§ [GENERAL DISCUSSION—FIRST DAY].
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the proposals of the Government on the Order Paper relating to the Procedure of the House be now considered."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ (4.35.) SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
Mr. Speaker, I propose, in accordance with the notice which stands in my name, before I sit down to move that these alterations of the Rules be referred to a Select Committee. Now, I think in making this Motion I shall be acting 549 according to the ordinary precedents in such cases. I do not say there have not been exceptions when there have been some particular reasons to justify the exception, some reason of urgency or something else which was thought to take them out of the ordinary category of "Proceedings," but I think I can justify this Motion by a brief reference to some of the most recent instances. In 1878 Sir Stafford Northcote had a Committee on Procedure; in 1879 a Resolution was passed founded on his recommendations. Other Resolutions were proposed but dropped. In 1886 Mr. Gladstone moved for a large Select Committee. In the same year, after a change of Government, Lord Randolph Churchill announced that the Government intended to deal with Procedure on the lines suggested by the Committee, and in 1887 and 1888 Mr. Smith introduced new Rules, the one in 1887 making the Closure conditions more stringent, and that of 1888 dealing with the hours of sitting, and many other matters, part of which he got. Then, again, in 1890, when Mr. Smith was still the Leader of the House, there was a Committee appointed to report on the proposal for carrying uncompleted Bills over to the next session. Mr. Gladstone urged that that was the proper course to take, and he said a grave change in the constitution of the House ought not to be made until the subject had been investigated by a Select Committee. Accordingly that Committee was appointed.
I think I have said enough to justify my Motion on the ground of ordinary precedent. Now let us look at the present proposals. Do they justify careful and deliberate examination by the House? Why, Sir, there have not, within your recollection, been proposals laid before this House so grave, so extensive, so far-reaching, so heterogenous, interfering as they do, with the almost immemorial arrangements, in some particulars, of this House in the matter of time; and also treading very seriously on the immemorial rights of the House.
Now, Sir, when we speak of the rights of the House, and the rights of private Members, I think that sometimes we have a little confusion in our minds; there is the right of private Members who have introduced Bills of their own, or who wish to bring 550 before the House Motions of their own. I admit, for my part, that that is not now so important a function of the private Member as it was some twenty or thirty or forty years ago. With regard to the Motions, the development of the Press and the activity of the Press in all directions, the multiplication of magazines and other publications of that kind, have taken away the necessity that then existed for an ample opportunity to private Members to introduce Motions for merely educative purposes, in order to instruct and inform the opinion of the House and of the public. I fully admit that something has occurred in that direction. I admit also that such is the pressure of business in the House that the private Members have less and less chances of effective legislation; and the power to legislate falls more and more into the hands of the Government of the day. I admit all this, but there is something quite apart from this right of the private Member to move and to introduce a Bill on his own account; there is the general right of the House to interrogate Ministers and discuss questions, and to inform the opinion of the country by so doing. It is a diffused right in which we all take a share, and in the duty of exercising which we must all take our part. And it is this, I think, which is the most important thing to bear in mind when we speak of the rights of the House and the rights of private Members.
After all, Sir, there is an old phrase, which may sound a mere rhetorical form of words, that this House is "the grand inquest of the nation"; but that really does express the foundation truth of the duty of the House of Commons. This is not a mere factory of statutes; not a mere counting-house, in which demands on the public purse are being checked, approved, and provided for; it is something much more, and much more important. For my part I would go so far as to say, that efficiency in the conduct of business is merely secondary to the maintenance of those rights of which I speak; and it would be better that the House should be less efficient in its transactions of business, and retain the full faculty of exercising the functions to which I refer, rather than that it should be diminished, and the 551 House should become the most perfect legislative machine in the world. Therefore, the conclusion we are brought to by these considerations is surely this—that this matter is not the affair of the Government, it is not the affair of the majority, it is not the affair of any section large or small of the House. It is the affair of the House itself. And that, I think, points as directly as anything can point to the reference of such a matter as this, so complicated, so grave, so far-reaching in its consequences, to a Select Committee, where the House of Commons could be fortified by the opinion and the judgment of its most important Members.
Well, I need hardly say, having just expressed what my view of the subject-matter with which we have to deal is, that there is no room here for Party spirit. We do not look on this question in the least degree from that point of view, at least that I can honestly say for myself. We are indebted to the Government for having embodied in these proposed alterations their view, their experience, from their own standpoint, of what is required; but let it not be forgotten that they put those proposals forward not as their own plan designed for their own purposes. They put them forward avowedly as the mouthpiece of the House. It appears to me, in looking at this large and important question, there are one or two considerations that we ought to keep steadily in view. First of all, we ought to make sure that the state of things which we desire to meet by alterations in our Rules is a permanent and not an accidental and transitory state of things. The Rules should not be designed to meet circumstances which may not continue for any length of time. They must not be based, for instance, on a consideration of the present distribution of Members of the House. That may last, it may become more—if I may use the word—lop-sided than at present, it may become less so. None of us have the gift of prophecy; we cannot say. All we can say is that the House; as at present constituted, as between Parties, is not in a normal condition, and therefore, anything we may do with a view to meet the particular exigencies of the present situation may not be a proper course for 552 us to take in view of the ordinary and normal state of things.
Then, again, I would say that we should go very far wrong if we passed rules which were aimed at any particular section of the House which was supposed to be somewhat out of harmony with the majority of the House. I may imagine a case in which a certain section of Members rather wished to be considered to be out of harmony with the majority of the House. But we should not found our rules on that supposition, for surely we may hope that that also is a transitory state of things.
The next view I would urge is one which, on the first night of the session, I ventured to express in a very few words—that we ought not to be governed too much by the consideration of the mere personal convenience and comfort of Members. When I modestly put that forward on the first night of the session, the right hon. Gentleman rather rebuked me, and made certain observations, in which there was a great substratum of truth and force—that you in these things must consider the convenience of Members, and that you are not doing anything unpatriotic or contrary to the public interest by so doing. I quite agree so far, but do not let us, here again, alter our Rules to suit the social or personal ideas and requirements of what may be, after all, only a section, and not the whole of the House. That ought not to be a prominent consideration With us
Then the third point I would venture to bring before the House is this—whichalso I mentioned on a previous occasion—that we must take care that we do not, wittingly or unwittingly, exalt the power of the Executive and diminish the control of the House at large. Facilitate the progress of business as much as you like; make it as reasonable and as easy as you like; but do not do anything which will have the effect of placing the House of Commons more and more at the mercy of the Government of the day.
With regard to these three considerations, I would point out that each indicates the same conclusion that I have already drawn from the precedents,—that the proper course for us to pursue in this question is to have a Select 553 Committee by which the matter may be thoroughly inquired into.
I will now pass to the Rules themselves, which, when we look into their details, illustrate a good deal of what I have been saying. No doubt every one in the House is in the same position with regard to the Rules: every Member will find some of them good, some bad, and some doubtful. But we shall do well, when we find any rule or proposal which seems to militate against principles, some of which I have already referred to, to disapprove of it; if it conforms to those principles, to approve of it; we should hold that opinion firmly and act upon it. But with regard to many of these proposals, such as those relating to the hour of meeting, the hour of closing the sitting, and so forth, I think Members would be wise if, while they may form strong and decided opinions, they do not hold those opinions too fast and firmly; they should leave themselves open to conviction when they hear how the same difficulty presents itself to other people. In all these matters there is hardly a thing could be done that is not balanced between good and evil. There are advantages and there are disadvantages, and you have to form the best judgment you can in the matter.
The Rules group themselves into three classes. There are those which refer to orderly conduct, those which refer to the simplification of our procedure, and those which meddle with the apportionment of Parliamentary time. With the leave of the House I should like to say a few words on each of those groups.
The first is with regard to orderly conduct. Upon that I have not very much to say. The Government propose greatly to strengthen the punishment for disorder, by increasing the term of suspension of a Member when the House has decided that his conduct is disorderly. I am disposed to admit cordially that the term of suspension under which we have been working is too small. To go through all the pompous procedure of solemnly naming a Member, then having a Motion made from the Treasury Bench, then proceeding to a division, then intimating to the Member his forlorn condition of being suspended from the service of the House, when, after all, before more than a day or two are over, he can come back 554 none the worse, is, I think, rather farcical. Personally, I quite agree that the term ought to be longer, but I think that the Government have gone too far in the other direction. I cannot but think that to deprive a constituency of the services of its Member—for that is what it comes to—for so long a time as the Government propose, is excessive, in consideration of the sort of offence committed.
But then the Government propose another thing, to which I see very serious objection. They propose that there should also be an apology. Now, Sir, punishments if you like, apology if you like, but surely not punishment and apology. ["Why not"?] Why not? I am not aware of any instance in which both punishment is inflicted and apology demanded. Suppose a man commits an offence, not against the law of Parliament, but against the law of the land, he is convicted and sent to punishment. But when he has endured his term of punishment, he has purged his offence, and he is not called on to make an apology either to the judge who sentenced him, to the people against whose laws he offended, or to the man whose watch he stole. I do not see that the two things go together. Above all, there is this further consideration, which I would submit with confidence for the judgment of the House—that a formal acknowledgment of sorrow of this sort has not much value in itself. I thought we were coming to believe that all these formal declarations are little better than forms, and that if such a thing becomes a mere form it becomes a mere farce. While there will be involved a certain amount of humiliation, there will be no real deterrent effect, and no other effect that we would wish to create. I am sure no one in the House desires to put on a Member who, perhaps through warmth or some other reason, has off ended against its rules, any unnecessary humiliation. Without expression of my own opinion on the subject, I leave the question of the orderly conduct of business.
Then I come to the simplification and improvement of procedure—apart from any question of the arrangement of business in point of time. Here, I am glad to say. there are a number of proposals in the suggestions of the Government, which, 555 I think, are excellent. At all events, until we hear objections raised to them, we may be content to say that, prima facie, they commend themselves to us. I would name especially the abolition of formalities on the introduction of Bills, having only one division when the Amendment has been a time Amendment, and the inclusion of the Motion for a particular kind of Committee in the discussion on the Second Reading of a Bill. If we had had that rule in operation yesterday, both we who wished the Bill then before us passed, and those who were against the Bill and who by this time must be rather ashamed of the tactics they adopted, would certainly have been more happy than we are. I would also include the proposal to have a Committee on Privilege—that seems a way of saving the house from an awkward dilemma which almost always occurs when privilege is raised—and a Committee on Consolidation Bills. I do not see any objection to those proposals at present. Then there is another provision which I am sure we shall all approve of, the necessity of which has been affirmed since it was first proposed, viz., for the appointment of an additional member authorised to exercise the powers of Deputy-Speaker. I am not sure that, with the severities of the English winter and the almost greater severities of the English summer, there may not be Members who think it would be as well to have two additional members for that purpose.
So much for what I call the simplification rule. I pass now to those alterations which affect the allocation of time, or which are mixed up with the question of time. I think here the house will be much more interested. They really include the most important proposals that are before us. One great change stands out prominently by in self, and, therefore, I will deal with it as standing alone—I mean the interchange of Wednesday and Friday. I must say that I have heard of no adequate reason whatever for this change, and I know a good many sound reasons against it. The only reason that is given is that in the House of Commons there are a number of business men who live in the country, and who desire to go home in the middle of the week in order to attend to their business. [An HON. MEMBER: You mean the week end.] No, no, in 556 the middle of the week, because I am told in the lobby that they hope to be able to get home possibly on Thursday morning, and I have no doubt that that would be an enormous convenience and comfort to a number of our Members. But after all they are not a very numerous class, and I think I shall be justified in laying down this as a principle, that when a man undertakes to become a candidate for Parliament, and he is elected, the presumption is that he will be resident or at least available in London so long as Parliament sits. That is the presumption, and if there are some exceptions, in heaven's name let us make it as easy for them as we can consistently with the proper conduct of business, but do not let us frame our rules for the convenience of the few who do not act on this presumption.
Now I come to a more tender and delicate part of the subject, because I have a strong suspicion that this argument of the business man is not altogether either single or sincere. There has grown up of late years a practice in what I believe calls itself smart society, of having what is called "a week-end." It is an expression which is novel, and I believe that this week-end in the country has become almost indispensable, not so much to smart society as to that much larger number of the community who wish to be thought to belong to smart society. I am not sure that you will not find that, in some cases, on Saturday morning the blinds are drawn down and the cab goes away with empty boxes, in order to maintain the full reputation of the owner of the house. However that may be, at all events, it is a practice which is followed and it is the fashion at present. But how long will it last? A very wise man, Sir John Falstaff, said of this country—It was always yet the trick of our English Nation, if they have a good thing to make it too common.And I am afraid that although this practice of getting fresh air at the end of the week is a good thing, my experience is that the very people who follow smart society, when they find that everybody else is going out of town, will flock back again, because it will be made too common. But it is fashion, and we are to alter our rules to obey this fashion, and I 557 believe also to further a similar fashion which may fall into desuetude, by which my venerable countryman—a certain name which I will not mention—has come into large popular use in the South of England. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] I hear cries of "Oh, oh!" but depend upon it that is a considerable element in this particular proposal.
Now what is there against it? Why, sir, there is this against it—that you are to have under this new system four days exactly alike—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday—with a tiresome iteration of the same hours, the same lateness at night, and the same conditions of life, which will be a great additional burden, not only to hard working Members of the House but also to hardworking officials of the House, whereas at present the change of arrangement on Wednesday comes as a relief to all of them. I do not know why this change should be made. As I have said already upon, a question like this of one day against another day, it is a matter to be settled by every Member according to his own conception of what will be best. But I shall have something indirectly to say about this Friday arrangement in connection with another point.
Now I come to the interruption of the sitting by an interval for dinner and the early meeting at two. Let us take the early meeting to begin with. Everyone sees the advantages of it if we were to sit in the day instead of at night. But we are to sit at night as well as in the day. According to this arrangement, we are to meet at 2 o'clock, and Government business is to begin at 2.30, and there are to be none of the usual hors ďœuvre as at present. How will that affect the busy lawyer, and the busy merchant, the literary man, and any man whose vocation requires to be followed in the morning? He is to be pulled up at 2 o'clock, and brought down to the House by 2.30. I think it would be very burdensome to business men, and it would, I think, have the effect of preventing very many useful men coming into this House.
Leaving the question of the early sitting, let us look at this dinner hour. Again everybody can appreciate the comfort of a stated dinner hour. We all know what a great convenience it would be to us, 558 individually and personally, but I think we can still more clearly see another thing and that is, the reason why the Government wish to have this dinner hour. Let us call a spade a spade, and not beat about the bush. What is the reason of this dinner hour? It is because the present Government find a difficulty in maintaining a majority during the dinner hour. There is hardly any concealment about it. I see their difficulty very well, and I am sorry for them. They have so large a majority that they cannot find sufficient Members for pairs on this side of the House to enable their supporters to go away paired, and therefore their supporters slip away surreptitiously and the Government find themselves left in the lurch. This session I have looked into this matter. In the debate on the Address upon the Housing Amendment the majority of the Government fell to 30 on Friday between 8 and 8.30. Last Friday night in the critical division on the Remount question, about the Austria-Hungarian purchases, the Government majority fell to 31 just before nine o'clock. Going back to last year, on April 26th on a Friday between 7 and 7.30 the Attorney-General narrowly escaped with his salary by a majority of only 33; and so demoralising was the effect of either the substance of the debate or the division upon the supporters of the Government, and so systematic was their departure from the House, that on the same night between 10 and 11 o'clock the Government majority fell to five. On May 10th, about a fortnight later, on a Friday, before 8.30 the majority fell to 12; on the 17th of May, only a week later—still during the dinner hour—it fell to 25. On May 23rd, not a Friday, there was a division in which I do not think I ever gave so perfectly virtuous a vote in my life. Some virtuous people on this occasion voted against the Government on the matter of holidays. In this division the majority fell to 30, and on Friday, June 1st, between 7.30 and 8 it fell to 34. There is the difficulty of the Government. That is why the private Members' Bills, which nobody cares about, are to be put down instead of the important question of Supply on Fridays. Can this be avoided as the reason for this impor- 559 tant change, though I hardly think the Government will wholly confess it?
Now I wish to look at this dinner hour from another point of view. The object of the Government is—Iknow it is, and it ought to be—to discourage and prevent obstruction. Will this bisection of the sitting prevent obstruction? No, Sir, it is the very way to encourage and facilitate obstruction—this patchwork arrangement directly facilitates it, and I will prove it, not by an argument, but by a fact. In the earlier part of the session the Government sometimes have a morning sitting, and in the evening some poor man who has the first Motion on the Paper and is thinking how lucky he is comes down and is counted out; but towards the end of the session, when the dinner hour would be panted for by everybody in the House, when the Government take the whole of the House for their own business, has any Government ever been insane enough to have a morning sitting? Never. They take the whole sitting. Is there not more force in that fact than in any theoretical argument that can be given?
I confess that there are many points of greater detail in this disposal of the Parliamentary day, which I dislike very much. I do not like this sort of time table arrangement: 2 to 2.25, Private business; 2.25to 2.30, Questions as to the business of the House; 2.20 to 7.15, Government business; 7.15 to 8, Questions; 9 to 10, some sort of arrangement about counting out; 10to 12, some other sort of arrangement. Well, it is treating the House of Commons as as if it was a ward in a hospital—1.15, the draught; 1.30, beef tea—or like a boys' school—dinner at such an hour, a quarter of an hour's recreation, and then a quarter of an hour's study. I do not think that is very suitable to the House of Commons, and I do not think it will do anything but get us into confusion, because you cannot sub-divide time in this way. The arrangements will run over into each other. We see this better when we look to the three important subjects that are affected by this time arrangement. First of all, there are the Railway and other Private Bills. Then there are the Questions and then Motions for adjournment. Now as to the private 560 Bills, no one has felt more strongly than I have, and no one has expressed himself more strongly, as to the gross, almost scandalous, and at any rate the inconvenience of, the present facility of those in charge of private Bills putting them down perhaps on a night when the House is keen to approach some important business, and occupying an hour or two of our time. That must be put a stop to somehow. What is this proposal? Does not this picture what will happen on a Monday? On that day there will be a big private Bill for a Corporation to stretch out its tramways to some unknown district, or a County Council Bill for a water supply to London, or a big Railway Bill involving some important principle. It comes on, but it is not taken first. Unopposed Bills must be taken first. It may not get hold of the twenty-five minutes. But supposing it gets hold of the twenty-five minutes, it will hardly suffice for a speech of ten minutes. What happens to it? The right hon. Gentleman said in introducing the proposals that a private Bill, if not completed by 2.25, would go over to the evening sitting, but the rule as it appears on the Paper says that it shall be put off to such time as the Chairman shall appoint. If it is put off to the evening sitting, what becomes of the security of private Members? If it is put off by the Chairman to another day, we will see the Member who makes the speech opposing the Bill occupying the whole of the time available. Then it has to go on to another day, and it will take day after day for a month. I cannot conceive anything more inconvenient or more certain to lead to confusion, not only with that business itself, but with other people's business, because it will be taking up the time of the evening. There are other ways in which this evil might be alleviated, but whatever other way might be possible, I cannot see that the proposal of the Government affords a very promising solution.
Now I come to Questions. It is a very easy thing to run down Questions and to laugh at them, but we ought to treat Questions—remembering that they form part of the proper functions of this House—not as a nuisance to be got rid of, but as a useful right to be regulated. What is the evil of Questions? I cannot 561 help thinking that we have rather exaggerated the idea of the enormity of the system of Questions. If there has been an increase of late years, it is largely because all the other escape valves have been stopped. I have analysed the Questions, taking three weeks haphazard last year—one before Easter, another in May, and another in June. In these three weeks there were 975 Questions. The first thing that strikes me is that 153 of them referred to South Africa. Why not? Are not these not only legitimate but necessary Questions? If we have a great war on hand, and if the ordinary sources of information are closed against us, to a large extent Questions in this House is the only way—I do not say that it is a very successful way—of trying at all events to get some information. I do not think that 153 Questions for three weeks about South Africa is too large a number. Then we have the War Office, 67. Then again we see the effect of the war in the large interest taken in all things connected with the army. Ordinary Questions are quite normal—24 to the Admiralty, 33 to the Home Office, 8 to the Colonial Office and 21 to the Local Government Board. I cannot see any great excess there. There were only 57 Questions about Scotland. I am afraid my hon. friend the Member for Ross-shire must have been absent at those times. Then there are 317 Irish Questions; but let us think a little about that. Why are there 317 Irish Questions? Is it because you do not govern Ireland in the way in which you govern England and Scotland, because the whole system of administration there is so saturated, or is suspected of being so saturated (which is just as bad from this point of view) with politics, down to the appointment of some assistant postmistress in a little village, that these Questions are naturally put. I do not defend it, and I daresay that many of them may be useless and trivial Questions but let us deal in some other way with such Questions. At any rate, we need not be at all surprised to find that there is such a large number of Questions from Ireland so long as the condition of things exists which we know does in that country. The war and the great activity of interest in the army is temporary, so that if there was any special pressure last 562 year it was probably more due to that cause than to any other.
Now what is it proposed to do with Questions? We are to have five minutes when the House meets, from 2.25 to 2.30 we are to be allowed to put Questions to the First Lord of the Treasury on the business of the House. That is rather a small allowance even for that purpose. But those are Questions of no interest to anyone except Members of the House. We want to be allowed to put Questions on large matters of public interest affecting the Empire. We want to have that opportunity, and we must have that opportunity if we are to exercise our function—the power of interrogating Ministers, not at midnight, but before we enter on the business of the day. That is a great power which I think the House of Commons will not part with. I have had some experience—and I am sure it is that of other hon. Members also—of bringing foreigners into the gallery, and the one thing they were amazed at and the one thing which they believed was the corner-stone of our liberties—and I am not sure that it is not—is this power of free interrogation, coram publico, of Ministers before Bills or Motions come on. What are we to have? Five minutes at the opening. The other Questions are to come on at 7.15. Will they? We are certain that at the end of the Government time there will probably be, or there may be, three divisions to be taken to complete the process in which we are engaged, and a good deal of time would be taken up with them. But at any rate, it is too late for the afternoon newspapers to inform the country of a great event in progress and of the rumours afloat which it is desirable to settle. We are to wait until 7.15, and then, according to the time-table, we are to have Questions, and in the meantime the evening papers are to be scouted. I have no interest in or connection with any of them. I speak in the interest of the public. Meanwhile it does not add to the pleasure of the situation that information may have been given joyfully and heartily in the House of Lords which we are not let into until 7.15. I don't know whether the House is prepared to submit to that. Then, those Questions that do not get on before 8.0 stand over to 12.0. Three 563 instalments of Questions. [An HON. MEMBER: Four.] The proposal, it seems to me, will certainly not bear investigation, and will hardly bear statement. I have stated it very fairly, and I think the House will see how almost ludicrous the effect will be. I think it a matter of extreme importance to retain the power of interrogating Ministers.
There is one other point—which is only carrying the same process and the same idea a little further—and that is the power of moving the adjournment. If an answer is unsatisfactory, the power of the House of Commons rests in the fact of being able to demand from the Ministry an explanation and a full statement of their policy. But to put that off to the evening is no use. It is wanted immediately, perhaps to satisfy public anxiety. It loses its effect, its whole character, if put off to the evening, not to mention the fact that again the poor private Member is allowed to go where he pleases, while the Government unhandsomely give to the public that which does not belong to them. I am not aware that this power of adjournment has been abused of late years. I cannot think so. The discussions are seldom long. The Motion for adjournment may sometimes be moved on matters which some Members do not think important; but the discussion in that case is not long. But it is our only means of obtaining an explanation, because if we do not get it in that way, we have to stand over until the Vote for the Department in Committee of Supply comes on.
These, two points—the power of putting Questions and the power of moving the adjournment of the House are, in my opinion, the touch-stone of the whole thing. They touch in the closest manner the essential privileges and the patriotic duties of Parliament, and they are not to be swept away into a corner in which the form of the duty may be discharged, but the utility of it entirely nullified. These seem to me the two salient points which deserve to be brought forward. There may be others, but I have said enough to show that I have not wished to speak with any acrimony or disparagement of the proposals of the Government, which do them credit, and above all the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced them. I 564 hope that they will continue to show the same open-minded spirit and tone which is necessary in this case, I think I have said enough—I repeat—to satisfy the House that the proper, the safe, the constitutional way—the way according to precedent, as well as according to reason, is to refer these proposals to a Select Committee. I beg to move.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word—
That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "before the House enters upon the discussion in detail of so large and complicated a change in its rules and practice it is desirable that the proposals of the Government should be referred to the consideration of a Select Committee."—Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (5.38.) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham, W.
I rise at once, at this early period, because we all feel that we owe it as a matter of respect to the right hon. Gentleman to take notice of the criticisms he has made upon our proposals. It will clearly be for the convenience of the debate that my right hon. friend, to whose ingenuity and painstaking industry the House owes the presentation of this code of new rules, should reserve himself to answer until he has heard all that may be said against it. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is justly entitled to claim that in his remarks he has not displayed the slightest acrimony. We recognise that he has discussed the matter without the slightest Party feeling, and he may rest assured that the Government intend to treat it in precisely the same spirit. The right hon. Gentleman said very little indeed about his Amendment. In fact, I cannot help thinking that a great number of his criticisms are really inconsistent with the main thesis of his Amendment, and would go to show that these rules would be much better discussed in the whole House than by any Committee whatsoever. He seemed to rest his case chiefly upon precedents, but, most curiously, he seemed to me to 565 have omitted the greatest precedent of all—that of 1882, when Mr. Gladstone brought forward his greatest and most drastic change—a change more affecting the personal status of hon. Members, perhaps, than any change that has been before or since been introduced to the House. That great change was not previously considered by a Select Committee.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I said there were one or two exceptions; I had them in my mind; but I said that these exceptions were justified by the extreme urgency of the case. The business of the House was brought to a dead-lock, and it was necessary to take immediate action and to set to work to meet the difficulty.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman stated that there were some exceptions. What I said was that one of these exceptions was the most important of all, and as a matter of fact it is enough to defeat the whole rule. In answer to his argument on the ground of urgency, I would venture to say that the present is also a matter of urgency—a matter of equal urgency if this House is to regain anything like the efficiency it has lost. I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman omitted to point out what would be the real effect of an otherwise plausible Amendment. I should say that this is an Amendment for postponing any alteration of our rules for twelve months. Is it likely that the Report of a Committee would be brought forward in time to enable the House to deal with so complicated a subject so as to be of advantage during the present session? This is an Amendment for postponing all discussion on a matter which is of the very first urgency and importance. Even looking back on the past year, we think, on the contrary, that the experience of that session shows how absolutely inadequate are the present Rules of the House of Commons, and how absolutely necessary it is that a considerable reform, should immediately be made. I venture to think, from indications which are open to everyone, that that is also the opinion of the nation. No subject—no domestic subject—at the 566 present moment more occupies the attention of the people, or is more popular, than proposals for the reform of the methods of doing the business of the House of Commons.
Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has shown in the latter part of his speech that the discussion must necessarily be a discussion of detail; but is it true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that these new Rules are, to a large extent heterogeneous and inter-dependent? You might, for instance, pass the Rule which deals with order, and refuse to pass the Rule for the administration of business, and vice versâ. And on that ground, I say that the proper discussion of these rules is an individual discussion on each Rule, in turn, as brought before the House. If that be so, all we have to ask ourselves is whether any one rule is of such a complicated character that the House cannot understand it unless it has been previously referred to a Committee, and has the Report of the Committee in its hand. I maintain that that is clearly not the case. I maintain that whether you look at them individually, or as a whole, each one is perfectly clear, and perfectly capable of raising an issue on which the sense of the whole House may be taken, and we should absolutely gain nothing by referring the Rules to a Select Committee, whose opinion might not be the opinion of the whole House, and certainly would not prevent any other Member of the House from expressing his assent to it or dissent from it.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to lay down certain principles on which he thought any new proposals should be based. I think those principles are excellent of their kind. I believe I am right in saying that most of them have been borrowed from the First Lord of the Treasury. [An HON. MEMBER: No, no.] My right hon. friend the First Lord of the Treasury has made speeches on this subject outside as well as inside the House. I think the right hon. Gentleman, although he may not have taken all those speeches bodily, will find in them, at all events, all the principal doctrines which he laid down amply set out. The difference is not in regard to the principles—it is much more in regard to 567 the application of them; and there may be some distinction between them. But the principles are that we are to do nothing to make the special exigencies of the situation a ground for Rules which may be useless or unnecessary when the present abnormal conditions cease to prevail. The right hon. Gentleman was very careful not to predict, and did not even seem to indicate, when what he called the abnormal conditions would be likely to become normal. But be that as it may, we are quite agreed that if it can be shown that there is any Rule in our list which is directed only against an emergency which is not likely to recur, then it ought to be abandoned; but those who have taken the trouble to study these Rules, will find that they have a permanent application, and that no change in the situation between the two Parties would in any way lessen the strength of the argument in favour of the Rules. The second principle is that we are not to found these Rules on any conviction that a section of the House is out of sympathy with the House. There, again, I entirely agree with the principle. We have nothing to do with sections in the House. If there be disorder in the House, let that be dealt with, but let it not be treated as a personal question as to whether a man belonged to one section or another. His disorder ought to be sternly repressed, and, with that application of it granted, I fully accept the principle. Then the right hon. Gentleman lays it down that the new Rules ought not to be based on an attempt to meet the convenience of a section of the House. Any change ought to be based on an endeavour to meet the convenience of the whole House. If it is impossible to do that, if you cannot secure convenience for some without inconvenience for others, then the principle should be to secure the convenience of the majority, and of course the vote of the House, after the discussion, will show on which side the convenience of the majority lies. I do not think it at all probable that the convenience of any small section of the House, or any exceptional demand is at all likely to weigh with the House. The last principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman was that we ought not to exalt the Executive 568 at the cost of the whole House. I often hear some learned and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House endeavour to distinguish between the Government and the House, between the Executive and the House. After all, the Government are the servants of the House. They are chosen practically with the approval of the House. Of course, when we speak of the House, we always mean the majority of the House—the majority for the time being. The approval of the House is the breath of our existence. We can be turned out of office tomorrow or tonight by a simple change of opinion which would cause us to be out of sympathy with the majority of the House. Therefore, when you talk about curtailing the powers of the Government, what you mean, and it is better to say so at once, is curtailing the powers of the majority, and increasing the powers of the minority. ["No, no."] I have placed my reason for thinking so before you, and my belief is that that is the inevitable result of the line of argument. If it be so I can give to it no support whatever. I believe that the people who elect the majority of the House have a right to see that that majority has power to carry out what is ex hypothesi the will of the majority of the nation; and our elections and our representative system are a perfect and absolute farce if with one hand you pretend that the majority elects a Government, and then with the other hand prevent that Government from doing its proper work. With these qualifications I say that I see no objection to the principles which the right hon. Gentleman laid down, and upon which I have no doubt the House generally will agree.
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman divided the Rules into three categories—those that refer to the order of the House, those that refer to the simplification of our procedure—which I would rather describe as the efficiency of our procedure—and those which refer to the arrangement of our time and the convenience of Members. With regard to the first of those divisions. I take no exception to the strengthening of the rules which are intended to preserve order, but I say that in my opinion we had gone too far in the direction of severity in two ways. In the first place, the time of exclusion for disorderly Members was too long; and, in the second place, to ask 569 from him an apology was a humiliation which could not be defended. Of all the Questions which the House can consider this of order is the most important. The efficiency of any deliberative body rests entirely on the authority of the Chair. Fortunately, we have had not to consider the possibility of inefficiency in the Chairmen, and the only question we have to consider is whether when we have got an efficient Chairman we intend to invest him with sufficient authority to make his will respected. The will of the Chairman when it is declared, at the time declared, will be immediately effective without discussion; whether right or wrong, shall be immediately effective There are means provided by the Rules, and there are precedents for calling in question the particular conduct of our Speaker and Chairman of Committees.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member is mistaken. I recollect perfectly well the discussion of the conduct of Speaker Peel or Speaker Brand—
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
There may have been no desire since, but the means are within the reach of hon. Members, and are a constitutional, and the proper way of calling to account a Speaker who may have given a decision which they consider unjust and unfair. But I say that when we have elected our Speaker, investing him with authority, and leaving aside the question whether his judgment in a particular case is fair or unfair, we think for our own sakes that it shall be made immediately effective; and the greatest safeguard for order in this House, for the decency and the dignity of our procedure, is to provide the most stringent penalty for any one who disputes the authority of the Speaker. For almost any other kind of disorder I can understand that there might be less stringent measures, required, or less desired; but for the one offence of disputing and disregarding the ruling of the Speaker in the 570 Chair, there ought to be no mercy. In my opinion our proposals are not too stringent, and I think they ought to be supported by the House. I come to the question of apology. In the first place I am met with the statement that there is no precedent for that. I confess I think there are precedents, at all events large precedents, which come near to it. The position of any outsider who offends this House is, I will not say a humiliating one, but the practical extent of his punishment depends on his willingness to offer a sufficient apology to the House for the offence he may have committed. I am not pretending to the right hon. Gentleman that I find an exact parallel, but the idea that underlies this proposal is not altogether new. Take the case of a libel action. In that case it is a common thing for the offender to make an apology and pay damages into Court, to submit to a punishment and make an apology too; and it depends generally on the fulness of that apology whether it is accepted or what the decision of the Court may be. I think also that something of the same kind prevails in cases of contempt of Court, but after all we have occasionally to make precedents as well as follow them.
Therefore I would rather, without the least regard to precedent, ask the House whether in the face of the facts this is not a desirable provision. We are only asking an offender to do what every gentleman would volunteer to do. If in temporary heat he has offended the House and the Speaker, when he recovers his coolness his first idea would naturally be to make a full and ample apology, and if he does not make that apology it can only be because he does not recognise the insult he has offered to the House and the gravity of the offence; and as long as that is his frame of mind I do not think he is a proper person to sit in the House. I cannot regard the apology as a sort of confession of wrong and a guarantee that the offence would not be repeated.
I come to the second group of Rules, which I describe as Rules to provide for the efficiency of our business. The right hon. Gentleman made a statement which went, I think, rather far, and certainly it would not be agreed to by all those who belong to his party. He actually ridiculed the great and glorious word "efficiency." He actually relegated it to 571 a subordinate and inferior position, and he said that he considered the efficiency of the House of Commons was secondary to what he called the diffused right of the House to take part in our debates.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Diffused in contradistinction to what we call the right of private Members with regard to Bills and Motions—the diffused right we all share of interrogating the Ministry, of criticising their answers, and taking such steps as are necessary of keeping our control over Ministers. Anything that lessens our control over Ministers I think is a more heavy blow than a certain amount of inefficiency.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman places the efficiency of the House in a secondary position as compared with the control of Ministers. How on earth, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain to me, can the House lose its control of Ministers when a vote of the House may at any moment destroy Ministers? The absolute control of the Ministry is in the hands of the House, and nothing on earth can take it out of the hands of the House. On the other hand, if the efficiency of the House is destroyed then the control of the House over Ministers becomes very unsatisfactory and incomplete. I attach the greatest possible importance to it at any rate, and I put in the first place the efficiency of the House of Commons. When the right hon. Gentleman distinguishes between the rights of private Members as far as individual Bills and Motions are concerned and the diffused right of the House, I agree absolutely with him that that diffused right is a right which cannot be controlled in any way. But how is it taken away by any of the Rules? Every Member of the House has an equal right if he desires to take part in our debates. He can criticize a measure at any stage and on every estimate laid before the House. The opportunity is given—
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Let me say to be quite accurate he has under our system 23 days to do it in. If that is not enough for the diffused right it can be increased if it is thought necessary to do so. He has also the right of intervening at all stages, including the Committee stage, on every Bill proposed by the Government; and after all, whatever importance maybe attached to what are called private Members' Bills, to his declaration of sentiments, his inducement and encouragement to legislate, it cannot be pretended for a moment that that compares in importance with the proposals brought forward by the Government which are going to be, in all human probability, embodied in actual legislation. That is what concerns the people of the country; and the Rule gives more time to the discussion of these measures even if some few private Members do less and some are deprived of the opportunity of increasing the number of abstract Resolutions. I think by comparison they are almost of infinitesimal importance compared with the duty and obligation thrown on the members to criticise the actual proposals of the Government. If the House is to be made more efficient, if more time is given to the proper and useful discussion of important Bills and Questions of policy, then, no doubt, there are a few private Members—they are very few—who will find themselves, to a certain extent, curtailed of the opportunities which they enjoy so freely at present. I know private Members—there is my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn for example, who takes, to the enjoyment and instruction ofthe House, a great many more opportunities of addressing it than any ordinary Cabinet Minister. I should be sorry to lose one of his speeches, but at the same time I cannot help feeling that there are other hon. Members whom I should also like to hear if I had to make a division of the time of the House, though I feel it is possible my hon. friend might lose some of those opportunities which he now cherishes. But, let me say, although that may interfere with the enjoyment of the House, it will in no way interfere with 573 its efficiency. I am convinced that when hon. Members come, in more favourable circumstances, to examine these various Rules more in detail, they will find that they are intended, as they are calculated, to increase the opportunities and to average more equally the opportunities enjoyed by private Members for the discussion of matters of real importance.
Sir, I need not say more. I believe that with regard to most of the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman placed in this category he gave a warm and loyal adhesion; but now I come to the last group in which the right hon. Gentleman finds most to criticise. He made use of an observation which I really think was rather unnecessary. No doubt, when he speaks of the ways and wishes of smart society, he speaks of a section of the population with which he is more intimate than I. I have not the honour, as apparently the right hon. Gentleman has, to number among my friends any of those who pull down their blinds in order that they may be supposed by the passers-by to be out of town. When I speak of the habits of this choice selection of the human race, I do so with all deference to the authority of the right hon. Gentleman. But I agree with him, and I am inclined to think that, on the whole, that section should not have an overwhelming influence on the proceedings of the House of Commons. Certainly it is not their desires which the Government have taken into consideration. What we have taken into consideration is the general convenience of the House. As I look at it whether we have been successful or not the vote of the House will determine. But we are not at all ashamed of calling a spade a spade, and saying that we consider, in the interest of the House of Commons as a whole, and not of one party more than another, it should be made as far as possible attractive and certainly tolerable for those who belong to it. The right hon. Gentleman laid down the principle, as a presumption, that any one who desired to become a Member of Parliament would either be resident in London or would be always available on every occasion. If he were, that would be irrelevant to some of the difficulties with which we have tried to 574 deal by these Rules. I cannot go back as far as the right hon. Gentleman, but I can go back twenty-six years; and I say that the situation in the House of Commons then was totally different. It was not made by Rules, it is true. It was made to a great extent by the courtesy which all sections at that time were ready to show one to another. At that time no man would have dared to set himself against what may be called the general feeling of the House; and that desire to earn the good opinion of the House as a whole did act as a great restriction upon anything in the nature of undesirable prolixity. But that is not all. What were the customs of the House at that time? We came down a little later than now, and then we had Questions. But how many? Not a third of the average number of questions for last session. And the cross-questioning of Ministers which now goes on in the form of supplementary questions was practically unknown. Hardly ever was a second question asked. A Member, having put his Question, was satisfied with the answer which the Minister gave, and no attempt was made to extract by some sudden question information which perhaps it might not be in the public interest for the Minister to give. We always knew then what we were coming down for; and the order of debate was generally such that it was perfectly possible for a man, having attended the first hour or two of the sitting, to know whether he would be wanted again that night, and, if so, when he would be wanted. There was always an understanding between the two sides as to when a division would be taken. But note what that means. See how it contributed to the convenience of Members on both sides of the House. It was quite possible for a man to go away—and many did go away—for dinner. Is it to be represented as a crime that a Member, who is, according to the condition of the right hon. Gentleman, resident in London, should prefer on the whole, much as he likes the House of Commons, to spend if he can an hour or two with his family, and to spend that time at dinner, or that he should prefer, if he has no family, to dine with his friends? I have heard gentlemen on 575 this side of the House called "the dinner-party."
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, I think it was the hon. Gentleman. Well, they have a right to dine, and I do not complain on their account of their being called the dinner-party. But, remember, there is more than one dinner-party in the House of Commons. The hon. Member himself belongs to one.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, I said, "in the House." The convenience of the hon. Member and his friends is a matter for consideration as well as the convenience of those other hon. Members who, having friends or families, prefer to dine with them outside. There are Members in this House who find that they get a good dinner in this House cheaper than they can get it elsewhere.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for East Mayo made a discourteous remark, which I hope he will not repeat.
§ MR. DILLON
I was betrayed in making it by what I thought was a very discourteous remark by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Really there is no reason for any heat. No discourtesy was intended. I only pointed out that the arrangements of the House are rightly provided so as to cater for all.
§ MR. DILLON
What the right hon. Gentleman said, and what betrayed me into an observation which I fully admit was improper, was that the arrangements of the House were made for those who wanted a cheap dinner.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
I must beg the hon. Member for South Donegal to allow the right hon. Gentleman to continue his speech, and to refrain from his continuous and very discourteous observations.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member is mistaken. I refer him to the report of my speech. [An HON. MEMBER: "Go and have your dinner now."] I say again to the hon. Member for East Mayo that no discourtesy was intended to him or to any other hon. Member. I should have thought that no such conclusion could have been drawn from my words. I say that there are Members of the House for whom it is more convenient and more agreeable to dine in the House than outside. On the other hand, there are hon. Members for whom it is more convenient and agreeable to dine out of the House. There is no discredit to the Government for taking into account the latter as well as the former. What happens as it is? The right hon. Gentleman says that the Government have found that Members of their party in a larger proportion than Members of his party go out of the House for dinner.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
I did not enter into this question of dining inside the House or out of it. What I said was that, you being more numerous than we are, your supporters cannot find pairs, and therefore, as your Whips will not allow them to go away unpaired, they go away surreptitiously.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
That is my point. The right hon. Gentleman points out that, owing to the circumstances which he states, the Government were afraid of finding themselves in a minority or, at all events, a majority very much less than their proper majority. He attributes that to the fact that it is convenient to a large number of members on this side of the House to leave the House at dinner time. If that is so, what is the result, and I ask, is it desirable in itself? The result is that the opinion of the country and of the House is misrepresented. When a snatch division is taken—a division which has not been expected—and it has happened again and again that Members have left the House on the the assurance that no division would be 577 taken, and that the action of some private Member has nevertheless forced a division—in these cases what has happened is that the division has not represented the opinion either of the House or of the country. That is not a desirable state of things. I do not see that, in order to secure such an advantage as that, the right hon. Gentleman should make a protest against a Rule which is intended to prevent such things. The object is, as I have said, to make the House more attractive. Does any one contend that it would be desirable to exclude from this House the class of Members—I will not speak of the present time—who when the right hon. Gentleman and I first entered the House, formed, in fact, the majority? That is to say, the men with intelligence, educated, cultivated, with great knowledge of many subjects, but not desirous themselves of taking a very active part in the work of the House, although, whenever such men do address the House on subjects with which they are especially familiar, they are almost certain of a most attentive hearing. Is it desirable that that class of Members, whom we generally describe as silent Members, should be excluded from the House? If the task that you put upon their shoulders is too severe you will exclude them. Such a man will not accept the burden of Parliamentary life if, contrary to what used to be the case twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, he finds that Parliamentary work entails upon him the obligation to be present in the House from the moment it sits, through the dinner hour, down to the moment it closes, and that if he does not do that a snatch division may be called, and he may find that some injury has been done to the cause he represents. I appeal to the common sense of hon. Gentlemen opposite quite as much as to those on my side of the House. It is all very well to say that it does not affect them while they are out of office. That is perfectly true. The Opposition has always a very much freerer hand than the Government; but the right hon. Gentleman, if he ever comes into power again, knows perfectly well that he will find precisely the same difficulty, and that, if too great a demand is made upon the devotion of his followers, they will perhaps, fail him in the hour of need.
578 I put it as being in the interest of the House that anything which interferes with the convenience and comfort of Members, which is not necessary for the good conduct of the business of the House, ought to be removed; and it is with the view of removing it, of making it more possible to suit all sections in the House, of making it less necessary for Members to attend here permanently during debates in which they have no personal interest, and that they may I be able to reckon with certainty on the time when their presence is required, that we have put before the House the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has criticised.
The right hon. Gentleman says it is almost an insult, I think he said, to the House—at all events, that it is derogatory to the House—to offer a time-table to the House. Why is that derogatory? In its absolute sense a time-table is impossible, because we cannot say beforehand exactly how long any one of the orders of the day may take in discussion; but if to be able to say as far as possible what will begin the discussion is a timetable, all I can say is that it will be very much to the advantage and convenience of everybody in the House.
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the difficulty with regard to private business. We admit that that is a difficulty. There is no doubt that the circumstances attending private business have grown much more complicated in recent years; and it is the view of the Government that the matter is urgent and that a Committee might very well be appointed to deal with this difficult subject, it is a subject which requires to be dealt with, in the first instance, by experts, and if a Committee were appointed some recommendation might result from it which might materially improve the present system.
The right hon. Gentleman dwelt at considerable length of time on the matter of Questions, and he seemed to find excuse for their number and insignificance. He made use of one rather curious expression. He apparently is rather inclined nowadays to bring Home Rule into every speech, and I understood him to give as an excuse for the number of Questions which are asked from the Irish Benches the fact that we had not conceded Home Rule to 579 that country. Be that as it may, it anyone will look, not merely to the number of Questions which are asked, but also to their character, he will see that as regards the great majority of them they have absolutely no public interest whatever. Every reasonable demand would be satisfied if a Member would put his Question in a private letter to the Minister and get a private answer, and if he wants something more than that, if he wants to prove to his constituents that he is actively looking after their interests, then an alternative is provided by which he can have his Question and the answer printed on the Votes; and in one way or the other, with a little good will on the part of the House, I am perfectly certain that the number of Questions may easily be reduced by one-half, and, it may be, by three-fourths. If that is done, as we expect it will be done, there is no doubt whatever that the time between the breaking-off of business at the morning sitting and 8 o'clock, when unopposed business comes compulsorily to an end, will be ample for the putting and the answering of all those Questions. I think, therefore, it is a rather imaginary grievance which the right hon. Gentleman makes when he supposes that many of those Questions are going over to a subsequent period or even to the next day.
The power of adjournment is another matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and he seemed to think it was in some sort of way one of the palladiums of our liberty.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
If so. it is a remarkable fact that it is only within the last few years that any use whatever has been made of it.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. When I first came into the House any Member could do it when he liked. If an answer was given which he did not like he could say, "I shall conclude with a Motion," and he made a speech and moved.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Oh, yes, I quite agree. Members had the power to do all sorts of things then, including 580 some which they have not the power to do now, but Members then did not take advantage of those powers, and, above all, they did not abuse them, and that makes a considerable difference. And the proof of it is that, although, of course, this power of adjournment is, I suppose, as old as the House itself, yet the number of occasions on which it was used up to a very recent date, was extremely few, and, therefore, if it be really such an important item in our constitutional privileges, it is a curious thing that we have managed to do without it for so long.
I think I have gone over the detailed objections, but I have only attempted to do so briefly, because the fuller and more reasonable discussion will naturally come when the Rules are separately before the House. The Government have no desire, beforehand, to lay down iron Rules. They do not pretend that the scheme they have put before the House is a perfect one. They are prepared to listen to discussion, with every desire to profit by it. But they do believe that, on the whole, the Rules will deal with what may be called the most urgent grievances of the House of Commons, that they will secure greater freedom from anything in the nature of disorderly conduct, that they will add to the convenience of the majority of the House, and that they will secure the better conduct and administration of business.
§ (6.25.) MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford, E.)
I hope the House will pardon me if I adopt a somewhat different method of discussing this Question from that adopted by the Leader of the Opposition. There was one remark of the Colonial Secretary with which I cordially agree. This is a matter, as he said, of the very first importance. As I understand, this opportunity has been given to the House to discuss the principle of the general bearing of these Rules, and not to go seriatim through them in detail. Therefore, I do not propose to follow the example set by the Leader of the Opposition in taking these proposals one by one and discussing them. I intend rather to deal with the general aspect of these Rules, and that, I think, will be more in conformity with 581 what ought to be the character of a Second Reading debate.
Now, Sir, I cannot help feeling, in rising to discuss this subject, that there are two perfectly distinct points of view from which this attempt to improve the procedure of the House of Commons must be regarded. First of all, there is the point of view ofthe British Members of this House—men who are filled with reverence and affection and loyalty for its institutions; men who revere the ancient history of the House of Commons, love its traditions, and are loyal to them in every sense of the word; men who represent here constituents to whom this House of Commons has been in the past a bulwark of freedom; and men who, therefore, are filled with an earnest desire to rescue this House of Commons from the creeping paralysis that seems to be overtaking it, and to make it once more an efficient instrument for the democratic government of a free people. That, Sir, is one point of view from which this matter must be considered. But if we are to leave cant on one side, and to be candid and honest, as I hope to be allowed to be in my few remarks tonight, it must be admitted that there is another and an entirely different point of view from which this proceedings will be regarded—the point of view of those Members who come to this House from Ireland, who come here reluctantly, who are coerced to come hero by an Act of Union which they, rightly or wrongly, regard as an outrage and a usurpation. These men do not regard this House with feelings of reverence, affection, or loyalty. These men do not see any cause why they should revere the past history of this House, why they should love its traditions, or why they should be loyal to them. They are men to whose constituents this House has never been a bulwark of freedom. On the contrary, this House of Commons has been for them and for their constituents an instrument of oppression and of wrong. We owe nothing to this House of Commons. During the hundred years which has elapsed since the Union this House has passed 71 Coercion Acts. Some of them have been passed through all their stages in a single sitting; some have been passed in an hour; some have been 582 passed in the enforced absence of the majority of the elected representatives of the people. Many of those Acts suspended Habeas Corpus; many of them suspended the right of trial by jury, and speaking of them broadly, it may be said that from time to time everyone of them suspended in Ireland some one or other of the fundamental rights of the British Constitution.
More than that, redress of grievances has never been obtained by argument, persuasion, or the consideration of justice within the walls of this House. Whenever it has come about, it has been by violence of one sort or another outside these walls. In the House of Commons we are in a permanent minority, we are always in opposition, we never look forward to the day when we should sit on that side of the House as part of a majority governing either England or our own country. We are in a permanent minority, always having arrayed against us a majority of men who are sent to this House as the representatives of another nation, men who cannot be expected to understand the needs of Ireland, and who admittedly do not and cannot sympathise with her sentiments and aspirations. I am not going to labour this point, but what I desire to point out is the existence of these two different standpoints. You may deplore it as you like, but the existence of these two standpoints is a fact which you cannot gainsay. I respectfully say that these distinctions in themselves sufficiently illustrates the difficulty, the delicacy, and as I think the impossibility of the task which you are undertaking. The smooth and rapid working of any legislative machine depends not upon Rules and Standing Orders and pains and penalties, but rather upon the spirit of the Members who form the legislature. It depends upon their loyalty to the traditions of the legislature and their willing subordination of private and individual interests to the common good. That is a self-evident fact, but if it were of any importance that I should quote authorities upon that point they are to be held in abundance. Every one of your Committees and Statesmen who have considered this question have laid it down that the successful working of this Parliament machine must depend not upon 583 rules and restrictions or penalties but upon the spirit of the Members who compose it. The Committee in 1848, for example, reported—It is not so much to any now Rules, especially restrictive Rules, that your Committee desires to rely for the efficient discharge of business by the House. The increase of business calls for increased consideration on the part of Members in their individual capacity. Your Committee therefore must rely on the good faith of the House.Now the point I wish to make is that so long as this destinction exists between sets of Members in this House, so long as there is one class of Members who are brought here against their will, and who do not sympathise with the traditions and feelings of the House as a whole, so long it is an impossible task for you by any new Rules, by any restrictions, by any possible penalties you may devise to rescue the House of Commons from the creeping paralysis which undoubtedly has overtaken it.
Now, Sir, let me look for a moment at this question from both these points of view. I do not know whether hon. Members will think that I am capable of looking at it from the point of view of the British Members. But let me try for a few moments to do so. I say that in my opinion the anxiety of British Members as to the future of the House of Commons is well founded. An hon. Member some time ago declared that in his opinion the position of the House of Commons in the English Constitution was steadily declining. Well, that is ray view. I believe the powers of the House of Commons is is rapidly waning, that its power as a governing body is almost gone, and that its functions—this is a matter incapable of contradiction—as a legislative machine have almost come to a standstill, and I believe that the House of Commons is rapidly sinking into contempt in the country because it is rapidly coming to be regarded by the country as a mere machine of registering the decrees of the Cabinet for the time being. Now, that being the state of the case it is perfectly natural and indeed incumbent upon British Members to endeavour in some way to remedy this evil, but I suggest to you that before applying a remedy they will have to successfully 584 and rightly diagnose the disease. Allow me to protest as strongly as I can against what I regard as the absurd idea that the block of business in this House, that arrears of legislation, that the breakdown of the Parliamentary machine, is due to the presence here of Irish Members upon these benches. The First Lord of the Treasury was candid enough upon that very point in his speech in Manchester. There he said, just before the opening of Parliament, talking of changes that took place in the House of Commons,Well, all that was changed—changed by nobody's fault, changed quite irrespective of anything that could be described as deliberate obstruction, changed by natural evolution of a great democratic commuuity—changed: beyond recall.Therefore, Sir, while I see that the presence of Irish Members under the conditions under which they sit in this House must be always a source of danger and difficulty, it is absurd to contend that they are responsible for the breakdown of the Parliamentary machinery, for the clogging of the wheels, and the other hindrances which are hanging round it at the present moment. The simple truth is, as was pointed out in 1882, that Parliament, its functions and its labours, have been revolutionised since the Reform Bill. The Empire that it has to rule is changed, and the conditions of life are today totally changed, and the House of Commons is engaged—vainly engaged in endeavouriug to perform at this moment far more work than any legislature in the world ever carried out before. It is endeavouring to perform the work of at least half a dozen legislatures. In your colony of Canada, where there are about 6,000,000 people, there are eight legislatures, all busily engaged, all with their hands full, while the Dominion Parliament attends to national affairs. In Australia there are 4,000,000, which is less than the population of Ireland, and there are there seven legislatures; and last year this House, this Parliament acceded to the demand made by all the Australian Colonies that a new legislature should be created, a legislature which would lift from the shoulders of all those Parliaments those national concerns which they bad not proper power and time to deal with. 585 And, Sir, the illustration of America is familiar to everyone, where, with less than double the population of the whole United Kingdom, there are 45 legislatures and Congress sitting at Washington. I must not dwell upon this, because the First Lord of the Treasury was good enough to say of me the other day, in a passage which I relished as much as anybody who sat behind him that he knew perfectly well upon this topic what sort of a speech I should make. I think he said that he knew my speech by heart. I have only got to say to him in reply, that I have only got one story to tell him in this House; I have only one song to sing, I have only one argument to make, and if that argument becomes tiresome to him—2014;
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR)
I never said that.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
I may say that he will hear that story as frequently after his new Rules have passed as he has before, and the story will continue to be heard, to echo through this House until the disease, as I call it, from which your Parliament is suffering is remedied. The truth of this matter is that while the whole civilised world has been advancing on the lines of decentralisation, and upon lines which may be roughly called, not perhaps accurately, Federation; upon lines of a distinction between national and local concerns; while the whole world has been advancing upon these lines, while in places like the German Empire and your free Colonies abroad everywhere advance has been made upon these lines, the British House of Commons alone has been insisting upon a vain endeavour to proceed upon the whole lines, and within the compass of these walls and with the limited time at the disposal of Members and endeavouring to transact all the local concerns of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and in addition to all the House of Commons has also been endeavouring to transact the ever accumulating business of your worldwide Empire. That in my opinion is the problem before us, and I oppose the Motion of the First Lord of the Treasury to consider these Rules because I think that from the point of view of remedying the disease his Rules are worthless.
586 I want to be quite candid I support the Amendment of the Leader of the Opposition because it does postpone the consideration of these rules, as the Colonial Secretary said, for at least a year. I support it for no other reason. I do not believe for a moment that if a Committee is formed and sits it will devise any satisfactory settlement of this question. The problem to my mind is as clear as daylight, and there is only one possible solution for it. I alluded a moment ago to a discussion which took place in 1882, a great speech was made on that occasion by Mr. Gladstone in introducing his Closure Rule. Although Mr. Gladstone apparently believed at that time that it was possible to cure the ills of Parliament by a revision of your Rules of Procedure, still one reads in his speech certain hesitation, and one is led to believe that even Mr. Gladstone at that time foresaw that it was impossible to remedy the evil from which Parliament was suffering by any New Rules. Will the House bear with me while I quote two or three sentences from that great speech, where Mr. Gladstone describes the extraordinary and revolutionary change that has come over public life in this country, and has come over the work of the House of Commons since 1833. He says—We have had since 1833 various and considerable enlargements of our Empire. Our Empire has been doubled sometimes by the acquisition of new territory, sometimes by carrying the principles and methods of civilisation, common to the whole structure, into territories which have heretofore been a barren waste. It is not alone territorial extension which has increased our duties; it has likewise increased by our relations established through our trade and commerce with the whole of the countries of the world. Our points of contact with the fortune and interests of other nations have been so multiplied that now there is hardly any serious event which can occur in any portion of the globe which does not vibrate through the whole of the country, and which may not—and probably for the most part may—legitimately form the subject of discussion in this House. Over and above these important changes and enlargements of duty, there have been changes in the ideas and views of men respecting the sphere of legislation and of Government which have added enormously to the burdens of this House. In the epoch of my youth the vast congeries of what may for the moment be rudely, but adequately, described as social questions, were never regarded as altogether within the view of Parliament, and were never (perhaps the word 'never' implies some 587 exaggeration, but I am describing what was the general rule) brought under its notice.He goes on to say—On the contrary, now they are growing and multiplying on us from year to year, and they form a very large and definite portion of the demand upon our time. There is no likelihood that this difficulty will diminish. It is not as if there were a number of subjects that required to be dealt with, and after that the chapter was closed.Mr. Gladstone gives an extraordinary illustration of how, great man as he was, he under-estimated the real effects of this position. With regard to Preliminary Education, he said—It may be said with regard to one subject—that of Preliminary Education—that we have in a great degree done with, we hope, the subject of Preliminary Education in England and Scotland, so far at least as regards the solution of the greatest and more important of the problems presented to that great question.He says that notwithstanding they have disposed of a question of that kind, still there are so many things cropping up that he sees no hope of the House carrying out its business as it did in the past, and that was his reference to the question of education which is now thundering at the doors of Parliament, and which will probably occupy more than the whole of one session before it is satisfactorily dealt with. Then here is the last sentence I will read to the House. In the year 1878 he deemed it his duty to prepare a list of the great subjects of pressing and paramount importance that were shelved by the fact that Parliament had not time to devote to them.Again, in August 1878 there were 22, and in August, 1879, I reconsidered the list and instead of 22 subjects I found 31.So it has gone on. The accumulation of which Mr. Gladstone complained in 1878 and 1879 is far worse to-day. What about all your great British reforms that are awaiting settlement! I am not going to give a list, but what has a Parliament to say for its efficiency—if you like the word—which leaves untouched, because it has not time to attend to them, all the great social questions such as old age pensions, the housing of the working classes, temperance, and a score of other similarly pressing needs which are being cried out for in this country and in Scotland and in Wales, and which is not able year after year to afford sufficient 588 time to deal with the great Irish problem which faces Ministers responsible for Ireland, a problem which should and ought to be dealt with immediately.
No, the fact is that Parliamentary machinery has broken down. It is not that Parliament has not done its best and has not worked hard, because ever since the Reform Bill the Houses of Parliament have been increased, so has the length of session, and the work of hon. Members has been harder and harder year by year, with the result, miserable and ridiculous, that the output of work has been less and less. Now, Sir, I ask the House to look at it from this British point of view. What earthly hope is there that this evil can be remedied by this scheme of new rules? Why, for 70 years you have been tinkering with the rules. Since 1833 there have been 21 Committees dealing with this question. On these Committees all your greatest men—Palmerston, Disraeli, Gladstone, and Bright—all the greatest statesmen of your country have served on these Committees. They made suggestion after suggestion with the vain hope that they would be able to remove the evil. Many of the suggestions have been carried out, and the evil is worse than ever. In 1882 an elaborate system was put into practice. Two years after, your, position was worse than before. In 1887 a most elaborate system of new rules was devised and carried out, but things were worse than ever ten years after, and here you are now, after 70 years tinkering, in a worse position, I believe, than you ever were before. This House has made great sacrifices in endeavouring to remedy the disease; it has sacrificed that freedom which was its chief boast. In 1882, in order to grapple with this evil, the House of Commons made an enormous sacrifice by copying from Continental legislatures the system of closure, which the British Parliament had boasted they would never adopt. The House made other sacrifices. They sacrificed from time to time steadily more year by year, the interests and the rights of private members. Now at the end of 70 years, tinkering at these rules by the greatest statesmen, you have to come down to the House of Commons today to propose a new 589 set of rules for this purpose, and have to admit that there never was a time when the wheels were so clogged, and accumulation of necessary work waiting to be done in the interest of people was so enormous. At this moment Parliament is practically incapable of dealing with large legislative concerns. One great Imperial question cropping up, such as this war, or, say, an Imperial question not half so important, blocks absolutely all chance of domestic reform. Are these questions likely to be less in the future? The war may be over—that is, the fighting in the Transvaal may be over, I know not when, but will the Imperial question of South Africa then go? I venture to think that after hostilities are declared over, and after you commence your civil task of endeavouring to govern South Africa under the new conditions, you will have new Imperial questions haunting this House, far greater in proportion, far greater in its effects than even this question which, for two years, has rendered all domestic legislation absolutely impossible.
Sir, I do not believe the Government have any faith at all in their remedy. They may think perhaps that they will knock off a few angles and make life easier in this direction or that, but I do not for one moment believe that they cherish the delusion that they are going, by these new rules or any other new rules that the wit of man can devise, to rescue Parliament from the creeping paralysis that has come over it. What does the First Lord of the Treasury say about them? In a speech which he made at Manchester, he warned the people not to expect too much from these new rules. Some of his colleagues during the recess had been talking very vehemently about the necessity of new rules, which would enable the House of Commons to be once more an efficient instrument of government, and I think the First Lord found it necessary just before the opening of Parliament to warn the English public not to expect too much. He said all that they could hope to do was to abate the nuisance, and when they had done that they should not he impatient of the inevitable residuum. They should not suppose that 590 any mere change in their rules would enable 670 men to deal with the most controversial, the most difficult and important business which any assembly in the world had to deal with, with the rapidity with which a committee of four or five would dispose of some ordinary day to day transaction. The right hon. Gentleman might have added "or the rapidity that a local legislature dealing with local affairs, or an Imperial Parliament dealing with imperial affairs, would dispose of their business." He asked the public who, he thought, could not understand parliamentary methods as well as those who carried them on, to have patience. It is clear from that speech, in my opinion, that the right hon. Gentleman himself has no earthly idea that the rules will deal with the real evil with which he has to grapple. In his interesting and entrancing speech the other night in introducing the rules, he did not pretend—he did not ask for them any such virtue. Well, if he does not claim for them any such virtue as that then it is simple that he has fallen into the rut, and is following the example of those who for 70 years have been tinkering at the question, and that he with his unrivalled power is unable or unwilling to propose any real remedy for the evil from which Parliament is suffering. The simple truth is that it cannot be done. There is only one remedy possible, and in my opinion the public mind of England is coming more rapidly than most people imagine to recognise as a fact that there is only one solution. I say that these new rules will fail. They will fail as the new rules of the last 70 years have failed. They will fail as your rules in 1887 failed, and if you are to rescue this Parliament at all it must be by lightening the load which is resting upon its shoulders.
So much from what I call the British point of view. Let me in a very few sentences conclude by making a few observations from what I shall call the Irish point of view. From the Irish point of view I have very little indeed to say. I think our position with reference to improvements in procedure is entirely misunderstood. We have no objection whatever to rules calculated to facilitate the passage of good measures through this House. We are engaged in an effort on the floor 591 of this House to obtain good measures for Ireland, and of course we know that the time may come again, as it came in 1893, when some Government or other may be engaged in the task of endeavouring to carry into law some great measure of justice to Ireland. It is our interest with reference to such a measure as that, and with reference to any other legislation, that the Government of the day should have such facilities as sensible rules can confer and to defeat vexatious and unscrupulous opposition. Our attitude is entirely different from that which is generally supposed upon this subject. Our position is clear. We have no faith in those new rules; we have no faith in the possibility of any new rules to remedy the admitted evils of Parliament, but we have no factious opposition to offer to any fair, reasonable, and well considered proposal for promoting the proper conduct of business in this House.
Now, these particular rules divide themselves to my mind into three categories. First I say that these rules are intended to promote what the First Lord called the domestic felicity of what I must describe as an idle class of Members of this House; secondly, to practically abolish private Members by making the Government master of the whole available time of Parliament; and thirdly, to punish the Irish Members. I will not enter on the interesting discussion which took place earlier about the dinner hour, and I will not discuss any question of the good taste of the Colonial Secretary in intimating that, in his opinion, there were some Members who would prefer to dine in the House because it was cheaper than elsewhere. I do not know if that were so it would be no reason. I will not express any opinion as to the good taste of remarks of that kind coming from the right hon. Gentleman. As to the dinner hour, I have only one remark to make. The dinner hour as proposed in these rules is of no earthly value whatever to the ordinary working Member of Parliament. Let me take my own case. I have dined in this House constantly for years, and possibly I can get my dinner cheaper here than elsewhere. But I do not dine here on that account, or because I like it, but because I have to do it. Well, what will happen under the new rules? Public business will stop at 7.15, 592 and questions are to be taken on till 8 o'clock. Now I cannot leave the House till 9 o'clock; and the House is to meet at 9. It is true that there cannot be a count out till 10 o'clock, but I have to be back here again at 9; and I say that that adjournment of one hour at that period is absolutely useless to me; and I set myself as an example of what I may call the ordinary working Members of the House, who are always here endeavouring to know what is going on. The time is not long enough to enable such a Member to go home and dine with his family. [An HON. MEMBER: Why not?] Of course it is not; and that is a stupid interruption. Any one knows that if a man lives in Kensington, or any place like that, it is quite impossible to dine at home and come back here at nine o clock. I say therefore that the dinner hour is of no value to the working Member of the House, but only to the drones and dummies. What is their function in this House? The function of a good Party man, I have always heard, is to be always present in obedience to the Whip for divisions, but never to speak. These men will be here at a quarter past seven to fulfil the orders of the Whip, but under no obligation to stay till Question time. They have very few questions to put and take no practical interest in questions. Therefore they can go away at a quarter past seven and they need not come back till ten o'clock. I say that is an invidious distinction to make; and that these rules are devised to suit the convenience of a certain class of idle Members.
As to the rights of private Members, a great parade was made by the Leader of the House that he was going to give more time to them; but owing to the exigencies of public business they are going to get nothing of the kind. Before Easter they are to have the evening sittings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. After Easter they are to have Wednesday evenings, and after Whitsunday no evening sittings. But these evenings sittings are not even solely reserved to them. No private Member will know, when he comes down to the House, whether his business will come on and for two reasons. First of all, private business, which is not finished 593 at 2.25 is to be put back to any time that the Chairman of Committees pleases, and, of course, what the Chairman of Committees will do, will be to put down disputed business. But not only that, the discussion of Motions for adjournment will take place at the evening sittings; and I venture to predict that discussions on the adjournment of the House will grow under this rule. Under the old rule there were no temptations to embark on Motions for adjournment which would incur the anger of the party managers; but under this Rule, whenever an awkward question is down for an evening sitting, nothing will be easier than for some enterprising ex-Secretary of the Admiralty to move the adjournment of the House on some point which is of special interest to him, and the time which ought to be given to, say, an Irish Member, will thus be dissipated. So I say that from the point of view of the Irish Members this new scheme practically wipes them out and destroys their last rights and privileges.
In conclusion, I have a word to say as to what I regard as the punitive part of these Rules. It is directed against the Irish Members. Of course, we know that perfectly well. I said once before in this House, under circumstances of some excitement, and, as I thought, of some provocation, that we Irish Members despise the pains and penalties indicted upon us here, for what we regard as the conscientious discharge of our duty to our constituents and our country. Mr. Speaker, the increase of these penalties will not alter our attitude. No one regrets more than I do the ebullitions of ill-temper which lead to disorder in this House. I do not claim for myself that I have been guiltless in these matters in the past; but I deprecate them, and I believe that the general sentiment of the Irish Party deprecates them. But I have got this to say, that there has been in the past occasions in which we Irish members have been kept here under conditions which lead to manifestations of that kind. And such cases will inevitably occur in the future as they have in the past. The necessity of making a protest against the oppression of Ireland by English Government also necessitates the violation of order in this House for the time being; 594 and if such occasions arise in the future, I am quite candid enough to say that they cannot be avoided, and that these now pains and penalties devised for us will be treated by us with the most supreme contempt. If this rule is passed as it stands it is well that the House of Commons should realise what it means. Every man expelled under that rule will be in effect expelled from the House for the rest of that Parliament. I am not taking a case of a sudden ebullition of temper where a Member would be inclined to retract and apologise, and where he ought to apologise; but I am speaking of the more serious case when a Member so suspended will be expelled for the rest of that Parliament, for no man with a grain of self-respect would apologise in writing to the Speaker for action he had taken in what he conceived to be the interest of the Irish nation. And he would be expelled from this House, without giving his constituency the right to elect a successor. I ask the House, do they contemplate such a contingency with complacency? Of course, we know that there are ignorant people who dabble in politics, who would say: "Yes; get rid of the Irish Members; expel them; hang them!" or, as the noble Lord opposite said, "Send them to the Tower." But I make my argument to serious politicians. Do the Unionists who seriously consider this question contemplate with equanimity the probability that under this Rule the entire representation of Ireland may be forcibly excluded from this House? Looking at it, not as an Unionist, but as a Nationalist, such a spectacle would be welcome to me, because I think it would show to the nation and to the world, how hollow is the pretence that Ireland is governed by constitutional and representative methods. I have always said that the only alternative to Home Rule is the disfranchisement of Ireland, and apparently this Government which have carefully considered this Rule, are willing to face that contingency and to try that alternative. I shall oppose this Rule, of course, but I will give it no factious opposition; and if it be passed I shall have the substantial consolation of feeling that the present system, the pretended constitutional system of the Government of Ireland will be exposed. I end, as I began. You are engaged in an 595 impossible task. These now Rules will be as useless in 1902 as those passed in 1882 and 1887. You will go on increasing and multiplying their responsibilites, but the impossibilities of the dealing with the current local needs of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales will become more apparent, and the pressure will become greater and greater. My firm belief is that sooner or later your only hope of safety lies in doing what other nations, and your own colonies have done, namely, in making a separation of local from Imperial affairs, and in recognising the rights of separate nationalities to govern themselves.
§ (7.29.) Mr. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down tells us that that is the only speech he is going to make, the one song he has to sing, and that if we want to restore the efficiency of Parliament, we must give a separate and independent Parliament to Ireland. If the hon. Member for Waterford has no other comment to make upon the proposed Rules, and about the difficulties with which Ireland is now surrounded, I can only reply that he and I are as wide asunder as the poles. I can see nothing to meet his views on that point, and I trust he will acquit me of anything like discourtesy if I pass from his speech to the remarks of other hon. Members, which have been made in the course of this evening. The hon. Member for Waterford has warned us that the pains and penalties will be treated by him with contempt, and that no apology will ever be offered.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
I did not say that. I said there were circumstances which I endeavoured briefly to describe in which no man with any self-respect could apologise to the House.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
That statement makes unnecessary what I was going to say with regard to the first Rule. I was about to say that for one offence, that of absolutely defying the authority of the Chair and causing the necessity for resorting to force, the proposed penalties are not strong enough; and I would recommend that the lowest penalty should be at least suspension for one year.
596 To pass to the speeches of other hon. Members, I agree with what has been said that in the Rules which are now before us there are many proposals of which I cordially approve. I find myself at the commencement of this debate in the position of agreeing on a good many points with the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment, and were it not for one little difficulty I should have thought that there was a great deal to be said for his Amendment. But what I do think is a fatal defect is, as was pointed out by the Colonial Secretary, that this Amendment inevitably means the postponement of all dealing with the question of procedure for this session at least. Under these circumstances I for one can be no party to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that we should maintain the traditions of the House, for, after all, the present conditions have obtained for a great many years and these difficulties complained of having been going on for 20 years at least, and it does seem unfortunate that these changes should now be proposed. I agree that these new rules if they were aimed at a section of the House of Commons alone would be entirely wrong, and too much attention ought not to be paid to the mere personal convenience of hon. Members, nor should the power of the Government be too much exalted. After all, what is too much or what is too little attention to the personal convenience of Members is a matter of opinion, and I do not think in the present proposals that it is in the least overdone. I share the view that the power in the hands of the Executive ought not to be too great, and in that opinion I suspect that the great majority of the House will agree with me.
There are some points in which I think it is extremely probable, before we come to the conclusion of this debate, that some of the provisions in the new Rules will have to be modified. As regards the introduction of Bills, the abolition of second divisions, and the reference of Bills to Grand Committees, I have nothing whatever to say. I own that I was unable to follow completely the Leader of the House in his diatribes against what he called "week ends," 597 unless the right hon. Gentleman meant by that, some covert attack against the game of golf, which appeared to me to be passing in his mind. I will not enter at length into the question of the dinner hour, but I may remind the House that I think there is more, excuse on this side of the House than on the other for some change in the conditions under which we dine in this House. It is a matter of notoriety that hon. Members on this side of the House, immediately after they have taken their place at dinner, have to come back again into the House in consequence of the invariable practice resorted to by hon. Members on the opposite side of the House of moving a count and thus compelling the supporters of the Government to return in order to gratify the stupid and childish spite of some hon. Member opposite. I think that practice is within the recollection of everybody. But there are three other questions of more importance than any of those which I have dealt with up to the present. I do not know if it would be possible to discriminate in the case of Motions for adjournments, because it is true, no doubt, that the efficacy of moving adjournments on most important occasions would be, to a great extent, lost by postponing them until the evening sitting. With regard to questions, I am quite confident myself that some modification will have to be made in the Rule relating to matters of urgent public importance upon which I do think it is most desirable and necessary for the House of Commons to retain the power of interrogating Ministers. As to the great bulk of the Questions which are put upon the Paper I should say, without a moment's hesitation, that they might be relegated to any hour after 12 o'clock at night, and I am sure that proposal would meet with the general acceptance of the great majority of this House. There is also the question of private business, for which it is absolutely essential that some further provision should be made.
Having made these few observations on the general rules, there is another point to which I desire to draw attention, and which I consider is perhaps the most important of all. The chief objection I take to the rules now on the Paper is, that I do not believe they will have any real 598 or substantial effect in checking obstruction at all. It always seemed to me, and in this I am confirmed by what fell from the hon. Member for Waterford, that Parliament always has adopted the wrong principle altogether in its effect to contend with obstruction. Whether I am right or wrong there is no doubt about this, that we have been singularly unsuccessful in our efforts to deal with obstruction up to the present time, and this is conclusively shown by the string of 27 Amendments with which we are confronted on the Paper at the present moment. I ask the indulgence of the House to say a few more words upon this particular subject. There are two methods of dealing with this question, with the object of controlling obstruction, and promoting the despatch of public business, which I take is the principal object which the House of Commons has in view. One method is by checking the license of individual members, and the other is by curtailing in various directions as the Government propose to do the liberties and the rights and privileges of hon. Members of this House as a whole. That is the course which we have hitherto adopted, and it is the course which the Government are now adopting and have embodied in the rules now lying on the Table. My view, on the other hand, would be to deal with the offending individuals who are few, and leave the rights and privileges of the offending members who are many, as far as possible alone. My reason for this is perfectly simple. It is unhappily the case that whereas 600 hon. Members of this House are ready to pay deference to the general sense and feeling of the House, there are a limited number whose great object seems to be to hinder Governments, and to delay and obstruct business of every sort and kind on every possible occasion, and who, when they are in pursuit of this object take positive pleasure in setting the general sense of the House at defiance as much as they possibly can. This has been so for a great many years, with the result that the reputation of this House has sunk lower and lower in the public estimation. The difficulty in which Parliament has been placed was long ago recognised by one of the greatest—probably the greatest—parliamentarians, and I will call the 599 attention of the House to a statement which he made on this particular point. He used these words—The rate at which legislation is to march ought to be determined by the deliberate choice of the representatives of the people, and not by a system under which the House of Commons, year after year becomes more and more the slave of some of the poorest and most insignificant among its Members.Well Sir, I think the right hon. Gentleman's statement was perfectly true, and unfortunately the process has been going on at an accelerated pace from time to time to the present. That shows that I am not exaggerating in the least.
In making these observations I should like to give the House a few details of a calculation that I had made for me some years ago on this very subject, and which I believe to be perfectly correct. I have not corrected them since the time, but I believe it will be found that obstruction now is quite as bad as it was then. I will show the Members evactly what the facts are. In 1890, the House sat for 125 days. Now allowing eight hours for each session, that made 1,000 working hours, there were 670 Members of Parliament; 6,919 questions asked and 6,222 speeches were made. One-third of all those questions were due to ten Members alone, and of the speeches which were delivered, no less than 1,458 were made by 15 Gentlemen. Now take one minute for each question, and ten or fifteen minutes for each speech, and that is not a very high proportion, and you will find that between 45 at the lowest and 60 working days at the highest, out of the session were consumed by 15 Members alone. Of the chief offenders one is since dead, and I desire to say nothing about him except to record the bare fact. That was Dr. Tanner. He spoke 149 times, and was called to order on 59 occasions. The next was Sir George Campbell, who spoke over 172 times, and among the rest was the hon. Member himself, who spoke I think over 100.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
No, I think so far as my memory serves me, the hon. Member was unusually prolix. Well now, then. I should like to ask how is 600 it that what Mr. Gladstone, described as the poorest and most insignificant of its members have been able to enslave the House in this way, what has been the engine by which they accomplished it? Their engine has been an unhappy gift of loquacity which they have inflcited on the House without mercy, and without remorse, and it is little credit to us that we have allowed it to go on for so long. Talk, talk, talk on every conceivable subject has been the means by which obstruction has been carried on in this House for some years. Now, no one who has watched the proceedings of this House for a great number of years can deny the absolute truth of the statements I am making. What I am complaining of in regard to these proposed new Rules is this, that in all the 27 of these proposals there is not a line, there is not a word, there is not a letter in addition to any of the existing rules, in your possession, Sir, which have been proved by experience to be efficient for the purpose to enable the House and Government to cope with this great and growing difficulty. I would merely ask how you would propose to deal with it yourself? I am afraid I should be out of order in entering into any particulars of any of the proposed Rules which are now on the Notice Paper, but there is one Standing Order to which I may refer, Standing Order No. 24, which professes to give the power of dealing with this great evil directly; but which, owing to the fact that it is entirely permissable, and not mandatory from the Church, I do not think has been used twenty times in the last twenty years, although the evil it is intended to cope with is an evil which is constantly occurring every week, almost every day.
I have taken on myself, in the absence of any other Amendment upon the Paper, to make a proposal of my own. It would be out of order for me to refer to it now. but hon. Members have had the opportunity of seeing it and rendering it for themselves, but there is one difficulty I am afraid, and that is that it may be that private Members of this House will not be able to make any proposal of their own unless it refers and fits in with the proposals that have already been made by the Government. 601 I take this opportunity, Sir, of asking for your ruling on this question, which has not yet officially been given. If it be the case that our efforts must be limited, and limited strictly, to the proposals made by the Government, then I shall certainly make an earnest appeal to the Government and my right hon. friend would at all events give to the House an opportunity of considering some of the Amendments which I have indicated, and which I still believe would be far more efficient for the purpose of controlling and stopping obstruction than all the rest of the Rules on the Paper at the present time. What I would urge on the House is that where misconduct is constantly repeated by a few Members of this House, the real way to deal with it is by a provision for dealing directly with the individual instead of the proposals made year after year, and increased from year to year, wherever obstruction by individuals has grown greater, and the effect of which has been to hit and punish the great body of Members in this House, solely for the offences and misconduct of a few. I will not now further take up the time of the House but express my gratitude for the opportunity which has been given me to impress my views upon the House.
§ (7.40.) Mr. LABOUCHERE
I would not for a moment say that the right hon. Gentleman has been prolix either this evening or upon any other occasion, but he will admit that he has been a little lengthy, the more readily, as I gather from his speech that it was a speech prepatory to many which he proposes to make upon these Rules. But I disagree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that obstruction is due to a few private members. It is due to the Ministerialists. Cicero, like the right hon. Gentleman, the First Lord of the Treasury was a Ministerialist, and bitterly complained of obstruction, yet nobody spoke more in the Roman Senate than Cicero, to whom I compare the right hon. Gentleman. There is no obstruction when a good many gentlemen want to talk upon a particular Bill, not because they are interested in the Bill but because there is a baneful Bill after it, and they talk on the particular Bill before in order to prevent the one that comes after it 602 being discussed. I do not think there is anything like the obstruction in the House of Commons, that there used to be within my time. We are all told that at one time this House was a perfect elysium of silence, but I know that in 1865 I think it was, there was a Bill on a Wednesday. The Bill was something about parks, there were very few Radicals in the House then, and we entertained a strong objection to the Bill, and we knew that the Bill could not be brought in unless there was a division that evening, and I went into one of the lobbies upstairs with the other Gentlemen, and we discussed the matter, and we agreed to talk the whole time. But who was the leader of all this? The eminent philosopher, John Stuart Mill! Well, when we reckoned it all up, we found we had an hour to spare, and I being young and verdant said I will speak for two hours, and I remember the terrible ordeal I passed through, speaking of parks in general, and this park in particular. But that was not obstruction. The House agreed with us that it was rather too late in the session to bring in the Bill. Obstruction is not caused by speaking frequently; it is carried on with the consent and approval of the House. I have known half the Members of this House make promises to a lot of women that they will vote for Woman Suffrage, and when they come to the House they are very anxious that they shall not be obliged to vote for it. Over and over again hon. Members have said to me "you are against this Bill, do get up and help to talk it out." Therefore, it is really with the approval of the House and not against its approval that obstruction takes place. When the House is determined that there shall be legislation, that legislation takes place.
The Colonial Secretary told us that the main object of this Resolution is to create efficiency in the House, I entirely agree with the observations of the Leader of the Irish party who said, you will never get efficiency in this House so long as you try to do the work of 20 hours in 8 hours. The day and night is not enough to deal with all the questions in this House, and, until in fact, you have Home Rule you will never get over the difficulties you have in this House. 603 I was rather surprised at the Colonial Secretary's ideal House of Commons and ideal Member. In his Radical days the right hon. Gentleman used to urge that it was desirable that this House should not be a House of rich men, that other classes, and especially the working classes, should be represented. But what is the ideal at which the right hon. Gentleman is now aiming? It is, that the House should consist of gentlemen of easy means, lazy in coming down to the House, able to go home to dine in the bosom of their own or somebody else's family, and who, during the short periods when they are actually in the House should be silent Members. It comes to this, that the ideal of the Colonial Secretary is, that this House should consist of a number of easygoing wealthy persons, who will almost invariably pair, and who, when they do not pair, will hold their tongues and enable the Members of the Government to make speeches. There is only one step further. Let us do away with the House of Commons altogether, because if every private Member is either paired or silent there will be nobody left to talk except Ministers themselves. The Colonial Secretary further stated that he perfectly recognised that the Executive should be controlled by Parliament, but where he made a mistake was in saying that Parliament at present has a control over Ministers. It has a general control; it can turn out Ministers; that is perfectly true. But what we want is that Parliament should have, so to speak, a Departmental control over Ministers, that when anything is done in a Department to which we object, we should have a right to bring it before the House. But to bring matters before the House it is necessary to make speeches. It is that detailed control which we really think is, by degrees, being taken from us. There is no question that the liberties, rights, or whatever you like to call them, of private Members have been very largely curtailed during past years. There was a time, not long ago, when always on Fridays we had Motions, and also on other days when the House went into Committee of Supply. Very valuable Motions were brought forward. They did not find approval with official Members, either Liberal or Conservative, but they found approval outside. Questions were crystalised 604 in the country; they were then brought before the House again and again, until in almost every case those Motions were passed when Liberal Ministries came into power. Take the Ballot, for instance. Mr. Berkeley used every year to bring in a Motion with regard to the Ballot. As times went on more and more Members voted for it, until at last the Government took the matter up, and Mr. Berkeley's occupation was gone. He took it so much to heart that he died almost immediately afterwards.
Then there is the question of adjournment. I ventured to interrupt the Colonial Secretary when he seemed to speak of this as a new liberty. He never made a greater mistake in his life. Anybody could move the adjournment; if he did not like an answer given to him he could make a speech and conclude with a Motion. The debates did not last long, because the Minister would probably make a conciliatory reply, and the matter dropped, but they controlled the answers, because a Minister knew that if he evaded a question the adjournment would be moved.
As to the Rules themselves, I admit that some of them are very good. Something must be done to alter these old-fashioned rules, but I object to the proposed Rules with regard to questions. I do not like the system of taking questions piecemeal; it will practically destroy all the control we had over Ministers. It seems to me that we shall at once lose the right of moving the adjournment of the House upon definite matters of urgent public importance. When the First Lord of the Treasury was introducing the Rules, I asked him what would happen if a Member wished to move the adjournment on a matter which first comes to his notice at 7.15. The right hon. Gentleman said "Oh, on the next occasion," and in reply to another question he said the "next occasion" would be the following day. Therefore, you got an answer from a Minister on one evening at 7.15; you give notice of your intentions to move the adjournment at 2.30 the next day; and you bring the matter forward at nine o'clock the next evening. That destroys the effectiveness of the whole process by preventing any immediate action being taken.
Then, I object to the Rule in regard to an apology. If you send a man to prison you do not expect him to apologise. If 605 you said that a man should remain in prison until he apologised the proposition would be laughed at. If you accept an apology you do not punish. The right hon. Gentleman said that this apology would be a guarantee that a Member would not offend again. I doubt very much whether it would be. But assuming that to be the case, why punish? Your only reason for punishing a man is to prevent him offending again, and if you can secure that end, by insisting on an apology, why punish him? If the right hon. Gentleman would give us Questions fairly and squarely, as they are now at the commencement of the sitting, and withdraw this proposal with regard to an apology—which I do not think finds favour with many Members even on his own side—I believe he would, to a great extent, ease off the opposition to these Rules; the Rules would be looked at fairly as they came up; there would be no desire to treat them as a party question, and those that we thought were for the benefit of the House we should be most ready to pass. Generally, when a Minister brings in a Bill or Scheme, he includes a certain amount of material which he can use for the purpose of "easing his ship"; that is called "making graceful concessions." If the right hon. Gentleman has adopted that course, and these are the points on which he can make "graceful concessions," the sooner he makes it known to us that he will throw these proposals overboard the better it will be for the remaining Rules.
There are two other points to which I wish to refer. We have heard a great deal about the time taken in divisions. No doubt the time spent in walking round is considerable, and everybody would be glad to see it reduced, if possible. I have again and again submitted privately to your predecessors, Sir, to Chief Commissioners, and to every authority I could discover, a scheme by which five minutes on every division could be saved. I do not think I could put it on the Rules, but I commend it to the right hon. Gentleman. When you go into the lobby, you pass through the telling clerks; there are then two streams of Members, but only one door, and consequently the two streams meet. It stands to reason that if you have two streams going through one part of the lobby, and only one door through which to pass, you 606 almost double the time taken by a division. I would suggest that you have two doors there instead of the one in the middle. It may be said that you would then require four tellers. I do not think you would. I have always observed that one teller counts, while the other looks on. But their is not the slightest objection to having four tellers if it is necessary.
Then, it has been suggested that speeches are sometimes very lengthy. I quite agree, and I would welcome a proposal that at a given time in the sitting a "Ten Minute Rule" should be moved, after which Members should be allowed to speak for not longer than ten minutes. Ten Members would then be able to speak in the time that one now sometimes occupies. Then I have noticed that when Gentlemen get on their legs they are often so enamoured of their own eloquence, that they go on for longer than they suppose. I know that is sometimes my case. I get up with the intention of speaking for ten minutes, and when I sit down I find I have taken forty. That may please me, but probably the House would be better pleased if I limited myself to the intended ten minutes. My proposal is, that a large clock should be placed over your chair, Sir, so that every Member may see how time is going. I venture to make these; two suggestions, believing that, if they were adopted, the time occupied by both divisions and speeches would be greatly reduced. (8.0.)
§ (8.30.) Mr. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)
said that the hon. Member who last addressed the House had some fault to find with the Government proposals, because of three objections he raised. First, because the Government had done nothing to put down obstruction which he said had existed from the times of the Roman Empire. Probably no hon. Member in this House was more able to discuss all questions brought before it than the hon. Member, and he was bound to admit that the hon. Gentleman made a very amusing and full use of his opportunities; but he had been unable to show in any way why the Government had failed in achieving the objects they had in view. He thought that before criticisms of that kind where offered, the critics should have some suggestions of their own to make. The hon. Gentleman 607 was understood to have some marvellous and fancy way of expediting divisions by which Members were to gallop through the lobbies, and divisions, instead of occupying tenor twelve minutes would only take half that time. He was far from denying that the time taken up by divisions was a very serious matter, but it had its advantages. In some respects, and on some occasions, it must be desirable to curtail these divisions, but on the other hand when they were not frivilously taken, not much fault was to be found with them.
Then the hon. Gentlemen suggested that all hon. Members should only be allowed to speak for ten minutes.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
said he did not follow when that period was to begin; but the hon. Member, having suggested that after an imaginary period all Members should only be allowed to talk for ten minutes, proceeded himself to speak for thirty-five minutes. He found no fault with the hon. Member for speaking for thirty-five minutes, but he held that the hon. Member should set an example of his own rule. Passing to the Motion before the House, he was bound to admit that when he read the Amendment of the Leader of the Opposition he felt inclined to support it; but when he began to give the subject mature consideration, and to look back to the debates on the Rules of Procedure in 1882, he found very good cause for deciding to vote against the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the new Rules should be referred to a Select Committee. But what kind of Select Committee would the right hon. Gentleman suggest? He did not approach the subject in a party spirit, for this was a matter which concerned the whole House and not any particular section of it. The right hon. Gentleman meant that the Select Committee should be appointed in the same way as all Select Committees are. It would consist of 15, 17, or 21 Members, the majority drawn from the Government side of the House. Now, he could not see, for his part, what advantage would be gained by 608 a Committee of that kind to consider the proposals of the Government, when the majority of the Committee were supporters of the Government.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
said he fully admitted the force of the remark; but he had served on five or six Select Committees to consider Bills far removed from Party considerations, such as Bills dealing with public health, and yet the proceedings degenerated into a Party struggle in the end. In 1882 Mr. Gladstone introduced certain new Rules of Procedure, the principal one of which was the introduction of the closure and the rearrangement of the business of the House. Sir Stafford Northcote, then Leader of the Opposition, asked Mr. Gladstone what course he proposed to take in regard to the discussion of the new Rules. In reply Mr. Gladstone, than whom there was no man in the whole history of the country who held in more respect the traditions of this House and its ancient privileges, used these words—It was generally admitted last year that the efforts of the House to adjust this matter by a conference of Members themselves in a long series of Committees had been futile and ineffective, and that it remained to be considered whether, by putting into operation that degree of influence which the House is always inclined for the public interest to accord to the Government of the day, it might be possible to put the Question into a channel which would be more likely to lead to a successful issue.He thought that such testimony coming from such a man, ought to have weight with all of them. The Select Committee would no doubt delay the matter for a year, but it might lead to a solution at the end of that period. They should not approach the proposed rules with any desire to minimise their effects. So far as he had been able to study them, he thought they would mean a great revolution in parliamentary procedure, and probably no time of the House would be more revolutionised than the time he was occupying in addressing the House. There would be an adjournment from 8 o'clock until 9 o'clock, and that was the very interval which had generally been utilised by the younger Members 609 to accustom themselves to the forms of the House. While he supported most heartily the proposals of the Government, he regretted that the opportunity which the younger Members now possessed would be taken away from them, and some of them might be consequently deterred from taking part in the debates at all. Again, it was most important that the Government should have regard for the business members who were engaged in the active pursuit of trade. He thought that the proposed transference of the Wednesday sitting to Friday would give them facilities for sitting in the House, and, at the same time, not losing control of their businesses. It was to be regretted, however, that the Government did not take a further step, and had not proposed to take the whole of Tuesday instead of taking the whole of Monday. It would make no difference to the Government, but it would make a great difference to hon. Members who had to travel up from the country. It was his intention to propose such an Amendment at the proper time.
His right hon. friend, in submitting his proposals to the House, said that the biggest of them was the new arrangement with reference to the report stage of Bills. He however ventured to think that that was not the biggest proposal. It seemed to him, from the point of view of the efficiency of Parliament, and of making the House of Commons an effective instrument for the government of the country, that the biggest proposals were the two which insured that the business set down to begin at a certain hour should begin at that hour, and the facilities with regard to Bills referred to Grand Committees. Some of his hon. friends appeared afraid of the latter proposal, because they believed it was going to give increased opportunity for the passing of what might be obnoxious Government measures. He entirely differed from that view. He believed in the first place if any measure were proposed which was really of an obnoxious character—he did not use the phrase in an offensive sense—but if a measure were likely to be bad in the interests of the country that there was no form of Rules which could be proposed which would in any 610 way be instrumental in getting the country to accept it without thorough and ample discussion in Parliament. It was only by having the assent of the country behind them that they could hope to pass legislation which would be effectual in its operation, and therefore, he did not look on the proposals with any misgiving, and he believed that the effect of the working of the new Rules would increase the efficiency of the House. The question of increased facilities for referring Bills to Grand Committees, was, however, he thought, the most serious part of his right hon, friend's proposals. By that Rule every Bill read a second time might be referred to a Grand Committee, provided always that the Member in charge of the Bill had stated his intention of so moving. That would practically mean that every Bill which passed a Second Reading on a Wednesday afternoon would be referred to a Grand Committee. Only on the previous afternoon a Bill which had passed its Second Reading would certainly have been referred to a Grand Committee had the Rule been passed. He was glad to hear his right hon. friend that afternoon say in answer to a question with reference to the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill that the object of a Grand Committee was not that contentious measures might be committed to it, but that non-contentious measures should be referred to it. In 1882 Mr. Gladstone would never have got his Grand Committees if he had not explicitly stated that it was the intention of the Government that only non-contentious Bills should be referred to them. A great many private Members' Bills were of a very contentious character, and if all of them had to be referred to Grand Committees on passing Second Reading, the principle which Mr. Gladstone established would be broken down. The proposal introduced an entirely new system, and the Grand Committees would be utterly incapable of dealing with all the Bills which would be referred to them if the Rule were passed, as they could not possibly have the time necessary for their proper consideration. For instance, the discussion of the Factories Bill in the Grand Committee last session was of a very protracted—he did not say unduly protracted—character, and if they were to have similiar discussions 611 on such measures as the Women's Suffrage Bill or the Rating of Machinery Bill, how would it be possible for Grand Committees to carry out the work which would be laid upon them, as thoroughly as that work was now carried out? It might be argued that the proposal was merely a return to the old system which existed previous to 1882, when such Bills were considered by a Committee of the Whole House with the Chairman in the chair. He did not believe that such a proposal would now be entertained, because if a Committee of the Whole House had to sit from say 11 o'clock to 2 o'clock, it would be impossible to carry on the business of the Select Committees and Private Bill Legislation apart altogether from the convenience of Members. Then again if hon. Gentlemen knew that some Government Bill to which they objected was going to be discussed in Grand Committee, they would take care to have a full minute and detailed discussion on some other Bill standing before it. That might be got over by the Government proposing some means of giving precedence to their Bills before the Grand Committees. His right hon. friend the Leader of the House said he hoped he was going to hear no more of the protests against the Motions he had to make taking the time of the House from the hon. Member for Kings Lynn, the hon. Member for Waterford and other hon. Members, but if his right hon. friend desired to be relieved from that unpleasant position he must adopt a different course, because complaints such as he had referred to would have considerable force as far as the Grand Committees were concerned, and the last position of his right hon. friend would be worse than his present position. He believed that the only logical devolution was that which was proposed to the hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Irish Party, if it was necessary to adopt such a system, but he was averse to any such plan. He would rather that the House should remain as it was, even if less legislation were passed, and that legislation should be properly discussed in the House itself rather than they should parcel out their duties to the small sections of hon. Members who might sit on Grand Committees.
With regard to the new proposal as to divisions on Second Readings, about which 612 there was some misapprehension, and which was not thoroughly understood, the right hon. Gentleman had said that in the case of a time Amendment only one division would be allowed, but that in the case of a "reasoned" Amendment it was quite possible for an hon. Member to vote both for the Amendment and the Bill itself, and in that case two Amendments would be allowed, and there the right hon. Gentleman left the matter he did not explain what a "reasoned" Amendment was.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
The hon. Member says everybody knows. If he is able to define that statement, I am bound to admit my incapacity to understand what it means.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
contended that if that definition was right, then the right hon. Gentleman was wrong in saying that under the new Rules there could not be a second division; and the right hon. Gentleman did not stand alone in his mistake, for The Times of this morning had fallen into the same error. In regard to the proposed new arrangement about questions, he was bound to admit that he did not approach that subject with any degree of favour. It was quite true that a certain number of supplementary Questions might well be limited within a narrower scope than they were in at present, but, on the other hand, he did not think the supplementary Questions upon matters involving important questions of policy should be limited. Supplementary Questions with regard to policemen and postmen might well be limited, but in the recollection of the House right hon. Gentlemen had got up and thanked hon. Members for drawing attention to questions which the hon. Member had only been able to point out by way of a supplementary Question. There was another point with regard to this matter. The hon. Member for Northampton had pointed to a case where a Question might be asked by an hon. Member, and the answer given by the Minister might 613 justify the hon. Member in moving the adjournment of the House. Under the new Rules an hon. Member could not ask for leave to move the adjournment until 2 o'clock on the following day, and he could not bring on his Motion until 9 o'clock. Under those circumstances, would any hon. Member be entitled to put down a Motion blocking the Motion which the hon. Member was to move next day? If so, it would be very unfair to the hon. Member who wished to move the adjournment of the House. He thought that that was a point which ought to be cleared up. There were only two other points he wished to deal with. The new Rules practically did away with the Report stage of a Bill by confining the right of moving Amendments on the Report stage to the hon. Member in charge of the Bill, the desire being, according to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, to avoid the repetition of the discussion which took place on the Committee stage. Such a thing might be good or bad, but for his part he was of opinion that very often a second discussion of the same subject matter did a good deal of good, as was instanced by the discussions of the previous Friday and Monday, the second discussion on the Monday then clearing up matters which had been left in a very hazy condition by the discussion on the previous Friday. He did not think it was right that only the Minister in charge of the Bill should have the power to move Amendments on the Report stage, as it was placing him on a pinnacle above the rest of the House, and it would be a very unfortunate thing if such a hard and fast rule was allowed to pass without modifications.
The only other point he would like to urge upon the Government was that raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. Under the new Rules and new Time Table the House was to sit from 2 to 12 on four consecutive days, with only an hour's interval in each sitting. He submitted it would be impossible to expect the officials of the House to do their work efficiently under such a strain as that. If he might be allowed to say so, the occupant of the Chair, than whom no previous occupant was more distinguished, would have no time to himself, because 614 not only had he to preside over the deliberations of the House, but there was a large amount of work which he had of necessity to attend to at times when the House was not sitting. Therefore, his view was that no alteration should be made in the way of changing the date of the short sitting from Monday to Friday. He should, however, vote against the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman and support the Government in their main proposals, because he believed, if carried out, they would promote the efficiency of the House, and do much to remove the belief that hon. Members were either unwilling or incapable of the efficient performance of their duties.
§ (9.10.) Dr. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
said that he agreed with the view that these Rules would bring about a revolution in the proceedings of the House. As an old private Member, whose privileges were gravely and seriously interfered with, and would perhaps be damaged and destroyed by the proposals now before the House, he wished to point out that the only opportunity of engaging in the discussions would be taken away. He had heard many sensible speeches made during the dinner hour, when an hon. Member was listened to with toleration by the Speaker and one other Member, who were usually a respectful and courteous audience. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesy and tact with which he had introduced these proposals to the House, and believed that if the right hon. Gentleman had taken a division immediately after his speech nobody would have voted against them. The right hon. Gentleman had told the House very properly that his intention was to free the wheels of the parliamentary machine, to increase the expedition of public business, and add to the happiness of hon. Members. They had since been told that the great point was the convenience of the whole House. He thought the present attractions of the House were sufficient in themselves, and that the new Rules would not add anything to the comfort of the House. He had listened with great pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member the Leader of the Irish Party, with a great part of which, however, he did not quite agree.
He did not think the evil disease 615 known as creeping paralysis had really affected the house as yet, although the pal my days of Peel and Palmerston, when there were many silent members, were over. Things had quite changed now. As the right hon. Gentleman had told them a very large number of hon. Members were trained men of business, and they were sincerely desirous of taking part in the work of the country. They were all desirous of speaking occasionally in order to lay before the House the wants and wishes of their constituencies. He had sat for twenty-one years in Parliament, and he remembered that in the year 1885 they were engaged fighting the Irish Members. They were then exposed to enormous difficulties and complications, and at that time they had no rules of procedure and nothing to help them, and he never heard during that period that there was any difficulty in carrying on the business of the House, and he thought Parliament had plenty of time now if the business was properly arranged. He accused the Leader of the House of not arranging their proceedings in a businesslike way. Every year they had the King's Speech, and over it there was always great cry and uncommonly little wool. The Government contrived to take up most of the time, and at the end of the year there occurred the annual "massacre of the innocents" by which the Bills of hon. Members were destroyed and strangled. He thought it was mere cant and humbug to pretend that the House of Commons was a hard-worked body, for he did not think there was a greater loafing place in the United Kingdom than the House of Commons. The proposals before the House might be called a Loafers Relief Bill. The House met, as a rule, for about six months in the year, they took about four weeks holiday, and they had opportunities of pairing, and could that be called hard work as compared with the labours of professional men like doctors, lawyers, and the clergy? Could it be called hard work to get to the House at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and go home by the last train on the underground railway? Anything more ludicrous than to say they were over-worked was impossible to find, for they were at present the laughing stock of all the civilised nations of the world.
616 Some of the rules connected with private business were good, and he cordially thanked the right hon. Gentleman for having brought them in, but many of the rules introduced were very bad. A great many of them were strongly against the private Member, who was hit very heavily, although he may not have been aimed at. He wished to know what was the reason for this change in regard to questions. Was that not their sole remaining privilege? Private Members had been filched of their privileges more and more every year, and they were gradually being abolished to such an extent that in future years the private Member would become as extinct as the dodo or the hawk's egg. He wondered that anybody should have the audacity to touch what was their main refuge. They were familiar in Scotland with what was known as "heckling," which was simply a cross-examination by his constituents of the Member of Parliament about the various points upon which he had been enlightening them in his speech. He had seen enormous benefit done by the heckling of Members of Parliament at election time. He had also seen enormous advantages in the House of Commons from the cross-examination of Members on the front Ministerial Bench by means of Questions. Parochial Questions had been objected to, but they could not always be dealing with Imperial matters. They frequently had Questions put from below the gangway concerning Ireland, and although English and Scotch Members did not take much interest in them, the Irish Members did. Those things were brought forward to get information, and he had seen good results brought about by the cross-examination of Members of the Government. In this way they got a good many promises, and occasionally performances. What advantage would the Government get from this change in the Question time? He understood that Questions were to be "starred" at the option of hon. Members, and the result would be that every Question would be starred, and he could not see the advantage which Ministers were going to get out of that arrangement. The time-table would be to commence at two, and go on till 7.15. Then Questions would come on till eight. At eight o'clock they would go away to dinner for an hour. Hon. Members would go through a hurried dinner, get dyspepsia, 617 and come back in a very bad temper, and the work would go on badly afterwards. Then they would leave the House at midnight, and get into all sorts of troubles and discomforts at home. Probably, the new cook might have been found hopelessly drunk under the kitchen dresser. They ought to dine at the House of Commons, to avoid all those domestic troubles and discomforts. With regard to supplementary Questions, he should like to ask where would the Fourth Party have been had it not been for supplementary Questions? They all knew how the members of that Party worried the Government, and where would that Party have been but for the process of supplementary Questions which was now going to be so summarily checked by this new method of procedure.
He did not at all like the proposed change in the hour of meeting. Their great glory in the House of Commons was that they were not professional politicians. They had in the House lawyers, not many doctors, merchants, and all kinds of people who wished to do their work first in the City. If these professional and business men had the obligation imposed upon them of coming to the House at two o'clock, it would be very hard upon them. With regard to Committees, he was a member of the Committee of Selection, and they had very great difficulty at present in carrying on their work. The difficulties were not so great as they used to be, because there were in the House at present a number of young Members who wanted to work, and they would not receive these new Rules with approval, for they did not wish to go away for week ends. He was an outsider, and the outsiders often saw most of the game. With reference to the dinner hour, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord said he hoped that no one would sneer at the arrangement for the dinner hour, unless he could show to the satisfaction of the House that he had dined here at least once a week during his Parliamentary career. When the Liberals were in office he always made it an obligation to dine at the House at least twice a week. This was an unostentatious way of doing public service, and getting a cheap dinner at the same time, which, as a frugal Scotchman, be did not despise. All that some hon. Members wanted was to get out of the House, and once they got out they did 618 not return. Under these new arrangements what was to become of their dinner parties? Would hon. Members ask their wives or other people's wives to dinner? What was to become of the Kitchen Committee and their elaborate, dining arrangements? He considered that under these Rules the private Member would be finally abolished, and that their occupation in the future would be that of simply marking time, of walking through the division lobbies, and of listening to the words of wisdom that fell, occasionally at somewhat copious length, from the lips of the Members on the Front Bench. He did not think these Rules would be good for the Ministers, because the interval for dinner would be like the meal they got at York when travelling North, which had to be devoured in twenty minutes, after which they generally spent the remainder of the journey struggling with the dyspepsia which followed from the hurried way in which they had flung the food into their stomachs. He acknowledged that the Speaker had always done his best to let the small and humble Members have an opportunity of addressing the House. He had listened with much interest to the speech of the Leader of the Irish Party, who had spoken words of wisdom, and he agreed with him that they were simply nibbling at the fringe of this great question. There was only one remedy for the paralysing conditions under which they were now doing their work, and that was devolution. They could call it Home Rule if they liked, but the only remedy was that Ireland should manage her own affairs as well as Scotland, Wales, and England.
§ (9.35.) Mr. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has described these proposals as the Loafers Relief Bill, and he has said that not only will they destroy all the rights of private Members but that as regards the Government they will be found to be most inconvenient for Ministers. I will not follow the hon. Member in this direction, because it appears to me that we are engaged in the consideration of one of the most important topics that can possibly be brought forward. I think we are apt to forget how extremely important it is that in prestige and position the House of Commons should not in any way lose ground 619 as it has been losing ground in recent years. It is not only that the House of Commons is a great representative Assembly which we are proud of, but it is that it is the real centre of our political life and industry, it is the centre of our Empire and our nation, and anyone who looks to the real future, either as regards Imperial or national interests, cannot come to any other conclusion than that this question of procedure now before the House of Commons is above all other questions at the present moment. After all, it does not matter so very much whether you pass an Act one session or the next, but once let this House lose its hold upon the affections and loyalty of the people, once let it be thought that we cannot carry out the great functions committed to our charge, I for one should be inclined to despair of the future of the British Empire. There is no substitute for Parliament as the governing authority in this country, and I am sure everyone will approach this question from the point of view of the honour of the House above everything else. It is not a matter of Government, it is not a matter of Party, and still less is it a question which has so often been debated in this House and so thoroughly misunderstood—and I say this in the presence of the hon. Member for King's Lynn—of everlasting discussion between the Government on the one side and the private Member on the other, for I believe that their interests are identical in making this House better able to carry out its work. I never can appreciate how private Members get any benefit from a system which prevents them taking any practical part in real discussion, and which only enables them to make academic speeches at any time.
There are two subjects to which I will refer. All matters of detail will have to be discussed on a future occasion. First of all, we have had the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, but I will pass that speech by for the moment, because I believe that what he enunciated will be accepted by a very large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. The objection I have to his speech is, that after telling us the principles upon which reforms of our procedure ought to go, he asks us at the same time to postpone the considera- 620 tion of those reforms indefinitely by the interposition of that common element of postponement, namely, a Select Committee, which really means the postponement of this question until the Greek Kalends. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford said he would support that particular proposal, because it meant getting rid of the question for the present session. I cannot understand any one supporting the suggestion to refer these Rules to a Committee unless he desires to postpone all reforms of our procedure. I entirely differ from what was said by the Leader of the Opposition on this point. There were certain points raised by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, which I think are deserving of the most serious consideration. He said that a creeping paralysis was coming over this House, and to a certain extent that is true. But my point is that you cannot have a more eloquent plea than that for the immediate necessity of a reform of our procedure. What is said is, that any reform of our procedure will be ineffective, unless you have something in the nature of devolution like Home Rule. That is not a topic I am going into now, although I join issue upon it. I do not believe that the House of Commons is incapable of dealing with business in which the country is really interested. If there is any measure required, the House of Commons can deal with it, and it is absurd to reproach the House of Commons because in any one session we cannot deal with every fad which every hon. Member may bring forward. However perfect we may have an Assembly of this kind, we still shall have, and we still ought to have, a large number of matters not ripe for immediate legislative action, but being discussed in order that, by means of that discussion and in the process of time, our opinions may become sufficiently clear, and finally we may pass some measure of usefulness. I should strongly deprecate any condition of things in which an Assembly of this kind had not before it several questions not ripe for legislation, and which no Government having responsibility would bring forward until they reached a riper stage. We ought to stick in this House to our legislative duties. I did not mind any devolution of administrative duties, but I hold strongly that it is wrong and unsafe and unnecessary to devolute what are 621 really legislative duties to any other body outside Parliament itself. I think the first principle which must override all others in the consideration of any question of this sort, is to put ourselves in the best possible position to get through the business necessarily committed to our charge. We have heard something about academic discussions. I think the first consideration of an Assembly of this kind, in reference to which the claims of our Empire are constantly increasing, in which the claims upon our business capacity grow from year to year, is to carry out the business committed to our charge. That, in my opinion, is the first necessity. That cannot properly be carried out in an Assembly of this kind without we allow ample opportunities for free discussion, or, to use the expression employed by the Leader of the Opposition, for "diffused discussion."
§ MR. CRIPPS
I will not quarrel about terms. One of the great duties of this House is to deal with matters which are important in the sense that they affect the lives, the industries, and the interests of various classes in this country. One of our great duties is to thoroughly discuss these questions in order to understand the principles in reference to which we are going to effect some great constitutional change. What we want to bring about is, not that the private Member should have more opportunities for academic discussions, but that those interested in each particular topic and who represent the views of their constituents upon it should have a fair opportunity of being heard in this House at the time the discussion takes place and before that particular legislative measure passes into law. That, to my mind, is an extremely important thing, both as regards free discussion, and, what is equally important, the attraction of this House to Members who are only too willing to do their work here if they have an opportunity of doing it. What kills the private Member is not any want of patriotism, but the fact that he never gets a chance of carrying out those duties which are committed to his charge, and which he ought properly to fulfil as a Member of this House.
Starting from that point of view, let me 622 say why the present conditions are so unsatisfactory. We have a tyrannous thraldom in regard to what I may call license of speech in this House instead of free discussion, which can only be obtained by finding opportunities for it. It does not mean freedom in the sense in which I use the term. A comparatively small number of Members can monopolise the time of the House, and in my opinion those who advocate so strongly at the present time private Members'rights—and I do not believe in the term—are just those who exercise thraldom over others by monopolising a great part of the time at our disposal. That I thoroughly protest against. As to private Members, what I claim is that you should give us such Rules and time for the transaction of our business that we who are private Members may each have an opportunity and a fair chance of being heard on the questions in which we are specially interested. Let me call attention to this consideration. You cannot have both. You cannot have sufficient time to allow private Members to take part in the real legislative work of the House, and, at the same time, grant these constant opportunities for academical discussions. You have only twenty-four hours in the day, and you have only so many days on which the House can meet. You must take your choice, and I put it to the House as a whole, and not to one side or the other, what is the greatest advantage of free discussion? It is that you ought to have the business transacted at a time when the maximum possible chance would be given to the various private Members to take the part they are entitled to in the discussion, and, if possible, to make their weight felt in the legislation of the country. We must face it. We have got a choice, and I say that the so-called rights of private Members are nothing more than the abominable tyranny of the few interfering with free discussion as regards the mass of Members of the House.
Let me say one or two words in regard to the particular changes proposed. The most important of them by far, in my opinion, is the allocation of time, because unless you find that you have sufficient time for the transaction of business, you cannot have an opportunity of real discussion. You will only have again a tendency to closure sensible people before 623 the matter is discussed, or you will have to run through the discussion with that most formidable of all penances, the all-night sitting. It is putting the House on a fair business basis to allocate sufficient time for our real business. The suggestion is, that we are to meet at two o'clock. It has been suggested against that proposal, that certain busy people—I think the profession to which I belong has been mentioned—would be incommoded by an arrangement of that kind. I am a fairly busy lawyer, and I say, without hesitation, that I am strongly in favour of meeting at two o'clock. I would like to give my reasons for it. It is better for a business man to know when any particular business coming on. There is nothing more exhausting or degrading; to the intellect than to find that you have passed the dinner hour before the matter in which you are interested comes on. It is that that disgusts the professional and the business man. We willingly give up our time, but we protest against the waste of it. It is a waste of mental and physical vigour, with no true product at all. It is proposed to meet at two o'clock, and we know that our work outside this House does not generally end until four. But every man who is worth a farthing, and comes here, knows that he must make sacrifices in the interest of the House. It is not too much to ask people from to time to sacrifice their other duties and avocations, because this House ought to have the first claim on every Member in it. My feeling towards this House is this: If you have a conflict of duties, and if you have to consider whether you ought to be busy here or elsewhere, undoubtedly this House has the first claim, and no Member of the House, in my opinion, is entitled to complain of the hour fixed, if that hour obliges him to come down here because he is specially interested in some debate. It is his duty to do it, and he ought to look upon it as a privilege to do it. I am the last who would wish to expel either business or professional men, but the way to keep them is to put the business rules on a footing which would make them feel that they are doing some good, and not wasting their time in vain repetition, and never coming to the business in which they are interested. I have not heard any criticism against the 624 two o'clock rule, unless this bogey about business and professional men. I should like business and professional men to be polled, and to ask them whether they would have the business hour earlier or this everlasting putting off that goes on from day to day at the present time. I am certain that their answer would be: "Give us a reform of the Rules, and let us know what business is coming on, and we will be ready to come down and do it." So much for the alteration as regards time.
There is one point on which I certainly join issue very strongly with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He seemed to think that it was an insult to this House to use what is called a time-table. I would like to ask whether any effective business is ever done but upon the time-table principle. Is it to be said that it is an insult to this House that we should adopt what is the merest primary foundation of business life—namely, that we should know beforehand, as nearly as possible, what we have to do and the special time allocated for doing it?
There is the next head, as to what is called the simplification of procedure. I do not know that I agree with all the proposals, but at this stage I pass them by as questions of detail for later discussion. If they tend to simplify our procedure, no one will be a greater advocate of them than myself. I am sure that this matter will be, without Government pressure, settled on what I may call the best and most businesslike basis.
The next point is orderly conduct. I feel very strongly on that question. I should be ashamed if, as I thought the hon. Member for Waterford indicated, we were making rules for orderly conduct against any particular section of the House. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: "Is there any doubt of it?"] That is not my opinion. I think in this House we ought to have no differences as regards sections. We ought merely to think, one and all of us, what is best for the prestige and honour of the House to which we all think it a great privilege to belong. Now, what are the questions as regards conduct? I would simply apply the same rule as you do in all other matters, neither more nor less. I would consider whether the penalty is likely to be deterrent, whether it is likely to prevent the repetition of 625 what brings disgrace on our proceedings in this House; and if it is likely to be deterrent I should certainly advocate the penalty. I do not think the penalty suggested by the Government is either too harsh or too severe. But if anyone can show that it has a vindictive as against a deterrent element, I certainly would not support it as a matter of principle. But we want to prevent the repetition of these disgraceful scenes. [Cries of "Last night," and "Order, order!"] I will not be led away by discussions of that kind. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford gave to my mind a very strong argument in favour of the "apology." Now what is the apology? It is an apology to the House itself for having done something to bring the House into disgrace and disrepute, and is it too much to ask any Gentleman who, as a Member of the House, has brought it into disgrace and disrepute, that he should express his sincere sorrow for having done so? That is the whole point. Let me assume that some one is unwilling to do that. I for one would take the responsibility of keeping a man out of the House until he recognised his duty to the House and was willing to apologise for the conduct that disgraced it. What we feel as regards British Members I believe all Members feel. I do not believe in the disloyalty of even the Irish Members. I think they have an affection for this House, although they seem to disregard it. Let us look to the honour of the House as an heirloom handed down to us; let us, in approaching these Rules have that one leading factor before us, putting out of sight all minor considerations; let us feel that the honour of this House is safe in our hands, because we have adapted our procedure to the requirements of modern development.
§ (10.0.) SIR CHARLES DILKE
said the question before the House was whether these new Rules should be referred to a Select Committee according to the usual, though not absolutely unbroken practice. It had not been remarked that the Government were, to some extent, masquerading in the cast-off clothes of the late Mr. W. H. Smith. A considerable number of the proposals brought before the House by these new Rules were by no means new. They were first propounded in 1888, and abandoned; and 626 later in the session of 1888 a Select Committee sat on what was nominally the financial procedure of the House, but which considered some of the proposals he had referred to. One of the grounds for taking that action was that the House might have an opportunity of learning the opinions of the Speaker, who had great authority and experience, and also of the clerks at the Table, who advised him. The clerks, or some of them, had no doubt, been consulted in regard to these rules; but hon. Members had no means of knowing whether the Rules as they now stood, expressed the views of the Officers of the House, and had no means of examining them, nor had they any means of knowing the views of Mr. Speaker. Now, the proposal before the House formed the largest change in the Rules ever made at a single time. The case for referring to a Select Committee such a large change in the Rules of Procedure was a strong one; but the hon. Member for South West Manchester and the Colonial Secretary had brought forward, as a conclusive argument against that view, that in 1882 the Closure was brought forward without reference to a Select Committee. There was something to be said on that. The Closure had been fully and exhaustively considered by a Committee four years before that time, in 1878, of which Sir Stafford Northcote was Chairman, and the present Leader of the House and the late Mr. Parnell were Members; and the Committee examined the Speaker and the Clerks at great length. After taking the evidence of all those great authorities on the subject that Committee adopted a Resolution, not against the Closure, but saying that the time had not come to adopt it "at present."
The hon. and learned Member for the Stretford Division thought that these great changes in the Procedure of the House were necessary because the House of Commons was losing ground. Was there any reason for that assertion? Undoubtedly, the proceedings of the House of Commons were less fully reported in the Press than they were some years ago, but that did not, in itself, imply that the House of Commons was losing ground. Nor would any one assert that the House of Commons was losing ground as regarded the ability of its Members. It 627 was a well-known fact that in Mr. Gladstone's opinion the House of Commons had steadily and conspicuously improved in ability during the many years of his career; and no one who compared the present House without prejudice with the House of Commons in the year 1868, could, for a moment, deny that it was now infinitely stronger in ability and more representative in character than in 1868. As regarded the legislative powers of the House of Commons on which it was the fashion to say they were losing ground, he doubted that. When the country desired legislation, very excellent legislation passed through the House at the present time. The Local Government Act was a conspicuous example of that, and so also was the Workmen's Compensation Act. They all said now that the latter was an ill-drawn Act, but it should be remembered that it was entirely experimental, not only in this country but in all other countries; and the fact that it was altered by the Government several times, and that there has been much litigation in connection with it, did not affect the fact that it was a fine piece of work.
He confessed that he thought the House of Commons would lose ground under these new Rules if they were carried as they stood. Heaven forbid that he should be one of those who looked on the House of Commons as a place not of work but of show. But they must remember that the Press was human, and would naturally report those proceedings of a body which dealt with matters of very general and pressing interest, and if they began the proceedings of the House with a mere humdrum ordinary discussion of some Bill, they would tend to cause less and less reporting of the proceedings of the House and a smaller and smaller attendance of members. The hon. and learned Member for the Stretford Division told them he did not mind the House meeting earlier in the day, provided he knew what the business would be. But the hon. and learned Member wanted to know that, not that he might come there, but that he might stay away. At the present moment he was afraid that he might have to come there in order to vote for some important private Bill concerning some great Company; 628 but if the measure under discussion was a Liquor Licensing Bill or an Education Bill, the hon. and learned Gentleman would not think it necessary to come there before 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Hon. Members knew the condition of the House when it met on Wednesdays at 12 o'clock. When private Members' Bills were coming on, some of them had to come down to make a House. If these new Rules were passed as they stood, he believed that every day the House would present the same appearance as it now did on Wednesdays at 12 o'clock. The whole of these proposals would damage the Standing Committees of this House, and the House itself would become an inferior, because less businesslike Standing Committee, and of less authority. The Leader of the Opposition had spoken of the admiration of foreigners for a portion of their present proceedings, but there was another side to that point. In showing distinguished foreigners the House on a Wednesday it had been almost impossible to make them believe that this was the House of Commons. There was the august presence of Mr. Speaker, and a retinue of bewigged clerks at the Table, and only half a dozen Members to make the House of Commons! The Mother of Parliaments was not august on these occasions on Wednesdays at 12 o'clock. He believed that interest in their proceedings, which was great at the present time, would vanish in the future under the operation of the new Rules. They would never again have the whole House together. Hon. Members would come in sections. The whole House would not gather together at once until the next Home Rule Bill, a Bill for Home Rule All Round, came on. Until that time there would only be one annual occasion when they would see the whole House of Commons, and that would be when the Chancellor of the Exchequer presented his Budget, and proposed the imposition of new taxes, unless the change was made which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford foreshadowed, and really important and pressing questions, as distinguished by the Speaker in some form or another, or by a Committee, taken at the beginning of public business. Unless that change was made under the conditions of modern life, the sceptre would inevitably pass to 629 the House of Lords. How far could the House of Commons contemplate with equanimity that complete loss of public interest in their proceedings which would follow the passing of these new Rules? He doubted whether, if the full effect were realised by the House, these Rules would be passed in their present form.
In regard to the main object of these Rules the hon. and learned Member for Stretford said that the interest of the Government and private Members were identical. That was true in one sense, but untrue in another. The object of these Rules as a whole, as stated by the Leader of the House, and the Secretary for the Colonies, was mainly to facilitate legislation, and what was called the efficiency of the House. With that he had great sympathy. They all desired to facilitate legislation, but there was also a professed object which was not put forward by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, but which filled a large part of the speech of the Leader of the House, and that was to give certainty to private Members in the small remnant of time left to them. The Leader of the House put forward a professed object by the side of the main object, which was the efficiency of the House. That professed object was that private Members should be given a certainty as regards the small remnant of time left to them. The hon. Member for Waterford in his speech tore the veil from that proposition. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member as to cut throat adjournments. He also agreed with him that by those proposals as they stood private Members' time would be occupied entirely with cut throat Motions for the adjournment. That was a case for referring these proposals to a Committee because they could only get certainty for private Members time.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think that is a misleading conception. What I have always said is this: Under the existing system private Members never know how much time is to be given to them, and they never knew when the Government may come down and take their time for public business. Every Government has found that necessary for the past twenty-five years, but that system we hope to 630 put an end to. Of course if one private Member takes another private Member's time we cannot be answerable for that, and I was not alluding to it.
§ * Sir CHARLES DILKE
said that the life of the sprat in the neighbourhood of the herring was, of course, uncertain. The right hon. Gentleman said that he could not secure one private Member against another, but it should be remembered that the vast majority of private Members were silent Members sitting on the opposite side of the House. He maintained that that was a case for a Committee, because it was only by a Committee that not only new Resolutions but even large changes in the proposals before the House could ever be considered. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division said that his first intentions had been to support the Amendment of the Leader of the Opposition because he thought it essential that the House of Commons should have an opportunity of considering certain new proposals beyond the proposals now before it, and the right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that he thought it possible that the Government might be able to give to the House an opportunity of considering other rules. He wished now to ask whether any such opportunity would be given, and he would give to the House two instances of the class of questions which they ought to have an opportunity of considering in connection with the proposed Rules. What was the proposal for increasing the driving power of the machinery of the House of Commons which most commended itself to the electorate as apart from Members? It had not been referred to in the debate, but undoubtedly, if the electorate were asked they would say that the House of Commons did not sit during a large enough portion of the year, and that there ought to be sittings in October and November. That was not a new proposal. It was the custom of the House before 1832, it was carried in 1871 by Mr. Disraeli, and was again carried by Sir George Trevelyan in 1890. Surely the House ought to have an opportunity of considering such a proposal as thus which seemed to him to be the obvious way of increasing the 631 driving power of the machinery in the House of Commons.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Unless my recollection errs, Sir George Trevelyan never suggested that the sittings of the House should be longer. He only said that they should take place at a different period of the year, but that would not increase the driving power of our machinery.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE
said he believed even if the length of the sittings were not increased, they would naturally gain by having sittings in October and November. Another matter which surely they ought to have an opportunity of raising, was one which commended itself to many of the greatest authorities—living and dead—on procedure. That suggestion was that, instead of an individual Member having the use of private Members' time, that time should be given to groups of Members. That, at all events, was a matter worthy of consideration. In 1888 the matter was considered by a Committee, and before that Committee it was raised by his right hon. friend the Member for South Aberdeen in a definite scheme which he laid before the House, and he was supported by Mr. Childers, than whom there was no more careful student of the ways of the House of Commons; by Mr. Whitbread, whose name commanded respect in such a matter, and by Mr. Courtney, who repeatedly pressed the question on the attention of the House. Sir A. Milman, the late Clerk of the House, also gave evidence before the Committee in favour of the scheme, and he prepared a further scheme for applying it to Motions. How did it arise in 1888? In 1878, as a member of Sir Stafford Northcote's Committee, he himself carried a Motion, which was now a law of Parliament, although it was a useless survival; but if it had been carried in 1878 it would have been important. That was, that after Whitsuntide, Bills should be classified according to the degree of progress they had attained. In those days the Government only took the last two 632 Wednesdays of the session, and with all the other Wednesdays the Motion would have an important effect. But although carried unanimously by the Committee in 1878, it was not carried by the House of Commons until 1888, when it was too late, because private Members' Wednesdays after Whitsuntide had been cut down to two, which were absolutely useless, and a waste of time. The Government now, however, made no suggestion with reference to that matter, and prevented hon. Members from considering it at all, because no opportunity for discussing fresh proposals would exist if the Amendment were not carried. Surely they should not be precluded from considering such an important subject as that. He confessed that if the Government were to have increased facilities for making progress with Government business at the expense of the other Members of the House, there should be a quid pro quo, and unofficial Members should be allowed to have a voice as to how the unofficial time of the House should be disposed of. He thought that ought to be settled by the really private Members themselves, and not—if he might say so without offence—by gentlemen who were the fetchers and carriers of the Government. The hon. and learned Member who spoke last referred to private Members' time as being used merely for the purpose of academic discussion. He did not think that was a fair description. For example, he thought that a recent judicial decision which deeply effected the working-classes was a matter which many hon. Members desired to bring before the House. Was that an academic discussion? He did not think so; and yet it might not be possible to discuss it, although it vitally effected a very large section of the people of the country, if the Government did not desire to facilitate its discussion. If he might say so without any offence to any hon. Member in any section ofthe House, it was conceivable that circumstances would occur within the next few years—they were not probable, but they were possible—under which the opinion of the labouring classes would not be represented by any organised section in the House. Circumstances might produce a coalition, and in the interests of the labouring people 633 of the country an opportunity should be afforded of bringing questions which vitally effected them before the House for decision. In the interests of those people, who he believed would be more largely represented by men of their own class in the next Parliament than in that—men who must always be in a minority, and whose interests were in this matter the same interests as those of the Irish Members—there should be, he thought, an independent power apart from both Front Benches of bringing questions in which they were concerned before the House of Commons. If Government business were to be facilitated there should be a quid pro quo, in order to enable such matters to be submitted to the consideration of Parliament.
(10.30.) MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said that those who intended to support the Motion, and those who intended to oppose it, and some who, like himself, intended to do neither, ought to look on this question from an impartial standpoint, for they should remember that their relative positions might be easily changed. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House had expressed in eloquent terms what he had attempted humbly to describe to the House for many years, namely, that the existing state of affairs was practically Parliamentary anarchy, as nobody knew when the strong arm of the Government would come down and confiscate the opportunity of the unofficial members. He thought the present position was eminently unsatisfactory, and the question the House had to consider was how it could be most effectively improved.
There were one or two points which he hoped the House would seriously consider. Just at the present time, no doubt, there had been abuse of Questions, and it seemed to increase. Petty and paltry questions were made the subject of lengthy inquiries, which ought not to be forced on the attention of the legislature, lengthened inquiries which should not appear at all on the Paper. On the other hand, there were other questions of grave urgency occurring prominently at the moment, to which every facility ought to 634 be afforded for bringing before Parliament and the country. Those Questions being relegated to the dinner hour or after midnight would hardly enable the House to obtain the necessary explanations. Surely they ought to be able to winnow out unimportant Questions and still encourage legitimate Questions at a proper time of day. His right hon. friend proposed practically to abolish supplementary Questions, but they were most valuable; and the Speaker had already taken, he thought, very effective steps to stop a grave abuse in that direction when Questions closely approximated to debate. He hoped, therefore, that his right hon. friend would reconsider this point of supplementary Questions.
As to the so-called Standing Committees or Grand Committees, he had all along been opposed to them. Perhaps he spoke with some prejudice because he once attended one, and it occurred to him that his time might be better employed, so he never went again, and his experience had confirmed his original conviction that the House should keep its business in its own hands. If pressure of time necessitated Bills chock full of details being relegated to those bodies, that was a matter upon which he was prepared, to some extent, to bow to the superior judgment of other Members, but he adhered to the principle that the House of Commons itself should be entitled to deal with all questions of importance. His right hon. friend was fully conscious of the danger and difficulties surrounding the question of the so-called Standing Committees. It was pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman had fallen into an error as to the operation of this Rule, but it was also pointed out with perfect truth that the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman in no way affected such a proceeding as had occurred on the previous day, because the Amendment on that occasion was not a time Amendment so that the position was in no way altered by this proposal. But the right hon. Gentleman had not provided for those who while supporting a Bill entertained an objection to the reference of that Bill to a Standing Committee, and he hoped that that matter would be reconsidered.
Then as regarded the action to be taken by the House itself, when Bills came down 635 from the Grand Committee. It was wisely provided by the framers of the system that the question "that this Bill be now considered" should be put from the chair, but one evening at a nine o'clock sitting, in the absence of the Leader of the House, and with both front benches empty, this valuable safeguard was removed upon the Motion of an unofficial member, and he emphatically protested against the rule by which when a Bill had passed through the House in Committee, perhaps unexpectedly and with small Amendment, no Amendments could be submitted on the report stage, otherwise than as corrections of the amendments carried, except by the person in charge of the Bill. He maintained that when a Bill was before the House on Report, or any other stage, everybody had equal rights, and he hoped that provision would be considered and amended when the House came to deal with it in detail. He spoke with all submission upon subjects such as intervals for dinner, as he rarely attended at such intervals, but with regard to whether the day sitting for the use of unofficial members should be in the middle of the week or at the end, he thought there were various questions to be considered, altogether apart from its social aspect. The present system worked well from a physical point of view, and was, he thought, a very fair division of labour; he would not dwell upon the obvious position of the officials who were obliged to be in attendance, but he thought four long nights would be a very severe strain upon hon. Members. There was another aspect which ought to be borne in mind. Hon. Members knew perfectly well what happened on a Wednesday. The Treasury Bench was absolutely empty, and right hon. Gentlemen opposite thought it courteous as a rule to observe a similar rule with regard to their attendance, and the log-rolling system—he did not refer to a corrupt system—had crept in. Gentlemen whom in the lobbies among themselves they called faddists and crotchet-mongers, but whom in public they talked of as gentlemen sincerely desirous of advancing the interests of the community, supported each other's Bills. These gentlemen were supreme in the early part of the sitting, but were swamped at five o'clock by Members who came in to record their votes impartially. On Fridays, however, the 636 Members who now came to the rescue at five o'clock would be miles away in the country, laughing at those who were foolish enough to stay behind, and the consequence would be that mischievous legislation, already too rife, would be facilitated. He did not think such an alteration could be put forward as the unalterable decision on the part of the Government, because the right hon. Gentleman said he desired to consult the general convenience of the House, and it would conduce more to the general convenience by adhering to the existing system and not changing the day sitting to Friday. The important questions which the House had to consider would, he trusted, be approached with that absence of party spirit which was so desirable.
§ (10.45.) Mr. WALLACE (Perth)
said he did not rise to discuss at large the general proposition of the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion, but for the purpose of saying a few words on the Amendment of his right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition. He wished to point out to the right hon. Gentleman opposite a method which would give him a vote against the Amendment. The Motion before the House was that these proposals should be considered, discussed and voted on, by the House at large; the Amendment of his right hon. friend was to take them to a Committee and then bring them before, the House. What did these proposals mean? They were Government proposals, and on the fate of those proposals depended the fate of the Government, if they were discussed in the House, but in the other case they would go before a Select Committee, who would discuss them in a business way from a business point of view. Let them endeavour to come to a good understanding that hon. Members should be left absolutely free to vote as they chose, without pressure in regard to these particular proposals, and then everybody would greatly prefer to see these proposals discussed in the House. The change of the hour of meeting from three o'clock to two o'clock would revolutionise the constitution of the House. At the present moment there were a large number of business and professional men in the House who 637 would find it impossible to come at two o'clock, who would be denied the opportunity of taking part in the first two hours of public business. Rightly or wrongly, hon. Members were supposed to be in their places when public business was being discussed, and the effect of the alteration would be to substitute for the men who were now Members of the House a different type of man altogether. The man of leisure and wealth would always be in the House, but in place of the professional and business man there would be found the professional politician, than whom there was no type of man more detested; he was the curse of politics, and the effect of this change would be to destroy the honour and dignity of the House in a manner that no other change could effect. With regard to the dinner hour, he might say he was not one of the regular diners at the House. He sometimes dined here, but more often sacrificed himself by obliging hon. Gentlemen opposite by pairing with them; but he ventured to say that the dining-room did play a very important part in the constitution and life of the House. In the dining-room members of opposite parties met together in friendly relation, and the social life of the House in connection with the dining-room and smoking-room and the terrace had done more to banish from the House the bitterness which prevailed in other legislative Assemblies than anything else. How was it that, in spite of the strongest differences, opposition to particular measures was dropped? It was promoted by the happy way hon. Members had of living together in the House. They discussed over the dinner-table the question being discussed in the House, and in that quiet way a convert was often secured when all the speeches in the world would not have brought about a conversion, and if the effect of the proposed change was, as he was afraid it would be, to banish the dining-room from the precincts of the House, one of its best features would be destroyed. He was as jealous of the honour and dignity of this House as any hon. Member, and he felt very strongly that the proposed Rules would not achieve the object the right hon. Gentleman had in view. The real difficulty of the situation was 638 that some hon. Members sacrificed other hon. Members to themselves; there were some hon. Members who felt it necessary to deliver speeches in the House that they had already delivered to their constituents, for the benefit not of the House but the outside world, and he believed that evil would never be exercised until the Motion so recently made by the hon. and gallant Member for the Chelmsford Division of Essex, limiting the time of speeches, was carried—especially if with it was coupled a Motion limiting the number of times a Member might speak. He believed it was these practical suggestions that would really save the House from that which was destroying its power at the present time. He regretted that he should find it necessary for the reasons he had given to oppose the proposals which had been so eloquently moved by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but it was because he felt that they would not achieve the common object which they all desired that he felt obliged to vote against these proposals.
§ *(11.3.) Mr. VICARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)
I am sure my right hon. friend the First Lord of the Treasury, will excuse me if I approach this question in a spirit of hostile criticism. I listened with great interest to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, and though I approach the subject from a different standpoint and from a Conservative point of view, I cannot help feeling that I agree with a great deal of what has fallen from my right hon. friend. Every one will agree that the immediate cause of these Rules is the fact that there was disorder in this House last session. Any alteration of our Rules which tends to check and to punish more severely this disorder I heartily agree with, but when it comes to a question of asking hon. Members, after having paid in full by their punishment, to add an apology, I would ask the House to consider for a moment whether that is really in the interests of the House. I do not know that an apology which is forced from a man is of any value, and we shall be likely to reach an almost impossible point, for a large number of hon. Members may join together to make technical breaches against the Rules of this House. 639 When a man does this he does not do it, as a rule, in cold blood, and he does not do it without provocation. Perhaps someone like myself with a bitter tongue will go as far as the Rules of the House will permit in the direction of provoking an hon. Member, and then a man with a hot temper on the other side of the House may go beyond the Rules, and, carried away by his feelings, may resist the authority of the Chair. I understood the Colonial Secretary to say that we were not to contemplate having an incompetent Chairman of Committees, but I cannot see why we should not do so. Everyone knows that men are chosen for these positions without any previous knowledge of their capacity. It has been more luck than judgment that has secured us such excellent officers as we have in this House. I ask whether, if someone acts in a way that does not commend itself to half the Members of this House and the other half side with the Member who is defying the Rules, what will be the position we shall reach under these new Rules? We shall be asked to force that man to apologise when perhaps half the House think that he is more right than wrong. That man will be supported by his own side, and there is nothing to prevent him refusing to apologise, and he may apply for the Chiltern Hundreds and secure re-election. In this way you may produce a state of things which, I think, it will be impossible to maintain. That is one of the reasons why I desire to criticise these Rules.
I am approaching this question from the Conservative standpoint, and not at all from the standpoint of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, and I approach it also from the point of view of a man who has the greatest desire to advance the credit of this House, and who is grateful to his constituency for electing him, and who is proud of his position as a Member of the House. I believe these Rules will not advance the credit of the House as distinguished from the credit of Ministers, and I consider that they will weaken the sense of responsibility of private Members, and will help to disintegrate the control of the House at large over Ministers.
With regard to what the Colonial Secretary stated about those who object to the 640 control over Ministers being weakened, being in fact trying to support the interests of the minority as against the interests of the majority in this House, the two positions are perfectly distinct. The Colonial Secretary says "You have your remedy, turn us out." The House must know that that is a mere sophistry. I know perfectly well that general charges, such as I have made against Rules of this kind, are worthless unless they are established by definite and specific allegations; therefore I will ask the House to pardon me for a few moments while I deal with some of the details of these Rules. First, I should like to comment on the fact that under these new Rules the question of the Second Reading of a Bill and the question of sending it up to the Grand Committee is to form one. But they are two absolutely distinct questions. We need not go outside this very day for an example. My right hon. friend spoke of the Bill discussed last night, the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, which the First Lord of the Treasury said was a measure which he did not feel disposed to take any part in one way or the other. Nevertheless, the First Lord was convinced that the measure should not go to a Grand Committee. Is that not sufficient proof that the two questions are distinct, and that a man may desire the Second Reading and yet hold that it should not be removed from the purview of the whole House? When I find that, these two questions are to be amalgamated I say that the opportunities for reasonable discussion upon sending a Bill to Grand Committee are being unfairly crippled and I ask hon. Members to consider this question very carefully in Committee. In regard to the next proposal it seems at first sight more reasonable, but I ask hon. Members to consider the position of an hon. Member, who, through illness, or through any other cause has been shut out from dealing with any matter when the Bill has been before the House. This again is a lessening of the power of the House, and a lessening of the reasonable opportunities for discussion which this House at present enjoys. What are you going to gain in return? It is claimed that you are going to facilitate legislation, but that does not commend itself to me. Frankly speaking, my experience of modern legislation as a whole, whether 641 from this side or from the other side of the House, is that in the main it does more harm than good. I do not think there is anything lost by frank criticism. Speaking as a Conservative, I think that the Socialistic bias of modern legislation is such that the slight advantages some sections of the community may have derived from it does not compensate for the infringement of individual liberty and the interference with the right of property which it has also entailed. With regard to legislation, I think the influence of our constituents upon us is sufficient to compel hon. Members of Parliament to support legislation which is really required by the country, or else retire from the position they occupy of misrepresenting the view of their constituency. I would like to echo the appeal made by the First Lord of the Treasury to hon. Members on this side of the House to remember that one day they may be on the other side of the House. I do remember that time, and I ask Conservative Members to consider that the time will come when there will be a Ministry in power in whom they will not have the same amount of confidence, when these weapons which our Leader is now forging will be used against us. I have been ten years in this House, and I have seen how the game is played. I have seen the see-saw policy adopted by right hon. Gentlemen on both front Benches first attacking one another and then playing into each other's hands. Therefore, I ask the House, as distinguished from Ministers, to look after themselves, and watch their own privileges. I ask hon. Members not to allow dust to be thrown into their eyes and to refuse to give up their own rights. If they want comfort do not let them come into the House at all. I should like to stay in the country among my trees and shrubs, and if I wished really to enjoy myself I would not come down here, and I am not going to be enticed to come here by a free dinner. I do not care whether the dinner is paid for or not, or whether it is cheap or dear. Why should the hon. Gentleman opposite feel incensed at the statement that a cheap dinner can be got here? I want a good dinner, and the cheaper it is the better I would like it. Is it an insult to suggest that if you want 642 good value for your money you should dine here? I cannot conceive that.
Let me turn to the proposal that you, Sir, or anyone who occupies the Chair should have the right to suspend our sittings. I see no objection to that. I hope there will be no reason for putting the Rule in force. I must, however, comment on the fact that the first Lord of the Treasury defended this proposal by describing a scene when the mere presence of the Speaker in the House rendered any suggestion for the suspension of the sitting absolutely unnecessary. He went much further than that, and said that the Rule was particularly important after twelve o'clock when the distinguished and right hon. Gentlemen whom I see now before me in such large numbers have gone to their virtuous beds, and when the House is unrepresentative. Why is the House unrepresentative when Members on both sides are here, and only Members who are in office are not in the House? It would be most unreasonable to say that I desire, looking to the great labours which call for the attention of my right hon. friend, that he should be present at our deliberations after twelve o'clock.
§ * MR. VICARY GIBBS
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he was not present. Then surely if he is, he must know that there is no time at which the authority of Mr. Speaker is more carefully considered and when more attention is paid to it, or when our business is conducted with more complete regard to good conduct and propriety than after twelve o'clock. What need is there for the suspension of a sitting in our conduct after twelve o'clock?
Let me now turn to what is far more serious than that, because I do not think that will have much practical effect whether it is passed or not. The proposal that we should meet at two instead of three o'clock, will affect mainly the lawyers and the merchants of the House. Well I, being a merchant, will not plead 643 the cause of the merchants. The mere fact that that Rule had been in force would have prevented me coming into the House at the time I did. Perhaps that would have been in the opinion of my right hon. friend, a by no means unmixed misfortune. I should like to say a word for that unpopular body, the lawyers. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil brought in a proposal for controlling the Committee of selection in their selections, because evidently he was incensed by the idea that there were too many lawyers in the House, and he evidently thought they were a disadvantage to our deliberations. I disagree with him. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was because they never served."] He wished to make their presence in this House impossible, but we need not argue that. Has this House ever suffered from the fact that a lawyer, who was doing any business in his own profession, annoyed the House by obtruding himself upon it and chattering when not wanted? I have never seen it on either side of the House. Those gentlemen know too well the value of their own words when they are paid for them, and when they are not paid they are not going to cast their pearls before the House for nothing.
Let me say a few words about the substitution of Friday for Wednesday for private Members' Bills. I observe the tone in the press as to that matter is, that it is purely our own concern, and that it does not concern the public at all. The proposal so far as I can learn, impresses Members on my side as one that will add to the attractions of the House. It is one of the things that lead them to support the new Rules. They say, "My comfort will be increased. I shall be able to get away a substantial time from business. I shall be able to get away from business from Friday to Monday, probably Thursday to Monday." That to many is a very great attraction. I look at it not from the point of view of convenience, not from the point of view of comfort, but from the point of view of whether it will be an advantage to our deliberations that a large section of Members—according to the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, a section mainly drawn from this side of the House—should 644 withdraw themselves from our deliberations at a time when private Members, Bills are introduced. I consider it is far less dangerous that Members should be absent from their work when certain votes of supply are discussed, than that they should be absent when new legislation is introduced, sometimes of a very revolutionary character, sometimes of a very crude ill-considered character, and certainly very often legislation which the country has in no way made up its mind upon. The common answer to that is "That sort of thing will never pass; all that will happen is that it will be advanced a stage, and then some ingenious gentleman will prevent it going to a Grand Committee, and we shall hear no more of it." Admitting that, will it not even then be very mischievous? Will the House allow me to ask whether it is likely that the common sense of the country will reject measures to which the House has given a second reading? In that case I can assure my right hon. friend the credit of the House will not be increased. If, on the other hand, the people of the country are induced by that means to think that a measure has value in it, that it contains doctrines which are entitled to their consideration, and that they should give a more friendly ear to the measure than they would have done before, a far greater misfortune will happen than under present conditions, inasmuch, as political opinions will be corrupted by foolish measures brought forward when there is a thin House—when, to use my right hon. friend's expression, the House is unrepresentative. Considering the fact that on the Friday evening the House must necessarily be peculiarly thin, a great many Members having gone off, the check on foolish legislation that now exists will be taken away. That is one of my grave objections to these new Rules. Let me take the question of the notice of adjournment. I fully admit that a Motion for adjournment should not come, when a Member who is outside does not know that it is coming on, and the fact that it should be delayed in order that every Member may have an opportunity of considering the question involved in the adjournment is an advantage and an improvement, but it is an abuse of language for this 645 House to declare a question urgent and proceed to relegate it to a later hour. I think myself if the Rule as to moving the adjournment is abused, it is the question of the number interested in the adjournment that should be altered, and not the time at which the Motion is considered. I ask hon. Members to remember that private Bills will in future come on in a thin House at nine o'clock. I consider that that is a thing that ought not to be supported by men holding the same view as I do.
On the matter of Questions, my opinion cannot be better illustrated than by what my right hon. friend himself said: "It is quite right that the truth should be elicited from the responsible Minister by question if possible." Yet he went on to say that a Question could not be properly used as the foundation of cross-examination. But why, in heaven, not? What are we here for, except to endeavour to elicit things that we consider it is in the interest of the public that they should know. It seems to me that my right hon. friend is so conscious of his own can dour and integrity, so conscious that he deserves and enjoys the confidence of every Member of this House, that he has come to invest, not himself, which would be reasonable enough, but any Minister qua Minister with a kind of sacro-sanct authority. What became of the main function of the private Members in this House long ago?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I repeated what has been ruled from the Chair a great many times, and what has been the ancient practice of this House—that the cross-examination of Ministers is very desirable, but that Question time is not the proper time for it. That is the time to ask for information.
§ * MR. VICARY GIBBS
I do not know what the First Lord of the Treasury means by cross-examination. I always thought that cross-examination was nothing more than asking Questions. Supposing the man who puts an original Question, is a dull fellow—I have put Questions myself. Is he not to be assisted in eliciting the truth of the matter? 646 The fact is, that the whole of these Rules are designed to free Ministers from the control of the House. My right hon. friend considers that when a man has been co-opted into that noble body on the Treasury Bench, he is to be protected in every way, and that the rights of mere earthly private Members may be neglected. The right hon. Gentleman never seems to conceive that some Minister may come into his position who may be utterly unworthy of it, and who may not deserve the confidence of the country; and, therefore, may be turned out the moment the country gets the chance of doing it. I can imagine a condition of things when we may have—I hope we never shall—a bad Speaker or Chairman of Committees, or a bad Leader of the House. All these things are conceivable. It does not follow that, because we now have a man whom we thoroughly trust, we shall always have such men, human nature being as it is. It is only if Questions are evil in themselves that they should be huddled away or put at an inconvenient time. What is the charge? The charge is, that the Members of this House abuse Questions. Why not stop that abuse? Why make it inconvenient for hon. Members to put all Questions whether good or had. [An HON. MEMBER: "No." An hon. Member says "No," but I say certainly by putting them off till after 12 o'clock. Does any one suggest that it is suitable, or profitable, or in accordance with the diginity of the House, that a matter of importance should be dealt with after 12 o'clock, when all the Members on the Opposition front Bench and all the Members on the Government Bench except one, go home to bed, as under the present system? I have now been in this House for ten years, and I do not believe I have put more than ten Questions. But I have over and over again gone to a Minister with a private letter from one of my constituents and have said to him, "Would you kindly look at this letter and tell me what answer I have got to make to it. That will save me putting a question in the House." I fully approve of the modification of the Rule which enables a Member to have his Questions put and answered in writing. I fully agree that many Questions eat up the time of the House which ought not to detain it; but take such a Question as this, "Has there been any communication 647 from any Foreign Government containing a suggestion for intervention between us and the Boers in the Transvaal?"—is not that a Question which may fairly be put before any other, and which certainly ought not to be put after 12 o'clock? The old order is changing. The hon. Gentleman says that King Charles the First is not knocking at the door. Certainly not. But we have all heard of the ancient saw which says that the King can do no wrong. I should say that that proverb should be amended by leaving out the word "King" and inserting the word "Minister." We have all heard the expression, "Trust the people." Leave out the word "people" and substitute the word "Minister." I have not that confidence which the right hon. Gentleman has in every successor he may have. If my right hon. friend, who so highly adorns the position he fills, would guarantee to me his own immortality, I would not worry him and the House with this long disquisition. But he cannot.
What is the gilding to the pill, the bait to the hook, the real thing which a houses enthusiasm on my side of the House? It is the dinner interval. Let us look at that closely. Is it going to really benefit this House? I am not sneering at it. I believe I can fulfil the canon which the right hon. Gentleman laid down. I have dined here often enough to justify myself in criticising the alteration. I believe the House recognises that it is not want of industry, but want of health which prevents my attending here more often than I have done. I am not sneering at the extended dinner hour. I fully believe it may be an immense increase to our comfort; but it is a luxury; and I have a business mind, and know that luxuries have to be paid for. Therefore I want to know the price, but when I find the price is the sacrifice of our control over Ministers, I consider it is too high a price to pay for the luxury. I cannot help remembering the historic case of Esau. Esau had a transaction with another astute gentleman for his dinner, and he was not considered to have had the best of the bargain. I do not want the House to sell its birthright for a mess of pottage. What will be the effect of these Rules? I maintain that there are things in them 648 which will disintegrate the House. It was very truly said by the hon. and learned member for Perth that this dinner interval Rule would have the disadvantage of lessening the social intercourse between Members on different sides of the House. I am perfectly certain that there are hon. Members who would have resented what I have said to-day, much more than they do, if I had not had the advantage of dining with them. I know that the intercourse of the dining-room and the smoking-room enables one to accept from our opponents language which we might otherwise resent. I think that the effect on a great section in this House will be that a great many of them will go away home to dine, and, human nature being what it is, I believe that the great bulk of them will not come back. I myself admit that when I get home and sit down by a comfortable fire I feel very loth to come out again, and I believe the right hon. Gentleman himself will find that there will be this disadvantage in his Rules which he has not himself considered, and that it will be very difficult to get his supporters back to the House when he most desires to see them.
Let me turn to the advance reply to Conservative sentiment with which my right hon. friend finished his eloquent and charming speech. He told us not to charge him with abandoning old traditions and ancient safeguards. He knew perfectly well that some fossilized old Tory like myself would make these charges. But he went on to say something about arrows and museums. I confess I cannot understand what that passage meant. Let us look at this question of abandoning old traditions and throwing away ancient safeguards. These safeguards exist to give Members of the House full power of effective expression. A reference was made by the right hon. Gentleman to Foreign Chambers, and any one who knows the facts about Foreign Chambers must admit that they do not have these checks and safeguards to which I frankly admit I cling. Still, if the right hon. Gentleman will give me what the Foreign Chambers have got, I will support him in every one of his proposals. The House consists of 670 Members and its quorum is what I do not hesitate to call the dis 649 gracefully low one of 40. Does any hon. Member know what is the lowest quorum of any other Assembly in the world? As far as I know, it is half of the total number of members. I quite admit the enormous strain it would put on Members if our quorum was to be 335, but what I wish to emphasise is what an enormous protection that would give against rash, crude, and foolish legislation. Other Assemblies have one great protection which we lack, while we have many small protections which they lack. The hon. Member from Waterford said that this House is in a condition of creeping paralysis. It is quite true that this House, as a House, as distinguished from the Ministry, has lost power, weight, and influence in the country. I am sorry for it, but I cannot help it. I owe everything to the House, I love the House, and it is on that account that I regret to see its power weakening. If I am right, if I have succeeded in showing to the House that the whole tendency of these Rules is to weaken the influence, to decrease the interest, and lessen the importance of the House as distinguished from the Ministry, hon. Members will realise that under the harmless guise of these Rules of Procedure a great constitutional revolution is going on. We are passing under a new oligarchy, an oligarchy such as the world has never seen, which is not elected by the people, and which has no hereditary right. That is a position which I do not believe England will willingly place itself in, or the House of Commons willingly accept. Of course many may consider this view exaggerated, but I maintain that the tendency of these Rules is in the direction I have stated, and against that tendency I protest. I thank hon. Members—perhaps hon. Members sitting behind me especially, who may not agree 650 with the way in which I have presented this case against the Leader of our Party—for having listened to me; but I know my right hon. friend is too generous-minded himself not to realise that I do this simply because I feel it to be my duty. I shall support him on two or three matters, and why, after the long and painful task I have had in expressing my disagreement with him, should I not enjoy myself for a few minutes by showing on what points I am in agreement. I shall heartily support the proposal for increasing the penalties for disorder. That is not directed against any particular section of the House. Let hon. Members be generous; it may be applied to the Church party. If I should ever be betrayed into resisting the authority of the Chair, I am prepared to undergo whatever punishment the House may inflict, but I am not prepared to eat the leek afterwards. I think my right hon. friend is supporting the dignity of the House by increasing those penalties. Again, I agree with him on a matter which I think is most excellent, although it does not excite any passion. That is his proposal with reference to consolidation. I think it a disgrace to the House and to our system that consolidation laws have not been carried out before, and I will support my hon. friend in carrying them out. Again I cordially thank the House for having heard me.
§ (11.55.) Debate adjourned till To-morrow.