§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Standing Order 21 (Order in debate), as amended [13th February].
And which Amendment was, in line 17, after the last Amendment, to insert the words—
If any session shall continue until the expiration of the next twenty days on which the House sits, on the second occasion, until the expiration of the next forty days on which the House sits, and on the third or any subsequent occasion, until the expiration of the next eighty days on which the House sits, and the number of days of suspension shall be reckoned irrespectively of any prorogation or adjournment.
If a Member is suspended under this Order, his suspension shall, notwithstanding the expiration of the days of suspension aforesaid, continue until he has written a letter to the Speaker, expressing his sincere regret to the House for the offence for which he has been suspended."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."210
§ (4.28.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
I was, I need hardly say, an attentive listener to the debate which took place upon the Question put last Friday night, "that the words in the existing Standing Order stand part of the Question." That debate turned almost entirely—not quite, but almost entirely—upon the subject of the apology to be given by a Member before resuming his seat after having disobeyed the order of the Chair. I have heard all the arguments urged, not entirely from one side of the House, but from both sides of the House I quite admit, against the proposals of the Government. I heard it argued that it was a humiliation to which Members ought not to be exposed, but I confess, though it might be so, I am unable to see how an apology for disregarding Mr. Speaker's ruling can be regarded as a humiliation by any hon. Member of this House. I have heard it described by a small section of the House as an attack by the majority upon the minority. I can only say that that was not the intention with which the Rule was framed, and, if any Member on this side of the House or above the gangway on the other side, were guilty of disregarding the ruling of Mr. Speaker, I should rejoice to see him excluded from our deliberations until he apologised. I have heard a great many arguments of undue subtlety on the morality or immorality of the various declarations connected with an apology—a discussion which really reduces the House almost to the level of the 17th century casuists. I have heard it stated also that the Rule and its application would disfranchise the constituency whose Member refused to apologise. That argument also leaves me quite cold. I believe the whole feeling of the House and of the country to be that if a Member disgraces us and his constituency, and if the Member then will not apologise and is excluded from our deliberations, he has brought that exclusion on himself. Therefore, I am not at all influenced by the general tenour of the arguments which we have heard in the debate which concluded last week, but I have, nevertheless, to announce to the House to-day that we propose to make an alteration, an important alteration, in the Standing Order. That alteration is in the nature of limita- 211 tion; in the nature of a limit to the time during which a Member can exclude himself from the deliberations of this House, and I will explain to the House how we have come to that opinion, and the character of the alteration which we suggest for the acceptance of the House.
I venture to lay down two principles which ought to govern the House in dealing with questions of this kind. In the first place, any Standing Order we adopt—in order to work, when once it is adopted, smoothly and automatically—ought not to be allowed, when it is put in force, unfortunately put in force, to lead to controversial or prolonged debate on difficult or embarassing questions. That is my first proposition; my second proposition is, that under no Standing Order of this House ought it to be possible for the decision of this House, come to under the Standing Order, to be rejected, or in any way affected by the action of any outside body or authority whatsoever. If this House decides that a Member of this House ought not to take part in its deliberations under certain circumstances, we ought not to tolerate the constituency which he represents, or any other body, saving, "You have indeed decided that this Member shall not take part in your deliberations until he apologises, but we think otherwise, and we have the power to send him back among you, purged, not indeed of his offence, but of any penalty which that offence might carry with it." This proposition will, I think, be probably accepted by both sides of the House; by those most opposed to the apology, and those agreeing with us like the hon and gallant Member for the Newport Division of Shropshire, the hon. Member for North Islington, the hon. Member for Durham, and others, who have spoken powerfully and ably in defence of the principles which animated, and still animate, our policy.
Now I want to explain to the House as clearly as I can how these two governing principles would be violated if we were to keep the Rule precisely in the form in which it is on the Paper, and in order to make it perfectly clear to the House I must explain two points which, taken in combination, have introduced a difficulty which necessitated some change in the framing of the Rule. Let me first remind the House what is the Practice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer 212 with regard to the acceptance of the Chiltern Hundreds. The Chiltern Hundreds is, perhaps, the most curious of the many curious survivals in our Parliamentary constitution and Parliamentary practice. As every Member is aware, no Parliamentary representative has it in his power, on his own initiative, to resign. The acceptance of the Chiltern Hundreds is a dodge which was discovered in the middle of the 18th century, by which the immemorial Rule of Parliament, that a man could not resign, was evaded, and which gave the necessary elasticity and alleviation of the Rules; and ever since that date, although the Rule that a Member may not resign has remained in undiminished force, it has always been got out of by this curious practice of taking an office of emolument under the Crown, an office which carries with it no emolument, and which is not, except in any but the most technical sense, under the Crown at all. Gradually the practice has grown up that the Chiltern Hundreds cannot be refused on Party or political grounds. An hon. Member, to whichever side he belongs, can apply with equal facility to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the Chiltern Hundreds, and with equal certainty of his request being granted But there is one exception which has always been in operation, and that is this: If the House desires to retain its control over a Member, then the Chiltern Hundreds can be, and, in my opinion, ought to be, refused. All of us have seen examples in which that refusal has been made, and the Member has been compelled, against his will, to remain a Member of this Assembly. That is the first point; the second point is this: a Member who has received the Chiltern Hundreds, and who is, therefore, not a Member of this House, has a right to seek re-election in his own constituency or in any other, and after re-election has a right to come to the House, and—I do not say with absolute certainty, but probably—to present himself at the Table to be sworn. That is a question upon which I do not pronounce myself with absolute security. The House is aware of the great controversy all through the prolonged debates it had with regard to Mr. Brad- 213 laugh. The law of Parliament has probably been correctly laid down by Speaker Peel, that every man, duly elected, has a statutory right to present himself at the Table to be sworn, and it was under that ruling that Mr. Bradlaugh, in the new Parliament of, I think it was 1886—[A Voice: "1885"]—of 1885, presented himself at this Table to be sworn.
Then, Sir, having reminded the House of those two sets of circumstances, I ask them to consider how they work in combination. Let us, for example, take an extreme case, as it is by extreme cases that Rules are best tested. Let us suppose a Member has been suspended under this Standing Order for 20 days; that the 20 days elapse, and the Member announces that he does not see fit to apologise to the House because he has disregarded the ruling of Mr. Speaker. The Standing Order, no doubt, says in general terms that he shall not resume his seat until he has apologised; but my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer holds the view which will probably recommend itself to most of those who hear me, that this is somewhat too indefinite in its character to justify the refusal to a Member of the Chiltern Hundreds, because the exclusion might run not only for a session, but the succeeding session, and the session after that, until seven sessions had been reached. Personally, I should have no objection to an exclusion for that length of time, if a man was deliberately bent on excluding himself by refusing to apologise. If he chose to exclude himself, I see no particular reason against his not being allowed to carry out his own wishes. But under the principles which guide the bestowal of the Chiltern Hundreds, there is no definite limit fixed, and my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer holds that the Chiltern Hundreds might be granted, and the result might be that, while this House might say, "The hon. Member for So-and-so is not to take part in the deliberations of this House until he has apologised," the Gentleman might resign and be re-elected. If he sat for a loyal seat, I do not think he would have much chance of being returned.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
What is a "loyal seat," I should like to know? We are loyal to our country.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If a Member sat for a scat of that character he might resign and come back a week afterwards, not having apologised, but, having been re-elected, he might take part in the proceedings of the House. I do not think that would be a proper position to put Parliament in. I do not think it would be right. There is another point I wish the House to remember. There is no doubt that under Mr. Speaker Peel's ruling the Member could take the oath. It is not absolutely certain what the Member does under this Rule after he takes the oath. It certainly would be competent for a Member to rise in his place and suggest that as the hon. Member had not yet obeyed the Standing Order he should be excluded again, and thus raise the long and controversial debates which many of us remember to have been raised in Mr. Bradlaugh's case. Therefore, there are two reasons why I do not think it right to allow a Gentleman who has refused to apologise to this House for having disregarded the ruling of Mr. Speaker, to go to his constituents and ask them to reverse the decision of this House.
I hope I have now made quite clear to Gentlemen in all parts of the House exactly where the difficulty lies in connection with this Standing Order— a difficulty which all must feel, whatever their views may be on the question of the apology. The way to meet it appears not difficult to my mind, though it necessitates a limitation of the Rule. If the period during which a Member could be excluded from this House were definitely laid down in the Standing Order, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not give the Member the Chiltern Hundreds even if asked to do so until that period had expired, and there would be no chance whatever of any collision between the constituency and the House, or any difficulty such as I have suggested either in connection with the Member re-taking his seat, or with the debates that might be consequent thereupon. What, then, is the period it would be desirable to lay down in the 215 Standing Order as that beyond which a Member should not be allowed to exclude himself from the service of the House by refusing to apologise? [Laughter.] Well, I cannot imagine a much more accurate way of putting it. The old methods by which the House dealt with its recalcitrant Members were, of course, much harsher and more summary than anything which would be tolerated nowadays. We do not imprison Members; we do not ask them to apologise on their knees; we do not endeavour to injure them either in purse or in person, or to subject them to any humiliation whatever. But we have, of course, to deal with recalcitrant Members. The severest sentence the House has power to pass on a Member is that laid down by the Standing Orders of last session, under which a Member who forcibly resists the ruling of the Chair is excluded for the period of a whole session—or possibly for the period of a whole session—from the service of the House. I do not think that that length of time ought to be exceeded in the Standing Order now proposed. As the House knows, in the form of the Standing Order we have placed on the Paper we do not go by sessions; we go by the number of days, which are irrespective of adjournments, holidays, or prorogations. Taking a session as averaging about 120 days, we propose to lay down that the time during which a Member might be unable to serve in this House through refusing to apologise, should under no circumstances exceed 120 days. The result of that would be, of course, that there could be no collision with constituencies, no long debates, no friction in the working of this Rule. I think, if it were ever called into effect—which I trust it would not be—it would work perfectly smoothly, though I may perhaps be allowed here to express my conviction that when the Rule is actually in force there is not a Member sitting in any quarter of this House, or belonging to any Party, who would feel that either his interest, or his dignity, was injured by having to express through Mr. Speaker his regret at having refused to obey the ruling of the Chair.
I hope I have now made clear both the main modification we propose to the Rule and the reasons which have induced us to adopt it. The subject is rather 216 complicated, and requires two or three different lines of argument, but, if I have succeeded in making clear what those lines of argument are, both the modification and the reasons for it will have made themselves evident to every Member.
Before I sit down, may I also say that we think we can meet some of the minor objections to the Rule, and, by certain emendations which I will explain to the House, make it more acceptable to those who accept its general principle. It has been suggested that, though this apology has always been defended by the Government and its supporters on the ground that the apology was for disregarding the ruling of the Chair, it was possible that a Member might be suspended for something which did not involve disregard of the ruling of the Chair. That has never happened. I do not believe there is a single case in our Parliamentary history in which that has occurred, and I do not think it ever would or could happen. But, in order to make it quite clear that it never shall happen, we propose to make the paragraph read—If a Member is suspended under this Order for disregarding the authority of the Chair.Those last words are new, and they make perfectly clear what has always, been the intention of the Government.
Then there is one other change which we have introduced. It has been suggested that while, under the Standing Order as it stands Mr. Speaker would have no doubt in informing the House when an adequate apology or an obviously derisive apology had been made, there might be a middle state in which he would have to submit the question to the House. That would, I suppose, lend itself to debate, and I cannot imagine a more unprofitable subject of discussion. We, therefore, propose that Mr. Speaker should be the sole judge of whether or not the apology to the House is sufficient.
There has also been taken an objection with which I confess I do not greatly sympathise—to the words "sincere regret." Some Members dislike the word "regret"; some dislike the word "sincere"; and others object to both "sincere" and "regret." We propose, therefore, to substitute for "sincere regret," the 217 words "adequate apology." [Nationalist laughter.] I quite understand that that will give no satisfaction to hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it may ease some tender consciences on this side of the House.
Then—it is a mere matter of drafting—the words at the end of the first paragraph we propose to put at the end of the second paragraph. The House will see, when I read the whole of the two paragraphs, how they run—If a Member be suspended under this Order his suspension on the first occasion in any session shall continue until the expiration of the next 20 days on which the House sits; on the second occasion until the expiration of the next 40 days on which the House sits; and on the third or any subsequent occasion, until the expiration of the next 80 days on which the House sits.If a Member is suspended under this Order, for disregarding the authority of the Chair, his suspension shall, notwithstanding the expiration of the aforesaid days, continue until the Speaker certifies to the House that he has received from him, in writing, an adequate apology to the House; provided that the total period of suspension shall in no case exceed 120 days. The number of days of suspension shall be reckoned irrespectively of any prorogation or adjournment.I hope the House will forgive me for what is a rather long and perhaps somewhat complicated statement, but I trust that at all events I have made it perfectly clear what it is we propose to do and why it is we propose to do it.
(4.45.) SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNER-MAN (Stirling Burghs)
I do not know whether the Question is before the House.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
We have listened to a speech which I think is almost the most remarkable we have heard during recent times. The first observation I would make upon it is that it is an absolute and entire justification of the prolonged and full debate that we have had of this proposal. Besides what I may call a preliminary canter, we have had two full nights of debate, with a large number of Members on each side offering themselves whenever there was an opportunity, and at the end of the second night the debate was closured by the Government. If it 218 had been allowed to go on for another night, Heaven only knows what further concessions would have been made. The right hon. Gentleman expresses himself as having not been in the least degree affected by all the speeches that were made. He is as fond of the apology as before, he sees in it no harm or degradation to anyone, he thinks it absolutely necessary for the dignity and honour of the House. In giving a sort of retrospect of the debate, he admitted—I think this will have been observed by the House—that there were strong opinions expressed on both sides against the proposal of the Government, but he said there were his hon. friends—and he named three Members—and others who supported it. Who were the others? Those whom—with great precision of memory—he named as having supported the proposal of the Government, happen to have been, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the only Members on that side of the House who did support it. The whole of that process leaves the right hon. Gentleman entirely unmoved, but on looking into the question he comes upon a fact which really lies on the surface—viz., the position of the offending Member with his constituency and the relation of this House with that constituency; and he drew a picture of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, unable to decide whether or not an hon. Member ought to receive the Ghiltern Hundreds if he applies for them. Now it appears that the solution of the difficulty is to be that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should defer granting the Chiltern Hundreds until a certain period has elapsed; then he is to give this office to the Member, and enable him to stand again. Thereupon, owing to the term having elapsed, this terribly contumacious offender, who has committed a crime which the right hon. Gentleman appears to think ought to exclude him altogether from the society of Members of the House, is to be allowed to come back again, after all, without having purged himself of the offence which we were told was so heinous as to be absolutely intolerable—he is to come back, sit with us, and take his part among the Members of the House.
Why, Sir, the proposal originally brought forward had not, as the debate showed, a leg to stand upon, but the 219 right hon. Gentleman has compromised even the leg that he thought it had to stand upon. The whole argument goes with this so-called concession of allowing the Member to come back at all.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
This disqualification, if it ever existed, must remain as a permanent disqualification until the hon. Member removes it by his own action, that is to say, by submitting himself and making an apology; and this disqualification the right hon. Gentleman proposes to remove after 120 days. It is difficult on the first blush of a thing to realise what the result of the thing will be. But the right hon. Gentleman does not stop there. He admits—and here again we have evidence of the good effect of a lengthened debate upon the mind even of a pertinacious Minister—that he has discovered that there are two things that may provoke the suspension of a Member, the disregarding of the authority of the Chair, and the abusing of the rules of the House by persistently and wilfully obstructing the business of the House or otherwise. We have pointed out again and again, although it was always personal disregard of the Chair that was put forward, that that did not exhaust the matter, for it went much further. There are other matters which are offences, although they have not the same personal significance that may be attached to disregarding the authority of the Chair, but which are more important almost from a Parliamentary point of view than the others. There is to be no apology for these offences. An hon. Member may abuse the rules of the House by persistently and wilfully obstructing the business, and there is to be no apology; he is only to have the punishment of suspension; and it is only in the case of disregarding the Speaker's orders that he is to be subject to this indignity of having to make a public apology. I have said that it is difficult to realise what the exact bearing of these proposals may be. If they are to immediately come before us, they would almost justify the moving of the adjournment of the House. [Opposition cries of "Hear, hear!"] I 220 do not know whether that is the view of hon. Members behind me as to what ought to be done. [Opposition cheers and cries of "Yes."] I think safety will probably be found in having an opportunity for the calm consideration of this change, and therefore I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned." (Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ (5.8.) SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I do ask the House of Commons to pause before they enter upon this matter. It is perfectly plain from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that there is in this proposal a most important constitutional question involved. The right hon. Gentleman has, by his speech, made this a reproduction of the contest in the case of Wilkes against the House of Commons. It is the very same case. It is the claim of the House of Commons to refuse to a constituency for a certain period the right to choose its Member, and I may venture to say that as long as this sort of thing goes on that contest will be continued. As to the question of the Chiltern Hundreds, why, Sir, in the earlier part of this debate I addressed that consideration to the right hon. Gentleman. However, he took no notice of it. Is it worth while in dealing with this question of procedure that we should open this great constitutional problem? Let me put this case to the House—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the only Question before the House at the present moment is the Motion for the adjournment of the debate, and it is only so far as the right hon. Gentleman's general observations bear upon that Motion that he will be in order.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I will submit to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I was urging upon the House to take time to consider before they went into this great constitutional conflict, and I was just going to ask the House whether it was worth while upon this question of procedure to open such an immense 221 question as that. What I wish to point out, and I will do it very briefly, is whether this question—of the right of a constituency to determine in this case whether or not it should be relieved of a Member who will take away from it its representative right for 120 days—is worth raising upon a rule of this character? It is impossible to raise a more profound constitutional problem. We have no right to assume that the constituency approve of the conduct of its Member. It may be that they desire him to resign and do not desire to reelect him. They may disapprove of his conduct as much as you do, and yet you prevent him going through the only process of resignation that can possibly take place. This matter was considered by a Committee of the House of Commons upon which I had to give evidence as to the Chiltern Hundreds. I remember then that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House disapproved of the doctrine laid down by myself, but I am happy to think that my successor has laid down exactly the same doctrine. I urged then that there ought to be some simple form of resignation instead of the technical grant of the Chiltern Hundreds, and then a man might resign and give to his constituency its full rights again. In the Wilkes case the House of Commons endeavoured to prevent the constituency from re-electing a Member whom the House had expelled. That was a very much stronger case, and the expelled Member did come back, and ultimately all the proceedings after years and years were erased by the vote of the House of Commons. Do let us consider if it is worth while throwing away public time over a proposal of this character, which we are bound on both sides of the House to fight in the interests of the electors and the constituencies, and we shall certainly do it. Is it worth while on this procedure question to insist upon this rule? I have had the advantage of hearing the opinion upon this question of most experienced Parliamentarians who are no longer Members of this House and who are men of the highest authority in this matter. Their opinion I find has been almost universally against the course which is being proposed in this matter.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I 222 must say that he is entering into a general debate upon the merits of this proposal and that is not the Question before the, Chair.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Of course I will obey your ruling at once, but I do ask the House to take time before they enter upon this profound constitutional question, and consider whether it would not be much better that we should at all events give ourselves time to consider the bearing of this proposal made by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House admits himself that it is a complicated statement, and hon. Members have a right, I think, before they go further into the matter to have time to consider it, and therefore I shall certainly support the proposal of my right hon. friend to adjourn the debate.
§ (5.13.) MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.) said
that hon. Members were supposed to contrast the original proposal of the Government with the Amendment of the hon. Member for King's Lynn and other Amendments. That was supposed, till within twenty minutes, to be the Question which was before them, but what was before them now? They had now before them simply the oral statement of the Leader of the House, made after all these long debates and deliberations, and he terminated his speech by reading a portion only of the proposed substitution.
§ *MR. BLAKE
said he did his best to gather and collect the sense of the right hon. Gentleman's oral statement, and he did not hear the latter part road. Were they going to conduct this debate simply upon a statement which the right hon. Gentleman declared himself was a complicated one? This matter demanded the earnest attention of the House in order that they might gather distinctly the meaning of this complicated statement, and in order 223 that they might fully understand the proposals which now rested in their memory alone. They knew that the original proposal was not brought forward because it had met with general disapprobation in all parts of the House. The right hon. Gentleman found that a slip had been made and that the original plan as it stood was not effective. He said that the Chiltern Hundreds could not be refused because the duration of exclusion was indefinite, and therefore a maximum was to be established, to which he said, forsooth, that the Member condemned himself, and not to which the House condemned him. He talked about seventeenth century casuists. When he heard the right hon. Gentleman he thought there was one seventeenth century casuist alive today. They were to get rid of the "sincere regret" by the introduction of a phrase in regard to "adequate apology," which they questioned seriously. There were most important variations between an expression of regret, or sincere regret, and an adequate apology. The original proposal, at any rate, left it clear what an offender had to do; but the new one set everything at large. The right hon. Gentleman said the Speaker was to be the sole judge of the adequacy of the apology, and the House was to have no voice in it. Thus a judge without appeal was appointed to try what might be his own cause. There was now to be a definite provision limiting the period of suspension to 120 days, because under the proposed Rule, as it stood, there would be raised the grave constitutional question of the rights of the constituencies. But the exclusion of a Member for the whole session raised in an acute form the right of the constituency; while the suggestion that the Chilterns was to be refused aggravated the constitutional offence. This was a most serious innovation. Were Members to have no opportunity of seeing the new proposals in print? Were they not to have an opportunity of considering for a little that which it had taken the right hon. Gentleman three weeks or more to find out, namely, a remedy for the situation he had been proposing to create, and which, by the way, he (Mr. Blake) had pointed out on the Second Reading debate? Were they to 224 go on debating this question now? No one could vote rationally on the Amendment to be moved by the hon. Member for Kings Lynn, while yet uncertain as to the terms of the main proposition to which it was an Amendment. If ever there was a case in which the House was entitled to demand time before going forward, it was this. He would therefore vote for the adjournment of the debate.
(5.19.) MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said the House had rarely found itself in so difficult a situation on so important a matter as this. Let hon. Members reflect where they were. The Leader of the House had an Amendment on the Paper in terms. To that Amendment the hon. Member gave notice of an Amendment also in terms, but since the right hon. Gentleman had spoken there was no Amendment before the House. The right hon. Gentleman's Amendment which was on the Paper had entirely in its essence disappeared, and it had been replaced or was to be replaced by something else. The House had only a vague notion of what it was to be replaced by. The complete effect of what was proposed could only be appreciated by hon. Members when they had seen the words altogether. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman himself quite appreciated the effect of the words he proposed to put in. If the proposed words were introduced, it seemed to him that they would necessitate another Amendment in the form of the Standing Order, otherwise this strange position would result—that after a Member had been named and suspended for wilfully obstructing the business of the House, he was to go on without any apology, but there was to be an entirely different procedure if he had been named for abus[...]ng the Rules of the House in any other way. There were a thousand ways in which they could be abused. It could not be right that a Member who had been named should apologise for the one offence and not for the other. The right hon. Gentleman had made this new proposal because he had discovered certain difficulties. Those difficulties might have been discovered before, but, being discovered now, he submitted that 225 the House should have time to consider the entirely new form of the proposal. By accepting the Motion for the adjournment of the debate, the right hon. Gentleman would meet not only the wishes of hon. Members opposite, but also the views of many on his own side.
§ (5.23.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I must say that the suggestion which has been made to me is unreasonable. It is first said that the proposals of the Government are so complicated that it is impossible for the House to understand them even after the explanation I have endeavoured to give. The hon. Members who have just spoken have themselves by their example shown that my statement was a perfectly clear one, and that it conveyed the whole case. The hon. Member for South Longford showed a perfect appreciation of the proposal, which he seems to regard as obscure and complicated. The proposals in themselves, I venture to say, are absolutely simple. I admit that all the train of reasoning which brought us to these conclusions did present some little difficulty, and I was afraid that I might not make the proposals perfectly clear to the House. But the Amendments themselves, I venture to say, a child might understand. It is said by the hon. Gentleman, what a monstrous thing it is that we should not have this in print before us. Well, the hon. Member for South Longford and the Gentlemen who are near him cheered that, but they have made it a practice to spring upon the House the most complicated Amendments in a most bewildering way, which I am sure is perplexing to those in charge of a Bill and to the House which has to deal with them. They have no scruples in presenting the most complicated propositions in manuscript for the Speaker to decide upon from the Chair, and for the House to understand without any preliminaries or explanations. In the third place it is said that these Amendments go to the root of the whole of the Standing Order. They do nothing of the kind. I may have given a wrong impression to the House by the lengthened statement I inflicted upon them in regard to the Standing Order. Under the Standing Order as it was originally 226 introduced, a Member who refused to apologise might be kept out of a whole Parliament of seven sessions, but under the standing order as we now propose to modify it he can only be kept out 120 days. Is the bearing of that so excessively difficult that the House must sleep over it, and consult about it, before they can be asked to take serious account of it? Finally, we are told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire that we have started by this Amendment the gravest constitutional question. It would be very improper now to discuss that "grave constitutional question," but I suppose it is relevant to this debate to tell the House that we have done nothing of the kind. Last session we passed a Standing Order by which any Member guilty of a certain offence could be excluded from the precincts of the House for a whole session. That rule was passed in order to deal with the unhappy scene which we all have fresh in our recollection. At any rate, it is perfectly clear that no new constitutional question has been raised. My right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer never would give the Chiltern Hundreds to an hon. Member resisting the Speaker's ruling. There is no difference between the Rule which we propose and what was laid down by the Rule passed last session. There is no new constitutional question, and I can only suppose that the right hon. Gentleman, when he made his speech, had forgotten what was done last year. I venture to say that the considerations I have brought before the House on this subject, coupled with the fact that there is very little likelihood of our reaching any part of the Standing Order to which this Amendment refers in the course of the evening, induce me to advise the House to resist the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, which can only lead to a great waste of public time.
§ (5.30.) MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
I have listened with absolute amazement to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I take the liberty of saying that if the House of Commons supports him in forcing on a discussion of this new rule tonight, it will be laying down a 227 precedent which may have far-reaching effects in the future. Let the House of Commons consider for a moment the position in which it stands. For six months, to judge from the extra-Parliamentary declarations of the right hon. Gentleman and of some of those who sit beside him, the Government have been considering the framing of new rules for this House, and at the commencement of the session these rules were explained to us in a long speech by the Leader of the House. He then made the reasonable arrangement whereby Members would be able to see the new rules in print, and a considerable portion of time would be afforded for their study before they came to be discussed here. But now, at the last moment, the most important and most far-reaching, as affecting the future, and what I think the most unconstitutional rule of them all, is withdrawn without any notice whatever, and for it an entirely new rule is substituted. The House of Commons is gravely asked, without having this new rule in their hands in print, to take up the work not only of considering the principle of it, but of carefully considering the amendments to the phraseology of various portions of it which it may be desirable to propose. It is an absurdity.
I will endeavour not to transgress your ruling, Mr. Speaker, by discussing the terms of the new proposals, but I may be allowed to follow the right hon. Gentleman in one sentence on one point in which he said that there is no change of substance in the Amendment on his original Amendment at all, because the former rule contemplated the possibility of a Member being excluded for the whole term of a Parliament. That is quite true; although the fact did not seem to dawn upon the right hon. Gentle man until we had debated the matter here for two or three nights. But the right hon. Gentleman's original proposal did not contemplate any change in the constitutional right of Members to obtain the Chiltern Hundreds. Whatever we may think of this ancient pretext or "dodge," as the right hon. Gentleman called it, for enabling an hon. Member to resign his seat in the House of Commons, at any rate it has been in accordance with the practice of the House of Commons for 228 centuries, and the Chiltern Hundreds has never been refused to any Member asking for it, except he had been guilt of something in the nature of a crime, or of a breach of the rules of the House outside as well as inside Parliament. I say there is no such precedent as proposed to be established by the right hon. Gentleman in the new Rule. H is proposing a serious change in the constitutional practice of hon. Members accepting the Chiltern Hundreds. There was nothing about that in the original Rule, and it is too absurd to say that at a moment's notice we should b asked, seriously, to take up a debate on such an important question. If the discussion is forced on, it will become necessarily a farce, and I cannot conceive that the sense of fair play in the House is so conspicuously absent a it would be if the Government were enabled to force on the consideration of this Rule without our having seen it in print, or having had any opportunity of carefully scrutinising it and of equally carefully preparing Amendments to it. There can be no useful or reasonable discussion of the new Rule to-night; we ought to see it in print tomorrow, and have from to morrow till Thursday to put Amendment on the Paper. We are not asking the Government to give up any of their time. I could understand the indignation of the right hon. Gentleman if we were asking the House to adjourn. There are other proposals on the Order Paper which we may discuss. The right hon. Gentleman will lose nothing by taking these up; and it seems to me that he will have a great deal to gain All we ask is that this new puntive Rule, the exact terms of which we do not understand and have not before us, should be postponed till Thursday, and that we should now go on to the consideration of the next Rule.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I ought to apologise to the House for intervening again, because I know I have no right to speak a second time, and also because I must confess I did not understand the exact purport of the Motion which had been made. I thought we were to abandon the discussion of the Rules to-night. But as long as we do not waste the public 229 time, and if the House is prepared to go to the next business, and will raise no objection to its coming on on the ground of short notice, we shall be glad to agree to that.
(5.38.) MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said that if this matter was to be adjourned he would suggest to his right hon. friend that it would be convenient if some arrangement could be adopted in regard to the printing of the Amendments. For instance, nobody seemed to know what the real meaning of the original Amendment was when it stated: "Another Amendment proposed, in line 17, after the last Amendment, to insert the words, etc." Now, hon. Members could not find in the White Paper anything on line 17 about "the last Amendment"; and they would be still more puzzled if they referred to the Blue Paper.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
So far as I have observed, the lines referred to in this Amendment are the lines in the Folio Edition of the Standing Orders.
*MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said that that was one of the inconveniences which should be remedied before the discussion on the new Amendment. Hon. Members could not carry in their pockets the Folio Edition of the Standing Orders. He would also point out that his right hon. friend's Amendment as it now stood seemed to be in the wrong place. It should unquestionably commence at an earlier portion of the Rule. He hoped his right hon. friend would see his way first of all to give the House some facilities of finding out what his Amendments really were, and also that he should put them in their right place.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I rise to make another suggestion. I think we have approached this subject in a thoroughly friendly spirit, and that the best course will he, in the first place, that the Motion for adjournment be withdrawn, and that then I shall be permitted by the House to withdraw the words proposed from the Chair and to substitute for them the words as amended in the manner I have advocated. They would then appear on the Paper in the form in which the Government desire to see them passed. I shall next move, if 230 it is agreed to, that the consideration of this Rule be postponed till Thursday next.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
As I moved the adjournment of the debate on the proposed Amendment to the Amendment, perhaps I may say that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman seems to me to meet the case, and I will be very glad to withdraw my Motion.
§ (5.43.) LORD HUGH CECIL (Greenwich)
said that if the Government proposed to go on, after the next Rule, with the Rule relating to the "Sittings of the House," that would be most objectionable, and would be treating some of his right hon. friend's supporters very hardly, for they had not anticipated that it would come on that night, and had not fully made up their mind in regard to it. He would make a suggestion which would be a great deal better and more convenient, and that was that they should continue the discussion of the present Rule until they came to the point at which his right hon. friend's alterations would be taken.
§ MR. DISRAELI (Cheshire, Altrincham)
said he had a far better suggestion still; and that was that the House should proceed with the Naval Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House would, he hoped, see the great danger of discussing now the new amended order, but if they went on to the next Rules they came to proposals which were more offensive to several of his supporters than the one suggested to be postponed.
§ *MR. BLAKE
said there were a considerable number of business-like and practically non-controversial Rules on the Paper which might be taken now.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Of course, it is impossible to please everybody, but I think the House must admit that before I assented to the appeal made to me to accept the adjournment of the discussion of the new Amendment, I did endeavour, as well as I could, to find whether the arrangement would be generally acceptable. It is not possible for me to go back on what I have said, and proceed with this discussion. In the Rule which immediately follows, there are no 231 obscure or subtle questions. That is, at all events, plain sailing, and we may at once embark upon it.
§ MR. WALLACE (Perth)
said he hoped that the consideration of the next Rule but one, dealing with the time of the meeting of the House, would also be postponed, as hon. Members had had no opportunity of putting down Amendments. There was a strong feeling on both sides regarding it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Let us go on with the next Rule, and I will endeavour to meet the convenience of the House with regard to the sub sequent Rules.
§ Amendment by leave withdrawn.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Ought not the Rule, as it would be amended if my proposals were carried out, to be put from the Chair?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
It will be sufficient if it appears on the Paper in the ordinary course.
Further Consideration of Standing Order 21 (Order of Debate), as amended, adjourned till Thursday.