§ SIR JOSEPH DIMSDALE (London)
In venturing to move the resolution standing in my name, I would desire to assure the House that I have no intention to interfere with legitimate debate or the fair and full discussion of the important topics which are presented to Parliament for consideration. It is rather with a view of enabling a greater number of hon. Members to participate in debates which often affect not only the welfare of the Empire, but also the welfare of the particular localities they represent. As a new Member of the House, it would ill become me to comment upon the action adopted in previous Parliaments; I leave that to Members who from personal experience can speak from their own knowledge. There are many notable instances of long speeches. For instance, it is report that Sheridan spoke for five hours, Sir R. Peel for three and a quarter hours, Lord Palmerston four and a half hours, and Mr. Gladstone and other statesmen have from time to time spoken at considerable length; but these generally were occasions when great policies and weighty State matters with far-reaching results had to be expounded to the House and the country. The present resolution is not intended to apply to or curtail this sort of oratory. Nor does it affect Ministers, ex-Ministers, or movers of resolutions, who should have full scope to express their views. It is intended to place some limit upon those who, while possibly acting from entirely conscientious motives, seem to consider no debate complete without a speech from themselves—it matters not the subject, whether Finance, Foreign or Imperial Policy, the Navy, the Army, Coals, or Sugar. It has 128 seriously struck me that, with the ever-increasing work of Parliament, growing in volume and detail year by year, either something must be done to husband the time of the country and Parliament, or the business of the country must suffer.
It is only necessary to refer to the course of business in the present Parliament to prove to a large degree my contention. We met in December with the view of voting supplies to carry on a war sanctioned and supported by the votes of the country only a few weeks before. One would have thought a pure business matter of this kind could be dealt with in a very few days. No; weeks were expended in a guerilla warfare upon this Government—one day by attacks of a personal character upon a Minister, at another upon the loyalty and patriotism of the Army. In this way much valuable time was irrevocably lost, and necessitated meeting at least a week later in February than usual. Since then the exuberant oratory of certain Members has rendered it necessary that the Government should hypothecate nearly all the time of private Members to Government business, certainly up to Whitsuntide. Now, by whom was this time wasted? Not by the Government, nor by any large section of the House. It was occupied by the comparative few who carry on debates upon subjects constantly of trivial moment to the House and country, and leave no time for the careful consideration of great and important matters. I have had until lately the honour of a seat on the London County Council. No one will deny that there are on that council many gentlemen of undoubted ability, and possessing great oratorical powers, yet they confine the time limit for speaking to fifteen minutes. If, however, any member possesses information or data of value an extension to the limit is found invariably granted. Much can be said in twenty minutes. I am fortunate enough to sit under a clergyman of great power, and also a man of deep thought. He rarely exceeds twenty minutes, and never leaves the pulpit without the regret of his congregation that he has not preachedlonger. How different with many speeches delivered in this House. I know it is more difficult to make a short speech than a long one, 129 but I think some hon. Members might sometimes consider their listeners, and also that there must be many who desire to speak upon the same subject, often of real interest, who are now unable to get a hearing on account of pressure of time. I beg to move the resolution standing in my name.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)
said that his hon. friend the Member for the City of London had explained his proposals in so lucid a manner that it was hardly necessary to elaborate the question. But perhaps he might say half a dozen words on the history of the movement.* Twelve years ago Mr. Farmer Atkinson, then Member for Boston, introduced a Short Speeches Bill, one of the clauses of which provided that when an hon. Member had absorbed the time at his disposal the Speaker should call attention to the fact by striking a gong or ringing a bell, and the hon. Member should then resume his seat.
§ MAJOR RASCH
said that that measure did not commend itself to the House, and the matter dropped. In 1897 an agricultural Member introduced a measure limiting the duration of speeches, and although it was opposed by Mr. Cedge, then a Member of the House, the hon. Member, with the able assistance of the hon. Member for Battersea, succeeded in obtaining a majority on the Second Reading stage. But it was then seen that it would be impossible to have the Upper House interfering with the privileges of the House of Commons, as they would if*The history should commence in 1833. In that year a Mr. Buckingham propounded a scheme under which Members intending to speak on a particular Order of the Day should enter their names in a list, and in due order be called upon by the Speaker; as a part of the scheme, the duration of speeches was to be limited; an ingenious "tariff" of time is elaborated, with curious safeguards and exemptions. [See Debates, Third Series, Vol. xv., page 1010; or, for a fuller report, the Mirror of Parliament, first volume of 1833]. In the discussion on Major Rasch's Resolution in 1900 other dovelopments of the "movement" are traced. [See Debates, Fourth Series, Vol. lxxxii., page 1110].—ED.130 the Bill was passed through its other stages and sent to the House of Lords, and placed on the Statute Book in the ordinary way, so the matter was allowed to rest there. Two years after his agricultural friend, however, was fortunate enough to obtain an opportunity of moving a resolution upon the subject, which he carried by a majority of seventy, and he not unnaturally thought his difficulties were over—that the millennium had come. But he reckoned without his host; he did not reckon upon the pitfalls placed in his path by the artfulness or the diplomacy of the Treasury Bench. For when he asked whether the Leader of the House would take steps to carry out the expressed desire of the House, the right hon. Gentleman replied that he did not see his way to make such an alteration by means of a Rule.
The present resolution was not particularly drastic. It endeavoured to temper the wind to the shorn lamb. Hon. Members belonging to the rank and file of the House, like himself, were allowed twenty minutes, but they were permitted to speak longer if the House desired. He could not conceive it possible that the House ever would desire them to do so. It was proposed to give Ministers as much rope as they chose—not that the rank and file desired to bask in the sunshine of their speeches, but because their first idea was never to sit down under an hour, and if their speeches were to be interfered with the resolution would never be carried.
This evil was by no means of modern standing. In the days of Queen Elizabeth her Majesty ordered the House of Commons to "work more and speak less," on pain of hon. Members being sent to the Clock Tower, or whatever was the receptacle for offending Members in those days. In the year 1642, so far as he could make out, the House appeared to have assembled about nine, dined at twelve, and adjourned about four o'clock. One of the sittings was prolonged owing to the length of the speeches, and an hon. Member appeared to have got up and said, "I perceive the House is empty; I pray you to adjourn for one hour." The Speaker, Mr. Chaloner Chute, declined to adjourn, and presumably the sitting went on, 131 but the Speaker came to a bad end. Then there was a case in the early Georgian era. It was a speech of Sheridan, who spoke for five hours on what was called the Begum case, and the Members were so much discomposed that many of them went into the lobby and others wept. He was not surprised at that, for he would be inclined to weep himself under such circumstances. Mr. Pitt had to adjourn the House in order that Members might recover their composure. Coming down to Victorian times, he found that Lord Palmerston spoke for four hours and a half on Don Pacifico. Sir Robert Peel spoke on the corn laws for three hours and three-quarters. Then, coming down to more modern times, he found that Mr. Biggar, the late Member for Gavan, spoke on the subject of the Devon Commission on a Wednesday from rosy morn to dewy eve. More recently there was a debate in which hon. and learned Gentlemen connected with the medical profession spoke for the whole evening on the subject of vaccina-ton. In recent times an hon. Member spoke for an hour on the question of a bog in the Hebrides, and the Lord Advocate characterised the speech as an outrage. An hon. Member, a colleague of his own in East Anglia, addressed the House for an hour and three-quarters on the question of undersized flat fish, and in the last two days the House had had object-lessons on the question of long speeches. On the previous day five Members took up six hours; while this day one Member spoke for an hour and twenty minutes, and nobody had the faintest idea what he was talking about. Yesterday an hon. Member spoke on the Army proposals for fifty minutes, and there was some excuse for him, because he sent all his notes to the Press forty-eight hours before, and he was bound to speak them or die in the attempt. In a book called "Scottish Antiquities" he read that a Minister in Scotland had spoken for a year and six months on the three wells and the seven palm trees—whatever they might be—of Elim. These were, no doubt, fearful examples, but Mr. Gladstone once said that the resources of civilisation were not yet exhausted, and it was quite possible that a remedy might be found for this evil. Fifty years ago Mr. Milner Gibson proposed that speeches should be cut down to an 132 hour. The resolution was supported by Mr. Cobden and Mr. Bright, and on a division it was only beaten by thirty-four votes. In 1880 an appeal was made to Mr. Gladstone to shorten speeches, and, while his reply was sympathetic, he did not at that particular moment see his way to carry it through.
In the London County Council nobody could speak longer than fifteen minutes. In the United Service Institution members' speeches were limited to ten minutes. At the Trade Union Congress last autumn the chairman, desired that Members should not speak more than half an hour, and at the Church House speeches were confined to moderate limits. There were only two places he knew of where speeches were unlimited, and a man could talk as long as he liked. One was the Central Chamber of Agriculture, of which he was a member, but while farmers were amongst the most quick-witted and singularly intelligent of men, it happened that their ideas did not flow very fast.† The House of Commons was the other place that did not limit speeches. It might be said that what was good enough for our predecessors in this House ought to be good enough for us, but then things had altered and were by no means what they were 150 years ago, when gentlemen came up to this House in their ribbons and stars and top-boots, and Macaulay said they did not come up till after Easter and went down for the hay harvest. They sat on each side waiting for their apotheosis—their translation to the House of Lords—and those who spoke least got the earliest promotion: whereas in these days Members had to justify their existence. He had himself on one occasion to take up an infinitesimal portion of the time of the House by moving a Bill for the compulsory marking of Dutch shrimps. He had to do it at the desire of his constituents He was sure there was a regular dossier kept against individual Members in order that their constituents might know what they said and how they acted. It was obvious that rules which were good enough formerly did not apply to the House of Commons† The Secretary of the Chamber, in a letter to The Times, pointed out that Major Rasch was under a wrong impression; there is a time limit provided in the bye-laws.133 of the present day. He had on three different occasions drawn attention to this subject, and he was beginning to think that he was a castaway. He had heard it asserted that, if Members would only vote for this resolution, they would not be opposed when they went back to their constituencies, and that their political path would be strewn with roses. Seriously speaking, however, he would suggest that a man who could not compress his remarks into a moderate compass and say all he had to say in addressing the Chair in the course of twenty minutes, did not know his trade, and was not fit to be a Member of the House. He begged to second the resolution.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That in future no Member shall (except by leave) speak for more than twenty minutes, or twice on an Amendment in Supply, Ministers, ex-Ministers, and movers of Bills and Resolutions excepted."—(Sir Joseph Dimsdale.)
§ MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)
I have listened to many debates upon procedure during the almost two years that I have had the honour of being a Member of this House, and I must say that we new Members, if we do not say much on questions of this kind, like the proverbial parrot, think the more. I wish, from the bottom of my heart, that I could consider the proposal of the hon. Member, which appears likely to become one of our hardy annuals, were either feasible or desirable. There is much that is attractive in the idea, but I confess that its chief attractions are removed when the front benches are excluded from its hope. If this idea is to be carried into practice we must include the Front Benches or it will be of no use at all. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition made a speech last year in approval of this proposal, and he did it, as I understand, avowedly on the ground that one of the best speeches he ever made was on a Bill introduced under the ten minutes rule. I am told that the ten minutes allowed under that rule are sometimes exceeded, and I am not quite sure that they were not exceeded on the occasion to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. At any rate the right hon. Gentleman evidently would not regard with entire disapproval the inclusion 134 of the front benches. It would be so nice for hon. and right hon. Members on the front benches. Instead of having to cudgel their brains to fill up an hour's speech and bring it up to a standard of excellent quality, they would then deliver speeches in which every word would tell, every sentence would be an epigram, and the whole speeches would outrival Tacitus in terseness and force.
This resolution, as I take it, is aimed at the bores of the House, and intended to punish them. I have always been told that the great aim of the science of penology was to invent a punishment to fit the crime, and one which would deter other potential criminals from taking the first step in the downward path of crime. Applying this principle, I venture to inquire whether we could not treat the matter in another way. We want to produce moderation, and also a certain amount of abstinence, on the part of certain speakers. My suggestion is founded on my own experience, and it is to make a greater use of Committees and Select Committees and Commissions not only for devolution, but for penological purposes. Last session was my first full session in this House, and I felt it due to my constituents, if not to the House, to make my voice heard. I may say that my first essay was on the question of boiler explosions, a not very exciting subject, except to those who happen to be near the explosion. I spoke for thirty minutes, but the result was that I was put on a Select Committee which sat for many days on this exciting subject. The next Bill that fell into my hands was on a very complicated commercial subject. In introducing it I spoke for forty minutes, and again I received the inevitable punishment of being put on the Select Committee on the Bill. Since then I have been very quiet—not quite dumb, for I spoke on the Amendment on the Address in December last, but that was on the disaffection in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, and there was no danger of the right hon. the Colonial Secretary putting me on a Select Committee on that question. I really think that my proposal is worthy of consideration. These Committees are capable of doing no harm and some good, and the House gives little attention to whatever they may report. 135 This suggestion is capable of being put to a useful end. For the ordinary Member who is too active in the House and whose interests chiefly lie in the United Kingdom, I would put him on Committees on humdrum, intricate home affairs. But for hon. Members who survey mankind from China to Peru some other punishment must be imposed. The hon. Member who is continually inquiring about India, might be sent to India to make investigations on the spot. If another Member was too aggressive in regard to China, he might go to China to investigate the Boxer movement, and the closer quarters he got with the Boxers the better. The hon. Member who continually fears the machinations of Russia I would send to Siberia to study there what dark designs that mighty empire is pursuing. I must say I cannot take a patent out for this plan, because the First Lord of the Treasury has forestalled me. The hon. Member for King's Lynn, who is not a bore, but a very able and amusing Member of this House, moved an Amendment to the Address in reply to the King's Speech in reference to certain works at Gibraltar. It was only a question of wasting a few millions, but then this country is rich! The Hon. Member was met by the First Lord of the Treasury in the most sympathetic way, and was immediately appointed a member of a Commission which was sent out to Gibraltar. That Commission, or Committee, took a month to do their work, but the hon. Member, who knows his way about in parliamentary matters, took care that half of the month's banishment to Gibraltar was in the Easter recess. What the outcome of that visit to Gibraltar is to be I am somewhat curious to know; I rather think it will end in a speech of more than forty minutes duration.
Honestly, I cannot think that the proposal placed before the House is a serious one. The evils from which we are suffering are not to be cured by trivial expedients any more than an inrush of the Atlantic can be stopped by Mrs. Partington's broom. The evils are real and deep-seated, and quack remedies would only make them worse. We are often told that the House of Commons is declining in public estimation. Perhaps it is; I do not know; but I feel that the 136 prestige of the House of Commons would not be increased by adopting the rules of a third-rate debating society. After all, I would remind the House that this is rightly called the Mother of Parliaments, and let those of us who care for it treat the Mother of Parliaments with respect. What are the chief evils from which we suffer? I say it in no spirit of reproach to our friends from Ireland, but avowedly they despair of obtaining from this House the remedies of the evils of which they complain, and they use the rules of the House for their own ends, and do not profess respect for the dignity or convenience of the House. [An hon. MEMBER on the Irish Benches: We respect Ireland only.] I think that we suffer more from the large number of speeches from non-official Members, rather than from the inordinate length of the average speeches. I will venture to deal with the Irish question as the Government deals with the powers of the local authorities in the new Education Bill, namely, in a negative way. I do not believe that the Irish demand is going to be killed by kindness, and I think that the Government itself has given up that hope. The Government has refused Home Rule for Ireland, and so Irish Members here are like the children of Israel in Egypt. Pharaoh the "predominant partner" will not let the people go. Perhaps Pharaoh will let them go eventually. The longer I sit here, and the more I hear of the grievances from which the Irish Members suffer, the more I despair of any remedy being found for them by this House. The other Members desire to be loyal to party institutions. They are not usually very prolix individuals. The present age, I am afraid we must all admit, is somewhat mediocre. We seem to be mediocre in art, literature, oratory, and I am afraid our statesmanship is not of the very high quality that it ought to be. But I venture to say that mediocrity should not be prolix. We are all too much inclined to be laudatores temporis acti; to think too much of the time that is past, and to go back to what some of us fancy to be the golden age of parliamentary effectiveness, to the time when Gladstone, Disraeli, Cobden, and Bright were in their prime, and were the great ornaments of this House. But 137 exactly the same complaints were made forty or fifty years ago as are to be found in the resolution now before the House. In 1849 Mr. Milner Gibson moved a resolution fixing the maximum time of a speech at one hour! If you were to pass such a resolution now you would not save six hours in the course of the session. The difficulty chiefly comes from the fact of the enormous number of Members who are anxious and willing to speak. I agree with the hon. Member for Essex that the constituencies are to blame for much speaking in the House, because they like to see their Members' names in the paper. The descriptive reporters are also to blame, who contrive to make their accounts of debates so much more interesting to the public outside than they are to those inside the House. I admit that we suffer from cacoethes loquendi. But there are many hon. Members in this House who do not take that part in debate to which their abilities entitle them. I refer, for instance, to the hon. Member for Morpeth, who delivered the other day a speech of singular ability and charm, and I regret that he does not address the House more frequently. The fact is that the nervous strain of the preparation of a speech, which may or may not be delivered, and which, if delivered, may or may not be effective, is very great; but there is a more awful nervous strain in striving to catch the Speaker's eye, and I am afraid that it frightens many Members who want to take part in the debates into an attack of cacoethes silenti. There may not be many Lieder ohne Worte in this House, but I venture to say there are a few.
My real objection to this motion lies in the history of the past of this House. In my opinion, if you are to have a rule at all, you must apply it to all Members, except, of course, on special occasions; but for the present I assume that it is to be confined to the non-elect, and that the front benches will be excluded from its operations. Probably there are too many front bench men who have stepped from 'varsity to office. But a good many Members have earned fame whose speeches were not confined to twenty minutes. Let me remind the House of the late Lord Randolph Churchill, the father of the hon. Member for Oldham. 138 He made his name and fame as a non-official Member, and he was not confined in his speeches to twenty minutes. But let us go further back. Take the case of Mr. Cobden, who was never a Minister. I am quite aware that it is now the fashion to sneer at him, but he had the faculty and the mind of a statesman, and he was a man of whom this House was proud. Can you conceive of any reason why a man of Mr. Cobden's ability should not be allowed to speak for more than twenty minutes? Take another famous case, that of Mr. Bright. He made his finest speeches before he was a Minister. For forty years he enthralled this House by his eloquence almost every time he spoke, and would you have had him "cribbed, cabined, and confined" throughout twenty years of his best period? Then, take these two dashing freelances, Mr. Roebuck, the Member for Sheffield, and Mr. Joseph Cowen, the Member for Newcastle. They were men whom this House was always glad to hear, and to hear at length.
§ SIR JOSEPH DIMSDALE
This resolution will not stop a speech of any length, if the House is prepared to listen to it.
§ MR. EMMOTT
I am afraid I cannot go into that for lack of time. There are obvious difficulties in such a course. Take another instance—O'Connell, the brilliant, the witty, the great-hearted. Would you have confined him to twenty minutes? Or take another Irish Member of a later day, Mr. Parnell, the model of taciturnity. He could not compress all his speeches, great master of compression as he was, into twenty minutes. But let us go back further to the age of parliamentary giants. It is more than 100 years since the great voice of Edmund Burke was stilled for ever, and more than 120 years since he thundered against corruption in high places, since he pleaded for conciliation with America and for justice to Ireland. I am fully aware of his faults. We all know his impracticable temper, his passion, and his prejudice, but, in spite of all, his genius made him illumine every question he touched by reference to those great principles of eternal truth which he had 139 such extraordinary powers of exhibiting. I may remind the House that many of Burke's finest and longest speeches, precious treasures to literature and political philosophy to all time, were made before he filled any position, and he never filled any but a subordinate position in the Ministry. I am not prepared to clip the wings of a future Edmund Burke by such a resolution as that now proposed.
I have only one practical suggestion to make in conclusion. It is that we who care for the preservation of our Parliamentary institutions, we who desire to see the dignity of the House of Commons upheld, and its usefulness extended, should not speak from mere motives of vulgar ambition, but also should not be silent when we have really something to say. Frankly, I do not see how anyone who cares for the glorious history of this House in the past, and who desires to see it maintained as the foremost deliberative assembly in the world, and the safeguard of the liberties of a great and free people, can possibly vote for the resolution of the hon. Member.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
I am opposed entirely to the hon. Member's proposal, and the grounds upon which that opposition is based may possibly differ from those of any hon. Member who takes part in this debate. I look upon the speeches made in this House as of inestimable value to the country, whether they be good or, as they generally are, bad. I have been in this House for many years, and have always taken a great interest in oratory, probably because I am an Irishman, and I have asked myself over and over again what good object did speeches here perform. Everyone knows that nobody expects to influence the vote by the speech he may make, although it has sometimes been done. But on great questions the minds of Members are made up before any speeches are made, and the speeches made in debate have no effect at all. They do not affect the mind of the House, and do not affect the mind of the country, because they are seldom reported except in the case of Irish debates, when the temperature of the House rises to some-where 140 about 98 in the shade. Even then people seldom read the reports, and it may be asked, therefore, what good is done by speeches made in this House. Well, I think, they are of inestimable value. Without parliamentary speeches I do not believe you would have an institution in the country which would not be capsized altogether or shaken to its foundations. I look upon parliamentary speeches as the best kind of pneumatic brake for legislation, I cannot imagine a more evil case than this. House degenerating into a business assembly, a sort of county council. We do not come here to pass measures, we come here to keep one set of gentlemen on the treasury bench, and another set of gentlemen off it, because we believe the gentlemen who are on the treasury bench advocate the policy most beneficial to the country and ourselves. It would be a most horrible thing to come here and pass Bill after Bill in the course of a session. I think the less legislation we have the better. I recollect that the late Mr. Gladstone said in former years that the Irish question held the field. Had he also said that the Irish Members took the floor, he would have been more accurate in his description. And those who have the Union at heart and reverence the institutions of this country, as I and the majority of the English and Welsh Members of this House do, owe a debt of gratitude to the Irish Members, who have openly professed their desire to destroy those institutions and the Government, and the Empire, but who have taken yet for the last fifteen years the best way in the world to preserve them. When hon. Gentlemen find fault with the Irish Members for occupying so much time, they must not forget that it is owing to that fact that no legislation has taken place. If it were not for the action of the Irish Members, we should not have an institution left in the country. It is owing to the occupation of time that this House has not degenerated into a mere business assembly like a county council, and for that the Irish Members have been mainly responsible. My Irish friends, whose oratory no one can deny, have a faculty given to them, I do not know by whom, of speaking upon subjects whether they 141 know and understand them or whether they do not with equal ability—in fact, the less they know the more eloquent they become. I say to them, from different motives to those which actuate them, go on. Although the Government may object because they cannot pass the Estimates, still, as you speak day after day, and night after night, and occupy the time of the House with Irish eloquence, you may lay this flattering unction to your soul, that every speech you make is helping to preserve and maintain those institutions you desire to sweep away. The right hon. Gentlemen occupying the Treasury bench are not only naturally eloquent, and so full of information that when they are posed at the Table and supported by it they can never speak for less than an hour or two, but it is not proposed to muzzle them. It is not proposed to muzzle the dogs that bark the most. All I can say is if it is only proposed to muzzle the Irish Members, it will have a most deleterious effect upon this assembly and the institutions of the country. I shall show all the opposition to this proposal that I can.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
I desire to say in one or two words why I am strongly opposed to this motion. If this proposal is aimed directly at the Irish Members, I can only say I do not think it is likely to meet the evil the hon. Gentleman has in his mind. If I had no other reason for objecting, I would object to it because, if carried, it must necessarily curtail the speeches of the right hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh, which to my mind would be a most disastrous thing. The real reason of this motion, as I have said, is to curtail the speeches of the Irish Members in this House. It is perfectly true that a considerable portion of the time of this House is occupied by Members from Ireland, but the way to meet the difficulty is not by limiting the speeches in this House, but the more drastic reform which would enable Irish Members to make their speeches in Dublin, among their own people. I will just refer to two questions raised by the Irish Members in this House this session, and I will ask the hon. and gallant Member for the Chelmsford Division of Essex whether he seriously wishes us to understand that questions such as those which I am 142 going to mention could possibly be introduced to the attention of the House in speeches limited to twenty minutes duration. One of the most important debates which have taken place this session was the debate on Compulsory Land Sales (Ireland). It was a debate which aroused the greatest interest in every quarter of the House. Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman ask the House to believe for a moment that it would be possible to present such a Bill as that to the House within the time-limit of his proposal? It would be impossible to introduce a question of such magnitude in a speech of twenty minutes. I myself took an opportunity of looking over a recent volume of Hansard, and I must say that I wa appalled at the number of speeches I myself had made, and the number of questions I had directed to Ministers in this House. I ask the House, does it for one moment believe that it is any pleasure to Irish Members to be continually making speeches, or that it is any pleasure to us to be curiously inquiring every afternoon of Ministers about affairs concerning remote localities in our constituencies? Nothing of the kind. It is simply the necessity which is engendered as the result of the present system of governing Ireland which compels us, as the hon. Gentleman opposite very candidly said, to bore the House by referring to matters which really ought not to engage the attention of this Imperial Parliament at all, but which ought to be dealt with by a National Parliament in Ireland, the only body really competent to deal with such matters. I would invite hon. Gentlemen who complain of the time taken up by Irish Members in this House to take at random any Irish Nationalist Member, and see the questions he has asked during this session and the matters on which he has been compelled to take up the time of the Imperial Parliament, and if he does, he will find that these matters are in many cases insignificant and trivial, and that it was an absolute absurdity to occupy the time of Parliament, which has to deal not only with England, Scotland and Wales, but India end the Colonies, with them. This is not our fault. And I venture, with the greatest possible respect, to ask the hon. Gentleman who moved this motion, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman 143 who has repeatedly brought this matter before Parliament, to reflect whether they would not better facilitate the progress of business in this House, not by proposing a resolution to limit the speeches of Members on all subjects to a period of twenty minutes, but by moving a resolution which all the Irish Members would gladly support, to remit to Ireland and the Irish people in their own Parliament assembled all those matters which their representatives are now reluctantly obliged to press on the attention of this Parliament.
Suppose this rule were passed, I ask with great respect, how it is going to be enforced? The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that somebody proposed that the Clerk at the Table should have a gigantic gong before him, and that the moment the twenty minutes were up Mr. Jenkinson should rise in his place and strike the gong vehemently. I do not know with what approval the House would look upon a proposal of that kind; but I myself, as one most anxious for the dignity of this Assembly, would be sorry to see it introduced, because of its effect on the dignity of the House, and also its effect on the nerves of the House.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
Then, my objection is that while some courageous person did suggest a gong, the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself did not suggest anything. What does he propose instead of the gong? Does he propose to have an electrical arrangement by which, on touching a button at the Speaker's chair, a heavy piece of ordnance would be fired in Palace Yard, and so give the hon. Member speaking notice that he had exceeded his time? The whole thing is absolutely absurd. If a Member who has been speaking for twenty minutes refused to desist, there would have to be a division, and probably superior force would have to be introduced in order to make him cease speaking. The proposal is, in my opinion, a good-humoured attempt to deal with a question which is always before the House, which has been before it for the last hundred years, and which always will remain before it until it is settled, namely, how to deal with the position 144 and attitude of the Nationalist representatives of Ireland. Never mind limiting speeches, never mind introducing gongs on the Table of this House, but give to the Irish Members, and, if you will, also to the other national sections in this so-called United Kingdom, the right to manage their own affairs at home. If you do that, the first result will be seen in the rapidity with which useful legislation will pass through this House. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh told us very candidly that he for one liked speech-making, because speech-making prevented legislation ever being carried. I have no doubt that is the opinion of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I am equally certain he did not ventilate it when he was wooing the electors of North Armagh. The whole object of this motion is to deal with the eternal Irish question, and I would suggest to hon. Members that they can only deal effectively with the difficulties before them by giving us the right to manage our own affairs at home, which would be highly gratifying to us, and which hon. Members would also find gratifying.
§ MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)
I think the question to be discussed under the proposed resolution is whether we can reform the procedure of this House in order to make it more efficient. Undoubtedly that is of the highest importance. Outside of any question of particular sections in the House, the time has really come, and the country demands it, that this House ought to consider whether it cannot put its procedure on a more efficient basis, and the question we have to discuss this evening is whether the particular proposal before us is likely to effect what most of us wish, or not. As regards this proposal, I think the evil results of it have been exaggerated by the hon. Gentleman for Oldham, as well as by my right hon. and gallant friend the Member for North Armagh. I do not think that a rule of this kind would in the least operate against any unknown Edmund Burke who happened to be in this House; and perhaps as regards that great orator and writer it may be said that if he had practised the art of compression he would have had greater influence than he had as a speaker in his 145 own day. I do not believe myself in the value of argument, and I believe, as Macaulay said, that no speech ever made in this House actually affected the division which followed it. But the end of discussion is to make our minds clearer as regards the principles involved, and it is to my mind of great importance, if we are to maintain the prestige of this House, that Members who have a special knowledge of particular subjects should speak upon them. I do not know that it matters much whether a Member has great oratorical gifts or not, but any man who is cognisant of the principles involved can in a plain and direct way explain them to the House, and that explanation may be of the greatest value if he is an expert.
The first question which arises is whether this proposal will give us that result. At the outset I may say that I object in the strongest manner to making any distinction between Members on the front benches and other Members of the House. If a Minister is moving a resolution or a Bill, he may want a longer time than twenty minutes, and the resolution provides for that. But, as a matter of fact, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred no private Member does speak more than twenty minutes. I myself do not think that if we had this rule we should get the result we are seeking to arrive at, namely, that Members of the House who are competent to give their opinions should take part in the discussions. How are we likely to arrive at that? I think we are much more likely to arrive at it by allocating time to the discussion of particular topics than by limiting the duration of speeches. That is the real direction in which reform ought to proceed. Let me give an illustration. Let me take Supply. We know the topics we have to deal with in Supply, and we know the time at our disposal, and if this House is a businesslike assembly, which really wants to transact business in an able and efficient manner, there ought to be no difficulty in allocating time to particular topics; and any Member who had a knowledge of any particular subject would not feel that he was wasting the time of the House, and his speech would be welcomed, because in any case the discussion would extend over a particular time. 146 I think that a large number of Members refrain from speaking at present for fear of arousing the impatience of the House, and if we could get rid of that idea and provide that any Member might speak without prolonging the debate beyond the period allotted to it, surely that would be the proper way of proceeding. Take one or two other matters. Private business is an extremely important matter, but at the same time we could give a time limit to it, and there might also be a time limit as regards questions. With regard to the second part of the resolution, I have not hitherto heard any reference made to it, but in my opinion it is extremely important. It is that no Member should be allowed to speak twice on an Amendment in Supply. I would have a rule of that kind applied not only to Committee of Supply, but to all Committee proceedings in the House, though, of course, the mover of any particular Amendment ought to be entitled to be heard in reply. But outside that, if we want a really business discussion no one person ought to be allowed to monopolise the whole night. If we are to arrive at the result we desire, we must allow various Members to take part in a discussion in Committee instead of only one or two Members. Of course it is impossible to suppose that a resolution of this kind, even if carried, would effect all that is desired. I do not think that if we had a reform of procedure we should necessarily have more legislation, but I feel very strongly that a great assembly of this kind, with great national and imperial interests entrusted to it, ought to put its rules on a basis that would enable it to deal efficiently with its business. That is the real issue. It is not an issue between different sections in the House, or an issue between private Members and the Government. It is quite beyond that. It is that the House, if it is to preserve its prestige and its position in the country, must have its rules put on a more satisfactory basis. As regards this particular proposal, I intend myself to vote for it, not on the ground that I think it covers anything, like the area of reform necessary, but because it points in that direction.
§ MR. NUSSEY (Pontefract)
I am extremely sorry this Resolution does not include Ministers and ex-Ministers. I 147 have heard occupants of the two Front Benches speak repeatedly, until, I confess, I have been quite gorged with the repetition of their arguments. I have often observed that when they get up they look at the clock, but not with any sort of apology, and they look at the clock again when they sit down; and if they have done their hour and a quarter they feel that they have discharged their duty to the House, their constituents, their Party, and the country. The hon. and learned Member for the Stretford division said he believed in allocating the time of the House for the discussion of certain topics. I remember the vehement protests of the Tory Party when Mr. Gladstone proposed to closure the Home Rule Bill by compartments. It was said to be a most monstrous proposition, and to be gagging the House. Yet we now hear advanced by a Tory reformer of the procedure of the House the suggestion that we should adopt in future a system of closure by compartments, a system for allocating the time of the House to particular Bills and to particular sections of Bills. I quite agree that the procedure with regard to private business should be reformed. We have great and growing wants to meet, but we have less and less time at our disposal to meet them. Far too many Members speak in the House in these days, and the unfortunate part is that business is congested and hung up which ought to be disposed of. But, after all, the true solution is not to be found in the gagging of Members, or in the limitation of speeches to twenty minutes, but in the dividing up of the business, in devolution, in Home Rule all round if you like. I shall support this resolution because it will in part make the proceedings of the House more effective, and do something to further the consideration of various matters of second-class importance, but at the same time I do not think it touches the root of this great question of Parliamentary reform. The rules of the First Lord of the Treasury with regard to Supply have in part met the want. That precedent should be extended. You should have a system for Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and London, so that the business affecting those different parts could be discussed by various bodies, delegated by this House, if you like. But in the mean-time, 148 as an instalment of reform, I propose to vote for this resolution, although I must express my regret that its scope does not extend to Ministers and ex-Ministers, who, I think, are the worst transgressors.
§ MR. PURVIS (Peterborough)
I think this well-meant resolution is intended to be a sort of winnowing fan, to separate the wheat from the chaff—to retain the wheat and to get rid of the chaff. As it has been said, the House is not a mere debating society, nor, as Carlyle very irreverently expressed it, a mere talking shop. It is an assembly for taking practical counsel together. It contains many men full of practical counsel, but who cannot express themselves fluently. They are like narrow-necked jars full of precious ointment, which, unless they are broken altogether, drip, drip, drip, slowly, but when their contents do come out of the narrow neck they are well worth consideration. What would be the effect of this resolution, under these circumstances, if I am right in that view? The well-informed but unfluent and unexpressive speaker would be limited as dull, while the glib speaker would be allowed to go on by the consent of the House, because he pleased the ear. It would be as with Milton's Belial—His tongueDropt manna, and could make the worse appearThe better reason, to perplex and dash Maturest counsels,For he pleased the ear.Without adding any more, because I believe that is the real answer to this resolution, I conclude by saying that the motion would defeat its own object; it would diminish and not increase the real efficiency and profit of the debates of this House.
§ SIR THOMAS ESMONDE (Wexford, N.)
The country from which the hon. Member who has just spoken comes has a reputation for common-sense, and the speech he has just made is a thoroughly common-sense speech. The proposal we are discussing is, if I may say so without discourtesy, an extremely ridiculous one. Hon. Members complain of the waste of time which periodically takes place, but in making that complaint I do not think they are proposing the proper remedy 149 for the disease. The proper remedy, in my humble judgment, is that the Members of this House should have allotted to them proper opportunities for discussing questions in which they are specially interested. It is a question, not of the duration of speeches, but of the allocation of the time of the House. The real explanation of the difficulty in which we find ourselves is that the House has not time to discharge the duties entrusted to it. The hon. Member for East Clare gave the true solution as far as Ireland is concerned. This House having proved itself physically incapable of discussing all the matters which come before it, the real solution of the difficulty is a policy of devolution, which would enable the various countries supposed to be governed by the House to discuss in their own localities, and to legislate upon in their own Legislatures, the questions in which they are particularly interested. One hon. Member has said that this proposal is not directed altogether against private Members, but that it is also suggested that Ministers and ex-Ministers should not be allowed to speak for more than twenty minutes. Although I do not approve of the resolution, I think, if we are to have a limitation of speeches at all, that limitation should apply also to Members on the two Front Benches, because they are the very worst offenders in the matter. The real difficulty, I think, is the want of consideration shown to the rights of private Members. Matters of great importance to our constituents come up, matters quite as important as those brought forward by the Government or by Members of the Front Opposition Bench, but session after session the Leader of the House, no matter to which party he belongs, after a certain period takes the entire time of the House, and private Members have no opportunity for discussing the questions in which they are directly interested. They are naturally led to retaliate, and perhaps to speak longer and more frequently upon questions which emanate from the Treasury Bench. It has been suggested that we should have hour-glasses, gongs, and various other machinery upon the Table, for the purpose of intimating to Members that the time has come for them to stop their speechifying. I do not know how many Members have seen the operation of these various appliances in foreign Legislatures, 150 but as far as my observations go they have not the least effect. This debate, though no doubt very interesting, is a purely academic debate. I do not imagine it will lead to any practical results, but if a division is taken, I shall vote against the resolution, because I quite agree that it will not have any desirable effect upon the conduct of the business of the House.
§ MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
I quite agree with the hon. and learned Member for the Stretford Division that what we have to consider tonight is whether or not we should reform the procedure of this House, and I presume that it must be with that object that this resolution has been introduced. I am rather astonished that my hon. and gallant friend the Member for the Chelmsford Division of Essex should have seconded the resolution, because I have always understood that he was one of the great champions of the rights of private Members in this House.
§ MR. BANBURY
Then I beg his pardon. My recollection is that on several occasions when the Government have moved to take the time of the House my hon. and gallant friend has made speeches against them.
§ MR. BANBURY
Then I must have misunderstood him. But there are many other Members on both sides of the House who have made speeches with that object, and the hon. Baronet who has just spoken stated that private Members were very badly treated. The effect of this resolution, however, would be to place private Members in a still worse position. The members of the two front benches are exempted from this rule, and my experience is that the Members who exceed the limit of twenty minutes are not the private Members but the occupants of the two front benches. They not only exceed the twenty minutes, but it is much easier for them to do so, because when they rise they are immediately called upon. But a private Member has first to summon up his 151 courage to rise in the endeavour to catch your eye, Sir, and, when he has summoned up his courage sufficiently to go through that ordeal, he has to run the chance of not being called at all. The consequence is that when he is called, for the first ten or fifteen minutes he is so extremely nervous that he really does not quite know where he is. Therefore, if this twenty minutes rule applied, he would have to sit down before he had been able to place before the House the remarks he desired to make. The hon. Member for the City of London stated that his resolution was to the effect that, with the leave of the House, a Member could go on for more than twenty minutes. What would be the result of that? To-night we have had from the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth a long speech occupying about an hour and a quarter. We are quite certain that at the end of the first twenty minutes he would have desired to continue his remarks, and he would have had to ask the leave of the House. If anybody objected I presume there would have been a division, and as the speech went on for seventy-five minutes, there would have been three divisions. Allowing a quarter of an hour for each division, the consequence would be that the speech would have occupied 112 minutes instead of seventy-five. If, therefore, as I believe, the object of the resolution is to expedite matters, I think it would fail in its object.
There are three classes of speeches in this House. First, there is the class of speech to which I have just referred—the excellent speech delivered by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth, because he knew a great deal of the subject. There are also speeches which are made for the purpose of obstruction. I think that is admitted. How will this resolution affect those? The ordinary obstructive speech is not a very long one, but one Member desirous of obstructing must have other Members ready to follow him. The only result would be that instead of two or three Members speaking for perhaps half an hour each, you would have four or five speaking for twenty minutes each. It must be remembered that during the last twenty or twenty-five years we have had the closure, and it is in your hands, Sir, if you see that a debate is being carried 152 beyond the length to which it ought to be carried, and a Member moves the closure, to put the question. We have, therefore, a protection against lengthened speeches and lengthened obstruction. Then there is a third kind of speech—the speech which is sometimes made upon the subject before the House with the idea of delaying a subject which is lower down upon the Paper. In what way would such speeches be affected by this resolution? They might be shortened by five minutes, but nothing material would be gained. I was reading yesterday the speeches made in 1897 and 1900 on this subject by the hon. and gallant Member for the Chelmsford Division. They were most amusing, interesting, and instructive. He said that the procedure of the House of Commons in this matter had gone on for over 200 years, and that it would be a very serious thing to alter that procedure without very good reason being shown. I agree, and therefore I hope, if we go to a division, the resolution will be negatived. The whole of the hon. Member's argument in 1897 and in 1900 went to show that not private Members—and only private Members, would be affected by this resolution—but Ministers were the people who most offended against this proposed rule. He emphasised that in his speech to-night, and pointed out that Sir Robert Peel and, I think, some other Minister had spoken for four hours and for three and a half hours on certain given occasions, myself remember an occasion in the House when a Minister spoke for something like three and a half hours. In what way would this resolution improve-that? I do not say there was anything wrong in the Minister taking up that time, but this resolution would not in any way avoid it. There was another very curious thing I found in reading the history of those two debates, and that was that in 1897 my hon. and gallant friend carried his resolution, but that in 1900 it was defeated. That was in the same Parliament, and I think it shows that on a Tuesday evening a certain number of Members came down to the House and, carried away by the eloquence of my hon. and gallant friend, voted for the resolution—that, by the way, is against the argument of the hon. Member, who said that nobody was influenced 153 by speeches—but, when those Members had had time to think the matter over during the three years which elapsed before 1900, they found they had been misled, and, therefore, when the resolution was again brought forward they voted against it.
I think that the only possibility of this resolution being carried would have been if the mover and seconder had shown that there was really anything wrong with the procedure of this House. Not only have they not shown that, but I do not think they attempted to do so. When a new Member comes to this House he naturally is under the impression that the thing which is nearest and dearest to his heart ought to be carried at once, and I am not sure that that would be a good thing for the nation. I do not go so far as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Armagh, who says he is opposed to all legislation, but I do think that legislation ought to be initiated with care, and should not be passed without due and proper discussion. We must all admit that at the present moment we are in danger of suffering rather from hasty legislation than from legislation being slightly delayed through prolonged discussion. There is no doubt that if any section of the community desire that any measure should be passed in this House that measure will be passed, and whether they have to wait six months or a year is a very little matter if, in order to avoid that waiting, you are going to alter the procedure which has obtained in this House for two or three hundred years, and which has given this House to reputation of being one of the finest and most business-like assemblies in the world. I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Armagh in that I believe that every speech made in this House has an object. Sometimes that object is delay, and my experience of business is that it is a businesslike thing when you have an object to attain that object. Therefore, I trust that if we go to a division, as I presume we shall, the House will pause before it reverses the practice which has obtained here for two or three hundred years by passing a resolution, which I admit has been ably moved, but which I do not think would achieve the result we all really have at heart.
§ MR. RENWICK (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
It is curious, perhaps, that I have to make my maiden speech as an advocate of the limitation of the duration of speeches made by Members of this House. But I am quite willing to accept the position, and to take as my text the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. The hon. Member tells us that we ought not to interfere with the traditions of this House, which have been carried down for two or three hundred years. If those traditions had not been interfered with there would have been no necessity for the resolution which has been moved to-night. I would point out to hon. Members that the necessity for this resolution has arisen because we have departed from the traditions of this House, because we put into force in 1882 in a modified form, and have carried it further since, the system of closuring debate when a Member, whether he be on the Front Bench or not, has risen and moved that the Question should now be put. I have not long been a Member of the House, but for many years I have pursued a business career, and in pursuancs of that business career I have learnt that it is absolutely unnecessary to occupy one, two, or three hours to put your points before business men. If there is one argument which ought to commend this resolution to the favourable consideration of the House, it is supplied by the object-lesson that we have seen in the House yesterday and to-day. We have seen as many as twenty or thirty Members rising at the same time, anxious to put their views before the House on the great question of Army reform, and when an hon. Member has been called on he has occupied an hour, or even an hour and twenty minutes, in giving expression to his own views. Last night we had four speakers occupying no less than five hours in putting their views before the House, notwithstanding the fact that the whole sitting available for speeches was limited to some six hours. We have had a similar state of affairs to-day. I venture to say that the dignity and business capacity of the House is being injured by this curtailment of the liberty of Members, and by the great length at which Members speak upon particular subjects.
There seems to be a mistaken idea that 155 the aim of this resolution is to limit discussion. We do not want to limit discussion. What we want to do is to give more facilities for discussion. During my brief career in this House, when I have seen an hon. or a right hon. Gentleman rise at the end of some three hours having discovered that the time ha arrived at which the question should be put, I have thought to myself what an extraordinary decision it is, seeing that in those three hours we have heard only four or five speeches. If this resolution was carried, we might have in three hours nine speeches instead of four or five. I am perfectly aware that one of the principles of the closure is that the Speaker must take care that the rights of the minority are not infringed, but I would remind the House that the majority as well as the minority have rights, and I venture to think that it would be much more advantageous for the House, and for the nation as a whole, that nine Members should be able to give expression to their views before the question was put, rather than that the closure should be applied when only four or five have spoken. We are sometimes told that we have come to this House, not to speak, but to listen and to obey the Party Whip. ["Hear, hear," from the Nationalist Members.] I judge from the way in which hon. Members opposite receive that expression of opinion that they know it to be absolutely true. I would remind hon. Members who tell us that we are to obey the Party Whip that there are other things connected with the use of the whip than merely obeying it when we hear it cracked. I presume that when the whip is mentioned we are likened to a pack of hounds, and that we must be obedient. I am quite willing to accept the simile, but let us carry it a little further. What do we find in connection with a pack of hounds? There may be a Master of Hounds present—possibly not. No doubt many Members are familiar with the rules in regard to hunting with a pack of hounds, but let me remind the House that the first consideration of the Master in picking out a pack of hounds is to pick a level pack, all of whom can roll their tongues when they are upon the scent. Another thing the Master of Hounds would do would be to get rid of the mute hounds; 156 every one of those would be unmercifully knocked on the head. The next thing he would do would be to get rid of the old ones; some of these would be knocked on the head—others would be sent to another House. Other members of the pack with whom the Master would deal with would be the babblers; they would be sent to Gibraltar. But they would never come back, and I venture to say they never would be missed.
These are a few of the points to which I would respectfully call the attention of hon. Members who tell us that we have come here simply to listen, to hold our tongues, and to obey the crack of the Party Whip. But to come to a more serious matter, I would like to point out to the House that there is a change coming over this Assembly. We have had a great infusion of business men. These business men are imbued with business ideas, and they wish to see the business of the country carried on on business lines. That fact may have escaped the attention of right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench, but it is there all the same, and it will demand attention and have to be dealt with. We come here, sent by great manufacturing constituencies; we have been sent here because we can speak upon business matters; we have come here to demand that we shall be heard upon business affairs of interest to our constituents. Might I remind the House that I represent one of the largest constituencies in the country, with over 35,000 electors? Let hon. Members, consider the multiplicity of subjects that engage the attention of that constituency. When certain subjects are before the House I am asked by telegram and by letter, not only to vote, but to speak upon those subjects, and when I tell them that it is an absolute impossibility that I should do so, owing to the great number of Members that are anxious to speak, they cannot understand it. They call my attention to the fact—which must be patent to every Member of the House—that, if one takes up The Times and refers to the reports of the debates which have taken place in the House day after day, it will be seem that the same Members have risen in their places and spoken. They are men who seem to think that they are competent to speak upon every conceivable 157 subject, but I venture to say that we do not always agree with them. Let me point out what to my mind constitutes one of the greatest defects of speakers in this House; it is that when they rise they seem to think that they are the only men out of the 670 Members of the House who know anything whatever about the subject under discussion, and they attempt to deal with every possible phase of the question.
The weak point in connection with this resolution is, I think, the latitude that it gives to Members of the front benches. We are quite willing that on great occasions, such as the unfolding of the Army scheme or the introduction of the Budget, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the matter and the Leader of the Opposition who has to reply should be given almost unlimited time, but because a gentleman is or has been in the Ministry he should have unlimited time, although he is not connected with the subject before the House, is, I think, a great defect in the resolution. But if we are going to make a mistake, let us make a mistake in giving too much rather than too little. I venture to say that if this House is to maintain its great traditions, and to occupy the position in the public mind that it has occupied for generations past, something will have to be done in regard to this particular subject. I have ascertained in conversation with business men who have been returned to this House that they are not prepared to come here simply to register the decrees of Ministers. They feel that upon certain subjects they are competent to speak. They wish to speak, and they are determined to speak, and unless they have an opportunity to speak they are not prepared to continue Members of this House. I maintain that it has been and is a splendid thing for the Empire that business men have been persuaded to come here. It will be a great calamity if those Members are driven from the House, because the alternative will be that the representation of many great constituencies will fall into the hands of professional politicians. Are hon. Members enamoured with professional politicians, that they would like to see a multiplicity of them in the House? I venture to think not. Depend upon it, the best thing for the country and for the honour and business capacity of this House is 158 that we should have a blend of the best business men of the country in Parliament. It is good for the country from many points of view, and, depend upon it, the time is not far distant when the commercial and business men of this House will not be satisfied with merely occupying a seat upon these benches; they will also knock at the doors of the Cabinet. We have one bright example of the business man in this House in the person of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. His example has been so good that we should like to see more businessmen here, and I appeal to every hon. Member not to dismiss the resolution as something of a revolutionary character, but to recognise that two great changes have come over the House. The first is that we no longer have free speech. We bade good bye to free speech when the closure was introduced, and if we are to have the closure it is greatly due to the action of Gentlemen immediately opposite. If we are to have the closure, then I say do not let us put it in force until we are assured that the House has given expression generally to the particular views which are held on the question occupying attention. That, I say, in many cases has not been done when we have been asked to vote for the closure. I sincerely trust that hon. Members will give their most careful attention to the subject before they vote. If they will weigh it over in their minds they will find that the effect of this resolution will be not to curtail speech, but to remove some of the trammels with which we are bound at the present time.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. RITCHIE,) Croydon
The House has listened to a number of valuable, and many of them amusing, speeches, but we must not be led away from the question which is really before the House. We had an object lesson during the day on the matter which we have been debating for the last two hours and a quarter. In the morning sitting the House sat for about four and a half hours, and in the course of that time there were five speeches. We have sat now, at the evening sitting, two and a quarter hours; we have had eleven speeches, and I am satisfied those who listened to both debates will not feel inclined to say that the evening debate 159 has been less interesting or less instructive than the speeches at the morning sitting. The question now raised is one which undoubtedly is attended with considerable difficulty. All of us, I am sure, must sympathise with those who complain of the inordinate length some speeches run to in the House of Commons. There is another point on which there seems to be general agreement, and that is, that the greatest sinners are the occupants of the two front benches. But the two front benches are to be specially exempted by the resolution proposed, and this will give rise to considerable comment and dissatisfaction. I often wonder what it is that really makes men favour the House with speeches of inordinate length, as many of them do, for my own experience is that it is not the long speeches that make an impression, but the short speeches. I have heard right hon. Gentlemen who are to be exempted from this resolution making speeches of great length which rather bored the House, and I have heard them on other occasions make very short speeches which greatly interested the House, and were most effective. There is this in favour of short speeches, if a Member desires to have the real pith of what he has said reported it is much better that he should make a short speech than a long one, for the probability is the reporter in a long speech will miss the special points on which the speaker places greatest stress. The report of that speech will by no means carry to the public the impression the speaker desires to convey, but the exact contrary is the case when a short speech is made. There can be no doubt there is considerable abuse in this matter, and I instance the debates on private Bills. Can anyone say that the very lengthy speeches which the House has to listen to in connection with private Bills are not, in nine cases out of ten, unnecessary? The same ground is travelled over and over again, with the result that the House, instead of being interested in the arguments used, becomes bored to a degree, and the effect of the speech is lost entirely.
I am sure the majority of the House admits that there is an evil to be remedied. How is it proposed that this evil should be remedied? I confess that the proposal in the resolution does not seem to me to be quite the right one for the purpose of 160 putting an end to the evil, which we all acknowledge. In the first place, the movers of resolutions are to be exempted. No doubt it is right and proper that a Member who has to make an exposition of proposals for which he desires the support of the House of Commons should be allowed to extend the period of his speech beyond that which is named in the resolution; but it appears that no one is to be really limited by this resolution, because, as I understand, anyone can rise and propose that any Member should have a longer hearing. What is to be the mode of procedure? What might happen would be this. An hon. Member would rise to address the House, and at the close of his twenty minutes one of his hon. friends would move that he be heard for another twenty minutes. Some other hon. Member would move as an Amendment that he be heard for twenty-five minutes longer, or for a less time. I presume the ordinary course would be followed, and a division taken. [An. HON. MEMBER: Debate.] I am presuming that there would be no debate, but there certainly would be a division. I cannot understand how it can be done otherwise. We are not in the habit of voting here by show of hands. If there was a division, that would take up a considerable amount of time, but if it was desired really to obstruct business—and hon. Members from Ireland have been alluded to in the course of the discussion—what would be easier than for every Member of the Irish party to get up and speak for twenty minutes, and for another Member to move that his hon. friend should be heard for a longer period. I am quite sure that hon. Members are too anxious to promote the business of the House of Commons to have recourse to any such proceeding. I am not saying that they would do so. I am only pointing out one of the possibilities of this resolution, so that, instead of it becoming an instrument of shortening debates, it might be turned into an engine favourable to anyone who desired to obstruct the business of the House.
I do not think the resolution would, even if it were put into practice, carry out the views of those who propose it. I do not say that some procedure of the kind might not eventually have to be adopted, for it is impossible to ignore the fact that by the inordinate length of speeches many Members 161 are deprived of the opportunity, of placing their views before the House. That is a deprivation which the Members themselves have a right to complain of, and, still more, one that their constituents have a right to complain of. For my own part, I should be extremely sorry if it were necessary for the House to adopt such a drastic rule for the purpose of securing that liberty of speech all of us desire to maintain, and, so far as the Government are concerned, though they are sensible of the evil which undoubtedly exists, they are unwilling either themselves to propose or to see adopted any resolution of this kind unless the necessity for it has been somewhat more demonstrated than it has been up to the present time. I am unable to support the resolution, but I would make an earnest appeal to Members to restrict their speeches to the narrowest possible compass consistent with the desire to inform the House of their views upon any of the subjects brought before the House. I would impress upon hon. Members that they should think of the great reputation the House has for many years sustained, and that by modifying their zeal in speaking they should prevent the necessity for the adoption of any such Resolution, which I am sure all Members of the House of Commons, irrespective of party, would be very sorry to see adopted. I hope my hon. friends will be content with the interesting interchange of views which has taken place, and will not ask the House to divide upon their proposal.
MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanarkshire, Partick)
There is one point on which all speakers have been unanimous, and that is, whether they approve or disapprove of the resolution, they have objected to the exemption of the two front benches from the terms of the resolution. We on this side can imagine hon. Gentlemen opposite whom we do not wish to listen to for an hour, and we may be able to pick out Members on this bench whom we would not desire to hear so long, and there are even Gentlemen on the front benches, conscious as we are of one another's failings, who would not wish to listen to each other for an indefinite time. Therefore, I think that is an exception which ought not to be made, and I think the Amendment which stands in my name on the Paper to leave out Ministers 162 and ex-Ministers might be accepted by the mover of this proposal. It would be impossible to have any system of asking for an extension of the time of speaking. That would merely lead to much longer obstruction. There was a point raised by my hon. friend which is of greater importance almost, and that is the limiting of the time for the subject instead of limiting it for the speaker. Well, the effect of that would be diverse. In the first place, I think it would have a most excellent effect on those who sit on this side of the House, and who are unwilling in general to prolong debates which are against the interests of the party. On the other hand, if there is a fixed time for a debate coming to an end, there is no reason why there should not be a fair interchange of speakers on each side of the House. There is another fact. Certain gentlemen do get called to speak with remarkable frequency, and if one may conjecture what goes on it is this. There are certain people who will insist on being heard, and therefore the Chairman of Committee or the Speaker—
§ MR. SPEAKER
reminded the hon. Member that it was out of order to discuss the conduct of the Chair in this way.
MR. PARKER SMITH
I have transgressed, and perhaps I ought to have confined my remark to the Chairman of Committees.
MR. PARKER SMITH
Without the slightest imputation upon your impartiality, I may say that it might tend to the improvement of debates if we had a greater diversity of speakers to listen to. I think hon. Members from Ireland are entirely wrong in imagining that this motion is directed against them. It is directed against bores, and I do not think they are of exclusively Irish, English, or Scotch growth. It would be an absolutely futile thing to direct a motion of this kind against Gentlemen from Ireland in the hope that we should produce any effect in the matter. After one hon. Member had spoken for twenty minutes there would be plenty of others ready to take up the running. Therefore, it is not against hon. Gentlemen from Ireland that the motion is in any 163 way directed, but against hon. Gentlemen whom we are accustomed to hear at far greater length than is at all necessary on the subject on which they speak. The Amendment I have put down on the Paper shows what the effect of the rule would be. For a long time it has been a generally acknowledged principle that on Wednesdays discussion comes to a close at the end of the afternoon. Very large subjects have been discussed on Wednesdays which, if introduced in any other way, would have taken many days, but we have been accustomed on Wednesdays to come to a decision at the end of the afternoon. The result has been that the style of speaking, and the interest in the debates, have been very much higher in that limited time than in the debates in unlimited Government time. But the practice has been carried further, and on two occasions we have had divisions after comparatively short debates. For instance, the Miners Eight Hours Bill was divided upon after only three hours discussion. The matter was put by you. Sir, to take the opinion of the House in a way that is not usually done by the Chair in regard to the closure, and the House approved of the closure being given by a large majority. In the following week a Bill was discussed, and after only two hours debate the closure was moved and carried without a division. The fact is that in these Wednesday's discussions it is not a question of legislation, but a question of providing hon. Members an opportunity of putting forward their views on subjects which would afford the groundwork of legislation, and of getting a division. The corollary of that is that there should be a rule that speeches on Wednesdays should be short, corresponding to the short time to be devoted to the subject. My motion would have secured that small practical measure of restriction, but, as the discussion has taken a much larger time, I shall move the other Amendment standing in my name which has received such general support.
To leave out the words 'Ministers, ex-Ministers, and.'"—(Mr. Parker Smith.)
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)
I wish to support the Amendment of the hon. 164 Member. I think if this rule is to be adopted it should be applied to Gentlemen sitting on the front benches. The hon. Member, who is very well qualified to speak on the question of Parliamentary bores, said we should have a time-table for subjects. Madagascar, for instance, would get five minutes, South Africa two hours, and how much would he give to Morocco? I think the hon. Member will hardly get very many to agree with him in that proposal. Under this Amendment I think there should be some differentiation. Suppose a Member did not speak for a whole year, should he be treated in the same way as a Member who speaks every night? I was three years in this House before I spoke.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The question is whether there should be a time limit for the speeches of Ministers and ex-Ministers.
§ MR. TULLY
I do not know how Ministers and ex-Ministers will themselves regard the proposal to confine their speeches to twenty minutes. I was reading the other day about an eminent preacher who was asked how long he took to prepare a speech; and he said if the speech is to be one quarter of an hour in length he would take a week, if the speech were to be half an hour in length he would take a couple of days, but if he were to speak for two hours he could begin at once. I think if hon. Gentlemen on the front bench have to put their remarks in a quarter of an hour they would not like to go on this Parliamentary treadmill where they should spend a week preparing their speeches. An hon. Member in supporting the proposal to limit speeches to twenty minutes duration quoted the number of speeches which could be made on every subject in this House by Irish Members. I agree with him. We have seventy talking Members, and if they were put to it they could speak for twenty five hours. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this motion would be prepared to agree to an idea like that. I do not think he would. I think he would find that seventy Members speaking for twenty minute each would be far worse than a few Members speaking for some time.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is forgetting what I told him, that 165 the only matter now under discussion is the time limit of Ministers and ex-Ministers.
§ MR. TULLY
I regret, Sir, that I was trespassing on your ruling, and I will not pursue the subject. But it is Ministers who take up most of the time of the House, and I do not see, if we are to have a multiplicity of speakers, what advantage it is. I challenge anyone to say if ever an original idea has been enunciated here which was not much better said, and in better form, outside. If we are to have a multiplicity of speakers that would not be an argument in favour of the Amendment. If hon. Members are to be limited, let the right hon. and hon. Members on the front benches be the first to suffer. The hon. Member for Newcastle referred to the advantage of having barking dogs, but there is an old proverb that barking dogs do not bite. As a general rule it is the silent men who do the great things in life. One of the greatest Parliamentarians you ever had in this House, Oliver Cromwell, the man who, in fact, put an end to your Parliament—you do not find many of his speeches in Hansard. Then General Grant, Von Moltke, and other great men were silent men. The men who speak very little are as a general rule the men who do the greatest things in the world.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL (Greenwich)
For my part I am opposed to this resolution, though, if I thought it were to be passed at all, I would gladly see it extended to Ministers and ex-Ministers of the Crown. The purpose of parliamentary debate is not to compress into a few words what is believed to be the substance of an utterance. It is to enlighten discussion, to enrich ideas, to instruct the public mind on many different subjects, and certainly not to carry through in the briefest possible space a discussion which is supposed to further business-like purposes. The House of Commons does not principally exist to further discussion, but to guide the public mind in this direction or that. If the House were a merely business assembly, it would be judged by its annual output, by the number of Bills that it passes; if it passes more this year than last year, then it would be said that it had done better. But if its function is, on the contrary, to lead the public mind and instruct the nation at large, it is not 166 the number of Bills which it has passed or motions which it has carried through that is the true test and measure of its efficiency. The true test is as to whether it has guided the public mind into wiser channels.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The question is as to whether a time limit should be imposed on Ministers and ex-Ministers.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL
It is important in regard to this Amendment to consider whether Ministers or ex-Ministers would feel it their special and particular function to instruct the House, and, through the House, the country. We have recently had a very interesting discussion on army reform, and I have listened to speeches of Ministers and ex-Ministers without deriving a very clear idea of what they intended to do. In so far as that matter goes I think the hon. Member is justified in saying that the instruction of the community does not appear to be contributed to by Ministers and ex-Ministers at all in proportion to the time they occupy. If you are to carry out a system of regulating debate you must consider that those who would suffer most would be those who, for want of long practice and natural aptitude, cannot compress their ideas into a small compass. Supposing you put a definite limit on Ministers and ex-Ministers; they have spoken a great deal, and being presumably the best Members in the House they ought to be, able to compress their ideas in a way that is not given to the great majority of Members, and therefore ought to find it comparatively an easy task to lay before the House and the country that measure of instruction and enlightenment which they have at their disposal in a limited, number of minutes. I cannot sit down without saying that a time limit is very arbitrary and unwise.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL
I quite accept that. [Cries of "Divide."] I shall vote for the Amendment as preferable to the motion, and against the motion even, in its amended form, if it goes to a division, for I am quite certain that no change in Parliamentary procedure can be more disastrous than one which limits discussion.
§ Question put, and negatived.167
§ Main Question, as amended, put:—The House divided; Ayes, 83; Noes, 117. (Division List No. 185.)
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Gurdon Sir W. Brampton||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex. F.||Hall, Edward Marshall||Partington, Oswald.|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Hamilton, Marq. of (L'nd'nd'ry||Pirie, Duncan V.|
|Allen, Charles P (Glouc., Stroud||Hardie, J. Keir (MerthyrTydvil||Plummer, Walter R.|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Harris, Frederick Leverton||Rea, Russell|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E.)||Reid, James (Greenock)|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)||Renwick, George|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Jones, William (Carnarvonsh'e||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Keswick, William||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney|
|Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey)||Langley, Batty||Rolleston, Sir John F. L.|
|Balfour, Maj K R (Christchurch)||Law, Andrew Bonar||Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford-|
|Bill, Charles||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)||Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander|
|Brookfield, Colonel Montagu||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Bull, William James||Leigh, Sir Joseph||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Leng, Sir John||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.|
|Colville, John||Leveson-Gower, Frederick N.S.||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.||Spear, John Ward|
|Craig, Robert Hunter||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Thomas, A. (Glamorgan, E.)|
|Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton||Lowther, C. (Cumb., Eskdale)||Thomas, J A (Glamorgan, Gow'r|
|Denny, Colonel||Lucas, Col. Francis (Lowestoft)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Lucas, Reginald J. (Portsmouth||Vincent, Col. Sir CEH (Shefield|
|Finch, George H.||M'Crae, George||Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)|
|Firbank, Joseph Thomas||M'Killop, James (Stirlingshire||White, Luke (York, E.R.)|
|Forster, Henry William||Moore, William (Antrim, N.)||Willoughby, de Eresby, Lord|
|Fuller, J. M. F.||Morley, Charles (Breconshire)||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath|
|Gordon, Hn. J. E. (Elgin & Nairn||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Grant, Come||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Sir Joseph Dimsdale and Major Rasch.|
|Greville, Hon. Ronald||Nussey, Thomas Willans|
|Abraham, Wm. (Cork, N.E.)||Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.)|
|Age-Gardner, James Tynte||Flavin, Michael Joseph||O'Malley, William|
|Allhusen, Augustus H. Eden||Flynn, James Christopher||O'Mara, James|
|Arrol, Sir William||Gilhooly, James||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, Sir Ellis||Gordon, J. (Londonderry, S.)||O'Shee, James John|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r)||Green, Walford D (Wednesb'ry)||Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Greene, Sir E W (B'ry S Edm'nds||Pemberton, John S. G.|
|Bell, Richard||Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury)||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry C.||Gretton, John||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Blake, Edward||Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick)||Purvis, Robert|
|Boland, John||Hayden, John Patrick||Redmond, John E. (Waterford|
|Brassey, Albert||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale-||Redmond, William (Clare)|
|Caldwell, James||Healy, Timothy Michael||Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson|
|Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Henderson, Alexander||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs|
|Carew, James Laurence||Hope, J.F. (Sheffield, Brightside||Robinson, Brooke|
|Carvill, Patrick Geo. Hamilton||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Roche, John|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Jones, David Brynm'r (Swansea||Ropner, Colonel Robert|
|Cavendish, V.C.W. (Derbysh.)||Joyce, Michael||Round, James|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Leamy, Edmund||Saunderson, Rt. Hn Col. Edw. J.|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie||Seely, Chas. Hilton (Lincoln)|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Levy, Maurice||Seton-Karr, Henry|
|Colomb, Sir John Charles R.||Lewis, John Herbert||Simeon, Sir Barrington|
|Compton, Lord Alwyne||Lough, Thomas||Stanley, Hn. Arthur (Ormskirk|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Lundon, W.||Sullivan, Donal|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Macdona, John Cumming||Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan, E.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||MacDonnell, Dr. Mark A.||Thomas, F. Freeman- (Hastings|
|Crean, Eugene||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Cullinan, J.||Maxwell, W. H. J (Dumfriessh.||Tollemache, Henry James|
|Daly, James||Mooney, John J.||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray|
|Delany, William||Morgan, Hn. F. (Monmouthsh.||Tully, Jasper|
|Dickson, Charles Scott||Murphy, J.||Valentia, Viscount|
|Dillon, John||Nannetti, Joseph P.||Walrond, Rt. Hn. Sir William H|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||Warde, Colonel C. E.|
|Doogan, P. C.||O'Brien, Kendal (Tipperary Md||White, Patrick (Meath, North|
|Duke, Henry Edward||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny||Williams, Osmond (Merioneth|
|Durning-Lawrence, Sir Edwin||O'Brien, P. J. (Tidparary, N.)||Wylie, Alexander|
|Esmonde, Sir Thomas||O'Connor, Jas. (Wicklow, W.||Young, Commander (Berks, E.)|
|Farrell, James Patrick||O'Donnell, John (Mayo, S.)|
|Ffrench, Peter||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Fisher, William Hayes||O'Dowd, John||Mr. Emmott and Mr. Banbury.|
§ Adjourned at twelve minutes after Twelve of the clock.