert the word "twenty-five." He said, that while a general support had been given to the proposals of the Government from the Ministerial side of the House, not one hon. Member had stated that he entirely agreed with the proposals. For instance, both the right hon. Member for Bodmin and the right hon. Member for Oxford University expressed opinions in favour of an extension of the time limit, and such opinions ought to be seriously considered by the Government. The necessity for some change was recognised by the House; but, while sympathising with the Government to some extent, he would point out that the time limit was too narrow. In passing this Resolution the House was laying down for all time the maximum limit of the discussions of the Estimates. Anyone who knew Parliamentary history must be aware that the tendency was rather to lessen than to increase any limit of this kind which might be set up; and a strong temptation was offered to some future Government to still further curtail the time allowed for Supply. Again, the limit would apply to normal and exceptional Sessions alike, and did not provide for the occasion when some great addition was made to the Estimates and provoked keen party strife. There were constitutional authorities who held that the payment of Members might be introduced by an addition to the Estimates. How many days would be required to discuss Votes containing such a proposal? Or some party question in the Foreign Vote, involving a large expenditure, might 1301 come up. Was it reasonable to give only the same time for discussion as to the ordinary Foreign Office Vote? The Government proposal was an experiment, and the limit should be fixed too high rather than too low. To ascertain the period required for discussing the Estimates, it was not fair to take the average of any number of consecutive Sessions, because it was evident that, when the House was on the eve of an election, Members could not stop to discuss Supply, and when the House had just come back from an election causing a change of Government it was useless to criticise Estimates prepared by a Government no longer existing. To get the true maximum an ordinary year in the middle of a Parliament ought to be taken, and for an average deductions could be made from that maximum. Supposing that time was allotted as follows:—Army, three days; Navy, three days; Foreign Office, three days; Colonial Office, three days; Irish Votes, four days; Scotch Estimates, two days; and Education Vote, two days—the whole 20 days would be exhausted; and yet this was a very low estimate.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
On the Army and the Navy some days are occupied with Motions before the Speaker leaves the Chair, and those are not counted.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said, that the discussion raised on the Estimates was quite different in character from that raised on these Motions. In that division of the 20 days not one single hour was allowed for the great mass of Votes connected with the Civil Service—not a minute for the discussion of the Board of Trade (which now represented so much of the labour policy of the Government); not a minute for the Home Office, for the Local Government Board, for the Board of Agriculture, for the Office of Works, or for all the subordinate Departments. How, then, was the right hon. Gentleman going to contend that 20 days were sufficient for Supply? Therefore, in his judgment, the case for the extension of the time-limit was unanswerable, if the Estimates were to be properly discussed. But that was not all. They would have to take from the 20 days one day for Report. Report 1302 under the new Rule would be very different from what the House had been accustomed to in the past. Supposing that at 11 o'clock, when Supply was guillotined, the Foreign Office Vote was not completed in Supply. Many Members who had not the opportunity of discussing the Vote in Supply, would naturally be anxious to talk on it on Report, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knew, there were difficulties in dealing with the details of a Department on Report that were altogether absent in Committee of Supply. There were then only 19 days for Committee of Supply. But they might have to take off further days for Motions for the Adjournment of the House. Had the right hon. Gentleman contemplated the possibility of half-a-dozen Motions for the Adjournment of the House during the Session? He saw the Under Secretary of the Local Government Board in his place, and, if they were to follow the example that hon. Gentleman set in the last Parliament, they would move seven or eight Motions for the Adjournment of the House. If the Government of the day thought that a matter awkward for them was about to be discussed in Supply, they might encourage some of their supporters to move the Adjournment of the House in order that the Vote in question might not be reached at all. That, of course, be an exceptional circumstance, but it must be kept in view when they were fixing for all time a time limit for the discussion of the Estimates. It must also be remembered that under this Rule there would be most undoubtedly more speaking from the Ministerial side of the House in Supply than there had been in the past. Formerly the desire of all Ministries was to get through Supply as quickly as possible; and, therefore, they discouraged their supporters from taking part in the discussion. But in the future the Government would probably desire that the time should be occupied by their own supporters rather than by the Members of the Opposition. There was a still more important consideration, and that was that in taking away from private Members the opportunity of moving Motions on Friday, they undoubtedly induced more Members to talk on the Estimates. If 20 Fridays were 1303 taken for Supply that would otherwise have been used by private Members for calling the attention of the House to matters which they thought important, it was certain that 20 more questions would, under the new Rule, be discussed on the Estimates than would be discussed under the old order of things. The whole case came to this. The House was asked to vote in 20 nights one hundred millions of money. That practically was five millions a night. He asked that they should proceed a little slower—that they should pass four millions a night; and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would view the proposal favourably. He did not take the view which had been expressed in the course of the Debate that there would not be so much work to be done on the Estimates in the future as there had been in the past. If they considered the pledges given by Members on both sides of the House to their constituents at the last General Election—pledges in regard to labour, and especially in regard to administration in all different Departments—it was only natural to suppose that there would be more discussion on the Estimates in the future than there had been in the past. Therefore, he thought the case for the Amendment was very strong. He believed there was to be an alternative proposal from another quarter of the House to the effect that on the expiration of the 20 days a Minister of the Crown should, if necessary, have the power of prolonging the time by a further three days. That undoubtedly would be a small advance from the present position of the Government, but it was not altogether satisfactory.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If such an Amendment is proposed the hon. Member will have the opportunity of discussing it. He is not in order in discussing it now.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said, he would only say in conclusion that, in his judgment, they ought to fix the maximum time limit as high as possible. If they found in the course of a few years that the time fixed was too long, he had no doubt that the Ministry of the day would, with the consent of the House, be able to reduce it.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe),
in seconding the Motion, said, he noticed that the Secretary of the Treasury had put down an Amendment 1304 on the Paper extending the hour when Supply was to be guillotined from 10 to 11 o'clock. They were thankful for small mercies. So far so good. But speaking with some experience of what went on in Committee of Supply, he desired to say in the strongest possible manner that 20 days must be considered absolutely inadequate for the well-ordered discussion of the Estimates. He was for a well-ordered discussion of Supply. The experience of Committee of Supply last August seemed to have left a most painful impression upon the minds of new Members. The First Lord of the Treasury had also referred to it in strong language; but he thought the right hon. Gentleman could not fairly apply to Committee of Supply in general the epithets that might possibly be fully warranted by what took place last August. He was not present at the time, but he read the newspaper reports of what then took place with some feelings of surprise and regret; and, if such scenes were likely to recur, he would support any Government in any measure which tended to put an end to such a state of things. But to his mind the new Rule did not recognise the importance in the Parliamentary system of Committee of Supply. He did not look upon it alone in its ancient constitutional aspect. He thought it was one of the most important functions of the House, not only in regard to the criticism of the policy of the Administration, but in regard to the humbler matter of economy. The First Lord of the Treasury dismissed the matter of economy very airily in moving the new Rule. The right hon. Gentleman said that everybody knew that that matter counted for nothing; but that was not the opinion of a very (important Committee which sat in 1888 on the question of the Estimates for that year. That Committee, of which Lord Hartington was chairman, presented a most valuable report to the House, and he regretted that more had not been heard of it in the course of the discussion. The Committee presided over by the Duke of Devonshire said in their Report:—The actual reductions of Votes in Committee of Supply have been apparently slight in proportion to the amount of Parliamentary time. Your Committee are, however, of opinion that 1305 such reductions by no means represent the full economic effect of the examination to which Votes are subjected, and they have no doubt that discussion in Committee of Supply has had considerable effect in preventing an increase of expenditure.When the Duke of Devonshire committed himself to these words they probably meant what some of them would express in stronger language. Turning to the question of policy in administration he was sure that many Members of the House had very little idea of the enormous area which discussions covered in Supply. Take the Home Office Vote, for example. It included salaries which brought under review our whole factory system, mines, quarries, the police of the Metropolis, reformatories, industrial schools and various commissions, involving the employment of a large number of persons and affecting various social interests and habits. On these a large amount of discussion could be legitimately raised without incurring for a single moment a charge of Parliamentary obstruction. A similar illustration was furnished by the Board of Trade, which had to do with the railway systems, shipping, bankruptcy and many other important matters. These two Departments furnished an ample field for legitimate discussion that might well occupy a large portion of the time proposed to be given to Supply. A strong reason why the time should not be unduly limited was to be found in the fact that the State in its corporate capacity, was assuming very different relations towards individuals, and industrial enterprises and social habits. This tendency was every day throwing more and more power into the hands of the permanent officials of the great Departments; and that made it more and more imperative that the House in Committee of Supply should keep a firm hand on policy. For this reason alone he should view with alarm the arbitrary curtailment of discussion in the House. It was admitted on all hands that 20 days were not sufficient for Supply. He had himself put down an Amendment to enlarge the time, but he noticed Amendments from the other side going even further. This was not a large matter from the Government point of view, but it was a grave one from the points of view he had mentioned; and 1306 he earnestly entreated the right hon. Gentleman to increase the number of days.
§ COLONEL VICTOR MILWARD (Warwick, Stratford-on-Avon)
said, he had not been convinced by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. Some of the emergencies the hon. Member had mentioned would be met by a suspension of Standing Orders or by a Vote of Credit which would not come under these rules. Time was an inexorable tyrant, and the question was how much time the Government had at its disposal, and what was the best way of making use of it. From to-morrow to the 5th of August the Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays would give 60 days. Four or five would be required for Supplementary Estimates, and say three for getting the Speaker out of the Chair. The 60 were thus reduced to 52, and if 20 were taken for Supply, 32 would be left for legislation, which was none too much for the programme of the Government. ["Hear, hear!"] There were to be dealt with the extension of the Navy, our food supply in time of war, education, depression in agriculture, the Irish Land Bill, light railways, and employers' liability. In these circumstances the Government had dealt with the appropriation of time in a fair, sober and rational manner, which he hoped would commend itself to the House. What did the Government say?We are the responsible Government of the day. We have had time to consider this question, and looking to the experience of former years, we say, on our responsibility as the Government, that 20 days are sufficient for Supply.Hon. Gentlemen opposite had the strongest weapon placed in their hands. They could go to the country, as no doubt they would if the Government did not pass their Measures, and say:We gave them all they asked, i.e., 32 days for Legislation and 20 days for Supply, and yet they were not able to pass their Bills.He ventured to think that the House would support the Government, particularly as this was to be made only a Sessional Order.
§ GENERAL GOLDSWORTHY (Hammersmith),
hoped the Government would consent to give more than 20 days. He did not often trouble the House with 1307 speeches, but he felt it his duty to point out anything which might be for the benefit of the Party to which he belonged.
THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (MR. R. W. HANBUEY,) Preston
said, it had been pointed out by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy that 20 days were a maximum and not a minimum. He thought it would be the fault of the House if they did not, under ordinary circumstances, meet the demand. What was the maximum would practically become the minimum. The difficulty which was feared was not met by this Amendment, but a Motion would be made outside of the House that the 20 days would, under certain circumstances, be extended to 23 days. The Government, therefore, had gone a long way to meet the hon. Gentleman, and he should have thought that was a fair compromise.
§ MR. HANBURY
said, it is not on the Paper, but it would be moved at the end. He thought it was very important that they should adhere to the 5th of August, so that the Session might terminate at a reasonable period. He for one should be very sorry to see that eliminated from the Resolution. He should like to remind the hon. Member that in giving 20 days before the 5th of August they were giving a greater number of days to Supply than had been given for many years. They were bringing on Supply not only regularly but much earlier in the Session than formerly, and he thought these considerations ought to go a long way to satisfy hon. Members. Hon. Members talked of "well-ordered Debate." That was what the Government was trying to bring about. A large amount of discussion had gone on which never would have taken place, and hon. Gentlemen had felt that Supply would be brought on at a reasonable time. ["Hear, hear."] He did not believe, referring to the statement of the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Ellis) as to the number and the great variety of topics which had to be raised in Supply, that it would be possible in any one year adequately to discuss Supply. He did not believe it ever had been done, or that it ever would be 1308 done. It would require 40 days, and they knew it was impossible to get that. He believed that in order to get a well-ordered Debate they must have a scheme like this one. They were giving much better order, a more convenient time, and a longer period than were given in average years. The Member for Kirkcaldy talked of the average of ordinary years, but he thought he would find that the 20 or 23 days that the Government were offering was quite the average. Fears had been expressed that private Members would talk too long on small subjects and curtail the time by moving adjournments. By doing so, Members would be defeating their own objects. These adjournments would hamper the Government in no way whatever, and if these discussions were carried to inordinate length the private Members would become rather wary. Then it was said the Government would waste time by inducing Members to talk. It was not likely the Government would break down its own rules. Next it was said the Government would try to burke inopportune discussions. He thought the Leader of the House had given the best possible security that nothing of the kind would happen, because he had undertaken to leave the arrangement of the Votes in Supply in the hands of the Opposition Whips. They wished important subjects brought forward and discussed. He hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Amendment to a Division.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
said, he had not intended to interfere in the discussion, but he was considerably surprised by the statement just made that the Opposition Whips should take charge of the Estimates. [Laughter.] A more singular, a more unprecedented, a more unconstitutional proposal he had never heard in his life. ["Hear, hear."] If there was anything for which the Executive Government was responsible, it was the conduct of the Estimates in the House of Commons, and that the Opposition Whips should take that responsibility off the hands of the Government and undertake to satisfy the various Parties in the House as to the manner in which Estimates were brought forward was really an idea which astonished him, and against which, on behalf of the Opposition Whips, he must enter his protest. The Government had 1309 brought forward this scheme, and the responsibility rested with the Government, and it was impossible they could put the responsibility on any shoulders except their own. [The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY: "Hear, hear."] He had no doubt the Government would endeavour to act fairly in this matter and collect the opinions of the House in reference to the conduct of business. There was another point of importance. The notion was that the Estimates were to be brought on very early; but, in the case of Estimates like that for the Foreign Office, it was highly desirable that the House should have an opportunity of discussing them towards the end of the Session, as well as at the beginning. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
trusted the First Lord of the Treasury would not meet them in the haggling spirit displayed by the Secretary to the Treasury. The Amendment was to substitute 25 for 20 days, and the Secretary to the Treasury said, "Oh, make it 23 days." They asked, "Where is the Amendment giving 23 days?" and the right hon. Gentleman said, "It will be put down presently." But then he did not give them a clear 23 days, but 23 days under certain circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman did not explain what those circumstances were. It was said that a maximum of 20 days was as good as a maximum of 25 days; but surely it made all the difference where they placed the maximum. He put it to the First Lord of the Treasury that it would be most desirable to have some elasticity in the arrangement, so as to avoid a repetition of the dreadful Closure scene of 1893. He could not imagine that anyone who witnessed that scene wished to see a repetition of it. The way to avoid such a thing was to allow a sufficiently long space of time. It did not follow that the time would be used; on the contrary, if the Government accepted the Amendment, very likely they would get through Supply in 22 or 23 days. All that was asked was that such a time should be allowed as would most likely prevent the possibility of a resort to desperate expedients.
§ MR. DISRAELI (Cheshire, Altrincham)
thought the protest which the Leader of the Opposition had just made came very badly from him, considering 1310 that he was the arch-priest of the gag during the last Parliament. Personally, he cared little whether 10, 15, 20, or 25 days were allowed for Supply, now that the Government had resolved upon restricting the deliberations of the House. No one could deny that when once a Resolution of this kind was adopted they opened the door to immense jobbery. Take the case of the hon. Member for Northampton. That hon. Gentleman had a house. It was a house upon which many Members wished to lay their hands; they meant to destroy it by the Estimates—[a laugh]—in order to open up a good view of Westminster Abbey. Under the old Rules they would be able to bring the Vote on when the hon. Gentleman had gone for his usual tour, and when he returned from his German resort full of health and full of water—[laughter]—he would find that his once happy home was a greensward planted by the hands of the First Commissioner of Works. [Laughter.] But under these new restrictions the hon. Gentleman would be able to whip up his Party and to make arrangements by which the Estimate under which his house was to be attacked was kept to the last; he would return, and the nuisance of his house obstructing the view of Westminster Abbey would be perpetrated to all eternity. [Laughter.]
§ MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
did not think that in considering the procedure of business before this august assembly it was absolutely necessary to give hon. Gentlemen opposite an opportunity of committing a sort of Transvaal raid on the humble roof that covered his head. [Laughter.] Whether there were 25 or 500 days given to Supply, he would certainly not interfere with the Whips by asking them to put down for a certain day a Vote which hon. Gentlemen wished to increase by a large amount in order to acquire his house.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he would therefore now give notice that he would oppose the proposal. [Laughter.] He agreed with the hon. Gentleman so far, that it was a matter of comparatively no importance whether they had 20, 23, or 25 days, because it was very unlikely that, when there were important questions to be discussed on the Estimates, 1311 Supply could be finished in any of those periods of time. He gathered that the First Lord of the Treasury was prepared to accept the bargain, and have 23 days. ["Under certain circumstances."] Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman, or someone on his behalf, would explain precisely what the position of the right hon. Gentleman in the matter was, and make it clear whether, if the Amendment were withdrawn, he would give them 23 days.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
There are one or two considerations which I think the House ought to bear in mind. The House of Commons is, no doubt, one of the greatest and most powerful Assemblies in the world, but, like other great bodies, it has its weakness—a weakness common to human nature. It desires to have its cake and to eat it too, but that is impossible. [Laughter.] Everybody wishes on his own behalf to pass a certain number of interesting Bills. I do not say that they wish to pass the Bills of the Government or the Bills of any other people; but not a day passes without an appeal coming to me, sometimes from one side of the House and sometimes from the other, to add a new Bill to the Government programme, and thus to increase the already somewhat expanded limits of the bill of fare we have offered to the House. [Laughter.] One desire of the House is to pass a great deal of legislation; another is to have an early holiday; a third is to meet pretty late in the year [Opposition cries of "No"], and a fourth desire is to have a complete, exhaustive, detailed, and thoroughly adequate discussion of every item of the 142 Estimates which are presented for consideration. But, after all, mere arithmetic comes to our assistance. It is quite impossible that the House should have all those things, or, indeed, any two of them in a large measure. Debates in this House are somewhat like a man-of-war—it is a question of compromise, for what we choose to give in one direction we must deprive ourselves of something in another. I start with the proposition that the House ought not to be asked to sit for more than a certain number of months in the year; and I am certain that if you attempt to overwork the House the work it would turn out would be bad work. If you are to sit 1312 for a limited number of months, the question is how are you to distribute the time. We all accept the fact that private Members must be allowed a certain number of days in which to present and discuss important abstract resolutions or matters in which their constituents are interested, while a certain number of other days are necessarily given to the work of Supply altogether outside the rule, such as Supplementary Estimates, getting the Speaker out of the chair, and the Budget. ["Hear, hear."] The result is that there remains not a very large residue of time, which must be divided between legislation and discussion in Supply. The full discussion of Supply is impossible. I believe that under the system I am proposing the number of Votes discussed would be fewer, not because the time given to discussion was inadequate, but because the time and the period of the Session chosen would be more convenient to hon. Members and the discussions we did have would be more thorough and complete. ["Hear, hear!"] I consider that every day devoted to the discussion of Supply after the 5th of August is a day at which the House would not be at its best. ["Hear, hear!"] In one of the most brilliant and amusing speeches, perhaps, ever heard in the House the hon. Member for West Fife has intimated that nothing would induce him to stay at work after that time [Cheers and laughter]; and the hon. Member for Northampton had stated that considerations of health might take him abroad. Deprived of the assistance of these and other eminent Members on the other side, and doubtless of many Members on both sides of the House, I fear our discussions would be very maimed discussions. [Laughter.] In addition to that, I would ask the House to consider what value, under present circumstances, is to be attached to our discussions after 12 o'clock. The hon. Member for King's Lynn, who has also enlivened this Debate by his humour, has poured contempt on the poor and contemptible generation in which we live, who do not like discussing questions of State after 12 o'clock at night.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Then it was some other Gentleman who was enamoured of the small hours.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The hon. Member for King's Lynn does not like discussing matters after 12 o'clock, but does like discussing them after August 5; the hon. Member opposite does like discussing them after 12 o'clock, but not after August 5. [Laughter.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
My hon. Friend's appetite for discussion is one that can never be satiated. Neither the month of the year nor the lateness of the hour has any deterring effect upon his pre-eminent Parliamentary industry. [Laughter.] But, fortunately, most of us are formed of inferior clay, and I do think he will admit that, on the whole, the discussions after 12 at night cannot be accounted the most useful discussions which take place in this House. [Cheers.] If the House will permit me to subtract from the eight-hour day devoted to Supply those days which are after August 5 and the days formed of the hours after 12 o'clock, they would find that the residue we propose is not very unreasonable. There were 28½ days in 1890. Over seven of those days were after August 5, and over two and a half were after 12 o'clock. In 1891 there were 23⅓ days given to Supply, and two of those days were after 12 o'clock. Objection has been taken to 1892 because there was an election. I could argue that point, but I will pass it by, as I do not wish to detain the House, and go to 1893. There were 26⅔ days, and of these 15½ were after August 5 and two were after 12 o'clock. In 1894 there were 18⅔ days altogether, and of those over five days were after August 5 and over one day after 12 o'clock. In 1895 there were 20 days devoted to Supply, of which 12 were after August 5 and two after 12 o'clock. I think, having read that out to the House, they will admit that, when you have taken into account that you have to deal with Supplementary Estimates and with the Budget, the proposal of the Government is not intrinsically 1314 an unreasonable one. ["Hear, hear!"] But I fully admit that there is one argument against my proposal which has weight, and that is that it is an inelastic proposal. ["Hear, hear!"] It is stated, and with truth, that some years there is not merely a disposition to discuss the Estimates at great length, but real reason for discussing them ["Hear, hear!"], and that in other years there may be a somewhat smaller time devoted to them. I also have to admit that what we have put down as the maximum probably will always be reached. There are serious objections to raising the 20 days to 25. That would not mean that you would sometimes take 20 days, sometimes 22, sometimes 23, and sometimes 25. It would mean that you would always take 25; and if anybody will go through the calculation which an hon. Friend behind me—who spoke to-night for the first time in an interesting and excellent speech—has made, they will see that if you subtract from Government time 25 full days, which will fall between the Easter holidays and August 5, you are diminishing unduly the time which is given for legislative work. The only way in which I can see that the difficulty can be met—a difficulty not incident to my scheme only, but incident to any scheme which insists that the Estimates shall be discussed at the right and not at the wrong time of the year—is to say that at the end of the 20 days it shall be in the power of a Minister of the Crown to move that one or more days, up to a maximum of three days, making in all 23 days, shall be given for the discussion of Supply, those additional three days to come either before or after August 5, as Parliamentary necessities may suggest. I suggest that to the House, not as wholly meeting the views of hon. Gentlemen, but as paying some attention to their views and as showing the real desire on the part of Government to meet their wishes. I would earnestly suggest that they should accept that proposal as a compromise, and as one which does something to give to our scheme that elasticity which, I admit, under present, circumstances, it can hardly be said to possess now. [Cheers.]
§ MR. DALZIEL
said, they recognised the spirit of concession which the right hon. Gentleman had shown in this 1315 matter, and, with the leave of the House, he would desire to withdraw his Amendment. He might be allowed to say that they reserved their right to offer some criticism on the Amendment which would embody the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
MR. HANBURY moved, in line 6 to leave out the word "when," and insert the words "before the 5th of August on which," so as to make the Resolution read:—
Not more than 20 days, being days before the 5th of August, on which the Speaker leaves the Chair.
He proposed subsequently, at the end of the Resolution, to strike out the lines which provided that, except in the case of a Dissolution or other emergency, the 20 days should be allotted so that the business of Supply should be concluded before the 5th of August. It was proposed to omit those lines because they left the Government a loophole in the words "or other emergency." One of the objects of the Resolution was to get Supply discussed early in the Session, and if they were to leave in the words "or other emergency" it might be within the power of the Government, on some pretext or other, to postpone the time for discussion. His present Amendment would secure that the discussion should take place before the 5th of August.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ *MR. REGINALD McKENNA (Monmouth, N.) rose to Move the following Amendment:—"Line 9, leave out 'shall be' and insert 'having been.'" The hon. Member explained that the object of this Amendment, taken with two other Amendments which stood lower down on the Paper, and which were consequential on this, was to give greater elasticity to the Rule, a condition which had already, in a great measure, been satisfied by the concession made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. It was true that his Amendment would have given greater elasticity than would be given by the increase of the three days, but as the House appeared to think that that was a sufficient 1316 concession he should not wish to press his Amendment on that point. But there was another point in his Amendment which he thought might be accepted by the right hon. Gentleman, and that was that the gag—he did not use the word in a disagreeable sense, for he entirely approved of it—should not be put on as a matter of course by the Chairman of Committees, but should only be introduced upon the Motion of the Minister. His reason for the suggestion was this. It might well be in the mind of the Minister that the discussion had not been adequate, and in these circumstances he ought not to be compelled to insist on the gag being introduced. On his failing to move it the discussion should be continued. The whole of the Amendments together would have the effect of putting the responsibility on the Government of deciding that the time had come for the Closure to be put at the end of 19 days, and in the second place would give them power to increase the time for discussion. The second and third Amendments provided for giving one day's notice of the intention of the Minister deciding to put on the Closure at the end of 19 days, and for giving one day's notice of the intention of the Government to continue the discussion. The third of his Amendments was also designed to enable the Government to exercise the Closure at any time subsequent to the 19 days they had decided it should be put on. The Amendments were not hostile to the spirit of the proposal of the Government, but would provide greater elasticity and throw direct responsibility upon the Government in moving the Closure. There was a great deal to be said for placing this responsibility upon the shoulders of the Government. If there had not been adequate discussion the nation would have to be the authority to whom this House must look for a decision on the subject. The general public, upon reading the Debates, would decide whether the Opposition had or had not fairly taken advantage of the opportunities given them. If they came to the conclusion that the Opposition had not had a fair opportunity in the 19 days of safeguarding the interests of public expenditure, it should not then be in the power of the Ministry to say they were compelled by the Rules 1317 to put on the Closure. The responsibility ought to be on the Minister, on his own authority, to put the Closure, and he, therefore, begged to Move the Amendment.
§ MR. WM. ALLEN (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
seconded the Amendment. He quite admitted the concession the Government had just made had gone a long way towards meeting the point raised, but he thought the Amendment to the Resolution as proposed by his hon. Friend was almost better than that proposed by the First Lord of the Treasury, for under this Amendment, if the House was of opinion that Supply had been adequately discussed at the end of 20 days, it would be in the power of the Ministry to terminate the discussion at the end of those 20 days. But if, on the other hand, the Ministry and the House were of opinion that Supply had not been adequately discussed the discussion could be continued for 21, 22, 23 or 24, or as many days as the Ministry thought were needed to adequately finish the discussion of the Estimates. He did not see why the Ministry need take any objection to this scheme of his hon. Friend. A Ministry did not generally take objection to having additional power in its own hands. Under these Amendments the Ministry would have the power to apply or not apply the gag at the end of 20 days as they thought well or not. If there had been obstructive discussion from the Opposition during those 20 days the Ministry would be justified in the eyes of the House and of the country in applying the gag. But if, on the other hand, there had been no obstructive discussion and a number of very important Votes remained undiscussed, the Ministry would have the responsibility if they applied the gag of having to face the opinion of the House and of the country. The argument had been constantly urged during this Debate, that the Government would put up men on their own side to try and talk a long time on the Estimates so as to prevent an important Vote coming on; but if the Government naturally had the power of extending the time, or some important Vote had not come on, they would not have the inducement to put up their own men to talk out the time, because it would be said in the country that they 1318 themselves had encouraged obstruction in order to prevent a fair and adequate discussion of their own Estimates. In seconding this Amendment he was not actuated by any hostility to the Resolution of the Leader of the House, and he certainly had no objection to the Closure. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see that the Amendment was simply one to give elasticity to the Resolution, and that it placed additional power in the hands of the Ministry, to whom it would give the option of affording opportunity for fuller and more adequate discussion of their Estimates when they desired it. The Rule was a new one, and they had no idea how it would work. If it was found to work well the Ministry would have no need to put in force the Amendment of his hon. Friend. If, on the other hand, the Rule was found to work badly, if the Estimates were inadequately discussed at the end of the time allotted, the Amendment would be a powerful engine in their hands by which they would be able to extend the discussion and to make their proposal at any rate work fairly and justly between all parties in the House.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, he entirely recognised that the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment had not put it before the House in any spirit of hostility to the Resolution. At the same time he did not advise the House to accept it, for a reason he would shortly give. It had been his duty to propose a latitude of three days being given to the Government of the day by which the consideration of the Estimates might be extended. The hon. Member wished to augment that elasticity by letting the consideration run on to any length they considered desirable. It appeared to him that if there were any disadvantages in preventing the unlimited discussion of Estimates those disadvantages were not removed by the proposal. If, on the other hand, there were advantages in finishing the Estimates they were not gained. There would be 23 days, and hon. Members would apportion their time. If at the end of the 20 days it were thought that the Government might be squeezed into granting unlimited further time the great motion for conciseness of debate would be thrown away.
§ MR. MCKENNA
asked whether at the conclusion of the 19th day it would be on the Motion of a Minister that the Chairman of Committees might apply the Closure.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS moved an Amendment providing for the exclusion of the Vote on Account from the operation of the Motion of the Leader of the House, so that they might be in the same category as Supplementary Estimates and Votes of Credit, on the ground that the discussion on them was necessarily limited, and they ought not to be counted in the same category as ordinary Supply.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
admitted that Votes on Account could not be considered as in the same category as ordinary Supply, for the reason given by the hon. Member, and therefore discussions on such Votes were unsatisfactory and profitless. He proposed to deal with the matter by altering the order of the items in the Votes on Account, putting the really important items first, and having a Vote on Account only once in the year. Now that discussions in Supply would be frequent the House would not mind giving a Vote on Account for a longer period than had been the custom of late years, say four months instead of two.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, that the object of the rule was to secure the discussion of the more important Votes. He did not think that there was much danger to be apprehended in the cases to which the hon. Member referred.
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E. R., Holderness)
said, that on some occasions hon. Members who rose to discuss the earlier Votes had been ruled out of order because a later one had been debated.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said, that hon. Members should look alive and not allow their chances of discussing any particular Vote to slip away. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
in pursuance of the arrangement that had been entered into, moved to add to the rule the following words:Provided always that on motion made after notice by a Minister of the Crown, to be decided without Amendment or Debate, additional days, not exceeding three, may be allotted to the business of Supply either before or after the 5th of August.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
May I ask, Sir, on a point of order whether that would not bring my Amendment into the exact form of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Monmouthshire which has already been negatived?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Amendment of the hon. Member for Monmouthshire was withdrawn. I gathered from the explanation the hon. Member gave, that the proposal he made would have had very much the same effect as the Amendment now suggested by the hon. Member for King's Lynn.
§ DR. CLARK
thought it was surely very pedantic on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to refuse to accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for King's Lynn, and to put in a limitation. Standing Orders were occasionally suspended in the House, and if a Minister wished for more than 20 days, he could only suspend the Order.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
suggested that seeing that no Minister ever wished to prolong discussion on anything, this so called concession was of absolutely no value to the Opposition. Whatever Minister was in power he never wished to hear the Opposition. It would be a great mistake to allow it to go out that Ministers had on this point made any concession of any value whatever to the Opposition.
§ MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, they had before them a proposal which did bring in something like an 1321 element of discretion, and he hoped the House would allow that discretion to the Minister.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY moved as a consequential Amendment to leave out the words "19th of such," in order to insert the words "last but one of such."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ MR. H. SETON-KARR (St. Helens)
then rose to move in line 12 after "days" to insert "but not before the 1st of August in any year." He explained that the object of the Amendment, which he assured the right hon. Gentleman he did not move in any hostile spirit, was to prevent the automatic Closure from taking place earlier in the Session than the 1st of August. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to have said that Supply would be spread fairly equally over the whole of the Session, and it was his object to secure that.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Amendment. In any Session, as they knew, unforeseen circumstances might arise and make it extremely desirable that Supply should be rapidly disposed of before August, and that would be prevented by the proposal of the hon. Member.
§ MR. SETON-KARR
observed that under the clause as it now stood it would be possible for a Government to push through Supply as early as May, or even earlier. That, he understood, was not the intention of the right hon. Member, and he thought that means ought to be adopted to prevent any such action on the part of a Government. However, in the circumstances he would not press the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
MR. LOUGH moved, in line 12, to leave out the words "at 10 o'clock p.m." He said that the object of this, and
subsequent Amendments which he had placed upon the Paper, was to avoid a dramatic Closure and to introduce some elasticity in the final proceedings in Supply. Under the Resolution as it stood at present there would come an hour when a great number of Resolutions would probably remain to be voted, and there might be a dramatic scene and angry feeling. For the honour of the House of Commons he wished never to witness a repetition of such scenes as had occurred in the past. ["Hear, hear!"] His plan was that the guillotine should be in operation all day, so that the Minister in charge of Supply should be able at any time to dispose of a few of the Votes on the Paper. On the last day there might be some 30 Votes to be disposed of, and of these 18 or 19 might be of great interest. A few Members might wish to prevent the interesting Votes from being discussed, and by debating at length the preceding Votes they might attain their object. He held that means ought to be adopted to prevent this, and that an hour or two ought to be secured for the discussion of important Votes. If his proposals were assented to there would be no imperative necessity to close the proceedings at 10 or 11 o'clock, and a whole Parliamentary sitting might be devoted to them. The rule, as he would amend it, would read:—
On the 19th of the allotted days the Chairman shall put every Question necessary to dispose of the outstanding Votes in Committee of Supply when such Question is moved by the Minister in charge, and so that the whole business of Supply shall be concluded within the limits of one Parliamentary day.
§ MR. J. A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside),
in seconding the Amendment, said he had a great horror of the scenes which were witnessed in the last Parliament. It would be discreditable to the House to hear the Opposition crying out "Gag!" at 10 o'clock to the Ministers in charge of any business which remained to be got through. The House ought to conduct its business in a businesslike way, and with the elasticity provided by his hon. Friend's Amendment the chance of horrible scenes would be avoided.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
sympathised with the view that had been expressed by the two last 1323 speakers, and, with them, he desired to do everything which would avoid the recurrence of such scenes; but he did not anticipate that those scenes would occur. He did not think that the Closure, as it would be applied after 20 days, during which time all the great topics would, he hoped, have been discussed, would lead to the opposition which hon. Gentlemen anticipated. He thought that the hon. Member did not quite understand the procedure of the last day. It would not be necessary to have more than two Divisions at the most—a Division on the Amendment then before the House, and a Division on the main Question. On the last day the Votes would be put, as was the practice on Votes on Account.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, he did not know where he was with regard to this Question. [Laughter.] As the matter stood in the Resolution, he submitted that it had not the meaning indicated by the Leader of the House—On the last day but one the Chairman shall proceed to put forthwith every Question necessary to dispose of the outstanding Votes.There were 148 Votes, and such as had not already been voted were forthwith to be put separately On the nineteenth day the House might conceivably not have obtained any Vote at all; there might be a recrudescence of activity on the part of Irish Members, and other hindering circumstances. It would be necessary to put each Vote separately, and this meant 49 hours of Divisions. [Laughter.] Inasmuch as the House was now to have a trade union eight hours day, this meant that six days would be taken up in Divisions alone. [Laughter.] On the twentieth day there would be the Report of 148 Votes, occupying six more days. [Laughter.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said he had taken the trouble to inquire of the authorities of the House their view on the subject, and they were unanimously of opinion that, under the words of the new Sessional Order, it would be competent on the last day to move that all the Estimates be taken by some Resolution closely assimilated to that which every time was brought into request on a Vote on Account. He was extremely desirous, in the interests of the House itself, that the 1324 same procedure as was followed in the case of the annual Votes on Account should be adopted in this case, not merely because otherwise there might be an enormous number of divisions, but because he did not think the Government ought to be pressed to bring to a completion the Votes which had been brought forward. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition stated earlier in the evening that he would like to have a discussion on foreign affairs soon after Easter, and again, perhaps, at the end of July. The best way to get that discussed on both occasions was on the Vote for the salary of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and, with that view, not to complete the Vote on the first occasion. He saw no object in bringing it to a completion, and was advised that there would be no difficulty in the working of the Resolution.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
was utterly staggered by the analogy of Votes on Account which his right hon. Friend had drawn. It was true a Vote on Account might include a number of items, but then the House might submit an Amendment to every item and take a Division thereon. Here it was proposed, without the possibility of Amendment or Debate, to vote upon the question which should be put. If they consolidated the questions into one the House could do nothing but accept or reject that question, and then the question would arise whether it was desirable to put any question at all.
§ DR. CLARK
thought that hon. Members had better understand where they were. Either the First Lord of the Treasury had a new series of Resolutions up his sleeve, or he was trying to get from the House, under curious phraseology, an entire change of Procedure. When there was a Vote on Account the question put by the Chairman and the Speaker was that the sum of, say 20 millions be voted to Her Majesty; but in Committee of Supply each Vote must be put, and the same on the Report of the Vote with the Speaker in the Chair, and then Members could move to amend every Vote. The House ought to know whether there was to be a change in Procedure made, not by the House, but by the officers of the House.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said, the House was likely to get into a considerable bubble if they did not take care. The explanation given by the First Lord of the Treasury appeared to point to a much greater change in the method of dealing with Supply than Members generally had any idea of. It pointed to this, that they would have going on week by week during the Session discussions upon the Estimates, but that practically they would not be voting money, and that at the end the whole of the money should be voted en bloc without discussion. He did not say whether such a change was good or bad, but certainly the Standing Order should be made clearer than it was on the face of it.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
It was my fault; the phrase should not have been used. I had no right to consult or to quote the Speaker in the matter, nor did I intend to bring his name into the phrase.
§ MR. KNOX
said that, according to the immemorial custom of the House, the Chairman of Committees had power to put only one vote at a time, and there was nothing in the Resolution to change that custom. Under the new ruling the Chairman might put the whole of Supply as one Question while Members were away at dinner. [Cheers.]
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, that, though he thought the Resolution ill-considered, he preferred to have it in a form that could be understood. [Cheers.] If the House were determined to surrender the financial business of the country to the majority of the moment, then let the House say so. Let the Resolution read "Then the Chairman shall forthwith put all the remaining Votes in a heap," or words to that effect. [Laughter and cheers.]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I should like to ask the Government what is the meaning of the words "Shall put forthwith every Question." "Every Question" must mean every Vote. [Cheers.] What would have been thought if, either upon the Coercion Bill of 1888 or upon the Home Rule Bill of 1893, it had been 1326 proposed that all the clauses should be put at once? [Cheers.] These things show the extreme danger of beginning a departure from established practice. [Cheers.] Until to-night no one has entertained the idea that Supply could be closed without every Vote being put. The attempt to strain and alter the practice of this House so as to put a great number of Votes in Supply as one Vote is a proceeding more extravagant than any we had thought of, and we cannot accept that interpretation of the Resolution. [Cheers.]
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, that as it was quite impossible that the rejection of any Vote should be acquiesced in by a Government, it was immaterial whether a single Vote or the whole remaining Estimates were challenged, and the more rational thing, after the Closure, was to put all the Votes in a lump.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Let me point out exactly where we stand. I have never concealed from the House that, in form, the Standing Order which I have the honour of proposing is a great alteration in our proceedings. I do not think it is in substance, but it is in form, and the House, by a very large majority, has decided that the change of form ought to be accepted. Having so decided why should the House go through the farce—[Opposition cries of "No, no,"]—well, the tragedy—which was the word used by the hon. Gentleman opposite, and is perhaps a better word than farce—but, at all events, why should the House go through the undignified proceeding of spending not only a night, and a day, but perhaps another night in dividing seriatim on all the Votes, very likely not because the Votes had not been discussed, but because they had not been passed? I take it that it is an inevitable corollary of the Closure of Supply that we should avoid an interminable series of divisions. [Hear, hear.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I put this case. Supposing a majority of the House desired to reject or diminish a particular Vote—not all the Votes, but a particular Vote that had been discussed—would they or would they not have the power to do so under the plan of the right hon. Gentleman?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
It would be possible, even if a 1327 Vote were discussed but not freely disposed of, to move and dispose of any number of reductions to that Vote.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
But supposing the Vote the House desired to reject is not reached for discussion, how could it be rejected if all the Votes were put en bloc? ["Hear, hear!"]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
That is a different question. I say that in the case of a Vote which is not reached it would be possible for the House on the last night to propose Amendments to that Vote just as in the case of a Vote on account. [Opposition cries of "No!"] All the Votes are treated on the last night just as a Vote on account, and just as it is possible to have Amendments on a Vote of account it will be possible to have Amendments on all these Votes on the last night. But let this be remembered—that while the House has amply discussed it has never rejected a Vote that I can recollect. [Ministerial cheers.] Therefore, let us look at the matter as practical men—[Ministerial cheers]—and let us not for the purely imaginary purpose of rejecting a Vote that will never be rejected, turn our proceedings on the last night into the unpleasant ceremony which the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment had in view—of dividing on every Vote. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire,) Eifion
thought that in supporting the new rule he was voting solely for limitation of undue discussion, but certainly not for the purpose of preventing a judgment being taken on each Vote. [Opposition cheers.]
§ MR. T. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)
said, that the right hon. Gentleman was placing himself and the House in a ridiculous position. As matters stood now it was competent to the House to take a Division on each Vote; and surely the right hon. Gentleman had no right to deprive the House or any Member of it of the right to question any particular Vote. The right hon. Gentleman had a majority and the power of the Closure, and now he proposed to pass Votes so as not to allow any Member to challenge a particular Vote, which he had hitherto had the right to do. This was a proposal of a sweeping character, and it was time for the House gravely to reconsider its 1328 position. The right hon. Gentleman said it was a mere farce for the House to go through a number of Divisions, but it was competent for the House to challenge every Vote now. Surely, if the right hon. Gentleman shortened discussion he gained his object without preventing the House from challenging each Vote by a Division. To enable the right hon. Gentleman to further consider the matter, he moved the adjournment of the Debate.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the Twelve o'clock Rule was suspended, by order of the House, and there was a general understanding that the discussion of the new Rules was to be brought to a close that evening. Therefore he was unwilling to put a Motion for adjournment at that time. An important question had arisen, and perhaps it might be satisfactorily settled by further discussion. At any rate he did not think he would be justified inputting the question of Adjournment until a further effort had been made to dispose of it.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, he quite recognised that the House desired to carry out the general understanding that had been come to; and he equally recognised that an important question had arisen. He thought he could show that he was not unyielding. He had no desire to force his opinions on the House; but they had accepted a principle by which discussion on Supply was to be brought to an end; and there were two ways of bringing it to an end. In his opinion the best way was to treat the Votes undisposed of as a Vote on Account, and to have one Division. That would have the advantage of avoiding the inconvenience of several Divisions; but it would not have the practical effect of depriving the House of control over the money voted. Hon. Gentlemen opposite and others wished to have each Vote undisposed of put separately from the Chair. That would have the nominal and apparent advantage of giving the House control not only over the whole money, but over the money in smaller particulars. What were the disadvantages? The disadvantages were that the Government would be compelled to do their best during 1329 the twenty days to close the Votes as rapidly as possible. ["Hear, hear.] Then hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that an advantage. He regarded it as a disadvantage. He would give the same answer that he gave to the Leader of one of the Irish parties with regard to the Chief Secretary's Vote. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that he wished the Foreign Office Vote to be taken early in the year. What was the natural method of doing that? Hon. Gentlemen would realise that the object would be not to force the House unduly, and to dispense with the Closure as far as possible, but the Chairman of Committee would doubtless realise that the Votes had to be got through in twenty days, and he would undoubtedly give the Closure. ["Oh, oh."] He was speaking of what occurred under ordinary circumstances. [Cheers.] On that general agreement it would be his duty to ask the Closure on a large number of Votes if not disposed of. The usual number of Votes which were never argued or spoken on at all were 40 or 50. If they gave a full opportunity for debate these numbers would be greater; but if these 40 or 50 were disputed by any Party in that House in its senses, he could not believe that the House with its eyes open would go through the process of walking through the Lobbies at the bidding of one man, or two or three men.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, the Chairman of Committee was very reluctant to do that. He could not imagine that being done under his Rule. ["Why? Why?"] Hon. Members might take his word for it, that was not an easy mode of procedure to adopt. He placed an alternative scheme before the House; but he did not wish to cram it down their throats. He desired the House to take a line most consistent with its own dignity and convenience.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
offered one more word in order to remove the difficulty. They all agreed that they were to dispose of this Sessional Order that night. It was admitted that this particular question had risen unexpectedly, and what he ventured to suggest was that they should go on with the Sessional Order as it was at present before them on the Paper. It would be perfectly possible for the Government to reserve 1330 this question and bring up an Amendment to the Order; that might be done on some subsequent day. He did not think they could satisfactorily settle it that night. There could be no doubt that as it stood each Vote would have to f be put separately. Take the Vote for the Uganda Railway, about which they would have to have a discussion. If the Government and the House were of opinion that the course which had been suggested was one which ought not to be pursued, and that the Rule ought to be drawn up in a more definite manner, an Amendment could be made subsequently. That was a suggestion which would allow them to go on now with the discussion of the Rule in its present form, subject to Amendment hereafter.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said, the difficulty arose through his pointing out that it, was conceivable that, on the 19th or 20th day, 148 successive Votes would have to be put, and that the proceeding would occupy 49 hours, or six days of eight hours each. He could not conceive that anybody, much less a Minister, would suggest the possibility of putting Supply in one Vote. His right hon. Friend told them there was no difficulty at all, because they would put all the Votes in one Vote. That was not the language of the Order. ["Hear, hear."] He defied any authority on the Rules of the House to say the Order meant that. The proper Parliamentary Procedure was to put each Vote and each report of a Vote by itself. The Order did not change that. But if the Order did import what the right hon. Gentleman erroneously suggested it did [Cheers], it would amount to a most tremendous revolution, not a revolution merely in procedure, but in the rights and duties of the House. If the right hon. Gentleman, by a subterfuge, was going to palm upon them a revolution like that he ought to have told them. [Opposition cheers.]
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
withdrew the word subterfuge and substituted misapprehension. [Laughter.] He respectfully suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that a little more consideration might be usefully given to the language of the Order, and, therefore, thought a Motion for the adjournment of the Debate would not be inappropriate 1331 [Cries of "Move."] He did not care to make such a Motion, but thought that what Her Majesty's Government required in this emergency was a little time to see how they could get out of the difficulty.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
thought the First Lord of the Treasury had not fully apprehended all the bearings of the question. Their contention was that the Closure of Supply en bloc was contrary to the terms of the Resolution. ["Hear, hear!"] That appeared from the use of the word "every," which by no possible twisting of the English language could be applied to two Motions. ["Oh!"] A proper word in the case of two Motions would be "both." But to put a large number of Votes en bloc was to run directly counter to the whole tendency and intention of Parliament in recent years, which had been to increase and multiply the opportunities for the House to express its opinion by splitting up the Estimates into a larger number of Votes than existed in them before. He was friendly to the proposal of the Government, and did not object to the automatic Closure in Supply as proposed. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, he feared, might have been a little misled by the terrors raised by certain hon. Members. They had heard, for instance, of the 148 Votes being all put in succession on the fatal night when all Supply was to be passed. Did any hon. Member think that every Vote would be put as implied? There was a large number of Votes which would not have a single dissentient. ["Hear, hear!"] On only a small number would any time be spent in taking the opinion of the House. Some hon. Members had expressed a fear lest the scene which took place in the House a year or two ago, when the automatic Closure was applied, might be repeated; but, in his opinion, that scene was due not to the application of the Closure, but to the intensity of feeling that existed on the subject under discussion. The right hon. Gentleman should not be afraid to adhere to what he believed was his original conception of the proposal. On August 5th, or whatever the date of Closure might be, they would proceed to go through the Votes seriatim, and even on the Votes upon which opposition existed they could take a Division without spending the 1332 number of days about it which the hon. Member for King's Lynn had suggested. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. J. M. MACLEAN (Cardiff)
, said, he was one who disliked the Rules altogether, but the House had come to the Resolution, by a very large majority, that the guillotine should be imposed upon the 20th day of Supply, and he could not understand hon. Members who voted for that Resolution now coming forward and saying that though they wished for the end they did not wish for the only means by which the end could be carried into effect. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House was bound to stand by his original proposition, for that was the only course by which Supply could be closed on the 20th day. It could only be done by one question putting all the Votes at once to the House. It would be evidently a physical impossibility to do anything else. Hon. Gentlemen expressed great surprise and indignation at the fact that these Votes should be passed all in one body but they forgot that Supply would then have been discussed for 20 days, and that every point of controversy on every single Estimate would have been raised. Having agreed to the principle of the Resolution that on the 20th day Supply should be brought to a close, how was it to be brought to a close unless they simply put all the remaining Votes in one Resolution and carried them at that time? The right hon. Gentleman was taking the only logical course in proposing that a single question should be put on the last day, and a single question again on Report of Supply. If they did not vote for a proceeding of that kind they stultified the whole of the Resolution and said that the House of Commons had come to a wrong decision altogether.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said, the interpretation which the First Lord of the Treasury had put upon these words had raised a completely new situation. An agreement, he understood, had been come to that this Debate on the Resolution should be concluded that night, but at that time nobody had any idea of the extraordinary interpretation which the First Lord had put upon these words. It was bad enough to have discussion upon the Estimates curtailed, but the First Lord now, for the first time, told them that they were also to have their right of voting curtailed, and that they 1333 were to be allowed to have but one vote dealing with all the Estimates. That raised a completely new situation, and he did not think it unreasonable to urge, as a reason for postponing this matter, the fact that a large number of Irish Members were absent that night, because they did not for a moment consider that this grave question of voting would come up for discussion. It would not be fair to come to a decision upon this question now, in the absence of very many prominent Irish Members of Parliament who were very nearly concerned in the matter. Some of them, he understood, practically came to a conclusion about the Note closing in absolute ignorance of the new interpretation put upon the resolution by the First Lord of the Treasury, and it would be only fair to come to some agreement by which the matter might be held over until every Member of the House had had notice of the new meaning put upon it. If a Division was taken now on this important question of limiting the right of the Commons to vote the money of this country, on this point which had been suddenly brought up, great disappointment would be caused amongst large numbers of Members, who, if they had been acquainted with what had occurred, would have been present to record their votes.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
thought they might now bring the discussion to a close on the terms suggested by the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman, had placed his own interpretation on these words, and, although be did not agree with it, and considered his own interpretation was right, he thought they might well pass the Rule in its present form, leaving the matter to be investigated further. ["Hear, hear!"] He believed the best plan would be to appoint a Select Committee for determining the method by which the proceedings on the last night should be carried through. He did not commit himself to that suggestion, but that was the idea which occurred to him and which would probably meet the views of all. Let the House pass the Rule as it was, and he should at a later stage be prepared to make some suggestion in regard to considering the method by which the Closure should be applied, it being admitted that the Closure was to be carried into effect on the last 1334 night. He hoped this would meet the views of the House. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
did not think it would. They ought to have the matter cleared up at once, and with that view he would ask whether, if the Amendment of his hon. Friend were withdrawn, he should be in order in moving words to make it clear?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member will be in order in moving an Amendment to any part of the Resolution not yet reached.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
observed that the question now raised had come on unexpectedly, and the matter was one requiring further investigation. It was not a mere question of convenience, but one of constitutional gravity. It concerned the separation of the Votes, the right of the House to vote separately on each question, and was a matter of profound importance which went to the very root of the principle of the control by the House of Commons over the expenditure of public money. ["Hear, hear!"] The Leader of the House had agreed that the question and the manner in which it should be dealt with should be reserved for mature discussion. The words were to be treated as doubtful and ambiguous, but, in the future, steps would be taken to make them clear. On the understanding that this would be done he suggested that the Opposition might leave the matter.
Mr. F. A. CHANGING (Northampton, E.)
said, what the Leader of the House was asking the House to do, and what the Leader of the Opposition had assented to, was to pass a very important Sessional Order and then appoint a Select Committee or some other body to inquire what it meant. [Laughter.] They were placed in an intolerable position. It may have been generally understood that the Debate should be closed, but he himself submitted that the Leader of the House, responsible as he was for the dignity of the House and for the consistency, clearness, and reasonableness of their proceedings, should—the Speaker having declined to accept a Motion for the adjournment—move the adjournment himself, in order that the Government might have time to bring before the House a clear and rational form of Resolution.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said that, as the right hon. Gentleman, the First Lord of the 1335 Treasury, had not indicated any willingness to move the adjournment of the Debate, he rose to enforce very strongly the appeal that had been made to the right hon. Gentleman by the hon. Member who had just sat down. He generally bowed to the decision of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, but on this occasion he felt bound to exercise his own private judgment. They had heard a great deal that night about an honourable agreement that it was alleged had been entered into; but he ventured to assert that not 100 hon. Members in that House knew anything about such an agreement. In what position did hon. Members stand? They found the Government coming down and proposing a Resolution that would bring about a revolution in the procedure of the House, and at 20 minutes past 12 o'clock they asked the House to discuss a whole page of Amendments. In his opinion, the Government were asking for too much. They had no guarantee that the Select Committee would not take the view of the Government in this matter, and then the Estimates would be voted en bloc on the last day for taking them. When once they allowed a thing to go from them, they never knew whether they would get it back again. In his opinion, this was a matter, not for a Select Committee, but for the House itself to determine. It was quite clear that the Government had not made up their minds upon this point before they laid their Resolution upon the Table. In these circumstances, he asked the right hon. Gentleman to move the adjournment of the Debate, otherwise he should do so himself.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I think that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has made an unreasonable request in asking that I should now move the adjournment of the Debate. The hon. Gentleman referred to my statement that an honourable understanding had been entered into on the part of the Government with hon. Members opposite that the discussion upon the Resolutions should be brought to a conclusion to-night. That is the case, and in consideration of the understanding, full value has been given by the Government refraining from taking yesterday for the discussion of their proposals and allowing Wednesday to be occupied by the Debate upon the Evicted Tenants Bill. 1336 I am sure that hon. Gentlemen from Ireland will be the last now to turn round on the Government and say that having given this value, they ought not to receive consideration for it. Then a Debate arises upon a matter to which hon. Gentlemen had not given much thought previously and we have had an important discussion for two hours. The Leader of the Opposition got up and made a suggestion to end the Debate and that proposal was at once accepted by myself on behalf of my hon. Friends. Could conciliation go further than that? [Cheers.] It is impossible for anybody in any position to do more than I have done to meet the wishes of Gentlemen on all sides of the House and to bring our Debate to-night to an honourable and speedy conclusion. [Cheers.] But I will make even a further concession to hon. Gentlemen rather than spend the rest of the night in a wrangle. I regret, I frankly admit, having given way yesterday. I am sorry I was so far betrayed by my good nature—[Cheers and Opposition laughter]—as to give up the right I could have exercised without the possibility of a single word being said. I will now, in order to show, at all events, that if there be Gentlemen who are guilty of unnecessarily provoking Debate, I am not one of them. I will go the length of saying that if the rule is passed in its present shape and further investigation shows, as I believe it will show, that under this rule it will be possible for such an arrangement to be made on the Estimates that they shall all be put in one Vote, that shall be investigated by a Select Committee and the House shall not be asked finally to allow that course to be taken by the Government until they have a further opportunity of discussing it. [Cheers.] On that understanding I trust our Debate will now be allowed to proceed.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. PARKER SMITH moved to insert in line 14 instead of the word "twentieth" the words "last, not being earlier than the twentieth of."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ *MR. GIBSON BOWLES moved in lines 17 and 18 to leave out from "the consideration of such" to "nor may any" 1337 in line 19, and to insert "no." If this Amendment were agreed to the effect would be to leave the Members of the House on the last two days, the power of moving the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order 17. That Standing Order provided that a Motion for adjournment might be moved to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, if the Speaker recognised that the subject was one of that character, and if 40 Members rose in their places to support the Motion. The right to move an adjournment was therefore sufficiently controlled. It was a serious matter to prevent a Motion for adjournment from being put. On neither of the two days could a Motion for adjournment, whatever the emergency, be made. The emergency might be a sudden one or a great one; but however great, say an invasion of the country, under this Sessional Order the House would find itself precluded from entertaining the Motion. He therefore proposed to save the possibility of such a Motion for adjournment being made under Standing Order No. 17.
§ MR. J. A. PEASE
seconded, remarking that no Motion of this kind could be made if there was a Motion on the Notice Paper dealing with the subject; and therefore the Motion for adjournment could only be raised on an occasion of strict emergency.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, that the Mover of the Amendment had been anxious in all the discussions on these Amendments to secure a full discussion on the Estimates; now for the first time the hon. Gentleman took an opposite course by suggesting the abolition of one of the safeguards by which such a discussion could be secured. The hon. Member appeared to take rather a rosy view of the precautions surrounding the power of moving the adjournment. In his own experience on both sides of the House, sometimes a Minister, and sometimes an ex-Minister, found it to be an easy Parliamentary operation to get 40 Members to rise in their places to support him. He hoped that those Members would not press the Amendment to a division, but that he would leave the last night quite free for a discussion of the Estimates.
§ Amendment by leave withdrawn.1338
SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall) moved in line 21 to insert after "House" the words:—
Provided always, that the above Rules shall not come into force before the Government have proposed a scheme for allotting a due proportion of the 26 days to each of the different classes of Estimates, and that such scheme has been adopted by the House.
He did not wish to advocate Closure by compartments, what he advocated was that the Government should put forward some scheme under which a certain number of days—say a minimum of days—should be assigned to every different class or heading of Supply. Of course the intentions of Ministers and of Governments with regard to Supply were always of the most amiable and estimable character. Every Minister said it was the intention of the Government to put the important Votes forward, so that all important subjects should be fully and fairly discussed, but when the time came there was always tremendous temptation to postpone Votes which involved awkward questions. For that reason he asked his right hon. Friend either to accept the Amendment or to give some pledge that the Government would bring forward a scheme on the lines of the Amendment.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
hoped his hon. Friend would not persist in his Amendment. He quite understood the purpose which those had in view who suggested that the Estimates should be divided into compartments with the view of putting on the Closure at the end of each class.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, that his object was to secure that a certain minimum period of discussion should be given to each important class of the Estimates.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
If it is not accompanied by the Closure I do not see what object is to be gained. Of course the Government will see the necessity of bringing forward the Estimates in a manner agreeable to the House; and I have little doubt that I can satisfy the House that this question can well be left to the Government.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The Government having taken the responsibility of this scheme, it is obviously to 1339 their interest to work it so that it may ultimately have the approval of all parties. The more we leave the responsibility to them of showing that the scheme is a success the better.
§ MR. CHANNING
gave a general support to the principle of the Amendment, and asked the First Lord of the Treasury whether he would not consider the advisability of appointing a Hybrid Committee to arrange the Votes. Pressure would be directed on the Government by various sections of the House to bring on certain Votes; and as an English Member he found the chance of discussing English subjects very much narrowed.
§ MR. COURTNEY
agreed with the Leader of the Opposition that the Government must be left with the responsibility. At the same time great difficulty and embarrassment would result if some plan were not found for securing discussion of the Votes which raised the policy of the various Departments of State. That did not involve an exhaustive discussion of every Vote, but it involved attention being paid to every class of service. They would go on during the Session under this system disposing of the Estimates, and they would be saved the scandal to which they were exposed of having a large number of Votes closured, one after another, at the end of the Session. They would allow the Foreign Office Vote two days—one day at one time, and one day at another time; and the Colonial Office Vote two days on the same principle. But there were a large number of Votes which did not need such an arrangement. The Treasury Vote would be done with, the House of Commons Vote would be done with; the Law Courts Vote would be done with, as they progressed regularly with Supply; and there would be no necessity for recurring to them again. The merit of the proposal was that they should have the opportunity during the course of the Session of calling attention to every action of the Administration. If, as the First Lord of the Treasury apprehended, there were a large number of Votes undiscussed, which would have to be put in globo, the system would be resented; and it would be said that they should not allow the Executive of the Country to dispense with the aid of Parliament altogether in voting Supply.
§ DR. CLARK
said, there should be an understanding of some kind arrived at by a Committee or otherwise, that a certain number of days should be given to each Department of the Civil Service. There were always Members who had Army and Navy grievances to bring forward; he had known some Gentlemen make the same speeches a dozen times, each of them speaking for a special Department of one of the services. There ought to be an understanding that a certain portion of time should be given to the Civil Service Estimates, and also to those for the Irish and Scotch nationalities. Otherwise the bulk of the time would be spent in getting the larger Votes, and all the minorities would be wiped out altogether. Perhaps this matter might be referred to the Committee to be appointed, in the hope that it might devise a scheme that would work with fairness all round. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he had no wish to put the House to the trouble of dividing. He took it there was an understanding that the Government would secure an adequate discussion of the different classes of Votes.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ *MR. T. W. LEGH (Lancashire, Newton) moved to add after "August" the words "after which day no Bill if opposed shall be proceeded with unless it has reached the Report stage." He said it was obvious the Amendment could not pass as it stood; but the principle of this Amendment was only a logical corollary of the changes proposed.
§ DR. CLARK rose to order, and asked whether an Amendment affecting Bills would be in order?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that the proposal of the Government was that Supply should be finished by the 5th of August, and this was a proposal that the limitation should be agreed to on condition that other business was also stopped. In that view the Amendment was not out of order.
§ MR. LEGH
said, the conclusion at which his right hon. Friend arrived was that Supply was forced through in the middle of August, and he drew a picture of the sufferings which were endured. His own words were that the position is "absolutely intolerable," but the very words which his right hon. 1341 Friend used in favour of this view applied to Bills. In fact, he gathered that in the view of his right hon. Friend Bills ought to be discussed even more than Supply. If the House was not fit to deal with the Votes in Supply in the middle of August, it was not equal to a long wrangle in the Committee stage of a Bill. Perhaps in this connection he might quote the words of the Leader of the Opposition. He remembered him a year or two ago stating that there should be written over the door with regard to those who wished to pass legislation in the middle of August, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." They had no guarantee as to what would be done. His right hon. Friend made light of some of the fears that had been expressed. These fears were not all groundless. He remembered what happened in 1894. In that year, after the Budget was disposed of and most of the Votes had been obtained, a Bill of an extremely contentious nature was embarked upon at its Committee stage, and, more by good luck than by good guidance it was defeated. This was the great danger they wished to guard against. What would happen under this proposed arrangement? On and after the 5th of August everybody almost would go away except those gentlemen who found that House more attractive than any resort of pleasure. He submitted that his Amendment was not open to any serious objection. It was an Amendment of the harmless and necessary type; it was merely a safeguard against a possible abuse of the now Rule. In case of an emergency it could easily be suspended, and if by chance some Bills which had not reached the requisite stage should have to be abandoned, it was highly possible their loss would not be a calamity to the country at large.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, he had upon the Paper an Amendment framed on similar lines to that of his hon. Friend. It was not very likely now that he could be in order in moving his Amendment, and therefore he begged to second that of his hon. Friend. It would amount almost to a breach of faith if, after Members had made their arrangements on the understanding that no important business was to be entered on after the Appropriation Bill was introduced, a Government should continue to press their Bills forward. Some assurance 1342 would, he hoped, be given that the Government would so arrange the business that Parliament could rise in the early autumn.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
hoped the Government would not come to any decision upon this question, to-night, because the adoption of the Amendment would destroy all Supply, inasmuch as it would make it impossible to pass an Appropriation Bill. Was it wise at one o'clock in the morning to come to a decision on an Amendment which so revolutionised the rights of Parliament? He remembered that Lord Randolph Churchill, some years ago, raised an objection as to whether it was the right of Parliament to go on with Bills after the Appropriation Bill was passed. It was made perfectly clear that it was a fundamental right of Parliament, and yet the Government would take away that right, either by Amendment or by declaration. The power in this matter was entirely in the hands of the Government. Everybody knew that during the last week or two of the Session, when the whole time of the House was taken up by the Government, private Members' Bills had no chance at all. But it did happen, and sometimes usefully happen, that a number of Bills, which, though not of first-rate importance, it was desirable to pass, were passed during the week that the Appropriation Bill was under discussion, and to now lay down any rule on this matter would be premature. The whole question was on its trial, and the House should then confine itself to the question of Supply. They could not prevent any Government with a majority from dealing with this matter as they thought fit. If he was not mistaken, the House of Lords possessed a rule to the effect that they would accept no Bills after a certain date in July. But every year, as a matter of course, they suspended that rule, and the same thing would be found to happen in this House. As he had said, a conclusion to-night on a matter affecting the prerogative of the House in dealing with Bills would be premature, and he therefore hoped the Government would make no pronouncement now.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, he had made an unprovoked assault upon his hon. Friend behind him because of the terms in which he had couched the Amendment. His 1343 hon. Friend might have disarmed criticism by saying that the proposal, as he made it, was a crude proposal, and that before it was finally adopted as a Standing Order, it would require further consideration. Without touching the substance of the Amendment, he might say that he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it was not desirable to-night to come to any final decision on the subject. He also agreed with the view of the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that controversial Measures should not be taken after August, but if there were a Government in power with such an amazing appetite for business that a six months Session was not enough for them, then they ought to meet earlier rather than continue their work later in the year. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to think that under no circumcumstances should any rule of this sort be introduced; but with that he could not agree. He would remind the House that the hon. Member for the Bridgeton division brought forward a Resolution which was approved in all parts of the House, to bring the Session to a summary conclusion by, he thought, the 20th July. In this Order, which, was a Sessional Order, they were concerned with the present year, and he could give his hon. Friend the assurance, which he was sure would give him great satisfaction, that it was their earnest hope and expectation that they, at all events, would not be called upon to bring forward in the present year any controversial business after the date he had named in his Amendment.
§ MR. KNOX
said that before the Amendment was withdrawn he would like to point out that this was an ingenious attempt to shut the stable door after the horse had been stolen. The end which hon. Members feared was hurried Government legislation first, and then passed through by the same process. The only thing which had prevented this in the past had been the Votes in Supply. Take away the security of those Votes against too much Government legislation, and no form of Standing Order which could be devised would have the slightest effect in protecting Conservative Members from a future majority using for 1344 legislative purposes the weapon that had been so ingeniously forged by this Government.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question, as amended, put:—
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 202; Noes, 65.—(Division List No. 20.)