§ (6.38.) Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
The general policy we desire to secure with regard to private business, may be very briefly stated. We do not think it ought to take place at the afternoon sitting. The whole scheme of the new Rules has been framed with the idea that the afternoon sitting from 3 to 7.30 shall be devoted to important public business. That requires, as a necessary corollary, that the private business should go over to another sitting, and that should be the evening sitting. The idea is that such private business should have precedence of the orders of the day and notices of Motion at the evening sitting, and that as between different evenings the distribution should be made by the Chairman of Committees. Certainly no advantage ought to be given to the Government in the matter; neither should the Government be specially penalised. After all, the business of the Government is the business of the House. I think, therefore, that the distribution should be left to an official of the House like the Chairman of Committees rather than to the sweet will of promoters, which is at present the most anomalous and indefensible practice. From time immemorial, promoters have settled what day they were going to bring on their Bills without the least regard to the convenience of the House, or the Government, or the subject appointed for debate. The Government propose that henceforth the matter shall rest with the officials of the House, and I submit that this plan will meet the necessities of the case. I beg to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That all Private Business which is set down for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, and is not disposed of by Fifteen minutes after Two of the clock, shall, without Question put, be postponed until such time as the Chairman of Ways and Means may determine.
§ "Unopposed Private Business shall have precedence of opposed Private Business."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
said, with regard to all the Rules, that they had been imposed on the House by Members who took little part in the business of the House. They 496 were largely Whips' Rules, and not the Rules of the House at large. Contrary to the claim of the right hon. Gentleman, he held that this particular Rule of all others would defeat all certainty. Promoters objected very greatly to Bills being brought forward on Monday. Therefore Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays would be the evenings they would select.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
Did any one suppose that the Chairman of Committees would not pay attention to promoters? Whatever time they gave to private Members, give them that time with something like certainty. Under this Rule there was no certainty. The Chairman of Committees, who was appointed by the Government, was put in the most unpleasant, painful, and difficult position of having, for instance, in the week after next to decide between the claims of the Budget Bill and the claims of a Motion in which many Members were interested. The Whips would be appealing to him to place private business on the private Members' night, and, on the other hand Members would tell him that the whole House wanted the Motion referred to to come forward. He therefore objected most strongly to this Rule.
MR. GRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)
said without in any way under-estimating the importance of private business, it was obvious that if it became a question between private and public business as to which should come first, the premier position must be given to public business. It could not be contended, so far as unopposed private business was concerned, that the position in which it had been placed was not good. It was the first business taken after prayers. With regard to opposed private business, it was a different matter. Under the Standing Order it could not be taken on the first day it appeared on the Paper, but had to stand over till the next. That was the strict rule, but as a matter of fact, those interested in promoting and opposing a particular private Bill met and agreed not to take it on that day, but on a subsequent day most convenient to themselves. It was intolerable that 497 anyone should have a power of that kind. At the same time, it was a great mistake to have the new Rule in the form in which it was, because inasmuch as under the proposal all private business had to be put down whether it could be taken or not, such a practice must inflict upon the agents and promoters and others interested unnecessary hardship in bringing them down to the House when their Bill could not come on. While recognising that as regards unopposed private business the new Rule was most convenient, he thought the arrangement for opposed private business required amendment. It left open the same conflict which existed now between private and public business, and important public matters would still have to be postponed to oppose private business.
§ (7.0.) MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)
said the House had already substantially sealed the fate of private business and of resolutions in the hands of unofficial members in agreeing that they should be taken at the evening sittings of the House. What he would desire most of all to see would be a fixed day upon which opposed private business should be the first order, but that could not be done now unless they took the time of private Members on Friday, which was too great a cost to pay. The Leader of the House had emphasized the fact that it was intolerable that important public business should be interfered with, and the cream of the day taken at the will of promoters of private Bills and a less effective Parliamentary day procured in consequence: but all these difficulties were exaggerated by the conditions in which the House now found itself, and the decision which it had already reached, which left no other chance whatever for private business. Because all these difficulties were felt when the House met at three and had all day to discuss important public and opposed private business. Now, the latter was relegated to the three hours evening sitting, and if it was a trouble and worry in the past when there was a whole day to work in, what would it be in the future with only three hours for both public and private business? It was obvious that the invasion of private or public business would be infinitely more serious. Again, what chance had any private Bill which came on at nine o'clock, with the attractions 498 of a dinner table far away from the House? Was the Chairman of Ways and Means to put it down as the first order at nine, or would he put it down at ten and leave an unfortunate man who had public business to address an empty chamber, whilst all the Members of the House were dining elsewhere? He showed that by the proposed method of distributing private business over the four evening sittings of the week the time available for private Members would be seriously curtailed, an added element of uncertainty would be imparted to the debates, and the Chairman of Ways and Moans would be placed in an invidious position by having the duty cast upon him of selecting the opposed I private business to be put down for discussion. So far as it was a question of the Chairman of Ways and Means impartially determining, with due reference to the convenience of the promoters and the other matters which were entitled to consideration, the day and the hour at I which private business should come on, that was one thing; he had the best knowledge that could be obtained as to the extent of the opposition and the probable length of the debate. But there was the further element of the impartial distribution of the business as between Government and private Members' time, S and, although he was perfectly willing to trust the Chairman of Ways and Means to discharge the duty honestly, the House were bound, when they placed that official in such an invidious position, for his own security as well as for the security of the House, to give a direction as to the principle upon which the distribution should be made. The House ought to state its intention that the business should be distributed impartially, with reference to time, between the four evening sittings, so that as near as possible as much time should be taken from the Government sittings as from the private Members sittings, proportionately to the number of sittings of each class, and that statement of intention ought to appear in the Standing Order. It was with that view that he had placed on the Paper an Amendment which in due course he should move. He believed the working of the proposals of the Government would demonstrate in a very marked manner that a mistaken method had been adopted in dividing up the time of the House, but, it having been decided that 499 there should be two sittings, and that no private business should be taken at the morning sitting, all that remained was to secure an equal and impartial distribution of the opposed private business, in point of time, amongst the evening sittings.
§ (7.10.) MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
thought he had a reasonable ground of complaint at the position this question was assuming. Earlier in the afternoon an arrangement was suggested to the effect that the Rules should be proceeded with that afternoon and concluded by dinner-time on Friday. An appeal was then made to hon. Members on that side of the House, who had taken an active part in the discussion of the Rules, as to whether they would concur in the proposed arrangement. He immediately pointed out that a Motion in which he was deeply interested, and which he had pledged himself to many hon. Members to bring forward, had secured first place in private Members' time on the following day.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The remarks of the right hon. Gentleman are hardly relevant to the Question before the House.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said it was necessary that he should explain why he felt himself to be entirely absolved from any bargain which had been entered into.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I did not intend to prevent the right hon. Gentleman making a personal explanation with regard to what took place earlier in the day.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (continuing)
said that he then stated that if he was assured that he would not be prevented going on with his Motion at the earliest opportunity, he would not dream of standing in the way of a general arrangement. To that his right hon. friend replied that he would be able to go on with the Motion on Monday or Tuesday evening. But it now appeared that he stood in a totally different position. Private Members were no longer to have any right to decide when their Motions should come on, but, having secured a place which could not be taken from 500 him except by a deliberate Vote of the House, he was now to be relegated to whatever position chance might determine, and his Motion would have to-come on whenever the Chairman of Committees, in his discretion, might decide. He had also another ground of complaint. The arrangement was proposed by the acting Leader of the Opposition. Under the arrangement seven or eight hours were left in which to conclude the discussion of the Rules. But hardly had the arrangement been suggested before one of the right hon. Gentleman's own followers rose and moved the adjournment of the House, with the result that nearly three out of those seven or eight hours had been lost. He did not blame the Government for that, but he did consider, on the two grounds he had named, he was fully within his right in considering himself absolved from any undertaking that had been entered into. As to the Rule itself, he understood the Leader of the House to say that opposed Private Business should be fairly divided between the different evening sittings. But that was entirely in conflict with the expectations which had been held out to them so far as private Members' evenings were concerned. In the course of the debates his right hon. friend had admitted that the petition of private Members would, in theory, be incomparably less favourable under the new Rules than under the old, but that in practice they would have the great advantage that once the Rules were parsed they would have the rights therein proposed and they would not be interfered with.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said the right hon. Gentleman had entirely misunderstood his statement. What he had always said was that in his belief the Government would not be obliged to come down to the House and claim private Members' nights in the future as they had been in the past: but he had never suggested that he could arrange private business so that it should not interfere with private Members' time. On the contrary, in his opening statement he clearly explained that that must occasionally occur.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said his right hon. friend made no exception whatever in that statement in favour of private business.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My right hon. friend did not understand my speech, and he is misrepresenting me now.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said that was the last thing he should wished to do, but certainly the impression to which he had referred was conveyed to many other Members as well as to himself. On the ground he had stated to the House he should feel bound to oppose the present proposal.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
assured the right hon. Gentleman that much interest was taken in his Motion, and that those for whom he spoke were very anxious that he should have an opportunity of moving it. As to the particular Rule before the House, he felt the difficulty of making any arrangement other than one such as was suggested. The proposal, however, had serious drawbacks. In the first place, when private business came on at nine o'clock very few Members would be present, and the result would be that Members would be "lobbied" into attending to support or oppose a particular Bill. In the past they had frequently had short practical discussions on private Bills, the case for and against had been clearly stated, and Members had voted according to the merits of the Bills as disclosed by the discussions. In the future that would not be the case. There would be very few Members present other than those who were pledged the one way or the other, and private and printed statements of the promoters or opponents would have more effect on the fate of a Bill than the debate in the House; in other words, the House would no longer sit as a judicial tribunal on the Second Reading of such Bills. Another point was that if the Chairman of Ways and Means was given the power of deciding the particular night on which private business should come on, he would have a far wider power than had hitherto been exercised by promoters of interfering with private Members' time. Up to the present, private business had come on shortly after three o'clock, and, 502 as the sitting extended normally until midnight, even if a private Bill occupied as long as a couple of hours there would still be time for a private Member's Motion to be adequately discussed. But under the new arrangement, if a Bill which came on at nine o'clock was discussed until half past ten, the time left to unofficial Members would be so short that, according to present usuage, it was extremely doubtful whether Mr. Speaker would feel justified in accepting a Motion for the closure at the conclusion of the sitting, and thus no definite result would be achieved. This was not merely a question between Government nights and unofficial Members' nights; it was a question between different unofficial Members. The Chairman of Committees would have before him a number of opposed private Bills to allocate to particular nights. He would look through the Order Book of the House to see what Motions were down for the different nights, and he would have to decide when the opposed Bills should come on. But the effect of putting opposed private business down for a Tuesday or a Wednesday would be to kill the Motion that stood for that particular day, and that was an extremely difficult position in which to put the Chairman of Committees. He would probably have to consider which Motions were likely to be of the greatest general interest; certainly a very invidious task would be placed upon him; therefore the present solution could not be looked upon as being at all satisfactory.
§ (7.30.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said that between nine and ten o'clock the House would be in a state of semi-suspended animation, and if a division was taken on a private Bill during that period and forty Members were not present the Bill would stand over for the next day and the next business would be taken. He could not conceive how any system of private legislation could be carried on in that way; nor could he understand how the House was to go on in that state between nine and ten o'clock. It was an impossible state of things. Nobody would come to the House until ten o'clock, and private Bills would be seriously affected.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
replied that almost every point which had been raised could be raised upon specific Amendments to the Rule. If hon. Gentlemen would accept the Amendment he had proposed, he did not think they would find themselves shut out from raising any of the matters which they desired to discuss latter on.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said it was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman that private business should stand over until nine o'clock, but there was nothing in the Rule to prevent the Chairman of Committees from putting it down for an afternoon sitting. Then there was the question of Motions for the adjournment of the House at evening sittings.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said that was a matter which could be discussed on an Amendment which he proposed to move himself if nobody else did so.
§ MR. LODER (Brighton)
said they should protect private Members' Bills on Fridays from the intrusion of private business, but he had no great sympathy with private Members' Motions at evening sittings. After Easter the Government would have three evenings, and private Members one evening. After Whitsuntide the whole of the evening sittings would belong to the Government, and then all private business would have to be carved out of Government time. He moved the Amendment standing in his name.
In line 1, by inserting, before the word 'All' the words 'No opposed Private Business shall be set down for the sittings on Friday.' "—(Mr. Loder.)
§ MR. DILLON,
in moving the next Amendment, said that whatever the First Lord of the Treasury had said in the speech which had been in dispute, there could not be the slightest doubt that he conveyed to the House the idea that the private Member by the new arrangement was going to get a certain amount of security. Instead of getting security of tenure the private Member was getting absolutely no certainty at all for his legislation.
At the end of the last Amendment, to insert the words 'or for the Evening Sittings on Tuesday or Wednesday on which Government Business has not precedence.' "—(Mr. Dillon.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (7.45.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said the question before them really was—Was all private Bill procedure to be taken at the expense of the Government time? They had already excluded Fridays, and now it was proposed by the hon. Member to exclude also the evening sittings of which private Members had possession. He quite admitted that there might be nights on which very important private Bills would be put down, and which would entirely oust some private Members' Resolution, but he did not see how that Was to be avoided as long as days consisted of twenty-four hours, and as long as they gave so much time to their Parliamentary duties. He was looking forward to the time when this particular work might well be delegated to some machinery outside the House, and, although this House would view with legitimate jealousy any attempt to take altogether from their purview private Bill legislation, yet he did believe they ought to find some other method than the present to facilitate the release from this burden. This was a subject which would be discussed by a Committee which he should ask the House to appoint shortly—either a Committee of this House or a Joint Committee of the two Houses—to help him to consider these matters. Before reaching that stage, however, he did not think that the whole burden of finding time for private business should be thrown upon the Government and the Government alone. He should only make one other observation, and it was this. He had a prevision that probably Motions for adjournment on urgent matters of public importance would be found more urgent on Government days than on private Members' days. Unless his long Parliamentary experience was at fault, he thought that would be found to be the case. He did not complain of that which he could not help, but he feared there would be a considerable invasion of Government time by the necessity, or rather the desire, on those nights to raise questions on Motions for adjournment.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said the Government would always be able to make a House when its business was to be considered at an evening sitting, but unless there was absolute certainty that particular matters in which a large number of Members were interested, would come on at an evening sitting, a private Member would not be able to make a House at all. If there was any uncertainty as to private Members' business coming on, the House would be counted out. The Leader of the House seemed to forget that under the new Rules they might fairly anticipate that the time devoted to private business would be far less than it had been in the past, because it was quite obvious that when Bills were brought on at three o'clock they were much more liable to continue under discussion than if brought on at nine o'clock. In connection with these private Bills, unless it was a matter of considerable importance, the amount of Government time consumed would be very small indeed. The new Rules had taken away largly the rights of private Members, and unless there was absolute certainty at evening sittings that their business would come on when it was put-down on the Paper it would be absolutely impossible to make a House.
§ MR. HENRY HOBHOUSE (Somersetshire, E.)
said he was sure the intention of the right hon. Gentleman was as far as possible, both in the case of the Government and private Members, to secure a reasonable amount of attendance, but he thought a little more might be done than was done under this Rule. He suggested that up to Whitsuntide Wednesday evening might be kept free for private Members' Motions, subject to their being appropriated for Motions for adjournment. It should be remembered that private Members' Motions were balloted for long before, and that arrangements were made for bringing them forward. It was extremely hard and discouraging that there should be no time in the week on which they could reckon with certainty for the discussion of a really important question. On the other hand, he thought great advantage might be derived from devoting one evening a 506 week to private business and nothing else. They should have a certain time at which opposed private Bills were to be taken. There were certain questions affecting private Bills which must always be reserved for the final judgment of the House, and for the discussion of which time must always be found. He further suggested that one evening a week, say Tuesday, precedence should be given to private business, and if there was no private business other business could come on. The Leader of the House had stated that Motions for adjournment would be moved on Government nights. He believed there would be a strong temptation to move the adjournment on private Members' nights. Members who were not in favour of proposals contained in private Members' Motions, which raised matters of a controversial nature, would find questions on which they could move the adjournment of the House in order to prevent the private Members' Motions from being brought forward. He urged that a little more certainty should be given as to the days on which private business and private Members' Motions would be taken.
§ (8.0.) MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
supported the Amendment. The Welsh Members were a small section of the House, but they were occasionally fortunate in the Ballot. When they had been fortunate, the Government had rather ruthlessly taken away their days in the past. It was much easier to offend a small section of the House than a large section. The Chairman of Committees was being placed in a very-invidious position by the Rule, because although he might wish to exercise his authority as impartially as possible, the small sections of the House would be the sufferers. When a small section of the House, after persistent balloting for a long time, obtained facilities for discussing a question, the night on which it was to come on should not be taken away.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said he thought there was something to be said for the suggestion of his hon. friend, behind him but he could not accept it in the form in which it was proposed. He was willing 507 to provide that the Government and private Members should share and share alike in protection from the encroachment of private business on the evening sittings after Easter and before Whitsuntide. He thought that should be regarded as a substantial concession on the part of the Government.
§ MR. DILLON
said he should not like to proceed further with the Amendment after the concession which had been made.
§ MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S. W.)
asked whether the intention of the Government could be carried out. Could private business be taken on Thursday night in view of the Standing Order already passed in regard to Supply, which said—On a day so allotted, no business other than the business of Supply shall be taken before midnight.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said his hon. friend might have discovered a defect in the drafting, but the intention was clear that in future Thursdays should be what Fridays had been in the past. The Government never intended that private business should not come on Thursdays.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that the right hon. Gentleman had spoken all through of four evenings in the week, but it seemed clear that the words now proposed would exclude one evening.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said the proposal was new to him that Thursdays should be given to any other business than Supply. He did not accept the definition of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. His view was that the word "business" extended to private business. If the intention of his right hon. friend was to leave Thursdays to the Chairman of Ways and Means, he would find he would want an alteration in the Order.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE (Bristol, E.)
said that paragraph 5 of the Supply Rule stated—On a day so allotted no business other than the business of Supply shall be taken before midnight.He did not know whether he would be in order in asking Mr. Speaker for an interpretation of those words.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is entitled to ask me the meaning of these words, because they are contained in what is now a Resolution of the House. "Business" would seem to include all kinds of business.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that in order to make a difficult matter clear he should like, on a point of order, to call the attention of Mr. Speaker to the very first words of the old Rule, which contemplated the putting down of private business on Thursday. Would not that be in conflict with the present Rule?
§ MR. DILLON
said that the question which was now being discussed did not affect the Amendment before the House.
§ MR. CHANNING
asked the First Lord of the Treasury whether he would recall his own speech on the allocation of time on the 11th of April. The right hon. Gentleman then gave the House a carefully prepared time table showing what the result of the change would be.
§ MR. CHANNING
said he was not going to refer to Thursdays at all, but was speaking on the Motion of the hon. Member to reserve Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In that speech the First Lord of the Treasury stated that the amount of time to be allotted to private Members on Tuesdays and Wednesdays would be the total amount assigned to 509 them on the two days, subject to a deduction for private business which might be transferred to those evenings, which he estimated at only eight hours during the session. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the calculation he gave to the House on the 11th of April did not contemplate a more liberal treatment of private Members in the allocation of time which would be taken from them by private Bill business than would he given under the Rule as now laid before the House.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
said that he understood that the First Lord of the Treasury had agreed to give private Members one evening up to Whitsuntide. Private Members would have two evenings before Easter, one of which was to run with the Government, but between Easter and Whitsuntide they would only have one evening, namely Wednesday evening, and he understood that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to reserve that evening for private Members.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said he offered to give private Members one evening a week secure from private Bill business before Easter, but the hon. Gentleman now said that he ought to draught an Amendment so that that one evening before Easter should grow into one evening before Whitsuntide.
§ MR. CALDWELL
said it was important to reserve the evening between Easter and Whitsuntide, as that was the period of the session during which private Bill legislation was most discussed.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said it was a matter of indifference to him whether he would protect the evening between Easter and Whitsuntide, or the evening before Easter, but he did not think it, was fair to ask him to protect both. If it were the feeling of the House that Wednesday evenings should be protected between Easter and Whitsuntide, he was quite ready to adopt that course.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
By inserting at the end of the last Amendment the words 'or for the Evening Sittings on Wednesday between Easter and Whitsuntide.' "—Mr. A. J. Balfour.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said he should like to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether the Rule contemplated taking private business on Thursdays. There would seem to him to be a direct conflict between that and the other Rule, as the word "business" was used in two different senses.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I gave my opinion without having an opportunity of looking at the whole context. I confess I should like before giving any conclusive ruling upon it, to look at the whole Standing Order.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
asked if it were intended to leave the word "Thursday" in on the chance of its being right? He would suggest that when they were about to pass the Resolution making the Rules in Standing Orders, an opportunity might be given for making any verbal Amendments that might be necessary. (8.25.)
§ (9.0.) MR. GALLOWAY
moved to provide that the House, instead of the Chairman of ways and Means, should determine the time until which Private Business not disposed of by a quarter past two o'clock should be postponed. It would be found that the Standing Order proposed did not cover the whole ground, and the effect of it was that when a Private Bill was put down for any particular day, and an hon. Member who desired to oppose it simply said, "I object," the Bill would go down for the next day. It had been found in practice that it was not always convenient when the Bill was postponed that it should be taken the next day. There had been many cases in which the services of the Chairman of Ways and Means had been of great value in avoiding costly legislation. The practice had hitherto been that a Bill was put down upon a day agreed to by the promoters. Bills were often put down "By order" and 511 moved at a later date. That used to be a very common practice. A Bill used to be set down "By order," and moved to another day, entirely to suit the convenience of the agents. He denied that the convenience of the agents ought to be the primary factor in determining the days on which Bills should be taken. The House itself ought to determine the date on which Bills should; be taken, and it should not be left either to the Chairman of Ways and Means or the agents. He understood that these new Rules had been brought in to remove abuses in regard to the manner in which the business of the House was conducted and to correct and bring up to date the Standing Orders. Before the alteration now proposed was made it was the duty of the Government to show that there had been some abuse of this power, and that the present arrangement had led to some inconvenience. It was incumbent upon the Government to show cause why this power should be taken out of the hands of the House. There was only one solitary occasion upon which an abuse of this power had taken place, but surely that was no reason why the Government should come down and ask them to alter the Standing Order in this way. In practice the present system had been found to work well. His hon. friend who represented the Government would no doubt say that this alteration was necessary because in future they were going to sit under a time table. It would, no doubt, be argued in support of this alteration that if the time was not fixed they might have a division and the time table would be disarranged. If that was going to be the contention of his hon. friend it devolved upon him to show that there had been some abuse in the past. Let them consider for a moment the position of the Chairman himself. The Chairman of Committees was under the present system a partisan, and that might be a good or a bad system.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member implies that the Chairman of Committees acts as a partisan of the Government, he is not in order in making that statement.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
said he did not mean it in that sense, for he should be the last person in the world to make such a suggestion in regard to their present Chairman of Committees. What he was-pointing out was that the Chairman under this new Rule would have to exercise a function which might bring him into conflict with various political parties in the House, and he would have to decide between those various sections in the House as to which Motion should be sacrificed, and he would also have to decide upon which day private Bills should be taken. He felt that there had been no abuse of this Rule in the past, and they would do well to leave the decision of this matter in the hands of the House itself, and allow it so to remain until they found any abuse of the Rule. Then it would be quite time enough for the Government to take the authority out of the hands of the House.
In line 3, to leave out the words 'Chairman of Ways and Means.' and insert the word 'House.' "—(Mr. Galloway.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be loft out stand part of the Question."
§ (9.18.) MR. GRANT LAWSON
said that if the Amendment was accepted, the Rule would read that any business not disposed of by fifteen minutes after two o'clock, and without Question put, shall be postponed until such time as the House may determine. It seemed to him that that would be an absolutely impossible system. How could the House determine without Question put? There would be no Motion before them. He was perfectly sure that his hon. friend did not intend to attack the present Chairman of Ways and Means. His hon. friend seemed to be somewhat mistaken in regard to the present practice. The Rule of the House was that the promoters might put their Bill down for any day they desired upon the first occasion. How could any system be more ridiculous than that? If a promoter had got a bad case, of course he would put his Bill down upon a day when he thought there would not be 513 many Members present, and if he had a good case for a Bill, he would put it down when he thought there would be a good attendance of hon. Members. He thought that was a very bad arrangement indeed. The Rules of the House said that if anybody objected, the Bill was to go over to the next day, not to such day as the House should determine, so that the promoters really determined the day on which it should be taken. They fixed the first day, and if anybody objected, it wont over to the next day. At present promoters could do as they liked. He submitted that it would be impossible for the House to determine the matter at all. He could not accept the Amendment.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said his hon. friend had, either intentionally or innocently, misrepresented part of the Standing Order already adopted. It was true that as regarded postponement there would be no Question put, but there was another distinct question, and that was, to what day the business should be postponed. The conduct of the business of the House had always been in the hands of the House itself and his hon. friend's Amendment only seemed to him to carry out the ancient traditions of the House. The Chairman of Ways and Means had a great deal to do, and great responsibilities upon him, but it did not belong to him to settle the business of this House. That belonged to the House itself, and he would vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
suggested that the day to which the business should be postponed should be left to the decision of the Leader of the "' House, as more truly representing the opinion of the House. Still he preferred the Amendment of the hon. Member to the Rule as it stood. He did not think the Leader of the House would utilise his position to act unfairly towards a Motion in which a considerable section of the opinion of the House and the country at large was concerned. He would not act upon party or political considerations, because he would always be subject to public opinion. On the other hand, the Chairman of Committee of Ways and Means held a party 514 appointment. He came from the Treasury Bench to take the Chair and when he left the Chair he returned to the Treasury Bench. The hon. Member was sure, that anyone occupying that position would do his best to be fair, but it was impossible for him not to be influenced by political considerations. It was intolerable that he should be placed in the position of being a judge one day and a politician next day. He very much regretted that the Leader of the House was not in his place when this important matter was under discussion. There were twenty-two Cabinet Ministers, and it was scarcely respectful to the House that not one should be present when matters vitally affecting the interests of the House were under discussion.
§ (9.35.) SIR. ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said there were vast interests involved in the private Bill business which came before the House, and he thought it was quad-judicial business which had serious claims upon their consideration, costing, as it did, local authorities and others such enormous sums—three-quarters of a million a year. The Chairman of Ways and Means was in close touch with those in charge of and those opposing private Bills, and it would be better to leave the matter of time to his decision than to that of the House, which was very often ill informed for such a purpose.
§ MR. BRYCE
thought that a Committee on the lines of the Committee of Selection should be appointed for the allotting of the time of private business. If such a body sat for three or four days, they would probably find a way of doing this better than the Chairman of Ways and Means, who would be placed in a somewhat invidious position by having this duty thrust upon him. If it was left to the Chairman of Ways and Means, then he should be advised by a small Committee.
§ MR. CHARLES HOBHOUSE
said that as between the Amendment of the hon. Member for South-West Manchester and the proposal of the Government he should be inclined to support the Government. He favoured the plan which had been suggested by his right hon. friend 515 of appointing a small Committee to assist the Chairman. The Chairman would supply the knowledge, and the Committee would ensure the detachment which was desirable in dealing with business of this kind. It could not be decided by the House, because the decision of that body would be the decision not of those who had listened to the debate, but those who had been brought in by the division bell and who were dependent on the advice of others as to the way in which they should vote.
§ MR. LOUGH
expressed a hope that the House would agree to the proposal of the Government as it stood. It would be, he thought, almost impossible to find an arrangement that would work so well. If it was left to the Chairman of Committees to decide, it would in all probability be arranged by his hon. friend the Member for Mid Lanark, than whom, perhaps, there was no man more fitted for the task.
§ MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
said the Rule threw an invidious responsibility upon the Chairman of Ways and Means, but he was unable to see how the sense of the House could be arrived at as the Amendment proposed. He suggested that the arrangements with regard to postponed private business be referred to the Committee of Selection.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE (Essex, Saffron Walden)
said the object of the Amendment he now moved was to save the promoters and others interested in a private Bill from the considerable expense they might be put to, if it was not made perfectly clear that, in the event of private business being postponed to another day, it should have precedence.
In line 4, after the word 'determine,' to insert the words 'and shall then take precedence over all other business except a Motion under the Standing Order relating to Adjournment of the House.' "—(Mr. Joseph A. Pease.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."516
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am quite ready to accept these words. I think we had an object lesson of the necessity of some such words in the Motion that was moved for the adjournment of the House from the Irish Benches to discuss the question of the proclaimed districts of Ireland. That was admittedly a proper subject to be brought forward in this form, but there was a private Bill down, and it is quite evident that, though that Motion for adjournment would have obtained precedence at three o'clock, when the evening sitting came on we should have been ousted from our position by this private Bill. Under these circumstances, I think this Amendment ought to be accepted.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo. E.)
thought the Rule was too indefinite with regard to the time at which postponed private business was to be taken. Words ought to be inserted to guide the Chairman of Ways and Means in the matter. He suggested that the Amendment should run—Provided that such private business shall always be taken at evening sittings after any Motion for the adjournment of the House has been disposed of.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said he was absolutely in agreement with the hon. Member, and thought that his form of words better expressed the idea of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden than those which he had drafted.
Other Amendments made—
By inserting, in line 4, after the word 'determine,' the words 'provided that such private business shall always be taken at the beginning of an evening sitting after any Motion for the adjournment of the House standing over from an afternoon sitting has been disposed of'—(Mr. Dillon); and by inserting, after the words last inserted, the words 'and that such postponed business shall be distributed as near as may be proportionately between the sittings on which Government business has precedence and the other sittings '—(Mr. Blake); and by inserting, after the words last inserted, the words 'at an evening sitting at which Government business has not precedence, no opposed private business other than that then under consideration shall be taken after a quarter past Ten of the o'clock.' "—(Mr. Caldwell.)
§ (10.5.) MAJOR RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford) moved an Amendment limiting 517 the speeches on private business to ten I minutes. The hon. Member could not understand why any Member should desire to orate for more than ten minutes in the case of water, gas, sewage, or anything of that kind. The other night the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition both made almost complimentary allusions to himself on this question of short speeches, and appeared to agree with him; but unfortunately, with extraordinary unanimity, which was not often seen in the House, they went into the same lobby and voted against him. Though they agreed with him in the abstract, they differed from him in the concrete. Mr. Gladstone had said in the old days that he believed certain Members of the Opposition were accustomed to speak in favour of a Bill and vote against it in the lobby. He himself had done much the same thing in the past, with great benefit to his constituency, but he did not expect such treatment from the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. He thought right hon. Gentlemen ought to vote according to the views which their speeches indicated they held.
At the end of the Question to add the words—' Provided that, during the discussion of private business, no Member do address the House for a longer period than ten minutes.'"—(Major Rasch.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not know whether my hon. friend has in his pocket extracts from Hansard with which to coerce me; but certainly I do not accurately remember the precise phrases I may have used in former debates on the theme with which the hon. Gentleman deals in the agreeable speeches he makes on this subject. But the hon. Gentleman will, at all events, admit that neither the Leader of the House nor the Leader of the Opposition has any interested motives on the subject of private Bill legislation. Neither wishes to make speeches, even of ten minutes duration, on private Bills; and, speaking for myself, I do not remember ever having spoken on a private Bill. I am afraid, however, it would be impossible to limit the speeches on private Bills to the extent my hon. friend desires, because 518 I do not believe that a complicated case could be put forward within that limit. Though I do not doubt that most speeches could, with advantage, be confined to ten minutes, I do not think that the main contention against a Bill or in favour of it could, with fairness to the promoters or the opponents, be confined within those rigid limits. I sympathise with the desire of my hon. friend to limit the duration of speeches, but I do not think the present proposal, at this stage of our Parliamentary development, would meet with the general approval of either side of the House.
§ MR. BRYCE
said that, while he could not claim never to have spoken on a private Bill, he thought he had never spoken more than eight minutes on such a measure. He was in entire sympathy with the object of the hon. Member; in fact, he had once voted for his proposal, but he was afraid that he could not support him on this occasion. This was one of the cases in which the time limit would expose the House to difficulties, because of the complicated nature of some private Bills. In view of the fact that sittings at which private business was to be dealt with would be short, he thought the general feeling at evening sittings among Members would be to shorten their speeches, though he agreed that, sooner or later, the House would have to adopt some limitation. It should not, however, introduce a new principle of such great moment on a small detail of this kind, and therefore he could not support the Amendment.
§ MR. RENWICK (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
said that in previous debates on this subject much the same arguments had been put forward as those now advanced by the Leader of the House and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen. Something more was wanted than the mere expression of a pious opinion. The House was prepared to make sacrifices to carry out the wishes of the Government in respect of the new Rules, and it was hoped that those sacrifices would lead to some real improvement in the conduct of debates. Until, however, they did something to shorten speeches, notwithstanding the passing of the Rules, the 519 business of the House would not be facilitated. It was no good saying that it would be dangerous thus to limit speeches, seeing that there was in existence a much more effectual method of shortening debate—the closure—by which Members were prevented speaking at all. Surely it was better to have a debate of brief speeches from several Members than to have discussion con fined. There were certain Members who seemed to think themselves qualified to speak on every conceivable subject, to discuss the erection of a labourer's cottage or the building and equipment of a warship, and to be equally at home in discussing the affairs of a parish council and the administration of the Indian Empire. Their opinion was not shared by the majority of the House, and new Members certainly thought it would be better to have shorter speeches, more to the point, than was at present the case. During the discussion of these Procedure Rules, it had often been said the privileges of private Members were being destroyed. He did not know what privileges they might have had beyond the privilege of voting, and that privilege they would still retain; but if certain Members had lost privileges to which they had been entitled for many years, they had themselves to blame; they had brought it upon themselves, and they would get no sympathy from new Members. He sincerely trusted the Leader of the House would give favourable consideration to the Amendment. ["Time."] It would probably take more than ten minutes to convince the House of the necessity for this alteration. Members were returned to the House to express the views of their constituents, and, whatever might have been the case in the past, a great number of Members now could speak, and, sooner or later, would assert their right to speak. In the future there would be still greater necessity for this Rule, because municipalities and County Councils were going in for trading on their own account, and their Bills would demand more and more attention.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
thought the hon. and gallant Member had rather damaged his case by suggesting that the matter under discussion was the same as on a former occasion. As a matter of fact, the case was much stronger in this 520 instance, and several who voted against the Motion when last proposed would now be prepared to support it. When the proposal for the limitation of speeches was last made, it was suggested that only twenty minutes should be allowed, say, to the Secretary of State for War, when introducing the Army Estimates, or when replying to a whole night's discussion thereon. Such a suggestion could not be supported for a moment, and it was negatived by an overwhelming majority. Many Members who voted against that Motion, however, would be prepared to support a quarter-of-an-hour limit for speeches on private Members' evenings, when, in a short sitting, it was most important to have a brisk debate, with short speeches, so that a decision of the House might be obtained within the limited time at their disposal. With regard to private Bills, there was a strong case for allowing only two speeches, the one for, and the other against, to be of considerable length, while the rest were very short. The statement of the case in private business was a matter for two speeches rather than many, and as these Bills would assume increasing importance in future years, some such limitation would be necessary. From that point of view, he should support the Amendment.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said his hon. and gallant friend had the peculiar advantage—shared only by Members of the Front Bench—of having a conviction, and that conviction was that every question that came before the House ought to be settled with the same expedition as the drawing of a tooth—it should be done rapidly and painlessly. He apparently had the same feeling as the patient who, after having been dragged about the room for the greater part of an hour, asked the inexpert dentist whether he was paid by the job or by the hour. The seconder of the Amendment, however, had rather given the case away, because he had avowed that it was impossible to convince the House in ten minutes. As all Members spoke with the intention of convincing the House, it was useless, after that declaration, to proceed further with the Amendment. More elasticity was required on this matter than the Amendment allowed. There were times when those who did not usually speak 521 on private business had a desire to do so. For instance, on the Paper of that day, the London and India Docks Bill was down for consideration. He looked into the question early in the afternoon, and came to the conclusion that his duty might demand a speech from him on the subject. But when the right hon. Gentleman opposite got up, and sold the pass by undertaking that the Procedure Rules should be concluded by dinner-time the next day, he thought the East India Docks might take care of themselves. But supposing the pass had not been sold, was he to be restricted to ten minutes, during which time it was confessedly impossible to convince the House, even upon the question of the London and India Docks Bill? That would put an end to the whole object for which the House of Commons existed, viz., for the purposes of debate and the informing of the public mind.
§ (10.30.) MR. POWER (Waterford, E.)
said he thought any views coming from the hon. and gallant Member opposite were entitled to the consideration of Irish Members. He could not forget
§ the attention and courtesy which the hon. and gallant Member once showed to one of their respected colleagues who had now gone to his account. He was extremely sorry that upon this occasion his Irish friends could not support his proposal.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said it was quite clear, after what had occurred, that the proposal of the hon. Member was too stringent, and if he would add to his Amendment the words, "Except by leave of the House," he would support him.
By adding, at the end thereof, the words 'except by leave of the House.' "—(Mr. Sydney Buxton.)
§ (10.33.) Question put, "That those words, as amended, be there added."
§ The House divided :—Ayes, 94; Noes, 270. (Division List No. 161.)525
§ The new Standing Order, "Private Business," as finally adopted, is as follows :—
§ That no opposed Private Business shall be set down for the Sittings on Friday or for the Evening Sittings on Wednesday between Easter and Whitsuntide.
§ All Private Business which is set down for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, and is not disposed of by fifteen minutes after Two of the dock, shall, without Question put, be postponed until such time as the Chairman of Ways and Means may determine.
§ Provided that such Private Business shall always be taken at the beginning of an Evening Sitting after any Motion for the Adjournment of the House standing over from an Afternoon Sitting has been disposed of, and that such postponed Business shall be distributed as near as may be proportionately between the Sittings on which Government Business has precedence and the other Sittings.
§ At an Evening Sitting at which Government Business has not precedence, no opposed Private Business other than that then under consideration shall be taken after a quarter-past Ten of the clock.
§ Unopposed Private Business shall have precedence of opposed Private Business.