HC Deb 12 July 1898 vol 61 cc675-86

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury if it is intended to proceed with the Poisonous Substances Bill this Session, having regard to the widespread objection to that Measure by chemists and druggists throughout the country?

The following Questions also appeared on the Paper—


To ask the First Lord of the Treasury if a Bill will be brought in this Session to provide for the superannuation of teachers in public elementary schools.

MR. MCKENNA (Monmouth, N.)

To ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he will include in his statement as to the course of public business a reference to his proposals on the subject of the superannuation of teachers.


To ask the First Lord of the Treasury to say, in indicating the intentions of the Government as to the disposal of the time of the House, when it is intended to take the discussion of the Local Taxation Account (Scotland) Resolution, the Attendance of Children at School (Scotland) Bill, and the Parish Churches (Scotland) Bill; and when an opportunity will be given for the discussion of the Scottish Education Vote.


I may, perhaps, be allowed to make these four Questions the occasion for giving the statement which I have promised to the House in regard both to Supply and the remaining business which lies before us during the course of the present Session. The last Question, however—that of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs—I may answer independently, as it is rather outside the scope of the statement I have to make. The right honourable Gentleman asks when particular Bills are going to be taken. I am afraid I cannot at present state when the Measures to which the right honourable Gentleman refers will be brought before the House, but, of course, we shall bring them on at the earliest possible date. Now I turn to the question of Supply, and as regards Supply I think that, looking back on the course of the Session, we must admit that the Supply Rule has most effectively carried out the main object for which it was framed—namely, that of giving to the House at a convenient period of the Session—at a time when the House is not fatigued or exhausted, as it would be in the middle of August, but during the earlier and fresher days of our labour—an opportunity of discussing and deciding upon the administrative action of the Government. I hope that the particular days selected have met the convenience of honourable Gentlemen, as they were certainly designed to do by those responsible for the conduct of the business in this House. But while I think that the Rule has proved entirely satisfactory with regard to its most important function, the actual amount of money which has been voted, and the actual number of Votes disposed of, do not compare favourably with the results reached at the same period of the year in the last Session of Parliament. We have had 15 days of Supply. In the first 15 days of Supply in 1897 99 Votes were passed. This year, during the 15 days which have been already allotted to Supply, 36 Votes alone have been finally disposed of; and the pecuniary results of the Votes correspond with the general estimate of their number. But I may interpolate this observation—that I do not think anybody in this House estimates the importance of the Vote by the amount of money with which it deals. There are Votes dealing with millions of the taxpayers' money which may properly pass without a word of discussion, while Votes which nominally appear on the Estimates deserve, and have often received, Debates lasting for one night or more. One reason for the comparatively unsatisfactory condition of Supply at the present time is to be found in the fact that there were no less than five days of discussion without a single Vote being obtained.

SIR H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

Six days.


I thought it was five; it may have been six. Some of those days were spent in discussion upon most important questions of foreign affairs. Others—one other, at any rate—were, perhaps, less well spent upon an elaborate discussion of the officers of this House and of another place. But, without going into the question of how the time has been used by the House, the broad fact remains that, while there has been ample discussion on matters of the gravest public interest, we do not stand as far advanced with Supply as I think we should be at this time of the year, and so far our labours in this department of our work are somewhat disappointing. There remain six more complete days for the discussion of Supply, provided that the three extra days permitted by the Rule are given; and I need hardly say that under the existing circumstances I shall certainly get them, and everybody would desire and anticipate that they would be given. Besides the six days there are, of course, parts of the two final days—that is to say, the hours which intervene between the end of Questions and 10 o'clock on the last day of Supply and the day when Report is taken; in other words, we have six whole days and the major part of two others. In my view, though I think it would be most unwise now to make an allocation of those six days, yet the subjects which require most attention and discussion by the House—the matters which are most important and most deserve our attention—are the Irish Votes and the Navy Votes, to which next Friday and Friday week are already allotted, the Home Office Votes, the Post Office Votes, the Local Government Board Votes, the Board of Trade Votes, Class 5, and some Votes for the Army. There will be some difficulty, no doubt, in arranging the time to the best advantage among those various topics, but I am sure that the Government will have the assistance of the House in making the best arrangement possible, and if the right honourable Gentleman opposite, or those for whom he speaks, think that I have made any error in my list of important Votes still to come, I shall, of course, be glad to correct that error and meet the views of the right honourable Gentleman as far as I can with regard to the allocation of the time still remaining to us. Many of these Votes require discussion, but let me add that there are Votes with large pecuniary products which do not require prolonged discussion, and which, under the circumstances, I hope the House will enable us to get with all possible facility. Before I leave the topic of Supply there is another point which I must bring under the attention of the House. My right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies proposes to bring forward a supplementary Estimate, dealing with the West Indies. That is of so exceptional and unusual a character, it lies so much outside any Vote which we have passed in the course of the present Session, that I confess I do not think it would be desirable—though it would be possible—to bring it within the operation of the Supply Rule. I think I shall be able so to arrange matters that by far the greater part of the time occupied in the discussion of this novel Vote can be allotted without trespassing on the six cays which still remain, under the strict interpretation of the Rule. With this short account of the condition of Supply, and the course which I hope the House will adopt with regard to it, I now pass to the position of our legislative business. This is, perhaps, in some respects rather an early day to make a statement—early in this sense, that it cannot, from the nature of the case, be made absolutely complete. That it cannot be made complete is evident from the fact that I have to begin my statement by reminding the House that there are no less than four Bills which have not been yet introduced, and which I yet think ought to pass. And there is a fifth Bill—namely, the Food and Drugs Bill of my right honourable Friend the President of the Local Government Board—to which I shall make no further reference now, for although it is to be introduced, we have always said that it would be quite impossible to pass it in the course of the present Session. The four Measures which are not yet introduced, but which ought to be passed, are, first, one which will probably receive the general assent of the House—the Teachers' Superannuation Bill; next, the Seed Potatoes Bill, of my right honourable Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and the Poor Relief Bill, which is practically a Bill of indemnity for guardians going beyond their powers in dealing with the condition of things in the west of Ireland; and there is, in addition, the Colonial Loans Bill, which will be introduced, and the object of which is to institute a Colonial Loans Fund, on the model of the Local Loans Fund, out of which, from time to time, loans may be made to the Crown Colonies under Parliamentary authority.


Is that Bill independent of the Supplementary Estimate?


Yes, it is quite independent of the Supplementary Estimate, to which I have referred. I pass now to the Bills which the House has already had before it for a considerable time, and which, though they are of varying degrees of importance, cannot be described either as Departmental or local Bills. There is, in the first place, the Local Government Bill for Ireland, then there is the Evidence in Criminal Cases Bill, the Vaccination Bill, the Prisons Bill, the London University Bill, the Habitual Inebriates Bill, the Local Taxation (Scotland) Bill, and the Mercantile Marine Fund Bill. All these Bills are either at the Report stage, or, as in the case of the London University Bill, on the verge of the Report stage, excepting the Local Taxation (Scotland) Bill. I do not understand that that Bill, now that it has been before honourable Gentlemen representing Scotch constituencies, is likely to lead to much opposition or to very prolonged debate. All these Measures, therefore, I hope may pass. In the second class I put Bills which are either departmental Bills or which have a local application. Of these there are the Telegraphs Money Bill, the Isle of Man Customs Bill, the Metropolitan Police Courts Bill, the Vagrancy Act Amendment Bill, the Parish Fire Engines Bill, the Metropolitan Poor Fund Bill, the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill, and the Statute Law Revision Bill; the Charitable Loans Bill and the Lodgers' Declaration Bill, relating to Ireland; and the Circuit Clerks Justiciary Bill, the Attendance of Children at School Bill, and the Parish Churches Bill, these three relating to Scotland. There is also the Universities and College Estates Bill, which has passed through its Report stage, and is only awaiting Third Reading. I have no ground for believing that any of those Bills are likely to excite opposition. The general wish on both sides of the House is that they should pass; and, as far as I know, none of them have any party application, or are likely to lead to disputes dividing the two sides of the House. There remain two Bills which await Second Reading, and as to which I cannot say at present whether they are likely to meet with general favour or not—the Land Charges Bill and the Lunacy Bill. With respect to these, I shall make no statement about them until I have seen some further indication as to the reception with which they are likely to meet. It only remains for me to give the list—in this case it is a small list—of the Bills which we have abandoned any hope of passing into law. The list is small, for reasons with which the House is acquainted; and I do not think that much time will have been wasted in the course of the present Session on Measures which ultimately it will be found impossible to place on the Statute Book. These Bills are the Land Tax Commissioners Bill, the Dogs Regulation Bill, the Factory and Workshops Bill, the Poisons Bill, and the Private Bill Procedure (Scotland) Bill. The only one in that list of five which calls for any public comment is the last. The House will remember that that Bill was referred to a Select Committee, and the Select Committee, I believe, have seen labouring and working with great energy at the Measure. Although there is every probability that a very useful Report will be before us for our future guidance before the end of the Session, I do not think it is in any way possible that we should find time this Session to deal with a Measure which not only must, but I think ought to, receive some consideration on the floor of this House. It is with great reluctance, but probably not altogether in contradiction of expectations formed either here or in Scotland, that I say the Bill will have to stand over until next Session of Parliament. I have now, as far as in my power, given to the House a general view of our programme. It is, of course, not without the bounds of possibility that some public necessity may require the introduction of a Measure to meet that public necessity, but I do not anticipate it, and as far as what I may call the general legislative programme of the Government is concerned I have made a statement that I believe covers the whole ground. I trust the House will not think that I am putting too heavy a burden on their shoulders by asking honourable Members to pass the Measures, for the most part uncontroversial, which I have enumerated, and I think that if we set ourselves resolutely to work there ought to be no ground for doubting that we shall be able to separate about the time we separated last Session.

SIR W. HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)

With reference to the remarks with which the right honourable Gentleman commenced his statement, I desire—and I think I state the sentiments of gentlemen on this side—to acknowledge the consideration and courtesy with which he has dealt with Supply upon days which he has been requested to place at the disposal of the House for the purpose of discussing matters of importance. With respect to that, I entirely concur with him that the Rule has operated advantageously in giving to the House the means of discussing matters of pressing importance in the early part of the Session. I also agree with him that the present state of Supply, with regard to the number of Votes to be obtained, is not satisfactory. That shows, I think, the wisdom of the course which the Government have taken in making the Rule upon this matter to obtain only for a year, in order that the subject may at the commencement of each Session be reconsidered. Admitting that the operation of the Rule in one respect has been entirely satisfactory, I still would venture to submit to the right honourable Gentleman that he might consider before next Session whether it might not be a good thing to place in his power a larger number of extra days than he already possesses, so as to give a certain elasticity to the number of days to be devoted to Supply. Everybody is aware that in the present Session there have been a number of questions affecting foreign and Colonial matters which have pressed for discussion. Those questions have certainly put out of gear the ordinary discussions upon what may be called domestic Supply. The right honourable Gentleman has in hand at present three days which he can appropriate to those discussions and no more. If he had a larger number of days he would be able, where there was a pressure upon other Votes, to give additional days to Supply. I throw that out for the consideration of the right honourable Gentleman, and I think it would be a fitting subject for consideration when the Rule is brought forward again at the beginning of next Session. The right honourable Gentleman has said that there are six more days to be devoted to Supply. They will begin to operate, I take it, next Friday, the 15th July, and will take the whole of the next week. Then there must be a day for the Third Reading of the Irish Local Government Bill, so that all your Parliamentary time is allocated. The right honourable Gentleman has said that he expects Parliament will rise about the usual time. I do not know what he considers the usual time, but I presume it means about August 12th. That means that the time to be devoted to the business he has laid before us is not much more than a fortnight of Parliamentary time, and less than three weeks, taking, of course, five days a week. I confess I think the right honourable Gentleman is sanguine in his estimate when he talks of getting through the catalogue he has given us in little more than a fortnight of Parliamentary time. I was very glad to hear him announce that he intends to introduce a Teachers' Superannuation Bill. That is a Measure which, I imagine, will call largely on the resources of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But there is another Bill which has not yet been produced, and it has a rather formidable title—the Colonial Loans Bill. We do not know what the character of that Bill is, but it is quite obvious it is a great financial problem in our system, and it is one that will require to be very carefully examined. As regards the other Bills, if the right honourable Gentleman thinks that in the brief time appropriated he is going to get through such Bills—excellent as they may be, I am expressing no opinion adverse to them—as the Vaccination Bill, the Prisons Bill, and the London University Bill, he is indeed sanguine, because obviously they are Bills which will require discussion, and if perchance one or more of them should have to be abandoned, there are some in the House who will not greatly lament if such an unhappy fate befalls. It would be a great convenience if, at an early date, the right honourable Gentleman could tell us what is the order in which he intends to take the remaining Votes in Supply. I understand the Irish Votes are to be taken on Friday and the Navy Votes on the next Friday. Has the right honourable Gentleman any difficulty in stating that the Home Office Vote shall be taken on the third Friday? That is a Vote in which many gentlemen who may be making arrangements for the future are greatly interested, and if her would fix that on the third Friday I think it would be convenient.


I am quite ready to do that. I do not promise to put it down first, but I will put it down in a position where it will be thoroughly discussed. I am not sure whether there might not be some uncontroversial Votes which might be placed in advance of the Home Office Vote.


I hope the right honourable Gentleman will devote a full night to the discussion of that Vote, because many of the subjects are very important. Then come the Post Office, the Local Government, and the Diplomatic Votes. These would occupy the three other days. The West India Vote, the right honourable Gentleman suggests, may be taken out of the Rule. By what process a Vote in Supply can be taken out of the Rule it would be very interesting to us to know. If the Government have it in their power to take Votes in Supply on days beyond the allotted days, I think we ought to know the process by which that may be accomplished. No doubt, where it is not desired to take a Division on the Votes in Supply, as most Members of the House are aware, any Vote can be discussed upon the Appropriation Bill, on the Second Reading, or any stage of it. I only mention that as showing that the House is not absolutely precluded by the closing of the Committee of Supply from discussing the Votes that have been taken. I do not rise for the purpose of opposing the proposals of the right honourable Gentleman, though he must permit me to express a little scepticism as to his power of packing all the goods he has recited to-night within the space of time be contemplates to be at our disposal.

MR. E. MORTON (Devonport)

Are we to take it that the Irish Estimates will be taken next Friday, and Navy Estimates the following Friday?


That is so.


I should like to ask whether, having regard to the very short discussion on the Navy, the right honourable Gentleman cannot give more than one day for the Navy Debate? Can he not, considering the lateness of the Session and the introduction of new Bills, abandon the hope he expressed to proceed with the Evidence in Criminal Cases Bill and the Mercantile Marine Fund Bill?

DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

Can the right honourable Gentleman give any indication of the period when the Vaccination Bill will be brought on? Will it be next week?

SIR C. CAMERON (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

When will the Scottish Bills referred to in the Question of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Stirling Burghs be taken, and will an opportunity be given to discuss the Local Taxation (Scotland) Bill?

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

May I ask the right honourable Gentleman when the First Reading of the Colonial Loans Bill will be taken, and when the Colonial Supplementary Estimates will be in the hands of Members?

MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)

The right honourable Gentleman spoke of the Local Taxation (Scotland) Bill having made considerable progress, but seeing that it is only in its initial stages, will the right honourable Gentleman grant an early day next week to get through those stages of the Bill, so as to allow of its being printed?


If I stated that this Bill was far advanced, I made a slip, but I do not think that I said so. It is not a Bill, however, which I understand is likely to meet with much opposition on the part of honourable Gentlemen representing Scottish constituencies, and I hope that the forecast I have made was not too sanguine. I am afraid I cannot give any precise answers with regard to the days on which special business is to be taken, but I will endeavour to make a statement at an early period with regard to such Bills as I have mentioned. Necessarily the progress of one Bill must depend on the progress made with another Bill. I think it is probable that that Vaccination Bill will be taken early next week. As the Colonial Secretary is not in the House, I must ask the honourable Member for Northampton to put a Question on the Paper with reference to the Colonial Questions he has asked.