§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I wish to ask the Leader of the House a question of which I have given him private notice—whether he has any statement to make as to the future progress and arrangement of the business of the House; and, further, whether the Government have in view any alteration or modification of the provisions of the Education Bill?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman, I have to say with regard to the Education Bill that I have no general statement to make. As to the future course of business we shall, with the exception of Fridays, devote this week and next to the Education Bill in Committee. The Fridays will continue to be devoted to Supply. Further than that I should not like to make a definite statement. But the Government have a certain number of Measures they must pass before the House rises, about the middle of October—[loud laughter and cries of "Oh!" and "No!"]—I mean the middle of August—[cheers]—and I shall have to break off proceedings on the Education Bill to give, as far as possible, time for those Measures to pass. It is rather early in the Session to make a more definite statement than that. Perhaps what I have said will satisfy the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, "the unsatisfactory position of Public Business"; 1075 but the pleasure of the House not having been signified,
§ * MR. SPEAKER
called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, whereupon nearly all the Members on the Opposition side rose in their places.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said there were many precedents for the course he was taking. On previous occasions it was difficult, if not impossible, to accurately estimate the prospect of business for the remainder of the Session, because it had always been in the power of the Leader of the House to extend the facilities necessary to carry through the business he considered necessary. On the present occasion circumstances were different. The Leader of the House, on behalf of the Government, had abrogated and given away his right to extend the present Session. The right hon. Gentleman, early in the Session, gave a pledge that the House should rise on or about August 12th. So it was fitting that the House should see where it stood and ask the Government for some indication of their plans for the remainder of the Session. Including to-day there were, up to August 12th, 42 working days. They had had 13 days in Committee of Supply, and seven more of the 20 days the Leader of the House had set apart for Supply were to come. But the right hon. Gentleman seemed to recognise that it would be necessary to extend the 20 to 23, because there were still the Army, Navy, Education, Foreign Office, Colonial Office, Board of Trade, and Home Office Votes to pass, to say nothing of the Chief Secretary for Ireland's Vote, the Scotch Vote, the Woods and Forests, Board of Agriculture, and other Administrative Votes. So that unless scores of Votes were passed without a word of discussion, it would be necessary to extend the days to be devoted to Supply from 20 to 23. Deducting 10 from 42, left 32 days at the disposal of the Government. How were they to be occupied? Four days would be necessary for the Report and Third Reading stages of the Agricultural Rating Bill and the consideration of Amendments made in the House of Lords. Four days would similarly have to be set aside for the Irish Land Bill. Then the Finance Bill would need careful consideration, for though the Government 1076 had an unprecedented surplus, they had made no great popular proposal. Considerable Debate would take place on the alteration of the Land Tax. Then there was the proposal as to the Death Duties; £200,000 was to be given back to the landlords which was taken from them by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget. Two or three days should be set aside for the discussion of these items in the Finance Bill. There were many Amendments on the Paper from the Ministerial as well as from the Opposition side. A Bill providing for an equivalent grant to Ireland and Scotland under the Rating Bill should be passed, or the finances of the country would get into a muddle. He set aside a day for discussing the sending of Indian troops to Egypt, a day for the discussion of affairs in Uganda, and three days for the Public Health (Scotland) Bill, which had been introduced into the Lords. He allowed one day for the Indian Budget, and three days for the Appropriation Bill, on which many topics must inevitably be discussed. He set aside a day for the Diseases (Animals) Bill, and one for the Light Railways Bill; and having done this, he left no time for a list of 35 Bills, some that were mentioned in the Queen's Speech and others that were not. In addition to all these for which he left no time, there was a Bill called the Education Bill. [A laugh.] How were they to get these Bills through the House and rise by August 12th? What was going to be done? Who was responsible for the position of business? It could not be suggested that there had been anything approaching to obstruction. If the Government had meant business—if they had meant to give subsidies to landlords and to uproot the education system of the country—they ought to have summoned Parliament earlier. In this Parliament we were to have had short sessions and long recesses; but it would appear that it was going to be the reverse. If the Diseases (Animals) Bill was passed it would not alter the law; all it would do was to make an Administrative Order permanent, and the only reason for passing the Bill was the fear that a Liberal Government would not adhere to the policy of the present Government. Time had been wasted by such incidents as that of Thursday 1077 night, when the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Education Bill resisted an Amendment, and the Leader of the House soon afterwards threw him over. Then, on Friday, the Leader of the House put down a Motion for the suspension of the 12 o'clock Rule; but when the time came he said that, on account of certain facts which had come to his knowledge, he would not put the House to the trouble of dividing. [Ministerial cheers.] No doubt the right hon. Gentleman was well advised, but the Amendment showed that the fullest care was not taken beforehand to ascertain what the opinion of the House really was. It could not be contemplated that the Government would abandon any of their Measures, because, speaking at Birmingham on May 1st, the Colonial Secretary said:—The late Government were in the position of an unskilful conjuror who tries to keep a dozen plates up in the air at the same time, but finds they all come down upon him in a mass. As I have said, we will not follow an evil example; we will not ask Parliament to do what we know Parliament cannot do. To each Session its appointed work will be set aside.[Opposition laughter and cheers.] In ordinary circumstances he should expect to hear that certain Bills were not to be proceeded with, but in the face of that declaration from the Colonial Secretary, who occupied such a unique position, he refused to contemplate the possibility of the Leader of the House throwing him over. [A laugh.] They wanted to know what were the intentions of the Government with regard to Public Business, and he felt sure the Leader of the House would avail himself of the opportunity afforded by the Motion for making a statement on that subject. [Opposition cheers.]
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said he thought they ought to have a reply from the Government. He supported the Motion because an unanswerable case had been made out for an explanation at least.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I can assure the hon. Gentleman who moved the adjournment of the House that I did not abstain from rising because I desire to keep silence. But I thought it probable the Leader of the Opposition would desire to make some observations, and that it would be 1078 convenient that I should be in a position to reply to them, which I shall not be in as the matter now stands. I must therefore confine myself to what has been said by the mover of the Motion. He has gone through an elaborate citation, some part of which seemed not unreasonable and some part of which seemed to me very unreasonable, with regard to the time that ought to be taken by certain Bills. I do not think it would be desirable that I should follow the hon. Gentleman step by step and discuss whether such time ought to be taken with the Rating Bill, the Irish Land Bill, the Budget Bill, the Scotch and Irish Equivalent Grant Bills, the Uganda Railway Bill, and so forth, but I do entirely recognise that it is not very reasonable to expect that by the 14th of August we should get the Bills mentioned, and also get through the remaining stages of the Education Bill. The hon. Gentleman thereupon says, "How very foolish to get business into such an impasse," and he proceeded to give various reasons why this result had occurred, among which reasons I did not notice either the eloquence of himself or his friends, though, personally, I should have thought he had a right to claim no insignificant share in the production of the result which he so eloquently deplores. [Laughter and cheers.] He dares me to say there has been obstruction. It is not my business on the present occasion to discuss whether there has been obstruction or not. But there has been very full Debate—[laughter]—and when there is very full Debate in a very eloquent Parliament the result is that the business does not march with the rapidity which every Government in turn desires, and which many Governments preceding ours have been fortunate enough to obtain. However, I am not going to discuss the shortcomings of the hon. Gentleman. I am not going to say whether in my judgment he has exceeded or fallen short of his duty as a Member of Parliament. But I may in self defence say that the principal accusations he has levelled against me appear to be very shadowy and to be entirely destitute of any reasonable foundation. The hon. Member says, "All would have been different if you had not allowed the Cattle Diseases Bill to go forward."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The Cattle Diseases Bill has taken two days, so far as I know, of Parliamentary time, and the loss of two days, though very deplorable, does not as a rule produce a Parliamentary impasse. Then he has told me what has no doubt turned out to be the fact, that the programme of business is too large. But the peculiarity of the House of Commons is that the better it is the less fitted it appears to be to get through its work. And the admirable eloquence which this Opposition has shown has no doubt enriched Hansard with many masterpieces and has given us a very minute knowledge of a very large number of Bills, but certainly it has not helped to pass Bills into law. Then, says the hon. Gentleman—In addition to the crime of having spent two days over the Cattle Diseases Bill, the Leader of the House comes down on a Friday with an announcement that he was going to suspend the 12 o'clock rule, and when the time for suspending the 12 o'clock rule came he says he is not going to suspend it.That may have been a very foolish proceeding, or it may have been a very wise proceeding, it may have been justified or it may not, but how it is spending Parliamentary time, how it is contributing to the present position of business, I confess I wholly fail to see, and the hon. Gentleman with all his ingenuity wholly failed to explain. [Cheers.] But he says—That is not all. We have been discussing the Education Hill for one night in Committee; and what does the Leader of the House do? He came down and accepted an Amendment which had been supported from both sides of the House.Again, it might or might not have been wise for the Leader of the House to have accepted an Amendment that was so supported, but it is the first time I have ever yet heard from the Opposition that it was a crime in the managers of a Government Bill to accept Amendments pressed upon them from the Opposition side of the House—[cheers]—or that such a course was likely to conduce to the delay of public business. May I remind the House that when the Rating Bill was under discussion we 1080 were told every two hours that if the Government would only accept Amendments, and show some disposition by accepting Amendments to conciliate the Opposition, then we might have got the Bill without difficulty. Nobody was more forward in making that accusation than the hon. Gentleman himself. So it appears, unfortunate people that we are, that we can never do right. We are wrong when we accept Amendments; we are wrong when we refuse them. I do not know whether it is the destiny of the hon. Member as time rolls on to be placed in the responsible position which I now hold. [Laughter.] I am sure we shall all be very glad if it is so. But if he is placed in that position I hope he will meet with some more candid criticism than he has meted out to me this evening. [Cheers.] What the hon. Gentleman has said about the general course of business is to a large extent true. It is no doubt impossible before the 15th of August, so far as we can see, to pass the stages of the Education Bill, and the other Bills which I think it is desirable to pass. In these circumstances we shall take the Education Bill at a later stage of this Session. [An HON. MEMBER: "This Session!"] Of the present Session. I did not say of the present year, nor do I contemplate that in all probability it will be in the course of the present year that the remainder of the Bill will be discussed. But we shall adopt and improve upon models which have been set us by our predecessors, and we shall, I hope, find ample time after the present part of the Session terminates for discussing what remains to be discussed of the Education Bill on which we are now engaged. I hope I have now treated the House with openness and candour. [Cheers.]
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
asked what Bills the Government proposed to take before the 15th of August.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
An absolute statement upon that point I cannot make, and I think it early in the Session to be asked to make such a statement. A large number of the Bills mentioned by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy are, of course, of a non-controversial character, and if they are not they have no hope or expectation of becoming law during the 1081 course either of this part of the Session or of the later part of the Session. But I do hope to be able to pass into law the Finance Bill, of course, the Light Railways Bill, the Cattle Diseases Bill, and the English Rating Bill. I think we ought to pass the Scotch and Irish Rating Bill, and I have every hope of being able to do that. The Uganda Bill ought to pass, and I believe if the House sets itself to the task there might also be time to either wholly pass or very nearly pass the Irish Land Bill. There is a Departmental Bill, the Loans Bill, which ought to pass. I do not think the House would ask me at this period of the Session to make a more detailed statement. [Cheers.]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman expressed surprise that I had not risen before. The real fact is that I think it would have been more convenient if this discussion had taken place to-morrow—which was what I always contemplated—as was done in 1886. At the request of the Government of that day, the Motion for adjournment was postponed until an account of what had taken place—which could give us some information of the intentions of the Government—was made public, and so we were enabled to discuss these intentions. Therefore I did not feel, until I had heard something from the right hon. Gentleman, that I had any such information as would entitle me to enter upon this discussion at all. As regards the details of the business of the Session, I do not propose to enter on that subject now; we shall know more about that later on. But the right hon. Gentleman made a remarkable statement, and one which, I think, is true from his point of view. He said, "The better the House of Commons is the less capable it is of doing business." I am quite certain that from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view a better House of Commons than the present never existed. [Laughter.] We, a House of Commons where the Government, and especially a Tory Government, has a majority of 150, must be the best House of Commons in the best possible of Parliaments. Therefore, he has laid down a proposition, the truth of which he has done a great deal to establish, that the best possible House of Commons is the worst possible for 1082 transacting business. [Laughter.] That is unquestionably apparent from the situation in which we are placed. The only point on which I can observe is the indication—for it was an indication rather than a clear statement—of what is going to become of the Measure called the Education Bill. [Laughter.] One of the remarkable points in the transaction of business is, I think, that when Her Majesty's Government undertook in dealing with the Education Bill to depart entirely from the lines which were laid down in the Queen's Speech in regard to the character of that Measure. When that decision was taken none of us knew. It certainly was not taken when the Queen's Speech was delivered, or it was never so described. But by some extraordinary internal commotion I suppose the character of that Bill was changed, as the geological formations of the earth are changed by some eruption within the globe itself, and the whole of the stratification was entirely altered by what is called, I believe, by the geologists a "fault"—[laughter]—and a Bill which was to be a small Bill for aiding Voluntary Schools became a Measure for revolutionising the system of education throughout the country. That, and that alone, is the cause of the present state of public business. If you are to have a revolutionary Bill the sooner you begin the revolution the better, and the more likely you are to bring it to an early conclusion. But this revolutionary Bill has been postponed and postponed until we are just at the commencement of the discussion of the detail of it in the middle of June. That is the real cause of the confusion of public business. This is unquestionably the great Measure of the Session, because, although you may talk about the Rating Bill, the Light Railways Bill, or any other Bill, the Education Bill is the pièce de résistance of the Government, and here we are just beginning its discussion in the middle of June. What are the Government going to do with that Bill? All that we are told is that they are going on with it for a fortnight, and then they are going to suspend it.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I did not say that. I said break off. I said we were going to resume it in the course of the present Session. [Cries of "Next year."]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I am coming to that. I am only at the breaking-off stage. [Laughter.] What a remarkable course to take! I think I am right in saying that I never remember a Bill of this magnitude being broken off at the end of June in order to introduce into the middle of the business of the House a number of minor and secondary Measures, and then at some unnamed date being resumed. All that we are told is that it is not to be resumed in the present year. That is the reason why I desired, in order to make this discussion of any real value, that it should not have been taken to-day, but to-morrow—["Hear, hear!" and laughter]—when we should have been really qualified to discuss it to any effect. Unfortunately, in the situation in which we stand——
§ MR. DALZIEL
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a personal explanation. [Ministerial laughter.] I am entitled to make a personal explanation. ["Oh!" and laughter.] This meeting to-day was of a confidential nature. I do not think we ought to rely in the House of Commons on mere rumours of what took place at the confidential meeting.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Certainly not. I have never known meetings of this kind confidential in the sense that there was not an authorised statement made of what had taken place. [Ministerial cheers.] I feel certain that the right hon. Gentleman has too much respect for the House of Commons and the country not to take the course which has always been taken—[The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY: "Hear, hear!"]—not to give details of the discussion, but to give to the public the substance of what has happened. ["Hear, hear!"] That is the course which in my Parliamentary recollection has always been pursued. That was the course pursued in 1886, when, on the appeal of Mr. Gladstone, the discussion was postponed until next day. We are consequently placed in this difficulty—that we have not had from the Government that statement, which we shall, I suppose, have to-morrow, as to the conclusions at which the Government have arrived in respect to the business of the House; but I gather from the indications made that the Education Bill is to 1084 be proceeded with for a fortnight. How many clauses does he suppose he will lave got at the end of the fortnight? Why, we all know very well that the pith and substance of the Bill depend upon the third and fourth clauses, upon the powers to be given to the education authority which is constituted in the first clause. Can there be anything more ridiculous as regards the House of Commons and the country than that you should pass the first clause and then leave the country until next year without knowing what are the powers which are to be given to the education authority. [Cheers.] It seems to me that a course more destructive of the progress of public business it is impossible to conceive. ["Hear, hear!"] I should have thought that, having made up their minds to introduce a Bill of this character, they would have thought it their first duty to proceed with that Bill and let the House and the country know what the decision of Parliament was on that Measure. I cannot conceive a more extraordinary state of things. It is a Bill which everybody knows moves the opinion of the country, the sentiment of the country, in one direction or another. There could be nothing more destructive to the peace of education throughout the country. [Cheers.] Conceive the situation of the schoolmaster. What is his position? He is absolutely without knowledge as to what is to be the ultimate authority to which he has to look, what are the powers of that authority, and what is to be the situation of the educational system throughout the country. I cannot conceive a course of conduct more destructive and more injurious to education. If the Government are going to throw before the country this extraordinary torso of a Bill—[Cheers and laughter]—and then to put on its head and arms and legs later on, I cannot conceive a course more injurious in the present to the conduct of public business, and more injurious to the success of their own Measures, and more mischievous to the cause of education. That is all I feel myself in a position to say with reference to the revelations—I must say the rather indistinct and imperfect revelations—as to the future state of the Bill. [Laughter.] It is possible to entertain a rather despondent view, but, of course, the 1085 Government are the judges of what is best for their own success and their own reputation; but anything more likely to destroy their Bill, and I should say not finally to improve their reputation, than the course the right hon. Gentleman has indicated to-day, I find it very difficult to conceive. [Cheers.]
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham, W.
who was received with Ministerial cheers: I do not suppose that it would be proper for me to interfere in any way in the discussion which has taken place between the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Gentleman who has endeavoured to occupy his place on the present occasion. [Laughter.] But if I may venture to say so respectfully, I confess I am more inclined to agree with the Leader of the Opposition than with the hon. Member. Probably it would have been more convenient for all parties that the House should have waited until it had more information, but at the same time the statement of my right hon. Friend has placed the House in the position of knowing what are the intentions of the Government. It is impossible for the Government at this stage of the Session under existing circumstances to state definite dates and details. That must depend upon the progress that we may yet make when we enter upon the serious discussion of the Bills before the House. The right hon. Gentleman made some humorous remarks, catching up up what was said by my right hon. Friend, to the effect that the better the House the worse it was for the discharge of its business. I quite agree that we are bound to consider that this is one of the best Houses that ever sat, and I suppose what my right hon. Friend meant was, as was evident from the context, that the better equipped any House was for what I may call oratorical display, the worse it was for getting through business. [Laughter.] That is really the statement of a truism, and it is not true of this Government only, but also of their predecessors. It is not for the first time that we are engaged in this discussion. Really, when I listened to the speeches made, I could imagine that I was hearing the faint echo of speeches that I myself and others have made in previous Sessions 1086 when we occupied a different position. [Laughter] I make no accusation against any side, but the House and the country have to recognise that so many Members are not only desirous of speaking, but capable of speaking, that if they all indulge this desire at any length, it will not only be impossible to get through a large amount of work, but any work at all. ["Hear, hear!" and an IRISH MEMBER, "Home Rule," and laughter.] Of course, under our present system. [Opposition cheers and laughter.] There are conceivable changes which, no doubt, under another system, would facilitate the progress of business; but very naturally now, finding ourselves in a position which is in no way different from the position of our predecessors in 1893–4, we have looked to them to set us an example which we might follow. What happened then? The Government brought in Bills which the House will admit were of greater importance and of larger character than even the Bills of the present Session, for they had at the same time upon the Paper the Home Rule Bill to alter the whole constitution of the United Kingdom, the Parish Councils Bill, and the Employers' Liability Bill—all Bills exciting immense interest throughout the country. The Government found themselves in the position we are in to-day, and it was necessary for them to discover some means of facilitating business. The means they found was gagging by compartments. [Ministerial cheers.] It would have been perfectly within our power to adopt a similar course. ["Hear, hear!" and an HON. MEMBER: "The Rating Bill."] Surely, that is an irrelevant interruption. [Cheers.] The Rating Bill is not gagged by compartments. [Cries of "Clauses."] That is a totally different thing. ["Hear, hear!"] Closure and gagging by compartments are very different and totally distinct methods, and nobody who knows anything of the procedure of this House would attempt to confuse them. ["Hear, hear!"] But, for reasons which we gave for opposing the proposal of the late Government, we have not found it consistent with the principles we entertain or with the real promotion of public business that we should follow that course. [Cheers.] We then had to seek an alternative, and 1087 that we have also found, because they gave us a double example. They not merely got rid of one Bill by Closure by compartments, but they dealt with the two other enormous Bills by a proposal similar to that which is now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the extraordinary position in which the Education Bill will be left after some fortnight or three weeks' discussion, or whatever time the House may now have to give to it, and before it is taken up again at the continuation of the Session. He says he thinks the position is due to the revolutionary character of the Bill, and that since the Queen's Speech, in which the Bill was described, there must have been an internal eruption which has entirely altered its character. I always thought that one of the signs of an internal eruption was that there was an external display. [Laughter.] Certainly in the present instance nothing of the kind has become apparent; but I deny altogether that this is a revolutionary Bill. I know it is a stock phrase with every opposition; all Bills are revolutionary, and in that sense I am prepared to admit this is. [Ironical cheers.] But after all, by comparison we cannot for a moment hold it to be as revolutionary, as important, as the original Bill, and as the original Bill was carried in less time than we had to give to this Bill, after all it was not so unnatural that we should suppose this Bill might have passed with less opposition than it appears likely to meet with. I admit for myself that I do not anticipate the extent of the opposition which has been directed against this Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] The position of the Bill in the country is shown, in my opinion, by the division on the Second Reading. ["Oh, oh," laughter and cheers.] Is this House of Commons representative of the country? ["No, no," and laughter.] What an excellent admission from the followers of Mr. Gladstone, who again and again has told us that there is only one expression of the will of the constituencies and that is by their authorised representatives in this House. [Cheers.] Is it possible that those who followed him a few years ago have forgotten all his speeches? I say that a majority of 267 is a majority absolutely unprecedented in the history of Parliament, or, at all 1088 events, it is a sufficient indication of the feeling of the country towards this Bill, and I think it was unreasonable to anticipate, in view of the opinion of the country thus expressed, that there should be an opposition directed against this Bill which threatens to be—I do not say it will be—more prolonged and more pertinacious than the opposition to any Bill before the House of Commons. [Cheers.] I confess that I was astonished at the character of this opposition. In my opinion even now hon. Members have been employed in reading into the Bill the opinion which they had formed of it before they saw it. Before it was produced or printed we had the same declarations of undying hostility to the principles which it was supposed to contain, and when the Bill is produced and those principles are not to be found there we find the same opposition declared against it as had been declared in the earlier stages of the proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman goes on to say that it would be most dangerous for education and for public business that a Bill of this magnitude should remain incomplete for a considerable period. But what happened with regard to the Parish Councils Bill? The Debate on that Bill was broken off early in August, 1892.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman's memory, no doubt, is correct; but the Bill was before the House, and then it was suspended until the Autumn Session.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not know to whom the right hon. Gentleman refers as representing the Opposition in making a statement of that kind. What was done? The Bill was allowed to pass its Second Reading because the principle was absolutely non-contentious. [Opposition cheers.] Of course it was non-contentious, seeing that the Opposition previously in power had promised a 1089 similar Bill. ["No, no," and cheers.] I only quote this to prove that it was so. We did hold that the Bill was most contentious in its details, and many portions of the Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, required and received very careful and minute discussion. For my part I might as well say that the Education Bill was not contentious, because the right hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of it on the Second Reading himself declared his assent to what after all is one of the most important principles in the Bill—namely, the grant of additional assistance to Voluntary Schools to which he gives his approval. I admit that the Bill contains other principles besides that—[Opposition cheers]—and the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly consistent in opposing the Second Reading. But it is perfectly ridiculous to charge us with having said that the Parish Councils Bill was not a contentious Bill because we admitted its principle. Is it contended in the same way that the Employers' Liability Bill was not a contentious Bill?
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Only in the same sense. But from the introduction of the Bill it was most strenuously opposed from beginning to end, and we gave it the best opposition in our power. That Bill, involving as it did large interests, was allowed to be suspended during the interim recess, and it was not finally disposed of until late in March. [Cheers.] I have shown to the House that we have had to choose in a situation which is not unusual and not unprecedented. We have endeavoured to consider the precedents that have been set us; and, finding two set us by the late Government, we have rejected one as being fatal to the dignity and authority of Parliament, and we have accepted the other as the only alternative in the circumstances. [Cheers.]
§ * SIR C. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
thought it was doubtful whether the independent Members of the House would concur with the two last speakers in thinking that it would have been better to postpone this Debate. They appeared to think that his hon. Friend was wrong in raising the question, because next day they would see in the newspapers an account of what had passed 1090 at a private and confidential meeting that afternoon. No doubt the Government were following previous precedents, but he asked whether the Governments of either Party ought not to place the House in possession of the state of Public Business? But the proceedings of the Unionist Party that afternoon were really an open secret now. The Secretary for the Colonies had rightly gone to the Education Bill as lying at the root of the present position of affairs. He reminded the right hon. Gentleman that though the Second Reading was carried by a large majority, every speaker on the Conservative side who took part in the Debate spoke as much in criticism of the details of the Bill as hon. Members on the Opposition side. [Cheers.] This Motion could not be discussed without some regard to the general position year after year of the Business of the House. Was it not a notorious fact that they were trying to conduct the Business of the House under conditions which were not applicable to the modern situation? [Cheers.] The country did not understand the House meeting so late in the year, and expecting to get through its Business, increased as it was, in a Session of five months. He blamed the Government for calling Parliament together so late in February, and in his view the present state of Public Business was largely owing to this fact. It was an open secret that means were discussed that afternoon as to meeting this difficulty in the future. The fighting efforts of the Government were to be limited by the extent of the Opposition. If in the course of the next two months it was found that the Education Bill had not made considerable progress, then a future step in the present Session, after August 12, was to be taken. But there was not a word in the speech of the Leader of the House as to the portion of the year in which the remainder of the Session was to be held.
§ * SIR C. DILKE
understood it would be early next year. Could there be anything more inconvenient than the suspension of this Bill from August to January? The House would then be driven into a corner with the financial 1091 business of the year. The Supplementary Estimates of the present year would have to be discussed, and there would be important Debates on the first Votes for the Army and the Navy. This thing had never been done before. What was done before was to go on with the Parish Councils part of the Local Government Bill in November, and even then there was enormous inconvenience. The Session which was expected to terminate before Christmas was prolonged right through January and February, and even then the Bill was only got through by means of a compromise behind the Speaker's Chair. The present situation was even worse, because the Education Bill was, he feared, even more difficult and controversial than was the Parish Councils Bill. And would it not be a miserable thing if such a Bill as the Truck Bill, after it had been carefully considered by a Standing Committee, and after the promises made in regard to it, should be abandoned, not because of any real impossibility of carrying it, but because the Government, instead of sitting on, or instead of meeting in October, desired to postpone the next meeting of Parliament till January, when there would be barely time for a single Bill. There were two Army Bills before the House as to which the Government had declared that it was absolutely necessary they should be passed by the House this year, and they had allotted no time for their consideration. The whole mode of the conduct of business in the House was unfitted to the necessities of the time, and until the House made up its mind to drastic measures, exhibitions of this kind would be repeated year by year.
§ MR. DILLON
thought it manifest with the present condition of the Order Paper that the Education Bill could never be got through by the end of next week. It would be a more practical policy to suspend the work on the Education Bill at the end of the present week, so that the Government might really have time to pass the Bills which they hoped to pass before August 14. Speaking on behalf of the Catholics of England, he deeply regretted the position in which the Education Bill was now placed. All that the Voluntary Schools asked for could easily have been comprehended within four or five simple clauses, 1092 but owing to the lofty ambition of the Government to draft a Measure of an enormous and far-reaching character, the unfortunate Voluntary Schools were to be put off till next January without any relief whatever, and they knew perfectly well the character of the movement which would be got up against the Education Bill during the autumn. He did not know whether the Government would find it possible to provide any method by which some new clauses could be passed giving the needed relief to the Voluntary Schools. With regard to the Irish Land Bill, he thought that a fair and reasonable discussion, extending over three or four days in Committee, or possibly even less, if they found they could get no more time, would be sufficient for the purposes of the Irish Members, but he strongly desired that the discussion should take place during the hours when the proceedings could be reported in the public Press.
§ MR. D. H. COGHILL (Stoke-on-Trent)
wished the Government would not go for their precedents to the late Government, because, for his own part, he had condemned the conduct of the late Government in the most sweeping manner before the electors—[laughter]—and he could not go back on the language he then used. It was a most intolerable thing that the Education Bill, the leading Measure of the Session, should be suspended over their heads for the rest of the year. In his opinion they ought to go on with it until it was finished, even if they had to sit till Christmas—[Opposition cheers]—and he protested against other Bills, such as the Land Bill, being thrown in the way of the Education Bill.
§ * MR. J. H. YOXALL (Nottingham, W.)
hoped that no question of amour proper would induce the Government to pursue the course of suspending the Education Bill till January next, leaving, in the meantime, those institutions which stood in need of aid totally unaided. Why should the House go on discussing Clause 1? He denied that the country had asked for or wanted the system of local government laid down in Clause 1. The St. James's Gazette, a faithful Unionist organ, referring to the statement of the Vice President of the Council that the decentralisation clause was the most important clause in 1093 the Bill, pointed out that that clause was not in the Queen's Speech, was not before the country last July, was not in a single election address, and was not a distinctively Conservative idea at all. Why could not the Government drop that part of the Bill, and by a short Bill proceed to obtain from Parliament additional aid for the poor Voluntary and Board Schools? Lord Salisbury, in October of last year, had said that the Voluntary Schools stood in great need, and that what was to be done must needs be done quickly. Yet the present plan of the Government was to defer aid till next year, and to leave the poorer schools to starve in the interval. It was impossible to discuss Clause 1 properly unless the policy of the Government in regard to Clause 3 were known. It would be discussing the areas of the authorities without knowing what their powers were to be.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Rochester)
asked whether the hon. Member was in order in discussing in detail the provisions of the Bill.
§ * MR. YOXALL
, resuming, said that he wished to give the aid to the Voluntary Schools without the long delay which was foreshadowed. The House had been told that, owing to the state of public business, it would be necessary to defer the scheme of teachers' superannuation until after the passing of this Education Bill. In what position, then, would the Superannuation Measure stand. There were two ways of aiding the poor schools—the first was to give larger grants, and the second was to enable the aged and outworn teachers to look to a pittance which would at least save them from going to the workhouse.
§ * SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)
said that he should be sorry to think that the only speeches from the Ministerial Benches should be entirely condemnatory of the course of the Government. [Cheers.] But he was expressing the general feeling on the Ministerial side of the House when he said that he thought this Debate was entirely uncalled for. [Cheers.] Several hon. Members had expressed the opinion that it was very unfortunate to postpone the consideration of the clauses of the 1094 Education Bill, and that the country should have an opportunity of pronouncing on the various complicated points raised in the Bill. He himself thought it was very desirable indeed that the country during the Recess should have time to consider the Bill. [Loud Opposition cheers.] If that was the view of hon. Members on the other side of the House, why did they object to the Commission proposed by the Government. It must be clear that it was impossible to pass the Measure in the remaining part of this Session; it must be completed either in an autumn Session or in a Session at the beginning of next year. The Leader of the Opposition said that the effect of giving the country time to consider the Measure would be to destroy the Bill entirely. If that were so, the right hon. Gentleman was hardly the person who would complain. ["Hear, hear!"] But if the Measure was good in itself the effect of consideration by the country would strengthen the Bill. He would not deny that there were some parts of the Bill which he thought might be amended without interfering with cardinal principles. As the hon. Member for East Mayo said, the point for which the country was prepared was that additional aid should be given to the Voluntary Schools.
§ MR. DILLON
What I was anxious for was immediate relief to the Voluntary Schools, and for the postponement of larger questions.
§ * SIR J. LUBBOCK
said that it was only a question of a few months, and it was much more important that the country should consider what it was doing. [Opposition cheers.] The questions raised were very various and far-reaching, and they went to the root of our educational system. [Renewed Opposition cheers.] He wished that great Measures could generally be laid on the Table of the House for a year, so that the country might have time to consider them. But if he made any suggestion to the Government, it would be that the House should not devote too much time at the present moment to the Education Bill—[Opposition cheers]—but that it should rather go on with the other Measures, leaving the Education Bill till the reassembling of Parliament. For his own part he believed that the delay would result in 1095 the Bill, when it became law, being in a better and more useful form than if the discussion had been proceeded with at once, de die in diem. [Cheers.]
§ MR. ASQUITH
This discussion will always be memorable for the admission which it has elicited from two of the leading Members of the Government in this House—that the House of Commons, the better equipped it becomes in knowledge and oratorical power, shows itself, under its existing constitution, the less fitted for the transaction of public business. [Cheers.] That is an acknowledgment which will not be forgotten. When we come to a comparison such as the Secretary for the Colonies has endeavoured to institute between the present procedure of the Government and that of the late Government of 1893–94, I must, before examining it, make this preliminary observation—That, at any rate, the first great legislative Measure which we introduced into the House was one which had the object of relieving the House of a great part of this congestion of business from which it at present suffers. [Opposition cheers and Ministerial laughter.] Instead of wasting time over fantastic schemes for the devolution by the Education Department to other bodies of duties which it is perfectly capable of performing, it is much more essential to find a proper system for the devolution of the business of this House. [Cheers.] The Secretary for the Colonies said that the late Government adopted two expedients to relieve themselves from such difficulties as that of the present Government. The first was to "gag" the Home Rule Bill by compartments. We take note of the holy horror of the right hon. Gentleman for any such procedure now. [Cheers.] I am not fond of gagging Bills by compartments; but I do not know that it is a much more barbarous or indefensible method of promoting public business than the suspension of the 12 o'clock Rule—[cheers]—and the keeping of the House sitting until you have extorted from its physical weariness what you could not otherwise have obtained. [Renewed cheers] But the second plan which the late Government pursued, and for which the right hon. Gentleman has not expressed the same reprobation—indeed, he claims it as the precedent for the present course—was the hanging up of 1096 the Parish Councils and the Employers' Liability Bills from the summer till the autumn Session of 1893. I cannot imagine a comparison which is less relevant or which tells more against the procedure of the Government to-day. We had in 1893 a large number of Measures which we had introduced into the House of Commons, and which were of a contentious character. We deliberately sacrificed the whole of those Measures excepting two, the principle of which was universally conceded and which were described in Debate as being non-contentious in principle. The whole field of controversy with respect to those Bills was limited to detail. I admit that when we came practically to carry out our intentions we found that you discussed at as great a length and with as large a consumption of oratory the details of the Bills as their principles. In the Parish Councils Bill not less than 32 days were spent in Committee before we arrived at a compromise, and seven days were spent over the single clause providing for the popular election of the Boards of Guardians. What comparison is there between that Measure and this Bill? This Bill is the central and contentious Measure of the Session. [Cheers.] It was opposed on the Second Reading, as the Government know, as strongly and as strenuously as any Bill in any recent Parliament. The state of the Notice Papers at this moment shows that when we come to discuss its details there is hardly a single point upon which either the supporters of the Government or the Opposition agree with the Bill as it stands. [Cheers.] There is absolutely no precedent in the history of Parliament for suspending discussion upon a Measure of this kind for a period of six months, and then inviting the House of Commons to resume that discussion in the month of January. [Cheers.] I want to bring some of the positions taken up in regard to the Bill to the test of reality. We were told that the Measure was introduced in order to relieve the intolerable strain upon the Voluntary Schools. Yet the Voluntary Schools, it appears, are to continue subject to the strain, which is increasing day by day almost to the cracking point, for another nine months, while Her Majesty's Government are thrusting through the House of Commons measures like the Light Railways Bill 1097 and other political projects for which there is no public demand, or which at least do not arouse any great public interest. We have had a number of versions of the principal object of the Education Bill. We were told the other night that it was the decentralisation of the Education Department. To-night the Secretary for the Colonies tells us it is for the relief of the Voluntary Schools. I prefer to take that as the most authorised version. But if that be so, it must be obvious to all its supporters that the course proposed to be adopted by the Government if not one for defeating that object is one for indefinitely postponing the attainment. [Cheers.] But I am disposed to take a different view of the motives of the Government. I think the reason is to be found in the candid speech of my right hon. Friend, the Member for the London University. The truth is that the moment practical discussion of this Measure is approached it is found that its supporters are so wholly at sixes and sevens amongst themselves—[cheers]—so entirely unable to conceal from the public view their fundamental differences, not only on matters of detail but on questions of principle, that it has been thought convenient to hang up the Bill in a state of suspended animation for six months, on the calculation that in the meantime those domestic differences may be adjusted; that, for instance, the Archbishop of Canterbury may come to agree with the Archbishop of York—[laughter]—that the controversy between rate-aid and State-aid may be brought to a decent termination by a reasonable and practical compromise; and we, in the House of Commons, after wasting our time over the Second Reading of a Bill which is never intended to pass into law—after some further discussion of more of its preliminary details—after we have gone through an autumn campaign of agitation against the Bill, shall come here next year and find presented to us a new Measure furbished up for consideration and shall have to begin the discussion de novo. [Cheers] I cannot imagine a course less conducive to unity of opinion or action in the Party opposite, or a scheme more detrimental to public business. When we come here in January what is to be the situation? We are not going to have Closure by 1098 compartments. I have already taken a note of that satisfactory announcement. [Hear, hear!] But the House of Commons, which cannot sacrifice its autumn holidays for the purpose of relieving the strain on Voluntary Schools—[cheers]—will, I suppose, be allowed a decent interval after Christmas before it is required to undertake the arduous duties of legislation. [Laughter.] We Will assemble, then, in the second week in January. How much time will you then have for the discussion of your Education Bill? You must not leave out of view the financial interests of the country, and the financial year closes on March 31st. It is therefore obvious that you will not be able to give more, at the outside, than a month to the Bill. That is to suffice for the stages of Committee, Report and the the Third Reading in the Commons, and for the whole Bill in the calmer and serener atmosphere of the revising chamber elsewhere. [Laughter and cheers.] Was there, I ask, ever a more obviously transparent confession of, I will not say insincerity, but of want of zeal and want of unity in the prosecution of what has been described to us as the great and capital Measure of the Session? I say there was never a step that more invited and required the censure of this House. [Cheers.]
MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield)
asked whether, when the House met in January next, other Bills undisposed of, besides the Education Bill, would be taken up?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Any Bills not withdrawn when the House adjourns will be still before the House when it meets again. I hope the House will now proceed to a Division on this Motion.
§ * SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
said it was easy to see that the Government were in great difficulty in regard to the Education Bill. At the same time he thought the experience of past years showed that the position the Government was about to take up was the worst that they could assume. The effect of the proposed arrangement, by which ten days or a fortnight were to be devoted to the Education Bill before it was adjourned till next year, would inevitably be to prolong Debate on each Amendment, so that time would be lost instead of gained in the progress of the 1099 Bill. He thought the best course the Government could adopt was to adjourn the consideration of the Education Bill at once, and devote the rest of the time at their disposal in this part of the Session to pushing through their other Bills.
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbigh, W.)
said that if the Education Bill were hung up till January, it would be practically impossible for the Government to get the Bill next year. Why then should not the Government withdraw the Bill immediately, and introduce it afresh next Session? The effect of the proposed action of the Government would be that, when the House met again in January, the number of Amendments on the Paper would be considerably increased. What had brought about the present state of things?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member would not be in order in discussing the past history of the Session, or how the present state of things came about. He must confine himself to the present state of things.
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS
said the present state of Parliamentary Business was due to the fact that the Party opposite was divided against itself, and a house divided against itself could not stand. That morning a letter appeared in The Times from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Salford (Sir Henry Howarth) in which the present state of things was said to have been brought about by the action of the Colonial Secretary. The letter thus concluded:—When, however, upon matters in which his early training and opinions are necessarily not those of the Tory Party, he insists upon forcing his shibboleths upon us and making us his doormat—[Laughter.] He did not say that those words represented the views of the majority of the Party opposite. ["They do not."] But they represented the views of a large number of the Gentlemen who sat on the Opposition Benches. He would vote with his hon. Friend if he went to a Division.
§ MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said that surely the natural consequence of what had been done by the Government was not to proceed further with the Committee stage of the Education Bill. The Government said 1100 they would, in the Recess, have an opportunity of ascertaining the opinion of the country. [Mr. BALFOUR: "I never said that."] That was urged by the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of London. That advantage would be taken by Members on both sides of the House. What were the parts of the Bill upon which the opinion of the country had not been heard? Why, Clause 1 in the first place. At the last General Election it was said that assistance should be given to the Voluntary Schools, and practically the question was decided in favour of hon. Gentlemen opposite; but never at any time was there put before the country the idea of creating a new authority, which new authority should be in opposition to——[Cries of "Order!"]
§ MR. STUART
said he would merely add that he regarded the proposals of the Government for getting through the business of the House as a pure waste of time. To discuss Clause 1 under present circumstances looked very like the end of the Education Bill. He could not help thinking that when they met in January they would find there was an end of the Measure. If he were right on that point, they had better drop the Bill now. [Cries of "Divide!" and "Order, order!"] In discussing the early clauses for a fortnight they would simply be beating the air.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
believed that not the slightest progress would be made by pressing the Education Bill in the way suggested. They could not now discuss any of the principles or details of the Bill, but there were one or two notorious facts which it would be well if the Leader of the House would take into consideration. A week ago he had it from the highest authority in the House upon the Education Bill, that the first clause of the Bill was not to appear in the shape in which it did ultimately. It was understood that they were to discuss an Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, but eventually they had to discuss the Bill as originally drafted. On the first night they adopted a new principle.
§ MR. LOUGH
said there was another point worthy of consideration. If the first few clauses of the Bill were passed in the next few weeks, in what position would the Government find themselves when they met next January? They would find that those clauses hung like a dead weight round their necks. Why not, therefore, drop the Bill entirely, and start with a clean slate next year? The Bill had not been properly thought out by the Government. The inconvenience of the small authorities admitted in the Bill on Thursday night——
§ MR. LOUGH
said his last remark was quite involuntary on his part. His only point was that no real progress would be made with the Education Bill by devoting another fortnight in the next eight weeks to the Measure.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said that hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to think that the carrying over or hanging up of the Education Bill would result in its killing. They had forgotten that when the House reassembled in January next the present Session would still exist. The first result would be that they would carry with them into January next the whole of the Order Book. The next would be that the Government would, under the Resolutions the House had agreed to, have possession of the whole of the time, and therefore they would have ample means of getting rid of private Members' Motions, and of carrying on as long as they liked—through all hours of the night if they pleased—their discussion on the Education Bill. It was true there was the financial consideration put forward by his hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, which would no doubt hamper the Government to a considerable extent, but they would get over that themselves. [A laugh.] But as to the Education Bill, the Government would have no difficulty.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said he voted for the Motion giving the Government the time of the House for the purpose of carrying through Government business. He also voted with the Leader 1102 of the House with regard to the reform of the procedure of the House, by means of which both private and Government business might be facilitated. But, in giving those votes, he little apprehended they would have public business in the condition of muddle and mismanagement it was now in. He did not think they would discuss for a considerable time on the Second Reading the Education Bill, a Measure introduced for the purpose of giving political capital to the Party opposite, that then they would discuss it in Committee for a fortnight, and then hang it up and revive it next year. The Education Bill was dead; but the Government had not the courage to say it was dead. The Government had no right to assume that the condition of public business would permit of the renewal of the Bill next January. Personally, he was of opinion that irresponsible and unauthorised men, both in Egypt and South Africa would create an embroglio that would render it impossible for the House to discuss finance or any other matter in January. He would not be surprised to find Parliament summoned in November or December, in order that a stop might be put to the proceedings of unauthorised individuals who were sacrificing the fair fame of England both in the north and south of Africa, and that in January the position of foreign politics would induce them to go on with their business minus the Education Bill. He protested against the waste of time which would be involved in their discussing the Education Bill for another fortnight, and asserted that it would be only creditable to the Leader of the House if he were to get up and announce, what he really must feel—namely, that the Education Bill had been a mistake.
§ MR. W. ABRAHAM (Rhondda, Glamorgan)
said that, as it was apparent that much could not be done henceforth this Session with the Education Bill, he would appeal to the Leader of the House to withdraw it at once, in order that time might be given to proceed with other important Bills, including especially the Mines Bill, in which great interest was taken by the miners of the country. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. DALZIEL
said that, as the Motion had effected its object in obtaining a statement from the First Lord of the Treasury, he did not propose to Divide the House, and ho thought that the Motion might be withdrawn.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Is it the pleasure of the House that the Motion be withdrawn? [Loud Ministerial cries of "No!"]
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn,"—(Mr. Dalziel)—put, and negatived.