§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
Perhaps I may be allowed to intervene in order to make an appeal to the promoters and opponents of these Water measures to postpone the consideration to another day, as the Irish Members have obtained this day, by arrangement with the Government, for the discussion of the financial relations between Ireland and England.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that he cannot take advantage of this permitted interruption to raise a debate on a motion for adjournment.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
I had no intention of promoting a debate; I simply desire to point out that this day has been obtained by the Irish Members for the discussion of a grave Irish matter, after many difficulties and prolonged negotiations with the Government. I am sure that when the First Lord of the Treasury gave the Irish Members this day the right hon. Gentleman was not aware that a large portion of the sitting, perhaps three or four hours, would be devoted to a discussion on contentious private Bills. It would be a matter of grave injury to the Irish Members to take from them any of the precious time which they have obtained at so much trouble for the discussion of this question. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen interested in these Bills to postpone them for a few days, and to remove them from a position into which by some mischance they have got.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
I would point out that the Bills have been set down for Second Reading "by order." Surely that ought to settle the matter.
§ MR. STUART
I hope that under the peculiar circumstances if I reply to this appeal I shall not lose my right of speech on the Bill itself. The London Water Bills were put down before any arrangement had been arrived at with regard to the Irish question. Neither the promoters nor the opponents of the Bill are therefore responsible for the present position. It will be remembered that there was a good deal of disappointment owing to the repeated postponements of the Bills last year, and I undertook that there should be no further postponement of the matter this year. However, I am quite in the hands of the House, and am prepared to shorten the debate or postpone it. I will take the course the House deems most convenient.
§ MR. BOULNOIS (Marylebone, E.)
It is entirely by accident the Bills were put down for to-day. This is really the third postponement, and if we do not go on now it would be extremely hard upon those hon. Members who have come down to-day. We have already lost a quarter of an hour, but as far as we are concerned on this side we will promise not to unduly prolong the debate.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I cannot allow any further debate on this matter. It is not strictly in order. The question put by the hon. Member for Waterford has been answered.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
Go on, then. A very inconvenient course has been taken, and one which will not conduce to the progress of debate. Our men have come from Kerry; those men have come from London. A penny 'bus fare against a £5 note.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is my duty to see that the ordinary course is followed, and that the Orders of the House are carried out. The Order is that this Bill shall be now read, and that must be done unless there is an agreement to put it off.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, N.)
On a point of order, can I move, without any remarks, that the Bill be read a second time?
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
I would appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to guide the House in this difficulty.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I hope hon. Members will not drive me to a course which I should be extremely sorry to adopt. But I shall have to enforce the rules of the House, and such a course must deprive Members of the opportunity of discussion altogether.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
I wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, respectfully, in view of what has taken place, whether it is not in order to cry "Divide."
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is not in itself disorderly to cry "Divide"; but the cry may be so raised as to become disorderly.
§ MR. STUART
, speaking amid great interruption, said: I will occupy the shortest amount of time possible. I have no option now but to go on. I am not a free agent, but am in the hands of the House. It is not possible for me to withdraw the motion, for I gave a promise that I would not further postpone the Bills. I am in an unfortunate position, having to speak amid great interruptions. I do not know whether the Government will consent to postponing the Bills, seeing that they put the Irish debate down for this day. Perhaps the President of the Local Government Board can 13 give the House some advice in the matter.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
I hope, if I respond to the appeal of the hon. Gentleman, I shall not be precluded from speaking later in the debate.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Then I may say it appears to me that this is a question to be settled, not by the Government, but by the promoters and opponents of the Bill. So far as I am individually concerned I should have thought they would have had no objection to the adjournment, but I am bound to say that after the attitude of hon. Members below the gangway on the Opposition side the position is entirely altered. Hon. Members opposite have attempted by threats [Nationalist cries of "No"] to coerce the House of Commons and to prevent debate upon a subject which the House has ordered to be debated this afternoon. In these circumstances if the House was to yield to the coercion of hon. Members below the gangway, I cannot imagine a proceeding more ill-calculated for the future good order of the House.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
The sense of fairness of the House will allow me to say a few words. We had considerable trouble in getting a day from the Government. It now appears that these Bills were set down before the appointment was made, and it is clear that the Government, either intentionally or unintentionally, has taken an unfair advantage of the Nationalist Members. I feel sure, especially after what was said last evening, that the Leader of the House is in no way responsible for it. I and my colleagues have no desire to use threats or coercion; but, naturally, having brought Members from the most distant parts of Ireland for the discussion of a very important subject, on a day given by the Leader of the House, we feel sore at finding that another debate is to take place which will destroy the value of the concession made to us by the Government. The House will see the reasonableness of our demand that this debate should be 14 adjourned, so that the promise of the First Lord may be kept in the spirit as well as the letter.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
In the absence of the First Lord of the Treasury I can give the House the positive assurance that there was no idea on the part of my right hon. friend that the day given to the Irish Members should be curtailed. I have reason to believe that the debate on these Water Bills will not take long if it is allowed to proceed, and I am sure my right hon. friend will not allow the Irish Members to be in the least damnified by these proceedings.
§ MR. STUART
I hope to be able to shorten the discussion on these Bills, and will at once proceed with the task of moving the Second Reading of this Bill, which deals with the question of the purchase of the London Water Companies. The necessity for a long debate has been obviated to a large extent by the Report of the Royal Commission which was recently issued. The Commission was asked whether it recommended increased control, and the Report of that Commission is distinctly in favour of purchase, and in consequence it is not necessary on the present occasion for me to argue that question. For ten years in this House I have argued it, and the question of purchase is a foregone conclusion—[Interruption.]
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
On a point of order, having regard to the repetition of this scene, will the Government send for the First Lord of the Treasury?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
here entered the House, and Mr. STUART resumed his speech; but his remarks were not intelligibly heard in the Gallery, owing to the noise proceeding in all parts of the House.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
As I understand it, the question has been put from the Chair that the Bill be now read a second time. That being so, is it not competent for a motion to be made that the debate be now adjourned?
§ MR. SPEAKER
There is nothing to prevent any Member who is in possession 15 of the House from moving such a motion, but there is no right on the part of a Member to interrupt another Member in order to move the adjournment.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
I am most anxious that this scene should not continue, but I think the question could be settled by the First Lord of the Treasury if he would intervene and suggest the postponement of these Bills for a couple of days. Such a postponement could do no harm to the promoters or the opponents, and it will have the effect of enabling the First Lord to keep his word to the Irish party in the spirit as well as the letter.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,.) Manchester, E
I am not sure, but, as a direct application has been made to me by the hon. Member, with the permission of the House, I might say how the matter stands, so far as the Government is concerned. What the hon. Gentleman has stated to the House is absolutely correct to the letter. There is no doubt whatever that, when I arranged with hon. Gentlemen opposite and the House that to-day should be devoted to a discussion of the financial relations of Great Britain and Ireland, I intended that, so far as in me lay, it should be a full Parliamentary day. But the hon. Member for Waterford has forgotten one circumstance, which I recall to his recollection, and that is that the private Bill business of the House is in no sense under the control of the Government. I am not sure that that is a good system, but it is one which has long obtained in the House. The Government is never consulted and is never even informed as to the particular day on which the promoters of private Bills had arranged to bring them on. The result has constantly been that great inconvenience had arisen, certainly to the Government, and I think even to the House, by some important debate of national interest being postponed for hour after hour in consequence of a wrangle over a private Bill or set of Bills. If it rested with the Government to arrange private Bills for the general convenience of the House these accidents would not occur. The hon. Member for Waterford will see, therefore, that the position in which he finds himself is only a repetition of the position in which 16 Governments constantly find themselves when an important discussion is to come on.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
When the Government say, with regard to their own business, that such and such a Bill will be taken as the first Order on such and such a day, it is always understood to mean that that is subject to the exigencies of private business, over which the Government have no control. That is the broad position as regards Parliamentary business, and I think hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that I have neither overstated nor misstated the case. As to the particular case now before the House, my own view is that the promoters of these Bills would do well, in the peculiar circumstances of the case, to consent to a postponement, unless it can be shown that either the promoters or the opponents will suffer some substantial and incalculable loss by such a postponement. I have no power of controlling their action, but that is my view, having regard to the fact that a large section of the House understood that this day was being giving over to them as far as the Government could give it to them.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member for Waterford will see that it is impossible to do anything more than make the appeal which I am now making to the promoters and opponents. Personally I hope that appeal will be met on both sides of the House, but, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, this is not a matter in which the Leader of the House has, or ought to have, any control.
§ MR. STUART
I believe, Mr. Speaker, I am still in possession of the House. I can only say, under the circumstances, I most heartily respond to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman. I may say that this Bill was adjourned on several occasions last session. I was much found fault with, and I then undertook to proceed with it when it next came on, but under the circumstances, if the House desires, I will move the adjournment 17 of these Bills. I am sure my own personal position in the matter will not be found fault with, for I have done my best to carry out what I believe to be right. I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until this day week.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Stuart).
§ MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
When this date was selected for the Second Reading of the London Water Bills I can assure the hon. Members from Ireland that we had no sort of conception that this day had been allocated to them. We took every care we could at the time to fix upon a day for the general convenience of the House, and we had not the least idea that this day was given up for Irish business or we would certainly have avoided this day. These Bills have been too often postponed, not only in this session, but in other sessions, and we understood definitely and positively that they would be taken when we came down to the House this afternoon. I doubt very much whether the Leader of the House quite understands what our position in this matter is. I should have been only too glad to conform to the agreement, and I would not have had a word to say if—
§ MR. WHITMORE
As one of those responsible for fixing this day for the Second Reading of the Bill, I had not heard a single word of remonstrance from any Irish Member. These Bills are important to us, and we were prepared to discuss them to-day with the greatest possible brevity. What happened? We have now got to a quarter to four and not one single step forward has been made. Really, if the hon. Gentleman opposite had trusted us a little more, it is probable that by this time we would have gone a considerable way towards the Second Reading. Personally, I should like to say to the House that I believe, if they would give us their kindly indulgence, we might finish both these Bills in a very short time. What I wish the Leader of the House to understand is that we feel we have done nothing inconsiderate or irregular, and that we have 18 every possible desire to give every kind indulgence to hon. Gentlemen from Ireland. But we come here to find ourselves interrupted at the very outset of the time set apart for private business. I do not want to inflame passion; but, undoubtedly, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Waterford must know that the attitude of his supporters has been provocative in the extreme We are now asked to acquiesce in the wish of the Leader of the House. But to a great extent that conclusion has been arrived at by clamour and tyranny. It will be a bad precedent, and for my part I wish that the Bill set down for to-day had been proceeded with.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
I would appeal to hon. Members on that side of the House who represent Ireland to give us three-quarters of an hour. In that time all our Bills would be finished. Now the Leader of the House apparently is going to give way, because we have been coerced by a certain section of the House. If business is to be conducted in that way, it will be open for any section above or below the gangway to prevent any private business from going forward.
§ SIR FREDERICK DIXON-HARTLAND (Middlesex, Uxbridge)
As one who has lodged an opposition to one of these Bills, I hope the House will agree with the feeling of the First Lord of the Treasury. I cannot forget that the Irish Members could have taken a great deal of the Budget night, and that they did not take that course. It was really an honourable understanding that they should have this day for themselves. I cannot help thinking that neither party knew in the least that these Bills were down.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
I really must protest against the course proposed. As a London Member I have to say that we are as numerous as the Irish Members.
§ MR. BARTLEY
The only difference between us and them is that we are supporters of the Government. [Interruption.] We have come here on this important question of the water supply of 19 London, and for any section of this House—[Cries of "No section," and interruption]—to come down here—[Cheers, and interruption]—and simply to make a noise and prevent English legislation being carried out is, as my hon. and gallant friend says, a great scandal. I do think the House is coming to a very low ebb indeed. [Hear, hear, and interruption.] Of course, when a day was given to the Irish Members, and I must say it was a very great concession to give—[Cries of "Oh!" and renewed disorder.] There is no other section of the House that have got a day.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
We had a Parliament instead of a day, and you robbed us of it. [Cheers, and interruption.]
§ MR. BARTLEY
I do say that it seems a regular outrageous scandal that we should be treated in this way by a certain section of the House.
§ MR. BARTLEY
It is certainly a section that has not set an example in the way of the orderly conduct of business. [Renewed interruption.] It is not a section whose loyalty should give it privilege, and I say emphatically we ought to protest against this, and I hope we will decide against it. The time has not yet come when the House of Commons is to be dictated to by a rabble. [Interruption, and cries of "Withdraw!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
That is not a proper form of withdrawal, and I must call on the hon. Member simply to withdraw the word.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am not sure that I shall be able to contribute anything material to heal or cool down the passions which have unfortunately been stirred in this debate, but I will endeavour to do so, and I cannot help thinking that hon. Members will for a moment give me their attention. There are two quite distinct and separate cases before the House. One of these cases appeals to hon. Gentlemen opposite and I think a good many on this side. The other case appeals to my hon. friends the Members for West Islington and Chelsea, and others who take that side. I think there is justification in both. Let me state what I understand to be the case of my hon. friends first. They say in the first place that they took all the ordinary steps, and more than all the ordinary steps, to let it be known that these important private Bills would come up to-day, and that when they came up to carry out their Parliamentary duties in the matter they were met by hon. Gentlemen opposite, who without justification interrupted them with great clamour, and threatened that no further proceedings should take place, and if further proceedings were attempted the speakers would not be allowed to be heard. I was not in the House when these most regrettable threats were made, but at all events I understand they were made, and consequently my hon. friends on this side of the House cannot be said to be without justification in the protest they have made. Having stated, not unfairly, what the case of my hon. friends is, let me state to the House what the case of the other side is. There is no justification for such threats, which are most regrettable. In fact their only possible excuse is that they were made in the heat of passion, when expressions escape us which sometimes we are sorry for afterwards. When my hon. friend who has just sat down states that it was a mere matter of favour to give the Irish Members an opportunity for discussing the financial relations, he had not the full circumstances of the case before him. What exactly occurred was this. It appears that every Member has the right on Budget night to put down a motion, and that motion is in order if it be relevant to any question connected with finance. The result of that is, that but 21 for the courtesy and consideration of hon. Members it would have been impossible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to lay before the country his Budget proposals, not only to the great inconvenience of the House, but very likely great loss to the national Exchequer. In this particular case the loss to the Exchequer would probably have been calculated by hundreds of thousands of pounds. Under these circumstances the Irish Members undoubtedly, to use a vulgar expression, had the Government in a cleft stick. They had a mortgage on the Government time; they had a bond for the full liquidation of which they were entitled to ask. Under these circumstances I cannot honestly say that it was a matter of favour to grant the Irish Members a day. When, therefore, the Irish Members found that there was the prospect of a debate which would take a long time—which, in previous years, had taken a long time—a sense of grievance naturally arose in their minds. In the heat of passion some threats were made, and some expressions were used which ought not to have been used. But I must ask my friends to consider the position in which the Government is placed. I quite agree that they have reasonable grounds of complaint. I quite agree that when the debate was interrupted by threats a natural and legitimate sense of grievance arose. That, I think, must be admitted on all sides. But that feeling is met by a not less legitimate grievance on the part of hon. Members opposite, and I cannot help thinking that under the circumstances the House would be well advised in accepting the motion which has been made by the hon. Gentleman.
SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNEKMAN
I do not know that it is necessary to say a word in support of the appeal made by the right hon. gentleman, but I have one advantage which he does not possess to the full, namely, that I have sat through the whole of these proceedings. It is evidently, on both sides, a mere matter of misunderstanding from beginning to end. The Irish Members suddenly discovered that this important private Bill was to come on in front of their motion. Hon. Members opposite say that if they had had three-quarters of an hour it would have been sufficient. We know by long experience of what hon. Members are capable, and that the discussion on a 22 private Bill, which excites strong feelings—almost hereditary strong feelings—in the way that this Bill does, might go on until it occupied nearly the whole sitting of the House. It was perfectly natural for the Irish Members to be alarmed as to their prospect. It may be said that they should have noticed that the Bills were down "by Order" for to-day, and raised this point before. But Members must remember that notices of private business do not attract the same attention as notices of public business, and apparently it was not until last night they discovered this fact. In that case what are we to do? It is quite impossible, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, that the Irish Members can, with any show of justice, be deprived of a full night for their discussion. On the other hand, Members who are interested in the London Water Bill divide themselves into two classes: those who are in favour of the Bill are quite willing that the debate should be postponed; therefore, the matter rests with the opponents of the measure. How can they expect the House to look upon them with any great sympathy if, after all that has occurred, they insist on going on with the Bills to-day? I would therefore appeal to them in the strongest fashion not only to allow this motion to be carried, but to agree to it without a division. ["No, no!"] I would point out that they have no fault to find with the way in which the hon. Member behind me has behaved. If this motion is lost, my hon. friend will lose the chance, which he certainly deserves as well as any Member of this House, of taking part in the discussion. Though that is a small and personal point, I think it is one of some weight, and I trust that hon. Members, in addition to all other considerations, will not be guilty of a certain discourtesy to my hon. friend who has had a rather difficult part to play to-day.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL (Greenwich)
As a Member who signed a circular suggesting that hon. Members of this House should vote against this Water Bill, perhaps I may venture to appeal to some of my hon. friends not to divide against the motion which has been made for the adjournment of the debate. As I understand, if there had been no altercation at the opening of this discussion, the interest of those who are opposed to these Water 23 Bills would have been equally served by a discussion on some subsequent occasion. Indeed, I apprehend they would have been better served than to-night, because the Irish Members would probably not be here, and we should make a still better division list than on the present occasion. It seems to me that it is to our interest to have an adjournment, and I believe that everyone would have taken that view but for the way in which the matter has been pressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. But our true consolation in such a circumstance as this is in another direction. We can console ourselves by the reflection that it was due to the action of the Unionist Members that there was not in existence a Parliament which would habitually demean itself as hon. Members opposite have done. No one can sit in this House for very long and hear Irish Members discussing public business without coming to the conclusion that the whole of the proceedings of a Home Rule Parliament would be an absurdity and a scandal. That may do something to induce us to agree to this motion.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
I sincerely trust that neither the House nor any part of it will be influenced by the remarks of the noble Lord who spoke last, but I hope the House will respond to the greater claim which the First Lord of the Treasury has to make an appeal to it. The right hon. Gentleman has earned the right to make that appeal by the work he has done not only for his country, but as Leader of this House, and he has appealed to us, not from the motive or for the reason the noble Lord assigns, but in the interests of public business, and for the efficiency of good government, and, above all, for the dignity of the House of Commons. I trust that in the interest of that dignity the appeal of the First Lord will be responded to by the most intelligent Members who support the Government.
SIR W. HART-DYKE (Kent, Dartford)
I have sat here undergoing considerable pain in view of all the circumstances of the case, and it is utterly impossible for any hon. Gentleman, be he a young Member or an old Member, to look upon these scenes with anything like complacency. As usual when there is any uproar and unrest, there are 24 several parties to blame. In the first place, no doubt, hon. Members from Ireland have somewhat misjudged the situation with regard to the debate on the Water Bill. I can assure them, as one who is considerably interested in this London water question, they have completely misjudged the time that the debate would have occupied. We were entering upon a discussion of great moment to this metropolis. At the same time, the question had arrived at such a stage that the dealing with it, to use a common expression, lay in a nutshell. The Report of the late Royal Commission had brought the whole matter into so narrow a focus that anything like a lengthy debate was impossible. I might also mention that just when entering the House I was consulted in the lobby by a number of hon. Members of this side of the House who are considerably interested in this question, and we came to an agreement that not one of us should utter a single syllable during the debate. Therefore I contend that I am right in saying hon. Members opposite completely misjudged the prospects of the debate. At the same time, I acknowledge that they may have had some ground for a sense of soreness—for a feeling that they had been given by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House something which was in reality a sham. But unhappily they proceeded on most unwise lines to urge their protest on the House, and I am bound to say they treated hon. Members on this side of the House with great want of courtesy. We are not disposed to be impatient with hon. Members from Ireland. I know that, so far as my public life is concerned, not one of those hon. Gentlemen can say I have ever treated them unfairly. We have listened to speeches from those benches during this session which have given many of us great pain, but we have listened to them with patience, and neither in this House nor out of it have we said one word against them. Therefore, I think they should treat us with a little more patience than they have done on this occasion. Their method of interrupting this debate has, no doubt, created vast irritation on these benches, and I am not surprised that a number of my hon. friends are very likely prepared to vote against this motion. If they like to do so as a protest, surely no man of common sense can object to their conduct. But 25 I would make one appeal. There are other things to consider besides this irritation. There is your position in the Chair, Sir. I dislike to see you put to the strain to which you have been put to-day. As one who loves all the precedents which surround the Chair in which you sit, I venture to make an appeal to hon. Members—on your behalf, as one of the best representatives who has sat in that Chair, and on behalf of my right hon. friend the Leader of the House, as one of the best, surest, and most straightforward guides. On these grounds I venture to appeal to hon. Members to let this scene end, and to allow this debate to be adjourned.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday next.