§ Standing Order No. 51 read.
§ Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
I rise to move the motion which has now been for some days on the Notice Paper of the House. The effect of the amendment of our Standing Order would be to place the House in relation to Committees of Ways and Means precisely in the position in which it ordinarily stands with regard to Committee of Supply. As the House is aware, it was formerly possible for private Members to move resolutions whenever one of the Orders of the day was to the effect that "Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair for the purpose of going into Supply." That practice has led to certain evils which it is not necessary for me to deal with now, and it was found to be intolerable. But up to last year no similar inconvenience has been felt with regard to the power of moving Amendments on going into Committee of Ways and Means. That power has always been open to private Members, but it has seldom been taken advantage of; and, before last year, I think I am not wrong in saying that there were only live cases in the last twenty yea is in which any lion. Member thought it necessary to take advantage of this privilege. With the exception of t he occasions when the Consolidated Fund Bill or the Appropriation Bill were before the House, I do not think tint for the past twenty years hon. Members have ever thought it necessary to interpose by putting down a motion upon going into Committee of Ways and Means. But it is evident that 405 a practice once started will continue. There are, I think, two motions down already on going into Committee of Ways and Means, and it is perfectly certain that the way having been once shown by some bold pioneer, like my hon. friend behind me, he would find plenty of imitators, and the House would no longer be sure, when the Order for Committee of Ways and Means is put down, that it might not be occupied by some quite different and possibly totally irrelevant discussion upon some other matter. It is very instructive to bear in mind what happened in a parallel case on going into Committee of Supply. It was a superstition very prevalent when I first came into the House, and it has not yet been wholly dissipated, that the power of moving resolutions on going into Committee of Supply is a modern relic of the old privilege possessed by the House of Commons of dealing with grievances before granting Supplies. I understand that very careful investigation was made into this question some years ago, and it was then discovered that the first time a resolution had been moved on going into Committee of Supply was in the year 1811, by a gentleman who seems to be the predecessor of my hon. friend in Parliamentary inventiveness, and who first saw the opening that this Standing Order left to private Members. But although that privilege was started in 1811, it was only used three times in the course of the succeeding ten years. But the practice grew, and it grew apace, until the time came when the House felt that it was impossible to deal with Supply if, whenever the business of Supply was put down, some totally different question was raised and discussed for an indefinite time. I suppose that there are Gentlemen on both sides of the House who regard this as one of a long series of tyrannical interferences with the rights of private Members, and who think the proposed amendment of our Standing Order, like all previous amendments, is really due to the inordinate greed and ambition of successive Governments, who wish to grasp unduly the time at the disposal of Parliament to carry out their own nefarious or, 406 at all events, undesirable schemes. I think that is an extremely shallow view to take of a process which I quite admit has been going on now for a century.
The real truth of the matter is that a great many causes have been at work which make it perfectly impossible for the Government to do any work at all, or to carry on the business of the country, without modifying the rules of the House. It is not the fault of the Government, or the fault of the House, but it is due to circumstances over which the House has really no control, for it is due to the increased perplexity of modern Governmental work, to the press and the telegraph; and due, perhaps, to one other cause as much as any other, and that is the fact that a very much larger number of hon. Gentlemen desire to take part in our debates than was the case one hundred, or eighty, or even sixty years ago. I am not one of those who believe that the level of Parliamentary ability in this House has in the smallest degree fallen; I rather take the other view. But assuming that what I say is true and that Parliamentary ability in this House is very much higher than it was, it is not surprising that the great mass of Members are now, being forced by their constituents, far less content than they were to allow the work of discussion in this House to be carried on by a relatively small number of selected and favoured individuals. While that process has been going on unfortunately the day still consists of only twenty-four hours, and only a certain number of Parliamentary days occur in six months, and sessions which last more than six months are rightly considered as inflicting too great pressure upon hon. Members of this House. Therefore, if you are going to treat your business in a common-sense way, and see that during this six months there shall be a fair amount of time given to those who desire to criticise matters, and a fair amount of time to those who want to discuss the Bills of the Government, and also a fair amount of time to the Government in order to carry out the work of legislation which the country requires, it is absolutely necessary that you should, from time to 407 time, so modify your rules that that fair division of time shall not be interfered with on one side or the other It may be—and my lion, friend thinks that it is a fact—that under our existing system the time allotted to Members of the Opposition and to private Members of this House for the purpose of Parliamentary criticism is inadequate. I think that forty-three days out of one hundred days, roughly calculated, which are given up to the work of criticism, is more than sufficient. That, however, in my judgment, is a matter for entirely separate discussion from the motion which I have placed before the House, and if the time allotted is insufficient, by all means let us increase it. We might increase the twenty-three days given to Supply to twenty-five days, or make any other change which is thought desirable, but do not let us re-introduce with regard to Committee of Ways and Means a system which has been productive of nothing but confusion and evil in connection with Committee of Supply. If hon. Gentlemen will look back at the debates which took place in this House when the privileges of private Members were gradually being curtailed in the matter of resolutions going into Committee of Supply, they will find that the evil most universally complained of, not merely by the Government, but by independent Members themselves, was that this system of moving resolutions produced the utmost uncertainty as to the period at which important business would come on. If that is true—and it certainly is true—of the resolutions moved on going into Committee of Supply, still more is it true of resolutions on going into Committee of Ways and Means. I may remind the House that almost the most important occasion on which this House goes into Committee of Ways and Means is when the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to explain to the House and to the public his financial scheme for the year—which is an occasion of the profoundest interest both inside and outside of these walls, an occasion always looked forward to by every class of the community interested in it, and it would be of the utmost inconvenience should it be postponed at the wall of one single individual, which it 408 might be, because on going into Committee of Ways and Means there is not even that limited safeguard which we now claim for a motion for the adjournment of the House. A motion for the adjournment of the House cannot be moved unless, at all events, forty Members agree to it. But a single Member, acting in concert with nobody else and representing nobody else, has it in his power to put down a subject I for discussion on the motion "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair" on going into Committee of Ways and Means, which may last nearly the whole night, and which may throw the Budget speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer into the dinner hour, and may cause in other ways the utmost confusion in our business, and inflict the utmost inconvenience both upon the House and the public. In a lesser degree the same objection applies to any other occasion in which the House is asked to go into Committee of Ways and Means. Those other occasions are really confined to the occasion on which the House goes into Committee of Ways and Means for setting up the Consolidated Fund Bill, by which we terminate our financial year, and again when the House goes into Committee of Ways and Means upon the Appropriation Bill, which winds up the financial business of the session. It is competent under our existing rules for an hon. Member to put down what motion he likes upon these occasions. But observe the great inconvenience of even this. At the present time the Consolidated, Fund Bill is the last work we do—or almost the last work we do—before the Easter rising, and if you allow private Members to bring in these motions upon the introduction of the Appropriation Bill then you will have to finish off the business of Supply a day earlier than at the present time. It is hard enough at present to get our Supply through so as to enable the Government to comply with the law, but that difficulty will necessarily be increased if you add one more day to the time given up to Supply by allowing hon. Members to put down a motion on going into Committee of Ways and Means when we introduce the Consolidated Fund Bill. A parallel argument applies to the 409 Appropriation Bill at the end of the session. We fix our holidays to run at the time when the Appropriation Bill passes its Third Reading, and we have to arrange to get through the work of Supply before the Bill is introduced. But unless this Amendment is accepted a notice may be interposed on going into Committee of Ways and Means, which would render our financial machinery, already cumbrous in certain parts, still more cumbrous.
There is another argument to put before the House in support of this motion. It is directed against the peculiar privilege which allows the House to discuss any subject which any lion. Gentleman chooses to bring forward on the motion to go into Committee of Ways and Means. But there are two occasions given, on the Consolidated Bill and the Appropriation Bill, ready to hand, within two or three days of the Ways and Means motion, upon which hon. Members have this opportunity. As everybody is aware, it is open to any hon. Gentleman on the Second and Third Readings of the Consolidated Fund Bill and the Appropriation Bill to raise questions—I will not say on any subject whatever, but any question which is relevant to any Estimate; and to add to these two occasions another occasion within three days appears to me to be adding to the difficulty and confusion of our Parliamentary proceedings, which is wholly uncalled for. I hope the House will see, therefore, that we are not interfering by this rule with the practice of the House, but are only seeking to perpetuate the practice of the House, the practice of going into Committee of Ways and Means without motion interposed, and a practice only interfered with five times during the past twenty sessions. In these circumstances I venture to say that a full case has been made out for assimilating our Standing Order relating to Ways and Means to the Standing Order which has worked with such excellent results in regard to Committee of Supply.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Standing Order No. 51 be amended, in line 4, by leaving out the words 'or of Ways and Means.'"—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)410
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Standing Order."
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
It seems tome that the right hon. Gentleman in this motion is carrying rather too far the inroads and encroachments that have been made recently upon the privileges of independent Members. The right hon. Gentleman has himself, by his own action through several years, done a great deal to cure an evil which existed in the experience of many of us, in the irregular manner in which proceedings on going into Committee of Supply were conducted, and in preventing the proper business of the House, which the House was entitled to expect to come on, from being interfered with at the caprice of an individual Member. But I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in putting these few opportunities on going into Committee of Ways and Means at all on the same footing as Committee of Supply. After all, as the right hon. Gentleman has stated with perfect accuracy, there are in ordinary sessions only three occasions on which this opportunity occurs— the Consolidated Fund Bill, at the end of the financial year; the introduction of the Budget, and the Appropriation Bill at the end of the session. Well, I think on the face of it there could not be a more legitimate occasion for bringing forward various questions, if it were necessary to bring them forward, than on either of these occasions. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Appropriation Bill and the Consolidated Fund Bill afforded large opportunities for discussing general questions; but I am under the impression that in going into Committee on the Consolidated Fund Bill, the discussions must be confined to matters involved in the Supplementary Estimates, and which are dealt with in the Consolidated Fund Bill; but in any case I do not think that even these opportunities are at all too much to be afforded to Members of the House for bringing forward numerous miscellaneous questions, if they choose to raise them, which they may be prevented from raising when bound by the strict rules governing debate in Supply.
The right hon. Gentleman says, if you wish to facilitate criticism, increase 411 the number of days for Supply; but, after all, these discussions are confined to the particular Votes brought forward in Supply. What is wanted is that there should be these more general opportunities of raising questions which would otherwise not come immediately into the view of the House. I quite admit that this is a rule which, in practice, might be employed in an embarrassing way not only to the Government, but to the House itself. For example, a motion might be made which would have the effect of delaying the introduction of the Budget resolutions, and the prospect of such inconvenience last year led to a special arrangement being made to avoid it. In the case of the Budget resolutions I quite recognise that it may be necessary to guard against such intervention, but that can be done by a special motion made for the occasion. The Government have this weapon at their hand if they wish, and could thus avoid the great inconvenience to public business as well as to themselves; and if they adopted that method it seems to me they would not be driven to make such an inroad upon the rights of private Members. We can carry the curtailment of the rights of private Members too far. I am not one who has ever been a champion of those rights above my neighbours; I rather lean to the other view of the question. At the same time, the private Member is like Nature: you may turn him out with a fork, but he will always come back. If he does not get a legitimate way of airing his eloquence and giving his views to the House, he will find another. If you shut all the doors the result will be a multiplication of motions for the adjournment of the House, which are most inconvenient to everyone, and which are all the more objectionable be-because they are entirely inconclusive, and which, therefore, we ought not to encourage. Here are these little escape holes, these little vents for the soul of such Members as my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn. Seeing that the privilege has not been abused hitherto, and seeing that the Government have it in their power, by special resolution on particular occasions when public inconvenience might arise, to protect themselves and the 412 House against an abuse of the privilege, I do not sec any necessity for the further restriction proposed by the motion of the right hon. Gentleman,
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
My right hon. friend the First Lord of the Treasury has been pleased to talk of me as having introduced something novel in the practice of this House. But it is he that is the innovator, he is the revolutionary it is he that has carried the flaming torch and not myself. What does his motion really mean? He said that his object was to put the House in the same position in going into Committee of Ways and Means as in going into Committee of Supply; and at the end of his speech he said that his object was to assimilate the practice on these two occasions. But this motion will not do that at all. This motion is to leave out the words "or of Ways and Means." If the House will permit me, let me read the Standing Order—That whenever an Order of the Day is read for the House to resolve itself into Committee (not being a Committee to consider a Message from the Crown, or the Committee of Supply, or of Ways and Means, or the Committee on the East India Revenue Accounts), Mr. Speaker shall leave the Chair without putting any question, and the House shall thereupon resolve itself into such Committee unless Notice of an Instruction thereto has been given, when such Instruction shall be first disposed of.The House will see the effect of that Order. The Speaker leaves the chair without question put, except in the case of going into Committee of Ways and Means. Committee of Supply is dealt with by another Standing Order, No. 50, and that provides that there also Mr. Speaker shall leave the chair without question put, "unless on first going into Supply on the Army, Navy, or Civil Service Estimates respectively," when an Amendment may be moved relating to the Estimates proposed to be taken in Supply. My right hon. friend does not recognise that his motion would not leave us in the same position as regards Ways and Means as we are in as regards Supply. If he were going to give us something instead of what he proposes to take away; if he were going to give us something in Ways and Means corresponding to what 413 we already have in we might consider the motion gives us nothing in return for the opportunities for discussion which now exist. And then the right hon. Gentleman characterises our objection to that as "revolutionary"! [Mr. Balfour dissented.] Well, the right hon. Gentleman used the word "revolutionary" in reference to a motion which I made on a former occasion—a motion I had a perfect right to make. It is a privilege which the house has exercised for centuries—that, namely, of moving an Amendment to the motion that the Speaker leave the chair and the House takes go into Committee of Ways and Means. The right hon. Gentleman says that it is a superstition to presume that this right represents the old constitutional doctrine of discussion of grievances before Supply. But what does Sir Erskinc May say? In the 1879 edition of his work he says—The ancient constitutional doctrine that the redress of grievances is to be considered before the granting of supplies is now represented by the practice of permitting every description of amendment to be moved on the question that the Speaker leave the chair before going into Committee of Supply or of Ways and Means.What, therefore, my right hon. friend calls a superstition, Sir Erskine May calls the representative of an ancient constitutional doctrine. I need not remind the House of the restriction which the right hon. Gentleman has placed on the right of moving an Amendment to the motion for going into Committee of Supply; but no restriction has ever yet been asked for by any Minister, unless it be a Conservative Minster, on raising Amendments on the motion to go into Committee of Ways and Means.
I cannot help thinking that his proposal rests upon a misconception of the functions and duties of the Government, and the duties and functions of this House. His Majesty's Government seem to consider that this House cannot be regarded as a creator, a destroyer, or a critic— a creator of themselves, a destroyer of their opponents, and a critic of the Estimates. I think the right hon. Gentleman has too low and mean an opinion of the functions of this House. There are many Members not on the Government Front Bench capable not merely of creating a Government, of 414 destroying the Opposition, or of criticising the Estimates, but of suggesting great improvements in the administration of the country, and of initiating new departures in high politics. I remember Mr. Gladstone bearing the highest testimony to the success of the efforts of private Members in introducing improvements in some of the Departments in this House. It is possible that even the most humble private Member might have some suggestion to make which may not have struck the Olympian imagination of a Minister. It is conceivable that he might even suggest that mistakes had been made which might be recognised by the Government. Why, then, should the Government cut themselves off from all opportunities of profiting from, the intelligence of those private Members who come here not merely to criticise, but to suggest? New Members have come here full of such suggestions. There is not one of them but has come with some important motion or some important Bill in his pocket, and with the firm conviction that he would be able to bring it before a full House and have it thoroughly discussed. No doubt every Member has referred to the Standing Orders, which have informed him that out of the five Parliamentary days in the week three days, or six-tenths, of the Parliamentary time belong to private Members, and that only two days, or four-tenths, of the time belongs to the Government. Therefore he comes here filled with a desire to engage in public service, and a conviction that he will he able to do it; but he has scarcely arrived at the House when he discovers that the practice is altogether contrary to the Standing Orders, and that instead of the Government having only four-tenths of the time of Parliament and the private Members six-tenths, the Government take nine-tenths and leave only one-tenth to the private Members. Now, that is discouraging to the private Member; but that is not all. He is still more discouraged when he finds that the little time left to the private Member is disposed of not by any reasonable arrangement according to the importance of the subject—and of course every private Member regards his as the most important subject in the universe—but 415 by blind lot, And, by the way, how the Irish Members manage to secure such a large share of that luck I never could understand. The private Member, therefore, finds himself deprived of all opportunity of bringing before the House those great and important national subjects which have seized his imagination. There are five such opportunities nominally available to independent Members. One is an Amendment to the Address; but an Amendment to the Address means a vote of want of confidence in the Government, and a new Member, at least on this side of the House, has full confidence in the Government—for he is a new Member. Then there is the opportunity, of putting questions; but questions lead to nothing. They are not always answered, or if they are answered the replies are not always explicable, and he sometimes finds that he cannot get answers to supplementary questions meant to elicit the meaning of the first answer. Then there is the Amendment on the motion for going into Committee of Supply; but that must relate to the Estimates to be taken in Supply. Moreover, the only thing the new Member can do there to assert his own importance to his constituents is to move the reduction of somebody's salary; but he does not care to do that—he would rather increase the salary, hoping to get it himself some day. Finally, he may move the adjournment of the House; but he does not want the House to adjourn, he wants it to go on sitting until it comes to his subject. These are the five only opportunities on which an independent Member can raise a discussion, and they are altogether inadequate. But there is this sixth—this ancient power of moving an Amendment to the motion that you, Mr. Speaker, do leave the chair, that the House may go into Committee of Ways and Means, a power which it is now sought to abolish.
Now, this Amendment implies no want of confidence in the Government, and it affords an ideal opportunity to a new-Member for bringing forward subjects in which he is interested. I beg the Government to ask themselves whether this proposal does not show a certain want of foresight. The Conservative party will not always be on this side of the House. A Conservative Ministry 416 will not always sit on these benches, and when we cross to the other side and find proposals made by our opponents which we consider revolutionary, or perhaps fatal to the country, then, I think, Conservative Members will bitterly regret the reduction of the opportunities for bringing forward such matters before the legislature and the country. I hardly need adduce many authorities in support of the importance of this rule, but there is one which I would ask the permission of the House to quote, if I am not wearying it. A Committee sat on the procedure of the House in 1861. It was composed of most eminent men, its members comprising Mr. Disraeli, Lord Stanley, Sir John Pakington, Mr. Bright. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, and Lord Palmerston. Now that Committee reported as follows—In strict conformity with the ancient usage of the House—mark "ancient"—a motion for going into Committee of Supply or of Ways and Means has offered a legitimate opportunity for full discussion on every variety of subject.Having laid that down, the Committee proceeded to show the spirit in which the rules of the House should be dealt with, and I say that their words are absolutely admirable.
On all these occasions—when the rules of the House are considered—the House and its Committees have proceeded with the utmost caution. They have treated with respect the written and unwritten laws of Parliament which for ages have secured good legislation, perfect freedom of debate, and a due regard for the rights of minorities. This respect for tradition and this caution in making changes have proceeded on the principle that no change is desirable which experience has not proved to be necessary, and that the maintenance of the old rule is preferable to speculative amendment.No experience has yet proved the necessity for this change, which abolishes, as I have said, an absolutely ideal opportunity for raising the most important of questions. It has been admitted that the power of moving such Amendments has only been used four or five times— on two of them, I think, by myself— during the last twenty years. That is proof itself that there has been no con- 417 siderable abuse of the right. If this remnant of power left to private Members was so necessary as the Committee said it was in 1861, how much more is it necessary now, when, time after time, something has been taken away from the opportunities of private Members of bringing matters before the House The Chancellor of the Exchequer went one better when he said that this power had not been used for forty years until it had been rediscovered by myself. I do not know whether it was rediscovered by me or not, but if it was, I think I ought to have had better treatment from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Instead of praising me for unearthing this forgotten arm of the Constitution, he denounced me for being the author of an abuse. I must say he showed an ingratitude almost appalling; for on each occasion upon which I have taken advantage of the rule, I have, solely for the convenience of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, cut short my speeches so as to deprive them, if not of all power, at any rate of all finish. If ho speaks to-night, I expect from him a handsome acknowledgment of this, and if ho does not give it to me, I shall be very much disappointed.
Now, has there ever been any abuse of this rule If it has only been taken advantage of five times during the last forty years, and I have availed myself of two of these. What were the subjects brought before the House My first subject was the interception of the public taxes and their diversion from the public Exchequer. That was, I submit, a subject of first-rate, of the very highest importance, involving something like twenty millions a year being withdrawn from the purview of the House. The second occasion was one on which I introduced a very serious subject—no less than the confessed insolvency of the Post Office Savings Bank. I could not have dealt with either of these subjects adequately upon any one of the other opportunities left to private Members. It cannot be denied that they were subjects of very considerable importance and quite worthy of some debate in this House. Moreover, as I pointed out at the time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to wait a very short time before bringing in his Budget. There is 418 no shred of ground for accusing me, nor so far as I know for accusing any one else, of an abuse of this right. If indeed, this motion had been used irregularly—if instead of being used as a legitimate method of bringing on an important debate; if it had been used as an arm of coercion, and caused some Minister to make a doubtful and secret bargain behind the Chair, then it might have been called an abuse, and it might have been open to the animadversion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have not abused the rule; I have only used it for a legitimate purpose; and if I propose to use it again it is with the object of calling attention to most serious treaty engagements for which this country is liable—a subject which cannot be adequately discussed on any other opportunity. I had hoped that Ministers would have had some regard for the traditions, character, and efficacy of this House, even if these do come into competition with their convenience. I beg them to leave to the House some opportunities of showing that it is capable of useful discussion, and I do assure them that it will be safer for them to leave untouched the very few opportunities private Members still possess for earnest discussion of important subjects than to go on shutting down, one by one, the safety valves until there is an explosion. I do implore them to seek rather to limit their own convenience than to silence and suppress private Members. If they would only use a little more care and dexterity in handling the business of the House, Ministers will find that both the House and the Government would gain in every way. The Government are masters of big battalions, and may use them to crush out this last and most important right of the private Member, but if they do that—and I say it with regret—I will not be a party to it. If this motion is pressed, I must inevitably, as having striven to champion the right of private Members, vote against it. I regard the dignity and the efficacy of this House as far beyond the convenience of Ministers or the interests of party, and I believe that on the dignity and efficacy of this House depends to a very large extent the continued free- 419 dom and independence of the British people.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington. W.)
The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury made a statement at the beginning of the session that within the past forty or fifty years the power and dignity of the Crown had been an increasing and not a diminishing factor in the Constitution. I think the right hon. Gentleman might have stated that the rights and privileges of Members of this House had during that period greatly diminished, and certainly not increased. Independent Members are slowly being shorn of every privilege which they formerly enjoyed. I think everyone will feel sonic astonishment at the reasons given for the change proposed. I made a note of one or two of the points which were put to us by the right hon. Gentleman. The first statement he made was that this privilege had only been used five times in twenty years. Now, it seems to me that this is not a reason for taking away the privilege, but rather a reason for continuing it. The hon. Member for King's Lynn says that the Chancellor of the Exchequer puts the occasions on which this privilege was exercised as more rare than the First Lord of the Treasury said, but at any rate both of the right hon. Gentlemen agree that it has very seldom been used. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury did not give us a single instance in which it was abused. Having been used on five occasions in twenty years, and no occasion whatever of abuse having been stated. I ask, Is it not a, strong measure to take to ask us to sign away this great privilege?
I want you to look at this from another standpoint. The hon. Member for King's Lynn spoke as if only he had made use of this privilege in modern times. I remember a case in which Mr. Knox, who was until lately a Member of this House, moved a resolution with regard to the treatment of Ireland, and he only got the opportunity of making that most interesting motion by giving notice of an Instruction to the Committee of Ways and Means. Then what took place—because this circumstance is very 420 relevant to our debate—was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with his usual courtesy, met the hon. Member and said it would be inconvenient to put off the Budget, but if he would take another day an opportunity would be given him to bring forward his motion. The hon. Member readily agreed, and when he brought forward his motion this House discussed it for a whole day, having had ample notice about it. An hon. Member on the opposite side, who I am sorry to say is not with us now, Mr. Horace Plunkett, supported the motion, with the result that a revolution was brought about in the treatment of Ireland.
I believe the right hon. Gentleman who has brought forward this motion to-day has shown a want of the sense of proportion in his treatment of the subject. We may have one thing done within twenty years in this House that will leave its mark in the history of this country, and if we accomplish one such thing as that by one of the Standing Orders or rules, I think Ministers should have what I will venture to call a reverent feeling for that portion of our procedure which enables the subject to be dealt with. But, as my hon. friend says, the Leader of the House complains that this right is a very inconvenient one. I would like to ask what he means by inconvenient. He only means inconvenient to himself.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I said it might inflict the utmost inconvenience both on the House and the public.
§ MR. LOUGH
Well, I put it from my standpoint. This right is inconvenient to him. It is a great convenience to me and to every private Member who wants to bring forward important subjects, and every Member ought to guard this right as one of the few he at present possesses. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that it was pecu- 421 liarly useless; but it was not useless to Ireland on the occasion to which I referred. That was not a useless occasion of the exercise of privilege. How does ho prove that it is useless? Because he says we have the Consolidation and the Appropriation Bills brought before us, and in the discussion of these Bills we can do all that we could do with a special motion. I deny it. When notice is given of the motion, it has to be discussed in an orderly way, and hon. Members come down prepared to give attention to it. That is better than the irrelevant, heartbreaking discussion which we have on the Appropriation Bill. What takes place? You find one Member competing with another to be heard. One Member says to his friend, "You won't be long, as I have something to say," and it is impossible to take more than one division. I believe that if hon. Members would give their attention to the point, they would see that these opportunities do not in the least meet the great opportunity which is given us by this privilege which we have retained so long.
There is one other point. The right hon. Gentleman said that the opportunities for criticism are sufficient. I agree that perhaps the opportunities for criticism are sufficient, and by all we make of our criticism, I think a little less would be quite as useful. A Minister stands up and gives a perfunctory reply or an amiable reply to the criticism. But that is not what we want. We want something done with the subject, and we want to have the opportunity of bringing forward something. I came here to-day to listen with attention to what could be slid with regard to the rule, and I have not found a scrap of a word to alter my opinion that this is an infringement of rights which Members on both sides of the House should resist. I am glad that the hon Gentleman opposite quoted the high authority of Sir Thomas Erskine May. This is really depriving us of the ancient right of bringing forward a grievance before Supply is granted. Generally speaking, we know something of the complaint before it is brought forward, and surely the right of putting down a motion before entering the Committee is one we ought to guard most 422 carefully. This is one of a series of infringements of our rights, particularly by the present Government, and for which the right hon. Gentleman is mainly responsible. The one-clause Bill is another method of infringing our rights. We have Bills introduced to which it is almost impossible to move an Amendment. Everyone who has watched the course of affairs in South Africa during the last four or five years, will admit that the Government have used all their influence to prevent criticism in this House. Have things gone well with us since Parliamentary criticism was suppressed by the Government? [An HON. MEMBER: Yes.] I do not think that things have gone well with us. We have felt the kindly appeals made to us by the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues not to prolong debate. We have had them going on steadily since the Jameson raid. It has been stated that negotiations are going on, that the Army is engaged in the field, that there was a Committee appointed, that the matter was sub judice, and that the matter must not be discussed here. On the most important national affairs for the last five or six years we have hardly had one free, full, and effective discussion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
On a point of order. May I ask whether the hon. Gentleman is in order in what he is now saying? It has nothing whatever to do with the Standing Order we are discussing.
§ MR. LOUGH
I will strictly observe the riding you have laid down. I feel that it is not unreasonable. I only desired to give one or two examples of the way in which our debates have been restricted. It appears to me a most unfortunate time to make a change in the procedure of this House. Let us look at it for a moment from the standpoint of what the duties of the Committee of Ways and Means are. Its duties are to provide the necessary money—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Member that the duties of the 423 Committee of Ways and Means are not in the least affected by the motion.
§ MR. LOUGH
I did not intend to go into detail as to the duties of the Committee of Ways and Means. It seems to me a most inappropriate time to restrict the right of Members who desire to put down Instructions when going into Committee of Ways and Means. I was going to give an illustration to show that, but your ruling makes it inexpedient for me to do so. I am quite sure that Members will see my point. At a time when the national expenditure is so much swollen, and when delicate questions are being dealt with as regards Great Britain and Ireland, it is most inopportune to suggest any restriction of our privileges.
I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman is depending on his majority to get this restriction approved. I am very glad that some protests have already been made by Members on the other side. I would appeal to them to remember that they may not always be sitting behind the Government as they are to-day. They may some day change places with us, and I would ask whether they do not owe a greater allegiance than that of party in this matter. No doubt the Whips will try to make them support the Government, but I think a small advantage gained for the party in power, at the expense of the privileges of the House of Commons, is one which they will afterwards regret.
§ MR. ELLIOT (Durham)
I have heard the appeal the hon. Gentleman has made, that we on this side of the House should not listen to the voices of the Whips. I can only say that, having some little independence. I believe the interests of the country require us to make this small Amendment on the rule under discussion. There is an extraordinary fallacy underlying the arguments of the hon. Member for West Islington. He seems to think that a gigantic gulf lies between the business of the Government and that of the country. He seems to consider that Members are wanting in true loyalty to the House of Commons because they are anxious to advance the business of the Govern- 424 ment. It happens to be the case at the present time—the beginning of a new session of a new Parliament—that the most important business the House of Commons has to do is business which is in the hands of the Government. I support the motion of the light hon. Gentleman not so much on account of the rights of the Government as the rights and privileges of the House of Commons. There is no matter so important as that the House of Commons should reserve to itself full time to discuss the great questions brought before it; but the great questions likely to be brought before it are questions which will be introduced by the Government of the day. I would ask hon. Members, with all sincerity, on the other side of the House, whether the liberties of debate, whether the fulness of debate which we ought to have on all important questions, are not infinitely more in danger, not so much from the Government of the day as from the continual overpressing of the rights of debate by private Members. The real danger to the rights of the House of Commons is to be found in the excessive pressure of individual Members of individual rights, and the forgetting altogether of what is due to the House of Commons itself. I should be out of order if I gave some of the reasons which greatly limit our powers as a House of Commons, and greatly injure the repute in which we are held.
I should like to say one or two words as to the length to which Members have pressed the right of putting questions, whereby an hour of valuable time at the best part of the day is taken away, not, I venture to say, in the interest of the public, and not in the interest of the House of Commons itself. That is one example of the way the House of Commons is injured in its repute. I must say that without any pressure from the Whips I shall go into the lobby without the slightest hesitation in support of the resolution before us. We must remember that the times are serious, and that the business we have to consider is that which it is the duty of the Government to treat as its own, and to defend fearlessly and boldly before the House.
§ MR. CAINE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I listened with the greatest possible atten- 425 tion to the speech of the Leader of the House, but as far as I am concerned he failed to make out the least case for this alteration. One of his chief arguments was that this opportunity which he is now seeking to take away from private Members has been very seldom used. I have no doubt he has brought this motion forward because he fears that this session it will be very often availed of. Why does ho fear that? Because almost every opportunity hitherto available for private Members has been swept away. There is the motion to take away our Tuesdays before Easter. Does anybody suppose, if that motion is carried, we shall get those Tuesdays back? No; they will be gone for the session. In consequence of this ruthless seizure of their opportunities, the private Members are thrown hack upon the method aimed at by this resolution. I hope the motion will be defeated, and defeated by the help of the independent Members on the other side of the House. There are many, especially the Liberal Unionists, who come here pledged as independent supporters of the Government. I hope that they will not be content with cheering the excellent speech of the hon. Member for King's Lynn, but that they will by their votes let the Government see that this constant encroachment on the time of private Members is resented on both sides of the House.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
The remarks of my hon. friend the Member for Durham seem to suggest really that we had better wind up all discussion and all questions, and simply come here to register the decrees of the majority of the House for the time being. I must protest against any such view. I have always been a supporter of the rights of unofficial Members. I agree they must use their rights with discretion; but the question we are now discussing seems to be somewhat unfortunate. The Leader of the House stated that this right has been exercised so very rarely during the last twenty years that he now proposes to take it away in perpetuity.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That observation of mine has been so often misused during this debate that perhaps the House will allow me to repeat what I did 426 say. I said that before last year the opportunity had not been used more than five times in the twenty years, but that last year it was used, and this year it is being used, in my judgment, to the great inconvenience of the House and the country.
§ MR. BARTLEY
That is very easily explained. The tendency to increase the use of this method is simply because the means by which unofficial Members can act are becoming every year fewer. What have we left now? After the Address is voted, the only way, practically speaking, in which any subject can be brought forward is by moving the adjournment of the House. That is a measure hostile to the Government, and one requiring the support of forty Members. It is a step very few Members care to take, except in a matter of extreme importance, and it is a movement almost entirely limited to the Opposition side. The real secret of the objection to this change is that the semi-official Member is becoming less and less a means of raising those questions for which ho is sent to this House. The question of importance is a matter really which the House itself must decide. I can conceive that this session there may be many questions arise which certainly would be very fairly brought up under this rule; but if this opportunity is taken away there will be no possible way for any of us to raise any question, except by moving the adjournment of the House. The whole reason of the present trouble is that Parliament ought to have met a little earlier. It is all very well to say that everything is left and that there is great pressure. The real thing is that the Government met so late, and now desire to make up for it by depriving unofficial Members of the small amount of time left at their disposal. It is rather hard upon us that we should be thus treated. The hon. Member for King's Lynn appears to be the chief offender in this matter in having ventured to take advantage of this rule. I very much regret if the rule has been improperly used, but I have not heard a single suggestion that any frivolous or unimportant matter has been brought forward. It is a pity, especially at the present time, when tins rule has not been abused, but has been 427 used, as all agree, only for the purpose of bringing forward very important matters, that the Government, which has such an enormous majority, should use its power to curtail our rights. I am afraid we are becoming a very despotic nation. We are ruled with a rod of iron. We give our allegiance to the Government, and are very glad to support it in every way we can, but it is somewhat hard that when it has unlimited power it should deprive unofficial Members of the one last remnant of the powers we used to enjoy.
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY (Yorkshire, W.E., Pudsey)
The Leader of the House contended that this practice was an inconvenience to the House and the country. I venture to ask the right hon. Gentleman how and in what way it is so. Is it an inconvenience to the country to read in its morning papers dabates in this House upon matters that are of very great interest to it, and of very much greater interest than many of the propositions placed before the House by the Government? With regard to the House itself, wherein lies the inconvenience to private Members, who, after all is said and done, are the bulk of the House at present? I venture to say that if the right hon. Gentleman would take away the crack of the party whip, or if the division upon the point were by ballot, a very large majority of the party opposite would object to this alteration of the rule, and it would be defeated by a very large plurality. Five motions have been made under this rule during the last twenty years. Can the right hon. Gentleman conscientiously say that a right which has been practised only five times in twenty years has been an inconvenience to the House, the country, the Government, or anybody else? The hon. Member for Durham told us that the great questions of the day were introduced by the Government. I refer the hon. Member to the King's Speech, in order that he may see and judge for himself what are the great questions of the day. Is the question of the alteration of the law with regard to—
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY
I will simply ask, what opportunity has the House for dealing with the great questions of the day? Even in regard to Amendments to the Address, a Member who puts down a motion is frequently precluded from bringing it on, because, in the first place, Bills are introduced dealing with the subject, or, in the second place, the debate is closured at a very early period. So far as the private Member is concerned, he has now hardly any rights whatever. A time will come when the liberal party will be in a, majority in this House, and it will be in the interest of hon. Members opposite to bring forward motions dealing with various matters in order, I will not say to obstruct, but, at any rate, to cry a halt to legislation which they think injurious to the country. Hon. Members will then look back to this afternoon and regret that they made such a fundamental alteration in the regulations of the House. If this were made a temporary or sessional, instead of a permanent alteration, it would be better; at any rate, we should have some experience of its working before it was stereotyped. Could the motion not be moved in such a form as to give it a six months trial before the alteration becomes a fundamental part of the constitutional rules and regulations of the House which cannot be altered?
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
On behalf of the Irish party, I desire to join in the protest against this new inroad a the rights of private Members. The First Lord of the Treasury made, absolutely no case for the proposed alteration. He unquestionably left the House under the impression that the effect of the alteration would be to place us in the same position as regards the motion for going into Committee of Ways and Means as we now stand in with regard to the motion for going into Committee of Supply. But, as the hon. Member for King's Lynn pointed out, the, proposed alteration places us in a much worse position. The only really substantial ground the right hon. Gentleman attempted to give against the right now enjoyed was, that it gave private Members the opportunity of throwing the Budget speech of the Chancellor of the Ex- 429 chequer into the background, and that it imported an element of uncertainty as to the night upon which the Budget would be introduced. To anybody who follows the proceedings of the House that objection is utterly absurd, because the motions complained of are made only after notice has been given, generally after notice of long standing. If such a notice appears on the Paper everybody knows that the first business will not be the Chancellor's statement. That, therefore, is a very frivolous ground on which to seek to justify a serious departure from the practice of the House as it has existed for three centuries. The Tight hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that these matters are matters of arrangement, and it would always be easy to arrange so that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not be called until half-past eight or nine o'clock.
I object to this resolution as part and parcel of a system which has been enforced since this Government came into office with far greater stringency and disregard of the rights of the House than at any previous time during my recollection of the House. That system has been gradually and steadily to contract the area of the ri⅙hts of private Members. It is all very fine for the right hon. Gentleman to spring up and indignantly deny that he had spoken of the convenience of Ministers or of the Government. Everybody knows the object of these successive invasions of the rights of private Members. There is really no other ground on which they are based than the convenience of Ministers and those who have the conduct of the business of the House. We are told that things are in such a condition now, that times are serious, and that the number of days before the end of the financial year is limited. Who is responsible for that? The condition of the country is the work of the Government. The limit of the time at our disposal is the work of the Government, because they, with a fuller knowledge than anybody else, could have of the business to be done, fixed the date of the meeting of Parliament. Therefore the only substantial justification put forward is the convenience of Ministers in carrying through Government business. The logical conclusion of that argument is 430 that private Members should have no rights whatever, that the House of Commons should be simply a voting machine, and that the proposals of the Government should be explained by Ministers and forthwith voted upon.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the various opportunities still left to private Members to bring forward their views, especially pointing to the Second and Third Readings of the Appropriation Bill and the Consolidated Fund Bill. But he forgot to tell the House that, as I believe, for the first time in its history, he and the Ministry last session, in pursuance of this system, put in front of the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill three Government measures. That course of action was protested against by members of the party opposite, but their protest was futile. It is perfectly open to the Government, by an extension of the policy of last year, to deprive us altogether of that opportunity also. What security have we that that course will not be pursued, and that the next thing will be to take away the right of discussing the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill, which would require no alteration of the Standing Orders, but an act of discretion on the part of the Government? This is a proposal which I believe is unparalleled in the history of the House, and which threatens private Members with the destruction of their rights and privileges. For these reasons I most strongly protest against this innovation of our rights, which, I take it, is only a symptom and a sign of what we are to expect.
§ *MR. DISRAELI (Cheshire, Altrineham)
I desire to appeal to the Leader of the House to limit the period of this change to the present session. Like my hon. friend the Member for Durham, I consider that the times are serious, and I think that is a very good reason why this rule should be passed. Experience in the past has shown that this privilege has never been much abused, and I hope my right hon. friend will be able to see his way to make it apply only to this session.
§ MR. FIELD (Dublin. St. Patrick)
As a private Member I desire to protest against the introduction of this 431 rule, cither as a sessional or a permanent order. My experience has been that since the Conservative Government came into power private Members have been deprived almost of all their private rights in this House. Private Members can now only move Amendments to the Address and ask questions, and for the remainder of the session they seem to have no other legislative functions. If this process goes on much longer private Members will have absolutely no rights at all. It will come to this, that Members of Parliament will come here simply to vote Supplies and sit in Ways and Means, and take up such Government Bills as may be proposed by the party in power. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to seriously consider this question, and to remember that in the past history of this Parliament many of the most important reforms which were passed into law were introduced by private Members, and not as Government measures.
§ MR. FIELD
I bow to your ruling. Mr. Speaker; but my point is that, according to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this motion, it is proposed to take away the time of private Members and the right to bring in legislation. It appears to me, if this motion is allowed to pass, that undoubtedly in the future private Members' rights will be much less than they are at the present time, and as an Irish Member, coming here with certain instructions from my constituents, undoubtedly my sphere of usefulness will be considerably shortened by this proposal. Some right hon. Members and hon. Members on the other side, including the hon. Member for King's Lynn, have spoken in a satirical way of private Members; but what do we come here for I Private Members are elected by constituents, and they are generally charged by them with the conveying of certain distinct grievances to this Mouse, and if this process goes on what opportunity will be left for a private Member to bring forward his grievances I We are now being closured and suppressed, and the 432 result is that private Members might as well stay at home as come and sit in this Parliament. Every hon. Member who comes to this House is charged by his constituents to bring forward some measure or other to remove a grievance in his Division, and when he gets here he finds out that there is no means of bringing the matter before the House. He may put down a private Bill, but, according to the system adopted by the present Government, the rights of; private Members are being gradually extinguished, and unless they take part in the debate on measures brought forward by the Government they have absolutely no power of making themselves heard in this House of Commons. Many of the questions brought forward by the Government are of immense importance as a rule, but the measures brought forward by private Members—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must remind the hon. Member that the question of measures brought forward by the Government or by private Members has nothing whatever to do with this Amendment.
§ MR. FIELD
I know that the closure which it is sought to inflict upon us by this motion confines us very much in this discussion, but I thought the point I was raising was relevant. I will simply wind up by saying that as a private Member I protest in the strongest possible way against the extinction of the right of free speech which ought to belong to every Member of this Assembly. We are sent here to exercise the right of free speech with respect to whatever grievance may apply to our constituents, and I enter my protest against this closure motion being accepted either as a sessional or a perpetual order.
§ MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I cannot hope to add a single argument to what has already been said upon this question, but I must say that I have some sympathy with the Gentlemen on the front bench upon this occasion. I know that there are some hon. Members of this House, who can hardly be described as private Members, who take every opportunity afforded them of talking, and I think that is mainly the reason why it has become 433 necessary, in the public interest, to curtail some of those opportunities afforded to private Members in this House. What weighs with me on an occasion of this sort in voting away a privilege and a right of ancient standing is the consideration of what may he before us in times to come. No doubt there are some Members on this side of the House who have a regard for ancient traditions of this kind, and who bear in mind that there may come occasions upon which it may be necessary for private Members on this side to avail themselves of occasions like those to which this rule applies. I venture again to express my expectation that possibly the right hon. Gentleman and the Front Bench may content themselves with making this a sessional order, which would allow us to see how it worked, and which might enable us to find some other arrangement by which a restriction less extreme than this might come into force. I will not venture to add one word about the privileges of private Members, with which I sympathise very much. There are many questions which may be raised by private Members, and which when pressed upon the attention of the Front Bench give us a chance of bringing forward legislation, whereas if this alteration is made permanent we may be deprived of that chance.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
Having in former times occupied a similar position, I can naturally sympathise with the Gentlemen on the front bench opposite, and especially with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the present occasion. I feel almost bound to say a word or two to explain why it is that I intend to vote against the motion which my right hon. friend has brought forward. Governments representing both sides of the House have, in former times, often been hard pressed in this respect, but it has never before been found necessary to ask for this reduction in the time which is left to the unofficial Members of the House. I feel that the objection which has been taken to this practice arises out of the delaying of the Budget last year, and I certainly would, in the interests of all, ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take any remedy which is necessary to prevent 434 that occurring again. I am not surprised at the amount of irritation that was caused by the course taken by the hon. Member for King's Lynn in delaying the Budget statement last year, but I do think that when particular incidents of that kind arise they ought not to govern our action in dealing with the general principle of this Amendment. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the old proverb which says—"Those who play bowls must expect to meet with rubbers." The persons who are entrusted by the majority of this House with conducting the business of the country ought not to be treated at all as the antagonists of any class of Members in this House, and if, as in the case of Supply, I saw that things had been abused, or likely to be abused, I should certainly support this motion. But it is admitted that this motion can only affect three occasions in the course of the session, unless we come to some extraordinary demand in the midst of the session, like the war loan or any other unexpected expenditure. If the Government is called upon to make some extraordinary demand upon this House, then it is quite right that the House should have an opportunity of discussing not only that particular Vote, but also the policy which rendered it necessary, and the opportunity which you get upon such an occasion for discussion is totally different to the opportunity which is given in Committee of Supply. Discussions on Votes of Supply are naturally limited in character, and are very properly confined to the limitations which belong to those particular Votes. I think that the most important occasion upon which unofficial Members are offered opportunities by this rule is the power of challenging general policy. In regard to the interposition of unimportant matters which might threaten to delay the introduction of the Budget resolutions, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government can always protect themselves by a resolution giving precedence to the Budget over any other motions, and that will secure for the Government all that they require. By this means you will obviate that inconvenience, which I am sure everybody wishes to avoid, and you will not part with this 435 general principle, which I think is to the advantage of the House of Commons, for it gives you the opportunity of opening and discussing large questions which you could not otherwise discuss. I confess myself that I was always extremely reluctant to use the closure in reference to financial questions. When we had a very fierce debate upon financial questions, I flatter myself that I never used the closure once. I do not believe that the House will gain any power or advantage by making this alteration. I think the Government have all the security which they need in regard to the two occasions upon which we can raise a general debate upon the policy of the Government—at the end of the financial year, in the month of April, and again at the end of the session, when you can review all that has taken place; and therefore I am not willing to deprive hon. Members of the House of an opportunity which they have enjoyed from time immemorial.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir M. HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
I am very reluctant to detain the House, but as this matter specially affects the Department over which I preside, I hope I may be permitted to say a few words. In the first place, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the House that in proposing this amendment of the Standing Order we have not any idea of depriving hon. Members of opportunities of discussing general questions of policy which ought properly to be discussed. My right hon. friend the Leader of the House has during the course of the last three sessions, whenever he has been asked to give an opportunity of this kind, afforded it to the House by giving preference to some Vote connected with the subject on the Notice Paper. Of course. I am speaking of questions in which the country is generally interested. My right hon. friend has constantly, by putting down some Vote of Supply on a particular night, and by making arrangements of that sort, afforded those opportunities, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman opposite will at once admit that in this respect he has fairly met the desire of the House. But this is not all, for my right hon.
436 friend has altered the rule with regard to the number of days to be devoted to Votes in Supply, so as to give additional facilities during the present session for the discussion of a Vote of an important military character. That, I think, is another instance of the way my right hon. friend has constantly endeavoured to meet the desires of the House. But what we are dealing with now is a matter of a very different character. The hon. Member for King s Lynn has taken me to task for protesting against the manner in which he used his power under the existing rule of moving an Amendment on the order for going into Committee of Ways and Means. I did find fault with the hon. Gentleman, and I do so now, for I do not think it is quite fair to say that no instance of any abuse of that rule has been alleged to the House, for the hon. Member himself has admitted that the rule was abused. What happened? I remember perfectly well that towards the close of last session the House was expecting to hear a statement from me upon the mode of finding additional means for the prosecution of the war, and the hon. Member for King's Lynn intervened with a motion upon a subject which may have been a matter of importance in regard to receipts being intercepted without being paid into the Exchequer. He made a speech on that subject, and although he said it was a matter of importance and a matter of great interest to those who take an interest in financial questions, no other Member of the House took any part in that debate. I made a short reply, and there the matter ended. The hon. Member himself must have felt that his motion was ill-timed, because he has admitted that he did not and could not do justice to his subject under the circumstances, because he felt that the House was not prepared for a long speech. If that was the case, what was the good of the privilege to him if he could not do justice to the subject?
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Simply because I did not press my right under that rule. Had I done so, I could have driven the Budget into the next day.
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
It has been said that motions of this sort have been 437 made only five times during a long I period of years. If this is true how can we by proposing to repeal the existing power seriously curtail the rights of private Members, who have so seldom taken advantage of these opportunities of raising a debate? It is because this power has been discovered and exercised that the Government are anxious to prevent it becoming a gross abuse and a serious interference with the proper conduct of business in this House. This House has felt it necessary, with the general consent of both sides, to curtail the opportunities for moving amendments on the motion that the Speaker do leave the chair on going into Committee of Supply. Is it seriously contended that this power, which has been restricted in relation to Supply, should remain unlimited in connection with the Committee of Ways and Means? My light hon. friend in moving this motion referred to the small number of occasions in the course of the session on which we have to place on the Paper the order for Committee of Ways and Means.
I will endeavour to explain to the House, if I am not detaining it, precisely what happens. I think the occasions when such power may be exercised have been somewhat underrated by my right hon. friend and others. First of all there is the invariable motion after the passing of the Supplementary Estimates. This has always been taken, ever since I can remember, as a matter of course, until this year, when two notices of Amendments to the motion that the Speaker leave the chair have been placed on the Paper. Now it is proposed that our proceedings at the close of the financial year, when every day and every hour is always important, in order that financial business may close within the legal time, should be interfered with by motions of this kind. Then the next occasion is the annual Budget. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down entirely agrees with me that to interpose with a motion such as my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn placed on the Paper, relating perhaps to the foreign affairs of the country generally, upon the Budget night would be an abuse; and it is proposed that this possibility shall be met by a special resolution 438 which, I suppose, will enable the Budget resolutions to be taken before the Amendment can be moved. What would that motion be? I suppose that it would be that the hon. Member who had placed a notice of Amendment on the Paper should not be heard, or that the Speaker should leave the chair without question put on that particular occasion. But, whatever the motion was, there would be nothing to prevent it being debated the whole evening. It is not because I happen to be Chancellor of the Exchequer that I say that nothing more inconvenient to the House, or even to the country, could take place. The whole course of the business of the session might be upset by the postponement in this manner of the Budget resolutions. I remember that on one occasion, when Mr. Gladstone was Chancellor of the Exchequer, some loquacious and industrious Member had put a notice of motion of this kind on the Paper. Mr. Gladstone made an appeal to the hon. Member, and he did not press his motion. [HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!] Yes, but hon. Members are not all so anxious that the business of the House should be conducted. Mr. Gladstone said on that occasion that if the hon. Member had not given way he would have been compelled to make his Budget statement with the Speaker in the chair. What would have been the result of that? After the statement had been made some hon. Member might have got up and moved a motion, which might have been debated all night, with the result that there would have been no time for the Budget resolutions to be taken. No one knew better than the right hon. Gentleman opposite how utterly the whole finance of the country might have been disorganised by such a procedure. I venture to say that by no means except by passing some general resolution such as that proposed, can you possibly prevent a thing of that kind from taking place.
But I go on to a further case. Throughout the consideration of the Budget by the House every year cases might arise in which it would be necessary again to set up the Committee of Ways and Means, so that there might be many occasions during the progress of an important Budget on which these motions 439 might be interposed. Finally, the same thing might happen at the end of the session, when the Appropriation Bill had to be founded on a resolution in Committee of Ways and Means. The hon. Member for King's Lynn referred to the Committee of 1861, but, contrasting the conduct of business in those days with the manner in which we are now forced to conduct it, I am certain that if those gentlemen who passed the resolutions of 1861 had had to deal with the difficulties that any Government has to deal with nowadays they would have been compelled to take steps to secure greater facilities for the conduct of business than they thought necessary then, Many lion, friends on this side of the House appear to think that by passing this Amendment we would be depriving ourselves of some very important weapon which might be used against hon. Gentlemen opposite should they ever get into power again. Although at one time I attached some importance to views of that kind, I have seen enough now of the proceedings of the House to be perfectly certain that no party, however anxious to stop legislation, can do so by mere obstruction of this kind. This means of bringing forward Amendments, which has been rediscovered by the hon. Member for King's Lynn, has been abused already, and unless the House, in the interest of the proper conduct of business, is prepared in some way to deal with it, it will be abused much more seriously in future.
§ MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
The right hon. Gentleman has made a very interesting speech in support of the motion, but I confess that he has not convinced me that the Government are justified in the course they are taking. There are two things obvious: first, that this is a party motion to be carried by a party majority, and, second, that even the party which supports the right hon. Gentleman is by no means unanimous in favour of his motion, because of the five hon. Members who have spoken, four have condemned it. The result is that the right hon. Gentleman comes forward with a motion for amending the Standing Order, and that he is using his overwhelming majority to make a 440 fundamental alteration in the rules of the House. But that is not all. The very case which the right hon. Gentleman puts forward for his resolution is, in my opinion, the best case against it. The right hon. Gentleman says that the rule has not been abused. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman intimated that there was an occasion when it might have been abused—when an hon. Member put down a motion the evening on which Mr. Gladstone was about to introduce his Budget; but that motion was withdrawn when the hon. Member was appealed to. The only other case was when the hon. Member for King's Lynn had a motion on the Paper, but in deference to the wishes of the House, and on an appeal by the right hon. Gentleman himself, that debate was kept so short that only one hon. Gentleman spoke. I maintain, therefore, that no case has been brought forward by the Government which tends to show that there has been any abuse of the rule. It would be impossible on a Budget night for any hon. Member to bring forward a motion on a frivolous pretext to interfere with the business which the House and country were waiting to hear. It seems to me that a case has not been made out by the Government for a resolution which should only have been brought forward for sound reasons. It is a curious thing that this motion should be brought at a time when private Members have hardly any privileges left, and it is not very difficult for the House to see that there may come a time when we shall not have so courteous a Leader of the House or Chancellor of Exchequer as we have now—it is quite conceivable that a time may come when, by means of this motion, the whole of the privileges of private Members will be taken away. It is because this is one of the last few remaining privileges possessed by private Members—one of the only opportunities we have of bringing motions before the House—that I object to this motion being passed. The motion now before the House simply means that on the Budget night or on Budget i resolutions the Speaker will leave the chair without question put, which will preclude any subject arising on Budget night being discussed. Therefore the Opposition would, in my opinion, be 441 neglecting their duty in supporting this motion. It seems to me that the Government have not made out their case in favour of this proposal, and they have shown no urgency whatever; and, as no ground has been shown, I think it is a case where independent Members on both sides of the House should join in making an emphatic protest.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I wish to call to the recollection of the Government what took place with regard to the Agricultural Rates Act and the application of its principle to Ireland by this very privilege. It will be within the recollection of Members that in the last Parliament Mr. Vesey Knox, Member for Londonderry at the time, moved that the principle of the Rates Act should
§ be applied to Ireland. That was rejected when the Bill was before the House. Next session his attention was called to this rule, and he put down a motion. The Government, in order to get rid of the difficulty, gave him a night, and, although he was beaten in the division upon the application of the principle of the Agricultural Rates Act. the Government, a fortnight afterwards, came down and applied the principle of the Rates Act to Ireland, and gave Ireland £600,000; so that on that occasion at any rate this privilege resulted in a benefit to Ireland. It is a privilege I am not going to part with if I can help it.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 161; Noes, 255. (Division List No. 32.)445
|Abraham, William(Cork N.E.||Dunn, Sir William||M'Kenna, Reginald|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Ellis, John Edward||M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North)|
|Allen, Chas. P. (Glouc., Stroud||Emmott, Alfred||M'Laren, Charles Benjamin|
|Ambrose, Robert||Evans, Sir F. H. (Maidstone)||Markham, Arthur Basil|
|Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herbert H.||Farquharson, Dr. Robert||Mellor, Rt. Hon. John William|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Fenwick, Charles||Mooney, John J.|
|Bartley, George C. T.||Field, William||Morley, Charles (Breconshire)|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Morton, Edw. J.C. (Devonport)|
|Blake, Edward||Flynn, James Christopher||Moulton, John Fletcher|
|Boland, John||Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.||Murphy, J.|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn||Furness, Sir Christopher||Nannetti, Joseph P.|
|Boyle, James||Gilhooly, James||Newnes, Sir George|
|Brand, Hon. Arthur G.||Goddard, Daniel Ford||Nolan, Col. John P. (Galway, N.|
|Brigg, John||Grant, Corrie||Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)|
|Brown, Geo. M. (Edinburgh)||Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton||Norman, Henry|
|Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Haldane, Richard Burdon||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Hammond, John||O'Brien, Kendal (Tipper'ry Mid|
|Burns, John||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Sir William||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Burt, Thomas||Harmsworth, R. Leicester||O'Connor, James(Wicklow, W)|
|Buxton, Sydney Charles||Hayden, John Patrick||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Caine, William Sproston||Hayne, Rt. Hn. Charles Seale-||O'Donnell, John (Mayo, S.)|
|Caldwell, James||Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D.||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)|
|Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Chas. H.||O'Dowd, John|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Hobhouse, C.E.H.(Bristol, E.)||O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.)|
|Carew, James Laurence||Holland, William Henry||O'Kelly,James(Roscommon, N|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Horniman, Frederick John||O'Malley, William|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Hutton, Alfred E. (Morley)||O'Mara, James|
|Cogan, Denis J.||Jones, David B. (Swansea)||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Jones, Win. (Carnarvonshire)||Partington, Oswald|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Jordan, Jeremiah||Perks, Robert William|
|Craig, Robert Hunter||Joyce, Michael||Pickard, Benjamin|
|Crean, Eugene||Kearley, Hudson E.||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Crombie, John William||Lambert, George||Price, Robert John|
|Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||Layland-Barratt, Francis||Rea, Russell|
|Cullinan, J.||Leese, Sir Jos. F. (Accrington)||Reckitt, Harold James|
|Daly, James||Leigh, Sir Joseph||Reddy, M.|
|Dalziel, James Henry||Leng, Sir John||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen)||Levy, Maurice||Renwick, George|
|Delany, William||Lloyd-George, David||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Dillon, John||Lough, Thomas||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)|
|Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Lundon, W.||Russell, T. W.|
|Donelan, Captain A.||MacDonnell, Dr. Mark A.||Samuel, S. M. (Whitechapel)|
|Doogan, P. C.||M'Dermott, Patrick||Schwann, Charles E.|
|Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)||M'Govern, T.||Scott, Chas. Prestwich (Leigh)|
|Dully, William J.||M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarshire||Thomson, F. W. (York, W.R.)||Whiteley, George(York, W. R.)|
|Soames, Arthur Wellesley||Trevelyan, Charles Philips||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|Soares, Ernest J.||Tully, Jasper||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Spencer, lit. Hn. C. R(N'thants)||Wallace, Robert||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)|
|Sullivan, Donal||Walton, John L. (Leeds, S.)||Young, Samuel (Cavan, East)|
|Taylor, Theodore Cooke||Warner, Thos. Courtenay T.||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Tennant, Harold John||Wason, Eugene(Clackmannan|
|Thomas, A. (Carmarthen, E.)||White, George (Norfolk),||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Thomas, A. (Glamorgan, E.)||White, Luke (York, E. R.)||Mr. Herbert Gladstone and|
|Thomasm Freeman-(Hastings||White, Patrick (Meath, North)||Mr. M'Arthur.|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex. F.||Cranborne, Viscount||Howard, J. (Midx., Tottenhm)|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Cubitt, Hon. Henry||Holder, Hon. James Hy. Cecil|
|Aird, Sir John||Cust, Henry John C.||Hudson, George Bickersteth|
|Allhusen, Augustus Hy. Eden||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Hutton, John (Yorks, N. R.)|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Dewar, T. R(T'r H'ml'ts, S. Geo.||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Dickinson, Robert Edmond||Johnston, William (Belfast)|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Johnstone, Hey wood (Sussex)|
|Arkwright, John Stanhope||Dimsdale, Sir Joseph Cocktield||Kenyon, Hn. G. T. (Denbigh)|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, Sir Ellis||Dixon-Hartland, Sir Fred. D.||Kenyon, James (Lanes., Bury)|
|Atkinson, Kt. Hon. John||Douglas, Kt. Hon. A. Akers-||Keswick, William|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline Fitz Roy||Duke, Henry Edward||Kimber, Henry|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Durning-Lawrence, Sir Edwin||King, Sir Henry Seymour|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir Win. Hart||Knowles, Lees|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Lambton, Hon. Frederick W.|
|Balcarres, Lord||Elliot, Hn. A. Ralph Douglas||Laurie, Lieut.-General|
|Baldwin, Alfred||Fardell, Sir T. George||Lawrence, William F.|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A.J. (Manch'r||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edw.||Lawson, John Grant|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. Gerald W(Leeds||Fielden, Edw, Broekle hurst||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage|
|Balfour, Maj K R(Christchurch||Finch, George H.||Leighton, Stanley|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Leveson-Gower, Fred. N. S.|
|Banes, Major George Edward||Firbank, Joseph Thomas||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. K.|
|Barry, Sir Francis T.(Windsor)||Fisher, William Hayes||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine|
|Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benjamin||FitzGerald, Sir Robt. Penrose-||Long, Rt. Hn. W. (Bristol, S.)|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||Lowe, Francis William|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. W. W. B(Hants||Flower, Ernest||Lowther, C. (Cumb., Eskdale)|
|Beckett, Ernest William||Forster, Henry William||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Foster, Sir M. (London Univ.||Lucas, Col. Francis(Lowestoft|
|Bignold, Arthur||Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H(City of Lond.||Lucas, Reginald J. (Portsmouth|
|Bigwood, James||Gordon, Hn. J. E.(Elgin & Nairn||Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred|
|Bill, Charles||Gordon, Maj. Evans-(TrH'mlts||Macdona, John Gumming|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Gore, Hon. F. S. Ormsby-||Maconochie, A. W.|
|Bond, Edward||Gorst, Rt, Hn. Sir John Eldon||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith-||Goschen, Hon. George Joachim||M'Calmont Col. J. (Antrim, E.|
|Boulnols, Edmund||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Majendie, James A. H.|
|Bousfield, William Robert||Graham, Henry Robert||Malcolm, Ian|
|Bowles. Capt. H. F. (Middlesex)||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)||Maple, Sir John Blundell|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St, John||Green, W. D. (Wednesbury)||Martin, Richard Biddulph|
|Brookfield, Colonel Montagu||Greene, Sir E W (Bry S Edm'lids||Max well, W. J. H. (Dumfriessh.|
|Brown, Alexander H.(Shropsh.||Greene, W. Raymond-(Cambs.)||Melville, Beresford Valentine|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Grenfell, William Henry||Milton, Viscount|
|Carlile, William Walter||Guthrie, Walter Murray||Milward, Colonel Victor|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Hain, Edward||Molesworth, Sir Lewis|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lanes.)||Hall, Edward Marshall||Montagu, G. (Huntingdon)|
|Cavendish, V. C. W (Derby shire||Halsey, Thomas Frederick||Montagu, Hn. J. Scott(Hants.|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Hambro, Charles Eric||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord G.(Mid'x||Moore, William (Antrim, N.)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J(Birm.||Hamilton, Mar(i of (L'nd'nderry||More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire|
|Chamberlain, J. Austen(Wore.||Harris, F. Leverton (Tyuemth.||Morgan, David J (Walth'mstow|
|Chapman, Ed ward||Hay, Hon. Claude George||Morrell, George Herbert|
|Charrington, Spencer||Heath, Arthur H. (Hanley)||Morris, Hon. Martin Henry F.|
|Churchill, Winston Spencer||Heath, J. (Staffords, N.W.)||Morrison, James Archibald|
|Clare, Octavius Leigh||Heaton, John Henniker||Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)|
|Cochrane, Hon. Trios. H. A. E.||Helder, Augustus||Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.|
|Coddington, Sir William||Henderson, Alexander||Murray, Rt. Hon A. G. (Bute)|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Hoare, E. Brodie (Hampstead)||Murray, Chas. J. (Coventry)|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Hobhouse, H. (Somerset, E.)||Nicholson, William Graham|
|Colomb, Sir John Chas. Ready||Hogg, Lindsay||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Compton, Lord Alwyne||Hope, J. F. (Sheff'ld, Brightsde.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay|
|Cook, Frederick Lucas||Horner, Frederick William||Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow||Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry||Parkes, Ebenezer|
|Cox, Irwin Edw. Bainbridge||Hoult, Joseph||Pemberton, John S. G.|
|Penn, John||Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford-||Tufnell, Col. Edward|
|Percy, Earl||Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander||Valentia, Viscount|
|Platt-Higgins, Frederick||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)||Warde, Lieut.-Col. C. E.|
|Plummer, Walter R.||Sandys, Lieut.-Col. Thos. Myles||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Sassoon, Sir Edward Albert||Wason, JohnCathcart(Orkney|
|Pretyman, Ernest George||Seton-Karr, Henry||Webb, Colonel William George|
|Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward||Sharpe, William Edward T.||Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E(Tauntn|
|Purvis, Robert||Simeon, Sir Barrington||Wharton, Rt. Hon. John Lloyd|
|Pym, C. Guy||Sinclair, Louis (Romford)||Whiteley, H.(Asbton-under-L.|
|Quilter, Sir Cuthbert||Skewes-Cox, Thomas||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Ratcliffe, R. F.||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Reid, James (Greenock)||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Remnant, James Farquharson||Spear, John Ward||Wills, Sir Frederick|
|Renshaw, Charles Bine||Spencer, Ernest (W. Bromwich)||Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E. R.)|
|Rentoul. James Alexander||Stanley, Lord (Lanes.)||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Ridley, Hn. M. W. (Staly bridge||Stewart. Sir Mark J. M'Taggart||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Ridley, S. Forde(Bethnal Green||Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.||Wilson, J. W.(Worcestersh. N.|
|Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson||Stock, James Henry||Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks.)|
|Rolleston, Sir John F. L.||Stone, Sir Benjamin||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart|
|Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye||Stroyan, John||Wylie, Alexander|
|Ropner, Colonel Robert||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Rothschild, Hon. Lionel Walter||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)||Young, Commander (Berks, E.)|
|Round, James||Talbot. Rt. Hn. J. G. (Oxf'd Univ.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Royds, Clement Molyneux||Thornton, Percy M.||Sir William Walrond and|
|Rutherford, John||Tollemache, Henry James||Mr. Anstruther.|