§ [GENERAL DISCUSSION—SECOND DAY.]
§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [6th February]. "That the proposals of the Government on the Order Paper relating to the Procedure of the House be now considered:"—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.) And which Amendment was, 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 Henry Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (4.15.) MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
The Resolutions which the House is now asked to consider constitute undoubtedly the largest, most revolutionary and most far reaching alterations in the Procedure of Parliament, ever submitted by a Minister, and against all precedent, the House is asked to consider and adopt these Rules without previous examination by a Committee, and without any proof whatever of urgency or immediate necessity. There is another consideration which has not been alluded to in the course of this debate—and in my opinion it is one of considerable weight. Not only is the House asked to part from unbroken precedent and practice, but the request is made to a new House at the opening of its second session—a House in which there is a very large invasion of new Members who are utterly unacquainted with the working of its rules and therefore cannot bring to the consideration of the many sound or well-informed judgment as to virtue or vice of the proposal. I do not think any young Member of the House will feel that I am speaking disrespectfully of his ability when I say that in my judgment no Member of the House is qualified to give an opinion of any value as to the desirability or necessity of the alteration of the rules until he has served five or six sessions, because they are absolutely and 677 necessarily ignorant of the causes of the rules and the forms under which the business of the House is transacted, and the effect which any alteration of them would produce. I venture to say that, in making this last and unparalleled demand, the reasons advanced by the First Lord of the Treasury in his preliminary statement were the most trivial and superficial ever made by any Minister in laying such proposals before the House. He did not in fact attempt to make out the smallest case for their necessity.
I would ask hon. Members to compare the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman approached this grave and important subject with that indicated in the first two or three paragraphs of the Report of the Committee of 1861, a Committee on which sat such men as Lord Palmerston, Sir James Graham, Mr. Bright, Mr. Disraeli, with other great Parliamentarians. It was a Committee which recommended the House to proceed with the utmost caution, and to treat with respect the unwritten law of Parliament which for ages had secured a good system of legislation, perfect freedom of debate, and due regard for the rights of minorities. They added that no change was justified which experience had not proved to be necessary, and that the maintenance of old rules was preferable to the making of new ones. These were the principles sanctioned by great masters of Parliamentary tactics. I again call attention to the extraordinary difference between that spirit and the spirit in which the First Lord of the Treasury invited the House to consider the rules on the present occasion. On previous occasions these matters have been referred to a strong Committee of this House, before which the Speaker and the Senior Clerk at the Table have been examined, and then, when the whole subject has been carefully considered, the Committee have reported to the House, which has fully debated the recommendations. In the present instance, the Government have adopted an entirely different procedure, and having done so, they were bound to endeavour to establish a case of urgent emergency and to frame some specific rule to meet it. I listened to the preliminary statements of the First Lord with some curiosity, and I now assert that he did 678 not even attempt to make out a case of emergency.
Let me recall the attention of the House to what occurred last session. The only case which the right hon. Gentleman attempted to make out, was based on a comparison of last session with the session of 1800. But was the comparison fair? Last year the House of Commons met abnormally late, and under abnormal circumstances also in regard to the pressure of public business. This country was in the midst of a great war, and shortly after the House assembled there was laid before it a Civil Service Estimate, absolutely unparalleled in the history of Parliament—an Estimate raising a number of important issues, which in my experience, extending over 20 years, was entirely without precedent. In addition to that, there were great questions relating to the war to be debated. Furthermore, a large number of days were wasted through the mismanagement of the Government in discussing the preliminary stages of an Education Bill which everybody knew had no chance of passing. The progress of business last year, taking into consideration the war, the Supplementary Civil Service Votes, the long discussion on the reorganization of the War Office, and the time bestowed on the education question, certainly does not lend itself to the making out of any such case of emergency. There is one other aspect of last session to which I should like to turn for a moment. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the abuse by hon. Members of their privileges, especially in regard to moving the adjournment of the House, and I will ask hon. Members to look at the history of that subject for the last ten years, and then say whether the adjournment has been recently abused. A very interesting Return has been issued giving the number of Motions for adjournment from 1882 down to 1901. In 1882 there were four Motions, in 1885 four, in 1887 eleven, in 1888 ten, and, going on to 1893–4, when the right hon. Gentleman was leading the Opposition, the number was 20. That year is absolutely without a parallel. In 1894, the adjournment was moved five times, in 1896 six, in 1897 seven, in 1898 five, in the two sessions of 1899 five, in 1900 six, and in 1901 nine times, or less than 679 half the number of times when the right hon. Gentleman himself was leading the Opposition. What justification is there for saying that there was obstruction or abuse of the privilege? What was the language of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in regard to what occurred in 1893–94? He did not then appeal for a stringent new Rule to put down obstruction!
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. Balfour,) Manchester, E.
I never used the word "obstruction" or said that there had been abuse of the privilege.
§ MR. DILLON
Surely you ought to make out a case for your new Rules. If there is no case, why are our privileges to be abridged?
§ MR. DILLON
The right hon. Gentleman based his case on the comparison between 1800 and 1901. Let me again refer to what the Colonial Secretary said on this question at Braintree on the 15th December, 1893. He said that under our constitutional system the House of Commons was and ought to be the eyes and ears and voice of the nation, and if it no longer fulfilled its proper function, if the minority of the House were trampled upon and silenced, if the majority were at the same time tyrannical to their opponents and servile to their leaders, then the time had come when a new appeal should be made to the people. Surely in the present case there is not even a pretext for interference with the rights of private Members; and I appeal again to the authority of Mr. Disraeli, Mr. John Bright and Sir James Graham to show that it has been the unbroken tradition of the House most scrupulously to avoid interference with private Members' rights unless the necessity was proved for it.
The right hon. Gentleman laid a good deal of stress on the abuse of Questions. He compared the enormous number of the Questions put last session with the number asked in 1800. I should be perfectly prepared to admit that last session there were in my judgment too many supplementary Questions, and I myself have exercised any influence I possessed to 680 mitigate that. But I have always noticed that Members used to Parliamentary life are eager to show that they are interested in the affairs of their constituents, and seek, by putting supplementary Questions, the opportunity of bringing themselves forward which they might not have if they waited the chance of speaking in debate. The right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that ample powers already exist to check that abuse. The right hon. Gentleman said that Question time was not the proper time to examine Ministers. I am not quite so sure, for a great many bad abuses might have been cloaked over had it not been for Questions. We have had striking examples of that during the last three days in regard to the remount scandal and the meat contract. At present there are ample means of meeting any difficulty, and there is no ground for any charge of abuse in this matter. Improper Questions, can be altered or altogether stopped at the Table, and Mr. Speaker can also stop the supplementary Questions when he thinks they are exceeding a reasonable limit. Not only has the Chair that power, but the Minster himself has a right to refuse to answer supplementary Questions if he thinks it desirable to take that course in the public interest. Therefore I say there is no foundation for this charge of abuse. Questions are in my opinion one of the most valuable privileges still left to private Members, and with regard to them I assert that the First Lord has made out no case for an extension of the ample powers that already exist to check any possible abuse.
I do not know whether hon. Members are aware of the extent to which this right of hon. Members has been cut down. The First Lord of the Treasury was right in saying that the number of Questions has increased, but his comparison with 1800 was a preposterous one. I would institute a comparison with 1861, when the great Committee sat; that I think would be more reasonable. What were the rules under which the business of the House was then carried on? Every Friday there was submitted at the commencement of public business a Motion—That the House at its rising do adjourn until Monday next. On that Motion every Member had a right to debate any subject under the sun. On 681 those occasions Member after Member would raise questions in which he or his constituents were interested, and Ministers were obliged to reply; while frequently the Government did not get to their business at all on Fridays, as the Motion would not be carried until 10 o'clock. When, therefore, a Member had a question to ventilate, he waited until Friday, and it was then put and answered. On the occasion of the Committee of 1861, on the recommendation of the Speaker and after much debate, the privilege was taken away, but it was taken on the specific understanding that Fridays should be Supply days, and that the right previously exercised by Members on the Motion for adjournment until Monday should be left to them on the Motion "that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair" for the purpose of the House going into Committee of Supply. As a reason for agreeing to abolish the Motion for adjournment, the then Speaker pointed out that Members had this opportunity on every occasion of the House going into Committee of Supply, and also a similar opportunity on going into Committee of Ways and Means. I lay great stress on this point, because the right hon. Gentleman contended that the right of raising questions on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair for the House to go into Committee of Ways and Means was an obsolete right which had not been exercised for more than a century. That is absolutely untrue. I hold in my hand the Report of the Committee of 1861, in which there is a statement of the Motions made against the Speaker leaving the Chair during the session of 1860, and what are the facts? On nearly every Supply night a Motion was made and generally discussed. The Committee of Ways and Means sat on fifteen days, and on three occasions a discussion took place on a Motion brought forward by a Member against the Speaker leaving the Chair. Therefore, the right not only existed but was exercised. It is absurd to argue that because there has been an increase of Questions, therefore there has been obstruction, and an emergency has arisen which must be met by new Rules. The increase of Questions is the natural result of the invasion and destruction of other rights which Members previously enjoyed. No case has been made out for an alteration on the ground of the 682 abuse of the right to question Ministers. I would remind the House that only a year ago, when I moved the adjournment of the House in consequence of the refusal of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to answer a supplementary Question, the Government majority fell from 146 to 40, so strong was the feeling of the House that it was injurious to the functions and dignity of this House to be denied the exercise of that right which distinguishes it, more than almost anything else, from foreign Assemblies.
I come now, Sir, to what I consider is one of the most important new Rules—that with regard to punishment. The Leader of the House did not attempt to make any case for that Rule. That was an unparalleled course to take. The right hon. Gentleman has introduced for the consideration of the House a number of Rules, one of which is undoubtedly most contentious, and calculated to stir up bitter feeling, and plainly directed against one particular section of the House—and for that reason, if for no other, completely foreign to the spirit and traditions of the House of Commons—and he has passed over that Rule without one word to justify it. But some of his followers have remedied the omission. The hon. Member for the Stretford Division of Lancashire said that he desired to prevent disgraceful scenes, and the Colonial Secretary, with the courtesy which always distinguishes him, stated that for his part he held there should be no mercy shown to men who defied the Chair. That was an unfortunate expression, and one not calculated, when Members are dealing with each other in the House, to uphold the dignity or decency of the conduct of business. When the hon. Member for the Stretford Division made his observation, I asked what disgraceful scenes he desired to prevent. I am now on somewhat delicate ground, but no Member has a right to justify a demand for more stringent punishment by such an observation as that, and then funk at giving particulars of the "disgraceful scenes" to which he refers. Why is this new Rule necessary? What are the disgraceful scenes against which it is directed? Is it to prevent such disgraceful scenes as that which occurred on Wednesday last, 683 which the Leader of the House regretted but did not condemn? The Members engaged in that scene were English Members. What happened? A certain body of Members got in the "No" lobby and refused to leave it when called upon by the tellers. ["No."] They remained in that lobby with the deliberate purpose of defeating—
§ EARL PERCY (Kensington, S.)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is the hon. Member in order in imputing motives to other Members of the House?
§ MR. DILLON
I will remove any difficulty on the point of order by not imputing motives; I will describe facts. Those Members remained in the "No" lobby with the effect of defeating the purpose of the House. I deliberately state on my own observation that, after the division was over, one of the tellers remained behind the Speaker's Chair watching the clock, and refusing to bring the numbers to the Table until the hour at which opposed business ceases had passed. I will not apply the term "disgraceful scene" to that, but it was a very remarkable one. Is it a greater offence against order to remain sitting quietly on the Benches in the House while a division is in progress, than to remain in the lobby while a division is in progress, and refuse to return? Is that the scene against which this Rule is directed, or the scene of March 5th last, when the Irish Members received very different treatment? Then on July 26th, 1893, a scene occurred which I think might be described as disgraceful, when for the first and only time in its history, a free fight took place on the floor of the House of Commons. That scene was incited by the Leaders of the Unionist Party. The Irish Members were then sitting near the Unionists and watched their operations. The leaders told their men not to leave the House. I am not referring to the hon. Member for Fulham, but to the leaders of the Party. The Members refused to leave the House, they defied the Chair, and turned the House of Commons into a pandemonium. But there was no proposal for 684 increased punishment brought in then. What are the disgraceful scenes which demand such punishment as this? These proposals are based on no disgraceful scenes, but they are introduced for the deliberate purpose of driving out of this House the representatives of Ireland, and the proposal of this Resolution is the most disgraceful proceeding in the annals of the House of Commons. I believe that the time will yet come when the hon. Members engaged in this operation will be ashamed of their performance. The Colonial Secretary said something in his speech at Braintree about the disgraceful scene of 1893. On the 15th of December, 1893, the right hon. Gentleman said the Opposition were treated as if they were irreconcilable enemies of the Government, and tried to bully them into submission, but they were Englishmen. The Colonial Secretary then went on to blame the Government of that day for so conducting the business of the House as to excite the temper of hon. Members to such an extent as led to the scene of 1893. The right hon. Gentleman did not propose then that there should be fresh Rules, but suggested that the Government should be thrown out of office and and he and his friends called in.
In his opening speech the First Lord drew a comparison between the state of business in this House in 1800 and in 1901, and it is on this comparison and this alone that he based the whole case for the necessity of these Rules. What was the condition of affairs in 1800? In that year there was no Opposition at all in this House for the Opposition had withdrawn. In the next place, Mr. Pitt's chief assistant was Mr. Dundas who was indicted for £30,000. [An Hon. Member: He was acquitted.] Yes, he was acquitted by the casting vote of his own colleague in the Cabinet. It is a most painful thing to have a Cabinet Minister indicted in that way. It is simply playing with the House to build the case for the new Rules in a comparison between 1800 and 1901, for in the former year England was ruled not by the House of Commons but by about a dozen great families in England and by the Court. The House of Commons was then only the instrument of the great families, and there was little or no interest taken in the proceedings of the House. The doctrine of Ministerial responsibility was then in its infancy, for in 1800 the responsibility was with the Court and the great families who controlled the House. 685 Another doctrine has now been set up by the Colonial Secretary, whose speech I listened to with great interest, because we are now passing through a very considerable constitutional evolution which very few Members of the House have any notion of. What is the Colonial Secretary's doctrine? He said—Here we are, the creatures of the majority, and if you don't like us and our measures you can turn us out.This doctrine is subversive of the true principle of Ministerial responsibility. I ask the House to reflect to see how far that doctrine carries them. If that is a genuine doctrine why does the House of Commons waste 26 days every year in Supply? The whole business of the House could be done in six weeks under such a doctrine. That is the doctrine of the political boss, the boss of Tammany. That is the doctrine wrapped up and involved in the doctrine of the Colonial Secretary. There was a most significant passage in the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury which he delivered upon introducing this change. The right hon. Gentlemen asked the House to contrast 1800 with 1901, and he went on to say that there was in 1800 no question of passing a vote, but the difficulty was to get the requisite number to vote the money. When that statement was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War said "Hear, hear." Such a doctrine no doubt would be very acceptable to the Secretary for War because he would be relieved of the necessity of explaining his contracts, and he would be justified under it in refusing any information whatever. Within my memory the House of Commons has travelled a good deal along that road. That is not the doctrine of ministerial responsibility and constitutional practice, which distinguishes this House from other legislations and from Congress in America. In the British House of Commons it has always been recognised as a regret and duty not only of the Opposition but of the Government supporters to criticise Ministers in order to elicit from them information for the guidance of the public outside. When Ministers take up such a position as that they are travelling on a road which will lead them ultimately and inevitably to the total abolition of the true doctrine of ministerial responsibility. One hon. Member has said that the influence of the House of Commons is rapidly waning, 686 but that is not due to any evil which the proposed Rules aim at, but it is due to an evil which these Rules will enormously increase. It is due to the fact that the country is coming to the conclusion that the House of Commons is gradually having less and less voice in the government of the country, and that the centre of gravity of government is moving in other directions. Undoubtedly the public is a very competent judge in such matters. If the House of Commons allows itself to be ignored, and allows all great public announcements to be made across the floor of the House of Lords before we get them in a scramble before the dinner hour, the country will continue to take less interest in our proceedings which will become a matter of indifference to the public.
It is trifling with the House, and making fun of us to compare for the purpose of building up a case the proceedings of 1800 and 1901. Let me draw the attention of the First Lord of the Treasury to what happened in 1861, He stated in his comparison that in 1800 the House sat 72 days, and in 1901 it sat 115 days, and upon that he based the claim that the pressure of business had so enormously increased that something must be done. Listen to this paragraph from the Committee's Report in 1861.It is admitted that within the last few years, the public and private business of the House has greatly increased and the increase has been met by corresponding diligence and energy on the part of the House.In 1861, the number of days on which the House sat was 145, and the number of hours was 1244, and the number of hours after midnight was 147, I say that these figures show that the strain of public business in 1861 was greater than it was last year. Is it not, therefore, monstrous for the First Lord of the Treasury to ignore this fact and claim that there is an urgent necessity for the new Rules on the ground of the number of days and hours we sat last session? I maintain that in his preliminary observations the First Lord made no case whatever for those Rules, and with the exception of one or two small Amendments which are trifling in their character, and perhaps may be considered improvements, I intend to oppose the whole of the Rules as calculated in my 687 opinion to degrade the House of Commons, and, to a very large extent, do away with ministerial responsibility.
Let me recur for one moment to the matter of Questions. The hon. Member for the Stretford division excited some amusement by posing before the House and speaking eloquently as a busy lawyer. With his enormous income he is willing to immolate himself on the altar of duty. He said that any man who was not willing by attending here to sacrifice a lucrative business was contemptible. How often will he be here at 2 o'clock? What the hon. and learned Member wanted was leave to stay away until 5 o'clock. He then said that the great object of the new Rules was to make the House of Commons an effective instrument for the discharge of its duties. I ask, what is the greatest function of the House of Commons? In my opinion the function that has made it the admiration of the world as the instrument of liberty of the British nation is that it is the only House, as far as I know, which has succeeded in bringing the Executive Government under the direct and constant control of the representatives of the people. That is the glory of the House of Commons. That is the great distinctive mark which differentiates it from other legislative assemblies. Other Houses make laws, but I know none other where Ministers are compelled, from day to day, to account to the representatives of the people for the way in which they administer the law. We have been charged—and it is quite true in the sense stated so eloquently by the hon. Member for Waterford—that in this House we are more or less a foreign element. It is quite true that we believe, and have good reasons for our belief, that in this House we get no fair play, and are treated, not as individual Members of the House but as a group of Members against whom every man's hand is turned [Irish cheers and Opposition cries of "No, no!"] Well, I do not say every man's, but against whom the hand of the Ministry is turned and against whom new sets of Rules are constantly being formulated. But while I, as an Irish Nationalist, see in this House and am compelled to see in it, only the instrument of oppression which makes bad laws, based on ignorance of my country, and gives us no facilities to see that these 688 laws are humanely administered, I hope I can divorce myself from that point of view and consider the position for a moment from another standpoint. I have sat in this House for twenty years, and I now declare most sincerely and solemnly that from year to year my admiration of the House as the instrument for the protection of the liberties of the British people has grown and increased, but I say, at the same time, that the main and primary business of the House of Commons is the control of the Executive and the protection of the taxpayers, and let me ask what is the means by which we can control the Executive Government and bring to its knowledge the grievances of the subject? The first means in my opinion is the right of questions, and to say that that right can be fulfilled by pointed answers is an absurdity. It is only by compelling Ministers to stand up in their places in this House and answer the questions put to them, that our rights in this respect are preserved, and that is the power in my opinion which will most effectively and surely safeguard liberty in this House. In this matter, the outside public think as we do. Take the papers of the United Kingdom, look at their parliamentary reports, and you will see that it is the questions asked of Ministers that receive most attention. Here I may remind the House that the Press has already held a meeting and protested against the postponement of questions on the ground that if they are brought on at a late hour, it will be impossible to report them.
I now come to one other subject on which there is to be an alteration and which has not been alluded to before—namely the question of divisions. I say the attempt to deprive a small minority of the right of registering their names in certain circumstances, is an outrageous invasion of the fundamental principal of representation in this House. In this connection I may refer to what occurred in the House in 1878. I am quoting from a most interesting return giving the divisions in which a small minority voted at a time when they were defending a most unpopular cause and were of course howled down. I turn to one of these divisions and I find that on 9th July, 1877, 19 men, for whom Sir Charles 689 Dilke and Mr. Courtney were tellers, voted against a South African Bill—a measure which has since proved to be the root and origin of all the recent troubles—and I say it would be a great injustice if these men had not been allowed to register their opinions, for time has justified their action on that occasion. And it is at these times when small minorities are defending unpopular causes, when passions are aroused, when men having the courage of their convictions are fighting for a cause which, at the moment, appears a lost cause, that they should have their names published and show the public how they are voting. When I turned to this Report, issued at the end of 1878, to see if any case has arisen since, which would support the present purpose, I find in it the number of divisions in which the minorities are less than 11 Members. I find that in 1877 there were 69 divisions with less than 11 in the minority, and in the same year there were 101 divisions with less than 20 Members in the lobby. Now, I venture to say, that in the whole of last session there were not two divisions with less than 20 in the lobby. Yet this Committee saw nothing in these figures to justify them in depriving the House of Commons of this great and fundamental privilege.
We all know in reality what is the origin of these new Rules. The First Lord of the Treasury made no case for these Rules because there was no case to make, or rather, I should say, he had no case to make which he was not ashamed to state. These Rules are framed for the sole purpose of degrading and suppressing one section of the House, and that section, one which if there was any sense of fair play or manliness on the part of the great majority of this House, should be dealt with rather tenderly and magnanimously. I allude, of course, to the Irish Nationalists who must always expect to remain in a minority in this House. Our position in this House is a difficult and unpleasant one. I have come to admire this House, more than I can find language to express, as an instrument of English liberty. But for us it has always been an instrument of oppression, and we have never obtained in this House fair play and equal treatment with English Mem- 690 bers. And when I come to consider the means which have been adopted especially in those Rules for the purpose of humiliating and annoying the Irish Members. I turn to the proposal that we should be compelled to make an apology in addition to suffering the stringent punishment meted out. Why should we be called upon to apologise? I have sat in this House for 20 years, and I say now that I have never been guilty of gross disorder. On four or five occasions I have been suspended. But I have never been guilty of gross disorder, and if I have used an unparliamentary expression, I have never hesitated, and I never would fail to apologise most fully to the House. But this proposal goes far beyond that. Take my own case. I repeat again that I have never been guilty of gross misconduct. On the first occasion upon which I was suspended for obstructing the business of the House, it was the result of a gross blunder on the part of the Chairman of Committees. I was away in bed at home when under these Rules I would have been obliged to come down and offer a sincere apology for the blunder of the Chairman of the Table. Take another case; I was suspended under a strong sense of wrong. I have always admitted that when you are conducting the affairs of a deliberative assembly such as this you must arm your Chairman, whether the Chair is right or wrong, with very strong punitive powers to maintain order. But it does not follow that the Chairman is always right. He is only human. I have often upset, on Motion, the judgment of the Chair in this House, such as when he called an hon. Member to order for using unparliamentary expressions, which he did not use at all. I agree with the Leader of the House that you must support the Chair right or wrong; and I even go beyond that and say that you must arm the Chair with the power of punishment to the Chairman, backed by the House, in in the event of any Member defying the Chair. But suppose a man defies the Chair out of a sense of duty or under a great sense of wrong. I still believe I was right upon those occasions to which I have referred, and that the Chair was wrong. But of course I took my punishment and I felt I was bound to do 691 that. But there was no disorder or insult, or obstruction to the business of the House. Why, then, should I apologise? I put it to you, Sir, and to the House, is it not a mockery to put into the Rule anything about a sincere apology? How could such an apology be sincere, if you are absolutely convinced that you were in the right? It must happen in some cases that the man who defies the Chair will be of a stubborn disposition, and he will refuse to apologise, and in that case a very unpleasant question will arise with reference to the rights of constituencies. Ask yourselves calmly, would you like to punish constituencies for two or three sessions of a Parliament because their Member would not bow his neck and apologise when he thought that no apology was due? On the other hand, supposing that the Member makes an apology while thinking he has been badly treated; of course, in that case, the apology can be merely a form; it must be insincere. Therefore I think that you are, in your eagerness to trample upon the Irish Members, committing yourselves to an absurd position and to a great injustice. The Irish Members are in a peculiar position. The great majority would gladly cross the threshold of this House for the last time. We look with hope and with anxiety to the hour when we may never be summoned to your Councils again. For us, this House is associated in its past history with oppression, with insult, and even with personal suffering. But with you, on the contrary, it is associated with all that is greatest in the history of your nation, and I think the hour of retribution will yet come when you will realise that in order to gratify your spite against the Irish Members, and to strengthen your hands for the purpose of degrading, insulting, and trampling upon us, you have lowered the dignity of this great House, which has been the glory of the British nation ever since your liberties were first asserted, and have dragged its proudest privileges into the mud in order to insult and trample upon the Irish representatives.
§ * MR. EVELYN CECIL (Aston Manor)
I wish to make a personal explanation. I am informed that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down stated that he noticed that I was standing on Wednesday afternoon behind the Speaker's chair 692 and watching the clock until half-past five. I am perfectly unconscious of having done anything of the sort. In the first place, I could not have seen the clock unless I had had my glasses on. Further, I was a teller, and therefore naturally had no control over the movements of Members in the lobby. And as regards the statement that I appeared at the Table later than the other teller, my lateness was perfectly bona fide. I was teller for the "Noes," and the number was 124. The number of the immediately preceding division was 125. I was informed that one more Member was in the lobby and I spent an instant in running round the corner to see whether this was the case. I had not the slightest intention of delaying the announcement of the result, and I hurried to the Table with the least possible delay.
*(5.22.) MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
Many of the speeches we have listened to in this debate have been of deep interest, and not the least interesting is that which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for East Mayo. The hon. Member has said that since the beginning of last century the government of this country has been in the hands of a dozen great families and the House of Lords. Well, it is now in the hands of one family, a family indeed of much distinction, consisting as it were of great planets revolving in a solar system of their own, into which no wandering comet, however brilliant, is allowed to enter unless as it were by a cosmic convulsion. The speech of the Leader of the Opposition was most constitutional—so constitutional as to be almost Conservative. And, seeing the objections he set forth with so much force to the proposed Rules, when he sits, as I am afraid he will, on this side of the House, if these Rules are passed I shall claim his vote for my attempt to rescind them. Then there were speeches from the First Lord of the Treasury and the Colonial Secretary. The speech of the Colonial Secretary was somewhat thinner in argument and less forcible in expression than usual, but it was much more than usually amiable. There was less acrimony in it than usual, and a more amiable toleration of his opponents, and he only went too far once, when he spoke of cheap dinners for the poorer classes of Members.
693 Now, the First Lord stated that he was bored with my speeches; but the right hon. Gentleman has been bored by a great many things, including this House itself, wherefore I can forgive him. But the Colonial Secretary went a little further, and suggested that I never added to the efficiency of the House. That may be so, but it is also true that I have never added either to the acrimony of the House, nor to the hatred between its Members. I do not mind, however, what the Colonial Secretary may say, because I know perfectly well that he is not always aware of the offensive character of his remarks, and of the inferences which may be drawn from them. Of course, I am only a private Member, and am not paid; and in the official mind every such Member is a nuisance and a bore. The official view of the private Member is that he is a politician and not a statesman. No man becomes, in their idea, a statesman until he is either dead or an Under-Secretary. Though he may be a Solomon or a Lycurgus, till he is quartered on the public purse, he is an inferior creature, to be suppressed and dragooned. Mr. Hume is a statesman, the hon. Member for Bordesley Division is a statesman; but we poor things are only politicians of a very inferior order who must be suppressed at the will of the Minister of the day. Yes, Sir, and these Rules are made for that very purpose.
Now, let me say that it is not on the Rules under which we live, that the credit and honour of this House will depend. It must depend on the character of the men who form the House. No Rules will suffice. This House will not be driven; its member; cannot be coerced by Rules; and if it be tried the Members will find means to snap the manacles by which it is attempted to bind them. The Colonial Secretary says that the Government do not desire to lay down iron Rules; but these are iron Rules, all of them that are not steel. My great complaint of them is that they are inelastic, hard and fast, that they cut off debate at the minute and the Irish Member at the word. They allow no play, even to a Minister himself. The right hon. Gentle- 694 man says that they are automatic, and he takes as a merit that they do not give him the trouble of thinking how he is to arrange the business, and still less how the Irish Members are to be treated. I have read these Rules with great care, through and through, and I declare that they are nothing but a farrago—an agglomeration of the weakest devices that ever a worried Whip proposed to a tired Minister. Their phraseology is so obscure that even the First Lord of the Treasury himself does not seem to be acquainted with their meaning.
First of all, take the Rules as to order. There are two offences—disregard of the authority of the Chair, and abuse of the Rules of the House by wilfully obstructing the business of the House or otherwise. Of any such offence the Chair is to judge and to punish it most severely. That Chair, Sir, is august, but it is not perfect; alone and unaided it is liable to error; it does occasionally err. I have known the Chair, though not in your time, Sir, to make mistakes; I have known the Chair, when driven into a corner, get out of that corner by constructions which left me amazed and admiring. I have even known the Chair, Sir, to lose its temper. But now the Chair is not to be you alone, Sir; the Chair is to be the Chairman of Committees and the new Assistant Chairman, an unknown man, yet to be appointed, under conditions yet to be laid down, possibly a partisan, conceivably a Whip, coming to the position with a natural tendency to support the Government of the day; and it seems to me, Sir, that those three obeisances which we ordinarily and properly make as we approach the Chair, will now have each a distinct significance, one to the Assistant Chairman, the next to the Chairman of Committees, and the third to yourself, Sir, as if to each we should say Ave, Cœsar, Imperator, morituri ant tesalut. I am sure, Sir, you have not forgotten what another Speaker once said, that the Speaker is not the master but the servant of this House. That is so, and I submit that this House should not put its Speaker to such services as these Rules will require of him. Twenty days suspension, 40 days suspension, 80 days suspension, to extend even over the prorogation of the House; what does that mean? Prorogation suspends all business—I am quoting from 695 Erskine May—quashes all pending proceedings except impeachment, voids all votes not appropriated, and releases all prisoners; and if any prisoner is left over a writ of habeas corpus is issued, in spite of this House, for his release; but for an Irish Member there is to be no habeas corpus; for any member even though he be not an Irish member who has disregarded the authority of an Assistant Chairman, there is to be no release; he is to be kept suspended; and for what offences—disregard of the authority of the Chair, abuse of the forms of Parliament, obstruction of the business of Parliament. These are offences we all commit when in opposition. I remember the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for West Monmouthshire, denouncing me by name in a very forcible speech as one of the great leaders of obstruction in this House.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
The right hon. Gentleman says so I was, but the case was urgent. Obstruction going only to the extent of requiring full free and ample discussion, is sometimes extremely necessary, when we have got to deal with a confiscatory measure, like the Finance Act of 1894. Now, Sir, I say that these three offences would be absolutely invited, and invited in an aggravated form by these rules. It is to these offences that every member will be driven who desires a full discussion, and, these rules will not stop them, but rather tend to encourage them. Yet for the least of these offences we are to be sent down and rusticated by the Assistant Chairman as though we were naughty undergraduates. If the penal methods of the University and the Police Court are to be introduced into this House, then at least they should be tempered with the ancient system of amerciament, the system of substituting a fine for another penalty. I want to remind the House that this is not a new system. In 1667, the House resolved that—Every Member who shall desert the services of the House for the space of three days together not having had leave granted by the House nor offering such sufficient excuse to the House as shall be allowed shall have a 696 fine of £40 imposed on him and be sent for in custody and committed to the Tower and that the fines be paid into the hands of the Sergeant-at-Arms to be disposed of as the House shall direct.On the 13th of February, 1667, that order was put into force in the case of no fewer than 54 members, so that the House on that occasion made a haul of £2,160 to be handed over to the Sergeant-at-Arms. They were not undistinguished members. There was a Salisbury among them, there was a Churchill, there was a Wilfred Lawson, and, perhaps most distinguished of all, there was a Wanklyn, no doubt the lineal ancestor of the hon. member for the Central Division of Bradford. Then, when the offending Member is suspended under the rules, he is not to be admitted again until he has written a letter of apology expressing his sincere regret. Now, Sir, an apology is usually considered to be an alternative to punishment. One man says to another "If you do not apologise I will do so-and-so, but if you apologise I will do nothing." That is usually an alternative given to persons who offend, but here we are to have both punishment and apology. Yet in some of the most dangerous cases of disorder, no apology is required but the simple withdrawal of the offending words suffices. That is the case to this day as regards offences by one Member against another Member. When offensive language is used in such a case withdrawal is held sufficient, and neither apology nor suspension ensues. But if apology and suspension are required in the case of offences against the Chair, I submit they are more required in cases of offences by one Member against another Member. These are domestic offences that tend to break up the family of the House, and they are of a very serious character. The other night when the Chairman of Committees, acting as Deputy Speaker, decided that I was in order in using the word "dishonest," but that the hon. Member for the Newport division of Shropshire was not in order in using the word "impertinent," only because he used it in an ungrammatical sense, he was not suspended, nor did he apologise, and everyone was content, I most of all because I had enriched the parliamentary vocabulary with a new word of a certain force. The Colonial Secretary said that an apology 697 is what every gentleman would volunteer to give. I am not quite sure that I know what meaning he attaches to the word "gentleman." My experience is that it is generally used to signify that you have done something which has unexpectedly pleased the person who uses it. For instance, if you pay a cabman 6d. more than his fare, he says you are a gentleman. The Leader of the Opposition thinks that a gentleman is one who draws down his blinds in order to produce the impression that he has gone to Margate. Sir, I am content to adopt the definition that is evidently present in the mind of the Colonial Secretary. He is a competent authority. George IV. was said to be the First Gentleman of Europe. The Colonial Secretary is undoubtedly the first gentleman of Birmingham. Does he apologise? Not he. A foreign potentate, a German Chancellor, or the Member for the Carnarvon Boroughs, may think and may say he should, but he does not. His answer is conveyed in the words of the new diplomacy, that it serves them right and that he will do it again; or, like another great statesman speaking to another subject people, he uses the words of Pontius Pilate and says "What I have said, I have said." He is the last person who should insist on an apology being extracted from the Irish Members. Moreover, I say it is an unnecessary humiliation to inflict on Members of this House, who even advisedly, but often unadvisedly, have erred against the rules of the House, and who sometimes err in the belief that they are right, and that the decision against them is wrong.
Now I come to the details, and I hope the House will bear with me, as I wish to show the nature of these proposals. I take proposal 3, which proposes that the Speaker shall adjourn the House or suspend the debate whenever he thinks fit. Let the House not forget that the Speaker here includes the Assistant Chairman. He is the weakest link in the chain, and I take him. The Assistant Chairman may therefore adjourn the House when he thinks fit. This is an entirely new proposal. It is a Continental invention necessary for flighty, excitable, and passionate persons, but never yet found necessary in an assembly of mod- 698 erate and reasonable men, such as this Parliament is, but such as it will not continue to be if these rules are enforced. It is a most desperate expedient, and I do not think it is likely to lead to good. We know what happened once before, when this very thing was triedon a certain May Day in 1629. Mr. Speaker Finch wished to adjourn the House at the command of His Majesty, but Denzil Holles and Benjamin Valentine standing one on each side of him, held him down in the Chair while the House passed resolutions over his head. Those two Members were not suspended, nor were they called upon to apologise. On the contrary, they were regarded then, and have been regarded by history since, as Parliamentary heroes. I should regret to see a repetition of such a scene, or the advent of more such heroes.
Now, Sir, I come to Questions. In my opinion, the House derives much of its interest for the outside public from the practice of putting Questions in this House. Answers to Questions very often give the true key to the action of the Ministers. The Question itself constantly shews the true meaning of the Member who asks it, so that questions and answers are perhaps the most useful and instructive commentary on the proceedings of the House. To suppress Questions or to impair them in any way is as though you should suppress the telegrams which appear in the first page of the newspaper, and leave only those long and afflicting lectures which go by the name of leading articles, and which correspond with the speeches made by Ministers on the front bench. If a newspaper only contained leading articles nobody would read it, and if the proceedings of this House were to consist entirely of speeches from Ministers, nobody would listen or be interested. Answers to questions are of far more interest than the ablest speech which the ablest Minister ever made. Now these rules divide questions into four classes, not by any selection, but haphazard. The first class of Questions is not to be questions of National and Imperial urgency, Questions as to policy or sudden and grave events abroad or at home, the loss of an Ironclad or anything of that kind. Those Questions are in the second class. The 699 first class of Questions is to consist exclusively of those Questions not always of the highest interest, which the Leader of the Opposition puts to the Leader of the House, as to the order of business. Nothing is to be put in the first class of questions unless it relates to the order of business—"what does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take on Monday," and so forth. The second class of Questions are those questions relating to matters of grave national occurrence which have just taken place. Those are to be asked at 7.15, and all those which are not answered by 8 o'clock are to be put off till midnight, and thus come into the third class, only because they are lower down on the Paper. There is no suggestion that any selection is to be made, and those Questions that come last may be the most important of all.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES
They probably will be, because they are the questions on something of sudden occurrence of which short notice alone can be given. Then if there are any over—if any remain over—at one in the morning when the House adjourns they go into the fourth class, and are not to be answered at all verbally, but the answers are to be printed in the Votes. You have indeed the 12 o'clock rule as is suggested, but you have also any one of several different pieces of business which may come on and which do come on after 12 o'clock, and any Questions which are ousted by any one of these businesses are to remain over and the reply to be printed in the Votes. Now as to the several pieces of business to come on after 12 o'clock the right hon. Gentleman said that all business on a Supply night must always end at 12 o'clock.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES
The right hon. Gentleman is quoting the rule, I am quoting from his speech delivered when he introduced this Motion, which speech does not agree with the rules.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES
And so did the reporter of The Times. But business will not always end at 12. At 12 o'clock any night any one of several pieces of business may come on. First of all, any Report of the Committee of Ways and Means may come on; that is to say, a discussion may be raised on the Budget Resolutions. Then any report of any proceedings in Ways and Means may be taken after 12 o'clock. So also may any Bill originating in a Committee of Ways and Means, like the Budget Bill. So also may any proceedings in pursuance of an Act of Parliament. So, too, may any proceedings in pursuance of any Standing Order of this House. Here, then, are five kinds of business that may be taken any day after 12 o'clock, and finally, there is power given over the 12 o'clock Rule to Ministers. There is a special power given to move the suspension of the 12 o'clock Rule either for a special purpose or altogether. Therefore there is no finality about your 12 o'clock. It may mean 12 o'clock, or it may mean 12 o'clock succeeded by other business that may keep us here all night.
Now I come to the "private business." Here again I think the First Lord of the Treasury is scarcely aware of his own Rule, and here again I quote The Times, and I hope this is not another mistake of the reporter. He said:—The House will resume at 9 o'clock, and if there be private business carried over and put down for that day that private business will come on.But that is not what the proposed Rule says. The Rule says that the private business shall be carried over, not to nine o'clock, but to such time as the Chairman of Ways and Means may determine. Private business is one of the most important portions of business with which we have to deal. It is judicial business, involving very often millions of money and the rights of thousands of individuals, and it is not right that it should be put aside after 25 minutes of discussion. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do about this Private Business Rule, but it is quite certain it cannot be allowed to remain where it is. The Colonial Secretary admitted as much, he said—We admit the difficulty. The view of the Government is that a Committee might be appointed.701 But that gives away the whole case against a Committee being appointed to consider the whole Rules, which is the proposal made by the Leader of the Opposition; a proposal which I shall vote for, because I think it is the right one. If you are going to have a Committee for the Private Business Rule, why not for the whole Rules? Private business is important, but it does not compare in importance with public business, and if you admit that it is necessary to appoint a Committee to consider the Private Business Rule you cannot say you will not have a Committee appointed to consider the far more important and complicated matters involved in the rest of the Rules.
Now if the House will bear with me I should like to say a few words as to the quorum. There is nothing so important in an assembly of this kind as the quorum of the assembly. If you have a large quorum you have some security that all the weight and all the brains you have in the assembly shall be there. It is essential that the quorum shall be adequate. The hon. Member for the St. Albans Division correctly stated the fact that in most foreign countries the quorum consists of the majority of the House. It is so in the United States of America, it is so in France, it is so in Germany, it is so in every nation in Europe except Austria-Hungary and Portugal, where the quorum only consists of one third. The United States of America borrowed the practice from us. Then take again our own practice. We have our Standing Committees. A Standing Committee consists at the outside of 95 Members. What is the quorum? Twenty; about one-fifth of the whole. There is the Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, which consists of 11 members; the quorum is five. But this House—the Mother of Parliaments—which has to debate matters of the greatest importance possible, is content, out of a membership of 670, with a miserable quorum of 40. The old Rule was entirely different from that. Let me tell the House that this quorum of 40 dates only from the Long Parliament; about as bad a Parliament for a precedent as can be found in the history of England. Here is what Prynne says about 702 that quorum. He wrote in 1649. He was so great an authority on Parliamentary practice and spoke his mind so freely that the Government of the day thought it necessary to put him in the pillory and cut his ears off, which f have no doubt is what would have happened to me if I had lived in those days. Prynne says this—Though regularly it be true that forty members are sufficient to make a Commons House, to begin prayers and businesses of lesser moment in the beginning of the day, till the other members be come and the House be full, yet forty were never in any Parliament reputed a competent number to grant subsidies, pass or read bills or debate or conclude matters of greatest moment; which, by the constant rules and usage of Parliament, were never debated, concluded, passed, but in a free and full House, when all or most of the Members were present.When that was the Rule it was necessary to have as a quorum one half the House plus one. The Rule which the United States of America and almost all the civilised States have adopted. But you, having got your quorum of 40, do not even believe in that; for what is to happen from 9 o'clock to 10 o'clock? There is a provision in this proposed Rule that the House is not to be counted out between 9 and 10 o'clock. I do not know what is to happen if an hon. Member takes notice that 40 Members are not present. He will be told, I take it, to sit down, and if he does not sit down he will be suspended and have to apologise, as having taken notice of a state of things authorised by the Rules. But how you, Sir, are going to pretend that you are gravely presiding over the deliberations of the House of Commons when there is perhaps only one hon. Member on that side of the House, and one Member on this, and possibly one looking in at the door, is not for me to say. Such a state of things, which will probably happen every day will certainly not conduce to the dignity of this assembly, nor to order in debate. But the latter part of the Rule is more amazing than the former, because it provides for the accident of a division which discloses the fact that there is not a quorum present. And what happens then? Does the House disperse? Not at all. The House is to proceed to the next business. So that the two or three 703 Members who are not good enough for the first business are to proceed to the next. They are quite good enough for that. The first business may be a Road Bill, but these two or three Members will not be good enough for that. The second business may be an alteration in the succession to the Throne, but they will be quite good enough for that; they can deal with that. I really think the Gentleman who drew up this series of expedients could scarcely have thought of them himself, or have had sufficient imagination to conceive what would happen if one or two of them were put into practice. I say that this is not only an outrageous proposal and one calculated to impair the dignity of this House and the dignity of you, Sir, in the Chair, but it is a silly proposal. Rather it seems to me that, if we wish to increase the dignity of this House, and—what I believe to be of the utmost importance—to do what we can to secure a full attendance of the best men in the House, it is our duty to reconsider our quorum, and to make it something more approaching what it ought to be, and what Prynne says it used to be.
Now I pass over—["Go on,"]! Well, take the proposal which I was about to pass over, as to the readings of Bills. First of all, we have a provision in the new Rule that any Member may introduce without order of leave any Bill he likes. Mark that. The order of leave is the charter of a Bill. But the order of leave marks out the boundaries within which a Bill can move, and beyond which it may not stir. But under these Rules there will be no such thing as order of leave. There will be no boundaries to a Bill. How you, Sir, will be able to decide whether a Bill does or does not go beyond its proper limits when you have no order of leave to guide you, I do not know. More than that. Any Member may introduce a Bill, and it is to be deemed, if you please, to be read a first time without any division or question, but only because he has chosen to introduce it. These proposed Rules contemplate the presence in this House of disorderly, wicked, and foolish Members. One of those wicked, disorderly, and foolish Members might perfectly well under this Rule, without let or hindrance, introduce a foolish, scandalous, 704 wicked, and outrageous Bill, and this House would be bound to have it printed, and it would be solemnly deemed to be read a first time. The House ought to have some protection against such proceedings. The House ought to have the right to refuse to read a first time any Bill of the character I have mentioned. Yet it is not so at all here; the Bill is to be read a first time without any question. But there is more; we are also to read Bills a second and a third time without any decision of this House. If, on the Second or Third Reading, an Amendment be moved which involves leaving out the word ''now," and if the word "now" is retained as part of the question, then that question is not to be put, it is to be assumed to be put. Now, I could perfectly well understand a proposal to get rid of the convention by which we introduce "six months," or a proposal by which we should be called on to deal directly with the matter, a proposal whereby when you Sir. say, "The question is that the Bill be read a second or a third time," we should be called onto say "Aye" or "No." That would meet the whole of the case. I admit it would be very much better to have the matter decided in one division than in two. But here you have no decision at all. All you decide is what shall be the terms of a question which is never to be put. The result is that you will have Bills in this House tinder this Rule read a first, second, and third time, without any decision at all of the House except a purely inferential one on any one of the readings. That does not seem to me to be either a proper or a respectful way of dealing with a question.
I will pass by the Report of Bills ["Go on."] Really the plums in this pudding are too numerons to be picked out without abusing the patience of the House. I will come to the question of Privilege. I do not know what sort of view the First Lord takes of privilege. I think it is one of the things that bore him. Probably it bores him more than anything else. No doubt it is troublesome. When privilege is raised, as it is raised now, suddenly, it does demand a certain knowledge of the rules and traditions of the House, and it also demands a certain readiness of mind 705 and the capacity to decide at a moment in an emergency. If you have not these qualities, of course, it bores you. But the question of privilege is most important. The battle of the Constitution was largely fought by privilege. A breach of privilege is a contempt of Parliament of a very serious nature, not only because of the subject and character of it, but also because of the danger involved in it. It has always been held to be essential that a breach of privilege should be dealt with at once, that it should not be allowed to get cold, that the breach, which is often in the nature of a gross insult to the House, should be taken up at once. I quite admit that, if you feel you are not prepared to deal with it instantly yourself from your own resources, it is advantageous that a question of privilege should be referred to the Committee of Privileges. But any such reference must be accompanied by a condition which is nowhere to be found in this Rule—that the Committee on Privileges shall decide immediately, and communicate its decision at once to the House, so that the House may be in a position to take that immediate action which matters of privilege demand. Doubtless it is an oversight that no such condition is to be found in the Rule. What would happen under the Rule as it at present stands? The question of privilege would be raised and referred to the Committee of Privileges. That Committee, like other Committees, may not decide, perhaps, until the end of the session, and by that time it will be out of the power of the House to take any effective steps at all. If questions of privilege are to be treated with that want of, consideration, if decisions in regard to them are to be so postponed, I think it will give great encouragement to the new journalism to flout and insult the House of Commons.
There is one other point in connection with this proposal as to privilege. There is an exception made. There is one sort of privilege which is not to be referred to the Committee, but is to be dealt with, as at present, by the House instantly, hic et nunc. What is that? It is questions of difference between the two Houses. When the matter of privilege bears on the relations between the two Houses there is to be no reference to the Com- 706 mittee; there is to be no consideration at all. But if ever such consideration be needed it would be here. The breaches of privilege by outsiders are generally simple matters, such as allegations of impropriety on the part of Members or on the part of the House; they can generally be dealt with without a Committee by a man of ordinary sound judgment and ordinary readiness, with a knowledge of the traditions of this House. But that is not the case in regard to questions of privilege arising between the two Houses. The relations between the two Houses are complex. The questions of privilege which arise are very serious, involving points of great and grave constitutional importance. They are moreover not usually of an urgent or pressing character. If, then, any questions deserve to be referred to a Committee and are capable of being so referred it is the very questions which are excluded from the proposal.
What now, is the underlying suggestion at the root of all these proposals? It is that the House of Commons has not time to transact the business which His Majesty's Ministers and the country expect of it. The First Lord, indeed, says that he desires to check the flow of oratory. Yes, of course; all Ministers desire to check the flow of oratory—except their own. They take the longest and the best time of the House, for sometimes, but not always, the best speeches in the debate. Their view is that oratory beyond that is a nuisance. Oratory put them on that Bench, but when it has done that it has done its business, and it must be stamped on and suppressed thenceforth. Now if the House lacks time for dealing with its business, I say the fault is not in the House or in the Rules, and that amendment of the Rules will not correct the fault. The fault lies with His Majesty's Government. I have been at pains to gather from the records of the House the time occupied by successive sessions during the last thirty years—a generation, and therefore sufficient—and also the time taken for holidays. From 1874 to 1879, under Lord Beaconsfield, the House sat on an average for 126 days in the year; from 1881 to 1884, under Mr. Gladstone, it sat on an average 149 days in the year; from 1887 to 1891, under Lord Salisbury, it sat for 141 days in the year; 707 in 1893–94, under Mr. Gladstone and Lord Rosebery, it sat for 169 days; from 1896 to 1900 it sat for 123 days in the year, and last year it sat only for 118 days—the smallest number of days that this House has sat in any one year during the last thirty years. But, Sir, if the right hon. Gentleman shortens the session, at any rate he lengthens the holidays. The average holidays for Easter and Whitsuntide from 1881 to 1884 were 18½ days; from 1887 to 1891, 19 days; in 1893–94, 14½ days; and from 1896 to 1900, during the reign of the right hon. Gentleman and his fixing of the holidays, they have averaged, not 18½or 19 or 14½ days, but 24⅓days, while last year they were as much as 27 days. So that the House has had shorter sessions and longer holidays, and yet the right hon. Gentleman comes and complains, not of himself, as he should, but of the rules.
I will refer to one more point—the hours of sitting. From the 14th to the 17th century hon. Members will find, if they consult that learned but somewhat dull work called Modus tenendi Parliamentum, that the House always met at what was called "mid prime"—that is to say, at half-past seven in the morning. In 1642 is is recorded by D'Ewes that every Member who came into the House after eight o'clock was fined 1s., and that Mr. Speaker Lenthall himself having come in at nine o'clock, and attention being called to it by Sir Henry Mildmay, the Speaker flung down twelvepence on the Table. Thus early, from the 14th century until the confusion which arose during the great rebellion, and the greater confusion of the revolution, was this the case. Then came periods of corruption, and with corruption came later sittings. Perhaps I may be allowed to deal in passing with the argument for late hours. The principal argument in favour of late hours of meeting is the busy-man argument. Now I am tired of that busy-man. I know him well. He is a man who, either in the Law Courts or on the Stock Exchange, or in some other resort of business, works in the most strenuous manner at great stress, takes out of himself all that is in himself and when his business is over, brings to this House the fagend of a fagged mind to deal with 708 the public business of the country. I should be content to be without that man. I should be content if we were to have this house filled with men who will sacrifice their private business to their public business, and I think the House would gain and not lose by such a change in the character of its Members. My remedy is a longer session, earlier hours, and shorter holidays.
And now why are these new Rules proposed at all? They are proposed because the Government cannot get their followers to attend the House. It is not because the Rules are wrong, or that the hours are wrong, or that the days are wrong, that they will not attend, but it is because they have lost the enthusiasm that brings men down here at any inconvenience to support a Minister whom they really trust. [Ministerial cries of "No, no."] Then look at the majority of 31 the other night. Are those hon. Gentlemen who say "No" among those who were away? [An Hon. Member: State your reason.] There must be some other cause for it. It is not the hours or the days of the House. Many Ministers have come and gone under the existing Rules, and have been able to get their followers to attend. These new Rules will not cure this want of attention, but they will rather tend to encourage the evil. They will send an hon. Member away to his dinner perfectly certain that he may stay away not till 9, to come to the unquorumed House between 9 and 10, but he may stay away till 10 o'clock. My opinion is that if you send a man to stay away between 8 and 10 o'clock in the evening you will never get him back at all that evening, for the only chance of the Whips is to go round with their book as they do now and say to hon. Members "Old chap, will you dine here to-night?"—language, not mine, but that of Whips who seek to show that mixture of familiarity and affection which their office demands. The result of all this will not be to secure the general attendance at the House of hon. Members who are the most valuable to the House, but it will bring about a tendency of what I may call attendance in "blocks." There will be the Government "block" when they are sure of Government business. Then for the Members who take an interest in Supply 709 there will be the Supply "block;" and on Friday there will be the zealots of all kinds who will come down, with nobody, apparently, to represent the Government—for it will not be the business of the Government to make a House—and we shall probably have a revolution once a week.
The Government have avowed that what they want is to suppress debate. The First Lord of the Treasury said "these rules will shorten some of the unnecessary opportunities of debate." Yes, they will, and a great many of the necessary opportunities of debate too. The right hon. Gentleman looks back with regret to the 18th century, when there was not only no debate but nobody to debate. That was the era of Walpole, of Newcastle? It was the era not only of corruption but of frivolity, when Lord Carteret was accustomed to reading his love letters to the Cabinet Council, a proceeding of which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman, the First Lord of the Treasury, would be quite incapable. These Rules will not only suppress debate but they will also suppress and depress private Members. The First Lord of the Treasury admits that his scheme will be less favourable to private Members. I think it will encourage the idle Member, and above all it will encourage the idle Minister, and it will do all this automatically. In short, it will absolutely suppress the liberties of the House, and will bring us back to those Tudor days when Sir John Puckering, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in 1592, told this House on its Speaker claiming the privilege of liberty of speech—You must know what privilege you have. Not to speak everyone what he listeth, or what cometh in his brain to utter that; but your privilege is 'aye and no.'That was the Tudor system, and that is the system of the Unionist Government of to-day. Sir, these rules are the destruction of this House. This House as it is will cease to be when these rules are passed. This House as it is is the House that defied and resisted the Tudors, extinguished the Stuarts, and imposed terms on the House of Brunswick. Under these rules the House will be either the pliant instrument of the Minister or the prey of disorder and anarchy. The first Lord of the Treasury says, "We have no longer to resist the Crown." That is perfectly true, but what we have to do now 710 is to resist the Minister. There is no danger of the Crown to-day. For my part I wish the Crown had more power, but the danger of to-day is in the Minister. These proposals diminish our power to control him, to question him, and to deal with him, and they substitute closure and divisions for debate and persuasion, leaving the Minister dictator.
This is a Radical scheme, with all the elements of dictatorship which are sunk deep in every Radical mind. It is a scheme contrived to facilitate sudden, unconsidered, and undeliberated innovations. Let me remind hon. Members on this side that they will not always be sitting on these benches. The day will come when we shall cross this floor and sit on the opposite side and be in opposition. Then, Sir, the Conservative party, disarmed and defenceless—disarmed by its Leader and rendered defenceless by its own chosen chiefs—will find itself in the presence of the most drastic proposals for changes in the constitution of this country which it will be altogether without the means to resist. I do appeal to the Tory party. You are the guardians of the liberties of this House. You, the Tory party, should be the party of resistance to all innovations which should not be made. You are sent here to debate and to discuss and to prevent hasty projects from being hastily and unadvisedly carried out. It is your business above all to see that violent changes are not made, such as will be made if these rules are passed which will give such enormous new powers to certain hon. Members opposite. I appeal also to all Members of this House; you are the trustees of your constituents, you are the trustees for the country—nay, you are more than that, you are the trustees for those who will come after you to sit on these benches. I say that you have no right to barter away their liberties and their privileges as well as your own. You have come to a free and powerful House, the Mother of Parliaments and the nurse of liberty. Let not your successors come to a degraded and weakened assembly, the minion of Ministers and the instrument and ensample of Parliamentary enslavement.
§ (6.26.) SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The hon. Member who has just sat down, in a speech marked by great ability, has performed the task and 711 passed the criticism of a candid friend. In the observations that I shall address to the House I shall take the more merciful line of a candid opponent. It is now, I think, just about a third of a century that I have been occupied in the service of this House; and I think I may claim during that period that, far above any interests of party—and I have lived in great majorities, and I have suffered in very small majorities—and far above all other considerations, I have desired to place the influence and the credit and the reputation of this House. It is from that point of view that I have endeavoured to approach the scheme which the Government have submitted to the House, and it is from that point of view only that I shall endeavour to make some remarks upon its bearing. I give entire credit to the Government for having framed a scheme which they consider will be for the present and future advantage of the House of Commons, but, Sir, it is natural that the scheme, from the minds that are brought to bear upon it, should be given a natural bias towards the strength which is to be added to the Executive Government in its relation to this House. And I arrive at the conclusion that this scheme on the whole will tend greatly to aggrandize the powers of the Executive, and greatly diminish the authority and control of the House of Commons. It is from that point of view only that I find myself in opposition to the main provisions of this scheme.
I am told, Sir, that all the old habits of this House are passed by, that they are worn out, that we are all new men and that we must have new measures. Well, I have never been one of those who have desired to exchange the old lamps by which the Aladdin's palace of the English Constitution was built for the new lamps offered by cheap jacks, in whatever situation they may be. I have believed that there was a merit in the old traditions which have accomplished for this nation that which has been accomplished in the creation of the British House of Commons. I am perfectly prepared and willing to consider Amendments and alterations in those Rules, but I think the right, hon. Gentleman in introducing this plan rather prided himself on the fact that it was a complete revolution in the traditions and practice of the House. Well, that is a very serious matter, and one not to be 712 disposed of by a handful of disconnected Resolutions considered in a few days, or even a few weeks. It has taken generations to create the system, and you are not to overthrow and wipe it out in haste in a few days or a few weeks of consideration. It has been said, and quite truly, that these Resolutions appear somewhat disconnected, and it is said also that we may discuss them all when we come to them separately. But you cannot discuss them separately, a great number of them are so connected one with the other that unless you take a connected view of the whole you will have no just judgment of what is to be the ultimate result.
I pass by a number of the smaller Resolutions which I think will be approved by both sides of the House, and I look to those Resolutions which mainly affect the relations between the Executive Government and the House of Commons. The question of small grievances ought not to outweigh the danger there may be to the privileges of the House in the way it is proposed to deal with them; it may be that in dealing with small grievances you may create evils far greater than those which you are endeavouring to cure. I would call attention in the first place to the manner in which Questions are dealt with in this House. The object of the whole of these plans is no doubt in the first place to give the Executive a more exclusive and continuous control of the time of the House than it at present enjoys. Well I do not use the phrase "private Members"; I never have used it. I regard all Members of this House as public Members, and they ought so to be treated; the real distinction is between official Members and unofficial Members. The whole working of the liberties of this House and the character of the House depend upon the nature of the relations between the unofficial Members, on whichever side of the House they sit, and the official Members who have the control of the Executive Government of the country; and these plans ought to be judged, in my opinion, mainly, if not entirely, on their operation on those relations. The habit of this House, has been to commence its business, and, in my opinion, it ought so to commence it, with the right of the House to examine and cross-examine the Executive Government as to the administration of the country. That ought to be the forefront of the action of Parliament. The Executive 713 Government conducts the domestic affairs, the foreign affairs, and, unfortunately, when there is a war, the warlike affairs of this country, and the right and power to control the Executive Government, as far as examination for information and cross-examination are concerned, is, in my opinion, the first right and duty of the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman said that in former days there were few or no Questions. Now it was not necessary, every man then could put his Question and could support it by a Motion for the adjournment. That was the way in which Ministers were called upon and were compelled to answer. From various circumstances that situation has been altered, and now it is the right of the House of Commons to put to individual Ministers particular Questions. But the question is what answer they will get, and what means have they of obtaining an answer. You could not have a better object lesson than what happened this afternoon; there was an attempt to obtain from the War Department particulars which, in my opinion, the House was entitled to receive with reference to the contract for the supply of meat in South Africa. That is a subject of great importance, but the Minister had only to say: "I do not happen to know the particulars." It was not for want of notice. I think the words were that it was practically handed over to a syndicate which was about to form a, company. Well, that is not the sort of information that ought to be given in a matter involving hundreds of thousands and millions of money.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
On the Paper! No; that is the very point. An answer merely to a Question on the Paper is nothing, because an unsatisfactory, I will not use the word evasive, but a per- 714 fectly unsatisfactory answer to that Question may be given. There never was a better example of the absolute necessity of the right of cross-examination than we have had to-night. I will take another example. I will take the whole question that arose the other night upon the remounts. It happened accidentally that the Government had to come forward and ask for a Vote with reference to remounts, and therefore the discussion was in order and took place, but if that had not been the case how would the House have got hold of that question of remounts? Suppose that a Question was put upon it, and that the answer had been "Oh, that will be entered into at the conclusion of the war." How would the House have ever succeeded in getting the discussion upon that matter which has led to some practical result, and which will, I hope, lead to more? We never should have had a discussion on that matter at all unless we had the power of examining, cross-examining, and moving the adjournment upon that Question. As this scheme stands at present, the House is to abandon its power of controlling; to that extent, the Executive Government, by taking Questions out of the first place which they occupy now, and which they ought to and must occupy, and shoving them into a corner at a quarter past seven o'clock, leaving to chance what may or may not be put, and afterwards taking the remnants at 12 o'clock. I say that that would work most serious detriment to the control and the authority of the House of Commons. That is what my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition calls the diffused authority of the House of Commons in controlling the Government.
Then this objection is made, in a most characteristic way, by the Colonial Secretary. He says: "Oh, we are the humble servants of the House of Commons, the House of Commons have made us and they can unmake us." What does that mean? My hon. friend the Member for East Mayo has referred to the point. But really the important point is the satisfaction which the right hon. Gentleman has in saying, "I won't give you any information, I won't answer your demands. Turn us out if you please and if you can." That is to destroy really the general authority of the House of Commons. One knows that there is 715 no disposition in the majority, no power in the minority to turn out the Government; and to say, as the Colonial Secretary does, that your only control over the Executive Government in the House of Commons is to be treated as a threat of a vote of want of confidence, is really to refuse to the House of Commons that control over the Executive Government which it ought to have. It is like a confidential servant whom you have put into a place, who says, "Do not talk to me, I can do just as I like, I do not care what you wish or what anybody wishes, and if you are not satisfied with me dismiss me." What sort of servant is that, to begin with? That is the position which is assumed by the Colonial Secretary in reference to the general control of the House of Commons. In the first instance, I venture to say that the essential thing is that the House of Commons should stand by its right to question the Government, that it should be the first business of the House of Commons that it should be maintained in an efficient form by the power of having these Questions followed up in such a manner as to receive a satisfactory answer, and that in default of such satisfactory answer the Member who asks a Question should be supported by the power to move the adjournment of the House. Well, this scheme really damages the general authority of the House by throwing the Questions into a corner and relegating the power of adjournment to a different sitting. All that must be intended for the purpose of diminishing the authority of the House and practically increasing and expanding the immunity of the Executive. That, I think, is a very great danger to this House.
The Colonial Secretary says, "How on earth can the House lose the control of Ministers, when a vote of the House may, at any time, destroy the Ministry?" But it is perfectly idle to offer this as a substitute for the power which we now possess of simply moving a vote of want of confidence in the Government. Consider this, for example. You have at present a war which raises many questions upon which the House ought to be satisfied. Are you going to abandon or to weaken the power that you have of examining the Executive upon the com- 716 petence of their conduct of that war? But there are coming after the war, in my opinion, still more important and critical questions upon the settlement in South Africa. Are you going to leave that settlement without examination and without the power of examination, and are you going to arm the Government with the power of refusing that information which both for the House and the country ought to be given by the Government of the day? I venture to say that this scheme will have the effect of disarming you very much of those powers which you possess and ought to possess. We may be told that we can do all this in Committee of Supply. Well, as regards Committee of Supply, it all depends upon how the Committee is handled by the Executive Government. I admit, and I am sure every gentleman on either side of the House will admit, that as far as the Rules of Supply have now for several years been worked by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, they have been worked fairly and well towards all parties in the House. There has been every disposition to give every facility which was desired for the discussion of particular topics. But that may not be always the case. It has been said that there is nothing so dangerous as a beneficent tyrant. The right hon. Gentleman has been on this subject a beneficent tyrant. But he may have as successors tyrants who are not so beneficent. I do not say that is within the scope of imagination; still, it is possible. But, conceive a Government who are in control of Committee of Supply, and who desire to withhold information from this House. What have they got to do except to postpone the important questions in Supply which may be inconvenient to them till they come to the later period, when they may even fall under the guillotine? We have been used to ask the right hon. Gentleman to bring forward the Foreign Vote, or the Colonial Vote, or the War Vote: but it is perfectly possible that the Government in control of Supply might say, "Oh no; the War Vote ought not to be brought forward now. You ought to wait really almost till the end of the session, because it is highly inconvenient that the subject of 717 the war should be discussed now." That may be said equally of the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office Vote. All these things depend entirely on the accident of the Minister and the Executive who have control over these votes. Therefore, you are not safe in any degree to depend simply on Committee of Supply, and you cannot allow yourselves to part with any of the powers which you possess at the present time under questions and under the adjournment, on the pretence that you are safe in relying on Committee of Supply.
But then, those dangers are supposed to be compensated for, and the support of Members of this House is to be gained, by what I may call the bribe of the convenience of Members. What is meant by the convenience of Members? The Colonial Secretary told us that what he meant by the convenience of Members was the convenience of the majority of this House. Well, I do not agree in that. It is my opinion that the convenience and comfort that ought to be considered are those of the working Members of the House. That is the test by which it ought to be judged. The Colonial Secretary said, I think, that he wished to add to the attractions of this House. I am not quite sure that adding to the attractions of the House is necessarily the manner of inducing it to do better the business of the House. We have some of the attractions of the House illustrated on the purlieus of the Terrace, and I am not sure that such a form of attraction has added to its authority and its reputation outside, or to its method of doing business. Therefore, merely to endeavour to make the House an attractive place is not the method of raising its reputation, either in the House or in the country. But the Colonial Secretary has particular views as to the persons for whom the arrangements of this House ought to be made. He looks back with a longing, lingering eye to the old days when, he said, it was perfectly possible for a man, having attended the first hour or two of the House, to know whether he would be wanted again that night or not wanted at all. That is his idea of the old lobby times. But that is not what I call the working Member of Parliament. That is the lounger, the dilettante Member, and I 718 confess that is not the class of Member of Parliament for whom, I think, the Rules of this House ought to be altered.
The Colonial Secretary gave an illustration of another class of Member for whom he was solicitous. He said that it is with a view of removing anything which interferes with the convenience or comfort of Members, and of making it more possible to suit all sections in the House, and of making it less necessary for Members to attend here permanently during debates in which they have no personal interest, that Government have put forward these proposals. In my opinion, that ought not to be the object of the formation of the Rules of this House. The object of those Rules ought to be to secure the largest attendance of Members, who ought to attend to all the matters of this House, and not merely to those in which they have a personal interest. This system of organised Parliamentary absenteeism is the very worst system on which to found your conception of Parliamentary Rules. We are a great deal too much accustomed in this House even to Ministerial absentees from our discussions. I have never myself approved of Ministers—I am speaking of former times—who were seldom present at debates, except when they come in to move the closure. What we ought to aim at is to make this House as convenient as we can for the people who want to work in the House, and not for people who want to shirk business in it. The Colonial Secretary gives another example. He says—We want to make the House more attractive to 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.That is a very curious class of persons for whom you are to alter your Rules. They are to suit the people who do not desire to take any active part in the work of the House. He says if the task put upon their shoulders is too severe you will exclude them. Well, I do not the least in the world believe that it is the Rules of the House that exclude gentlemen of that class. They are excluded by what they have got to do outside the House a great deal more than by what they have got to do inside it. It is the rules of the constituencies a great deal more than the Rules of this House, which induce them to decline to take part in our proceedings. But we are proud and have been happy 719 in this country that leisured and educated men have, more than in any other country, been willing to serve their country in the House of Commons. Our rules have worked perfectly and have induced them to take a part in our labours, which has been greatly to the advantage of the country. In order to secure the dinner hour you would have the House meet an hour earlier, by which you exclude, in my opinion, more important Members than those to whom the Colonial Secretary referred—I mean the bankers and the lawyers, who will be put to great disadvantage. As to this dinner hour, the great contests of the close of the 18th century, the great contest of the Reform Bill, the great contest of free trade were fought by men who managed to do without adjourning for dinner. I have heard men myself who have spoken of what is now becoming the historical tradition of the chop at Bellamy's, which was the only refreshment which the Members of the House of Commons required in those days. But supposing you make this adjournment for dinner, are you going really to save the time of the House by it? On the contrary, you are going to lose time by it. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition gave a proof of that, which has never been answered. He said when the Government got the whole time of the House, do they take morning sittings, which of course involves an adjournment for dinner, or do they act upon consecutive sittings? They always act upon consecutive sittings, because they know they can do more business in consecutive sittings than in broken sittings like morning sittings. It is proved by the Government themselves that they know that these consecutive sittings not broken by the dinner hour are a method of getting through more business than can be got through at the other sittings. Therefore I say that this provision with reference to the dinner hour is distinct waste of time, and will prove so.
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has proved the extreme absurdity of that sort of hybrid hour between 9 and 10, when the House is not to be counted out, when it is to be in a condition of a sort of suspended animation, and it is perfectly obvious that it would not be worth the while of any man who is intent upon real business 720 to attend the House. A more utterly ill-founded proposal I have never heard. May I say one word upon a question to which I do not know whether any particular rule applies, but upon which a great deal has been said, and which inspires, I think, a good deal of these changes, and that is the intolerance of debate and discussion in this House? I believe that is founded upon a complete misconception of the function of the House of Commons. I have often heard Mr. Disraeli in private speak on this subject. He said, "I wonder whether those gentlemen know what the etymological derivation of the word Parliament is? Parliament means a body that talks and discusses. It is not a more voting machine." Those who remember Mr. Disraeli will recollect his attitude in this House as the most patient of listeners. He said to me, "I have never understood any subject really until I have heard it well debated in Parliament," not by ten minutes speaking. We are asked, "Why do not you conduct yourselves like business men? Why do not you behave as if you were a meeting of shareholders or a vestry meeting?" We do not because we are not a meeting of shareholders, because we are not a vestry meeting, but because we are the great Parliament of England, and really these miserable conceptions of the way in which Parliament ought to conduct its business make me almost despair of the House of Commons managing to appreciate the duties it has to perform. I remember Mr. Disraeli also saying—"I have very often learned more from a bore who understood the subject than from the most brilliant speaker in the House of Commons." So I venture to suggest to the hon. and gallant Member opposite who has his ten minutes speech as a remedy for all the evils of the House of Commons that one of the main functions of the House of Commons is to discuss great subjects and to educate the country upon those subjects, and that as a man like Mr. Disraeli was educated by those debates, so people who have not his intellect or genius may derive great advantage from the proper discussion of subjects in this House. I am not surprised at the hon. and gallant Member, because I warmly admire in him a power of condensation 721 of argument that I have never heard equalled by any other member. He is the only Member whom I ever heard capable of disposing of the whole doctrine of bimetallism in a single sentence—it was absolutely convincing. He said—Bimetallism is taking a shilling and calling it half-a-crown.If I and other Members of the House of Commons had that happy knack of condensing argument, then I would adopt the remedies he proposes, but, unfortunately, we are not all capable of that summary method of dealing with questions of different descriptions, and there fore I still adhere to the practice which for generations has made this House famous, that it should be prepared fully and adequately, to discuss the great measures which are brought under its consideration.
Sir, I do not wish to delay the House, but there is one matter which I should like to mention, and that is the substitution of the Friday for the Wednesday. This means, in my opinion, the cutting down of the rights and privileges enjoyed by the unofficial Members for the advantage of the official Members, and I say that it is an evil in itself and injurious to the working of the House of Commons. Practically speaking, after Easter, or after Whitsuntide, the Government will become possessed of the whole time of the House, and what they offer to the unofficial Member is the Friday instead of the Wednesday. The Wednesday of the House of Commons is one of the most valuable periods, in my opinion, of the parliamentary week. It is the only period which gives an opportunity for the unofficial body in this House to bring matters under discussion which could not be discussed otherwise. We have known it ourselves on many important questions. Take the question of the eight hours for miners, take the question of old age pensions. Let us conceive the possibility of a discussion on an old age pension taking place on a Wednesday afternoon. What would not the Government give to get rid of that Wednesday afternoon? There are many other questions which it is very inconvenient that the Government should have discussed and which do come on for discussion on the Wednesday afternoon. 722 Wednesday's business is to be postponed till Friday, but on that Friday afternoon what possibility is there of such a House as you have on the Wednesday afternoon? On the Wednesday afternoon you have the attendance of Members who know they must be there on the Tuesday and know they must be there on the Thursday. These Members are available to attend on the Wednesday morning, and you are secure of a decent attendance. But on the Friday, in order to make the business of this House more attractive, everybody is to be at liberty, practically speaking, to go away on Thurday night, and I suppose the majority of people will go away on Thursday night. And then it will be extremely convenient for the Government rather to discourage the attendance on the Friday, and how many times will it happen that no House will be made on the Friday at all? I regard all this as entirely in disparagement of the power, small as it is, of the unofficial Members of the House to exercise that influence which they ought to have in this House, and which ought to be preserved to them.
I wish to say, in conclusion, one word upon these punitive measures. As to sustaining the authority of the Chair, I think there will be no difference of opinion in this matter. I think it may be necessary somewhat to increase the term and limit of suspension, but to the insistence upon an apology I am absolutely opposed. I have sat in this House 33 years. I have never heard anything of the kind proposed, and I think it would be the greatest mistake that this House ever made to attempt to insist upon such an apology. When a man has made a mistake, when he has been punished for it, put in prison, you do not ask him to make an apology. I have never heard that when people have been sent to prison by the House of Commons such a condition has been imposed. You will place yourselves in a great difficulty. One of the great objections to sending Members of the House of Commons to prison has been that you did not know how in the world to get them out. It is far more difficult to get them out than to get them in. What will be your position if you insist on this apology? There are some natures that 723 are not apologetic, and who, imitating a great example when they are called to account, say, "What I have said I have said." Persons of that temperament are not likely to apologise. And then are you going to exclude them from a whole Parliament? Are you going to impose this sort of suspension which is to punish the constituency as well as the individual, or which, as I was ashamed to see it stated in a paper to-day, would be a very good way of disfranchising Ireland? But I object altogether to a policy of that kind, and I believe it will involve the House in a situation that will prove to be intolerable, and place it in a position it will be impossible to maintain. But I object altogether to a policy of that kind. I believe you are going to involve the House in a situation that will prove to be intolerable, and place it in a position it will be impossible to maintain.
In conclusion, let me say a word or two on the proposal to refer these Rules to the consideration of a Committee. Certainly I should say that, in proposing so radical, so sweeping a change in the whole habits, practices, and conditions of life in the House of Commons, you would be well advised in following the precedents which have always, or with very few exceptions, been pursued on occasions of this kind. The Colonial Secretary says no Committee examined the alterations proposed in 1882. Well, but in 1882 you devoted a whole session to the consideration of a single point. I do not know what amount of time the Government contemplate giving to these discussions. They are not going to devote the whole session to them, and yet these proposals are obviously more important than all the legislation that has been proposed for this session. It must be remembered that these measures, which will affect many interests, and which will not be of temporary importance only, for if you change the whole system of the House of Commons it is a change that will affect the greatest interests in the country and will be lasting in its effects. It has been said, and truly said, with no disrespect to the present Parliament, that there are more new Members in the House than usual. These are comparatively inexperienced in the working of our Parliament, and therefore of the system under which we have lived, and it is said they may 724 not fully understand how one part of our system bears upon another, and how an alteration may weaken the authority and power of the House. I would venture to suggest to these Members that they would be none the worse for having the opinion of the most experienced Members of the House, who would be taken from all parties and form a Committee in which the Government would have a predominant majority and who, at all events, would, in an impartial manner and without party bias, review the whole situation in its various bearings. Of course, this would involve some delay, but if you proceed with haste in this matter depend upon it you will repent at leisure. Therefore, in my opinion, no delay ought to stand in the way of a thorough, a complete examination of the Rules in all their bearings. That has been the habitual method of proceeding by the House in matters far less extensive in their operation than the Motion you are now considering, and, looking at the extent of the proposed alterations, I do believe that, if you think in a week or two you can dispose of these resolutions, you are contemplating a most rash and inconsiderate action. You may materially injure the fabric of this great assembly, you may destroy vital interests which can never be be repaired; and, therefore, without hesitation, I shall give my vote for the Motion for a Committee, as a preliminary to a discussion of these Rules. This Committee would in no way dictate to the House or preclude the House from discussion—it would give advice to the House from those most competent to give it. I think that would be the most prudent proceeding, and it would be following precedents the House would do well to adopt.
§ *(7.20.) MR. ELLIOT (Durham)
said he had listened to every word of the right hon. Gentleman's criticisms, but from beginning to end there was no evidence to show that the right hon. Gentleman recognised that there were serious mischiefs to be remedied in the present state of things and, therefore, he would not labour that point. It was not necessary to dwell upon the condition into which parliamentary procedure had fallen. When the right hon. Gentleman was talking of the necessity for preserving the rights of free speech, and quoting the words of Mr. 725 Disraeli to show that a Parliament must involve a large amount of speaking, and that we should take care not to limit our rights, he could not but remember that the right hon. Gentleman was a member of a Government which, rightly and wisely, first introduced into parliamentary procedure compulsory limitation of debate. Was there any proposal now to limit speech? Reference had been made to the proposals put forward by the hon. Member for the Chelmsford Division. The present proposals would in no way shorten the orations of any Member. ["They ought to."] Perhaps they ought to. He could imagine the torrent of indignation at a proposal to destroy the old right of a Member to express his opinions at any length he pleased. Many Members who had spoken in the same sense as the hon. Member, had not read the Rules or contemplated the Rules except in the abstract, and without reference to the existing state of things for which a remedy was needed.
§ * MR. ELLIOT
said he would venture to give one illustration of the existing state of things. During last session 15 days of eight hours were consumed in putting and answering Questions. That was a discredit to the business condition of the House.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I should like to point out that last session occupied the shortest amount of Parliamentary time ever occupied by Parliament.
§ * MR. ELLIOT
thought that in that case it made the matter worse, because an undue proportion of time had been given to Questions. Members on both sides of the House had argued themselves into the belief that the right to put Questions across the floor of the House was a palladium of British liberty. He was fully prepared to admit that there was something in the right to put Questions, but they had gone beyond that, because he had heard hon. Members insist that it was absolutely neces- 726 sary for the enjoyment and honour of that privilege that these Questions and answers should be taken the very first thing. But was it essential that Questions, however numerous, however foolish, however lacking in interest to the general public, should be answered before the House proceeded to what might perhaps be the most important business of a session? He could not follow such reasoning. There was a time, long ago, when it was a privilege of Members to present a petition, make a speech, and raise a debate thereon. That privilege existed not only for the benefit of Members but for their constituents, and it was a serious privilege to withdraw, a serious right to take away from Parliament and the Members of the House; but what happened? The practice of raising debates upon petitions grew until it seriously impeded other business which could not be taken until 8 o'clock, and our ancestors abolished the practice. The hon. Member for Waterford had stated on the previous evening that the record of procedure and the Amendments thereto had long been regarded as a failure for the last 60 or 70 years, and he alluded again and again to the tinkering of the Parliamentary body, but it was by what had been called "tinkering" with the Rules that the House of Commons had been able to keep up its efficiency to do the work and meet the changes required by the time and the duties devolving upon it, and as practical men, Members must continue to make alterations when they were necessary. Were hon. Members to be told that they were to be bound by their predecessors, who lived in times when the causes which necessitated these changes did not exist? Questions were a growing evil that had to be dealt with. When he contemplated them, he found that the Rules would prevent no Question being put to a Minister that was now permitted, and a different method of receiving the answer was offered, which, at the same time, preserved the right to ask the Question, and the business time of the House. It was another misfortune under the present system that when Members came down to the House they found being discussed not matters of importance either to themselves or the country at large, but questions as to 727 whether this business should be taken before that business. How were they to adequately discuss matters of importance if the best time of the House was wasted by interminable questions and interlocutory debates? Those discussions, which he found as tedious as did the First Lord of the Treasury, were the opportunities of gentlemen who seemed to arrogate to themselves the character of private Members to the exclusion of everybody else. But he had sufficient respect for the ability, ingenuity and eloquence of those gentlemen not to doubt that, whatever Rules were passed, they would find their opportunities for debate. Such discussions were not for the purpose of obtaining information; they were purely obstructive.
There was the same fallacy underlying the speech of the hon. Member for King's Lynn as underlay nearly all his speeches. The hon. Member generally enlarged on the question of the Executive Government and its powers; he divided official and unofficial Members into two great categories—the official Members who desired to forward the business of the Government, or the unofficial Members who cared for nothing but the private legislative efforts of their own. He (the speaker) claimed on behalf of the unofficial Members that they were as concerned in dealing with the legislative work put forward by the Government as were the official Members. It was the privilege of Members to discuss—at length if need be—the proposals the Government brought forward—but how could that discussion take place if the time was wasted by ridiculous questions, to the extent of thousands in a session, largely put to Ministers merely for the purpose of wasting time? The Government, in this Rule, had aimed—wisely as he thought—at limiting the bad effect of such questions, at limiting the occasions on which these interlocutory debates could arise, and at reducing the necessary stages through which a certain class of measures had to pass. He confessed, when he considered the magnitude of the business with which the Government had to deal, he was struck by the extreme moderation of their proposals. They might have gone a great deal further without inflicting any injustice or, in any way, limiting the privileges of Members.
As to the punitive Rules, he yielded to 728 no one in his desire to have absolutely free and unfettered discussion in the House. To the man who brought in novel or even revolutionary doctrines he would give as much liberty as to anybody else. The greater the representation of honest opinion the greater the benefit to the House of Commons. He fully admitted that majorities were sometimes arbitrary; it was perhaps the nature of majorities, especially in exciting times, to be arbitrary, and to try to repress the expression of opinion. With views of that sort he had no sympathy whatever. But it was a different matter when hon. Members seemed to claim the right not to express opinions but to create disorder. In days gone by, he had heard Members declare that they considered they were in the House for the purpose of causing its machinery to break down. But anything in the nature of organised conduct calculated to produce that end should not be tolerated for one moment. It was not a thing to be parleyed with; it was a thing to be put down. The very liberty of debate depended on order being observed, and when hon. Members seemed to claim it as a right to disobey the authority of the Chair, by which alone they enjoyed their freedom of speech, their rights, and their privileges—that claim should not be tolerated for an instant. He was sorry to hear the hon. Member for East Waterford describe the Rule dealing with the enforcement of orders as one practically amounting to the expulsion from the House of Commons of the Irish Members. There was nothing in the Rule about expulsion. Why should it operate as a sentence of exclusion? It could do so only if a Member took up a position of defiance to the Chairman, and any Member who took up such a position, was not, he contended, a fit person to sit in or address the House of Commons. The sentence of exclusion could hardly be described as a penal proceeding against hon. Members. It was a proceeding for the protection of the House itself, and the case of a penalty inflicted for crime was not at all analogous. Some hon. Members went almost the length of treating the enforcement of order as something in the nature of a game of forfeits. So long as a man paid his forfeit he could do as he liked. That was 729 not the thing at all. The point aimed at was the maintenance of order, and he sincerely hoped that, however much the right hon. Gentleman might be urged to modify the Rule, he would do nothing of the kind, but that he would let the House and the country understand that one of the first necessities of freedom was the maintenance of law and order with the House of Commons itself. Unless Members recognised the evils they could not agree with the remedies for them. If Members did not recognise the existence of the evils, at any rate the country did, and considered it was high time they put their own House in order.
He believed that in the main the proposals of the Government had been well considered, and framed so as not to interfere with the due liberties and privileges of the House of Commons, and he, for one, would give them his support. Members who spoke as if the Constitution was being turned upside down by these Rules were really making a very big mountain out of a very small mole-hill. The Closure was a great innovation, but without it the House could not have done the work it had had to do within recent years. The present proposals were of a much more modest kind, and he thought the House would have to go still further, but, in the meantime, every hon. Member could go to bed happy in the thought that the privileges of the House of Commons were not at stake. As to the hours of meeting and so on, it was a matter of supreme importance, that by these proposals the Government would ensure that from 2.30 to 7.15 Members would be engaged in doing the business of the country—the main business of the House of Commons. To secure that alone would be worth paying something. He did not like having to come down to the House an hour earlier than heretofore, but, at any rate, let them see that they got something, and something considerable, for the price they were paying. This one change alone would be an immense gain, not for the Government only, but for the unofficial Members also, for they were often as much interested as the Government itself in the business of the Crown laid before the House. In future their efforts would be concentrated; they would know what 730 they had to do, and they would have time to do it. He was grateful for the proposals of the Government; if they erred at all it was on the side of excessive moderation and extreme caution. He should therefore support them, and there would be plenty of time for the discussion of details at subsequent stages of the proceedings.
§ *(7.44.) MR. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
Some of the arguments of the hon. Member for Durham are, I think, arguments rather in favour of the Motion to refer these proposals to a Select Committee. The hon. Gentleman has told us that these are business proposals which ought to be discussed on their merits, and apart from all Party considerations. That is one of the main reasons why they should be referred to a Committee. There are various aspects from which this question may be approached. The House of Commons is jealous, and rightly jealous, of any attempts at encroachment on the part of the Executive of the day. The danger in days gone by, no doubt, resided in different directions, but at the present time, as the experience of past years has shown, Members have grave reasons for apprehension as to what the outcome of that encroachment may be. Although I fully concur that there are some portions of these proposals put before us which not only deserves sympathetic support, but which might be even strengthened in certain details, I feel that they contain innovations of a very dangerous character which ought not to be allowed to pass in their present form. In regard to Questions, if the right hon. Gentleman will look at the Questions put within the last few years he will find that, on Colonial and Foreign policy especially, the Questions put have been the means of clearing up points which before were very obscure, and I think he will find that they have often helped to prevent a debate which would otherwise have taken place, and which would have consumed a considerable portion of the time of this House. The analogy of the hon. Member opposite is entirely erroneous and misleading, because in former days it was the custom to read petitions, and to follow them with a prolonged debate. I agree that much time has been consumed in the past by Questions which ought not to have been put and answered orally in 731 this House. Apart from this, it seems to me that many of the Questions have been matters of the most vital importance to the interests of this country, and they have often been Questions which have prevented a great waste of time in debate. It has been suggested that the Questions should be put to the most inconvenient time of the day from the point of view of the Press, and more especially the Press of the distant parts of the country. The inconvenience to the foreign Press, which in some matters is deeply interested in our proceedings, will also be very great. A distinction is drawn between the Questions asked between 2.25 and 2.30, and the Questions which are put at 7.15, when all the charm of novelty will have worn off because the answers will have been given in another place to these identical Questions. That will reduce the whole position to an absurdity. Although I welcome the distinction drawn between one kind of Questions and another, I think the object of the Government would be equally well served if they left the time for putting Questions as it now stands, and introduced the system of starring the Questions and leaving those unstarred which are simply matters of local interest.
Something has been said in the course of this debate with regard to the proposals relating to private business. If the First Lord of the Treasury will look back to the history of the last few years, he will find that the greatest inconvenience has been caused owing to the protracted debates on gas, water, and railway Bills, involving millions of money, which measures have come on at a most inconvenient time, and which have seriously interfered with debates on questions with regard to which notice had been given, and which, owing to the intervention of these other measures, have not been able to be discussed by the House. That uncertainty will not be removed by these proposals. There is to be the unopposed private business which never takes much time, from 2 to 2.25. The opposed private business is not put on one particular day in the week, but it is placed on such days as the Chairman of Committees may appoint. May I suggest whether it would not be possible to reconsider the general scheme of the week's time table which has been put down under "Sittings of the House." I understood that the interchange of Wednesday and Friday was not an integral part of 732 the scheme, I should like to suggest an alternative arrangement. It is that Monday should remain exactly as it is now under the present arrangement. On Tuesday the Government should have a morning sitting, leaving the evening to private Members. Wednesday should remain as at present in the possession of private Members, and Thursday should remain as it is now; but on Friday the opposed private business should take precedence over all other business. Under this arrangement hon. Members would know what gas, electric, railway, and Municipal Corporation Bills would come before the attention of the House on one particular day. Then those hon. Members especially interested in those Bills would remain, and any spare time remaining might be accorded to the Government. These measures often affect great industrial and commercial undertakings in this country, and in late years they have taken much more time owing to the great interest which is being taken by municipalities in all matters affecting the welfare of the community. It would be a relief and a great convenience to a great many persons, and to the House of Commons itself, and to all those in different parts of the country who are interested in the development of these great undertakings, if one particular night could be set apart for the consideration of these measures, and if all hon. Members were aware that Friday was the particular day allocated to the consideration of these local measures. That is a suggestion which I venture to place before the House and which I hope will receive the consideration of the First Lord of the Treasury. I do not know how the point can be raised until we reach the Amendment dealing with private business, but if a scheme of the kind I have indicated is possible, no doubt some opportunity of considering it may be found. If the scheme is to be passed as it stands, it will be impossible to set apart Friday for dealing with private business. I cannot emulate some hon. Members with regard to the number of years they have sat in the House, but daring the 17 years I have been here I have observed a very considerable change in regard to the method in which private business is conducted, and considerably more time is now necessarily spent over it. Not only would uncertainty be removed if my suggestion were carried 733 out, but it would also add greatly to the convenience of the House as a whole if one day could be set apart for the purpose of private business.
Apart from these proposals regarding private business and the interchange of Wednesday and Friday, and apart also from that most mischievous innovation with regard to Questions, it seems to me that the proposals of the Government are proposals which deserve sympathetic consideration, but the three points I have mentioned are matters which it seems to me ought certainly to be reconsidered, and I think that consideration would come with greater weight if an opportunity were afforded like that suggested by the Leader of the Opposition by a Committee consisting of the most experienced Members of the House. On these grounds I desire to give my support to the proposal made by the the Leader of the Opposition. At the same time I would most especially commend to the Leader of the House my suggestion with regard to an alteration in the allocation in the time of the House, and I wish, in conclusion, to emphasise and accentuate the necessity of one particular day in the week, subject to occasional exception, being regarded as a day on which the private business dealing with great industrial, commercial, and material interests of the country should have the attention they require.
§ * (7.56.) SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
Having long taken considerable interest in this subject, and having moved for a Select Committee on the subject in 1894, and given notice to the same effect last session, for this reason I desire to say a few words. There is much in these Rules which is worthy of the attention of the House. More particularly, I wish to say that at present the lay mind has difficulty in knowing what the law is, for, worse than the Roman Emperor Caligula, who wrote his laws so small, and hung them up so high that they could not be read, and then punished people for not obeying them, we bury our laws in statutes and cases and then we assume that everybody knows the law and we punish them for disobedience. What I think with regard to these proposals is that in some ways they are very inadequate and likely 734 to be ineffective. They seem to me to be revolutionary in some points without being adequate remedies, and they leave the parliamentary machine, constructed in the Middle Ages, in a condition which fails to adapt it to modern requirements, without taking the opportunity of making that application much more useful. I cannot now, to be in order, develop the Amendment which stands in my name on the Paper, but I am quite satisfied that the only effective way to remove obstruction would be to remove the motive of obstruction by enabling measures which have arrived at a certain stage to be carried over to the next session of the same Parliament. That would convince those disposed to be obstructive that their desires could not be attained. I agree with Lord Salisbury's statement that the mode of doing our business is like that of a man who, finding himself unable to complete all his correspondence before post time, should, deliberately tear up the letters he has written and commence them all again on the following day. I also think there might be a much better allocation of our parliamentary time. Our difficulties are not so much due to want of time, as to the want of a better appropriation of that time and the systematic use of our time, for our present system leads to a great waste of time, all which might be avoided by having a Committee to fix (and, if necessary, to extend) the time to be allocated to Bills (and Sections of Bills) and Motions.
Now, Sir, I wish to say a word about the substitution of Friday for Wednesday, so far as the Bills of unofficial Members are concerned. I will not enlarge upon the social questions which the Leader of the Opposition referred to, but speaking of week-end arrangements I may remind the House of a parallel afforded by Sir Robert Walpole, when he abolished Saturday sittings in order that he might hunt at the week-end. What I think is of importance is not always the week-end, but some relaxation of the strain at the middle part of the week. Many who are Members of this House are engaged in business, and that is a great strain which is mitigated by Wednesday evening being free. Then the officers of the House, and the Press, upon whom we are largely dependent for the value given to our proceedings by 735 publicity, sympathise with the present system, rather than the substitution of Friday. Friday would not attain the purpose of those who present Bills to this House, and who have done a large amount of useful work at times, because the Government, which is now under obligation to keep a House on certain occasions, would be free from it, and the week-end would very likely be dissipated as to Members. Thursday would be appropriated to Supply, for which some would not care to remain. Friday would be the opportunity for private Members' Bills, and I think there is some reason in the suggestion that we should have ill-considered legislation, at any rate in some cases, instead of that criticism which a full House is able to apply. Then I cannot help thinking that Friday would be by no means such a free day as Wednesday. Private business, I take it, might be taken on Friday, if the option were left to the Chairman of Committees as suggested—that private business which is not disposed of on other days by 25 minutes after two, should be postponed until such time as he may determine.
Again, it is proposed that Motions for the adjournment of the House on Government days, when the House determines that they shall be made, are to stand over until the evening sitting of the same day. But such a Motion could be made and discussed on Fridays, there might then also be Questions, so that the residual value to unofficial Members might be exceedingly small. The same applies to Tuesday and Wednesday evening sittings. At these evening sittings Motions for adjournment would be taken, and there might be no time for private Members' motions to be discussed. The Government seem to have anticipated an objection of this sort, for they contemplate that between 9 and 10 o'clock the House will be more or less in a state of collapse. I agree with their suggestion as to counting out between 9 and 10 business which is not attractive, but that the House shall not be counted, the next Resolution being taken. Such a system of counting out business instead of the House would operate in the way of the selection of business according to its importance. An unimportant Bill might be counted out in order that an important one might be taken. I venture to suggest that the principle should be to count out only the particular business rather than to count 736 the House and so waste time. With regard to the 2 o'clock sitting, whatever may be said of the comments of the hon. Member for King's Lynn about business men, I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that the new arrangement would suit a certain class who ought to be considered. I mean country gentlemen and those who are engaged in business at a distance. But, in these days when trade questions are prominent—and probably the battles of the future will be on trade questions—it is important, I think, to keep the House in touch with the business men of the day, and the business knowledge and experience of the House should be up to the highest point. The effect under the present system is to admit of the Members being in time for public business who come as late as 4.30, and who are able, while attending before then to their own business, to contribute in what I think is generally a very valuable way to the proceedings of the House. The effect of the change would be to prevent their doing so. It would end in the exclusion of that class, and in the substitution of a more leisured class willing to devote their whole time to the work of the House. It would end in the payment of Members as a necessary corollary. If the Government contemplate that change well and good, but I think they will hesitate to do so. Let us think, too, of the great cost of the Committee work upstairs. The Committees now sit to 3 or 4 o'clock, but when public business is commenced they would not be able to do so. In fact, the new Rules provide for their not sitting after half-past 2. Think of the cost to the country for witnesses and counsel, etc., owing to this change in the time for the consideration of private Bills before Committees.
As regards Questions, every one must admit that many of them are departmental and administrative. Many of them are very trivial. Therefore, I think that the placing of an asterisk to those to which an oral reply is desired is a wise provision. But I venture to think that the asterisk should be applied not by the Member putting the Question, but by the Speaker or a Committee. And however trivial the majority of Questions may be, I think there is in the right of asking Questions the highest protection against injustice and abuse. If a constituent, however humble and poor, has a real 737 grievance or injustice, the Member representing him here can bring the Minister to book for that grievance by putting a Question or a series of Questions. He can thus do much to redress that grievance or injustice with the aid of the Press, but the advantage of that method of procedure will not be enjoyed to the same extent if Questions are adjourned until after 7 o'clock, or, perhaps, until after midnight. The right of question should be sedulously watched, for although there may be much to be condemned in connection with the present system, there is much that must not be lost, even at the expense of some advantage which you hope to gain under the proposed arrangement.
Lastly I should like to say a word about what is the most important of these Rules, and that is the question of the transaction of the private business; and, knowing something of this matter, I commend very seriously what I propose to the attention of my right hon. friend. I quite agree that the transaction of private business here is an anachronism, and that the time ought speedily to come—and I know I have the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman in this—when it should be devolved on some other authority. We have an example in the Private Bill Procedure Act of a justice done to Scotland, which might well be imitated both as regards Ireland and England. It is in a sense the most responsible part of our work. It is our judicial work. It is work for which heavy house fees are paid and outlay in the shape of costs, and it influences the material, municipal and general development of the country to an extent which it is almost impossible to overestimate. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the evil here is exaggerated. We have undoubtedly once or twice recently had our tempers tried by being kept waiting by private business when important public matters have been coming forward. At the same time I think that is a matter for Departmental arrangement. After our experience an arrangement might be come to which would be better than the present. In addition we have discussed under the name of private Bills important questions, such as housing, cheap trains, and water; and perhaps I may be allowed to say here what an anomaly it is that water supply 738 Bills and private Bills of that kind, public in almost every respect, though private Bills, should be able to be carried over to another session while other public Bills of much less importance expire with each session. I have had the advantage of reading a very able pamphlet prepared by Mr. George Walpole, the editor of The Parliamentary Debates, upon "House of Commons Procedure," from which I learn that, after all, last session, out of 1,072 hours, only 45 were occupied in private business, including the debates on those general questions to which I have referred. Now let me ask what under the new system may happen? You will have a debate of 25 minutes, in which one or two speeches will be heard by one audience in the House, the debate will then be adjourned, and the rest of it will be heard by another audience. How is there to be any complete view taken under these circumstances? The fact is the whole of these great questions will be taken at sittings the nature of which is not determined even yet. It was stated by Mr. Balfour that these debates were to be resumed at 9 o'clock, but now it is proposed that the Chairman of Committee shall fix the time. I know that in the case of the Chairman every possible confidence would be felt, but I am afraid that, between pillar and post, enormous interests, mercantile and municipal, scores of advantageous public enterprises may be lost.
I reserve my last words for a most important point, for this proposal is one which threatens the character of this House. The character of this House for private legislation has been of the very highest up to the present time. If, as is suggested, such Bills are still to stand for Second Reading in this House, I entreat that a definite time will be appointed for their consideration. The point I wish to refer to is this: if you have private business, liquid so far as the time at which it will be taken is concerned, you will give a pretext for partisans in charge of Bills to go to Members and say, "Will you come and help to make a House," when there may be doubt, owing to the time, say at 9, or midnight, as to whether there will be a House. That may lead 739 to a system of lobbying which will be detrimental to the character of the House, and most disadvantageous to private Bill legislation. Up to the present, the House has enjoyed the highest confidence, but the system of private Bill legislation is costing upwards of £500,000 a year in the case of local authorities alone, and with a system which brings people from their own districts. It is a wrong system altogether, and ought to be replaced by another. But, until we undertake the devolution of this work, let us do it in such a way that it will be properly taken care of with due regard to all views. I venture to doubt whether the proposed new Rules have in this and other respects received that careful consideration which will enable the House to foretell what their practical effect will be. I am quite sure that they are proposed and that they will be discussed with the view of improving the procedure of the House, but I hope that with discussion in detail such changes will be made in them as will adapt them much more completely to what I believe to be the requirements of modern legislation. (8.15.)
§ *(9.50.) MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said he thought the House and the country were indebted to both the hon. Members who had last addressed the House, for having drawn attention to the position in which private business would be left by the Rules as now laid before the House. If the remarks of the hon. Member for South Islington had been listened to in a fuller House, it would have been of great advantage to the debate. He had no desire to enter into any details which would be better left to the discussion in the Committee stage, but he would like to say at once that he dissented from the suggestion of the hon. Member for the Eye Division of Suffolk, for exactly the reasons given by the hon. Member for South Islington. He thought to defer Private Bills until Friday would be a very serious mistake; for if they divorced these Private Bills from the sound common sense of the majority of the hon. Members of the House, they opened the door to the possibility of jobs contrary to the public interest, because most Members not directly interested would stay away on Fridays The debate had shown, not only with 740 regard to the question of private business but also with regard to questions of wider public importance, the necessity of the House rising to the supreme duty of recognising the necessity of a broad policy of devolution of many of the duties now attempted to be performed by the House itself. He had sat in the House since 1885, and he well remembered the discussion on the eighth clause of the Local Government Bill of 1888, and how a body of Members on that side of the House had fought to retain the powers given under that Bill and in its schedules, as originally laid before the House, to devolve a large number of duties, administrative and in some cases practically legislative, by Order of Council upon the County Councils. That was a policy which would have to be revived before long if this House was to remain efficient. The real evil of the situation was that the House now sat for a shorter time, and there was less energy and less self-sacrifice on the part of Members than in the past. In 1888 and also in 1887, when proposals of a similar character were made for the purpose of changing the Rules of Procedure of the House by Mr. W. H. Smith, that right hon. Gentleman distinctly bound himself by the doctrine that these changes were a matter for the House itself to decide, and not a subject upon which a ministry should impose its will upon the House. He hoped the First Lord of the Treasury would bear that dictum in mind and act upon that aspect of the question.
The debate on the previous day had largely illustrated the necessity of leaving many of these matters to the sense of hon. Members themselves, without regard to Party. Never had a case been more completely made out for a moderate and reasonable proposal such as had been made by the Leader of the Opposition to refer the whole group of questions to a Select Committee of the House of Commons; more especially having regard to the speeches made by hon. Members on the Conservative side of the House. Let hon. Members look at the Order-book which had been crowded with suggested Amendments to the Rules, and they would find, he believed, that the larger proportion of those Amendments had come from hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Conservative side of the House. Mr. Speaker 741 had laid down the limits of Amendments which might be made to the proposals of the Government, but there were no less than 20 Motions on the Order-book, 15 of which were in the names of hon. Members, supporters of the Ministry, all of them proposing important changes in the Standing Orders which they were precluded under the ruling of the Chair from bringing on as Amendments of the scheme. This, he contended, was a strong argument for relegating the whole group of the proposals to a Select Committee. He had listened closely to the arguments which had been adduced in the course of the debate, and it seemed to him strange when the Government were endeavouring to improve the procedure of the House that their proposals had met with such slender support from Members of their own party. When he listened to the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury—that graceful and conciliatory speech with which the right hon. Gentleman introduced his proposals—he could not help comparing the advantages of the scheme with its disadvantages, and he doubted whether the proposals if adopted would work satisfactorily, but after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary he had no doubt whatever as to the duty of the House of Commons in this matter. The defence of the proposals made by the Colonial Secretary really left the Government proposals not a leg to stand upon. Practically the right hon. Gentleman's speech was an admission of the criticism which the Opposition had offered. There seemed to be a justification for the suspicion that what the Government really wanted was to find the cheapest and quickest way of rushing business through Parliament by suspending and getting rid of the action of the House of Commons so far as it was possible to do so. The Colonial Secretary had said that the precedent of Mr. Gladstone's Procedure Resolutions in 1882 was against the proposal to send the present proposals to a Select Committee, but the right hon. Gentleman had omitted to state that the proposals of 1882 were made in February, but were not finally voted upon until the autumn session of that year, so that they were really before the House and the country for nearly nine months. Were the Government willing to follow that example, and adjourn the consideration 742 of the present proposals until the autumn? He thought not. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the position of Private Bill Legislation under the new Rules, would still be practically so intolerable that it was absolutely necessary to refer that group of proposals to a Select Committee. That admission really gave away the whole case against the Motion of the Leader of the Opposition.
Everybody who had sat in the House for a number of years regarded proposals such as were under discussion he firmly believed with exactly the same feeling. They loved, honoured, and cherished the House of Commons, and they desired to make it really efficient for the essential purposes for which Parliament existed. Parliament did not exist simply to make and unmake Governments. That was merely an elementary function. It existed for a broader and more continuous purpose. It could not be indemnified with the Executive, but it had a co-ordinated power with the Executive. It required to be active and vigilant, sharing in the work of the Executive, challenging the Executive continuously and effectively at every stage of the proceedings. Every session the House had examples of bad legislation. During the past few days there had been scandals of administration with regard to military affairs which showed a tremendous duty in which every Member of the House who had a conscience and a sense of responsibility ought to be ready to take his share. To bring forward Rules which hampered individual Members in the discharge of that duty, which increased the inducements to Members to neglect their supreme obligations, and which tended to reduce Members to mere voting machines at the disposal to the Executive, was almost a crime against the idea associated with the very existence of Parliament. In reference to Rules of Procedure the argument was always urged that the will of the majority must be made to prevail. Against that was brought the counter-argument that minorities, even unreasonable minorities ought, in the public interest, to have a voice in the House. Both these doctrines were accepted, and all loyal friends of Parliamentary institutions endeavoured as far as possible to reconcile the two ideas. But that was merely the A B C of the question, and should be solved 743 more by the good feeling and commonsense of the House than by Rules. Parliament meant much more. There was a collective and individual responsibility on Members to maintain the honour and to promote the efficiency of the House in the highest interests of the nation. No Member, honestly representative of his constituents, could give up his individual responsibility and judgment, and place his vote, like a proxy, in the hands of the supreme Executive. There was too much talk of ancient rules and new conditions. The House had more to do, but the real point was that the essential purpose for which they were there and the methods by which they must work were exactly the same, whether they had ten times or a hundred times the work of their predecessors to do. The conditions were the same now as in the past, and they would be the same in the future, unless Members were prepared to give up representative Government altogether, and hand over the destinies of the country to a small self-appointed family Committee which might easily become as detestable as any other group of tyrants in history.
His objection to the proposals was not so much to their details as to the fact that, taking them altogether, their tendency was to lessen the ties of the individual Member to the business of the House, and to diminish the inducements for him to attend, and take part in, and understand its work. It was a trifling detail that the proposals hamstrung and threw into the waste paper basket the private Members as a legislative item. In the most singular way the Government were spoiling private business as well as getting rid of the private Member. The evening sittings and the Fridays were to be made up of a patchwork of impracticable methods of dealing with private Bills and Motions for adjournments. The suppression of the right of freely questioning Ministers would multiply the Motions for adjournment, and lead to the entire extinction of the opportunities of private Members. But he attached much less importance to the disappearance of the private Member as a force in legislation than to the fact that the vast majority of Members would not attend in the House except at fixed hours for the purpose of mechanically 744 voting down all or any protests against the policy or proposals of the Government without hearing any of the arguments that might be adduced in the debate. The situation, bad enough already, would be infinitely aggravated by a cast-iron system of cutting the time of the House into sections. The real cause of bad work in the House of Commons was the lack of concentration, and the loss of working power was, to a large extent, due to the absence of leading Ministers during a large portion of the sittings of the House. What was the fault of discussions in Supply? That the House was launched into one big topic, and the Members went on repeating ad nauseam the same arguments on the one subject, whereas if the House was properly led it would be easy to divide the sitting into three or four separate discussions, with short practical concentrated speeches, infinitely to the advantage of the public service. He had always attributed the painful scene of last year to the lack of proper leadership. If the First Lord had then been in constant attendance they might very well at the dinner hour, at his suggestion, have passed from the topic of education, which was then exhausted, to another of the matters covered by the Vote on Account, and the sense of exasperation which led to that scene would have been avoided. He was in favour of strengthening Rules which promoted good order, but what he insisted on was that there should be firm but elastic pressure. The present proposals instead of discouraging and checking obstruction, would promote and increase it, and lead to much greater waste of time. What happened on Tuesdays, when the Government took afternoon sittings? A subject once started would go on until 7 o'clock, although the debate might just as well terminate at 4 or 5 o'clock. Early in his political life he had seen on a Wednesday afternoon no less than three or four Bills discussed dispassionately, in carefully reasoned speeches, and with real force. Those Bills passed their Second Reading and were dealt with by Select Committees or in some other way without any of the trouble that was now experienced. An almost necessary corollary of the present proposals would be a Rule to limit the duration of speeches in order to check the increase of obstruction which 745 would inevitably arise from having the time limit to the afternoon sitting. He had made one or two suggestions, and he would not dwell upon them, but he hoped that some consideration would be given to the possibility of dealing with the matter of Questions on its own merits and alone. It seemed to him that whatever happened to the Motion of his right hon. friend, His Majesty's Government had one course open to them which would remove many of their difficulties. They might carry out their proposal of starring questions. They might refer to a Committee or to Mr. Speaker to make a classification of questions, in order that the time of the House and the time of Ministers should not be wasted. He believed that the starring of questions would remove many objections. Questions of a local character which raised no principle would at once be placed on the Paper to be answered in print, because that would serve the purpose just as well. He thought it would be well for the Government to carry out that rule before they attempted to carry out anything like the drastic proposal to postpone questions, which meant the entire suspension of the right of cross-examination of the Ministry. Let him suggest, then, to the Government if they do not refer the whole of these subjects to a Select Committee, let them carry out this, and let them carry out their proposals with regard to the proceedings on Bills with such Amendments as the House may make in them, and defer the rest of these questions till they can be considered more fully.
He urged upon the Government the desirability of making the discussion of Supply really more effective. It was quite useless for the Colonial Secretary to urge that Supply, as at present conducted, gave hon. Members an opportunity of challenging the Executive, for the practice of the First Lord of the Treasury was to launch one big topic before the House and leave hon. Members to discuss it for hours more than was necessary, thereby excluding hundreds of other topics which might be considered for short periods and discussed in a business like and practical way. He had frequently suggested that discussions on Supply should be taken on Motions, the object of which should be stated in the Notices of Motion, and that these Motions and the Votes in Supply should be classified and arranged in order by a Special Committee of the same 746 character as the Committee of Selection, and recommend the proportion of a sitting which might be given to such Motions. That was a solution which he thought it would be wise for the Government to consider. He had stated his main objections as clearly as he could to the proposals of the Government, and those objections compelled him to resist the passage of those Rules through the House, because their tendency was to divorce hon. Members of the House from their supreme duty and their proper right of challenging the action of Government and exercising due vigilance as the representatives of the people in examining closely into the affairs of the country. The whole of these proposals would meet with strenuous opposition on those grounds.
§ (9.23.) EARL PERCY
I desire to make a very few observations upon the new Rules of Procedure suggested by the Government, and I shall not adopt the non possumus attitude adopted by the hon. Member for East Northampton, nor do I think it is a practical suggestion to refer them to a Committee, because that means that they would be discarded for the rest of the session. The hon. Member for East Mayo expressed the hope that the younger Members of the House would not take part in the debate.
§ MR. DILLON
I beg the noble Lord's pardon, but I did not say that. What I said was that it was impossible for hon. Members who only came into the House at the last election to have had any experience of the Rules.
§ * EARL PERCY
Then I beg the hon. Member's pardon. Personally, I feel that there is no need to apologise for taking part in debate, because any change in the Rules must affect the younger Members of the House quite as much as the old Members. What is the object of the Government in proposing these Rules? They want to increase the time at the disposal of the House, but it does not follow, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire, said, that they want to increase the power of the Government. What they naturally want to do is to 747 render more effective the rights of the Government in regard to the business of legislation. That is a very correct and proper view for the Government to take, provided they keep in mind the correlative object of securing and rendering more effective the rights of private Members. I quite recognise the truth of what was said by the Colonial Secretary earlier in the debate that those two objects are not necessarily incompatible, and that in the last resort, private Members always have a remedy in their hands against any encroachment on the part of the Executive. What I want to point out is that any Rule or any changes in the Rules to which the House now assents, are changes which will affect the rights of private Members quite as much as they affect the rights of the Government, and it by no means follows that changes in these Rules which will have the effect of rendering the rights of the Government more effective, will, if applied to the rights of private Members render them also more effective. The rights and duties of the Government and private Members are distinct. The duty of the Government is partly to administer and partly to legislate. The duty of the private Member is not to administer at all, and his legislative duties are of a totally different character.
The legislation of the Government must be largely of a controversial character. The Government stands for great contested principles which have been fought out in the country, and which the Government has been returned to carry through. That is not the case with any private Members Bill. The main function of a private Member is, in the first place, to pass, if he can, with the general assent of the House, non-controversial, useful, and beneficial legislation which would be passed by the Government if they had time to take that legislation up. The second duty is to help to ripen public opinion upon controversial measures, but not necessarily to force such measures through, even in the teeth of a determined minority which may have deep and conscientious objections to them. There is no public object served by doing so, because if the feeling of the country can be honestly said to be represented by the feeling of the majority in this House, it is the duty of the Government to take 748 such legislation up, and they always have the power to carry it through. I do not want to discuss this question from a party standpoint, because the powers of private Members is a matter in which all hon. Members are concerned. I submit to the House that the present position is this: That private Members have practically no control of the time of the House which is supposed to belong to them. The time which is allotted to private Members is entirely subject to the accident of the ballot, and we all know that year after year private Members' legislation of a tremendously controversial character, which is bound to be sternly and bitterly opposed, occupies the whole time of the House and there are not many Wednesdays at the disposal of private Members. The practical result is that it is impossible for a private Member to carry those apparently uncontroversial measures which the country would very much like to see passed into law.
I desire to ask the house, and especially the Government, to consider what will be the effect from this point of view of the Amendment of two of our rules, one with regard to the change from Wednesday to Friday, and the other with regard to the automatic arrangement for referring Bills to the Grand Committee. What is the present position? We come down here on Wednesday afternoon, and find under discussion one of those great controversial measures of which I speak, a controversial measure which may involve a vast constitutional change in the fundamental relations between Church and State. It is brought forward in a thin House. I remember last Wednesday up to half-past three o'clock, there were, I think, not more than 50 members present in the House at any time. There was no Member present on the Government Bench to give any light and leading to the House, and the result was that the closure was moved at an hour when no one will pretend that it would have been moved if the measure had been taken charge of and introduced by a Government. Not even the heartiest supporter of the Bill then under consideration supposes that, if it had been taken charge of by a Liberal or a Conservative Government it would not be regarded as an outrage, that the closure should be moved after five hours debate, and that the discussion 749 should come to an end. The whole House is interested in seeing that those measures of a controversial character should be properly discussed. What would be the effect of those new Rules proposed by the Government? It is manifest that if we had Friday instead of Wednesday for private Members' legislation there will be found fewer present than on Wednesday. Now, I take the question of the automatic reference to Grand Committees. I do not discuss this matter in reference to Government Bills, although I think a great question arises even in regard to these. I think it is open to grave question whether it is possible adequately to discuss the merits of a Bill, and the question whether it is proper to refer Bills to this or that Committee in one and the same debate. We admit that we have only five hours at most to discuss controversial legislation of that kind, and we have perhaps only two hours and a half during which there is any attendance of Members here to listen to the arguments on either side. I put it to the House, is it not ridiculous to give extra facilities to private Members in order to pass controversial legislation, unless we accompany them by a revision of the Rule in regard to the closure, and also accept the proposal of the hon. Member for King's Lynn that we should alter the rule as to the number of Members who must be present in order to form a quorum. It is perfectly possible to devise some alternative method by which private Members would obtain greater control of the time which is supposed to be at their disposal than at present. One alternative was suggested by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Forest of Dean, namely, that instead of leaving it to the private Members we should relegate the Bills to some impartial Committee of Selection, consisting of Members from both sides of the House, who would exercise their own discretion in determining their order of precedence. There are, however, grave objections to that course, and private Members might not be willing to surrender to such a Committee the limited powers they have at present. There is another suggestion which has been made to me by the hon. Member for Oldham. He pointed out that it is perfectly possible to adopt 750 a remedy of this kind; at the beginning of the session you should print in order on the Notice Paper all the Bills introduced by private Members. That list should be forwarded to every Member of the House, and each Member should have ten, fifteen, or twenty votes, or any number you like to fix upon, to give away to this or that Bill for which he is in favour. He would place his votes opposite the Bills on the Notice Paper—not a cumulative vote, but one for each particular measure—and the result would be that we would be able to assign precedence on Wednesdays to the Bills which had received the majority of votes from Members. It cannot be denied that the result would reflect far more accurately than the ballot at present, the collective judgment of the House. I am a young Member, but I am quite as much interested as anyone in maintaining the honour of and respect of the country for this House, and what is important, in my view, is that this proposal, if carried out, would do far more than anything else, more than any restrictions you can suggest, to diminish the temptations to obstruction Speaking on my own part and also on the part of other Members of the House, I will only say that although we are perfectly prepared to give facilities to the Government for more effectively carrying out their duties of administration and legislation, with the all important reservation that these facilities do not involve any diminution in the power of effective supervision over the Executive, we are not prepared rashly to give our assent to facilities which would increase the present evil of giving precedence to controversial measures, introduced by private Members, which have no chance of passing and which only make it absolutely impossible to pass uncontroversial measures of great value that the country may be exceedingly desirous of seeing passed.
§ *(9.40.) MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)
said he sympathised very much with some of the cautious doubts which the noble Lord expressed with regard to a number of these proposals, and with 751 some of his criticisms, more or less outspoken, he agreed. But did not think the noble Lord was quite so happy in framing his constructive proposals. The function of unofficial Members in proposing Bills was twofold, as he understood it; first of all, there were those measures which the country clearly desired and which had become practically non-controversial because sustained by a large and settled majority; though he had always thought they ought to be taken up by the Government when they reached that stage. And, secondly, there was the no less important business of educating the House itself as well as the country in opinion upon measures which the minority might think all-important, but as to which opinion required to be developed and constructed here. But the noble Lord's constructive proposals would practically rule this latter class out altogether.
§ EARL PERCY
explained that what he said was that it was the duty of the private Member not necessarily to pass measures, but to ripen public opinion on them.
§ * MR. BLAKE
replied that they had been unlucky this session. There had been many sessions, however, in which they were more lucky. They preferred rather to trust the blind fortunes of fate than the tender mercies of the present majority. Many hon. Members had stated the points of view from which they approached this question. Might he be allowed to hazard a personal note as to his own? It was four and thirty years since he assisted, 4,000 miles away, in the creation of two distinct legislatures in a British Dominion, each based on the model of this Parliament. He had something to do with drafting the Rules under which both were to operate, and afterwards with 752 the working of those Rules. Where did they look for guidance? They looked to this Imperial Parliament, with its long record, for the foundation principles on which they worked their legislatures. They saw the liberties this Parliament gave. They saw its scrupulous regard for freedom of debate, for fulness of discussion, for supervision of the Executive, for popular control, and for the ample deliberation which was the condition of safe and orderly advance. They based their rules on those of this Parliament, and founded their liberties on the system at that time enjoyed here, which thank God, though since surrendered here, they still enjoyed today. Their Rules had stood much strain, and what some might call abuse. He remembered, for instance, a case in the House of Commons of Canada. They commenced a debate at 3 o'clock on Thursday afternoon, and he closed it at 10 minutes to 12 on Saturday night. That was, of course, an exceptional occasion; it was recognised as such by the Government; no proposal was made to change the Rules; and those Rules were working more satisfactorily and easily today than at any former time. The point of view from which he looked at this question was such as would naturally be engendered in the mind of a man the most of whose life had been passed in the survey of the operation of the Rules as they then stood; in the mind of a man, who incurably optimistic if you like, still believed in the efficiency and regeneration of this Parliament, and still believed in its power, when regenerated, to do justice to the country, one of whose constituencies he was there to represent. But in the mind of a man who at the same time believed that the chances both for it, for this island, for the Empire at large, and for the world, must depend still on the preservation of those great principles to which he had alluded, and on the sacred observance of those securities to which he had referred, who believed in the necessity of undergoing much temporary inconvenience, much delay and difficulty, rather than in giving way to suggestions such as those against which they were now contending. The one claim which alone could justify proposals such as had been made, must be that they were absolutely necessary to secure the efficiency of the conduct of public 753 business. He quite admitted that they might incidentally—to the extent to which could be reconciled with greater efficiency in the conduct of public business—they might incidentally consider the ease and comfort of the Members of the House, but that was entirely a subordinate consideration. It was not for ease, or comfort, or pleasure, or attractions, that they asked to be sent there. What they were supposed to come there for was to do their duty to their constituents and to the country at large.
He had read the speech which the First Lord of the Treasury made before the opening of Parliament, in which that right hon. Gentleman pointed out in that wonderfully attractive and admirable manner of his, how important a thing it was, in his opinion, that a Member should know when he could dine and where he might be able to dine, and at what hour he should comedown there when required for a division. When the right hon. Gentleman put these as main objects so prominently before the country, he confessed he had not much hope for the regeneration of the House of Commons through the medium of Rules proposed in such a spirit. The object and effect of these Rules would be to diminish through a large portion of the sitting the attendance of Members, which was already quite too scanty. He thought it was a scandal and a disgrace that the debates were conducted in this House with the scant attendance which generally prevailed. The noble Lord, the Member for South Kensington, had just referred to the smallness of the number of Members that were in the House the other day. Why was the attendance small? It was because of the time-table arrangement. It was because Members knew the division would take place at a certain time between half-past four and half-past five, and they would not come till they were wanted for the division. Their minds were made up, and not even on so moving a subject as that of the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, which was discussed last Wednesday, were they tempted to come there earlier. Still it was quite obvious, at any rate, that however deceased the wife might be the sister was still very much alive. She had been wandering about the benches all through this debate. He contended that this new proposal was a distinct diminution 754 of such efficiency as might remain, and of such respectability as might remain in the ordinary course of the proceedings of this Parliament, so far as the attendance of Members went. The long practical adjournment, the period during which they released Members—for too many of them the be all and end all was the division bell—that long period of release from 7 o'clock to 10 o'clock—that period of non-attendance—that break of continuity in the debate was in itself a very serious diminution of efficiency in the conduct of a long and serious discussion. It was serious if there was to be a resumption after three hours, and still more serious if the debate was to go over after occupying half a day to another day. Therefore, he maintained that efficiency and business conduct and completeness of debate were best secured by the debate continuing for the longest possible time without interruption. And, again, the chances of a good attendance in the evening part of the session were diminished by the proposed long adjournment from 7.15 to 10 o'clock. These chances were diminished even on Government days, and still more diminished on private Members' days. Many men would not return at all, others not till midnight to vote. Therefore, he repeated these proposals would not tend to improve the efficiency of Parliament. Then, there were to be four heavy consecutive working days, without the relief of early rising on Wednesday, from the ordinary run and grind of the machine. That relief was to hardworking men a great boon, and enabled them to persist in their work. Its loss would be felt severely towards the end of a long and tiring session. The result would be that even Thursday would be marred, while the unofficial day allotted to the private Members on Friday would be practically ruined. Consider how this was going to affect the unofficial Member's measures. Of course the Members who did not make week-end visits on Friday might make a House for the discussion of either class of Bills of which he had spoken, especially if there was an Irish Bill; but, ordinarily, there would be much greater difficulty in finding a House for the discussion of controversial Bills, or even to stamp legislation as ripe for being put upon the Statute Book by the private Member. That was to be achieved only by a 755 great majority in a full House, and that full House they would not have; and so in that respect the chance of private Members would be vitally diminished. Now the Government also was taking much more of the effective time of the House than it did even before. He would not dwell upon that at that hour with more than one out of many illustrations. He would take the case of private Bills. At present, by a most unfortunate arrangement which ought to be changed, private Bills come on at any time. Those who felt interested, and those who had—the word has been used and he supposed he might use it there—personal interests in, say, railway Bills, considered such things, as the chance of a favourable House at present, and often took a Government day. What was going to happen in fdture? They no longer could feed upon these rich pastures of Government days, because the Chairman of the House was to fix the time when they were to come on. Of course he would never fix a Government day, so there would be further large encroachment upon the time given to private Members. Again, they would be subjected to an increased extent to the uncertainty to which the First Lord of the Treasury alluded as destructive of ordinary business.
Now, what were the remedies? If they were to have a minute arrangement of times and seasons, they should not begin by wasting half an hour. They all knew that the twenty-five minutes allotted to private business was, for the most part of the session, wasted. They came down there—not the Front Benches, who do not need to pray—but the other members, who still felt the necessity of supplication, came there at 3 o'clock, and they knew that they had half an hour to waste, because, as a rule, there was not more than five minutes work done. Now, in the businesslike legislature in which he had sat so long, they provided a time within which practically unopposed opposed business should come on, and when it appeared that there was no more business, then the next business on the Paper was gone on with at once. They only made a maximum of time for private business, and to that plan there was only one objection—namely, that some one or two of the gentlemen of 756 the Front Bench would have to come here on the probability of being called on in five or ten minutes, instead of at the end of half an hour. Therefore, he contended that they should, if they were to meet at 2, make it an effective 2 o'clock, giving the half hour as a maximum, but the moment the private Bills were ended, going on with the business of the House. Then, instead of allowing opposed private Bills, which as at present were to be scattered at the sweet will of promoters, all over the rest of the week, let the House do, as the Legislature to which he referred had done, fix one day upon which they would be first order. No doubt that must be on a private Members' day, but he thought they ought to allot one day for priority for opposed private Bills, and let the Bills be discussed upon that day. Now, he came to the point of questions again, not on the question of time, but of the efficiency of this Parliament, which was at stake.
He had been talking about legislative work, but a great part of their duty was that of the grand inquest of the nation. Part of that was the supervision, of course, of public affairs and the informing themselves and their constituents what was the course of affairs of public interest, and he held that the right to question was all the more important to-day as all the other avenues which the House used to possess through which they could enter upon the discussion of these questions, have one by one been closed. That was the chief reason why more Questions were put and why they were more necessary. Now questions were of two kinds; there was the local and parish question which, absolutely not merely in its apparent nature but in its essence of simply local interest, raised no question of principle whatever. That was a kind of question which ought to be generally disposed of by communication with the Department, and should not come before the House. When it did come before the House, he agreed with the First Lord of the Treasury that the better way of dealing with it, even if it were starred, might often be by a printed answer in the Order Paper. But when they came to the other class of questions—those of general importance—including some which on the surface might be 757 local and parish, but which yet raised some general question of principle—for they might have in these the kernel of a question of fundamental and vital importance, and still more when they came to those questions which were on the surface as well as essence, of broad, general importance—the Imperial questions of peace or war, of great misfortune or of joy—when they came to those questions affecting conduct in great concerns of the administration, he maintained that the suggestion of limiting supplementary questions to one to be asked only by the mover of the Question was a suggestion of the most pernicious nature. The object was to obtain information and the question was frequently directed to a reluctant Minister who did not want to tell, and if they allowed the Ministry now to persuade them that they had no right to compel full and free answers to questions across the floor of the House, subject alone to the ruling of the Chair as to their relevancy, they would pass the worst kind of law imaginable—a law which encouraged evasion, which facilitated evasion. He remembered a Minister now occupying a distinguished position elsewhere, who used to pride himself upon the smartness with which he answered questions. Now he was so superior that he was rather intolerable, and, indeed, without the supplementals there would have been no bearing him at all. If they further limited supplementary questions, they would destroy the efficacy of questions altogether, and that was the most vicious part of the Rule. He would say only one word as to the distribution of the time for Questions, namely that it seemed to him the most absolutely ridiculous and absurd proposal that he ever heard, and he did not believe it would ever pass, even in this House.
Now as to the Motion for adjournment, the proposal with regard to that he must say seemed to be almost equally ridiculous. Their right was a very limited right—it was one which had for its foundation the proposal that the question was definite, that it was of public importance, and that it was urgent. Unless that was the view taken, they could not move the adjournment, and when that was the view, and was 758 assented to as the view, the next thing said was that this imminently urgent Question must not be brought forward, but, forsooth, postponed to a more convenient season. Having but just agreed that it should come on, they were bound to put it off. And till when? It was needless to enlarge.
As to the proposals with reference to maintaining order, he quite admitted that it was impossible for a man, whatever his views, not to admit that a primary duty of a legislative body was to secure the maintenance of order within the Chamber; and he also admitted that, according to their system, it was essential that the authority, and judgments, and ruling of the Chair should be obeyed freely and without hesitation. He had, it was true, an opinion with reference to the method of reviewing its decisions, because, sincere as his respect for the Speaker was, he did not believe that he was infallible, he believed that, like other sons of men, at any rate he might err, and therefore he thought there should be an easier machinery than the present unworkable machinery for reviewing such decisions given in cases of emergency. But while the decision stood unreviewed it must be obeyed. But what were they proposing to do in their zeal for securing respect for, and obedience to the Chair, on the part of Members of Parliament? They must not altogether forget the people whom they represented, and if they proposed, as they were now proposing to punish, by gravely prolonging the term of absence from that Assembly of the Member who had disregarded the authority of the Chair, he must point out that they did not know precisely what that phrase meant. He had heard Mr. Speaker rebuke hon. Members who did not at once resume—quite inadvertently he was sure—their seats when he arose, and that, although not a great offence, was a disregard of the authority of the Chair so long as it lasted. They did not know what might involve suspension. Again, during the time that they, so to speak, wished to punish a Member, it might be that they did not punish him at all. That was not so happy a place that he lost all the joys of life away from it, and those whom they punished were the constituents. He was not saying that might not be a defensible punishment of the Member 759 within narrow measure, but he did say that, extended largely, it became a most serious invasion of the right of the constituency. If they expelled a Member, then, at any rate, they did not disfranchise his constituency. They gave a more severe punishment to the offender, but they gave the constituency a right to send another man to take his place. But by that rule they prevented a man for long periods, and even indefinitely from discharging his duty to his constituents and thus disfranchised the constituency by not providing for a new return. He thought any such punishment as that was not proper even for forcible resistance to the Chair. He did not say that other offences to the Chair ought not to be punished, but there were degrees, yet there was no sufficiently substantial distinction here. However slight the offence, or however grave, the same axe strikes the same blow with the same results. Now, forcible resistance was the last extremity. He was a sufficient admirer of the present settlement of the Throne to believe in the right of revolution and of resistance, upon which that settlement reposed. But such resistance was justifiable only under the most extreme conditions. And a resort to resistance in that House was an indication that, in the minds of some, an analogous state of things had arisen there. There might, however, be degrees, even in resistance; there might be a determination on the part of an hon. Member to resist in one sense, to require technical deportation by force, such as was evidenced by the hand of the Sergeant-of-Arms upon his shoulder. There was nothing inconsistent with the dignity of the House of Commons in that. It was quite a different thing from a struggle on the floor of the House. And yet they had altogether one punishment without any modification whatever for offences of entirely different degrees. Now they added to all that the requirement of an expression of sincere regret. Now, when a gentleman committed any act which upon full reflection he saw he ought not to have committed, he was not humiliated by apology and regret. He was humiliated as long as he did not express apology and regret. But the grace and 760 virtue of that act depended upon his own voluntary recognition of the condition. But there might be some extreme condition of things which tempted, which in the mind of the Member even demanded, a demonstration of hostility to the course pursued. They might regret it. They might have a right to punish it. But if done deliberately, punish it as severely as they pleased, but let them not add to the punishment the condition that there must also be an expression of regret. Men would pursue different courses. Some would refuse. Some would resign. Perhaps then they would be refused the Chiltern Hundreds. Would they tell a Member turned out of doors that he could not obtain permission to resign, that his people were to be disfranchised for his sin? Surely not. Some might resign, and in that connection he might remark that there were no 80 men picked out of any other party in this House to whom an appeal to the constituencies would cause so little fear, as to the whole mass of the Irish party. British parties might rise or fall; majorities might be turned into minorities, and minorities into majorities; division and dissension, hopes dulled and chilled might even mar to some extent the progress of the Irish cause; but ever since they gave the people the franchise at large there had been practically one return from Ireland—a return of from 80 to 85 Nationalist Members in support of one set principle, and Ireland furnished an example of steadfastness, persistence, and tenacity to the majority opposite which he felt sure they would be very glad to see their people emulate. That proposal had no terror for them. But supposing some great public necessity demanded the attendance of a Member who had been punished and had worked out his sentence, but was told "You cannot return until you express your sincere regret," supposing he saw some grave crisis coming in the history of his country, what was he to do under these circumstances? He believed that men would think it their duty to show that such proposals under those conditions were not effective, and would give an expression of form of sincere regret which the House would know as well as they 761 knew, and as the world would know, was a strained expression with nothing of reality or substance in it. It would not be the first time in such grave circumstances that legislation, as well as Standing Orders, would have produced that abortive result. Had they forgotten the time of the Test Acts? Had they not blasphemously applied the test of the most sacred mystery of the Church and insisted on Communion in the Established Church as the test for the obtaining of public office? Had they forgotten that thousands of godly Nonconformists took even that Test, and took the Communion, and obtained the title to their civic rights until at last the House became ashamed of the law and felt compelled to repeal it? He believed one or other of those courses would be resorted to, and the expression of regret would be a useless, but still humiliating appendage to the punishment inflicted under the Rule.
The real evil was not touched nor the true remedy provided by the proposals of the Government. The House of Commons was not equal to its work. Even if, instead of having as last year the shortest sessions and the longest holidays known, the Government seriously recognised the necessity for longer sessions, shorter holidays, and a more diligent application to duty, the House would still be unequal to its task. The First Lord of the Treasury had admitted that Parliament was reduced to such a condition that no great Bill could now be passed through the House of Commons, that it must be taken piecemeal, a fraction now, and another fraction at some future date, with all the awkward joinings and imperfections due to the absence of a comprehensive survey of the whole subject. No more complete acknowledgment of importance could be made. The only effectual remedy for the real evil was to devolve upon those more immediately affected, who knew best what was in their interest, and who would most suffer or profit by the legislation and administration, the duty of dealing with their own local concerns. The House of Commons would then be free to deal with those Imperial matters and those great common measures which now received such scant and inadequate attention. Again, by such proposals as those under consideration, Ministers would be made the masters instead of 762 the servants of the House. It was absurd to say, as the Colonial Secretary had said, that Ministers could be turned out. That was the last resort of a reluctant majority, and would never, be carried into effect unless the majority had absolutely lost confidence in the Government, and decided that it was better to hand over control to their adversaries. The suggestion was not only illusory, but arrogant. Its tone was arrogant, its terms were arrogant, and it was a suggestion which, if he had been a follower of the right hon. Gentleman, he would have deeply resented. What the supporters of the Government had a right to demand was that Ministers should listen respectfully to their suggestions, that they should have an opportunity while things were yet in the making, before irrevocable decisions had been pronounced, before the battle was waged, of influencing the mind of the Government and the course of public affairs, and that their support of the Government should not divest them of their right to examine into the acts and conduct of the administration and into their legislative proposals, not only with friendly interest, but with frankness, freedom, sincerity, and zeal. But by these proposals the Ministers would be made the masters, and Members would be tempted to intensify the present scandal arising from their absence and consequent laxity in the discharge of their public duty. The new Rules would therefore degrade the House of Commons, diminish its efficiency, and make that which already was bad very much worse. The day would come when the present majority would no longer control the legislation of the country, when other taskmasters would sit on the Treasury Bench, and then hon. Members would sigh and mourn because of their action at this time when they still had an opportunity of controlling the affairs of the House. Let them not be too confident of the continuance of their majority of 140, or, indeed, of any majority at all, but let them act—as every Member of the House in a matter of this kind and, as far as possible, in all public affairs, ought to act—on a broad and comprehensive view, looking at the changes and chances of political life and fortune, and determined to dispose of the question in such a way as would work to the best advantage for the country and 763 for all time, no matter which Party was in power or which Party was in opposition.
§ (10.24) MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
The First Lord of the Treasury must be gratified that his appeal to the House to discuss these Rules in a non-partisan spirit has been, on the whole, so well responded to. It is a long time since the House spent so many hours in the Palace of Truth. We have heard many criticisms from hon. gentlemen opposite, which showed that to them, at any rate, this was by no means a Party question, and I shall not be far wrong in saying that their criticism has been more trenchant than that which has proceeded from the Benches behind me. I shall endeavour not to enter into any partisan controversies, and, to show my sincerity in making that statement, will begin by frankly acknowledging that there is considerable merit in these Rules. It is a considerable merit that we are to have the power of appointing a Deputy Speaker and Chairman. It is a considerable merit that we are to have a Committee of Privileges, although I hope that that will be supplemented by a provision that the Committee should report promptly. It is a great advantage that we are to dispense with some divisions which now are really superfluous. It is also an advantage that we are to have power to deal with questions relating to merely local and personal affairs otherwise than in this House. Lastly, I should like to acknowledge in the most cordial terms, the great service which the Ministry have rendered by proposing a special Rule with regard to Consolidation Bills. There is nothing more important in our legislation, than that we should make progress with Consolidation Bills, and the plan proposed, while retaining all the powers of the House, will at the same time facilitate the progress of such measures. I hope that, having taken a step in that direction, the Government will go on and consider whether the same principle might not be applied to other Bills also.
Let me say at once that I think there is a very strong case for change. I am not one of those who believe that our present Rules are perfect and do not require alteration. There is hardly a 764 branch of our Standing Orders in which some improvement might not be made. I am glad, therefore, that the matter has been taken up, but it has been taken up in a very imperfect way. There are many points, some of them quite as important as those with which the Government propose to deal, passed over in silence. There is the question of the substitution of some system of choice for the system of chance by which the Motions and Bills of private Members are brought before the House. The present system involves constant waste of time on matters about which nobody cares, and gives us year after year a group of insignificant measures which take up time that otherwise might be devoted to the consideration of questions of importance. As far back as 1887, I brought forward a suggestion on this subject, which had the support of many Members of weight, and I regret the Government have not taken the matter in hand, as it is very important.
Then there is nothing in these Rules to prevent the gross abuse which has grown up, in the habit of putting down "blocking" Motions. I am disappointed, because last session the right hon. Gentleman admitted the Rule had been abused, and there is no doubt that as long as it remains that abuse will continue. Then there is the question of private Bill legislation. That involves a great deal of time and large pecuniary interests. Surely the Government should have made some attempt to deal with that matter. Then we come to proceedings in Committee. There is no way by which more time is lost in the House than by the discussion of trivial or frivolous Amendments in Committee. There is nothing more important than, if possible, to grapple with the question of dealing with Amendments in Committee. We have a Rule which does to some extent, but no one can contend that that Rule is satisfactory. I am persuaded that a Committee would have been able to draw up for us some scheme by which the really important Amendments would be secured, and the frivolous and trivial Amendments cut out. I am sure that nothing would do more to quicken our proceedings, save time, and check obstruction. Connected with that 765 point there is the question of shorter speeches. On this point I cannot agree with my right hon. friend the Member for West Monmouthshire. I think that, at any rate in Committee, there is a case for considering whether there should not be a time limit for speeches. Doubtless there would be difficulties in applying the principle in the House. In foreign Parliaments there is a Rule that speeches in Committee may be, limited by a Resolution of the House, and the evidence is that the debates are extremely useful, very practical, and contain all that is important.
Then there is the comparatively small, but not unimportant, question of the treatment of Motions which, under the Rules of the House, may be brought on after midnight. That question will become more important if the Government introduce, as they indicated last year they would, a provision for laying schemes under the Education Act on the Table of the House. If the provision is to be of real use, those schemes must be properly discussed, and they cannot be properly discussed in the small hours of the morning. I think the new Rules ought to make some provision by which the power nominally given to the House of dealing with these schemes would be made a reality.
The reason I enumerate these points is to show that if we had had a Committee to consider this question they would have selected those matters which to them appeared to be ripe for, and capable of, treatment. Such a Committee would have had the advantage of hearing the evidence of Members of the House who had considered the matter, and in that way, through the report of the Committee, the House would have been in possession of a great body of material which would not only have considerably helped Members, but also have greatly abbreviated the debate. I therefore have no doubt as to my duty to support the Amendment of my right hon. friend.
I come now to two or three points in regard to which I think the proposals of the Government are open to criticism. I will not say anything about questions; that has already been fully discussed. The proposal of the Government seems to be riddled with shot, and I hardly think they will persist in a scheme which pro- 766 poses to divide questions into three groups to be taken at different times in the day.
With regard to the question of sitting earlier, we are in a dilemma. One of two things must happen. Either business and professional men who are occupied in important affairs, men very largely of ability and experience, will attend here at half-past two or they will fail to do so. If they fail to attend we shall lose the benefit of the presence of many of our most useful Members, who are able from their knowledge to make useful contributions to our debates. If, on the other hand, they feel that a man cannot be a proper Member of the House unless he attends at the beginning of Government business, they will cease to be Members of the House, or, what comes to the same thing, other men of that class will not come in, and we shall be deprived of what has hitherto been an extremely valuable element in the composition of this House. Of these two alternatives, I believe the former is the more likely to happen. In all probability business men and lawyers will sacrifice the House, where the importance of their presence is usually more or less uncertain, to their business, which will certainly require their presence. The result will be that we should not have the attendance of this class of Members until four or half-past four o'clock. For the first hour and a half of our debates the attendance will be comparatively thin, and this important class of, Members will be unable either to speak or to pass judgment on the arguments addressed to the House. The result of that will be largely to destroy the interest in the earlier part of the proceedings, and it will prevent divisions being taken until late in the sitting. There is always a disposition, where a division is at all doubtful, or where it is thought important that each side should muster its full force, to put off the division and allow speeches to go on until the Whips can bring up their men. If that cannot be done until half-past four or five o'clock, there will clearly be a tendency to throw off until that hour a division which, so far as argument goes, might well have been taken at three or half-past. The Government, therefore, will not save the time they expect to save. Then it is a feature of scheme that we are to have two fixed periods, at 7.15 and midnight, when 767 business is automatically interrupted. The tendency of a fixed period is to produce obstruction, because Members think they can work up to that fixed point We are anxious that obstruction should be put down and our time turned to the best account. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will admit that when there is a fixed period the tendency is for the division to be taken near that point. It is felt to be hardly worth while to begin a new branch of the subject if there is only half-an-hour or 45 miuutes to go. The time, therefore, is practically thrown away. If that be the case, it is not clear that, by having two fixed periods in the day, you will practically lose more time—that is to say, the time spent in a discussion will be extended although the subject is really exhausted.
Now I come to a question of private Members. There is a tendency to disparage private Members' legislation. Many Members think it is unimportant. That is a new thing in the House. When I entered Parliament in 1880 many of the best and most useful Bills passed by the House, were introduced by private Members. They were not Bills which excited political conflict, out of which party capital could be made, but they dealt with comparatively small defects in the law, which the Government did not care to deal with, but of which the private Member happened to know, and thus they were remedied. In those days a private eMmber could hope to carry his Bill; there were opportunities of doing so. I have known a good many Bills to get their Second Reading on a Wednesday, and then be dealt with in in Committee in useful and practical debate between twelve and two o'clock in the morning, when nobody stayed except those interested. It is a great loss to the country that private Members can no longer pass such Bills, and it is a great pity to lose the opportunity which these rules afford of endeavouring to restore to some extent the private Member's chance of passing such legislation. People say, "Oh, but private Members waste so much of their time on frivilous Bills." Why is that? Because of the ballot. The House has no means by which it can make any useful choice between frivilous and important Bills. For that reason Bills come up year after year— 768 and occupy a good deal of time—which ought to be dealt with once for all. The noble Lord, the Member for South Kensington made an interesting speech. We welcome speeches from new Members on these matters, because very often points in our procedure strike them more forcibly than they strike one who has become accustomed to it. The noble Lord commented on the short time given to the important Bill discussed last Wednesday, and the scanty attendance. But what was the reason? It was simply that that Bill has been constantly discussed in this House for the last 40 years, and those of us who have been in the House for any length of time have heard the arguments over and over again. I recognise the importance of the measure but if our procedure had enabled us to deal with the Bill 20 years ago, we should have had it cleared out of the way, and our time would have been free for other matters.
§ EARL PERCY
Does the right hon. Gentleman think that if the Bill had been introduced by a Government the closure would have been allowed after only five hours discussion?
§ MR. BRYCE
I should think so; certainly, considering the number of times the subject has been before the House. That brings me to the opportunity which private Members will have under these Rules. The First Lord of the Treasury introduced his proposal by promising that private Members should be rather better off than they are at present. At any rate, he said they would not be worse off, because their time will not be taken by the Government as it has hitherto been. But the time will be taken by private Bills. It is perfectly clear that private Bills will not be put down in Government time; therefore they must be put down in private Members' time. I should have 769 thought that was the natural inference. At the same time, under the new Rules there will remain a tendency to throw a certain number of Bills into private Members' time. There will be this tendency to put them into private Members' time when Government business is urgent, as for instance, when winding up Supply at the close of the financial year; and one must remember that the check which has hitherto been placed on the prolixity of argument, knowing that Government business is waiting, will be removed. Hon. Members who are in the habit of speaking either for or against private Bills have always felt that they must not try the patience of the House too much when Government business is waiting, but when it is only a private Member's Motion that check will no longer exist, and the discussion on private Bills has been more frequent and longer during every session for the last five or six years. Under these circumstances, I confess that it seems to me to be a reasonable anticipation that a larger portion of private Members' time will be taken by private Bills in the future.
With regard to Motions for adjournment, there will be very little scruple about moving such Motions, and I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford that they may be made use of with the view of taking up private Members' time. I am not sure that private Members will be anything like as well off as they are now. There is an old proverb that there is more than one way of killing a dog, and it will not make much difference whether the private Members' Bill perishes in this way or the other. When we add to these the difficulty private Members will find in getting a House, we may be perfectly certain that the opportunities at any rate for Motions, and possibly for Bills also, will really be less than they are now, and private Members will cease to be a factor in the proceedings of this House. I am very sorry for that for this reason; we used to have on Wednesday afternoons exceedingly practical debates on a great many subjects. I refer more particularly to Home Office and Board of Trade Bills dealing with commercial, industrial, and administrative questions. These Bills are very often brought in on the 770 Wednesday. There is not a large attendance on those days, but the attendance consists of hon. Members who are conversant with the matters under discussion. They are practical debates, and one learns a good deal from them; and I have known votes turned by the speeches made in those debates. I have frequently found that upon the Bill which hon. Members have been quite doubtful about when they came down to the House, after listening to the discussion, they have been quite convinced and determined by the practical arguments used in a Wednesday's debate. I am afraid that this will cease to be the case if Wednesday is transferred to Friday. No doubt it would be an inestimable boon if we were able to get away by the 5.50 train on Fridays to a most unfashionable part of the country. I do not think, however, that this interest which people have in seeking the seclusion of the country should be allowed to prevent us from saying what we think the result will be upon the debates on private Members' Bills. The hon. Members who have come hitherto and formed such a valuable jury, will cease to come here, for they will have gone away on Thursday evening or Friday morning on business or pleasure, and the result will be that we shall have an exceedingly small attendance. Therefore, I cannot help regretting in the public interest, that this change has been proposed, and if I could think that there was any hope of inducing the Government to continue the Wednesdays, and consult the convenience of the House by taking part of Friday for their own business, I should be tempted to suggest that course in the general interests of public business.
I have only one more remark to make. It seems to me in the interesting interchange of opinion that went on between the Colonial Secretary and my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition, with regard to efficiency that the two parties were rather at cross purposes. What the Colonial Secretary meant by the efficiency of the House, is the capacity of the House primarily for turning out legislation. The Colonial Secretary looks upon the House as a machine for producing legislation, and, 771 prima facie, Government legislation. But the House is something more than a legislative body, for it is an Executive body as well. It exercises its Executive functions through the Cabinet. It stands almost alone in this respect, for the French Assembly hardly attempts to be a legislative body and the legislation is done mostly by Committees. In the American Colonies, their Parliament does not attempt to be a legislative body. It has to control the exercise of Executive power, and it has to turn out legislation at the suggestion of the Government, but what my right hon. friend means to convey is that we must not, for the sake of promptitude in turning out legislation, sacrifice that no less important part of our efficiency which consists in keeping a watchful control upon the policy of the Executive by interrogation and criticism where we think their conduct should be criticised. That has been a vital part of our function always, but it is not recognised by the Colonial Secretary. The Colonial Secretary's idea of our system of Government, as disclosed by his speech of last night, appears to be that the Cabinet is to exercise a sort of dictatorship, and the House of Commons is to be able to terminate that dictatorship whenever it pleases. Whether that system be good or bad, it is not according to the British Constitution. The British Constitution requires that the House of Commons should give constant criticism, and if the theory of the Colonial Secretary were correct it would be sufficient if the House met once a month and gave a vote of confidence in the Government, and allowed them to go on. That is the danger of the doctrine of the Colonial Secretary, who said that he meant a majority of the House when he spoke of the House. The House does not mean a majority but the House as a whole, because as we perfectly well know, the tendency of a majority always is to accelerate business and to give support to the Government for that purpose. Therefore it is necessary that the House should be recognised for the sake of the country which is more likely to find a voice through the minority than it will through the majority.
What I complain of is the loss of what my right hon. friend calls the diffused 772 control of the House, and it is the loss of this constant criticism and oversight by these changes in our Rules which many of us fear: and I am bound to say in regard to the Rules as a whole, that although I see many points in which they contain valuable truths, I do think that there is a tendency to bring about a certain loss of interest on the part of a large number of hon. Members in the business of the House. Even now there are amongst hon. Members those who will tell you privately that they are disappointed with the House because they find that there is so little that a private member can do. I have known them very disappointed at finding how little they can make use of their attainments, and I have known men of great ability give up Parliamentary work because they have found that, after a few years in the House, they were spending their time to little or no purpose. That is one of the things which we ought to endeavour to avert, and we ought to make the House attractive to that class of men. When I look at the Rules as a whole, I am inclined to fear that the tendency will be for a large number of hon. Members to pay less attention to the business of the House, except when some keen political controversy is going on. I am afraid that at other times the attendance will be more scanty. And yet, is it not in these times of warm political controversy that the best work of Parliament is done? If the interest of hon. Members is slackened by making the House more agreeable to our easy-going hon. Members, a more copious legislative output will be no compensation for rendering the House less attractive to those diligent and public-spirited of its Members, for even although our legislation may be more and passed more promptly, we shall have attained little by these Rules, and the labour we are now spending upon them will have been spent in vain.
§ (10.59.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I presume that the right hon. Gentleman who has just concluded his speech did not sum up the debate for the party of which he is a Member, because I noticed that there was a singular inconsistency between the view which he holds and the views expressed, for example, by the right hon. Member 773 for West Monmouthshire, whom I see in his place. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen complained that the number of changes proposed by the Government was very inconsiderable, and he told us that there were many other reforms, which he proceeded to sketch out, and which we ought to have brought before the attention of the House.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
But the right hon. Member for West Monmouth explained that even the modest programme for which we are responsible is one which will take an indefinite time to pass—even the greater part of a session. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded to suggest that one of the most important changes we should adopt was that of excluding from consideration on the Committee stage of Bills all but the more important Amendments.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think I put that sentiment in the right language. I certainly understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that we ought to have suggested a process by which the trivial could be winnowed from the important on the Committee stage of Bills, so that the opportunity for obstruction would be removed and, at the same time, a chance given for the fuller discussion of the more important questions raised. But just conceive what would have been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth if the Government had come down with a proposal of that kind. Just conceive how he would have declaimed about the ancient privileges and rights of Parliament, the necessity of our discussing measures before passing them, and the importance of free debate on all questions raised in the House. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that he took 774 an entirely different view from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth with regard to short speeches; for, whereas the Member for Monmouth both by precept and example has always been in favour of full discussion, the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, told us that he was a disciple of my hon. and gallant friend the Member for the Chelmsford Division, to whom I have occasionally had leanings, and that he wished to see short speeches adopted, at all events, in certain stages of our proceedings. However, it will be admitted by all who heard the right hon. Gentleman's speech, that he was rather occupied in developing his own scheme for reforming the Rules of the House than in criticising the scheme we have presented to the House. Therefore I may be permitted without offence to pass at once to what is, perhaps, more immediately germane to the division about to be taken.
Nominally that division is upon the question that these Rules should be referred to a Select Committee, but everybody who has listened to the debate must be as well aware as I am that no human being who has spoken on either side, cares one farthing for a Select Committee. No human being supposes that, as regards the Rules we have presented, the House is not perfectly competent from its own knowledge to deal with them one way or the other, with approval or disapproval, and nothing would be gained, except delay, by the process recommended by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition professed to rely on precedent. I venture to tell him that precedent is against him. At all events, he was a Member of the Government, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth was a Member of the Government, who introduced the greatest change ever introduced into our procedure—the change of closuring debate. That was an interference with the liberty of debate. That was a great break in the Parliamentary traditions of the country, and I frankly admit that I opposed it at the time on those grounds. It was a change which, in its character and spirit, was greater than any change proposed in these Rules, but it was proposed without any attempt to have it considered beforehand by a Committee of the House. I happen to know that the right hon. Gentleman has looked 775 through Mr. Gladstone's speech on that occasion, because he quoted largely from it in his own. [Cries of "No."] Well, it was the Leader of the Irish Party who quoted it. At all events, anybody who is interested in the subject will see that what I say is absolutely correct. Mr. Gladstone, quite rightly I think, thought the House of Commons was perfectly capable of judging of that proposal by itself on its merits, without having it chewed over beforehand by a Select Committee who could have added nothing to the knowledge of hon. Members, but would have only wasted a year of our time.
I, therefore, do not trouble my head further about the Amendment, because it is not on the Amendment that the speeches have turned. It was on the merits of the Rules, and let us turn to them. I do not think it would be either convenient or desirable that I should deal in very close detail with what has been said about the Rules. But before I come to the more important part of the case which has been made against the Government, I wish to say something about criticisms which have been directed to some of the Rules. The hon. Member who has devoted most time and energy to this discussion, is my hon. friend the Member for Kings Lynn. He has made a speech to-night of even more than his usual ability, and even less than his usual taste. I confess that his exordium rather perturbed me, because I thought from his opening sentences that he had discovered serious and unexpected defects and holes in the Rules which none of those who had given time to their framing and to their criticism had hitherto discovered. But I found that that part of my hon. friend's speech was mere blank cartridge. What followed did not refer very much to the merits of the Rules. My hon. friend does not like any of them. Those that every one has agreed to dislike he dislikes, but those which every one has conspired to praise have not had the good fortune to meet with his approval. I will give the House one specimen of the style and kind of his criticism, for I think it shows how out of touch that criticism is with the facts of Parliamentary life as they are presented to us every day. He dwelt at length on the quorum of the House in connexion with the proposed Rule which provides against the counting out 776 of the House before 10 o'clock. This he said was a perfectly shocking scandal. He said we would have a repetition of the scene which occurred—really my hon. friend traversed English history with so rapid a stride that I do not know in which reign he said the scene occurred, but I think it happened in the reign of Charles I.—when two Members of the House insisted upon holding down the Speaker, who wanted to adjourn the House. Really, the spectacle of my hon. friend and some colleague of his holding down the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker is extremely comical. But is it relevant to any question that is likely to come before the House? My hon. friend is horrified at the idea of a debate going on without a quorum being present. What does "a quorum being present" mean? It means 40 Members, 38 of whom may be in the dining-rooms or the library or the lobby, while the remaining two are in the House—theMember who is addressing the Chair, and the other who is listening, not because he wants to listen, but because he hopes to follow. That is the quorum without which debate cannot properly go in the House, That is the quorum which adds to our dignity. If I may be permitted to say so that is not a reality, that is not a fact, of which we may take account. I quite agree that when the House divides it cannot come to a decision without a quorum of 40 Members. My hon. friend would like to see more. But not even my hon. friend can frame a Rule which would compel Members to sit in the House and listen to speeches they do not want to hear, and that being so, how do they add to our dignity by sitting in other parts of the building? I now come to those larger questions which have occupied so much of our time. The one that has excited the most passion is the provision in the first Rule which insists that an apology must be made by a Member who has been named and suspended from the service of the House before he is allowed to return to his place.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
He has been expelled from the House, but whether 777 that is punishment or not all are not agreed. The hon. Members who most denounce this apology are never tired of telling us that they hate every stone in the place. Therefore, I do not think we ought to lay too much stress on the punitive side of the Rule. That, of course, is not the argument to which I am endeavouring to direct the attention of the House. The hon. Member for Waterford and the hon. Member for Mayo, in the two important speeches they have delivered, yesterday and to-day, told us over and over again that there were cases—in which Irish Members were concerned—in which they felt themselves to be right, and that if they were named under this order and subjected to the penalty of expulsion for a certain amount of time they could never apologise. I do not pretend that the occupant of the Chair of this House is an infallible person—that either the Speaker, or the Chairman of Committees, or the Deputy Chairman of Committees never could make a mistake. That, of course, would be a preposterous contention. And it might conceivably happen, though I do not think it ever has happened, that the mistake was one in which the House agreed with the Speaker—because, mark you, no gentleman can be expelled from this House except by the action of the House itself under the Rule we are considering. The Speaker cannot deprive anybody of his right of being present in this House by himself under this Rule. Therefore the House and the Speaker, by this hypothesis, are both the same. And so, granting that that might occur, which I do not think ever has occurred, and which I do not think is ever likely to occur, the apology that is required is not in reference to the action of which complaint was made; it is in reference to resisting the ruling of the Speaker. And even these gentlemen concede that, the Speaker, right or wrong, must be backed up. If the Speaker, right or wrong, must be backed up, the same gentleman probably would also concede that the Speaker, right or wrong, should be apologised to. [Hon. Members and Irish Benches: "No."] No man, I venture to say, is strictly a Member of a representative Assembly if he feels it beneath his dignity, when he resists the authority of the Speaker of that Assembly itself to express his regret that he has done so That does not require him to pass judg- 778 ment on the original cause of the controversy between them. Whether a man be right or wrong, he has no right to resist the Speaker's ruling, and it is because he has resisted the Speaker's ruling that he is asked to apologise. No indignity is inflicted on any man by that apology [An Hon. Member on the Irish Benches: That is the object of it], and, in my opinion, every gentleman who has resisted the ruling of the Chair—whether in his original controversy with the Chair he was technically in the right or technically in the wrong—is bound to offer an apology, and this Rule only emphasises that which I should have thought good taste would have dictated. Sir, I suppose we shall have an opportunity early next week of discussing this further, and I do not wish longer to dwell upon it. I come to what really is much more important; it is the criticisms which have been passed upon us with regard to the alleged motives which have animated us in bringing forward these Rules. I observe a certain inconsistency in our critics in this matter. My hon: friend the Member for Kings Lynn says there is only one motive—one obvious motive—which has promoted these Rules, and that is that without them the Government cannot keep their majority. Well, Sir, that is one line of accusation, but it is very different from that line of accusation which is brought against us by the regular Opposition and is also brought against us by hon. Gentlemen opposite. [An HON. MEMBER on the Irish Benches: No.] I forgot. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are not consistent. The hon. Member for Mayo said one object of these Rules was to trample on, crush, and insult the Irish.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
How they are trampled on, how they are insulted, how they are crushed by these Rules I am utterly at a loss to understand. They are never mentioned. Does the hon. Gentleman assume that it is only his friends who are going to come under the punitive regulations of Rule I. I never made any such suggestion in introducing the Rules, I make no suggestion now; but the ardour with which gentleman after gentleman on that Bench has insisted upon picking up the cap and 779 sticking it on his head is really extraordinary. I repudiate the suggestion altogether. If hon. Gentlemen come under the censure of Rule I., I confess they will have brought their fate upon themselves: but it certainly was not directed against them in particular, unless they are prepared to say that it is among them, and among them alone, that what I suppose I may, without offence, call from a purely Parliamentary point of view, the criminal classes are to be found. After all, I do not think that is a point which most interests gentlemen on this side or gentleman sitting opposite. Gentlemen sitting opposite have another charge against these Rules which they really have on the brain, and it is this—that the whole object of framing these Rules was to increase the power of the Executive and make it independent of Parliamentary control. The phrase of my right hon. friend in his speech yesterday has been twisted and contorted and turned into a text for oration after oration by those who sought to show that the Government desired to make themselves so far independent of Parliament that they could only be turned out, criticised, or touched by a formal vote of censure and relieved of the ordinary methods of controversy and criticism by destroying the Motions for adjournment and questions. The right hon. Member for West Monmouthshire told us that this would not be so bad so long as we kept our Supply Rule working fairly. After all, I think he was quite right. No Government can escape if week after week opportunity is given to call attention to that failure in the Executive, and for bringing them to task; and the right hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that, though the present Leader of the House may administer that Supply Rule fairly, the time may come when a beneficent tyranny may be changed for a malevolent tyranny. But the right hon. Gentleman forgot that I have, over and over again, offered to allow the distribution of the time of Supply to be left to a Committee upon which the Government of the day should be in a minority. I have, over and over again, advocated that course, and I still think it a desirable course, but the opponents to it have been the 780 right hon. Gentleman and his friends. It does not rest with him or his friends therefore to criticise us because at some future time he thinks the Supply Rule will be maladministered. Let me examine the three methods in which this change of Rule is supposed to free the Executive from fair criticism. The first change which is supposed to have this sinister effect is the substitution of Friday for the Wednesday. It seems to me to be a paradox.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I said the substitution of Wednesdays for Fridays for legislation—which is a totally separate question.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think I can remind the right hon. Gentleman that he went a little further and said that most valuable legislative questions were raised at present on Wednesday which the Government very likely wished to burke. If you put off these questions until Friday, he asks, what chance have the independent or unofficial Members to discuss them adequately? I heard some murmurs of approval from my hon. friends behind me at that observation. But why is Friday inferior to Wednesday for the discussion of these things? It is only inferior because the unofficial Members would not come down to hoar other unofficial Members; and that is a matter which lies with the House itself. Why should we make the unofficial Members come on Friday when it is alleged that they are burning to discuss things which are disagreeable to the Government? Let them come down to the House if they wish to discuss things which are disagreeable to the Government. I cannot imagine anything more inconsistent than to say in one breath that the Government wish to stop criticism and to say in the next that it is the bounden duty of the Government to whip Members up to criticise them. That is a very absurd way to look at the question.
I come now to the adjournment question To listen to many hon. Members you would suppose that by our proposed methods we have limited the power of adjournment. We have done nothing of the kind. The hon. Member for East Mayo made a violent attack on the Tory Party because, he says, they have abused the Motions for adjournment a good deal 781 more than other sections of the House, and he asked "Why should we be abused by you?" I never said that the Motions for adjournment were abused. My case is not based on the abuse, and the historical account which the hon. Member gave of the abuse was wholly inapplicable and misleading. He read out a number of Motions for adjournment in a series of years, before 1893 and after 1893, when there was an average of ten or twelve—I forget the number—while in 1893 they mounted up to 20. But in the first place, the session of 1893 was an eleven months session. In the second place, of the 20 adjournments I believe half, or about half, were moved by Radical Members. Well, I do not see why the party to which I belong should be made responsible for incidents of that kind. But, in truth, I do not base, the Government does not base, the alteration of the hour for Motions of adjournment on the fact that adjournments have been abused. They have been abused, no doubt of it, but I agree absolutely with hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I believe with hon. Members on this side of the House, in saying that adjournments, whether they be abused or not, are a necessary element of elasticity in our existing proceedings. But then what is lost by referring an adjournment from half-past four o'clock in the afternoon to nine o'clock in the evening? It ceases to be fresh; like some kinds of fish, it gets stale apparently. Some gentleman reads in his morning paper that something to which he strongly objects has happened in Ireland or elsewhere; he comes down to the House, at present, at half-past three, and at half-past four asks leave to move the adjournment, and there is a discussion. We propose that people should come down at half-past two, and should move the adjournment at nine o'clock, instead of at half-past four, four hours and a half later. And on such small matters as this the liberty of the House depends; we are really and seriously assured that the liberty of criticism, the liberty of debate, is shattered and destroyed because criticism is deferred from half-past four to nine o'clock. I think to state that proposition is surely to refute it, and I cannot understand how any man with a grave face can continue to urge it.
782 Let me further point out how inconsistent are those who discuss the change in the Motion, for adjournment. One of the charges is the one I have just disposed of. Another is, that this would greatly promote adjournments, that people will move adjournments of the debate at 9 o'clock—one Member, with the assistance of 40 of his comrades, on a private Members' night in order to annoy him. That argument was urged, I believe, by the right hon. Gentleman opposite in the speech he has just delivered, and by others. Therefore it appears this change in our Rules, so far from diminishing the amount of criticism that will be passed on the Government, is likely, in the opinion of some critics, greatly to increase it. I really cannot follow that at all. But I think the case is much more interesting and important when we leave adjournments and come to questions. I think the whole contention about adjournments, if I may frankly say so, is absurd; I think the contention about questions is not absurd; I think it is one which undoubtedly is one of the difficulties of the situation. But even here I notice there is a strong inconsistency on the part of the critics of the Government. Some tell us, like the Member for West Monmouth and others, that questions are the most interesting and critical part of our whole proceedings, that they should only be carried out in a full House, and as it were, before the tribunal of the people. Well, but then other Gentlemen come down, like my hon. friend the Member for South Islington, and say—"Under your existing system the man of business gets a chance, he need not come down till after Questions, he is not obliged to come down till half-past four under our present arrangement, and what an advantage that is. He is the most intelligent and interesting Member of the House, and he need not be down till Questions are over." While one set of Members says that everybody should be here at questions, another set of members says that the advantage of questions is that it puts off the moment of real business until the really business man can come down. May I point out what the difficulties of the situation are, and I say this to those who are sincerely 783 anxious that the double sitting and all its dependent advantages should be preserved. Of course if you give up the double sitting, cadit quœstio, we abandon that part of our programme altogether. But, granting the double sitting, I do not see how you can arrange questions better than we have proposed to arrange them in our Rules. I will point out that that is the fact, both from the Ministerial point of view and from the unofficial Member's point of view. I may be told that I have no business to talk about the convenience of Ministers. I do not talk of their convenience, but of their efficiency, if I may repeat the much-abused word. And it is impossible that any hard-worked Departmentc an be prepared at half-past two to deal with Questions which only appeared on the Paper that morning; it cannot be done through the whole course of the session. It may be done occasionally and spasmodically, while morning sittings are going on, but as a rule and as a principle, I assure the House it cannot be done. The pressure of work is so great in a big Department that unless you give 24 hours notice, it is impossible for Ministers to come down at half-past two and answer questions put to them in the morning. I will not develop that further now, because I do not think it will be denied, and we shall have the opportunity of thrashing it out at a subsequent stage of our proceedings.
Now I come to the unofficial Member. We have been very anxious that the unofficial Member should feel that at a quarter-past seven he should, if he so thought fit, be able to leave the House. If you put questions first, obviously you must turn a quarter-past seven into half-past seven or a quarter to eight, and that I think, would be far less convenient to the unofficial Member, who, in many circumstances might have to be back again at nine. For these reasons, I think the questions should be placed where we place them. What are the objections urged against them being put where we put them? It is a most extraordinary thing that all those who have criticised this arrangement have chosen to do so on the hypothesis that important questions are to come on, not at a quarter past seven, but after midnight. And we are told that the newspapers in the country districts, which are panting apparently both for 784 the question and the answer of the Minister, would not get them in time It is perfectly true that a question which is put after 12 o'clock will probably not get a good place in the newspapers, although, when I was a younger Member in the House, debates used to be reported up to two and even half-past two o'clock in the morning. I do no want to argue the Press arrangements. I quite admit that a number of questions put after midnight would not receive a very good report, but surely the three-quarters of an hour per day ought to be enough to criticise the daily proceedings of the Government, and three quarters of an hour at a good hour of the day. I do think that the views on this point, like other criticisms that have been passed upon us, are mutually destructive. A quarter-past seven is a very good hour for the newspapers. [An HON. MEMBER: Evening papers.] I think perhaps, it is rather late for evening newspapers, but I think half-past four is not very convenient for them, and we must arrange our proceedings, I presume, so that they may be reported in the newspapers which have currency all over the country. But I admit that far better than any plan we have proposed would be the plan, if the ingenuity of man could devise it, by which the important questions could be sifted and the unimportant questions answered by being printed in the votes. But I am afraid that you will not be able to find that plan. No scheme that I have seen avoids the rock of throwing too great a responsibility upon the Clerks at the Table, or the Speaker, and I am afraid all schemes of that kind will fail. All I contend for is this, that we surely ought to be absolved from the accusation of those who charge us with a desire to save the Government from criticism when we leave three-quarters of an hour at a good time of the day and every day of the week. [An HON. MEMBER: There may be three divisions in which Governments can be taken to task.] The truth is that all this is a nightmare with hon. Gentlemen. I have heard sonorous periods delivered to-night about the necessity of leaving this Assembly a free Assembly for criticism, about the functions of the House of Commons as a debating arena, and of the folly of supposing that its 785 chief function is to turn out legislation. I entirely agree that these are the platitudes and commonplaces of the subject—platitudes and commonplaces of which I am not guiltless of having done my best to give currency to. I have mentioned them over and over again in speeches in the country; I have mentioned them over and over again in speeches in the House; and I can assure the House that the very last thing the Government had in view in framing these Rules was to shield either this Government or any succeeding Government from legitimate criticism.
I take exactly the opposite view. I believe the Government gain by it; for my experience is that it is the lies which are told in the holidays and which cannot be at once exposed in the House that do the Government harm, and not the lie which gains currency in the session and can be exposed at once by question and answer in the House. Therefore, I have always been amongst those who have thought that whether our debates be, on the whole, good or not in the public interest, they are always good for the Government, because they have always the effect of dissipating these baseless calumnies. Or, if they are not dissipated, they are reduced to their proper proportions. We have had a different object in view. Our whole end has been not to shield the Government from criticism, but to make this House what it ought to be—a place where a man anxious to serve his country may do so without those absurd sacrifices which our present Rules inflict upon him. I am wholly unable to understand why a man who is ready, without fee or reward, to come to this House and work for the country is to be the one man who is never to know when he is to go to bed or when he is to get his dinner. There is one other object of not less importance which we have in view, and that is the regularity of the great debates in this House. It is true that there must be some element of uncertainty. I have been accused most falsely of representing that with respect to every sitting you may know for an indefinite time beforehand what business is to be taken. That is impossible. What you can do, and what we are doing in these Rules, is to make perfectly clear that there will be a block of four and a quarter hours solid time on four days in the week 786 in which the most important business shall be taken, and from which that important business cannot be ousted by any unexpected eccentricity of a particular set of individuals in this House. I consider that that is a priceless boon to the House. I do not say that it is to the Government. I do not know whether the Government will gain or lose by it. But the ordinary member of the public who follows our debates or the Member of Parliament who takes part in them, will be the gainers by a plan which will at all events give regularity to that part of our proceedings which is most important—the great debates on Government measures. Hon. Gentlemen have told us that these proposals will not materially diminish obstruction. They were not brought forward with the purpose of diminishing obstruction. I have never claimed for them that they would diminish obstruction, or that they would give the Government greater opportunities for legislation. I do not believe that they will have that effect. But I deny the assertion of the hon. Member for Waterford that this House is suffering from creeping paralysis. It suffers from obstruction; but, with or without obstruction, this House has carried in the last 30 years a greater series of measures than was carried in the century preceding the Union with Ireland. I will not mention all the measures passed since 1870, but they will match the legislative work, not only of this Assembly, but of any Assembly in the history of the world; and, though I admit that much of that work has been done under unnecessary difficulties, and that much may be done and, by these Rules, will be done, to relieve us of those difficulties, I never will admit that we are approaching that 787 position of hopeless paralysis which the hon. Member for Waterford sometimes affects to regret, and sometimes almost seems to boast of as the work of himself and his friends, but from which I am convinced the common sense and courage of this Assembly will always keep us free. In the future, as in the past, whether we carry on our proceedings rationally or irrationally, under conditions which conduce to the efficiency, or under conditions which make a galley-slave's life preferable, we shall always be able to do our duty to the country and to those constituents who send us here.
§ seven to have three divisions; one on the closure, one on the main question, and the consequential division; the three occupying three-quarters of an hour?
§ Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
I understand that some gentlemen on this side, who took 35 minutes in three divisions the other day were accused of obstruction. Therefore I do not suppose that three divisions could occupy three-quarters of an hour.
§ (11 55.) Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 250; Noes, 160. (Division List No. 18.)791
|Ackland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F.||Charrington, Spencer||Fitzroy, Hon. Edward Algernon|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Churchill, Winston Spencer||Flannery, Sir Fortescue|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Clare, Octavius Leigh||Fletcher, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Flower, Ernest|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Foster, Philip S. (Warw'k S. W.|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Galloway, William Johnson|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Colomb, Sir John Chas. Ready||Garfit, William|
|Arrol, Sir William||Compton, Lord Alwyne||Godson, Sir Augustus Fredk.|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Cook, Sir Frederick Lucas||Gordon, Hn J. E. (Elgin & Nairn|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Corbett, A. Cameron(Glasgow)||Gordon, J. (Londonderry S.)|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Cranborne, Viscount||Gordon, Maj. Evans-(T'r Hm'ts|
|Balcarres, Lord||Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||Gore, Hn G. R. C. Ormsby-(Salop|
|Baldwin, Alfred||Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton)||Gore, Hon. S. F. Ormsby-(Linc.|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Man'r)||Cust, Henry John C.||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon|
|Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey)||Dalkeith, Earl of||Goulding, Edward Alfred|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. Ger. W. (Leeds||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Green, Walford D. (Wednesb'y|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Davenport, William Bromley-||Greene, Sir E. W. (B'yS Edm'os|
|Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benjamin||Dewar, T. R. (T'r H'mlets, S.G.||Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury|
|Beach, Rt Hn Sir Michael Hicks||Dickinson, Robert Edmund||Grenfell, William Henry|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry C.||Dickson, Charles Scott||Guest, Hon. Ivor Churchill|
|Bignold, Arthur||Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Hall, Edward Marshall|
|Bigwood, James||Digby, John K. D. Wingfield-||Halsey, Thomas Frederick|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Dimsdale, Sir Joseph Cockfield||Hambro, Charles Eric|
|Bond, Edward||Dixon-Hartland, Sir Fred D.||Hamilton, Rt Hn Lord G.(Mid'x|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith-||Dorington, Sir John Edward||Hamilton, Marq. of (L'd'nderry|
|Bousfield, William Robert||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashf'd|
|Brassey, Albert||Doxford, Sir William Theodore||Harris, Frederick Leverton|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Duke, Henry Edward||Haslam, Sir Alfred S.|
|Brookfield, Colonel Montagu||Durning Lawrence, Sir Edwin||Hay, Hon. Claude George|
|Brymer, William Ernest||Dyke, Rt. Hn. Sir William Hart||Heath, Arthur Howard (Hanley|
|Bull, William James||Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Heath, James (Staffords, N. W.|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Elliot Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Helder, Augustus|
|Butcher, John George||Fardell, Sir T. George||Henderson, Alexander|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edwd. H.||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edw'd||Hermon-Hodge, Robt. Trotter|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r||Higginbottom, S. W.|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Hoare, Sir Samuel|
|Cavendish, V. C. W (Derby're)||Finch, George H.||Hobhouse, Henry (Somerset, E.|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Hogg, Lindsay|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.)||Firbank, Joseph Thomas||Hope, J. F.(Sheffield, Brightside|
|Chamberlain, J. Austen (Worc.||Fisher, Willfam Hayes||Hoult, Joseph|
|Chapman, Edward||FitzGerald, Sir Robert Penrose||Howard, John (Kent, Favers'm|
|Howard, J. (Midd., Tottenham||Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.|
|Hudson, George Bickersteth||Muntz, Philip A.||Stanley, Hn. Arthur (Ormskirk|
|Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)||Stanley, Edward Jas. (Somerset|
|Jessel, Capt. Herbert Merton||Myers, William Henry||Stanley, Lord (Lanes.)|
|Johnston, William (Belfast)||Newdigate, Francis Alexander||Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart|
|Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)||Nicholson, William Graham||Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.|
|Kenyon-Slaney, Col. W. (Salop||Nicol, Donald Ninian||Stock, James Henry|
|Keswick, William||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|King, Sir Henry Seymour||Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)||Stroyan, John|
|Knowles, Lees||Parker, Gilbert||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Peel, Hn. Wm. Robt. Wellesley||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Lawrence, Joseph (Monmouth)||Percy, Earl||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Lawson, John Grant||Platt-Higgins, Frederick||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G. (Ox'd Univ.|
|Lee, Arthur H. (Hants, Fareh'm||Plummer, Walter R.||Thorburn, Sir Walter|
|Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Leveson-Gower, Fredk. N. S.||Pretyman, Ernest George||Tollemache, Henry James|
|Llewellyn, Evan Henry||Purvis, Robert||Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward|
|Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.||Randles, John S.||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Remnant, James Farquharson||Valentia, Viscount|
|Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol, S||Renshaw, Charles Bine||Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)|
|Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Renwick, George||Walker, Col. William Hall|
|Lowther, C. (Cumb., Eskdale)||Ridley, Hn. M. W. (Stalybridge||Wanklyn, James Leslie|
|Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Ridley, S. Forde (Bethnal Gr'n||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Lucas, Col. Francis (Lowestoft)||Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney|
|Lucas, Reginald J. (Portsmouth||Roberts, Samuel (Sheffield)||Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E.(T'nt'n|
|Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)||Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon-|
|Macartney, Rt Hn W. G. Ellison||Robinson, Brooke||Wharton, Rt. Hon. John Lloyd|
|Macdona, John Cumming||Ropner, Colonel Robert||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Maconochie, A. W.||Round, James||Willox, Sir John Archibald|
|M'Killop, James (Stirlingshire)||Royds, Clement Molyneux||Wilson, A. Stanley (York E.R.|
|Majendie, James A. H.||Rutherford, John||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Martin, Richard Biddulph||Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford-||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W.F.||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)||Wilson-Todd, Wm. H (Yorks.|
|Maxwell, Rt Hn Sir H. E. (Wi't'n||Sandys, Lieut.-Col. Thos. Myles||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath|
|Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.||Sassoon, Sir Edward Albert||Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-|
|Milner, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick G.||Saunderson, Rt. Hn. Col. Ed. J.||Wylie, Alexander|
|Milvain, Thomas||Seely, Capt. J. E. B. (I. of Wight||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Molesworth, Sir Lewis||Seton-Karr, Henry||Wyndham-Quin, Major W. H.|
|Montagu, G. (Huntingdon)||Sharpe, William Edward T.||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|Moon, Edward Robert Pacy||Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrew|
|More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire||Simeon, Sir Barrington||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Morgan, David J. (Walt'mstow||Skewes-Cox, Thomas||Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther|
|Morrison, James Archibald||Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, East|
|Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford||Smith, H.C. (North'mb. Tyn'de|
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.||Caine, William Sproston||Dunn, Sir William|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Caldwell, James||Edwards, Frank|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Esmonde, Sir Thomas|
|Allen, Chas. P. (Glouc., Stroud||Carew, James Laurence||Evans, Sir Franc. H. (Maidstone)|
|Ambrose, Robert||Carvill, Patrick Geo. Hamilton||Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan)|
|Asher, Alexander||Channing, Francis Allston||Farrell, James Patrick|
|Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herbert Henry||Clancy, John Joseph||Fenwick, Charles|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Cogan, Denis J.||Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Coghill, Douglas Harry||Ffrench, Peter|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Field, William|
|Bell, Richard||Craig, Robert Hunter||Flynn, James Christopher|
|Black, Alexander William||Crean, Eugene||Fuller, J. M. F.|
|Blake, Edward||Cremer, William Randal||Furness, Sir Christopher|
|Boland, John||Cullinan, J.||Gilhooly, James|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Dalziel, James Henry||Goddard, Daniel Ford|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn||Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen)||Grant, Corrie|
|Brigg, John||Delany, William||Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick)|
|Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Dewar, John A. (Inverness-sh)||Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton|
|Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Haldane, Richard Burdon|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Dillon, John||Hammond, John|
|Burns, John||Donelan, Captain A.||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Sir William|
|Buxton, Sydney Charles||Doogan, P. C.||Harmsworth, R. Leicester|
|Hayden, John Patrick||Morley, Rt. Hon. Jno. (M'ntr'se)||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||Morton, Edwd. J. C. (D'vonport)||Roche, John|
|Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D.||Moss, Samuel||Scott, Chas. Prestwich (Leigh|
|Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.||Murphy, John||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Hobhouse, C.E.H (Bristol, E.)||Nannetti, Joseph P.||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Holland, William Henry||Newnes, Sir George||Sinclair, John (Forfarshire)|
|Jameson, Major J. Eustace||Nolan, Col. John P.(Galway, N.)||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Joicey, Sir James||Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||Spencer, Rt. Hon. C. R. (N'rtha'ts|
|Jones, Dav. Brynmor (Swansea)||Norman, Henry||Stevenson, Francis S.|
|Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)||Norton, Captain Cecil William||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Jordan, Jeremiah||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Sullivan, Donal|
|Joyce, Michael||O'Brien, Kendal(Tip'er'ry Mid.)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Kinloch, Sir John George Smyth||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Thomas, David Alfd. (Merthyr)|
|Labouchere, Henry||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)||Thomas, F. Freeman-(Hastings)|
|Lambert, George||O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.)||Tomkinson, James|
|Layland-Barratt, Francis||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Wallace, Robert|
|Leese, Sir Jos'ph F. (Accrington)||O'Donnell, John (Mayo, S.)||Walton, J no. Lawson (Leeds, S.)|
|Leigh, Sir Joseph||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Levy, Maurice||O'Dowd, John||Wason, Eugene (Clackmannan)|
|Lewis, John Herbert||O'Kelly, Jas. (Roscommon, N.)||White, George (Norfolk)|
|Lloyd-George, David||O'Malley, William||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Lundon, W.||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|MacDonnell, Dr. Mark A.||Paulton, James Mellor||Whiteley, George (York, W.R.)|
|Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Pease, J. A. (Saffron Walden)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Pirie, Duncan V.||Williams, Osmond (Merioneth)|
|M'Arthur, William (Cornwall)||Power, Patrick Joseph||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)|
|M'Crae, George||Price, Robert John|
|M'Fadden, Edward||Rasch, Major Frederic Carne|
|M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Reddy, M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|M'Kenna, Reginald||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)||Mr. Herbert Gladstone and Mr. Causton.|
|M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North)||Reid, Sir R. Threshie (Dumfries)|
|Mooney, John J.||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||Rigg, Richard|
|Morley, Charles (Breconshire)||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)|
Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, that the proposals of the Government on the Order Paper relating the Procedure of the House be now considered.