HC Deb 16 February 1899 vol 66 cc1120-3
SIR JOHN WILLIAM MACLURE (Lancashire, Stretford)

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether, in consequence of the increasing year by year of the number of Amendments to the Address in reply to. Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech, a large number of which interfere with progress of public business at the commencement of the Session, he will consider the desirability of moving a Standing Order by which no Amendment could be moved without 40 Members being present in their places to support it?


I think I indicated to my honourable Friend two days ago that I did not think that the particular remedy he suggested would be likely to prove effectual. But of the reality of the evil which he desires to put an end to there can, I think, be very little doubt. I may, perhaps, appeal to the House on the subject of the Address. For many years after I came into Parliament it was almost the invariable practice to finish the Address on the first night. Sometimes it went to the second night. The Amendments proposed were formal votes of censure moved by the Opposition Front Bench and were debated with all the solemnity of such a Motion. The practice has grown up of greatly extending the subjects dealt with on the Address. I do not wish to make a complaint of that; it is the natural outcome of the evolution of our machinery. But there evidently must be limits, and in looking down the catalogue of statistics of the time taken on the Address for the last 20 years I find that in this Session, if we go on at the present rate, we shall equal or exceed the time taken on any previous occasion. Yet no one can pretend that the present is a time of great political excitement either at home or abroad. The Debate on the Address is really in process of becoming a general discussion of every topic which interests every private Member, unless it is dealt with by a Bill introduced early in the Session. Within limits I do not raise any objection to that, but there must be limits. The House must proceed to the business for which it assembles sooner or later, and I earnestly appeal to the House to assist the Government in bringing the Debate to a close to-morrow night, a day which I think it will be admitted gives adequate time for the discussion. I am very reluctant even to suggest the suspension of the 12 o'clock rule to-morrow night, but I think some such course will be necessary unless hon- ourable Members will co-operate with each other and with the Government to hurry on the various subjects which still remain to be dealt with on the Address.

MR. JOHN ELLIS (Notts,) Rushcliffe

I wish to ask the right honourable Gentleman whether, in the years in which he says the Address was voted in a single day, it was not almost the invariable practice that Tuesdays and Wednesdays were left entirely uninterfered with by the Government, and that, in addition to that, Friday was also at the disposal of unofficial Members of the House?


No, Sir. I think the honourable Gentleman is mistaken. As regards Friday, it remains open now under the existing rule in regard to Supply for precisely the kind of discussions which we are carrying on on the Address in reply to the Queen's Speech. I could go through the present paper and show that many of the resolutions we are asked to discuss on the Queen's Speech could come up for discussion on Supply. As regards Tuesday, my earnest desire is to keep as many Tuesdays as possible for private Members before Easter, and, I hope, longer. I mention Easter for this reason—that before Easter, which falls early this year, we must go through a great deal of financial business of great importance. That does not depend upon the whim of the Government, but upon legislative necessities; and, of course, if we are deprived by the discussion on the Address of the opportunity of obtaining the requisite number of days for dealing with that financial business before Easter, we have absolutely no choice but to take the Tuesdays to which the honourable Member referred.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

I should like to make a very strong appeal to the right honourable Gentleman not to proceed with his intention of bringing the Debate on the Address to a close on Friday night, as that would shut out the discussion of the Amendment dealing with the condition of affairs in the West of Ireland, in which a large section of the Members of the House take a keen interest. I think all will admit we are entitled to an opportunity of raising this question, but I see very little chance of it coming on if the Debate is to close to-morrow.


The right honourable Gentleman has opened up a somewhat new prospect for us by stating that the Debate on the Address will possibly end to-morrow night. In case that prophecy is realised, can he inform us what the course of business will be next week?


Well, Sir, if we should be fortunate enough to finish the Address tomorrow night I shall on Monday move the renewal of the Sessional Order in regard to Supply and introduce the London Government Bill. I hope the discussion on that Bill will not be very long, and in that case the introduction of other Government Bills will be taken.


Has the right honourable Gentleman definitely decided to bring the Debate on the Address to a close to-morrow night?


No, Sir. I made an appeal to the House. I offered no threat. [Hear, hear.]