HC Deb 22 February 1900 vol 79 cc823-9
MR. DILLON () Mayo, E.

I desire to ask a question with reference to the Tithe Rent-charge (Ireland) Bill, which is down for introduction under the Ten Minutes Rule. In order to explain my question, I must read to you the concluding words of the Standing Order— If such motion be opposed Mr. Speaker, after permitting, if he thinks fit, a brief explanatory statement from the Member who moves and from the Member who opposes any such motion respectively, may, without further debate, put the question thereon or the question that the debate be now adjourned. My contention is that the words by which the Speaker is invested with discretion to put cither of the two questions—the main question immediately, or the question that the debate be now adjourned—were specially inserted in that Standing Order with the object, first of all. of giving the Speaker' the discretion to decide whether a Bill or motion, in his opinion, is a fit one to be introduced under that Standing Order, and thereby of casting upon him the duty of making that decision. In support of that contention, I refer to what occurred on 7th March, 1888, when Standing Order 16 was first introduced. The Standing Order, as originally moved by the then Leader of the House, Mr. Smith, did not give the Speaker any discretion, hut required him to put the question immediately after allowing a short statement by the Member introducing the Bill. An objection was raised by Lord Randolph Churchill and other Members of the House that such procedure was an unfair infringement of the rights of the Opposition to any Bill, hi order to meet those objections Mr. Smith moved an addition to the Standing Order. He said*— That in order to meet some of the objections brought forward by the noble Lord the Member for Paddington he would move to omit the words 'shall put the question thereon without further debate' at the end of the rule in order to substitute the words. 'may without further debate put the question there on, or the question that the debate be now adjourned.' I contend that that substitution cither had no meaning whatever, or it must have had the meaning which I seek now and ask you to put upon it. There can he only one meaning attached to those words—namely, that the Speaker is invested with discretion, that he, therefore, is bound to exercise that discretion, and that if he selects to put the question, "That the debate be now adjourned," he thereby indicates his opinion that this measure or motion is of such; a character and so contentious that it ought not to be put down under this rule. I think that is perfectly clear. In confirmation of the interpretation which I seek to have put on this Standing Order and which appears to me to be beyond question to anyone who reads the debate and the language of the Standing Order itself even apart from the debate—I turn to the authority to which we all how on questions of Parliamentary procedure namely, the book of Sir Erskine May, the last edition. What does he say?— Pursuant to Standing Order No. 16, motions for leave to bring in Hills and for the nominations of Select Committees are set down at the commencement of public business. For the foregoing motions the Standing Order sets apart for the purpose Tuesdays and Fridays for unofficial Members, and Mondays and Thursdays for Members of the Government. Such Bills must be presumably non-contentious. That is the law as laid down in Sir Erskine May's book, and there is no qualification. "Such Bills must be presumably non-contentious." It is only within the last four or five years that the practice so clearly laid down in Sir Erskine May's book has been departed from, and gradually the Government have commenced to introduce contentious measures under this rule, and have done it more and more each session. I have asked the question because I desire to have your ruling in reference to this particular Bill, which is of a contentious character. It is an important Bill, raising great principles. It is a Bill to which the vast majority of Irish representatives are strongly opposed, and which will be fought in all its stages. I hold that it is in direct contravention of the authority of Sir Erskine May's bonk, and of the letter and spirit of the Standing Order as indicated by the debate and by the speech of the Leader of the House in 1888, that Bills of this character should be introduced under what is known as the Ten Minutes Utile. I desire, therefore, to ask you whether you will permit me to move the adjournment of the debate, and whether you will put that motion under the Standing Order.


I should like to be allowed to say a few words upon this subject. I took a very attentive part in the debates of 1888, and my impression is that the Speaker would have precisely the same jurisdiction in this case as he would have in regard to a motion for the closure being put. This is the third occasion within a session of a very few days in which this question has been raised, and in which Bills of first-class importance and highly contentious in their character have been introduced under this rule by the Government. Perhaps I may recall to the recollection of the House what took place on Monday week. The Under Secretary of State for War made an important statement, and then two Bills—first, the Companies Bill and the Railway Servants Bill—every line of which were contentious, were introduced. I then raised this matter upon a point of order, and you ruled, Mr. Speaker, that the question of order did not arise. If these rules are interpreted in their present form, hon. Members on both sides of the House must see that the most valuable opportunity of discussing an important Bill is lost, and Bills of the highest importance may be got through in this way. By way of illustration, I may mention that the Companies Bill was introduced and read a first time simply upon a mere statement of the Minister who introduced it. Therefore, I think that the intention of the House in passing this order has been departed from.


I am not in a position to lay down any rule as to the Bills which may or may not be introduced under Standing Order 16. I have already endeavoured, in replying to a question of the hon. Member for South Donegal, during the present session, to give what I conceive to be the true interpretation of the Standing Order, and I must adhere to the view I expressed on that occasion. It is not a matter for me to rule whether a particular Bill can or cannot be brought in under the Standing Order. There are a great many Bills which no Government would think of bringing in under the Standing Order, and there are a great many others of which nobody would say they ought not so to be brought in. There may be a number of Bills upon which opinions may differ as to the propriety of their introduction in this manner, and in such cases my view is that the Standing Order leaves the Member introducing the Bill to decide whether he will adopt that method of introduction, and to the House the decision whether the Bill shall then be brought in or not. There is no power given to me to decide the point; all I can do is to put the question of adjournment, and that I have found from experience is an unfortunate procedure, and I may say I am not disposed to make use of it. It does not, as some hon.

Members seem to think, imply any expression of my opinion, and I think it would be unfortunate if it did. For my experience is that Members who are in favour of the Bill vote against the adjournment, and I do not think it is desirable that the Speaker should be placed in the position apparently of having his view overruled by a Government majority. I do think it is an unfortunate method of inviting the Speaker to interpose. For my part I have expressed on two different occasions my view that the responsibility rests with those in charge of the Bill, to decide whether the Bill should be set down under the Order or not. I cannot undertake to decide whether a Bill is one which ought or ought not to be so brought in, for that is a duty which the Standing Order does not put upon me.

SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN () Stirlingshire Burghs

May I ask what protection there is for a minority, and a large minority, in the House against the introduction of an improper Bill under this method of procedure? The Government have the power, apparently, of putting down any Bill they like to be brought in this manner, although Bills so dealt with ought to be non-contentious. If a Bill, in the opinion of a, large minority of the House, is of a contentious character, has that large minority an opportunity of making a protest against it?


There is a responsibility put upon the Government of the day by the Standing Order to which the Government must pay regard, but it is not for me to decide how the Government should exercise that responsibility. If the responsibility had been intended to be on the Speaker, that would expressly appear in 'the Standing Order. When it is contended that Bills introduced under the Order must be non-contentious it should be remembered that Bills of highly contentious character are introduced without deflate by private Members at the commencement of public business.

MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR () Donegal, E.

I desire to ask you, Mr. Speaker, if, under such circumstances, you would be inclined to accept a motion for adjournment.


There can be no question of a motion for adjournment; and in the second place, it is quite irregular to ask me what I will do in a case where I can only exercise my discretion after hearing a short statement from each side.


Your ruling has cleared up a question upon which a great deal of uncertainty prevailed. As you, Mr. Speaker, have indicated in your ruling—


Order, order! The hon. Member has already spoken upon this question.


I was going to ask the First Lord of the Treasury a question. Your ruling, Mr. Speaker, has cleared up a question upon which a great deal of doubt prevailed. You have indicated in your ruling—


Order, order! If the hon. Member simply desires to ask a question he is in order, but he is really making another speech.


Then I will ask the: First Lord of the Treasury whether, in view of the statement which I have just read, that such Bills must be non-contentious Bills, he will proceed to introduce the Irish Tithes Bill without further notice under Rule 16.

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR () Liverpool, Scotland

I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman with regard to this Bill whether a measure which is strongly opposed by eighty Members on this side of the House—


Order, order! The hon. Member is not in order in carrying on a debate.


The hon. Member has asked me whether in view of the opinion of Sir Erskine May it will be improper to introduce this Bill under the Standing Order. There is a higher authority than that, and it is the constant practice of this House. I believe successive Governments have never hesitated to introduce Bills of this kind under the Standing Order referred to. I think if I trespass further I shall be transgressing your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and making a speech instead of answering a question.