THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY moved—
That To-morrow this House do meet at Twelve of the clock, and at its rising do adjourn till Thursday the 9th of April; that Government Business do have priority, and that so soon as such Business is disposed of Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put.
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I desire to call the attention of the House to the position in which it is placed with reference to public business. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman said just now that it 392 was contrary to Parliamentary convenience, though he knew of Parliamentary precedents, that the Motion for the Speaker to leave the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates should take place on the first day after the Recess. But I would ask whether it is not contrary to Parliamentary convenience and to all Parliamentary precedent that a Bill of great importance—perhaps the most important Bill of the Session— should be brought forward on the day of the Adjournment. [Cheers.] No such thing, as far as I know, has ever been attempted before in the history of the House of Commons—certainly not within my knowledge or recollection. How is it we have been brought to this situation? [Ministerial cheers and counter cheers.] I venture to say that it is in consequence of the absolute departure from all precedent in Parliamentary management, a departure in every respect from the traditions and habits of the House of Commons in dealing with important Measures and with important Motions. Several Bills and Motions of great importance have been put down for particular days when hon. Members were in attendance, expecting them to be discussed, but there have been placed in front of them Measures of very minor consequence which have led to discussion, and which properly led to discussion. [Cheers and ironical laughter.] We have had more Closure in the course of the few weeks the House has been sitting than has taken place before in the course of a whole Session; but the Government could not intend, when they put down such a Bill as the exclusion by Statute of foreign cattle, that there should be no discussion upon it. I ventured to warn the right hon. Gentleman when I knew that there was to be a Second Reading of a Bill of that kind as to the length of time that might be occupied. In a former Session of Parliament we who sit on the Opposition Benches were not even allowed to introduce the First Reading of a Government Bill without discussion occupying a whole day or more—[Opposition cheers] —and yet a Bill of that character was put down before the Vote on Account. Every one knows that in various parts of the country there was great opposition to the Exclusion of Foreign Cattle Bill. It was sure to be strongly opposed both by 393 the agriculturists in the Eastern Counties as well as in Scotland, and also by many of the inhabitants of great towns. [Cheers.] It was a Measure, therefore, which was not only sure to be discussed, but it was a proper subject for discussion, and the consequence was that the Vote on Account did not come on the day appointed. I was amused this morning to see a letter from the Prime Minister describing the unpromising state of public business in the House of Commons. It is a remarkable thing that when the Queen's Speech was read I observed that I thought the enumeration of Measures on the part of the Government in that Speech was not likely to be fulfilled. That observation was resented by hon. Members opposite, many of whom are new to this House; and it was said, "Of course we are going to pass all these Measures." There has also occurred a circumstance that I do not recollect to hare occurred before. The ''massacre of the innocents" has been performed by the Prime Minister before Easter —[laugh-ter]—because one of the Measures to which I then called attention was a Measure for the exclusion of destitute aliens from this country; and the Prime Minister has already massacred that Bill before Easter. We have found time for the exclusion of foreign cattle, but not for the exclusion of foreign aliens at present, though the Foreign Alien Bill was mentioned in the Queen's Speech, while- foreign cattle was not. [Laughter.] That is the first consequence of the unfortunate state of public business in the House of Commons. What happened again on Thursday? It was fixed for the Education Hill. Everyone would naturally expect that a Bill of that importance would have been brought forward at a time when questions might be put upon it with the fullest attendance of Members present. Every one is familiar with the arrangements made by hon. Members for leaving London on the day of the Adjournment; vet that is the day which is chosen for putting down the First Reading of a Bill which, I venture to say, according to the experience of previous Sessions, would have taken a whole night, perhaps two nights, if the Bill had been brought forward by this side of the House. 394 [Cheers.] The discussion on this Bill, however, is to be crammed into a morning sitting at 12 o'clock; and in this fashion the important Education Measure so much looked forward to is to be introduced by the Government. The time given to the Vote on Account and the Foreign Cattle Bill might have been bestowed on the Education Bill. What was the object of forcing on the Second Reading of the Foreign Cattle Bill? Even if it had been postponed until after Easter the Government had it in their power absolutely to prohibit the introduction of foreign cattle during the whole Session if they liked; and therefor there was no reason for putting that Bill before the Vote on Account. The Naval Works Bill was a very important Measure. It was a Measure which I ventured to inform the right hon. Gentleman would take up a considerable time in discussion, not that I and my Friends desired at all to obstruct it. On the contrary, what. I said was in support of that Bill; but every one knows that a Bill affecting various ports of the country would have various friends and opponents, and our experience had shown us that it was a Measure that would lead to a very elaborate discussion, and that as it raised questions of local interest it would occupy a considerable time. There again I gave a friendly warning to the right hon. Gentleman, but he said that an hour or two would dispose of it, just as he said the same thing about the Foreign Cattle Bill. That was a mistake. I cannot understand how such a mistake could have arisen, but the consequence has been to bring the whole of the public business of the House into confusion through having wasted time over those comparatively unimportant Measures. I may be wrong in the matter, but I do not know why it was absolutely necessary to pass the Naval Works Bill before Easter. I had the impression that, inasmuch as the money under the old Sinking Fund is not applied until the end of the financial year following, the Bill might have been passed later. At all events, other arrangements might have been made so as not to have made it necessary to put the Naval Works Bill before the Education Bill on the Thursday, and so that the House might have not been driven 395 into a corner, as it has been owing to the recent arrangements of public business. A question was raised by the right hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet as to a discussion on the Speaker leaving the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates. It is not in the least necessary that the Speaker should leave the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates before Easter. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of it as if it was a thing which was always done.
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
Well, then you need not do it. In 1895 the Speaker left the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates on May 24; therefore the putting down of the Civil Service Estimates was a thing which was entirely unnecessary. If it is desired that there should be an adjournment on the discussion that the Speaker leave the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates, there is no financial reason at all why that should not be done. The business which the Government expect to get through to-night on the Naval Works Bill, the Civil Service Estimates, and the Report of Supply is not giving the adequate time to those subjects which we have a right to ask. The business has been so conducted on those questions that the House is entitled to the opportunity of discussing important matters on these Motions. It has the right to discuss very important matters on the Speaker leaving the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates, and it has the right on the Report of Supply to discuss other matters; and, in my opinion, there never was a moment at which the House might more desire or had more right to discuss Motions of that kind than the very moment at which we now stand. An opportunity should now be afforded of discussing matters which are happening in South Africa, in Egypt, and many other things in which the House ought to take a deep interest, but we are driven, in consequence of the state of public business, into a corner, and there is not that opportunity of fair debate and discussion which the House ought to have, while we are to have launched at 12 o'clock to-morrow—on the day of the Adjournment of the House—one of the most important 396 Measures, if not the most important Measure, of the Session. [Cheers.] I spoke of the Bills which were announced in the Queen's Speech. We have had the Bill about foreign cattle, but as to the other Measures of great importance, we have had no announcement at all— the compensation to workmen for injuries—[cheers]—and the Employers' Liability Bill. Measures of comparatively secondary importance have been pushed forward to the exclusion of more serious business and to the loss of that time which the House ought to have for proper debate and consideration. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to say that he has been met by obstruction. I do not think that he would say so. If he did it would not be a fair statement. [Cheers.] At all events, in connection with those who sit on the Front Opposition Bench, he has no right to say anything of the kind. [Ministerial cheers.] The Government demanded fair support and fair time, and I do not think that we have refrained from giving them both. I am very unwilling to enter on anything like recrimination on this matter, and therefore I will say nothing of the past. I speak only of the present, and I do not think that it can be charged against those who sit on this side of the House that they have given any unfair opposition to the Measures which the Government have proposed. I regard it as my duty to enter my protest against the position in which we are placed with respect to the Education Bill—a Measure in which it is known that very deep interest is felt and about which there is a great conflict of opinion. If the Measure of the Government is at all of the magnitude that has been hoped by some and apprehended by others, it is not fair to the House that it should be asked to sanction the introduction of the Bill at a morning sitting on the day fixed for the Adjournment of the House for the Recess. [Cheers.]
§ MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Isle of Thanet)
did not rise to intervene in the dispute between the late Leader of the House of Commons and his successor, which reminded him rather of the differences between the pot and the kettle—[laughter]—but for the purpose of asking the First Lord of the Treasury 397 to agree to some modification of his proposals with reference to their proceedings that evening. His right hon. Friend had said that he intended to take the stage of getting the Speaker out of the Chair at any hour that night, however late. Before that could be done they would have to dispose of the Naval Works Bill, a very important Measure, and he understood that there were several questions relating to urgent Foreign Affairs which were to be discussed, and were likely to occupy some little time. The, probability was, therefore, that the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair in order that the House might get into Committee of Supply on the Civil Service Estimates would not be made until an advanced hour. Consequently, on the questions which were to be raised on that Motion there would be no opportunity for adequate discussion. The course which the right hon. Gentleman purposed taking would establish a dangerous precedent. Already the privileges of private Members had been largely encroached upon during the present Session—[Oppsition cheers]— and he was at a loss to know why, for there was no great urgency in respect of any Measures of first importance before the House, and there had been no widespread obstruction to overcome. The fact was that the Conservative Party, whose principles had hitherto always been opposed to hasty legislation, were now, with their enormous Unionist majority creating precedents which in other hands might become a great danger to the State. [Laughter from the Opposition.] He only hoped that the majority of the House understood what they were doing, and that they would not bemoan their hard fate if in future years important Measures should be crammed down their throats without any discussion at all. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
My right hon. Friend who has just sat down is so much in the habit of advocating what he regards as the rights of private Members, and has so constantly before his mind what he calls "cramming legislation down the throat of the House of Commons," that, whatever may be the subject under discussion, his peroration always deals with this familiar theme. As a matter of fact there 398 is nothing in this Motion or in the business to be transacted to-night and to-morrow which could for a moment be described as cramming legislation down anybody's throat. Beyond the Third Reading of the Naval Works Bill, there is no legislation proposed to-night. Tomorrow, the proceedings begin at 12, and if the House desires to discuss the First Reading of the Education Bill for a considerable time, there is nothing in the Rules to prevent it from sitting the clock round. I cannot conceive that any such result is likely to occur, but it would be in the power of the House to occupy in the discussion of my right hon. Friend's Bill, as many hours as it should please. How, therefore, what we are doing can be described as "cramming legislation down the throat" of the House and the country I am utterly at a loss to understand. ["Hear, hear!"] My right hon. Friend says that I am asking the House to do a great deal too much business in the course of this evening's sitting. Had the House desired to proceed to business immediately after Questions were disposed of, I presume we could have got through the Naval Works Bill by 5 o'clock. There would then have been a long evening to devote to the discussion of the Resolutions on the Paper. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: ''What about the Motion for the Adjournment of the House?"] If the hon. Member chooses to move the Adjournment I must not be blamed for that. [''Hear, hear!"] I am pointing out what Members could have done if they had wished. They could have begun the discussion of the Amendments to the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair at 5 o'clock. Then no one could have pretended, in view of the nature of the Resolutions down upon the Paper, that the time for their discussion was insufficient. The Leader of the Opposition has said that a night's discussion of the Amendments to the Motion for going into Committee of Supply is not enough, and that there are South African questions and others of great importance which the House is burning to discuss. The House may be burning to discuss those questions, but, at any rate, they have not been put down upon the Paper. Notices of Motion have been given with reference to affairs in the Turkish Empire, but beyond these questions I see 399 very little that ought to take up much time. There is a question, relating to Ireland, which the Irish Members themselves say will not take long; there is a Resolution about lunacy; there is another upon a subject that has already been discussed once this Session—namely, harbour accommodation in Scotland; and there is a small question concerning Wales. In these circumstances I fail to see what difficulty there can be in getting through the business on the Paper tonight without any undue pressure on the powers of endurance of hon. Members. Then I come to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, who says it is a monstrous novelty and inconvenience that the House should be asked, on the day before the holidays, to listen to my right hon. Friend's speech on so important a subject as Elementary Education. There are, no doubt, subjects which it would be improper for the Government to bring forward on the last day before the holidays. They are subjects on which the House might like to divide, and I recognise that it might be extremely inconvenient to hon. Members to attend in order to take part in a full-dress Division. But it is not usual to divide on the First Reading even of the most controversial Bills. It is sometimes done, but not often, and I do not think it likely that hon. Members will deem it necessary to divide on a Bill like the Education Bill, which is necessarily complicated in its provisions, before they have seen it in print. In these circumstances I cannot imagine a more convenient day—[laughter and cheers]— speaking relatively—on which this subject could be brought forward. If I deprive the right hon. Gentleman opposite of one day of his intended holidays —if he purposed going to the New Forest to-morrow, I apologise to him, but I may point out that if he likes to go he will, after all, be able to read a full account of my right hon. Friend's speech in the newspapers. [Opposition cries of ''Oh!'' laughter, and cheers.] Then he will be in no way prevented from taking his full share in the real discussion of the Bill on the Second Reading and in Committee, and though we should be sorry that he should not take part in our Debate to-morrow, it does not appear to me that any serious inconvenience will be caused to himself 400 if he is obliged to deprive himself of the opportunity of hearing my right hon. Friend. [Opposition cries of "Oh!"] Whose feelings have I hurt? The only person whose feelings I could possibly have hurt is my right hon. Friend the Vice President of the Council, who may be deprived of one of the principal members of his audience. How I can have hurt the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman opposite or of hon. Members behind him I fail to understand, but if I have injured the susceptibilities of hon. Members on the Back Benches "opposite J hope that they will accept my apologies. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman has surveyed the business of last week and has told us that on two occasions we have put down business before the Education Bill when we ought to have put it down first. He also grumbled at me because I put down my right hon. Friend's Bill with regard to the slaughter of cattle before the Vote on Account. The right hon. Gentleman forgot, or at all events omitted to state, that the Vote on Account was discussed the whole of the night before the Animals Bill was brought in. The Vote on Account has constantly been taken in one night. Then the right hon. Gentleman said, ''On Thursday night you put down the Naval Works Bill first when you ought to have known that there would be a long discussion on the Bill, which would render it impossible to bring in the Education Bill." It is no more possible to foresee the amount of discussion that is likely to take place on a particular Measure than it is possible to make an accurate forecast of the weather. You may see in The Times this morning that the weather is expected to be fine and dry; but, as a matter of fact, down comes a steady and continuous drizzle of rain, which prevents you seeing or doing anything or pursuing any other course whatever than that of putting up your umbrella and waiting with what philosophy you can muster for the rain to stop. That is an unpleasant state of things; but the man with the umbrella is not to blame— [laughter]—he is the victim, he is the sufferer. When he expected to have a comfortable and rapid walk, he finds himself storm-bound under the shelter of some tree. The truth is, while it is not my business to criticise the action which 401 hon. Gentlemen opposite chose to take on Thursday night with regard to the Naval Works Bill, it was not action that was approved of on the Front Bench opposite. The late Financial Secretary to the Admiralty himself expressed his regret at the necessity under which some of his Friends found themselves of discussing and rediscussing not the novel parts of the Bill, hut those parts of it which had already been adequately dealt with in a previous Session. ["Hear, hear!"] We could not foresee that discussion, and if the right hon. Gentle man could not sufficiently control his friends, that was not our fault.
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
It was not so. My hon. Friend near me tells me there was more discussion on the other side of the House than on this. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
That is a question which is very easily answered by a reference to the Debates. If the right hon. Gentleman will refer to the Debate he will see that the lengthened discussion which took place on the old parts of the Bill came from his side of the House, and that the discussion on this side was in the main, though not entirely, on the new parts. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
I sat through the whole of the Debate, and there was only one Amendment moved by Members of the Liberal Party sitting on this side of the House. Most of the discussion came from Members on the other side of the House. We made a protest that the discussion was confined to the old part of the Bill, and that a discussion of the new parts was prevented. [''Hear, hear!"]
THE FIRST LORD or THE TREASURY
I think the hon. Gentleman is wrong, and that his memory deceives him. There may possibly have been only one Amendment moved from that side of the House—though I am amazed at the number of Divisions that took place—but I think that if the hon. Gentleman will recall to his memory the agreeable recollection associated with the eloquence of the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Lanarkshire—[laughter] —and some others he will see that I have not greatly exaggerated, if at all, what took place on Thursday last. ["Hear, hear!"] But, after all, if it 402 was desirable to get the Naval Works Bill through, as it was, what other course could we have pursued? ["Hear, hear!"] If we had put it down second on Thursday last, I ask, should we have got it through that night at all? We should have been obliged to let the holidays go by without that Measure reaching a Third Reading. It is not absolutely necessary, but it is extremely convenient, from a financial point of view, that that Bill should be passed. The House of Lords is going to meet tomorrow for the purpose of passing it and making it law as soon as possible, and in these circumstances, if that proposition be granted, I do not believe any ingenuity will show that we could have better distributed Parliamentary time than by the plan we have actually adopted. [''Hear, hear!"] I am aware it is seldom the good fortune of the Leader of the House to please the Leader of the Opposition in the management of business. The right hon. Gentleman opposite never succeeded in pleasing me— [laughter]—and I do not anticipate that I shall ever succeed in pleasing him. [Laughter.] I greatly regret it, for there is no man whose good opinion I would rather have, and there is no man whose knowledge of the House of Commons makes him a more competent critic of those who are endeavouring to follow him in the office which he filled with so much distinction. [Cheers.] But when I try to sum up the errors which the Government are alleged to have committed in the conduct of business during the last fortnight, I cannot see that it comes to more than this—that hon. Gentlemen will have to choose between the pleasure of listening to my right hon. Friend introducing the Education Bill and the pleasure of going a few hours earlier to their respective homes. [Laughter.] It may be a painful choice —[laughter]—and I regret that I should have been instrumental in compelling hon. Gentlemen to make it; but I hope they will believe me that, however unsuccessful my efforts may be to meet the convenience of all parties, I did my best, consistently with trying to get through what is the duty of the Government to ask the House of Commons to get through. [Cheers.]
§ MR. HENRY LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, he had no doubt that the conduct of all Governments with regard to public business was bad —[laughter]—but he was quite ready to admit that the conduct of the present Government was exceptionally bad. He was afraid that that evening would be one of those uncomfortable and unpleasant drizzles—[laughter]—of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke. He could only thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in calling it drizzle and not dribble. [Laughter.] He was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that there was nothing that would come between the House and the Motion that the Speaker do now leave the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman himself was a Member of the Fourth Party in 1880. He remembered the exploits of that Party. Never was a Motion made such as the right hon. Gentleman had made that evening, that the House should adjourn for a holiday, without the Fourth Party bounding to its feet and discussing everything. [Laughter.] He had observed that hon. Gentlemen opposite particularly disliked being kept in the House till the early hours of the morning. He had a Motion on the Paper to reduce the salary of Lord Salisbury on the Report of the Vote on Account, that would probably come on about 3 o' clock in the morning, and he was sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite would say that he was consulting their convenience if he raised the matter at the present time instead. He did not think they ought to adjourn the House without knowing more about the condition of the Soudan. The explanations given up to the present were contradictory and unsatisfactory.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member will not be in order on this Motion in entering into the affairs of the Soudan. They must be discussed on the Vote on Account, which is an Order of the day.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he found it impossible to agree that the House should adjourn, not on account of the erroneous policy of this expedition, but 404 without knowing something of the reasons why it was sent; and with that view his object was to call the attention of the House to the very contradictory statements made by Her Majesty's Ministers with regard to it.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I do not think that improves the hon. Member's case. [Laughter.] I think the hon. Member is out of order in entering upon this question on this Motion.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I can only call the hon. Gentleman to order if he transgresses. I cannot lay down for him a rule as to how far he may go. [Laughter.]
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, it was his anxious desire to enable hon. Gentlemen opposite to get to bed at an early hour, but he was afraid he should have to resume this matter on the Report stage of the Vote on Account. At the same time he would say that, as they had not yet had a clear and definite explanation from Her Majesty's Government, but only contradictory statements, with regard to this matter, he did object to the adjournment of the House until some such explanation was given. He, therefore, begged to move as an Amendment to the Resolution, that after the word "o'clock," the subsequent words, "and at its rising do adjourn till Thursday, the 9th of April," should be left out.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
desired to ask a question on the point of order which had been raised. It had always been the practice of the House hitherto to allow considerable discussion on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House for a period of time. ["Hear, hear!"] He desired to know from the Speaker whether he had decided against that practice as a general rule, or whether he only ruled it out of order on this occasion because there was a subject of discussion—namely, the Vote on Account, subsequent to this, on which the question the hon. Member for Northampton wished to discuss could possibly be raised?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I ruled the hon. Member out of order because the matter which he proposed to Debate was one 405 which could be debated on the Vote on Account, and it has been ruled before in this House that where the Vote on Account is down for Debate an hon. Member cannot introduce, on a Motion as to Adjournment, a subject which it is open to him to Debate on the Vote on Account immediately afterwards.
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
Before the House divides on the Motion we ought clearly to understand the situation. [Cheers.] There is no doubt whatever, I think, that in the former practice of the House the Motion for Adjournment for a Recess, was one upon which all questions were discussed, and especially questions of important foreign or colonial affairs which might cause anxiety during the period of the Recess. That was the special object why, upon the Motion for the Adjournment, these questions were brought up, so that the House and the country might have information which would justify them in giving a Recess of greater or less length. ["Hear, hear!"] If it is impossible upon this Motion to obtain information in the critical position of foreign affairs, and the extremely critical position of colonial affairs, as to what the situation is either in Egypt or Matabeleland, then I shall certainly vote for a very short Recess. If the House of Commons is disabled from obtaining from the Government full information, such as we ought to have upon this subject, then I really do not think we ought to adjourn for ten days; therefore, I should support any Motion which shortened the Recess in order that the House or Commons might be present to receive any information which it is not now in a position to obtain. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
suggested as a way out of the difficulty that the First Lord of the Treasury should confine his Motion to stating that the sitting to-morrow should commence at 12 o'clock; then let the sitting be devoted to the introduction of the Education Bill, and at the close of the discussion on that Bill the Motion for the Adjournment could be made, upon which the House should enjoy its immemorial right of discussing the policy of the Government. ["Hear, hear!"]
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
observed that no one would dis- 406 pute the Speaker's ruling, as there could be no doubt of the impropriety of discussing on the Motion for the Adjournment matters which might arise on the Vote on Account. But in this particular case he would point out that the fact that the Government had put down the Vote on Account when the Adjournment was to be moved practically cut the House off from everything. The Vote on Account contained everything except the Army and Navy, and, therefore, they were debarred from having the usual explanations of Ministers on matters of high import concerning the foreign policy of the Government, and of their intentions with regard to their acts during the Recess. That was the practical effect of putting down the Vote on Account for the same day as that upon which the Motion for the holidays was to be moved. He hoped it would be a warning to the Government in future to abstain from, and for the Opposition to resist the putting down of such a Vote upon such an occasion. In regard to the Education Bill he thought it was a proper thing to introduce it under these circumstances. In the first place there would be a select audience of those interested in that Bill, and in the second place, after having heard the speech of the Minister who introduced the Measure, instead of getting up and replying offhand, with unconsidered arguments, hon. Members would go away and be able to reflect upon it, during the holidays, at their leisure. But what he wished to say was that he had seen no reason at all why the Government should insist upon moving the Speaker from the Chair before Easter. He thought the Government had already sacrificed too much to Supply. In his opinion the Secretary to the Treasury was ruling them with a rod of iron. He would not let them introduce their Bills or explain their policy, but insisted on having the whole time of the House for Supply. He would point out to his right hon. Friend that it was not necessary to get the Speaker out of the Chair on the Civil Service Estimates before Easter, and, therefore, in the interests of fine weather and fair discussion he would suggest that the Government should not insist upon the Speaker leaving the Chair to-day on the Civil Service Estimates. He attached the greatest possible importance to this discussion with the 407 Speaker in the Chair, because it was one of the last opportunities left to hon. Members to discuss high general questions of policy involved in the Estimates. On the Estimates themselves in Committee they could only discuss little details, to which they were confined with the utmost strictness. The three discussions on the three occasions of the Speaker leaving the Chair on different classes of Estimates were, he took it, saved by the House in order to retain some opportunity of having a general discussion on high questions of policy. He thought it would not meet the intention of the rule of the House that they should be tied down to a small fraction of a day on a discussion such as this, and he would suggest to the Secretary to the Treasury and the First Lord of the Treasury that they might, perhaps, withdraw their proposal, or, at any rate, might forego their intention of moving the Speaker out of the Chair after what must be a most inadequate discussion.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The right hon. Gentleman opposite appears to think that it is very necessary to have another discussion on foreign and colonial affairs in addition to those we have recently had. I thought, especially as regards foreign affairs, that I gave the House an exceptionally favourable opportunity. But, if it is desired, and if the right hon. Gentleman thinks that colonial affairs are so pressing that something must be done to give the in House an opportunity for further discussion, I will, if it is insisted upon, put down the Colonial Vote for the first day after the Recess. Absolutely nothing fresh has occurred, so far as the Government are aware, either in colonial or foreign affairs, during the last week which should necessitate further discussion on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite. There is nothing, so far as we are aware, with which the House of Commons could profitably deal at the present moment.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
No. I understand that the House knows all that has taken place as well as my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary. There is no information kept back, and there is nothing to cause us grave anxiety in that quarter 408 of our Colonial possessions—["Hear, hear!"]—and under these circumstances I really think that that particular reason for the Amendment is one that cannot be sustained. With regard to the Amendment, I would only remind the House that it is one against the holidays, and the House of Commons is very much changed if it supports a proposal of that character. I hope the hon. Gentlemen opposite will go to a Division, as I should like to see whether the House really desires, in the first place, that to-morrow shall not be occupied with the Education Bill alone, but, in addition, shall have a long and miscellaneous discussion upon all things in heaven and earth. I hope the House will not accept the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. W. ALLEN (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
asked the Speaker whether he might ask the First Lord of the Treasury, on this Motion, a question as to an event which might possibly occur in Matabeleland before the House met again?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The proper time for asking such a question will be when the Motion is made for the Adjournment of the House to-night.
§ MR. ALLEN, on a point of order, asked whether this was not a Motion for the Adjournment of the House.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
This is a Motion that the House at its rising to-morrow do adjourn until a future day.
§ MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
said, he did not think the First Lord of the Treasury had treated this matter quite fairly. He said the Amendment was an Amendment against the holidays. It was more than that. It was an Amendment directed against the latter portion of the Resolution, that the House do adjourn without question put, thus abrogating a constitutional right of the House. He thought they might very well support the Amendment to leave out all the Resolution after the words 12 o'clock.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
That is not the Amendment of the hon. Member for Northampton. The Amendment is to leave out the words "and at its rising do adjourn till' Thursday, the 9th of April."
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The Amendment now before the House precludes the hon. Member from doing that at present.
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
hoped the hon. Member for Northampton was not going to put the House to the trouble of dividing on this Amendment.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he was sorry to hear that, because he was entirely with him in his desire to get further information from the Government. He was one of those who had been bewildered by the various voices on foreign affairs—[Opposition cheers]—but he did not see how they could get any expression of opinion on this Amendment that would be satisfactory to any one who was particularly interested in what was going on in foreign affairs. It was, moreover, as the First Lord of the Treasury had said, an Amendment against the holidays, and most assuredly the House should have some holidays at Easter. The hon. Member had got an opportunity of raising this question in a direct fashion to-night, even if it was at a late hour, and he hoped he would not put before the House a false issue on the present question.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 233; Noes, 87.—(Division List, No. 78.)
§ Mr. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs) moved to leave out "That Government business do have priority." He said the course which the Government proposed to take by the Resolution was altogether unprecedented, and the Leader of the House had given the House; no reason for adopting it. Although the House had been sitting only a few weeks, all the Fridays had been taken from private Members, several of the; Tuesdays had been appropriated, and one or two Wednesdays had been trespassed upon. In addition to this there had been several Motions to suspend the Twelve o'clock Rule, and there had been one or two all-night sittings. [" Hear, 410 hear!"] The Government having taken to themselves all this time from private Members, he contended that it was monstrous that they should now take, on the eve of a holiday, another Tuesday belonging to private Members, and even alter the rules of sitting for that day to meet their convenience. ["Hear, hear!"] He ventured to say that such a course at such a time was absolutely unprecedented, especially as the Leader of the House had shown no reason of urgency to justify it. ["Hear, hear!"] He objected to this course because there were several Motions of a practical and important character which might otherwise have been brought forward by hon. Members, but he objected to it especially as a Welsh Member, because under ordinary circumstances, and if Government business had not priority, it was by no means improbable that the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for West Denbigh, relating to Sunday closing in Wales, would be reached before the dinner hour. The Welsh Members had been waiting for eight years for an opportunity to bring that question, in which the people of the Principality were deeply interested, before the House, and now, when they saw that opportunity within reach, the Government came down and, without giving any satisfactory reason for doing so, claimed the time for a Bill of their own. ["Hear, hear!"]
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
said, no one felt more interest in education than he did, and he was as anxious as any one could be that the promised Measure should be brought forward before the Recess; at the same time he felt that it would be very unfair of the Government if they deprived the Welsh Members of the opportunity of discussing the liquor question in Wales on the Motion he had on the Paper. The Welsh people were deeply interested in the matter, and he hoped the Leader of the House would give him and his Friends some opportunity, however brief, of bringing the matter forward. [" Hear, hear!"]
§ *SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he hardly thought it would be desirable to persist in this Amendment, because, if so, the Education Bill might not be brought forward at all before the Recess. ["Hear, hear!"] He confessed that he was very much surprised to hear the 411 Leader of the House recommend hon. Gentlemen to go away and to learn the proceedings of the House from the newspapers. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] He did not think language of that kind proceeding from the Leader of the House was right.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
No such language, nor anything like it, proceeded from me. [Cheers.]
§ *SIR W. HARCOURT
said, he begged pardon; it was addressed personally to himself. It was to the effect that he should go away and learn the views of the Government on the education question from the newspapers. ["Hear, hear!"] All he could say was, that if those were the views adopted by the Leader of the House of Commons, he did not wonder at the condition into which business had fallen. He certainly did not think that such a suggestion had ever before proceeded from the Leader of this House. ["Hear, hear!"] He hoped hon. Members would attend, in spite of any inconvenience that might be imposed upon them by the arrangements the Government had made, to hear the Bill explained and to ask such questions as might be necessary to understand the Measure. ["Hear, hear!"] He now understood that the right hon. Gentleman admitted that there was no financial necessity for having put forward the Naval Works Bill. If the First Lord of the Admiralty were to tell him that it was necessary for financial purposes under this Bill that it should be passed before the end of the financial year, he should be satisfied. But he did not understand that any such statement was made on the part of the Government. Indeed, it could only arise upon the disposal of the Sinking Fund. As the Sinking Fund was disposed of at the end of the year, he did not understand that there was any absolute financial necessity why this Bill should have passed before the end of the financial year; in fact, the First Lord of the Treasury admitted there was not. As regarded the other parts of the Bill, he knew it was not necessary, because the Liberal Government were not allowed to pass the Naval Works Bill last year till after the Government had been defeated in the month of June. Therefore, unless the matter arose on the Sinking Fund, and unless it 412 could be stated that financial purposes rendered it absolutely necessary to pass the Bill, there would be no reason for bringing it on. But as the House generally was desirous that the Education Bill should be brought on upon the following day, he thought it would be unwise to persist in the Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
suggested that a way out of the difficulty would be for the House to sit on Wednesday. [Cries of "No!"] They had now been sitting six weeks and he had no hesitation in saying that during that time greater onslaughts had been made on the rights and privileges of private Members than ever before in the history of Parliament. On several occasions the Twelve o'clock Rule had been suspended, Fridays had been taken altogether by the Government, and several Tuesdays had been taken as well. There was no difficulty about the introduction of the Education Bill, inasmuch as that could be very well taken on Wednesday. It was monstrous that the Government should come down and say to private Members, "We have a Bill on the question of Education in which you are all interested, but if you want to hear it explained you will have to give up one of your private days." That was not treating the House fairly. He would not presume to give the hon. Member for Carnarvon advice, but he hoped the hon. Gentleman would press his Amendment to a Division. He could not help feeling that in their attacks upon the privileges of private Members, the Government had been greatly encouraged by the attitude of Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench. If the Government could count upon stern opposition from Gentlemen on the Front Bench, there would be fewer attacks of this kind.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
reminded the hon. Gentleman that the House had already decided to adjourn after the Morning Sitting to-morrow till Thursday week. The hon. Member suggested that the House should sit on Wednesday. The House had decided not to sit on Wednesday.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
said, the Amendment was to leave out the words "giving priority to Government business tomorrow." He was endeavouring to show 413 that tomorrow need not be taken for Government business, as Wednesday could be taken.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
said, that he had already pointed out to the hon. Member that the House had decided not to sit on Wednesday.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
said, it would be vain in him to suppose that the House would take his advice, but he thought the Government had been so well treated during the Session, that they ought not to ask for priority for their business to-morrow.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
had no desire to disobey the ruling of the Chair, indeed he was only endeavouring to point out that the Government had plenty of opportunities for their business without taking to-morrow. Personally, he greatly sympathised with the Welsh Members who were to be deprived of bringing in to-morrow a subject in which they were deeply interested, in consequence of the course the Government had elected to follow.
THE FIRST LORD OF TICK TREASURY
confessed that he did not sympathise with the Welsh Members, because in the first place their Motion stood fourth on to-morrow's Paper, and in the second place it had been well known for a long time past that it was intended to rise for the Easter Holidays to-morrow. In addition to that the Government always took the Morning Sitting, after which the House rose for their own business. They merely proposed to follow precedent, and he was certain they were not disappointing any hopes which could be legitimately entertained by any one at all conversant with Parliamentary procedure.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
said the subject which the Welsh Members had down to-morrow was not only an extremely important one but one on which opinion in Wales had been expressed with an emphasis rarely exceeded. Already two of the three nights which Welsh Members had secured had been taken away from them, and, therefore, they might reasonably protest against the pressure which was being brought to bear on private Members.
*SIR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
said that at the risk of being considered insubordinate to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire, he should support the hon. Member for Carnarvon if he went to a Division. He protested against the way private Members had been treated during this Session. Of all Members the Welsh had been treated the worst. To-morrow the subject in which he and his hon. colleagues were concerned would naturally come on, and it was no fault of theirs the Education Bill had not been brought on before. If it had been placed first instead of second on the Paper last Thursday (as it ought to have been) it might have been introduced four days ago. The Leader of the House had the whole time at his disposal and could bring on the Education Bill on an early day after the holidays, but if his hon. Friend missed the opportunity of bringing on his Motion to-morrow he would not be able to move it again this Session.
§ MR. T. R. LEUTY (Leeds, E.)
said he had no consuming desire to see the Education Bill. He should only add that if the Member for Carnarvon should go to a Division he should vote with him.
§ MR. FLYNN
said they had no great desire to see the Education Bill at the cost of the rights of private Members. There were plenty of opportunities to bring in the Bill on Thursday or Friday, and, therefore, there was no justification for taking away the rights of private Members. He had no desire to occupy the time of the House, as he had an Amendment of his own to bring forward later on. [Laughter.]
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: — Ayes, 254; Noes, 72.—(Division List, No. 79.)
§ Mr. FLYNN moved to leave out all the words after the word "priority." Irish and Radical Members had been accused of not being so tender of the constitutional rights and safeguards of the House as the Conservative Party. But on this occasion, he contended, they 415 were defending them. It was quite conceivable that by to-morrow night grave incidents might have occurred, as to which hon. Members would require information or an explanation. The danger of the situation was sufficiently obvious; and, as the hon. Member for the Liskeard Division had stated, they were absolutely in a state of bewilderment. But no matter how serious or dangerous the state of affairs might be in Egypt, in North or South Africa, they would not be able to discuss it, or ask for information, if this Motion was passed.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 249; Noes, 84.—(Division List, No. 80.)
§ Main Question put accordingly.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 246; Noes, 73.—(Division List, No. 81.)
That To-morrow this House do meet at Twelve of the clock, and at its rising do adjourn till Thursday the 9th of April; that Government business do have priority, and that so soon as such business is disposed of Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put.