HC Deb 26 February 1901 vol 89 cc1291-321

I do not propose to move to-night the first of the two motions which stand in my name— that relating to Ways and Means— because I am very anxious to show, as far as I am concerned, that it is not my fault if there is not ample opportunity given to-morrow to discuss the Eight Hours Bill. I shall, therefore, commence by moving the second resolution standing in my name, which is the sessional Order dealing with Supply, which has been agreed to session after session by the House, and which in the opinion of every Member competent to form a judgment upon it has been a great convenience, and has greatly increased the opportunities of independent Members of discussing the general policy of the Government. I think I may be absolved from making any definition of that sessional Order, but it may be desirable to point out to the House that I have made one small change in the last paragraph of the Order. If hon. Members will take up their Papers and look at the last line on page 1, it will be observed that after the words "any vote of credit" I have added these words— Or of Votes for Supplementary or Additional Estimates presented by the Government for war expenditure. These words are entirely new, and the effect of adding them is that if after Easter the Government have to come to the House for additional Estimates for military expenditure, these Estimates will not be discussed within the fixed and rigid limits of this rule, but they will be discussed with the full freedom accorded to discussions in Supply on Supplementary Estimates before Easter. I have always felt that the justification for this Supply rule was that it gave an opportunity for discussing the ordinary administration of the Government within reasonable limits and within reasonable time, and I think it would be a straining of the rule to make it include cases entirely outside the ordinary administration of the Government, and it was in order to meet that view that originally the words "Vote of Credit" were put into the rule. If, for example, things should go badly in South Africa—we have no reason to think they will; in fact, we feel confident that they will not—but if they should, it would seem most unreasonable that, if we had to come to the House of Commons with Supplementary Estimates for the war, say in June, May, or July, the House should feel itself debarred from a full and free criticism of the policy of the Government by the limitations imposed by this rule. Therefore, the change I suggest is entirely in favour of the independent criticism of the Government, and so far as it can be said to be for or against the Government, it is rather against it. I trust the House will appreciate the motive for the change, and that after the long experience we have had of this rule it will be passed without any lengthened discussion, and with absolute unanimity.

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 twenty 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 proceedings of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House:

Provided always that any Additional Estimate for any new service of matters not included in the original Estimate 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, or of Votes for Supplementary or Additional Estimates presented by the Government for War Expenditure, 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."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)

* MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)

I desire to join in the protest which was made earlier in the evening against this motion being placed where it is. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would have found the slightest difficulty in placing it the first order on Thursday next, and then we should have been able to discuss the matter free from any pressure, and without feeling that we were interfering with the opportunities of hon. Gentlemen who had been successful in the ballot. I think we desire, as a whole, that hon. Members shall have a chance to-morrow of discussing the Eight Hours Miners Bill. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have assumed on the part of the whole House rather too great a knowledge of the business before it. This is a new Parliament, and a very large number of hon. Members are here for the first time. I wonder how many hon. Members understand the effect of the seven rather complicated paragraphs which you, Sir, have just read to the House. Those of us whose memories go back to the old times of Supply think that, in the main, the operation of this rule has produced a better state of things. I believe that the origin of the rule was in the year 1895, after what was to the Leader of the House rather an unhappy experience then, for he had great difficulty in getting Supply through. Consequently the right hon. Gentleman came down one day in the year 1896 and laid this rule before us. I agree that the rule has worked an improvement, but only in. respect of one portion of the rule—namely, that in regard to the allocation of a particular day to Supply. That we all now know beforehand when we are going to go into Committee to deal with the Esti- mates is a great improvement upon the old state of things. I remember well in this very place a resolution being moved in the year 1892 to the effect that a particular day should be allotted to Supply, and that that day should be Friday, and I remember the right hon. Gentleman telling me across the floor of the House that the thing was impossible. I was delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman come down to this House four years afterwards and ask the House to do what he had before declared to be impossible. So long as a good thing is done, I am not going to quarrel as to who does it. I agree that this part of the rule has worked admirably. But when I turn to the second part of the rule—the closure part—I do not admit that that has worked well. I hold a very strong opinion with regard to the closure. I hold that the use of the closure is a mark of the Parliamentary incapacity of the man who uses it. I recollect that two great measures which I saw pass through this House—the Local Government Act of 1893–4 and the Finance Act of 1894—were carried through respectively by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton without the aid of the closure. I remember Lord Randolph Churchill, as the Leader of the House, coming down here in August, 1886, after the General Election, and he got all his Estimates through without the aid of the closure. I have taken the trouble to look up the figures in the Library, and I find that in the year 1896 the total number of Votes was 150, and out of that number 21 were closured. In the year 1897 the number was 159, and 30 were closured; in 1898 the number of Votes was 170, and 32 were closured; in 1899 there were 151 Votes and the number closured was 46; and in 1900 there were 151 Votes and 46 of them were closured. Now what does the closuring of Votes mean? It means not only that the money is voted without any possibility even of the Minister in charge of the Vote getting up to answer questions, but it means that at ten o'clock upon a certain day the Chairman, or you, Mr. Speaker, may get up and put Votes seriatim, and nothing can happen except a division. It not only means that, but also that with all the great departments for which money is voted there is no possibility of the House in Committee examining into the conduct of those departments and into the economy or extravagance of their expenditure. What is the object of Supply after all? I confess that I entertain a much higher opinion of the functions of the House in Committee of Supply as compared with its legislative labours than some of my colleagues. I have the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord, of the Treasury in entire agreement with me in that view. I have read his speeches delivered in 1881 and 1882, when Mr. Gladstone was proposing the Closure, in which he gave a most admirable picture of the functions of the House of Commons.


I have forgotten them.


I can assure the House that those speeches form most admirable studies for young members. Now what did the right hon. Gentleman opposite say when Mr. Gladstone proposed this rule? He said— It will have the effect of enabling private Members to bring forward in that discussion on the Estimates all those questions in which they are interested, and it will enable them to keep close control over the administrative action of the Government for the time being. Now what is the object of discussions in Committee of Supply? I do not think it is so much a question of economy, because, in my opinion, the House of Commons is rather inclined to press expenditure upon the Government than otherwise. It is in Committee of Supply that we are enabled to have the effective criticism and cross-examination of the policy of a particular Minister. We all know that in these days a good deal of the cross-examination of Ministers formerly done at question time in the form of supplementary questions has been curtailed, and at the best this method is always unsatisfactory. I have seen the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouthshire get up in this House and exercise his great powers of cross-examination in Committee of Supply with the most happy effect upon the Government of the day. I can assure hon. Members who have listened to me that they cannot value too highly the privilege of putting a question to a Minister and getting an answer or an explanation at once during the informal debate of Committee of Supply. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, in the speech from which I have already quoted, said— Broadly, Supply alone affords private Members in this House that right of criticism, that constant power of demanding from the Government explanations of their administrative and executive action, which, without Supply, can never be possessed.


Hear, hear!


Then let the right hon. Gentleman do nothing to diminish that power of criticism. Surely I have given him some reason to doubt the working of this rule when I point out that last year forty-six Votes out of 151 were closured. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented.] Does the right hon. Gentleman dispute my figures?


No; but I dispute the inference drawn from them.


It is a fact that a number of Votes were closured, and amongst them were a large number of Votes which had never come before the House in any form. This rule embraces in its operation the discussion on a Vote on Account. I can speak upon this matter with some knowledge, because I have had to consider the matter from quite another point of view. A Vote on Account does not give to any hon. Member the same facility of effective criticism as the ordinary Votes put from the Chair do. Under the régime of Mr. Courtney some antiquated rules were furbished up, and they became a part of the procedure to be adopted by succeeding chairmen. In this way the power of criticism was very much restricted in Committee of Supply. We all know that towards the end of the session hon. Members of this House who are interested enter into a kind of scramble with one another as to what Vote shall have the first order place on a Friday. Very often the Member for the Forest of Dean gets up and asks that the Estimate for the Board of Trade or some other Department shall be taken on a particular Friday, but I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has often resisted these appeals, and refused to give information as to what shall be put down first. There is always that kind of pressure brought to bear on the Government. This rule, so far as the closure part is concerned, puts the power into the hands of any Government of very much diminishing, if not of burking, the discussion of any inconvenient Vote of Supply. We have had this rule enforced only for five years, and it was worked by the right hon. Gentleman fairly well through the earlier years of that time. But we might have a very much worse Leader of the House than the right hon. Gentleman, whose fair-mindedness and absolute sense of honour, and the fact that he never breaks a promise, are some guarantees against the abuse of this rule. But it is-possible that we might have someone in his position who might not be of the same calibre or possess the same qualifications. We must not forget that inroads are constantly being made into the effective power of control by this House over the Executive administration of the country. Necessarily, that requires watching, and if I had been allowed the necessary time I intended putting a few Amendments down to that effect. I think experience has proved that twenty days for Supply is altogether insufficient. It is really only nineteen days, because at ten o'clock on the nineteenth day the Chairman is bound to rise and put the Votes. Therefore, it is only nineteen-days at the most. The right hon. Gentleman took power some short time ago to have three additional days devoted to Supply, and I remember that when the rule was first moved we on this side of the House thought that twenty-five days at the very least should be allowed for Supply. I think Votes on Account ought to be excluded, as the discussion then comes under entirely different rules. The right hon. Gentleman has put in some words at the end of his rule which have entirely given away his own case, and conceded substantially what I am pleading for. He says there may be some Votes on which the House ought to have opportunity for fair and effective criticism; but I maintain that we ought to have that on every Vote. I do not intend to move any Amendment, but simply to express my satisfaction with the rule as regards the allocation of a particular day, but my very strong objection to the closure part of it, which I believe may be found to have some very unexpected consequences.


I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in the satisfaction he has expressed in regard to the working of this rule. I have always looked upon this rule as an exceedingly adroit device put forward by the Government to enable them to get Supply as easily as possible. It is a Front Bench rule, and I have no doubt at all that gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench will agree that it is most admirable. But from the point of view of the private Member I believe it is absolutely fatal, and calculated to stifle independent criticism of the Government of the day. In a special way I regard it as fatal from the point of view of Ireland. Although it will be admitted that Irish Members on every occasion when the rights of the private Members have been called in question have taken their side and endeavoured to maintain their privileges, yet, at the same time, I would care very little for the operation of this rule were it not that it interferes with the rights of Irish Members to discuss the Irish Estimates. Under the operation of this rule, at first four nights were given to Irish Supply, but of late years the discussion of the Irish Estimates has been limited to three nights, although it must be evident that three nights are thoroughly inadequate for the purpose. There is scarcely any opportunity of raising questions in regard to administration in Ireland except on the Estimates, and it is absolutely absurd to imagine that that can be done in three nights.

Let me just call the attention of the House for a moment to the way in which this rule has been worked so far as Ireland is concerned. It will be admitted, probably with the greatest readiness, by the Leader of the House, that the most important Departments in Ireland, and those needing the most criticism from the Irish Nationalist Members and examination from the House generally, are those which deal with the administration of the Chief Secretary, and with the Royal Irish Constabulary, and yet under the operation of this rule these great Departments have not been discussed, and the Votes for their maintenance have been closured year after year. In 1897, the year after this rule came into force, neither the Royal Irish Constabulary, the Lord Lieutenant's Department, the Resident Magistrates, the Prisons Board, nor the Queen's Colleges, which raise the whole question of University Education in Ireland, were discussed, and the I Votes were, at the end of twenty days, put by you. Sir, from the chair and carried without opportunity for debate. In the year 1898 the Local Government Vote was guillotined, and there was no discussion upon it. The same thing; occurred with the Votes for County Courts, the Royal Irish Constabulary which raises all sorts of constitutional questions, the Prisons Board, and the Industrial Schools. And will it be believed the Chief Secretary's Vote was closured without any discussion that year under the operation of this rule. I think the present occupant of the office of Chief Secretary, if he will allow me to say so is not exceedingly desirous that that Vote shall be closured. I am speaking from what I know of the right hon. Gentleman, that I think he would desire that the administration of his Department should be subjected to the free discussion of this House; but under the operation of this rule we have had this most important Department closured. It is absurd to imagine that in these circumstances the Irish Members could acquiesce in this system. I have often had occasion to admire the audacity of the Leader of the House, but never more than to-night, when he said in proposing the rule that he did not think it necessary to justify it by argument, because everybody was in favour of it. The hon. Gentleman who spoke before me called attention to the fact that this was a new Parliament. Now, when this rule was proposed in 1896 it was discussed for three nights before it was passed; and, every time it has been renewed since, it has been subjected to long and critical discussions. Surely, in proposing this rule to a new Parliament, it would have been only respectful in the Leader of the House to have explained the meaning of the rule; but, in his own airy fashion, he said he would not support it with argument, because he understood that everyone was in favour of it ! I believe that, from a constitutional point of view, the duty of discussing Supply is more important than legislation; and this rule strikes at the root of the power of this House to discuss grievances before voting Supply.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House has anything special to say to the Irish Members. When he first proposed the rule we were told that we should have full time to consider the Irish Estimates, and that care would be taken that the Irish Votes would be taken on consecutive nights to suit the convenience of Irish Members. At first he gave us four nights, which were quite an inadequate number, but having got this rule, to some extent by smooth phrases, he turned round and reduced the Irish nights from four to three. I ask him what he proposes to do during the present session? Does he propose to give us three nights or to go back to the original number of four? In any case, so far as the Irish Members are concerned, they are bound to protest in every way against the passage of the rule. I think we have all of us reason to complain that the right hon. Gentleman has brought forward this rule at this hour of the night. I do not myself believe that anything is to be gained by party managers by their attempts at sharp practice in this House. There is no question that counting on the universal desire of the independent Members that the Miners Eight Hours Bill should be discussed to-morrow, the Government thought they would get this rule through without discussion. So far as the first rule is concerned they have failed; they have put it off till Thursday next.


To please you.


To please us ! If the right hon. Gentleman had put it off at an earlier hour in the evening, he would have saved two hours discussion. However, he knows his own business best. He has put the first rule off till Thursday next, but he has taken this long, serious, and cumbersome rule at this hour of the night without giving one word of explanation to new Members of a new Parliament. I hope he will not succeed in getting it passed before twelve o'clock to-night. I think that to deprive private Members of the right to discuss the Estimates is very seriously to abridge the privileges of the House, and I sincerely trust that the Government will not succeed, after an hour's debate, and introduced as it was perfunctorily, in getting the rule. We protest that this rule has worked iniquitously, so far as Irish interests are concerned, and that it is subversive of and dangerous to the rights of private Members.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I confess there is something to be said for this rule and something against it. Why did we not make this a Standing instead of a Sessional Order? The question was discussed at the time it was brought in, and it was then suggested that it should be a Sessional Order in order that we might have an opportunity of discussing it every year. It was thought that changes or modifications might be made in it as the result of experience; but practically no changes were made in it in the last Parliament, and it seems to me that in a new Parliament we should have those changes which are admitted to be desirable. The first change I would suggest is that instead of devoting twenty days to Supply there should be twenty-five days. Twenty days are really not sufficient after the statement of my hon. friend, who pointed out that Ireland only got three days. We know that there is a great deal of discussion on matters relating to Ireland, and that there are differences of opinion between the present Government and the representatives of Ireland. They certainly ought to have more than three days.

Well, there is another objection, audit is that there is not a sufficient division of the Estimates. We have the Irish Estimates, the Scotch Estimates, the Army Estimates, and the Navy Estimates. It happens that at one time Gentlemen connected with the Army are very anxious to put forward matters in relation to the Army, and colonels, majors, and captains get up and make most lengthy speeches; but the consequence is that those interested in the Navy and other services have not got time to say much for themselves. We know perfectly well that there is a Service Association to which all these Army men belong, and they get up and talk at interminable length. Naturally the Civil Service Estimates are on that account put off. Now, there are a certain number of Gentlemen on this side of the House—and perhaps I count myself among the number—who are modest and unassuming, and who really get thrust out on these occasions, and cannot find an opportunity for discussing those subjects in which they are interested, and these Votes are included in the massacre of the innocents. There are the Home Office questions, which I have seen again and again put aside. Sometimes with a struggle Gentlemen interested in these matters get one single question debated. And there are Board of Trade questions which are not really discussed. There is another class of subjects, including Votes on Account. I think it is most unfair that the Government should take these enormous sums on account. Formerly, comparatively small amounts were asked for at a time, but latterly the Government say "Let us come forward with most enormous sums," and almost invariably when these are taken, only one single subject can be discussed. If we had two or three Votes on Account there might be opportunity for some discussion. Sometimes that is a way of attacking the Government. It is an indirect way of moving a vote of want of confidence in the Government. As a matter of fact, I do not think that three days are enough for the Votes on Account. I think that, whatever the number of days set apart for Supply, we ought to have them for the discussion of the Estimates of the year; and that the Government should take other Votes in their own time and not in the twenty or twenty-five days devoted to the Estimates of the year.

There is another objection to the last paragraph, which limits extra days discussion to Votes for war expenditure. We hear nothing nowadays but war, war, war. But it is said that we are going to have proposals for the reorganisation of the Army, and the enlargement of the Army, and the increase of the Navy: and time ought to be given to these subjects as well as to war expenditure. I say, too, that peace expenditure, on education for instance, is of far greater importance to the country than war-expenditure. I think we have a right to complain that the right hon. Gentleman has not adopted the practice of every previous session, of bringing on this discussion at the beginning instead of at the far end of the sitting, and after having closured a very interesting debate. Much as I desire the Miners Eight Hours Bill to be discussed to-morrow, I cannot resign one single right that I have to express my opinion on these rules; and I hope my friends around me will not resign their rights either. If the Miners Eight Hours Bill is not to be discussed to-morrow, then the responsibility will be on the Government.

* SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

I quite agree with several remarks of previous speakers in reference to the important duty which the House of Commons discharges in Committee of Supply. But they have omitted to state that the object of this rule was to increase the control of the House of Commons over expenditure and administration, and to do away with a state of things which older Members of the House know, but of which new Members have no idea. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe Division was rather too lavish in the tribute of admiration he gave to the Leader of the House. This rule, I am bound to say, is not a child of the Leader of the House, although he carried it through the House eventually. But the scheme of having one day in the week for Supply was the proposal of the right hon. the Member for West Monmouth.


But not the closure.


I am not talking of the closure. The scheme was proposed by the right hon. the Member for West Monmouth, and I believe the first Friday night it was to come on the Government fell, and no further progress was made with it in that Parliament. As one having no interest in the matter except that of promoting the efficiency of the House, I must say that the rule has, on the whole, worked very well. [Cries of "No" from the Irish benches.] Well, I give the House my opinion.

What is the history of the state of things? If Members will only go back and inquire what the control of the House was over the Executive and the voting of Supply prior to the adoption of this rule, they would see what happened. Now and then the Government asked for a considerable number of Votes on Account, till these Votes on Account became such a serious evil that a special Committee was appointed to consider the practice, for it meant that the Government were taking lump sums without any control or examination by the House of Commons. What happened next? As the session went on, after the slaughter of the innocents had taken place, the Government told the House that they could not get away for their holidays until Supply had been passed. The House then sat night after night voting money by millions without proper discussion and without any administrative control. Bargains were arranged in and out of the House—If you do so and so, so much earlier will the holidays begin. "Well, the autumn recess is not a thing to be trifled with, and the Government were strong enough to stifle all desire for administrative cross-examination or ad- ministrative efficiency. Many Members who interested themselves in financial matters, I believe, came to the conclusion that it was absolutely necessary to have some new scheme in order to provide that the House should have sufficient control over expenditure. A specific day once a week was the proposal of the right hon. the Member for West Monmouth, and was eventually agreed to by the House. The hon. Member for East Mayo said that the closure was not a part of that scheme. But it is substantially part of the scheme, because there must be a limit to the number of days to be devoted to Supply. The Leader of the House knows very well that I have taken exception to the allotment of the limited number of days, and that the present scheme is not the best that can be worked out. I feel considerable dissatisfaction with the mode in which the Civil Service Estimates, for example, have during the last two or three years been treated. I think that the duty of the allocation of the different nights ought to rest upon the Executive Government of the day. The right hon. Gentleman, as we all know, is most courteous and considerate, and I venture to say that he has been, if anything, too yielding in putting off Votes of general interest and in putting down Votes which are of interest only to individual Members. We have at present no system of allocation or distribution, except that one day of the week must be devoted to Supply. I think that the plan can be improved on in many points, but, taking it as it stands, I think that historically and practically the rule has been a great improvement on the state of things that existed before.

COLONEL MILWARD (Warwickshire, Stratford-on-Avon)

Although I am of opinion that the new system is much better than the old system, yet I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the present proposal is capable of improvement. I can quite easily understand that a Leader of the House not so eminently scrupulous as my right hon. friend might very easily burke discussion on subjects which Members of the House might very strongly desire to discuss. If we had a Committee independent of the Government, such as the Committee of Selection or the Public Accounts Committee, who would choose the order of the day, it would I think be more desirable. The very fact that a particular subject is put down for a particular day indicates that criticism is to be passed on the Government regarding it, but at present it is possible for the Government to put aside a matter which they do not wish to have brought forward in the House. I think that is too dangerous a power to place in the hands of the Executive. I also think that the nineteenth and twentieth days— the days of the closure—are almost a scandal, and at all events extremely undignified as far as the business of the House is concerned. Hon. Gentlemen who take, as I take myself, an interest in the number of divisions that they take part in, come back to the House of Commons and vote in twenty or thirty divisions which are taken on those days, their object being not to take an intelligent interest in the Estimates but to swell the number of their divisions. Many important Estimates are put forward on the nineteenth and twentieth days of which never a word has been heard. Therefore, while fully admitting that the present practice is an improvement on that of years past, still there are means by which it might be improved, and I hope that in another session the Government will direct their attention to the question of allocation, and also to the absurd system by which many Votes are closured on the last two days of Supply without a word of discussion.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

There is one remark that I desire to make about these rules. I am sure we all recognise that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House always endeavours to approach this matter not from a party standpoint, but in order to make the best arrangements possible. There is one great defect in the system, and that is the automatic closure at the end. Every critic is agreed as to that. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton, who defended the rules more stoutly than the Leader of the House, passed very lightly over the question of the automatic closure at the end. In his description of the system which preceded these rules he said that two or three weeks were given to Supply and that the Government had to bargain with Members. I am very fond of these bargains—Members generally get something out of them; but there is no possibility of bargaining under these rules, as everything left over is automatically closured. I think that is a great defect, and I would submit to the right hon. Gentleman that some amendment on this point might be devised. If a longer time were given us—say, even half an hour or an hour—for referring to some of the great questions which are about to be closured it would be an improvement. I believe on one night recently twenty-eight millions were voted, and I question whether a parallel to that could be found under the old system. While we have an advantage in one respect under the new system, we have also the disadvantage of the automatic closure at the end. As the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has explained, the Government have also the right to select the Votes they like best, and the others may be left over to be automatically dealt with in the last two days. I quite frankly admit that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House does everything he can to meet the wishes of hon. Members on this side, but we are as likely to make a mistake as the Government. We cannot think of everything at once, and we may select something which seems desirable to us to discuss, only to find out at the last moment that a still more important subject has to be automatically closured. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will think over this matter and give us a longer buffer, which is what we require. Even a very little added time would be a great help. I do not see any harm in the new point introduced into the rules by the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope he has got nothing up his sleeve with regard to it. So far as I can see it is an improvement, because it gives us longer time. He has left out the rule with reference to Ways and Means, and I would appeal to him not to bring it up again. I am sure—


That hardly arises on this question.


I readily accept your ruling, Sir. Generally, I think, the right hon. Gentleman has put the matter very plainly to us, and I hope he will be able to state that the severity of the automatic closure at the end will be somewhat mitigated. That would be a great improvement.

MR. CAINE (Cornwall, Camborne)

I wish to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House. Many new Members do not understand these elaborate rules. I am in some sense a new Member myself. Although I was a Member of four Parliaments after 1880, still I have been five years out of the House, and I am astonished at the fetters and cramps that the House has placed upon itself during that period with regard to facilities for debate, I find it impossible to take any step without going to the Table to find out whether I would be in order, although five years ago I would be under no such necessity. I think it would be much better if this motion were put down at a time when it could be properly discussed and when Amendments could be placed on the Paper, and I would therefore appeal to the Leader of the House to adjourn the debate until Thursday.

* SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

I wish also to make an appeal to the Leader of the House with regard to a point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton—namely, the allocation of days for various classes of Supply. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and with my hon. and gallant friend that the allocation of days as between the different classes of Supply is very uncertain and very often very unjust. Questions of very great importance have been, I will not say burked, but have been passed over, and the opportunity for discussing them has been lost because the time of the House has been entirely taken up with some other class of Supply very much less important. Organised parties and sections in this House have a very great advantage in obtaining days over individual Members who may be quite as numerous and equally interested in some subject of great importance. For instance, the Irish party by their activity and organisation always command a very great and perhaps an excessive share of the time allotted for Supply. [Several HON. MEMBERS: No, no!] I quite admit Irish Members have a full right to their opinion, and I will not pursue the specialisation of this subject. The particular subject to which I wish to refer is the Foreign Office Vote. In recent years that Vote has been placed very much in the background, I will not say deliberately, but the opportunity for discussing important questions on it has not been given. Take the subject of China, which has been very little discussed during the last few years, although it is a subject of vast importance, and involves greater British interests than any other subject, not even excepting South Africa. That has been burked for season after season. I think the suggestion of my hon. and gallant friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon—that a special Committee should be appointed to consider with the Government the allocation of the days to be given to Supply as between the different classes—is a very valuable suggestion. I agree with my hon. and gallant friend that this is a question which ought not to be left entirely to the Government of the day. It is not a question which it is quite safe to leave entirely to the Government, and I should like to see a small Committee appointed, consisting of the leaders on both sides and of the various sections of the House, to consider and report as to the number of days it is, as a rule, desirable to allocate to the different classes of Supply. I do not say that there should be a hard and fast rule without any variation, but at all events it ought to be laid down that such a subject as the Foreign Office Vote should always have at least two days of Supply allotted to it. I hope my right hon. friend the Leader of the House will! consider that suggestion.

MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

This motion has received the imprimatur of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton, as we all expected it would. Indeed, he was more enthusiastic in its favour than the right hon. Gentleman who moved it. but who gave no arguments in favour of it. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton that the ordinary Members of this House, as distinct from Front Bench men, are more interested in this question of Supply than either of the Front Benches. I would also call his attention to the fact that since this rule has been in operation, and when great questions concerning the Civil Service, Irish affairs, and other different subjects have been under discussion, Gentlemen on the front benches have been conspicuous by their absence; and even when present they sit indolently and perhaps somnolently in their places. Therefore the question of Supply is of much more importance to and much better understood by Gentlemen on the back benches than by right hon. Gentlemen on the front benches.

If there is one class of Members who regard this rule with keen suspicion and great jealousy it is the Irish Members. I have had some experience in connection with the Irish Estimates, and it leads me To the conclusion that since this rule has come into operation a great deal of time is very often spent on comparatively unimportant Votes, and the Votes that really touch Irish administration, which go to the root of the action of the Executive in Ireland, and which alone give Irish Members an opportunity of criticising the Government in Ireland, are passed over sub silentio. Irish Members may have an opportunity of intervening in big debates, but the cross-examination in Supply of the Ministers connected with the Executive in Ireland is of more importance to Irish interests than if we had a full-dress debate once a month. The fact is that in this country any subject which engages public attention, whether it concerns the Army, the Navy, the Civil Service, or the Foreign Office, is discussed in institutions all over the country, as well as in the press, and the necessity of discussing it in this House is not a tenth of the necessity which exists for the discussion of Irish affairs, because subjects of interest in Ireland, and gross abuses of the adminis- tration in Ireland, pass comparatively unheeded in this country, and, even if they are taken notice of in the press, they only find lodgment in some obscure corner. Therefore the chief opportunity which the Irish Members have of discussing questions in connection with the administration of Ireland is on the Votes in Supply. When I came to this House fifteen years ago our opportunities for debating Supply were practically unlimited. At any rate, they were much more comprehensive than they are at present. Now the consideration of the Irish Votes in Supply is arbitrarily cut down to three nights. What happens? The Minister does not care a threneen. Irish Members may get up one after the other, and speak a whole night perhaps on the drainage of the river Suck, but the Minister knows very well all the time important Votes affecting administration in Ireland are being put back, and he actually connives—and it is very hard to blame him—at this waste of public time, in order that when his own Department comes to be discussed only an hour or perhaps a few minutes remain to consider matters of importance. I was very much struck by the attempt of my hon. and learned friend the Member for Waterford to draw the present Chief Secretary into some expression of opinion that he would not be the naughty boy that previous Chief Secretaries have been. I noticed when my hon. and learned friend was speaking that a smile spread over the good-looking; features of the present Chief Secretary, and when my hon. and learned friend mentioned that the Chief Secretary's Vote had not been discussed last year or the year before, he no doubt mentally; rubbed his hands in glee, and said, "I am going to have a jolly fine time of it." But when my hon. and learned friend, in that winning way of his, appealed to the right hon. Gentleman as to whether he would not be more industrious, and whether he would not see that these important Votes would not be scamped, the right hon. Gentleman sat tight and said nothing; but the smile remained. I contend from every point of view that there is no section of Members in this House more interested in this question of Supply than the Irish Members. It is supposed to be a maxim of constitutional law that the redress of grievances should precede Supply, and I suppose that the brightest pages in connection with the constitutional freedom of Great Britain refer to the battles which have been fought between arbitrary monarchs and the Commons on questions of Supply. I contend that the importance of discussions in Supply to this country is not so great as it was a century, or even a few generations ago. You have institutions—the press and debating societies—throughout Great Britain, but in Ireland acts may be committed by the Executive which may be in themselves unconstitutional, and the only chance of redress we have is during the discussion of Votes in Supply affecting Irish matters, and therefore I say any system under which the Irish Votes only get three days works unfairly. After the King's Speech, and with the exception of a little Bill or two we hope to introduce, we shall have practically no opportunity of bringing forward questions affecting our country, except on these Votes of Supply, and I certainly think the Irish Members should strenuously urge that we should at least have five or six days, and that a guarantee to that effect should be given us.


The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton claimed the paternity of these rules for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth were present to-night I am not certain that he would be proud of it, because when the rules were proposed for the first time he strongly opposed— and he is the most experienced champion of the rights of the House of Commons— the application of the automatic closure to Supply. Of course, everyone who takes any interest in Supply (and I agree with my hon. friend that the Front Benches are not the most interested in it) agreed with the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth that it would be a good thing if one night each week were given to Supply; but the right hon. Gentleman never proposed and never assented to the, applica- tion of the automatic closure, and when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton declares that the application of the automatic closure to Supply, which is a scandal and disgrace to this House, was an inseparable part of the scheme proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth I entirely deny it. The right hon. Gentleman stated in his speech that he believed the scheme would work without it, and he appealed to the Government to give the proposal a fair trial. I want to know why such a scheme should not work well. Why could we not give Friday of each week to the discussion of Supply, and let the Votes not discussed on Fridays be taken in the ordinary way? That would be an improvement, and would not place any new difficulty in the path of the Government.

The First Lord of the Treasury, when he made his original proposal, made it in a very insinuating speech. He declared that his object in making it was to improve the position and opportunities of private Members. But how did he improve the opportunities of private Members? Before these rules were introduced we had Fridays and also Tuesdays for private Members' business. He proposed to take away Fridays from private Members for Government business, but he said, in that agreeable and insinuating manner of which he is the master, "I must not take away Fridays for Government business. Supply is private Members' business, and under these rules we are giving private Members an admirable opportunity of bringing forward subjects in which they are interested." I say that in taking Fridays for Supply the right hon. Gentleman was taking away a private Members' night, for which he has given us absolutely nothing in return. Moreover, he has put in force the extraordinary principle of the automatic closure. Now I want to ask the Government a question which I have asked before. Why is this automatic closure to be applied to Supply and not to be applied to Bills? In the debates which took place in 1896 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth—and no one has a greater knowledge of the House of Commons than he has — expressed it as his deliberate opinion that if you applied the automatic closure to Supply you would be driven irresistibly by the force of logic to apply it to legislation. I believe that to be true, because every argument in favour of closuring Supply applies with greatly increased force to legislation. In Supply there are only two stages; in legislation there are several stages, and also the check of the House of Lords, which does not exist in the, case of Supply; and therefore, apart from all other considerations, it is a much more violent proceeding to apply the automatic closure to money Votes in this House than to apply it to Bills. As I have said, these rules give private Members nothing, while depriving them of one of the most effective, I think I might almost say the only, means they have of putting pressure on the Government and of really effectively surveying the action of the Executive. We have seen to-night, ample proof that this Sessional Order is in itself vicious. It proposes to apply to delicate machinery, which is the result of ages of experience, and is the most perfect machinery ever devised by the wit of man to bring the Executive Government into touch with the people, a strait-jacket which will make it impossible to work, and which will ultimately result in bringing it into absolute inaction. I am perfectly convinced if this system is persisted in that the time will come when even the twenty days which are now allotted for Supply will be more than sufficient, because the discussion of Supply under the operation of these rules will become absolutely unreal and farcical, and hon. Members have a very great dislike to taking part in what they know to be a mockery and a farce. Some among us took the liberty of saying in 1896 that the effect of these rules would be to increase enormously the expenditure of this country. Everyone who has devoted any attention to the subject knows that one of the chief aids which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had in defending himself and the Treasury against the ever-increasing demands of the great Departments of the State, was the dread of passing his Estimates through this House. When you passed these rules you removed from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that great aid. What has been the result? In the whole history of England there has never been such an unheard-of rapidity of increase in the Estimates, and I venture to submit to the House that those of us who prophesied that the result of the introduction of these rules would be a great and unparalleled increase in the expenditure of this country have been fully justified.

There is another matter which has been touched upon lightly in the course of this debate. An hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite said that these rules placed too much power in the hands of the Executive Government. I believe that is true. The working of these rules is only beginning to be understood. Everyone who has any experience of the House of Commons knows that it takes many years before hon. Members can realise what the effect of a great change, in procedure is. These rules enable the Government, if they are so disposed, to withdraw any Vote or group of Votes from the discussion of the House altogether. For instance, they might say that the condition of Ireland was such that it would be better not to discuss Irish Votes at all, or it would be open to them to take the view that the condition of foreign affairs was such that no time was available for the discussion of Irish business. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury is at present, and has been for some years, sailing in summer seas with a favourable wind behind him. He has a majority of 130, and an Opposition which takes things so quietly that he gets up occasionally and complains that they will not play the game and give him an interest in the discussions. But we in Ireland have I known the right hon. Gentleman under other circumstances, and we know that if he is pushed into a corner he has claws, although at present they may be with drawn. If Ireland became troublesome again, and if the Irish Members became: a nuisance, I am not so sure that the right hon. Gentleman, however agreeable his speeches may now be, would not closure the Irish Estimates. The law would be with him, and the only right we should have would be dependent on the goodwill of Ministers, and a right which depends on the goodwill of Ministers is practically non-existent. These I rules give the Leader of the House the absolute right, without in the least degree infringing their spirit or their letter, to closure all the Irish Votes. I think that alone shows that it would be impossible for us to agree to them. I have merely touched upon the fringe of the subject. It is a subject in which I take great interest and which I understand, but as it is only a Sessional Order, and as we shall have another opportunity of discussing it, I do not intend to say all I should like to say now. I will, however, submit an Amendment which I believe I shall be in order in moving at a later stage, in order to further safeguard the rights of Members.


The hon. Member cannot speak on the subject again.


We were allowed a Second Reading discussion in 1896, in 1897, and 1898, and Amendments were taken afterwards, but it is not a matter of importance, because one of my colleagues will move my Amendment. The Amendment which I desire to move is, "Provided also that not less than six nights shall be allocated for the discussion of Irish Estimates."

MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick's)

As an Irish Member, I protest most strongly against the motion before the House, because my experience in this House is that the only effective opportunity an Irish Member has of entering a protest against what is called Government in Ireland is on Supply. We have no constitutional Government in Ireland. We are governed by bodies non-elected and irresponsible, and who are not chosen by the people, and the only opportunity given to Irish Members in this House of criticising the action of these bodies who deal with public money collected from the Irish taxpayer is on Votes in Supply. In my opinion this motion is an infringement of the liberties of Irish Members in this House. I also maintain that the right hon. Gentleman ought not to have brought in rules of this kind without notice, and without Members being afforded an opportunity of putting down Amendments. The right hon. Gentleman contends, in that nice language of which he is such a master, that it is for the advantage of private Members that he has introduced these rules. I am surprised that the House has not taken more cognisance of this motion, because, in my opinion, the most sacred privilege which belongs to Members of this House is the right to criticise Supply and Ways and Means. What is the difference between this House and the House of Lords? It is that we can originate money Bills, and are supposed to regulate taxation. The motion of the right hon. Gentleman proposes to limit the power which now resides in private Members, and as an Irish Member I protest most strongly against it, and I hope we will be able to defeat it by the votes of the independent Members of this House. May I briefly point out this fact. Members frequently come over from Ireland to take part in the discussion on Votes in Supply only to find, when they arrive in this House, that the automatic closure has been brought into operation and they might just as well have stayed at home. [HON. MEMBERS laughed.] Hon. Members opposite may think that this a matter of laughter.


It is not relevant to, the question before the House.


I was pointing out, Mr. Speaker, the fact that Members coming over from Ireland find that they are prevented from taking part in debate owing to the automatic closure.


That is the irrelevant observation to which I refer.


I bow to your ruling, Sir; but when a Member is prevented by the automatic closure from taking part in debate, that is certainly a very relevant matter for him. I object most strongly to this motion, because, in my opinion— and I am sure my opinion is the opinion of the independent Members of this House—it is an attempt to limit the right which private Members possess at present of criticising Supply. That is one of the most important functions that can be exercised by the House of Commons, and is at the root of all the liberty which England possesses. It is on money questions that the whole Government of this country depends. If you stop supplies you stop the Government, and that is the reason why the right hon. Gentleman is so anxious to have this matter settled without discussion, and that is the reason why right hon. Gentlemen on the two Front Benches want things manipulated according to their own ideas, and object to have questions of Supply debated by independent Members. This is a dangerous proposal, and ought to be resisted not only by Liberal Members, but also by independent Conservative Members, because, as I understand, the Conservative Members are as jealous of their liberties as either Irish or Liberal Members. I trust that when this matter is put to a vote, at least a sufficient number of Members will vote against it to show the public that we are determined to maintain our right, as private Members, to criticise Supply brought before us by the Government.

MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

The right hon. Gentleman who introduced this motion has a majority, and that majority will support him, but some day perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite who used to be such strong champions of the rights of private Members may realise more than they do now the importance of these rules. With the experience which we have had of the operation of these rules, I am more convinced than ever that they are not in the best interests of the House. Year after year we have been unable, no matter how keenly we may have desired it, to say a single word with regard to several great spending Departments of the State. I can point to case after case, especially affecting Scotland, where we have had no opportunity of saying a word. It has been the same with the Board of Agriculture, the Local Government Board, and many other Departments. What is the result? This House is losing its power. The Departments are becoming your masters. What do they care if you have a grievance in Supply? They know perfectly well that no opportunity will arise for discussing it. We are told that this is really a private Member's motion. Is it not a fact that before these rules were introduced we could discuss Votes on Account, and had still left to us the discussion on the Vote in Supply? It may have been the fault of private Members if they did not avail themselves of this opportunity, but at least they had it. I desire to move an Amendment, and I must complain that no opportunity was given us of putting Amendments on the Paper. I beg to move in line 16 to leave out the word "three" in order to insert the word "five." The result will be to give two more days for Supply, which would certainly be some slight concession to the views we hold on this side of the House, especially as the Foreign Office and the War Office will take more time than usual this session.

Amendment proposed— In line 16, to leave out the word 'three, in order to insert the word 'five.'"—(Mr. Daziel.)

Question proposed, "That the word three' stand part of the Question."


The Amendment appears to me to be one which would to some extent meet the difficulties which have been pointed out by hon. Members from Ireland. There can be no doubt whatever, no matter how hon. Gentlemen opposite may object, that it is a perfectly reasonable thing for Irish Members to take every opportunity to increase our facilities for discussing Supply with reference to our own country. The three or four days now allotted to Irish Supply are not nearly enough. I hope the Amendment will be accepted. In my opinion the First Lord of the Treasury has not treated the House fairly in proposing this motion at this time-He knows perfectly well what is expected to take place to-morrow and the state of public business generally, and it would be much better if he deferred the further consideration of the motion until Thursday. But as he has not done so, I hope he will accept this very reasonable Amendment. It is a monstrous thing, apart from the Irish point of view altogether, that the whole Supply of this country must be dealt with in twenty days. That is not nearly enough, and there should be thirty or thirty-five days allotted to Supply. The result of the present system undoubtedly is that Supply cannot be adequately debated.

It being midnight, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow.