HC Deb 23 February 1899 vol 67 cc311-52

Motion made, and Question proposed, That so soon as the Committee of Supply has been appointed and Estimates have been presented, the business of Supply shall (until it be disposed of) be the first Order of the Day on Friday, unless the House otherwise order on the Motion of a Minister of the Crown moved at the commencement of Public Business to be decided without Amendment or Debate; and the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 shall be extended to Friday: Not more than 20 days, being days before the 5th of August, on which the Speaker leaves the Chair for the Committee of Supply without Question put, counting from the first day on which the Speaker so left the Chair under Standing Order No. 56, shall be allotted for the consideration of the Annual Estimates for the Army, Navy, and Civil Services, including Votes on Account, the Business of Supply standing first Order on every such day: Provided always that on Motion made after Notice by a Minister of the Crown to be decided without Amendment or Debate, additional time, not exceeding three days, may be allotted for the Business of Supply, either before or after the 5th of August: On the last but one of the allotted days, at Ten o'clock p.m., the Chairman shall proceed to put forthwith every Question necessary to dispose of the outstanding Votes in Committee of Supply; and on the last, not being earlier than the twentieth of the allotted days, the Speaker shall, at Ten o'clock p.m., proceed to put forthwith every Question necessary to complete the outstanding Reports of Supply: On the days appointed for concluding the Business of Supply, the consideration of such business shall not be anticipated by a Motion of Adjournment under Standing Order No. 17; nor may any dilatory Motion be moved on such proceedings; nor shall they be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House: Provided always that any additional Estimate for any new service or matter not included in the original Estimates for the year shall be submitted for consideration in the Committee of Supply on any day not later than two days before the Committee is closed: Provided also that the days occupied by the consideration of Estimates supplementary to those of a previous Session, or of any Vote of Credit, shall not be included in the computation of the twenty days. Provided also that two Morning Sittings shall be deemed equivalent to one Three o'clock Sitting:"—(The First Lord of the Treasury.)

*SIR H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

I do not rise for the purpose of taking exception to this Sessional Order; in fact, I have always been a strong supporter of the Order. My object in interfering at this moment is to call the attention of the House, and especially the First Lord of the Treasury, to the mode in which the Order has been worked, and to one or two points where, I think, it has been weak. The first year of the right honourable Gentleman's experiment was a great success. I do not think that last year was so great, a success, and one or two figures will illustrate my meaning. The number of Votes altogether last year was 171, twenty of them being Supplementary, and 151 the ordinary Estimates of the year. Of course the application of this rule does not affect Supplementary Estimates. Those 20 Supplementary Estimates were very fully discussed, occupying, I think, six days of the time of the House. But, Sir, of the 151 which remained, when, the time for putting the Closure arrived on the 8th of August, there were 36 Votes which had not been brought before the House. Now that, Mr. Speaker, is a very large proportion of the 151 Votes. Sir, in the allocation of time I find that the Navy occupied five sittings of the House, and the Army four. I cannot give the exact figures as to the Irish and Scotch Votes, but at all events they occupied some considerable time, and therefore the number of days or sittings left for the discussion of the general administration of the country under the Civil Service Estimates were very few. At five sittings of the House, I believe, no Votes were taken at all, which, I think, is almost without precedent in Supply. That may be an improvement or it may be a deterioration on former practices, but, at all events, it is a significant change in the procedure of the House, which deserves attention when the days to be appropriated to Supply have been limited, and, as I think, rightly limited, in number. I do not question the wisdom of the appropriation of a considerable amount of time to the Army and Navy, but, after all, these are questions, so far as the House is concerned, more of general policy than matters of detail; and I doubt the wisdom and necessity of devoting a large portion of the time of the House to purely administrative details, which must be left, to a great extent, to those who are charged with the administration of the Army and Navy. I am not in the slightest degree wishing to interfere with the complete control of the House over matters of administration, whether they be Army, Navy, or Civil Service, but at the same time, when we have only a limited number of days for Supply, we must have some system of fair allocation between the different Services, so that all may have a fair chance. Now, I will give one illustration. I think there are few Departments in which the general public are more vitally interested, or which require more completely the control of the House, and the business Members of the House, than the Post Office. The Post Office levies a large sum, something like £14,000,000; it spends something like £10,000,000 or £11,000,000, in earning it; and there is a margin of £3,000,000 of revenue. I do not say that any portion of that expenditure is wise or unwise, but what I do say, and what I desired to call the attention of the House to last year, is the anomalous and unsatisfactory state of the relations between this House and that Department. There is no responsible representative of the Post Office in this House. Now, Sir, I am not going, of course, to raise that question now. I wished to raise it upon the Post Office Vote last year, and I think it is one which fully deserves the consideration of the House, totally irrespective of, but certainly in addition to, many questions as to the Post Office administration and revenue affecting the general convenience of the public. Sir, the Post Office Vote was last year taken on the 28th of July. It was taken after twelve o'clock at night—between twelve and one—and in less than an hour's time devoted to it, nine and a half millions of money were voted. I do not think that that is a fair way of allocating the time of the House, nor do I think that it enables the House of Commons to exercise that control over the Post Office that it ought to exercise. I may be asked, What is my remedy? I do not hesitate to say that I think the source of the evil is that the responsibility of allocating the time of the House, and controlling the business of Supply, has been, from the best of motives, shifted from where it ought to be. I remember my right honourable Friend the Member for West Monmouth, when the First Lord of the Treasury first announced that he would virtually leave the allocating the time for Supply to the Opposition, remarking that it would not work. I recognise that the right honourable Gentleman has been most considerate of the wishes of his political opponents; he has endeavoured, as far as possible, to meet all legitimate applications that have been made to him; but, while it is necessary that there should be constant communication between the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the House as to the question of the allocation of time, in which a large number of Members take, and justly take, an interest, it is impossible for any one individual, even the Leader of the Opposition, to undertake the burden and responsibility of deciding what is the best mode of allocating that nine. Somebody, for instance, interested in some special subject, presses that it shall be taken on a certain day, and the light honourable Gentleman, with characteristic good nature, yields at once. Thus, what one man obtains another man loses. What I want to impress upon the right honourable Gentleman is that the responsibility of allocating the time—subject of course, to the elasticity which the daily course of business requires, and subject, of course, to the consideration of all parts of the House, English, Scotch, Irish, and Welsh, and also of the several departs ments—must rest with the Leader of the House, and nowhere else. I think we ought to have some statement from him— say, at the commencement of Supply, or at all events at some considerable intervals—of how he proposes to allocate the time of the House, what Votes he proposes to take, and when he proposes to take them. The working of the present arrangement is this—those who are importunate and eager to get their special questions discussed; and so, almost like the ridiculous results of the ballot with reference to Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the House is practically deprived of all control over its own business. I think we ought to take more care of our time, and I think the Leader of the House should undertake the responsibility of allocating that time. I am quite sure that he will, in consultation with other sections of the House, endeavour to meet their convenience, and in that way, and in that way only, we shall get an effective supervision of all branches of adminstration—for, after all, lit is the administration of the country with which the Committee of Supply is primarily charged. Sir, while I believe the Rule is a most valuable reform in the procedure of the House, I think the right honourable Gentleman has done wisely in not proposing to make it a Standing Order, because I think he ought to be thoroughly satisfied as to how it will work; at the same time, I claim the privilege of making these few suggestions as to how the working of the Order can be improved.

*MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

Sir, I have listened to the urgent appeal of the right honourable Gentleman who has just sat down with astonishment and consternation. I had always held that the Leaders of the Opposition ought to be the champions not only of the private Members who sit behind them, and support them, but also of the rights of all private Members, even if they do not belong to their own Party. Sir, what have we listened to? We have listened to' one of the Leaders of the Opposition actually requesting the Government to make the operation of the existing Rule more oppressive and stringent than it has been. I hope we shall be able to convince the House, or a considerable section, of it, that the Rule has operated, as some of us foresaw when it was first introduced, most oppressively on private Members. But, Sir, if the views of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton are accepted, it will operate still more oppressively. What does he appeal to the Government to do? He appeals to the First Lord of the Treasury to ignore the representations of private Members who have grievances and are eager to get them discussed. By way of illustration, the right honourable Gentleman referred to the working of the ballot, and maintained that the whole business and time of the House should be allocated absolutely by the Leader of the House—that is, the Government of the day.


I mentioned the ballot simply as a casual allusion; what I meant to convey was that the House itself should settle the question.


How is the House to settle it? We know perfectly well what that means—it means that the Government will settle the question. They have a large majority, and consequently are able to carry any proposals they submit. I say that this proposal tends to' the extinction of the rights and privileges of private Members. Now, Sir, the right honourable Gentleman also brought forward another proposition, which appears to mo very strange. He complained of the amount of time which had been given in recent years to the discussions of the Army and Navy, and said that the Post. Office and other departments were more worthy of consideration. In my opinion the great evil of the principle laid down by the right honourable Gentleman is the utter lack of elasticity in the working of the Rule. Why has the administration of the Army and Navy made such large demands on the time of this House during the last three or four years? It is because the expenditure of the Army and Navy has been going up by leaps and bounds, and I maintain that the Debates on the Army and Navy have not been sufficiently prolonged. The opportunities for discussion are being curtailed, and meanwhile the taxpayers are heavily saddled and the prosperity of the country threatened. Sir, under the old practice of this House those items of Supply which, according to circumstances, were really of burning importance, would have occupied a great deal of the time and attention of this House, and minor, matters would have been relegated to the background. The suggestion of the right honourable Gentleman is an illustration of the absurdities to which we are being driven by this Rule. How is it possible, for instance, for any Government, at the opening of a Session, to map out and measure as with a tape throughout the whole Session the amount of time which shall be devoted to- each particular item in Supply? I certainly would be as pleased as any man in this House to add my voice to the tributes paid to the fairness and courtesy with which the present Leader has conducted the business; but no man, not even an archangel, can resist the temptation, under this hard-and-fast Rule, to curtail the time to be devoted to the criticism of those departments where he thought the Opposition criticism would be damaging and inconvenient. Members ought to have the utmost freedom during the time given up to Supply in selecting the questions of administration they desire to criticise, and the privilege ought to be given not merely to Members of the Government, but to independent Members as well as the Opposition. I therefore say it would be impossible to expect the Leader of the House, at the opening of a Session, to map out the time to be devoted to each department and draw a hard-and-fast line. Sir, I think the method which the Leader of the House has adopted during the last three or four years is one much more likely to give this Ride a fair chance of success, and I hold that if it were possible to make it a success the method adopted was the best. What was that method? The Leader of the House endeavoured to obtain from the Members their views as to the subjects they desired to take, and, as far as possible, he arranged—certainly with much more success during the first two years than the last year—for certain subjects, so as to meet the convenience, of various groups of the Opposition, or of other Members who had certain grievances they desired to ventilate. That, I conceive, is the only method which could be adopted with any prospect of success. But, Sir, this Rule has now been in operation for three years. I have been a constant attendant during those three years, and I venture to say, speaking from the point of view of an independent Member that it has been a dreadful failure. Now, when this Rule was first introduced we had a new House of Commons; nearly 250 Members came into the House of Commons for the first time, with no experience whatever in the working of the House. A man must be a pretty regular attendant in the House before he appreciates the opportunities and privileges, or realises; the disabilities, of the private Member. When this Rule was first introduced I said I thought it was ill-advised to ask the House of Commons, composed, as it was, to the extent of nearly one-third of its Members of new and untried men, to take what I do not hesitate to describe as the most revolutionary step taken during the last century in the procedure of the House. If this application of the clause upon the voting of money in Supply had been, brought forward in the days when I first entered this House it would have met with a universal howl of disapprobation from every quarter of the House; indeed, I venture to say no Minister would have dared to propose it. Now, Sir, we have the experience of three years to' guide us, and I am not the least surprised—in fact, I fully expected —that after that experience both Front Benches are very much enamoured of this Rule because it is a Front Bench Rule. It is one of the most skilful devices that I have seen in the course of 15 years for shielding Ministers from criticism, gagging private Members, and rendering debate on Supply innocuous and not in the least degree formidable to any responsible Minister. Of course, there is always a temptation to the Leader of the Opposition to acquiesce in any Measure which will ease the position of the responsible Minister. But closure, limited by the discretion of the Speaker, is a great revolution in procedure. Those of us who came into this House before the closure was known, and remember the old days when private Members, had great powers and privilegees—they have since been taken away—remember how slow the House and the Ministry were, even under the most extraordinary provocation, to reconcile themselves to1 the introduction of the closure in ordinary debate. Well, Sir, the provocation came to such a point that Ministers, supported by a majority of the House, introduced the closure. It was, however, hedged round by various safeguards designed to pro- tect minorities from oppression. Now, Sir, we have brought into the procedure of the House an automatic closure without reference to the circumstances of a particular debate—a closure which may operate, and which has operated, as we have abundantly seen during the last two or three Sessions, to remove absolutely from all possibility of discussion the policy of great departments of the State, as well as events connected with foreign and colonial policy. But what is the automatic closure in reference to questions of legislation as compared with the automatic closure in reference to the voting of money? I say that I challenge contradiction, that the great function of the House of Commons is not legislation. This nation could exist and flourish for some years if the House of Commons never passed a law at all. The great function of the House of Commons, without the exercise of which this nation would wither and perish, is to hold the national purse and to criticise the conduct of Ministers. Sir, this Rule strikes at the first principles and the most vital function of the House of Commons, and, as I shall show presently, when once you admit a principle, that, principle goes farther than you imagined for a single moment at the first. We were told by the First Lord of the Treasury when he was, with his well known powers of persuasion, trying to force the Bill down our throats, that it was a choice between the guillotine and the rack. He said that under the old system it was within the power of private Members to stretch Ministers upon the rack—sometimes that is a, rather good thing to do in discussion—and that in making his choice between the guillotine and the rack he preferred the guillotine. In the old days we had the rack; now the First Lord of the Treasury has deprived us of the rack and taken the guillotine himself. The guillotine, however, is not used against him—it is used against us, and I think everybody will admit that private Members have come off second best in that arrangement. I remember very well, and honourable Members who were present probably remember, the tremendous exhibition of wrath provoked by the then Opposition, now the Members of the Government, when the guillotine was used to pass the Home Rule Bill in 1893. But the guillotine., as it was called, was nothing more than the automatic closure which was used when, in the opinion of most of the honourable Members, the subject under discussion had been worn threadbare. I warn honourable Members who support, the Motion now before the House that the day of adversity may come, when they may be seated side by side with the Irish Members on these Benches, and when this principle of automatic closure may be applied to legislation by a Radical Party. Some years ago one day, or part of a day, was quite sufficient to discuss the affairs of the Foreign Office. I remember years when the Foreign Office Vote passed after an hour's discussion; but a great policy—in my mind a most detestable policy—has been instituted since—a policy which goes under the name of Imperialism. Under this policy the old traditions of this country are torn to pieces and cast away, and we are invited to extend the limits of what is called the British Empire by slaughtering thousands of blacks in the Soudan and other parts of the world. These affairs of the Foreign Office naturally take much longer discussion, and I say that the attempt of Ministers to shorten discussion in Supply is an attempt to' put upon the limbs of the House of Commons shackles which they will not tolerate, in the lone run. Sir, we have had around us in every Session for the last three years superabundant evidence of the spirit which animates Ministers now in their desire to shut the mouths of private Members, and gradually to tighten the grip of the Government upon the whole body of this House. We had the other day a statement from the First. Lord of the Treasury absolutely, I venture to say, without precedent in the annals of this House, when casually he stood up at that box at the opening of the Session and announced that he himself had forbidden the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to answer any supplementary question—a condition of things surely without parallel in this House. That statement was not protested against at the time, but I allude to it for the purpose of showing that when restrictions of that or any other character are placed upon private Members the grievances of those private Members will burst out in some other direction; and when Ministers complain, in a year like this, of the Debate on the Address occupying 10 or 11 days, then I reply that it is because a system of squeezing and pressure has been brought to bear on private Members, and human ingenuity being infinite, they have discovered some other method of airing their grievances. Therefore I say, Sir, that in a year like this, and in the years that are before us, it must not be wondered at if, on questions with regard to the Foreign Office, the Army, the Navy, and the Colonial Office, the debates should be extensive, and consume a great deal more time than in previous years. At all events, Sir, as regards these great matters, what I claim is this—that there should be elasticity, and there should be an effort made to adjust the amount of time given to the circumstances of the year. Now I turn to another aspect of the case altogether. We are more interested in the affairs of Ireland, and I am entitled to speak on the effect of this Rule upon the convenience of Irish Members, and upon the possibility of Irish Members not being afforded an adequate opportunity of bringing to the attention of the House the affairs of their constituencies and of their own country, and of subjecting the Minister for Ireland to such criticism as they are sent here to make. Now, Sir, I wish to' direct the attention of the First Ford to his speech delivered in 1896. When he introduced this Rule on the 20th of February, J 896, he saw quite clearly the point, which was afterwards emphasised by myself and others, that the Rule might operate, and would operate, with the greatest inconvenience to Irish Members who lived so far away from home and have to cross the sea. Now, here is what the First Lord said bearing upon that particular point— Some honourable Gentlemen have supposed that we intend to devote Fridays alone to Supply, so that in the case of the Irish Estimates, Irish Members would be put to the inconvenience of coming over on successive Fridays, and going back to Ireland, it may be, in the interval. That is not a necessary part of our scheme at all. There is nothing whatever in the scheme to prevent a week or fortnight being continuously devoted to Supply. Of course, in the ease of the Irish Members we should take care in the future, as in the past, to see that out of the 20 days' time was allotted to them in the manner most convenient for their attendance and the continuous discussion of the questions in which they are interested. I hope the First Lord will remember those words, because I think they amount almost to a pledge that the convenience of Irish Members would be consulted, and that we should have, when we so desired, a continuous I hue allotted to the discussion of Irish Supply at such a, season of the year as well meet our convenience. I will direct his attention to the fact that ho said There is nothing whatever in the scheme to prevent a week or fortnight being continuously devoted to Supply. Now, in spite of that statement, we never got, as far as I can remember, two nights successively, and we were kept systematically hoping from Friday to Friday, to the enormous inconvenience of some of the Irish Members. Of course, the Chief Whip of the Government and the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House were most, courteous on this matter, but they did not give us that privilege which I think we were entitled to suppose the First Lord of the Treasury had pledged himself to give us, because he was addressing himself to this very objection of the inconvenience to the Irish Members. Well, in 1896–7 the Government assigned four Fridays to Simply, and endeavoured to meet our convenience as far as possible. In 1898, however, a marked change came over the conduct of Government business; a marked change came over their temper and spirit—I won't say temper—over the spirit of the arrangement for Irish Supply, because while adhering to the Friday arrangement, which on the face of it was monstrously unjust to the Irish Members, they refused to give us even the Fridays that would have been convenient to us, and finally they put off Irish Supply with only three days, with the results to which I have drawn attention. I say that this is not fair play, and I do not think it is even consistent with the speeches which were made in introducing this Rule. I ventured myself to say before, and I repeat it now, that speeches from Ministers —no matter how much we are prepared to rely on their honour, and everyone believes and admits that we never had a more courteous and absolutely honourable Leader of the House—giving us general assurances as to the manner in which Rules will be interpreted are of no more value than, mere waste paper. Time goes on, and those assurances are forgotten, and they pass out of memory; and what we are bound to do, if we have any common sense is this—when we are examining Rides of Procedure we are bound to anticipate and calculate that that Rule will be interpreted by Ministers in the manner most adverse to private Members that it is possible that the letter of the law will admit of; because the pressure of business operates all the time to make them use the Rule as far as they can against private Members, who get as bad treatment as the Rule admits. Therefore, in considering these Rules, you have to examine them most carefully to see what Ministers can do under the Rule. Well, this has been our fate, that we have not got continuous discussion of Irish affairs. The conduct of Irish business under these Rules has been disastrous—absolutely disastrous. In the first year, 1896, attempts were made to meet our convenience, though by no means up to the promise contained in the speech of the First Lord, but, at all events, four Fridays were allocated to Irish Supply, with some reference to the convenience of Irish Members. In the second year we had four Fridays, but in the third year— 1898—we were put off with three days. We were again and again disappointed. One day the Colonial Secretary made up his mind to make a Statement, and another day some other Minister had something important to state and bring forward, and, as I knew perfectly well, inevitably the convenience of the Irish Members was pushed into a back seat, and the Ministers' convenience naturally dictated a date on which these things could be discussed. That is a condition of things against which I think we are entitled to protest and certainly it has reduced our position in this House to a very much lower state than it was ever in before. Now, I desire to draw the attention of the House to some observations made by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Liskeard, who is a great authority on the conduct of business in this House. Speaking in 1896, he said it was impossible to exaggerate the value which should be attached to the functions of the Committee of Supply, and pointed out that in any alteration which might be made in their procedure machinery, they should take some steps so as to secure that the different branches of the admin- istration should be brought in a convenient way under the consideration of the House. Then he went on to allude especially to the case of Ireland, and pointed out how true this was in the case of Irish Administration. That statement from the right honourable. Gentleman is our experience during' the last Session, and what has happened has conclusively proved the truth and the wisdom of his statement. What has been the history of Irish experience in this respect"! In the year 1896, the first year of the application of this Rule, I find the following votes were debated: The Chief Secretary's Vote, the Irish Land Commission, Law Charges, the Local Government Board, National Education, Public Works and Buildings, Queen's College, and the Royal Irish Constabulary. Those are, with very few exceptions, the chief Votes of Irish Administration in the year 1896, and they were debated, and debated in a fair way. In 1897 the following Votes were not debated, but were closured: The Constabulary, the Lord Lieutenant's Household, Resident Magistrates, Police Establishments, General Prisons Board, Queen's College, Pauper Lunatics Vote, and the Hospitals Vote. All these were closured in 1897, and were not debated. In 1898 the Local Government Board (Ireland) Vote, Public Works, County Courts, Police Establishments, Royal Irish Constabulary, General Prisons Board, Pauper Lunatics Vote, Reformatories and Industrials Schools, Public Buildings, Chief Secretary's, Queen's College, and Endowed Schools Commission. These Votes were all closured, without debate, in 1898, and that shows, as years go on, how the condition of Irish Supply became infinitely and unspeakably worse, until last year. I have no hesitation in saying that the discussion of Irish Administration and Irish Supply was reduced to a perfectly ludicrous farce. And now we are brought to this point in the admirable Government of Ireland—no doubt an extremely convenient situation for the Minister for Ireland—that the Government of Ireland is centred in one individual, and that one individual is rapidly achieving for himself a position of immunity from all criticism as regards his conduct of Irish Government, Talk about improvements in the Government of Ireland! I say that if this condition of things goes on, the fact of our being in this House means nothing more than a perfect mockery, and we might just as well all remain in Ireland. Some years ago there was a great deal of clamour about retaining the Irish Members here, and one great Home Rule Bill was defeated almost on the one ground—namely, the necessity of retaining Members here. Now, we have just as good a right to take an interest in foreign and colonial affairs as any other Member of this House— every bit as good a right—but when any of us interfere in a foreign debate we are treated as outlaws and strangers, and treated as interlopers. ("No, no.") Well, that is my experience, and we do break in occasionally. The general tone of the House is, if we take in foreign or colonial debates we are considered as interlopers, and concerning ourselves in matters in which we have no business. Under this new Rule we are practically being deprived, slowly but steadily, of all opportunity of even criticising the Government of our own country. Now, because we are a permanent minority in this House; because we never have any desire to share in the councils of any Government; because we never can be Members of any Party which is in power in this country; our claim to a full and direct opportunity of criticising the Government of our country ought to be recognised by all Parties in this House. It is a monstrous injustice that, instead of fully recognising that claim under this Rule, we are being strangled, and by its use, if it goes much further, the whole Irish representation in this House will be reduced to a perfect mockery, and that is the state of things against which I protest. I have objected to this Rule from the very outset, and I object to it as a gross departure from the good traditions of this House; and I say again that it is steadily reducing discussion in Supply to a mere mockery, so indifferent have Ministers become to discussions in Supply since this Rule has been in operation. It would be just as good if you got an organ man and a monkey, and made him turn his organ for go many hours, at the end of which the Vote would be taken. When Ministers know that the discussion will end by 10 o'clock or 12 o'clock, they know that if they ore in a tight corner they will get out of it when the closure falls. One of the strongest objections I have to the operation of this Rule is that its operation has worked, not as the First Lord led us to expect it could be worked, but it has been worked by hopping from Friday to Friday, no matter how important the debate may be, or how eminently desirable it may be that the debate should be continuous. I say the debate on a, great subject is very often rendered utterly futile when it is curtailed by an interval of a fortnight or three weeks. It often happens—


I see that the honourable Member has an Amendment down upon this subject, and I think he will agree with me that, if he proposes to move, he ought not to discuss the same matter now on the main question.


Then I will not pursue my remarks any further.


Objections have been taken to this Rule of two very different kinds. In the first place one is against the Rule itself, and in the second place objection has been raised as to the manner in which the Rule has been used. Sir, I hope at this time of day it is not necessary for me to deal at length with the first point in a House which I believe from experience has come generally to the conclusion that this Rule ought in one shape or another to be made a permanent part of the Rules of the House. The honourable Member who has just sat down says that under the Rule the criticism of private Members directed against the Government may be slowly and effectually strangled. I take precisely the opposite view of the effect of the Rule. Under the old system the Government had absolute control as to the time at which Supply should be brought on. It was for their interests as legislators, and for their interest, possibly, as the subject of public criticism, that the time of the Estimates should be deferred to a very late period in the year. The result was that Government business was taken early in the Session, while Supply was put off until July, August, or even September, and the criticism which is now, we are told, so futile, in the old time was crammed in after midnight hours on a hot August night. Sir, that is not the case with the Rule at present. I agree with the honourable Gentleman in thinking that this House exists, at all events, as much for the purpose of acting as a check and critic upon the Members of the Administration as for legislative purposes, although I confess that I think it comes with an ill grace from, the Members of an Opposition who have spent the last 14 days in moving Amendments to the Address, which chiefly took the form of Votes of Censure, complaining that the Government had not a larger programme than that which it laid before the country. I concur with the view which the honourable Gentleman laid down. But, Sir, what does the present Rule give us in exchange for the extremely inconvenient practice of former times? It gives us an opportunity, week by week, of calling public attention to any matter of importance in which it may be that the Government are failing in their duty. Formerly this valuable privilege of criticism was thrust away into the odd corners of the prolonged Session. Now, they must come on at frequent intervals, at short intervals, and at convenient intervals, and from the point of view of criticism I feel bound to say that I think the Government suffer much more under this Rule than they did under the system before this Rule came into operation. Last year I believe that, including Supplementary Estimates, 33 days or thereabouts were given to Supply—or, at least, that is the calculation which my right honourable Friend near me has hastily made. Now, are these 33 days to be devoted to criticising the Government in a year? If the House really thinks so, I do not wish to say that the present number of days ought not to be extended. I have no desire to escape criticism, nor have any of my colleagues. I confess myself that we have an opportunity once a week, from almost the beginning of the Session to the end, to criticise and call attention to any Government laches, and that is quite as much as any Opposition ought to desire to possess. It is supposed that our memories are so short that we forget the real facts of the case, and it is alleged that under the existing Rule more Votes are disposed of without discussion within a given period than under the old system. But that really is not the case, for there are fewer Votes passed without discussion now than was the case formerly under the old system. I believe, on the last day in 1894 of Supply, which was the 20th of August, there were 66 votes outstanding, as against 36 mentioned by the right honourable Gentleman, and those 66 Votes amounted to nearly 22 millions. So that if we look at the substance and reality of things, and not merely at the form and outward show, it is evident that under this system not only is there fair and more convenient criticism than under the old system, not only is there criticism at a much more suitable time of the year, but actually the number of Estimates which pass under the new system without discussion is less than the number of Votes passed without discussion under the old system. Sir, I hope that these few general observations will be quite sufficient to persuade the House, which I do not think requires much persuasion, that we ought not to depart from the practice which is now in operation of setting apart one day a week for Supply. I pass now from the general remarks to the particular complaint that has been made as to the method by which the Supply Rule is worked. Sir, I do not mean to go into the details of the Amendment of the honourable Gentleman, but so far as the Government are concerned, we have not the slightest objection to the days allotted to Irish Supply being taken continuously, but not one request of such a character has ever been made, either by the honourable Gentleman or any of his friends through the Whips, and it never occurred to me that the honourable Gentleman had any wish of that kind. The honourable Member talks of the monstrous tryanny exercised by the Government against the Irish Members. Well, Sir, I will not dwell upon that matter any further except to say that if the honourable Member makes his request for continuous days for the discussion of the Irish Estimates I see no reason why it should not be granted. Now, the right honourable Gentleman opposite has raised rather a different kind of complaint against the manner in which the Rule had been used. He seemed to think that I had been much too weak—I think he calls it good nature, which is a nicer way of putting it —in the manner in which I had allotted the days. He said that an unprecedented and an improper amount of time was taken up by the discussion of unimportant Votes, and that great Votes like the Post Office had been thrust off, and had not received adequate discussion. With regard to the Post Office Vote, I would remind the right honourable Gentleman that that Vote came on almost first in the year of 1897, and it was because it came on first in that year, and because it was then fully discussed, that I thought there would be no objection to putting it off rather late in our programme of last year. It has been the view of the House for some time that it is not necessary to repeat criticism on a Public Vote every year when those Votes from year to year are very much the same. The honourable Member talked as if the Government spent the 100 millions of Government Revenue in a manner peculiar to itself, and that there was no opportunity offered for criticising the Vote.


I fully agree that it is not a question of how the money is spent so much as how the Ministers behave.


Then I understand the honourable Gentleman regards the Estimates as a series of possible Votes of Censure on individual Ministers?


It is an opportunity of criticising the conduct of the Ministers responsible for the Government of the country.


If that is the view of the House—


It is the view of the honourable Member for Bodmin.


If that really is the view taken by the House—and I think there is a good deal in it—the proper course to take is to put down Amendments to reduce the salaries of Ministers, and give up 21 days to dealing with each Minister in turn. I rather agree with the honourable Gentleman that there is a good deal to be said for this argument, if instead of at the end of the Session spending three or four nights discussing Irish Supply, and going over these matters in turn, the Irish Members were to spend that time abusing my right honourable Friend, for everything he had done in Ireland for the last year. That would no doubt be an improvement. My right honourable Friend would be satisfied, and they would be satisfied, and we should get the Vote for Supply through satisfactorily.


Why, we have not discussed the Chief Secretary since 1896?


I think the honourable Gentleman's memory has rather failed him, as the Irish Estimates are always taken at a time most agreeable to the Irish Members. It must be because my right honourable Friend, probably somewhat to his own surprise, finds that he has not become an object of personal animosity. Of course, I admit that the arrangement of business under this Rule is a matter of great difficulty—in fact, the only great difficulty of carrying it out. I have always had a weakness for a plan which I am afraid the House would not readily agree to, but which I hanker after, and it is that a Committee should allocate the days, and on that Committee the Opposition should be in a majority. I do not, of course, in the least wish to deprive the followers of the Government of the day of legitimate opportunities of criticism, nor do I think they would be deprived of them. But no doubt as the one great object of Supply is to criticise Ministers, we expect—and we always find, in fact—that that criticism comes chiefly from the Opposition Benches. Though I do not think that we have yielded to the temptation which the honourable Gentleman thinks is so overwhelming—namely, of allocating the time so as to escape inconvenient criticism, I confess I should like that the allocation of these days should be left to a Committee, and on that Committee there should be a distinct majority of the Opposition. I only throw that out for the consideration of the House. I know that it is so far an innovation of our established practice, that perhaps it will not receive favour. There is, however, much to be said for it, and, at all events, it would relieve me from the very onerous and rather disagreeable task which now devolves upon me. That is only one way of escaping the difficulty. Another was is to make the Rule work smoothly by diminishing, as I think we ought to do, the actual number of Votes to be taken, without interfering in any way with the time to be devoted to them. It is quite unnecessary and most inconvenient, I think, that there should be so many Votes, because what we want is that there should be great blocks of subordinate Votes. Take, say, the Foreign Office Votes, which should be dealt with in connection with the policy of the country abroad, and not fritter away time upon petty details raised by successive Votes. If I carry the House at all with me in this suggestion, it might be very well worth while to see if we cannot diminish the number of Votes, while leaving the time to be devoted to them quite unaltered.


The Select Committee recommended that.


I should like it to be even more drastic than the Select Committee was. I think they reduced the number about one hundred. That would be a great improvement, and I think something of the kind might very well be carried out. When the right honourable Gentleman opposite tells us that we spent five nights in Supply last year without actually getting a Vote, I agree with him' that that is not a very convenient practice. I have not been able to look back and refresh my memory as to exactly how those five nights were expended, but part of them, I think, were wasted. I was very unwilling to apply a special closure to Votes. When the whole time is limited it goes against the grain to do it. But I am not quite sure that, in the interests of the House as a whole, I ought not to have limited the discussion on some of the important Votes in order to give more time for some of the Votes still to be taken. I will do what I can in that respect to allocate more suitably the time devoted to Supply. But I am sure that part of those five days were spent upon Foreign Office discussions, and the reason no- Vote was taken was that the Leader of the Opposition desired that the salary of the Secretary of State, or whatever was the peg on which the Foreign Office discussion was hung, should not be finally disposed of at that time. The result was that the salary of the Secretary of State went over from, Friday to Friday, and whenever any honourable Gentleman wished to raise a discussion as to China or Crete, of course that came in very conveniently for the purpose. At any rate, I am not sure that I was not rather too yielding to the Leader of the Opposition in this matter, and that I should not have said that if there is so much to complain of in the foreign policy of the Government he ought to ask for a day for a Vote of Censure. That would, of course, have been outside the 21 or 23 days, and would have given more time for the discussion. But, after all, I do not think that the business, of this House can be properly carried on unless the Leader' of the House for the time being studies and does his best to meet the views of the Leader of the Opposition for the time being in all questions concerning the criticism to be passed by the Opposition on the Government of the day. Although I am sorry so much of the time of Supply last year was expended in these foreign discussions, and I should have preferred that the time should have been taken by a Vote of Censure, still, I yielded in this matter to the wishes of the then Leader of the Opposition, and I am not seriously repentant that I did my best to meet those wishes. I do not know that there is anything more that I have got to say, except that I will do my best this year, as in other years, to arrange both the order of the topics and the times at which the topics are to be taken so as to suit the greatest body of public opinion in the House. I cannot hope to please everybody—I cannot even hope, perhaps, to please the majority of my critics; but I will do my best, and when any communication on the subject is addressed either to myself or to me through my right honourable Friend (Sir William Walrond) who sits near me, it will, of course, receive the sympathetic attention of the Government. I shall endeavour this year to take early the more important Votes that came late last year, and the House must not criticise me too closely if I take late some of the more important, Votes that were taken early last year. In that way I. hope we shall best meet the wishes of all parties concerned.


I hope the House will allow me a short space of time to refer to one point in this discussion on the new scheme of procedure. Those who have, as I have had, 20 years' experience of the old system and,' the limited experience of the new method will, I am sure, agree with me that the latter is a most valuable reform. But what my right honourable Friend the Leader of the House must bear in mind is the importance of giving am opportunity for discussing—I do not say every year, but in most years—subjects which are relatively of secondary importance, although they have great effect upon the welfare of the people of this country. The department, to which I wish to refer is the Local Government Board, and on that I think it is desirable that we should have a discussion this Session. That department has1 more intimate relations with the domestic life of the people than any other. There is none which has a more important bearing upon the happiness of the great industrial classes than the Local Government Board. It deals with public health, with the Poor Law administration, and the like, and I am sure that all honourable Members who had the opportunity of being present at the debate which took place yesterday afternoon must have felt how deeply the minds of the public and the mind of this House is devoted to that, most important subject. In the year 1897 the Local Government Board had a most inadequate discussion, and in 1898, so far as I remember, there was no discussion at all. My object, Sir, in rising to>-night is to ask my right honourable Friend the Leader of the House to take care that the Vote on the Local Government Board is taken at such a time and under such circumstances that that most important subject can be debated.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

When first I became a Member of this House private Members had certain rights. At that time we had Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Occasionally a day was taken away from us under exceptional circumstances, but as a matter of bargain, when a day was taken away another day was given to us instead. That was nut an end to after a short time. Then we had an opportunity, on particular questions arising, of moving the Adjournment of the House and of discussing it to our hearts' content. That right also was taken a way from us. Then we were able, in going into Committee of Supply, whenever Supply was set up, to move a. Resolution before Mr. Speaker left the Chair. That likewise was taken away, so that we remain without any of these sort of rights. Sir, already, before the limitation of the days of Supply in the House, independent private Members were practically squelched. There remains to us the question of Supply. When we were in Committee and sat late we aired such grievances as we believed our constituents had, and if we did not raise any great questions of policy, at any rate we discussed at some length the minor Votes. I fully admit that we pushed discussion on the minor Votes sometimes too far, but still it was a sound system that all the money voted by this House should be fully discussed by this House. The question is really one of time. We have not the time to do two things—to legislate and criticise expenditure. I do not agree with the honourable Member for East Mayo when ho says that the chief function of the House of Commons is to criticise expenditure. I think it is legislative. I have myself about 20 Bills to bring in when I get the chance, every one of which would benefit, the country. We do legislate, but the time is limited. Well, I have always found that there is a, general feeling in the House at a, certain period of the year that we should all go away, and no man ever resists the feeling. There have been occasions when other honourably Members of the House and I have said that we would die on the floor of the House rather than allow the Session to finish. But we feel we must go away, and the Session almost invariably dies out unless there happens to be some great Bill before the House. The reason why we have not the time is the institution of the Twelve o'clock Rule.


A very good Rule.


If my honourable Friend is in favour of it he knows that with that Rule it is impossible to give the Government their share of the time of the House and private Members time to discuss their grievances. What happened when I first entered the House? We had Fridays and we had Supply. Some- body generally moved a Resolution in going into Committee of Supply, and the Resolution generally died at nine or ten o'clock. We then came on to the Estimates, when we talked indifferently on every species of subject till three o'clock in the morning, when somebody would suggest that it was getting a little late. A Minister would then get up and say, "Perhaps it is a little late; let us agree to take five or six Votes, and when we have finished them, we can all go home to bed." Under that system, we had the time to talk and to express our views. Our views may have been perfectly unimportant, but we en this side of the House are modest persons; we did not want our eloquence to be wasted on the entire country. It was very much on a question of accounts. When an honourable Member wanted his speech reported the report was sent, down to his constituents, who said, "What a noble fellow he is! but the general public did not care at all for these past midnight speeches. Now, this is all a, question of advantages and disadvantages. I fully admit that there are considerable disadvantages in the present rule, but I am inclined to think that they are outweighed by its advantages. I believe the Rule is for the convenience of the House, and, therefore, I shall vote for it. There are two points on which I should like to have an expression of opinion from the right, honourable Gentleman. One is whether he will put down the salaries of each head of a Department during the 21 days. We can always raise a good deal of discussion on the salary of the Minister at the head of the various Departments, and I do not think these Votes should be passed without an opportunity for discussion. The right honourable Gentleman said that when the Leader of the Opposition approached him he would be willing to give a day to the discussion of some important matter, but I should like to Bay that it sometimes occurs that a number of Members of this House want a day when the Leader of the Opposition does not particularly want one. I do not think this ought to be such a very happy family arrangement between the two Front Benches. What I contend is that if 50 or 60 Members want a day to discuss a matter of real importance, it ought to be granted independently of any arrangement between the two Front Benches.

MR. SETON-KARR (St. Helens)

Mr. Speaker, I desire to say a word or two on the principle of this-Order. I do not agree with the views which have been expressed by the honourable Member for East Mayo and the honourable Member for Northampton. The honourable Member for East Mayo-said that Ireland had not had her fair share of the time of the House. I contend that Ireland has had a great deal more than her fair share. The honourable Member for Northampton said he was in favour of private Members' legislation. While I desire to oppose any curtailment of the time of private Members for discussion, I am altogether opposed to any further facilities1 being given for private Members' legislation in this House. I hope no opportunities will be given to the honourable Member for Northampton at any time to bring in the 20 Bills which he says he is ready to introduce. I have always looked upon this Rule as to Supply with suspicion, and although I listened very attentively to the remarks of the right, honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House, I must say he has not altogether dispelled that suspicion. I am willing to acquiesce in the Order because the present Government, with whom I absolutely agree, are in power, but I do think that if ever we get a Radical Government in office again, this Rule may be put to a very different use. It is quite possible, also, that the honourable Member for East Major may, under those circumstances, make a very different speech to the one he has made this afternoon. The right honourable Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton has said that this Rule is too weak. I protest against it being made any stronger. I shall always look with a great deal of suspicion on any agreement between the two Front Benches with regard to the exercise of the rights of private Members. There are a great many weapons in the hands of the Government which they have used during the past 10 or 15 years, and which have almost extinguished the rights of private Members. For instance, there is the suspension of the 12 o'clock Rule.


I should like to remind the honourable Member that the Question before the House is not the time private Members are entitled to occupy, but that of the time to be given to Supply.


I bow to your ruling, Sir. The point of my argument is that the Government, under this Rule, have a great deal of power, which ought not to be increased. I would suggest that the Government should so frame their legislative programme — at any rate, up to Whitsuntide—that they would not be compelled, by the size of that programme, to take away the Tuesdays of private Members. I hope this Rule will remain a merely Sessional Order, and will never become a Standing Order.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

Mr. Speaker, I desire to associate myself with the honourable Member for East Mayo in his objection to this Rule being adopted as a permanent part of the procedure' of this House. It is evident, after the declaration of the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, that if the Rule is agreed to it will become part and parcel of the Standing Orders of the House. This Motion was first brought forward as an experiment immediately the present Government came into office. So far as I was concerned, bearing in mind the very prolonged addresses we had in the last Parliament with regard to certain Votes, I agreed that any reasonable reform in the direction of the limitation of the Debates on Supply would be acceptable, but experience has proved that the Rule is a bad one. The right honourable Gentleman to-night quoted the year 1894, and said that in that Session Votes of many millions were passed in a particular night. In 1894 we were practically on the eve of a General Election. We had made up our minds that the General Election was at hand, and there was a tacit understanding on both sides of the House that we should finish the Session as soon as possible. Consequently, the Votes were allowed to go without practically any discussion, and that year is, therefore, no criterion to go upon as to the amount of discussion that was necessary under the old Rules. I object to this Rule because it has resulted in many important Votes not being discussed at all. I submit that it is a very bad state of things when you have the Votes of huge Departments, with enormous staffs, going through year after year without the slightest opportunity being given for discussion. Any Rule which allows, as this one does, nine and a half millions of money to be voted in a quarter of an hour, without any discussion, is a bad Rule. What did we do last year? We passed £8,000 for the House of Lords without a single word of discussion. We passed £17,000 for the Officers of this House without the possibility of asking- a question. We passed £59,000 for the Treasury, and not a single opportunity was given for criticism. We also passed £29,000 for the Colonies, £7,000 for the Privy Council, and £129,000 for the Board of Trade, one of the most important Departments in the State, and presided over, we are willing to admit, by a very excellent President. But, however good the President may be, we ought to retain the power of asking questions upon the Vote and discussing the work of this great Department. Every branch of industry comes under the Board of Trade, and yet we passed £129,000 last year without the possibility of any discussion whatever. I contend that a Rule which brings about that result is not a successful Rule. If it had been possible under this Rule for the Votes of every important Department to have been discussed, the right honourable Gentleman, would be justified in saying the Rule had proved a success and in asking us to support it. But as it is, we miss two or three very important Departments every year, and I contend that that is an argument against the operation of the present Ride. My object in rising is to ask the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House to say whether or not the operation of the Rule up to the present time does not justify an extension of the number of da3rs to be allotted to Supply. It is proposed to allot, 20 days, with the option of another three, but in view of the fact that there are many important Departments which We have been unable to discuss at all, I think the right honourable Gentleman might with advantage extend the number of days to 25, with three extra.

MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the honourable Member who has just sat down in the ex- pectation that the Resolution we are now discussing has come to stay, and I think we are spending time uselessly in raising opposition to it. The honourable Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs, like the honourable Member for East Mayo, appears to forget the inexorable conditions of Parliamentary business and the facts in relation to Supply before the Rule was adopted. Large Votes were then, as now, passed without discussion, and night after night, as a compromise, what were called non-contentious Votes were allowed to pass unchallenged, and these Votes accumulated and made a very substantial sum in the Session. In respect to the Post Office Vote, which has been referred to, I remember perfectly well that Vote, at the time Mr. Fawcett was Postmaster-General, going through in five minutes. In spite of the observation of the honourable Member for East Mayo that the primary work of the House is to watch the administration of the Government, and that legislation should be a secondary matter, there will always be a necessity for legislation, which cannot be avoided, and which will occupy a considerable part of our time. The fact must be faced that within the limits of an ordinary Session only a certain proportion of time can be given to Supply. Experience of the last three years shows that there has been more discussion of Votes in Supply than formerly, though there has been a habit of discussing Votes and delaying passing them, so that in the end there is a large accumulation of Votes submitted to closure. To the suggestion of the right honourable Gentleman, the First Lord of the Treasury for dividing Votes into classes and getting a certain number of days allotted to each class, there is the grave objection that it will destroy an often useful elasticity in arrangement of business. Experience of the Rule shows that, though it has produced better discussion in respect of time, it has tended to1 produce more negligent discussion. Formerly Ministers: had a hard time, and were severely worried night after night and far into the morning in the endeavour to get Supply voted, but now they have no trouble at all, and Members, too, will probably admit that they have now lost the zest and pleasure they used to feel in worrying Ministers, and sometimes in obtaining concessions they are now slow to receive. The offer of the First Lord of the Treasury of a Committee on which the Opposition shall be in majority is a self-sacrificing offer, but it is also an illustration of the truth that the business of Supply is no longer a worry to Ministers. The proposal, though it will be an interesting experiment, does not appear to ma to promise success in giving a fair allotment of time to every section of opinion, and I would suggest the appointment of a small Committee, who could work out a solution of the problem.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

Mr. Speaker, I have always been a strong supporter of the rights of private Members, and I certainly think the general spirit of this Sessional Order in allocating Fridays will give private Members a, chance of speaking and of bringing questions up which they otherwise would not have. I listened with some apprehension to the remarks of the Leader of the House, and I fear that under the Committee scheme which he suggests those Members who' are independent supporters of the Government will be in a position rather worse than now. I think that, in arranging the allocation of time for the Estimates, the right honourable Gentleman should certainly bear in mind that a great number of his own followers require time, which is not very often accorded to them, while it is given at once to the Opposition. I hope that in any fresh arrangements private Members on this side of the House will have their fair share of time allotted them.

Amendment proposed— Line 4, leave out 'Friday' and insert 'Tuesday' instead thereof."—(Mr. Beckett.)

MR. BECKETT (York, N.R., Whitby)

Mr. Speaker, I rise to move this Amendment on behalf of my honourable Friend the Member for the Egremont Division of Cumberland, with the object of fixing Tuesday as the day on which Supply should be taken instead of Friday. This Amendment is a very innocent one, and I think the arrangement it suggests would be found to be a very substantial gain from the point of view of the general convenience of the House. In spite of what has been said against the Rules now in force, I think the changes which have been introduced of late years by the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury have proved most successful, and the Amendment I now propose would give greater freedom to honourable Members at the end of the week when their freedom could be more usefully employed. I was reading just now the admirable speech delivered by the First Lord of the Treasury when he introduced these Rules, and in that speech he said that the end he had in view was to improve the discussions on Supply. That improvement has certainly been realised to some extent, but under the change which I now propose it will be realised to a greater extent. It has been said that Supply is the main business of the House, and that it is imperative upon the Government Whips to keep a majority which must be of sufficient importance to enable them to apply the closure if they see fit to do so. Surely it would be easier for the Government Whips to keep a majority in the House on Tuesdays than on Fridays, when everyone is anxious to get away. It is said that under the arrangement which I propose "counts out" would be more frequent. Well, that is possible, but I do not think it would be an unmixed evil. It would be welcomed, certainly, by Ministers, Secretaries, and other hardworking Members of this House, and Parliamentary officials. I now come to the only serious objection to the proposed change, and that is that when it is necessary to divide on a mischievous Motion the Government might find it difficult to keep a sufficient number of Members in the House on Fridays. Honourable Members on the other side of the House will be as anxious to get away as honourable Members on this side, and in the event of a dangerous Motion the Government would have less difficulty, in my opinion, in keeping a majority than a private Member. The Government Whips can always make sure of a majority, and they need have no greater apprehension of being defeated on a Friday than on a Tuesday. When the Government takes the whole time of the House, the change which I suggest in the Rule will make no difference; but until then the alteration will prove of immense convenience, especially to those Members whose homes and constituencies lie far away from London. Under the proposed change honourable Members would practically have from midnight on Thursday till four o'clock on Monday at their own disposal or at the disposal of their constituents. When the Government business, which requires the attendance of honourable Members, is taken together, instead of being scattered over the week, it will be easier to secure regular attendance. The objections to this proposal are not strong and the advantages are great, and I hope the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury will be able to see his way to embody it in his Resolution.


Mr. Speaker, I rise to second the Amendment because I think the matter is worthy of the consideration of the House and of the right honourable Gentleman. It would be better to take the business of Supply on Tuesdays, as you would be more likely to get a good attendance of Members on that day than on Friday. I imagine, however, that it is impossible for the First Lord of the Treasury to accept this proposal now, as it would involve, certain changes in the Standing Orders which could not at the present time be made. This is a matter which cannot be decided to-day, but which will have to be kept over till next Session.


As my honourable Friend has just pointed out to the House, it will be impossible under any circumstances to accept this Amendment, because it will involve consequential Amendments in the Standing Orders. For my own part, I am, quite ready to admit that there is a good deal to be said for the plan. I am not quite sure that I think Tuesday ought to be given for Supply. I should prefer to say that the most promising way of distributing the week would be to have Monday and Tuesday for Bills, Thursday for Supply, and Friday for private Members. The reason I say that is that now, if an important Bill is introduced on a Monday and Tuesday for Bills, Thursday course that private Members must be deprived of their Tuesday. If, under the arrangement I have indicated, two days prove insufficient for the discussion of a Bill, no private Member can complain if Friday is also taken in order to finish the Debate. I therefore do think there is a good deal to be said for some change of the kind proposed, and that the existing system by which the Government, unless they interfere with private Members, are restricted to Monday and Thursday for their Bills, is not convenient for the continuous discussion of important matters. I hope, in the meantime, my honourable Friend will not press his Amendment. If honourable Gentlemen will think over the suggestion it might be possible, should it meet with general approval, to' introduce this modification into the Sessional Order nest Session, together with the consequential changes.

Question proposed—"That the word 'Friday' stand part of the Question."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed— Line 8, leave out 'twenty' and insert 'twenty-three'"—(Mr. Dalziel.)


My object in moving this Amendment is to secure that 23 days instead of 20 days should be allotted to the consideration of Supply before August 5th, and I think a case has been made out for this extension. We have had evidence, in the first place, of the enormous number of Departments the Votes of which it has been impossible to discuss. I also desire to ask the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury whether he will consent to the appointment of a, Select Committee in reference to this matter, because I think a case for inquiry has been made out.


I beg to second the Amendment, which is substantially the same as the one standing in my name.


I understand that the desire of the honourable Gentleman is to make the minimum 23 days and the maximum 26 days, instead of 20 days and 23 days respectively, as proposed. I confess I do not think a case has been made out for that change. Looking at the statistics, I find that last Session we devoted 31 days to Supply, including the Supplementary Estimates, and not 33 days, as he stated in the earlier part of the evening. The average number of days devoted to Supply from 1888 to 1894 was less than 31 days—it was 30 days and a fraction. I do not think a case has been made out for increasing the number of days. The honourable Member asked whether I would assent to the appointment of a Select Committee. I have not the slightest objection to a Select Committee, except that it will throw a great deal of work on the members of the Committee, who have other work to do, and I doubt whether any fact will be elicited with which the House is not already acquainted. I will, however, consider the matter.

Question pat—"That the word 'twenty' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 246; Noes 92.—(Division List No. 16.)

Allhusen, Augustus Henry E. Boscawen, Arthur Griffith- Compton, Lord Alwyne
Allsopp, Hon. George Bousfield, William Robert Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)
Arnold-Forster, Hugh O. Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn) Cornwallis, Fiennes S. W.
Arrol, Sir William Brown, Alexander H. Courtney, Rt. Hn. Leonard H.
Asher, Alexander Bryce, Rt. Hon. James Crombie, John William
Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herbert H. Burt, Thomas Cross, H. Shepherd (Bolton)
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Butcher, John George Cruddas, William Donaldson
Bagot, Captain J. FitzRoy Buxton, Sydney Charles Cubitt, Hon. Henry
Bailey, James (Walworth) Caldwell, James Curzon, Viscount
Baird, John G. Alexander Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H. Dalbiac, Col. Philip Hugh
Baldwin, Alfred Causton, Richard Knight Dalrymple, Sir Charles
Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Mnc'r) Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.) Davenport, W. Bromley-
Balfour, Rt. Hn. G. W. (Leeds) Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh. Denny, Colonel
Balfour, Rt. Hn. J. B. (Clackm.) Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, E.) Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.
Banbury, Frederick George Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich) Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. Dixon
Barnes, Frederic Gorell Chaloner, Captain R. G. W. Donkin, Richard Sim
Barton, Dunbar Plunket Chamberlain, J. Austen (Worc'r) Dorington, Sir John Edward
Bathurst, Hon. A. Benjamin Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-
Beach, Rt Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol) Chelsea, Viscount Doxford, William Theodore
Beckett, Ernest William Clare, Octavius Leigh Drage, Geoffrey
Begg, Ferdinand Faithfull Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E. Drucker, A.
Bemrose, Sir Henry Howe Coghill, Douglas Harry Egerton, Hon. A. E. Tatton
Bethell, Commander Cohen, Benjamin Louis Elliot, Hn. A. Ralph Douglas
Bigwood, James Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Ellis, Thos, Ed. (Merionethsh.)
Blundell, Colonel Henry Colston, Chas. Edwd. H. Athole Evershed, Sydney
Bolton, Thomas Dolling Colville, John Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Mnc'r)
Field, Admiral (Eastbourne) Kemp, George Ridley, Rt. Hn. Sir Matthew W.
Finch, George H. Kennaway, Rt. Hn. Sir John H. Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson
Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne Kenyon, James Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)
Firbank, Joseph Thomas Kenyon-Slaney, Colonel Wm. Russell, (Gen. F. S. (Cheltenham)
Fisher, William Hayes Keswick, William Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)
Fison, William Frederick Kimber, Henry Rutherford, John
Fitzgerald, Sir Robt. Penrose- King, Sir Henry Seymour Ryder, John Herbert Dudley
Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond Kitson, Sir James Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)
Flannery, Sir Fortescue Knowles, Lees Sandys, Lt.-Col. Thos. Myles
Folkestone, Viscount Lafone, Alfred Savory, Sir Joseph
Foster, Colonel (Lancaster) Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Corn Seton-Karr, Henry
Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool Sharpe, William Edward T.
Fry, Lewis Lecky, Rt. Hon. Wm. Edw. H. Simeon, Sir Barrington
Galloway, William Johnson Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead) Sinclair, Capt. John (Forfarsh.
Garfit, William Leese, Sir Joseph F. (Accrington Skewes-Cox, Thomas
Gedge, Sydney Leighton, Stanley Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)
Gibbons, J. Lloyd Leng, Sir John Smith, Jas. Parker (Lanarks.)
Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H. (City of Lond Llewellyn, Evan H. (Somerset) Smith, Hn. W. F. D. (Strand)
Gilliat, John Saunders Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn-(Swansea Souttar, Robinson
Godson, Sir Augustus Fredk. Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R. Spencer, Ernest
Gold, Charles Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine Stanley, Edward Jas. (Somerset
Goldsworthy, Major-General Long, Rt.Hn. Walter(Liverpool Stanley, Henry M. (Lambeth)
Gordon, Hon. John Edward Lorne, Marquess of Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)
Gorst, Rt. Hn. Sir John Eldon Lowles, John Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.
Goschen, Rt. Hn. G. J. (St. Geo.'s Loyd, Archie Kirkman Stone, Sir Benjamin
Goschen, George J. (Sussex) Macartney, W. G. Ellison Strauss, Arthur
Goulding, Edward Alfred Macdona, John Cumming Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley
Gray, Ernest (West Ham) M'Arthur, William (Cornwall) Stuart, James (Shoreditch)
Green, Walford D. (Wednesbury M'Killop, James Sutherland, Sir Thomas
Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick) Malcolm, Ian Thornton, Percy M.
Gull, Sir Cameron Maple, Sir John Blundell Tritton, Charles Ernest
Haldane, Richard Burdon Marks, Henry Hananel Valentia, Viscount
Halsey, Thomas Frederick Milton, Viscount Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. Howard
Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord Geo. Monckton, Edward Philip Wanklyn, James Leslie
Hardy, Laurence Monk, Charles James Warr, Augustus Frederick
Hare, Thomas Leigh Moon, Edward Robert Pacy Webster, Sir R. E.(Isle of Wight)
Hatch, Ernest Fredk. Geo. Morley, Rt Hn. John (Montrose Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E.
Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale- Morrell, George Herbert Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon-
Heath, James Morrison, Walter Whiteley, George (Stockport)
Heaton, John Henniker Morton, Arthur H. A.(Deptfd. Whiteley, H.(Ashton-under-L.
Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Chas. H. Muntz, Philip A. Whitmore, Charles Algernon
Henderson, Alexander Murray, Rt, Hn. A. G. (Bute) Williams, Joseph Powell-(Birm.
Hill, Sir Edw. Stock (Bristol) Murray, Charles J. (Coventry) Willox, Sir John Archibald
Hoare, E. Brodie (Hampstead) Nicholson, William Graham Wills, Sir William Henry
Hobhouse, Henry Nicol, Donald Ninian Wilson, John (Falkirk)
Holland, Hon. Lionel Raleigh Paulton, James Mellor Wilson, John (Govan)
Hornby, Sir William Henry Pease, Herbt. Pike(Darlington Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks.)
Houston, R. P. Phillpotts, Captain Arthur Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R.(Bath
Howell, William Tudor Pilkington, Richard Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-
Hozier, Hn. Jas. Henry Cecil Platt-Higgins, Frederick Wyndham, George
Hubbard, Hon. Evelyn Plunkett, Rt Hn Horace Curzon Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy
Jackson, Rt. Hn. Wm. Lawies Powell, Sir Francis Sharp Young, Commander (Berks, E.
Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick Priestley, Sir W. Overend (Edin.
Jenkins, Sir John Jones Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Jessel, Capt. Herbert Merton Purvis, Robert Sir William Walrond and
Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez Edw. Pym, C. Guy Mr. Anstruther.
Johnston, William (Belfast) Rankin, Sir James
Kay-Shuttleworth, Rt Hn Sir U. Rasch, Major Frederic Carne
Abraham, Wm. (Cork, N. E.) Cawley, Frederick Goddard, Daniel Ford
Allan, William (Gateshead) Channing, Francis Allston Harwood, George
Allison, Robert Andrew Clark, Dr. G. B.(Caithness-sh.) Hedderwick, Thos. Chas. H.
Ashton, Thomas Gair Clough, Walter Owen Holden, Sir Angus
Atherley-Jones, L. Commins, Andrew Joicey, Sir James
Austin, M. (Limerick, W.) Condon, Thomas Joseph Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)
Barlow, John Emmott Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.) Kearley, Hudson E.
Birrell, Augustine Daly, James Kilbride, Denis
Blake, Edward Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan Kinloch, Sir John Geo. Smyth
Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson Davitt, Michael Laurie, Lieut.-General
Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles Lawson, Sir Wilfrid(Cumb'rlnd
Burns, John Donelan, Captain A. Leuty, Thomas Richmond
Cameron, Sir Chas. (Glasgow) Duckworth, James Lewis, John Herbert
Cameron, Robert (Durham) Fenwick, Charles Lloyd-George, David
Lough, Thomas O'Kelly, James Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal, W.)
Macaleese, Daniel Palmer, Sir Chas. M. (Durham Tennant, Harold John
MacNeill, John Gordon Swift Pickard, Benjamin Wallace, Robert (Perth)
M'Dermott, Patrick Pickersgill, Edward Hare Walton, J. Lawson (Leeds, S.)
M'Ghee, Richard Power, Patrick Joseph Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)
M'Kenna, Reginald Price, Robert John Warner, Thos. Courtenty T.
M'Laren, Charles Benjamin Reckitt, Harold James Wedderburn, Sir William
Maddison, Fred. Roberts, JohnH. (Denbighs.) Weir, James Galloway
Maden, John Henry Robson, William Snowdon Williams, John Carvell (Notts.
Mappin, Sir Fredk. Thorpe Samuel, J. (Stockton on Tees) Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.
Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand Schwann, Charles E. Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)
Molloy, Bernard Charles Scott, C. Prestwich (Leigh) Woods, Samuel
Morley, Chas. (Breconshire) Soames, Arthur Wellesley Young, Samuel (Cavan, E.)
Moulton, John Fletcher Spicer, Albert Yoxall, James Henry
Norton, Capt. Cecil William Steadman, William Charles
Nussey, Thomas Willans Stevenson, Francis S. TELLERS FOR THE NOES
O'Brien, Jas. F. X. (Cork) Strachey, Edward Mr. Dalziel and Mr. Dillon.
O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Another Amendment proposed, in line 17, after the word "August," to insert the words,— Provided always that this Rule shall not be interpreted to mean that Supply may not be taken on consecutive days when a continuous Debate may appear desirable, or the convenience of any considerable number of Members requires such procedure."—(Mr. Dillon.)


I am disposed, after what has been said by the First Lord of the Treasury earlier in the evening, not to press this Amendment. The object of it is to confine the interpretation of the Rule so as to provide against a very great abuse1—namely, that it seems to be getting the practice in the case of an important debate, either in connection with the Foreign Office or the Colonial Office—and there are so many burning questions which are likely to arise within the next few years—that we are always compelled to cut short Irish debates on Fridays, with the absolute uncertainty as to when that debate will be resumed. We all know that in a large debate it is absolutely destructive, and renders it utterly futile, if it is cut off very often when it has reached the most acute point of interest, without any consideration for those taking part in the debate, and adjourned to some distant day. All I want in this Amendment is that the Rule shall not be interpreted in that sense. Earlier in the evening the First Lord said that there was nothing in the Rule or in the practice, so far as he understood, to preclude us from having for Irish Supply several continuous days. Well, if that is true of Irish matters, I suppose it is true in connection with the Foreign Office or the Colonial Office, if the circumstances of the debate demand it. I beg formally to move this Amendment.


The honourable Gentleman is perfectly right in supposing that there in nothing in the Rule as it stands which would preclude two or more consecutive days being devoted to one Vote, and I do not deny that the circumstances might arise when such a continuous discussion, would be desirable. I must say that I do not contemplate discussion in Committee of Supply occupying more than a single night, although the continuous discussion contemplated by the honourable Gentleman is a possible one. In the case brought forward—namely, that Irish Supply should have three consecutive days devoted to it for the Irish Members—that, I think, is not only perfectly possible, but also desirable. If that is for the convenience of Irish Members, and if such a request is advanced from the honourable Members from Ireland, it shall have the fullest consideration from the Government.


Under the circumstances I shall not pursue my Amendment, because it was only a question of degree. It is, under ordinary circumstances, I know, the custom, that one vote of Supply should not take more than one night, but some great question having arisen, and it being recognised that the debate cannot be completed in one night, it would be far better that it should be continued on the next Monday than on some uncertain date.

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Another Amendment proposed, in line 20, after the word "Supply," to insert the words— Except the Votes for Departments which have power to issue Orders or Regulations having statutory effect without being laid for the usual period on the Table of this House for confirmation."—(Dr. Clark.)

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

After what has fallen from the right honourable Gentleman I will not press my Amendment, otherwise I should have done. It is clear that under the present system the Votes of certain Departments cannot be discussed. Now, there are two classes of Votes: there are Votes where it is merely a question of administration, and others where it is a question of legislation. As far as the custom is concerned, the Votes may be required to be finished without discussion. But there are certain Departments which are not only administrative but they are also legislative, and under the old condition of things those rules or regulations of those particular Departments required their proposals to lie on the table of the House for 40 days, and we had an opportunity of considering them before they became Acts of Parliament, and before they came into operation. Now a number of Departments have got power to make Orders without laying them on the Table at all, and during the last two years we have been unable to discuss, not only Acts of administration, but also Acts of legislation brought in by certain Departments. Last year we had the Vote for the Local Government Board, and we had to press certain Members not to move their Amendments, and not to discuss their Votes, in order to consider the legislation of the Local Government Board. There was one Act promoting certain things which gave the Local Government Board power to determine the method of carrying out the Act. The same thing was done the year before by the Board of Agriculture. The Votes of this Department gave the Board power to make Orders and Regulations—in fact, an Act of Parliament—which did not lie on the table of this House and which could not be considered by honourable Members. We have given the Board of Trade also power, practically, to give concessions in private Bills affecting railway companies, and we are now having it proposed to give the Scotch Secretary power, without coming to this House, and, in fact, without this House knowing anything at all about it, to grant private Bills. Under the present conditions, it was quite possible for the Scotch Secretary to grant those concessions on condition that he was appointed a director afterwards. All those Departments which can make laws without the sanction of Parliament, and which, without discussion, perform acts of administration as well as legislation, will be affected by this Amendment. This is only one of the very many important questions that have arisen which ought to be threshed out by a Select Committee before this system is adopted finally, and if the right, honourable Gentleman will give me a pledge that we shall not have the same trouble at the end of this year as we had last year on the Local Government Board and the Board of Agriculture Votes, and that all those Boards which have power to issue Orders which will have statutory effect—if he will give me an assurance that such Votes shall be considered, I shall be perfectly content not to move my Amendment at the present time.

MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

I beg leave to second this Amendment.


Sir, I understand that the point of the honourable Gentleman is this: Certain Departments under our existing system have issued Regulations which, have come into force, and which did not lie on the Table of the House, and, therefore, there was not an opportunity allotted for their criticism, I think, however, most of the Regulations and Orders referred to by the honourable Member were of a non-contentious character. I hope it will meet the honourable Gentleman's view if I say that should it come to my knowledge that my Department, has issued Orders, calculated to arouse public, feeling or calling for public criticism, I should certainly regard it as a very good reason for putting that Vote down at such a time that it could be adequately discussed. But as I said before, most of these Regulations are of a non-contentious character, and no one could desire their discussion in this House. But when exceptional cases occur they might be treated exceptionally, and if ever such cases occur, I hope to be able to give sufficient opportunity for their full discussion upon the Estimates.


Do I take that as an un-understanding that the Votes of these Departments will come on before the last days?


I quite agree that if any Department asks for any powers in which public feeling is aroused they ought to be discussed, but if they are merely non-contentious subjects, I do not think it matters.


Then I will withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That, so soon as the Committee of Supply has been appointed and Estimates have been presented, the Business of Supply shall (until it be disposed of) be the first Order of the Day on Friday, unless the House otherwise order on the Motion of a Minister of the Crown moved at the commencement of Public Business to be decided without Amendment or Debate; and the provisions of Standing Order No. 56 shall be extended to Friday.

Not more than 20 days, being days before the 5th August, on which the Speaker leaves the Chair for the Committee of Supply without Question put, counting from the first day on which the Speaker so left the Chair under Standing Order No. 56, shall be allotted for the consideration of the Annual Estimates for the Army, Navy, and Civil Services, including Votes on Account, the Business of Supply standing first Order on every such day.

Provided always, that on Motion made after Notice by a Minister of the Crown to be decided without Amendment or Debate, additional time, not exceeding three days, may be allotted for the Business of Supply, either before or after the 5th of August.

On the last but one of the allotted days, at Ten o'clock p.m., the Chairman shall proceed to put forthwith every Question necessary to dispose of the outstanding Votes in Committee of Supply; and on the last, not being earlier than the twentieth of the allotted days, the Speaker shall, at Ten o'clock p.m., proceed to put forthwith every Question necessary to complete the outstanding Reports of Supply.

On the days appointed for concluding the Business of Supply, the consideration of such business shall not be anticipated by a Motion of Adjournment under Standing Order No. 17; nor may any dilatory Motion be moved on such proceedings; nor shall they be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.

Provided always that any Additional Estimate for any new service or matter, not included in the original Estimates for the year, shall be submitted for consideration in the Committee of Supply on any day not later than two days before the Committee is closed.

Provided also that the days occupied by the consideration of Estimates supplementary to those of a previous Session, or of any Vote of Credit, shall not be included in the computation of the 20 days. Provided also that two Morning Sittings shall be deemed equivalent to one Three o'clock Sitting.