(2.55.) THE PRIME MINISTER AND THE FIRST LORI) OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
No Leader of the House can rise in his place and propose a Resolution on the lines of that which I have put down upon the Paper with any feeling of satisfaction. 608 I believe it to be a necessity. I think before I sit clown I shall be able to convince the House that it is a necessity; but I frankly admit that to me, at all events, it is a most unpleasant necessity. It amounts to an admission that our ordinary procedure is insufficient to carry on the business of the House. It amounts to an admission that our 609 Rules—great as are the changes effected in those Rules since closure was first proposed by Mr. Gladstone twenty years ago—that our Rules, with all those changes, are not sufficient to enable this House to deal with the legislative work which is put before it. That would be an insignificant and unimportant admission if the legislative work put before it by the Government in the course of the present session were in any way excessive in amount, but, whatever may be thought of the merits of the Bills that we have brought to the notice of the House, whatever may be thought in particular of the Bill to which special reference is made in this Resolution, I think every candid critic will admit that we have in this session thrown no undue or excessive legislative burden upon the Members of this House. And if that be so, as I think it is, it must be a matter of great regret to all interested in our Parliamentary procedure that the House is incapable of dealing with even that modest burden without some such exceptional procedure as that which I am about to suggest. Now, Sir, I do not propose to deal at any length with many of the subsidiary, though important, arguments which, I have no doubt, will figure largely in the debate which is to succeed. As regards precedent, it is not perhaps necessary to do more than remind the House of what you, Mr. Speaker, have already reminded us this afternoon—that for Closure Resolutions of this character there are three precedents. There is the precedent of the Crimes Act of 1887, there is the precedent of the Home Rule Bill of 1893, and there is the precedent of the Evicted Tenants Act of 1894.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am reminded by the right hon. Gentleman that there is a fourth precedent—namely, that relating to the Parnell Commission. I should hardly have thought that that was on all fours, although I have not refreshed my memory with the details; but I will ask the House, if they wish to decide the question by precedent, to confine their attention to the three cases winch Mr. Speaker has already mentioned. I May remind the House that closure by 610 compartments was moved in the case of the Crimes Act when that Bill had been in Committee for fifteen days. It was moved in the case of the Home Rule Bill of 1893 when that Bill had been in Committee twenty-eight days. In the case of the Evicted Tenants Bill, it was moved when that Bill had been in Committee two days. I have now the painful task of moving the closure in regard to the Education Bill when that measure has been in Committee, not fifteen days, not twenty-eight days, and not two days, but no less atilt thirty-eight days. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not full days."] I have not worked out the hours in each case: I am taking the rough estimate, and I think it will be found not far from the truth. So much for the bare precedents which we have to guide us.
Then, Sir, I come to an argument which, I think, is perhaps less relevant to the issue than the question of precedents, but which is not without its importance; and that is, the number of the minority who have throughout these prolonged debates on the Education Bill been criticising and resisting the proposals of the Government. In the cases of the Crimes Act, the Home Rule Bill, and the Evicted Tenants Bill, at all events, it was a great contest between the two parties in the House—the Government of the day and the Opposition of the day; and I may remind the House that the Opposition of the day were far more near to equality with the Government of the day than are the Opposition at present. But the opposition to this Bill is not conducted by the Opposition as a whole. I have had a calculation made, and I find that of the persons voting in the various divisions on this Bill the average against the Government amounted to 29 per cent., or less that, one-third, of those present. Every one who has followed the discussions on this Bill knows that, though the Opposition has been vigorous and effective, still it has not represented the great body of opinion on the other side of the House. [Cries of "Oh," and all HON. MEMBER: What about the Irish Members?] The figures which I have read out are enough to prove it. But, though I think it desirable to bring that fact before the attention of the House, do not let it be supposed that I wish to dwell on it. I ant perfectly ready to admit that the minority, although small, is a very important one, and that it contains within its ranks a 611 great body of the best English Opposition opinion. I do not wish to undervalue its strength, vigour, or ability; though its numbers do not compare with the numbers of the Opposition who fought the three Bills to which reference has already been made.
The next argument, which I mean to mention for the purpose of not dwelling upon it, is the argument based upon obstruction. I do not mean to dwell upon that, because my main contention is wholly irrespective of the merits or demerits of the persons who have been conducting the Opposite. If I were to say the Gentlemen opposite had been obstructing the Bill, it would mean that I intended to pass some serve censure on their Parliamentary conduct, and that is wholly irrelevant to my case. In point of view of temper and mutual courtesy, I think the Opposition have very greatly distinguished themselves. Considering the feeling which, if not aroused, have, at all events, been expressed outside the walls of this House, the moderation of tone which has habitually characterised our debates is extremely creditable to the House of Commons. Then, I might dwell upon the fact that this Bill is only a Bill of twenty clauses; and of those clauses I do not believe that there are more than four or five that can be described as controversial. [Cries of "Oh"] I take as an indication of what is a controversial Clause the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and I venture to say that, if four or five Clauses were eliminated from the Bill, it would be found that the Clauses would not have provoked any prolonged discussion at all, and that we might very readily, and without any great expenditure of Parliamentary time, have passed the Bill so emasculated into law. Therefore, though other Clauses have been discussed, it is really four or five that are controversial. If that is so, does it not throw a very strong light upon the Parliamentary situation in which we find ourselves? After thirty-eight days in Committee, we still find ourselves a considerable distance from the end of the Committee stage of the Bill, and with the whole of the Report stage of the Bill before us, on which every Amendment would be in order which we have discussed in Committee.
612 Sir, these arguments, which I have briefly touched upon, are all relevant and all important; but they are not the arguments on which I wish mainly to rely in asking the House to decide in favour of this Resolution. If I could not give other and stronger reasons for this Motion, I am not sure that these reasons would not be sufficient. If the argument which I am about to give be sufficient, then these other arguments, however important, may be regarded as to a certain extent superfluous. I endeavour honestly to look at this question quite apart from the particular controversy on which we are engaged. I remember dealing with the Rules over which we spent a considerable portion of our time earlier in the Session; and I remember that I advised the Opposition in their criticisms never to forget that they might some day be sitting on the right hand of the Speaker; and I advised those who supported the Government never to forget that the time would come when they would be sitting on the left of the Speaker; and it was only by every man putting himself in that imaginative position that he could give a fair verdict on the question. That advice I beg to repeat, and even to put in a stronger form. I would ask Members of the House to withdraw themselves in imagination from any special view of the merits or demerits of this Bill, and as to the convenience or inconvenience to which they themselves are personally put, and to say whether it is not absolutely necessary, after a Bill has been debated at the length which has characterised our debates on this Bill, that some step of the kind I am proposing should be taken. We must, as Members of Parliament, whether we be Conservatives or Radicals, admit that Parliament cannot allow itself to be rendered absolutely ineffectual and impotent merely by the expenditure of time in discussion. The only question we have to ask ourselves is—what is the best method of giving to ourselves, or restoring to ourselves, that efficiency which is absolutely necessary if this is to be not merely a Chamber for discussion, but a Chamber also for legislation? I have given, I need hardly say, a great deal of thought to the various problems which have come to a head in this Resolution. These problem have occupied 613 my thoughts—as I doubt not they have occupied the thoughts of all Members interested in Parliamentary procedure—not merely during the recent months, but for many years past. What are the possible remedies which can be suggested for the position of ineffectual impotence which I have just described? My right hon. friend the Member for the Sleaford Division, who is to speak tonight, has always had a strong personal leaning towards what he calls personal closure. He seems to think that the House of Commons can deal with this species of congestion by taking each offender in turn, and dealing summarily with him; and so by this process of expurgation gradually reducing our debates within reasonable limits. I know he holds that view with great earnestness; but I do not believe that it is practicable; and I am certain that, if my right hon. friend had watched this education debate as I have watched it, even he would come to the conclusion that it was impracticable. There has been no personal abuse of the rights of debate to be taken notice of by the House. I remember the, right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for West Monmouthshire, saying, at an earlier stage of these debates, that they had been con ducted on what he called "the Report principle"—that is to say, that hardly any Member had taken advantage of the right which we all possses in Committee of speaking more than once. Broadly speaking, that is a perfectly accurate statement. I do not say that, no speeches were delivered which I thought irrelevant, or that no Amendments were moved which I thought unnecessary. But the idea that you could have remedied this particular disease by any form of personal closure would never suggest itself to any person who had watched these debates.
I put that remedy aside. The second remedy is whether we should use the powers of the closure which the standing orders give us in such a manner that debate may be hurried on, that trifling and irrelevant Amendments may be excluded, and the general progress of the discussion may be so accelerated that exceptional and drastic measures may become unnecessary. I have always maintained that our closure rules under the Standing Orders are most effectual, and work excellently, for First, Second, and Third Readings or 614 Resolutions, but that they are utterly ineffectual to deal with anything like the Committee or the Report stages of a Bill, in which it is open to the ingenuity of any hon. Member to find some alternative proposal to that of the Government, or to suggest some modification of the proposal of the Government. That cannot be dealt with effectually, I fear—I have always held so—under our existing closure rules. It will be admitted that I have done my very best to use those rules so as to enable the House within reasonable compass to deal with the controversies raised by this measure, and what has been the result? I have not succeeded inn my effort. The only Parliamentary result I know is that the hon. Member wino cheered ironically a moment ago has given notice of an Amendment, which he has placed on the Paper, which seems to me to contain a not obscure attack on the Chair, and certainly indicated that, in his opinion, even the modest and moderate efforts which I have made to expedite business were to be branded and characterised as an interference with the rights of free discussion.
§ MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire. Rushcliffe)
If this Motion on my part was meant as an attack on the Chair, it certainly would have been put in the plainest possible terms.
§ MR. A. BALFOUR
I confess I thought the terms were perfectly plain. I saw no ambiguity about them. I therefore ask those who say that our existing methods of expediting business are sufficient, to cast their eyes back on the experience of the last month, and I think they will come to the conclusion that I have come to, that these rules are, for the Committee stage of a Bill, quite ineffectual and insufficient in the case of a measure fought as this measure has been fought.
What is the next remedy which the ingenuity of man can suggest? The next remedy is that of all-night sittings. I do not deny that all-night sittings, or a series of all-night sittings, may be a necessary, though certainly most unhappy form of expediting Parliamentary business. Let no one pretend, however, when they are praising all-night sittings as a mode of expediting 615 Parliamentary business, that it either promotes the dignity of the House or increases the freedom of debate. It does, in reality, neither one nor the other. What it does do is that it enables us, under our existing rules, and without some exceptional modifications such as I am now proposing, to force through in the teeth of a reluctant minority some particular stage or particular clauses of a measure. But the objections to it are quite obvious. The strain put on Members is very great; the strain put on the officers of the House is even greater. To pretend for a moment that discussions carried on under that particular species of pressure are equivavalent to the free debate of this House at reasonable and seasonable hours is, of course, an extravagant proposition which no one would defend. In this case it would be wholly ineffectual. It might be possible—I doubt it—to finish by this method of a series of all-night sittings, by the application of physical torture in the form of want of sleep, the remaining Clauses in the Committee stage of this Bill, for these Clauses are of a kind which do not excite much heat or passion. But when you have done that you have the Report stage, and on the Report stage every Amendment raised on the Committee stage can be repeated; and I believe it is neither physically possible nor morally desirable to attempt such a terrific process of forcible debate, as to carry ail the remaining stages by requiring Gentlemen who oppose and support the Government to sit up all night in an endeavour to make progress—to sit all night, night after night, in order to expedite business. I reject, therefore, all these measures. There are two others, and only two, which occur to me as possible. One is, that we might carry on this session to an indefinite period, to January, February, or March, and to continue all through these weary months the discussion on the Education Bill. I do not know that any one is going to propose that as a proper method of dealing with the situation. I have given it a great deal of thought, and so great is my aversion to any form of closure by compartments that I abandon it, I frankly admit, with the utmost reluctance. A plan of that sort disorganises the whole Parliamentary 616 chronology. I do not know whether it would bring us into conflict with the law as to the annual Estimate or Supplies, but I am sure it is fraught with great inconvenience, for it absolutely destroys the rights of private Members so long as it lasts. In addition to that, it utterly disorganises the work of the succeeding session. Therefore, for these and other reasons with which I need not trouble the House, and on the whole, though not without hesitation and reluctance, I find myself forced to abandon the idea of recommending that course to the House. There remains only one other plan, and that is the plan known as "carrying over." I have always had a weakness for that plan. I am quite aware that I stand almost alone in that. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, no, many of us would agree."] I remember a Committee of which I was, if not the chairman, at least the labouring oar on behalf of the Government, and I drew up a Report. We had a long fight over that Report. In it I recommended a plan for carrying over, and I contrived to carry that Report by a bare Party majority. In every division there were against me the right hon. member for West Monmouth, Mr. Gladstone, and, I think, the right hon. Member for the Montrose Burghs; at all events the whole strength of the Opposition on a very strong Parliamentary Committee was against me; and whenever I have further suggested this plan of carrying over to my own friends on this side of the House it has been received with cold disapproval—that phrase would be too mild. I have therefore come to the conclusion that, whether it would be a good plan or a bad plan, it is not a plan which is ever likely to receive favour from any body of the House, or to become embodied as part of our ordinary machinery in the Standing Orders. I confess there is one argument against the plan of carrying over which I did not realise at the period to which I am referring, but which has been borne in upon me by reflection and experience since, and it is this. I am not sure that the character of this House could really survive a discussion on the trumpery details—even the most important Bill has its trumpery details—of a Bill extending not merely week after week, but month after month, and extending to session after session. 617 I believe we should get so sick of the proceedings, and of ourselves, and the country would get so sick of us, that we should sink under general derision or personal weariness, and therefore, I have to admit that my own views have on this subject undergone some change. Even if I thought I could carry such a proposal, which I am convinced I could not, I should not, after the experience which I have described, press it with the same youthful enthusiasm which I once possessed.
I believe that I have now exhausted every conceivable plan by which the House would be enabled to do that which everybody must admit it must do—namely, to carry an important Bill in a session which has not been unduly crowded by other work. That is the minimum which the House allows itself to do. But if every other method by which that end can be attained is to be abandoned, we are driven back reluctantly, sorrowfully, but inevitably, on the plan which I now have to propose to the House. Before asking the House to agree with that proposition, I would ask whether we have been unreasonable, either in the length of time we have allowed this Bill to go on in Committee, or in the general distribution of the business of the Session. I will remind the House of a calculation which I laid before it when discussing the Rules, and in which I pointed out that so long as the House was determined to spend as much time as it habitually spends on the King's Speech, on Supply, and all other financial arrangements, upon private Members' time, even as curtailed by the new Rules, and upon the other business absolutely necessary for conducting the business of the country, it did not leave more than six weeks for new Government legislation—I exclude the Budget, of course—but in a normal session for ordinary legislation I think that too small. I think that the House ought to curtail its privileges of criticism in order to give more time to legislation, but I will not press that now. We shall have spent on the Committee stage alone of this Bill something like fifteen days more than those six weeks. Three weeks of Parliamentary time, more than all the time available for new legislation under the normal system, we will have actually spent before the Committee stage comes to an end, 618 in discussing the Committee stage alone of a single measure. Surely this is exhibiting far more patience than the Conservative Government did over the Crimes Act in 1887, or the Home Rule Government did in the Home Rule Bill in 1893, and certainly not going near the headlong impatience of the right hon. Member for Montrose, who came down and moved closure by compartments after, I think, two days of Committee on the Evicted Tenants Bill Surely we, who have gone on already thirty-eight days, have shown ample and long-suffering patience before applying the painful, drastic, but effectual remedy I have proposed.
I hope, Sir, I have proved to the House that the Government had no alternative but to adopt the general policy which I have sketched out. But it may be asked, and I think it ought to be asked, whether this is the best machinery by which that general policy can be carried into effect. I frankly tell the House I do not think it is. I think there is something clumsy in closure by compartments. It is not an ideal form; but it is, however, the form consecrated, if I may use the word in such a connection, by past experience. If I had attempted to bring before the House any more elaborate scheme such as those which I have taken the trouble to compare, they would, I think, have had a right to ask for more time to consider it than I trust they will have on the present occasion, and I confess I am reluctantly compelled to the belief that what has been done hitherto, up to the present time, three times, and, after tonight's debate, will have been done four times, has not been done for the last time, and the House ought really to take into serious consideration, I think, some better machinery for dealing with a situation like the present. I therefore make no pretensions to perfection in the plan I have adopted. I can only say it is the plan adopted by my predecessors, and it is the plan which I would advise the House, all things considered, to employ for the present occasion. I asked hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House in a early part of my speech to imagine themselves in the place of Ministers sitting here, and then try and consider the position of the 619 minority of this House. I am perfectly aware that there may be friends of mine who, agreeing with the Government in their general policy, and ardently supporting them, as they have, in the debates over this Bill, nevertheless cannot help feeling some misgiving lest the precedent which we are using may be used against us. Well, Sir, I do not think they need entertain that fear, by which I by no means suggest that, if a Home Rule Government, a Government composed of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, came into power, they would not employ closure by compartments, because I have very little doubt that under some circumstances they would, but I do not think their course would be rendered easier by the precedent we are setting tonight. But if they will promise not to employ closure by compartments until we have been thirty-eight days in Committee on some controversial measure, I think my hon. friends may be perfectly sure, in the first place, that the precedent will not be often used; and, in the second place, that, when used, it will be one which it will be practically impossible for the House of Commons, as a whole, to resist. We know by observation that they are perfectly prepared not to follow our precedent, but to follow their own, and the proceedings on the Evicted Tenants Bill will give a good deal of thought to those who fear that anything we may do tonight will facilitate the task which may fall upon our successors in office. Those Gentlemen have already shown how they are prepared to deal with a Bill after two nights in Committee, and if we are now showing to them and the country the kind of sacrifice which we in a majority are prepared to make of time and trouble in order to secure free debate for this House, the precedent we have set will not be one which will militate against ample discussion, but, on the contrary, will have precisely the opposite effect. I hope I have now shown the House, in no controversial spirit, without, I trust, raising any debates which are likely to excite passion, why it is that, as Leader of the House of Commons, responsible for the moment for the business of the House, I deem it necessary in the interests of the House that this Resolution should be 620 passed. I do not base it on the merits of the Bill we are now discussing; I do not base it on the demerits of the Opposition; I base it on the broad fact that Parliament has to do its work. That argument seems to me amply sufficient, and that argument is the one on which I rely in asking the House to support us on the present occasion. I beg to move.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Proceedings in Committee and on Report of the Education (England and Wales) Bill (including Proceedings on the Financial Resolution relating thereto), shall, unless previously disposed of, be brought to a conclusion at times and in the manner hereinafter mentioned:—
"(a) The Proceedings in Committee on the remaining part of Clause 12, and on Clause 13, on Wednesday 12th November; (b) The Proceedings on Clauses 14,15, 16 and 17, on Thursday 13th November; (c) The Proceedings on Clauses 18, l9 and 20, and on the Committee Stage of the Financial Resolution, on Friday, 14th November; (d) The Proceedings on Report of the Financial Resolution, and. on the New Clause relating to the aid grant, on Monday, 17th November; (e) The Proceedings on the New Clauses relating to endowments, local authority's managers, and grouping, on Tuesday, 18th November; (f) The Proceedings on the New Clause relating to managers, and any other Government New Clauses, on Schedules, and any new Government Schedules, and any other Proceedings necessary to bring the Committee Stage to a conclusion, on Thursday, 20th November; (g) The consideration of the Report shall be appointed for Tuesday, 25th November; arid the Proceedings on Report on any New Clauses and on Amendments to Parts I. and II. of the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion on that day; (h) The Proceedings on Report on Amendments to Part III. of the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion on Thursday, 27th November; (i) The proceedings on the Report of the Bill shall be concluded on Friday, 28th November.
"At 11 p.m. on the said days, or, if the day is a Friday, at 4.30 p.m., the Chairman or Speaker shall put forthwith the Question or Questions on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair, and shall next proceed successively to put forthwith the Question on 621 any Amendments moved by the Government of which notice has been given, but no other Amendments, and on every Question necessary to dispose of the allotted Business.
"In the case of new Clauses and Schedules, he shall put only the Question that such Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.
"Proceedings under this Order shall not he interrupted (except at an Afternoon Sitting at 7.30 p.m.) under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to Sittings of the House.
"After the passing of this Order, on any day on which any proceedings on the Education (England and Wales) Bill stand as the first Order of the Day, no Dilatory Motion on the Bill, nor under Standing Order 17, nor Motion to postpone a Clause, shall be received unless moved by the Minister in charge of the Bill, and the Question on any such Motion shall be pot forthwith.
"If Progress be reported, the Chairman shall put this Order in force in any subsequent sitting of the Committee."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ (3.42.) SIR. H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I fully recognise, as every one must, the amiable and even philosophic tone in which the right hon. Gentleman has moved this Resolution, but I rise to move an Amendment which invites the House to decline to give its approval of the course which he proposes we shall take. I am sure of one thing—that the sentiment he expressed on this subject is shared by us all. I am sure there is in no part of the House a single man who regards a summary and forcible procedure of this kind otherwise than with repugnance. On the other hand, I am equally sure that there is no one, or almost no one, who does not adroit that there may be extreme, and urgent, and exceptional cases in which it may be necessary to use it. But before we are satisfied that any such course is not expedient only, but necessary (because it goes beyond expediency to the hounds of necessity) every Member ought to examine what is the nature—because it depends upon this—and I would even use another word, the texture—of the Bill before the House, what are the circumstances of its origin, what is the feeling regarding it, what is the urgency 622 of its passing, what will be the evil consequences of its delay, and, above all, whether there has been leading up to this incident of the day anything in the nature of obstruction—that is to say, of a deliberate determination to thwart and impede the progress of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman gives the go-by to this question of obstruction, but the whole of this machinery, so far as it has been applied, has been applied solely for pure obstruction. It is in obstruction it had its origin, and that is the mischief for which it is the cure, and therefore it is the more necessary for the right hon. Gentleman, as he abandons obstruction, to prove his case on other grounds. I have said that we all admit there must be exceptions, but I find that there are two notable authorities in the House who do not admit any necessity for the Rule at all. There were two opinions expressed on the occasion so often referred to—that of the Home Rule Bill. One of these authorities said:I do not come here to oppose this Resolution as a Unionist, but because I think it is absolutely inconsistent with the very elements of the life of a free debating assembly.It was, therefore, not because the Home Rule Bill was in itself so abominable, not because it was so dangerous to the Empire, or on any ground of that sort; it was apart altogether from the merits of the Bill that he opposed the Resolution as being inconsistent with the very elements of the life of a free debating assembly.We are going," said this authority "to set up a precedent which for all time will impair the efficiency and cloud the honour of this assembly," and he went on to describe the. Resolution as "the wreck of the liberties of Parliament.'This was quite apart from, and irrespective of, any particular circumstances of the merits or demerits of the Bill to which the procedure was to be applied. The other high authority said:—We are on a declining plane. The Government for very shame proposes to give us a month. The next Government will perhaps give us a week only.A prediction which has been most accurately fulfilled.Be sure of this,the authority went on—the tendency is constantly to diminish. You are on a fatal incline. I would say that a 623 Bill of this kind ought in no case, under no circumstances, under no stress, in no extremity, to be subjected to any curtailment of free debate.Those were the opinions of the present First Lord of the Treasury and the Secretary of State for the Colonies. And now the First Lord conies forward with a proposal identical with the one to which he then objected. I leave to him the task of reconciling his proceeding now with the opinions he then expressed.
For my part, I take a much more moderate and reasonable view. We must contemplate that there may be cases of extreme urgency which demand this somewhat violent interference with the rights of minorities. But what is the case today? The right hon. Gentleman has given up the case so far as it is founded on obstruction, as well he may. The only obstruction I have observed was of a most casual, accidental, and genial kind. It proceeded from the benches opposite. On more than one occasion there appeared to be a little difficulty in marshalling the forces of the Government, and hon. Members opposite continued to debate on some small point, having a difficulty in adapting their countenances to the seriousness of the matter before the House; and they carried on the debate, if debate it could be called, until a member of the King's Household came in and told them in an audible voice that it was unnecessary to keep it up any longer. I make no objection whatever. On the contrary, they were doing, no doubt, a good public service. It must be so, because I observe that one of the hon. Members who took a leading part in that proceeding has promptly received a high honour from the Government.
What has happened on this Bill? On both sides of the House Amendments have been moved and accepted and that reminds me to point out an extraordinary omission on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. He has said nothing of the nature of the Bill, or of its attendant circumstances Now, we found our whole case upon the nature of the Bill, and we say that these numerous Amendments would not have been necessary if the Bill had not been introduced in such an elementary-condition that it had to be patched and 624 mended in order that it might hold together at all. Obstruction! Why I venture to say that never has a Party, regarding a measure as obnoxious, so single-mindedly done so much to improve it. [MINISTERIAL laughter.] The Colonial Secretary, as usual, laughs.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Have none of those Amendments, the discussion of which was so tedious and inconvenient, been adopted by the Government? Compare the condition of the Bill now—up to and including Clause 12—with its original form, and you will find at once a complete justification of all that has happened, and an overwhelming confirmation of my contention. Go back to the Home Rule Bill. The Opposition of those days were exerting all their ingenuity to ruin that Bill. But on this occasion my hon. friends, who are, many of them, experts in education, who are thorough masters of the subject, who know it in its practical working, have been doing their best to improve your Bill and make it more workable. Amendment after Amendment has been introduced by the Government to meet the views expressed by my hon. friends, and without being so effusively and submissively grateful as the right hon. gentleman expected, we at least acknowledge the fact.
The right hon. gentleman says that Parliamentary institutions are on their trial, He made a speech in the City not long ago in which he said that these long debates were a discredit to the House of Commons, and that Parliament would not retain its position if they were allowed to continue. Now he speaks of Parliament, being ineffective and impotent. And what is his cure for the ineffectiveness and impotence of Parliament? It is to suspend the privileges of the House of Commons; it is to institute government by executive degree; it is to take away the powers of Parliament. That is how lie thinks he will increase the respect of the country for it. That is not the way at all. I think I shall be able by-and-bye to give some reasons that go far to account for 625 the condition of things which exist. Last night, at a festive scene, the right hon. gentleman again pleasantly described our debates. It seems to be a favourite topic with the right hon. Gentleman. He says we have had a great deal of local government, a great deal of religion, but very little of education. If that is so, why is it? Local government? Yes, because this Bill transgresses some of the most elementary principles of local government, because it brought, as originally introduced, confusion of the powers and duties of local bodies, because it abolishes—I am sorry I have to speak in the present tense—efficient local bodies, and imposes on other local bodies new and strange functions which they do not ask for, and which, on one hand and the other, they are declining to undertake. This Bill, which is to affect local government, high and low, throughout the country, leaves definitions undefined and boundaries unmarked. That is why there has been so much of local government in the debates. Then why have you heard so much about religion? Because the main purpose of a great part of this Bill is not the improvement of education, but the establishment of denominational teaching—a purpose religions, not educational. One denomination is to be quartered on the rates for teaching purposes, and the atmosphere of one religious sect is to be created and maintained in schools which we are still to call national. That is why you have heard so much about religious questions, and why you will continue to hear so much, unless one thing is done. If the right hon. Gentleman disclaims that that is the object of the Bill, let him sweep the parts I have referred to out of the Bill, and I promise him that in proportion as he does so, he will hear less of religion.
Let us go back to the origin of this Bill, for in the case of a Bill so complicated, so thorny, so difficult, it is well to go back to its origin when it is intended to inflict this grievous blow on the privileges of Parliament on its account. Let us put aside the question of educational reform, and of the extension of higher education, especially of a scientific and technical kind. That is not a matter with which there is a 626 "ha' porth" of difference in the country; everybody is agreed on that. If you had introduced a Bill dealing with that subject, it would have gone through rapidly, with only such discussion as was necessary to make it work well. Could not that have been done without dabbling with elementary education? If Parliament has been brought to anything in the nature of an impasse, we must ask those who led us into it why they did it. We must ask the Government why they took up the subject of elementary education. They themselves evidently did not see the necessity for interfering much or soon with elementary education. They introduced Bills in 1899, 1890, and even in 1901—after the Cockerton decision had lopped off the top branches of the School Board system; but these three Bills did not touch elementary education. If it is said to have been necessary on the ground of educational efficiency, I have taken the trouble to get the latest Report of the Board of Education, and I find this on the subject of general efficiency:—The general efficiency of public elementary schools throughout the country is maintained at a high level, and while there is still room for improvement in many schools, very few wholly fail to provide adequate instruction for the children attending them. During the year only one school had t he grant withheld on a second report of inefficiency under the conditions of Article 86 of the Code;" and soon.Do not let it be imagined that this is the optimistic view of some self-satisfied clerk in a public Department, who never sees anything beyond the walls of his office; this is signed by "Devonshire, president, and John E. Gorst, vice-president, of the Committee of Council on Education." Here is the highest authority that there was no urgent and clamant necessity for interfering with elementary education. It is easy to say what was the origin of the introduction into the Education Bill, which was wanted by the country, of all these provisions about elementary schools which were not wanted by the country. It was the demand of the Church party. There is no question about it. I have here circulars they sent out. Their attitude was, "Now or never. Let us take advantage of this great majority. Where shall we be if the election comes to turn on educational issues? Let us make hay while the 1900 South African sun still shines."
627 Now I come to an argument on today's proceedings which commends itself strongly, I know, to many of my friends, and certainly largely influences people outside—the argument that there has been no mandate for this Bill. I would say at once that I cannot carry this doctrine of a mandate to the full length to which it is pushed. I don't think we can constitutionally fetter the action of any Parliament which may at any time take into consideration the subject which it considers most needs consideration; but at the same time no one can doubt, and everyone knows, the altogether exceptional character of the last general election. I could quote a perfect anthology of the sayings of Ministers, but there is one I have here, so remarkable, that I think it is worth while quoting it. It is the most emphatic of all; and, being emphatic, the House will expect that I should say it comes from the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He proclaimed that Liberals might vote against their party at the election without any prejudice to their Liberal opinions. He said—There had been a wonderful turnover of the mining vote in the North of England. Thousands and thousands of miners who had never voted Unionist before, who still called themselves Liberals and Radicals, had on this occasion supported the Unionist candidate. He did not say that they had changed their views. They were probably Liberal and Radical as before, and they would probably vote for Liberals and Radicals at the next election, but at this election they had voted for the Unionist candidate. Why had they done that? Because they saw that the issue at the present tune was not a question of domestic policy, such as Church Disestablishment or Liquor Prohibition, but a question of the existence of the Empire.How many of these votes would have been secured if the right how Gentleman had gone out telling them all, "Every vote given to a Unionist is a vote given against School Boards"?
Up to that point I fully acknowledge the force of this view of the case. The Government are acting, I will not say with a false majority, but with a majority which was not elected on any subject such as this. It is well known, and I am not stating something that can be contradicted. But though that invalidates the power and authority of the Government and may hamper it very much, I do not go so far as to say that an absolutely fresh mandate is required for every great Bill that is to be introduced. What is the feeling of the country now? What evidence have we 628 of that? The right hon. Gentleman indulged in a little sceptical smile and a few sceptical words as to the real nature of the strong feeling which exists outside this House. But I can only say that I am certain of this—and I think most Members of the House on both sides know it—that you have raised the feeling of the Free Churchmen in this country to a warmth of fervour that we have never seen in our generation, and it will not do to put that away with a smile. The mass of them maybe poor and humble men, but they are the kind of men who for many generations have been accustomed to win in every battle in which they earnestly and seriously engaged. Then we have had lately half-a-dozen bye-elections since this Bill was introduced. So far as it goes, what does that test of public opinion show? In those six bye-elections the Liberal vote has gone up by 39 per cent., and the Government vote has gone down by 8 per cent.—not very encouraging to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and not very favourable to the prospects of a peaceable and quiet and permanent settlement on these lines of this great educational question. My contention is that a Bill of this character requires the fullest and freeest discussion, because it is designed for a permanent settlement which affects closely the daily life of the people; it touches the conscience as well as political principle and opinion; and—another fact which is not to be forgotten—once it has passed through the House of Commons it will find its way to the statute book without much chance of emendation or alteration in its course.
Now, would a few days more debate, a few days more delay, have been such a dreadful evil after all? [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh.] It would have been no evil to education. The schools which the high authorities I have quoted say are excellent, would have gone on all the same. Nothing would have interrupted them, and what evil would have come from it? Supposing there had been delay, or even postponement, what would have happened? So far as I am aware, one thing, and one thing only, would have happened. Inconvenience would have been imposed on Members of this House. These debates are, no doubt, irksome and wearisome, especially to those who do 629 not follow them closely, but something, after all, is due to the public interest. Moreover, is the right hon. Gentleman personally altogether free from blame? He devoted the early part of this year to the Procedure Rules, which again were mainly introduced to suit the comfort and convenience of hon. Members; and what has lie gained by them? He has got his dinner hour and his week-end, but I remember warning him that, so far as my own observation and experience, and that of others better qualified than myself to judge, went, his dinner hour at any rate would not conduce to the rapid passage of business; and I think he has found that to be so now.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Well, you have not been able to keep your men here; but that is another matter. I am sure it has not increased the facility for business. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh."] At all events, here we were, plunged into these Rules, many of which are not yet passed, and many of them, of the most controversial kind, truncated and left half finished, though the best part of the Session was devoted to t hem. Then we have seen the extraordinary drafting and preparation of this Bill—the lacunce and slips and inconsistencies which the Government themselves found out, and which the less acute minds on this side of the House have also seen. There have been changes of mind throughout the whole proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman is very much struck by the fact that this is a twenty-clause Bill. He seems to measure a Bill V its clauses, but surely if ever there was a case in which von could say ponderanda, non numeranda, it should be in regard to the clauses of a Bill. Why, a ten-clause Bill, or, for what I know, a one-clause Bill, could send the House of Commons packing, and establish some sort of government by Cabinet in its place. How much time would it have taken to have gone on as we were going on? Everything was going quietly. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that the most outstanding and complex questions of difficulty have been passed, and what remained were comparatively easy and unimportant. Why did not the right hon. 630 Gentleman have a little patience? He said that they had had a great deal of long-suffering patience. [MINISTERIAL cheers.] Well, "long-suffering" is a rather unpleasant word to use against those most of whom, either as regards the manner or the matter of their speeches, you can make no complaint; but a little more patience would have seen him through. He brought forward a number of Quixotic and extreme suggestions, such as the question, "Are you going to have all-night sittings in a case of this sort until every one is exhausted?" No; no one out of a lunatic asylum suggests it. But there was this solution of the difficulty to which he did not refer—that is, to be sure, when you have a big Bill of this sort, touching such a thorny question, to give it the best of the session; and certainly, to be sure that it is drawn in such a way as to avoid rather than encourage Amendments. And, lastly, I think you ought, when you have begun it, to go on with it until it has passed through the House of Commons, which would not involve any very exaggerated time, and would save you the necessity of committing this dreadful inroad, as the right hon. Gentleman admits, upon the rights and privileges of Parliament. Our real purpose has been—while we have maintained our opinion, and reserved our opinion on the obnoxious parts of the Bill—to bring order out of educational chaos; but now the decent discussion of the details of this Bill is to be sacrificed to the fiat of the Minister and the ease and convenience of Members. What contribution will be made by the Members to the dignity, renown, and efficiency of Parliament? None whatever. On the contrary, a blow will be struck at it. In that, at least, we will have no hand, and I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.
To leave out all the words after the word 'That,' in line 1, and to add the words, 'this House declines to entertain a proposal to restrict debate upon a measure which, since it vitally affects the whole working of local government and administration, and, while assuming to establish' a permanent system of national education, endows denominational teaching out of the rates without securing full popular control, demands the most searching examination in every particular.'"—(Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words to the end of line 6, stand part of the Question."
§ (4.15.) MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
I ask the indulgence of the House, and especially of many hon. Members on this side, while I endeavour to state the reasons which, after much thought and reluctance, compel me, on every ground, and with every sense of duty, consistency, and self-respect, and of regard for the future position of this House, to take the course which I intend to take tonight—namely, to oppose this Motion. I listened with the greatest interest to everything that fell from my right hon. friend tonight, and while I did so the memory of a similar occasion came back upon me with a force which it was almost impossible to resist. I seemed to witness once again the scene which was before us on that occasion, and to hear again the speeches which were made by men, old friends and colleagues of my own, with whom in perfect union I had been working all my Parliamentary; life and I frankly own that the contrast, the glaring contrast, for it is nothing else, between their sentiments and views at that time and the policy which they propose today, is to me one of the most painful, and as regards the future of the Tory party, I consider, one of the most dangerous episodes I remember in a very long Parliamentary career. I will not dwell more, however, upon this, but I must stop for a moment to notice yet another striking contrast between the proceedings of today and upon that occasion; because it raise: a rather serious question, and it afford some evidence, I think, of the rather impatient spirit in which the Prime Minister is treating the House upon this occasion. When Mr. Gladstone moves his famous Resolution on the 29th o June 1893, he gave the House a week—till the 6th of July—before it came into operation; but my right hon. friend moved his Resolution tonight, and it is to take effect tomorrow. That is tribute, I admit, to the mantle of prophecy which has fallen upon one his colleagues, my right hon. friend the Secretary for the Colonies, for you have I think, already been reminded that, 632 speaking on Mr. Gladstone's Motion in 1893, he said—The Government for very shame propose to give you a month. The next, perhaps, will give you a week only.Why, the Prime Minister has done a good deal better than that because between my right hon. friend's Resolution and the hour when the knife is to descend on his victims, he gives us only a single clay. But this raises a serious question. It does not rest with the right hon. Gentleman to settle whether or not this resolution is to be carried at a single sitting. What right has he to assume, as he does by the very words of his Motion, that it will be? It is certain that it can be only by the closure if it is; and unless —which I will not believe—he has come to some arrangement with Mr. Speaker beforehand on this subject, what right, I say, has he or any Minister to presume that Mr. Speaker, who is the guardian of our privileges, and, above all, of our rights of speech, will assent to any such proposal, before, at all events, he has heard the views of Gentlemen in all parts of the House? All I know is this, that when a Motion for the closure was made on the first night of Mr. Gladstone's Resolution in 1893, it was emphatically refused by Mr. Speaker Peel, and in these words, for I have referred to them myself—I shall certainly decline to put that Motion.I shall continue to believe that the present honoured occupant of the Chair—
§ MR. SPEAKER
This is quite out of order. The right hon. Gentleman is proceeding now to discuss and even to dictate to the Chair what its course should be. I shall do my duty, I hope, should the occasion arise, but I decline to allow any debate beforehand as to the course I should pursue.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I am most sorry if anything that fell from me gave that impression for a moment to you. I was about to use the very words that fell from you, that the occupant of the Chair might assuredly be trusted to do his duty.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman will understand that I did 633 not imply that he had said anything except in a perfectly courteous manner, but I considered that what he was doing was not in accordance with order and the Rules of the House.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I am extremely sorry if I have Committed the slightest breach in that respect; I was arguing against what appeared to me to be the assumption contained in the very words of the Motion, that this proposal must be carried tonight. I pass then, Mr. Speaker, altogether from that branch of the question; merely saying this, that I think there was some justification for the views which struck me with regard to it. The Prime Minister has based his case very much on the necessity for this Motion, if, as he says, we are to preserve the dignity of this Assembly and our power to cam out any legislation at all. Well, Sir, I am quite as anxious as my right hon. friend to maintain the dignity of this Assembly. My complaint of him is this, that by his Rules, which have been referred to already, and on which so notch of the time of this session has been spent, he has done so very little to preserve its dignity. That is why I have always quarrelled with his Rules. Undoubtedly there was a strong demand both here and in the country for reforms in Rules in order to check disorder and to curb obstruction. A whole code of Rules was introduced accordingly, and what is the result? Has anything at all been done to preserve the dignity of the House, or check disorder, or curb obstruction? Nothing—practically nothing; and I think it has been proved by the result, and by the necessity for the violent proceedings which are proposed tonight. The night before Parliament assembled, my right hon. friend, I think it was at the Mansion House, passed a glowing eulogium on the House of Commons and what was termed the Mother of Parliaments. I cannot say when I read it in the morning that I entirely agreed with him, and he met with a rather unfortunate reply on the very following day, when a Member of the House, in the course of one of the debates, did his best in a most violent scene to personally assault him while he was in his place upon that Bench. [Cries of "No."]
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
There was no attempt whatever to assault him. Is the right hon. Gentleman's remark in order?
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say, in justice to others, that the statement is inaccurate?
§ MR. CHAPLIN
If the hon. Member knows that, I will withdraw it instantly. That is the impression which sitting up here the hon. Member gave me, and that was why, I was very glad when I saw the manly form of my right hon. friend the Minister for Agriculture in the way, because I thought the hon. Member would otherwise certainly have succeeded in what I conceived to be his purpose. I am delighted to hear that I have misinterpreted his action. But apart from that unpleasant incident, I think the Prime Minister must have felt that his glowing eulogium was a little out of place when, for a week or ten days afterwards, we were confronted with the still more painful spectacle of Mr. Speaker—I do not wish to use any unparliamentary expression—being what appeared to me bated and heckled for three-quarters of an hour at a time almost daily by men who apparently had learned that under the new Rules they could do it with impunity. Now, to my mind, these are the things which are sapping the credit and the dignity of the House, and which the Government, by their new Rules, would do nothing to prevent, and I cannot find a letter or a line which has been added to your Rules to punish or restrain the individuals who do them. On the contrary, one Member of this House not so very long ago called another a liar in his place, and because he refused to withdraw the expression, you proceeded to suspend him for the insult which was offered not only to the Member but to the House and to Mr. Speaker in the Chair. Now, the only Rule you introduced against disorder had been discussed, partly altered, then dropped and left in a mangled, incomplete condition, which made the suspension of a Member perpetual. Having suspended the Member in this case you passed a Resolution 635 almost immediately afterwards in order to readmit him within a week, because you thought it would be unfair to take advantage of that state of things.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must say that the right hon. Gentleman is going outside altogether of the Question before the House. This is not a question of order in debate at all.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Of course I always accept your ruling whatever it may be. I was endeavouring to reply to my right hon. friend's argument in support of his proposals, that they were put forward in order to maintain and preserve the dignity of this House. If it is out of order, I will pursue that line of argument no further. But what is the result of these new Rules which you have passed? You find yourselves, as you were repeatedly warned in the course of those debates you would be, worse off than you were before, and now your only escape from the impasse in which you find yourselves is to take refuge in this violent proceeding. But surely to gag all the Members of the House of Commons who never offend, either by obstruction, disorder, or undue verbosity, instead of dealing with the guilty individuals, is hardly the way to restore the character, the dignity, or the independence of this House. It is calculated rather, on the other hand, to rouse feelings of injury and resentment on the part of those who do not offend and who do their best at all times to preserve the character of the House of Commons.
My right hon. friend, in the course of his speech, referred to proposals which I have sometimes made over a course of several years for the purpose of establishing individual closure. I hope I shall be in order in replying in a few words to my right hon. friend. He thinks the system altogether impracticable; I reply that he has never tried it, and, at all events, it could not be more futile or more useless than some of the Rules he has passed. In my early days in Parliament there was an unwritten law which brought into existence the most perfect system of individual closure in the world by crying out "Divide, divide!" Well, I still believe, in spite of my right hon. friend, 636 that we could restore to some extent, the enactment of a Rule or Rules, what prevailed in these days, and with complete success, without it. You must remember that the offenders in this particular respect are very few in number; [An HON. MEMBER on the Opposition Benches: None.] and I believe myself that the plan of individual closure should be tried. I have watched the debates on this Bill pretty closely, and I maintain that there has been comparatively little, and, so far as my experience has gone, I think many of these debates were extremely good, very instructive, and have led to very considerable alterations in the Bill. Well, but if that is so, what I have to say in reply to my right hon. friend is, that I do not think that the debates under such circumstances ought to be violently stopped, arid after all I think we should remember that the right hon. Gentleman is to a considerable extent responsible himself for trying to pass a whole code of new Rules, and what he and everybody knew would be a most controversial measure, during one and the same session.
But what is the inference which we are to draw from the speed of my right hon. friend? He rejects continuous sessions, and although he himself somewhat favours another plan, what he called of "carrying over," that plan apparently fell as flat during his statement this afternoon on the minds of his audience as it did on the Committee over which he says that he presided many years ago. It only adds to the objection I feel to his proposal tonight, and the only inference which I can draw is this—that the scheme is not to be exceptional, but to be habitual, and in future it is to form a part of the ordinary procedure and practice of this Assembly. I say that that is an alternative which I dread, and for which there is no necessity whatever. What is the Clause which you have selected upon which to begin to put your gagging scheme into operation? The right hon. Gentleman said at the Mansion House last night that almost everything in connection with this Bill had been discussed except education; but there is one thing that has never been discussed, and that is the Clause dealing with the expenses for carrying the Bill. 637 Well, now, tomorrow we ought to have reached a very important Clause—Clause 13—which many of us think is perhaps the most important in the Bill. I am not forgetting for a moment that my right hon. friend has made considerable concessions already on this subject. He has promised that £900,000 should be contributed to the voluntary schools from the Imperial funds in addition to the grants we have already. But there have been considerable changes in the Bill since then, and the further information which has been developed in the course of these debates with regard to the condition of many of the voluntary schools has led to the belief that that concession is very far from adequate, unless we are to be saddled in the future with burdens on the rates infinitely greater than anything that has hitherto been contemplated. Throughout the whole of these discussions this is the first opportunity, for which we have been waiting, of saying anything at all on this most important question, and I can assure my right hon. friend that the keenest anxiety is felt in the rural districts on the subject. I have had, I don't know how many letters and telegrams on the subject—in fact I am receiving them every minute—since it was known that the plan of my right hon. friend was to move the closure on this very Clause on the night on which it was to be discussed. This is a subject in which I am greatly interested, and in which I know I represent feelings which are widely held in the country, and which we think ought to be fully and amply discussed before this Bill is forced through the House of Commons. Now there is an Amendment to Clause 13 on the Paper which raises the whole of this important question, viz., how far it is right that the cost of education, which is admittedly a matter of national concern, ought to fall at all on the local rates. But it is not the first on the Paper. On the contrary, there are a number of Amendments to Clause 12, including an Amendment raising the whole question of secondary education. I think it is likely—it is certainly quite possible—that this very important question in regard to the rates may not be reached at all. What will be the position then? The Bill adds an unknown burden to the rates. Many of my friends believe that these will be infinitely 638 heavier in the course of time—and I suspect that they have good grounds for their belief—than was even for a moment thought of when the Bill was introduced. I myself am deeply pledged against it, and so I believe is the great majority of hon. Members who took part in the election of 1895. I hold in my hand the pledges given by the leading Members of the Cabinet in 1895, on this particular subject.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now discussing the merits of Clause 13, and the Amendments proposed to it. He is not in order.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Well, I pass from the point; and I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me so much liberty as you have done. I do not wish to delay the House by reading out these pledges, because they are matters on which every man must judge for himself. I desire to pass judgment upon no man; but for myself, I wish to say that I have no alternative: I cannot vote today for closuring an Amendment to a Clause which would otherwise impose heavy and increased burdens en the rates and a Clause which may not even be reached at all. The right hon. Gentleman has tonight given us a considerable number of statistics, but one thing is quite certain that if he has his way we shall have no chance of testing the accuracy of these statistics until after tins Motion is passed. I do not believe for a single moment that there is any real necessity for this Motion. My right hon. friend has referred to Air. Gladstone's Motions, both on the Home Rule Bill and the Evicted Tenants Bill in 1893 and 1894 I should have thought that these were evil precedents which ought to afford us warnings, rather than examples to be followed. But why did Mr. Gladstone move his Resolution on the Home Rule Bill? Because he told the House of Commons at that time that at their then rate of progress the task which had been undertaken by him and by the Liberal Party, as a task alike of honour and of policy, and by which they were bound, was beyond the limits of human attainment without the Closure. Now that I know the facts, I begin to think that Mr. Gladstone was right, and that 639 without it he never could have carried his measure through the House of Commons. Why, it took twenty-eight days discussion to pass four Clauses, and at that rate Mr. Gladstone stated that twelve months would not have been sufficient to carry his measure into law. As a matter of fact, the Home Rule Bill, even in spite of the gagging Closure which was applied to it, was debated for no less than seventy-eight days altogether. But no one pretends that in the present condition of affairs there is anything approaching to that state of things. Four considerable Clauses of this Bill were carried in almost as many hours as the four Clauses of the Home Rule Bill took days—they were carried quite recently in something under thirty hours, and I am convinced that if my right hon. friend had persevered in the course which he has adopted up to this time, using the Closure as he has done lately, the Committee on this Bill would have been completed in probably another week, and if it had not been for the three months practically wasted as, I think, in the earlier part of the Session on the Rules of Procedure, this Bill would have probably been law before the present time. My right hon. friend said of Mr. Gladstone's Resolution in 1893, that it was not a Motion of necessity, but of expediency. I say tonight that my right hon. friend's Resolution is neither of necessity nor of expediency, but of convenience only. It is, in fact, a repetition on a larger scale of the famous Lyttle-stone incident, which occurred during the passage of our Rules, when the House of Commons, on a certain Thursday, was kept up all one night by my right hon. friend for no necessity whatever. It was in order to pass a certain Rule before the House adjourned. There was no important business on the Friday. The Rule could have perfectly been finished then, although it might perhaps have somewhat interfered with other pursuits at Lyttlestone on Saturday. I have always thought, and said, that it was the highest tribute to the well-earned popularity of the Minister, that I ever recollect, that not a word of anger or resentment, at any rate so far as I know, was ever heard about it, even from those who suffered from it like myself. But he must forgive me if I say that, in my 640 humble opinion, whatever it may be worth, neither the popularity, nor the power of any Minister, will long survive the constant repetition of high-handed coups like this.
Now, Sir, I have nothing more that I need say upon this subject, and I will bring my observations to a close. I have given to the House a variety of reasons which weigh with me in my decision, but there is one which is supreme above them all. I am thinking of the freedom of the future of this great Assembly. I remember the speech of the Prime Minister in opposing Mr. Gladstone's Resolution in 1893. I remember well his words on that occasion, words Which I think have been already quoted on that side of the House tonight. Let me repeat them once again. They will be well worth recollecting, looking to their consequences in the future.I do not look upon this question in any way as connected with home Rule. I do not come here to oppose this Resolution as a Unionist, but because I think it is absolutely inconsistent with the very elements of the life of is free debating Assembly.Those words, Sir, I believe were wise and just on the day when they were spoken. I believe them to be no less wise and no less just today. And holding this conviction, and believing in my heart and conscience, as I do, that they are as true today as they were in 1893, there is only one path open to me tonight, the path which is dictated alike by honour, by consistency, and duty—and that is, to, oppose this Motion.
§ (4.50.) DR. MACNAMARA (Camberwell, N.)
I confess, I myself feel very tired of the Education Bill, and I desire to see it brought to an end as soon as may be, but I would venture to point Out this fact. We are settling in this Bill the principle of education of the homeland of this great Empire, for it may be twenty or thirty years. The school machinery of the Bill may affect the present interest of 6,000,000 working class children; it may affect, before its work is complete, the interest of 60,000,000 children. I do, therefore, regret the impatience shown by the Prime Minister just now, and suggest that it is a little bit unpatriotic, having regard to the enormous issues contained in the Bill before us. Whatever our 641 personal opinions may be, and whatever sacrifices we may make, it behoves us, I think, to examine with strictness the details of this important measure. Birmingham has been told by the right hon. Gentleman, the Colonial Secretary, that this was not a perfect Bill and that the Government welcome suggestions. We have met the right hon. Gentleman halfway; we have agreed with him that the Bill was not perfect, and we have done what we could to improve it. We have, it is true, been thirty-eight days in Committee, and the proceedings have been rather protracted, but it must be remembered that this is a Bill which sweeps entirely away no less than 2,500 public authorities which have been doing admirable public work for thirty years: it affects 14,000 other authorities not public authorities, which have been charged for a similar period with the education of the youth of the country. This is a Bill which breaks down the system by which all the schools of this country have been maintained by voluntary subscriptions. This is a Bill which insists that all education shall he maintained at the public cost. This is a Bill which enforces a system of local rating for education. What does that mean? It means an absolutely new rate for 9,000,000 of the people of this country: a new rate for 117 urban boroughs. 92 urban districts, and probably not less than 5,000 parishes. I say it is no doubt excellent and desirable so far as it goes, but it calls for extreme circumspection and care. I agree that most parts of this Bill have been adopted after considerable consideration and lengthy debate, but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that all the part of the Bill which has at present been adopted has been adopted after great consideration. Clauses 9, 10 and 11 were rushed through the Committee in a way that could not be regarded as wise; Clause 9 was taken at one Sitting, after four applications of the Closure; Clauses 10 and 11 were taken at one Sitting after the Closure had been applied three times. I do not mind the rating. Consequences will follow, must follow, and in the endeavour to prevent their following I am a sort of educational Mrs. Partington. But inasmuch as these Clauses, taken in two nights after 642 seven applications of the Closure, sweep all new schools into the denominational byways, by giving a preference in favour of private buildings, I object to that very much. That, I think, is the feature which will be one of the worst fetters of the Bill in ten years time, although I agree that many of the provisions of the Bill are admirable.
Look at what we are asked to do under this Resolution of the Prime Minister. I will not go into more than one or two points of detail, and I observe that the right hon. Gentleman never got near them in his statement. What are we going to do in the next fortnight or three weeks? Tomorrow and tonight, after disposing of this lewdly Motion, we are asked to dispose of the latter part of Clause 12, and in addition to that we have to dispose of Clause 13. Let me call the attention of the House to Clause 13. In my opinion, the right hon. Member for Sleaford has not laid anything like sufficient stress on Clause 13, which is to be disposed of by tomorrow night. It deals with the whole question of expenditure; the w hole finance of public education; the incidence of rating; whether it shall be on the county, on the district, on the borough; the extremely important question of outstanding liabilities and how they are to he reduced. This Clause involves first of all an increased rate over every district which now has a rate; it involves a new rate to the extent of at least ,£2,000,000 in districts which never had a rate before; it involves a special treatment of no less than £20,000,000 of outstanding loans contracted by educational authorities now existing, outstanding liabilities to the extent of £50 in the ease of a small School Board, and rising to half a million in, say, the case of the Leeds School Board. All that has to be reduced until the liability has been met. All these considerations are to be dealt with tomorrow night. I notice there ate sixty or eighty Amendments on the Paper dealing with this Clause, and among those Amendments there are many in the names of hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen Opposite; the right hon. Gentleman has two, and the Secretary to the Board of Education four. Where do we come in? There 643 is one in the name of the right hon. Member for Sleaford, and one in the name of the hon. Member for East Somerset, who has so materially assisted the Government in the improvement of this Bill. How are all those important Amendments to be taken in this headlong way before tomorrow night? There is one thing I should like to call attention to, and that is the question of this new million which is to be granted by the Treasury, this new aid grant. At Friday's sitting we are to take Clauses 18, 19 and 20, and the Committee stage of the new financial Resolution, disposing of something like a million of money, and we are finally to dispose of it on the following Monday. Then I may call the attention of the Attorney General to the Voluntary Schools Act of 1897. There was a Bill which dealt with £760,000. That Bill took the House seventeen sittings in Committee, and we are to be given less than one sitting to dispose of practically a million of money. If seventeen sittings were required to dispose of £760,000 it is curious that we should be allowed only part of one sitting to dispose of £1,000,000. Next Thursday week, under this timetable, we are to have under consideration and conclude the Committee stage of the Schedules, with practically no possible chance of any discussion on any of these things. One of the parts involved in the stupendous work set down for November 20th is Schedule 4. In that schedule it is proposed to repeal thirty-two years of educational statutes of this country, two statutes entirely, four statutes in part, ninety-six sections to be repealed in full, and sixty in part, many of which have no concern with what has been said in the discussions on this Bill. They do not emerge in this Bill. If I were challenged I could call attention to statutes which we are called upon to repeal which do not arise on the Clauses we have added to this Bill to save the blunders of it. I venture to protest against the policy of rushing this Bill at this stage. I know it has been a long time in Committee, and that the Prime Minister has been patient. I only wish his patience had lasted to the end. This Bill is going into the country with a sense of irritation on the part of the 644 people, and the proceeding we are now engaged in must exasperate the feeling and accentuate that irritation and make the Bill less satisfactory than it might otherwise be. The present policy is not a wise policy, and will not make for educational progress in the country. I venture to think we should go on and do the best we can, and give all the time that may be necessary to the full and complete discussion of this Bill, so that we may make a great and effective measure of it.
(5.9.) MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanarkshire, Particle)
I am not surprised that the opposition to this Motion should have been based on the special grounds of this Bill and not so much on general grounds. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite consider that this scheme will degrade the House of Commons to the level of a voting machine, but I do not see how, after his action in 1893 and 1894, any other line could well have been taken by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not wish to support this Resolution on any special grounds; I do not wish to enter into the question as to how far the Bill has been fully discussed; what the merits of the Amendments have been and whether there was any obstruction. I am quite prepared to assume that there has been no obstruction whatever; that the Amendments have been reasonable, and that they have not been pressed at too great a length in argument, but I think the question remains whether it is right or possible for this House to spend the amount of time in these most minute discussions which this Bill has undergone, and which it is the growing tendency of the House of Commons to enter into in all questions in which all are interested. The Prime Minister, with wise economy, did not go into the general question. He did not go into the question of whether it was expedient to lay down a general Rule on this House—a system which should make the House have a limit of this kind, not as an exceptional necessity but as a regular Standing Order. I do not agree that the introduction of a general Rule of this sort would reduce the House to the level of a voting machine. I think it would, have quite a contrary effect; that it would offer this House fair time for considering any great question brought 645 before it in a way no other change could do. At present we are unable to give an intelligent judgment; we are unable to have before us in proportionate length, and in a close enough focus, the questions with which we have to deal. Everybody has felt the overwhelming burden of the work of this House, which was one of the most pressing reasons which Mr. Gladstone gave in bringing, in the Home Rule Bill. We have all suffered from o disappointment in the way we have seen work set back session after session, because Of the impossibility of getting that limited amount of time which is necessary to pass into law measures on which all are substantially agreed. It is made impossible, to obtain that short amount of time for many of our measures, by the claim of the House of Commons to examine into every detail of every measure that comes before it. Are these measures really made the better for the exercise of that right? I for my part doubt it very much. I do not think this Horse is the place for minute discussions On small points; even if they are substantial points, I think the House should limit itself to the broader issues placed before it. The old system had great merits. Under the old system, when a Bill was to be brought ill, a set of Resolutions was brought before the House, which voted upon them, and they were finally put into the shape of a Bill by those responsible for tin, Bill.
This Bill has already more than exhausted the limited amount of time you have at your disposal for legislation in a normal session. Granted that the Amendments are reasonable and substantial, yet the House has to consider the amount of time spent on tins Bill as compared with the whole work of the House of Commons in the whole session. Such a point as that cannot come into the question of closure. The Chairman has to consider on the question of closure the rights of the minority. It would be impossible to put on the Chair the responsibility of weighing the importance of the question before the House at the time, in comparison with the whole amount of work to be done. But considerations of that sort must come in, and they are fully accepted as the basis of the new Rules governing Supply. We have fixed the time within narrow limits for one of our most important functions—the question of Supply. The order in which it is to be put can be arranged, and the 646 effect of our arranging the different times is such that the most important questions come under consideration, and the less important can be left. That has been a great advantage. It has had a most satisfactory result, which will be felt by all of us who remember the old system, that the rat catcher to St. James's Palace has vanished into the obscurity suitable for him. I should like the Government, not only with regard to this Bill but others, to follow the same system, but there is a strong dread read in the minds of Members on this side of the House, as well as on the other, who say this scheme would reduce the House to the level of a voting machine. On this side, Gentlemen are afraid of setting a precedent for the other side, and of too much legislation being carried through if changes of this sort are made. But the jealousy of legislation and the exaggeration of the mischievous consequence of legislation of secondary importance are small matters compared with the great necessity of getting business through Parliament. Supposing our opponents come into office: they already have the power which some hon. Members fear, they have absolute control over administration, foreign relations, expenditure, and Standing Orders; they call alter Standing Orders to suit themselves without any interference from the House of Lords. The only condition upon which we can run a free country like this is that those who are in power should have the responsibility of power and the opportunity of carrying out their policy effectively. It therefore seems to me to be a very false and untrustworthy protection to rely on a system by which mechanical and artificial difficulties are put in the way of legislation. Even without altering Standing Orders, whatever Party is in power with a strong majority can carry through a big measure on which their hearts are set in the way that the Home Rule and the Evicted Tenants Bills were carried through, and for this the present measure will furnish a farther precedent.
In the Unionist Party in particular, this jealousy of legislation is misplaced. Hitherto we have not so much depended on our legislation for the confidence of the country. We have had the questions of Home Rule and the War, and those two great questions have been at the bottom of the continuous support which the 647 nation has given us. I hope in these coming years no such exciting questions may arise, but that we may find a more humdrum course in which it will be efficiency on which we shall have to depend if we are to retain the confidence of the nation. Efficiency has many elements, but certainly one of its important elements is that of being able to pass the necessary amount of legislation from year to year. This unexciting legislation is what suffers the most from the present state of things. It gets hung up from the beginning to the end of the Session, and then, if it goes through at all, it is in an unsatisfactory manner, as the result of a somewhat undignified bargain between the Government and individual sections of the House.
Can the House of Commons, under present conditions, do the necessary work of the country? I do not think it can. Could it do so if it altered its Rules so as to concentrate its attention on vital matters, and escape an undue amount of talk over matters of secondary, tertiary, or fourth-rate importance? I believe it could. The case of Supply is an example of the change in the nature of discussion, and in the value of the work done, that can be brought about by a change in our Standing Orders. Therefore, I hope it will not be only with regard to exceptional matters, but in regard to our every day practice that such a change may be made.
This is not the only Legislative Assembly that has been overburdened by the amount of its work. The same difficulty has been experienced in the American Congress, and there it has been met much more boldly than here. There the Committee on Rules has the power absolutely to lay down the amount of time to be devoted to an individual Bill. That process is continually adopted, and by that means an adequate amount of work is got through. By a fair and impartial Committee there may be laid down beforehand the amount of time that justly represents the share of the whole time of the House to which each subject is entitled. In Congress the responsibility is taken by the Committee On Rules with the Speaker in the Chair. But according to our ideas, it is not a duty or responsibility which lies on the Speaker; it is one that should be taken 648 by the House itself, or by a Committee representing the House—by such a Committee as has often been offered to the Opposition by the Prime Minister in regard to Supply, one in which the Government would not even be dominant, of which the Leader of the House should be the Chairman, and on which the Opposition should be duly represented. I believe that it is only by entering upon a bolder scheme of that sort that we shall get through the work of the House of Commons. The changes winch have been made in our Rules may meet individual difficulties and small points, but I hope we shall before long take a broader view of what is necessary if the House is to do its work, and it is mainly as a precedent towards that change and the adoption of such a method as that to which I have referred, that I welcome the Resolution of the Government.
§ (5.25.) MR. TREVELYAN (Yorkshire, W.R., Elland)
I do not intend to follow the last speaker into a general dissertation on the possibilities of dealing with our business. We all agree that the necessity, as the Government allege, for bringing forward this Motion is an unpleasant one, and in the speech made by the Premier today, in which he called up the precedent of the Home Rule Bill of 1893, them was at least that point of similarity with the speech in which Mr. Gladstone proposed his Closure Resolutions. But with that expression of regret at what he thought it necessary to do t he similarity ended. The underlying phrase, if I may call it so, of Mr. Gladstone's speech was this:—To deal with this measure is exactly the commission we (the Government) have received from our constituents.There is the difference between the two situations. The Home Rule Bill was in response to a mandate from the country. It is true there was a small majority, but the, election had been directly and practically solely upon that issue, in this case there is no mandate from the country. So far is that from being the case that there is not a single allusion to the Education Bill in the election address of either of the Members who have taken any important part in this Bill. You can search the speeches of 649 right hon. Gentlemen who are now sitting on the Treasury Bench, and you will find no allusion whatever to the subject of education. The Colonial Secretary made one speech on home questions, all the others being on the war, and that one speech was made because a working man tried to challenge his supremacy, and the whole of it was devoted to attacking the Labour Members at present in Parliament. Therefore, one of the chief points which we urge tonight is that, as the country have had no opportunity of discussing this Bill at a general election, we have a right in this House to the fullest and freest discussion on behalf of the country, and that the Government have no right to curtail that discussion.
But let us come at once to the question of whether the discussion has been so prolonged, considering the circumstances of the case. The Premier pointed out that when Mr. Gladstone introduced his Closure Resolutions with regard to the Home Rule Bill, that measure had been under discussion for twenty-one days. What we have to consider is how many days the two Bills will have been under discussion if the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman are carried into effect. The number of days in Committee and on Report which the Education Bill will take under these proposals is 48; the number of days which the Home Rule Bill took was 61. It may be said that the Home Rule Bill was a greater Bill. Of course it was. But it was essentially a sketch, which had to be filled in by legislators and administrators after it was passed. There is no need to discuss whether they would have filled it in properly; the fact is that that Bill was essentially a general scheme, which had to be filled in afterwards. This Education Bill is a finished and detailed arrangement with regard to the education of the country winch is being introduced as a substitute for another equally elaborate system. It is this fact, together with that of the bad Government drafting, to which these long discussions have been due. There never was a Bill brought into this House which has been so much amended as this one. Take the Bill as far as we have gone. The original Measure down to nearly the end of Clause 12 consisted of 160 lines; of those original lines there are 122 left, and 123 new lines 650 have been inserted. Does it not rather look as if it were bad drafting and not wilful obstruction on the part of the Opposition? It rather argues that this House as a whole has been very reasonable and has proposed very reasonable Amendments, and the Government has found it necessary to accept them.
Let me look at the effect of these discussions from another point of view. I take the Amendments to the most important Clause we have yet discussed, namely, Clause 8. I have been through the Amendments to that Clause. I find there were forty-one Amendments proposed to Clause 8, and of these, two were introduced by the Government, eleven were brought forward by supporters of the Government, nine were brought forward by Liberal Members, and were either accepted or withdrawn on the pledge of the Government that they would practically carry them into effect. No less than twenty-two Amendments out of the forty-one on that Clause were moved in the interests or with the approval of the Government. Of the rest, fourteen were such as I think nobody could deny were important Amendments, concerning questions like the appointment of teachers, whether they should perform extraneous duties or not, all questions which hon. Members were interested in, and are of serious importance. Of the remainder, there were only five Amendments winch would come under the category of what the Prime Minister called "trumpery details." The last speaker objected to the discussion of trumpery details at all, but where can we discuss those details? We cannot discuss only the important things here and send the trumpery details somewhere else. I do not think that five trumpery details out of forty-one Amendments is a very large proportion, and does not indicate unreasonable discussion on the part of the Opposition. The Amendments have been neither obstructive nor destructive of the Bill. It is true that a few have been destructive of the policy which the Government regarded the Bill as carrying out, but I do not think that a single Amendment has been destructive in the sense as many of those were which were moved against the Home Rule Bill, which would have made the Measure unworkable had they passed. There is another point of view, and that is in regard to the next few days during which this Closure will come into operation. 651 The hon. Member for North Camberwell has referred to this point. Under sub-Section (f) of this Resolution, we are to discuss on Wednesday and Thursday—(f) The proceedings on the new Clause relating to managers, and any other Government new Clauses, on Schedules, and any new Government Schedules, and any other proceedings necessary to bring the Committee stage to a conclusion, On Thursday, 20th November.It appears to me to be a very dangerous thing to curtail a discussion of that kind. It is one thing to Closure Clauses and Schedules which are on the Paper, but it is quite another thing to practically give the Government a free hand to put down at the last moment any Clauses they like, and push them through by a sudden Closure. We might have the Scottish system introduced by this means—or perhaps the Scottish system of the catechism party without the control. The Premier is very fond of that. We might have any Clause closured through in the last minute. It seems to me that there is no necessity for this proposal. The discussion, so far, has been practical from beginning to end. The Amendments added to the Bill prove the satisfactory character of the discussion and the way the Government has had to recognise it. This Motion is simply one for the convenience of the Government, and nothing else.
§ (5.35.) MR. ELLIOT (Durham)
said he did not think that anyone underrated the importance of the proposal before the House. The question was whether or not, as regarded the merits of a proposal which had an enormous support on this side of the House, the Government and the House of Commons was to be rendered inefficacious by an interminable prolongation of debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford had referred to the state of things in the old days, and it was true that the practice which then existed was closure by clamour. It was found, however, that the system of closure by clamour absolutely broke down when it was persistently resisted, and it was in consequence of the absolute breakdown of closure by clamour that the new system of closure was inaugurated. If they were to retain their title as a legislative body, it behoved them to see that certain Rules were enforced in order that they might be enabled to carry on their business as 652 well as to carry on debate. He thought it had been admitted by the Leader of the House that the present difficulties had not arisen from anything in the slightest degree of an obstructive character. His view of the matter was this: he had attended regularly, and he had read what had been said in the country, and he could not close his eyes to the fact that it was the intention of a large number of the opponents of this measure not only to waste time but to kill the Bill, and it was the duty of the Prime Minister, as guardian of the dignity and the privileges of the House of Commons, to put down such tactics. It was quit e competent for the House to pass the remaining Clauses of the Bill in two days if necessary, but he did not think it ought to do so. But those who made it their Party strategy to defeat measures, not by argument but by tactics to cause delay, ought to remember that there was an inherent power which, if the majority chose to exercise it and put its foot down, must sweep away those tactics, and this would have to be done if the House of Commons was to remain a legislative as well as a debating Assembly. This Bill might be complicated in the working out, but in the way it had been laid before the House it was not complicated. It was a measure to enable local authorities to make their own schemes, whereas formerly this work had devolved upon the House of Commons itself. He knew these were difficult points, but in complexity this Bill compared favourably with other great measures. If they looked back to the old full dress Second Reaching debates in the days of Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell, he did not think that, compared with those, the debates on this measure had been shortened. If they turned up Hansard of the old days and looked through the number of nights occupied, they would find that while Second Reading debates went to a very considerable length indeed, the Committee stage rarely occupied much time. The only way of protecting the liberties of debate was by having stringent Rules. He dissented from the view that the dignity of the House of Commons depended upon ample latitude to every individual to speak as often and as long as he desired. He had been in the House of Commons for a considerable 653 time, and on whatever side he had been sitting he had on every single occasion when Rules had been brought forward to strengthen order and give greater effect to the will of the House, supported those Rules, and he should certainly not make this an exception to the rule he had hitherto followed. Their liberties and usefulness went very much together. His hon. friend the Member for the Elland Division talked of what was done in connection with the Home Rule Bill of 1892. That might have been a "sketch," but he would remind his hon. friend that it was a sketch which was carefully kept dark until the eve of the General Election. The hon. Member said that Mr. Gladstone had a mandate in 1892 to carry a Home Rule Bill. If there was any thing in that argument it involved a system of annual Parliaments, or, at all events, oftener than under the septennial system. There was no chance of a majority of this Parliament accepting annual Parliaments or anything like it, and until that was done it was useless to talk as if Parliament had no mandate except to carry out a particular measure. To carry out the views of the hon. Member, what would have happened when peace came? Apparently it would have been the duty of the Government to at once dissolve Parliament. Why should this Government act in a different way from that in which hon. Gentlemen opposite would act in similar circumstances? The question they had to consider was, Are we to pass this Bill or are we not? Were they to carry over the discussion of the Bill into February or March? He did not think hon. Members had grasped what that meant. Everybody could not speak on the Bill. They must devise, somehow or another, measures for the House of Commons to do its work. He thought most of them would dislike any revolutionary measures, and the best way to keep those measures at a distance was to pass such a moderate and reasonable scheme as his right hon. friend had laid before the House. He heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division say that the Leader of the House would very soon lose his popularity and credit if he hustled measures of this importance through Parliament. This was no case of hustling. Never before had so much delay been shown in the discussion of the details 654 of a Bill. He could not help noticing that there were half a dozen Motions on the Paper in identically the same terms, and yet hon. Members were inclined to say that this proposal of the Government was calculated to lower the House of Commons to the position of a voting machine. [An HON. MEMBER: "Those were the words of the Colonial Secretary."] That was the reason, he supposed, why the happy thought had struck half a dozen Members at once! He would not ask hon. Members to throw back their memories a long way. He would ask them to throw back their memories to Friday last, when they had ten or twelve divisions on the Education Bill. For a couple of hours they were acting very much like a voting machine. Those who said that Parliament was being degraded to the mere position of a voting machine were themselves committing that very crime. It was to save the House of Commons from that unsatisfactory state of things, and to enable to become law a Bill which had the support of the immense majority of the British people, that he would give no equivocal support to the Motion.
§ (5.50.) MR. JOHN ELLIS
If the hon. Member for Durham will allow me to say so, I cannot congratulate him on the tone and temper in which he has addressed us. It seems to me that some of the expressions he let fall are hardly worthy of him, and I venture to think they do not add either to the dignity or efficiency of our debate. We all welcomed the tone in which the Prime Minister introduced this matter to us, and I am quite willing to accept his challenge and to consider it; as the hon. Member pointed out, it ought to be considered from deeper aspects than that of a particular Bill. The Prime Minister invited us to look at the matter on both sides of the House, and to remember that Parties at one time sit at your right hand and at another time at your left. That, I venture to say, is the point of view from which we shall regard the Motion of the Prime Minister. The more we do that the more we shall contribute to the dignity of the House of Commons, and enable it to transact its business efficiently and with greater rapidity. I venture to make a confession. The noble Lord the Secretary for India stood in a white sheet last night and told us that he had purged himself of his bi-metallic sins. I 655 venture to confess to the House of Commons that my two Parliamentary sins were voting for this kind of Resolution in 1893 and 1894. I have regretted that ever since, and so long as I am a Member of the House of Commons, I will never vote for such a Motion. These things work their own cure, and I believe that, from the Party point of view, the Resolution which I suppose will be carried to night or tomorrow will work evil to the Conservative Party throughout the land. I am an anti-Closure man. I have said before that I believe the use of the closure marks the Parliamentary incapacity of those concerned in its use, and they are not entitled to the respect on the part of the House of Commons to which in my judgment the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolver-hampton are entitled, the one having I piloted the Finance Act reforming the death duties, and the other the Parish Councils Act, without the aid of the Closure. The passing of Bills through this House is a matter of temper and tact, the drafting of Bills, and the volume of opinion behind them in the country. I was delighted to hear the Prime Minister confess frankly and fairly in the face of the House that there had been nothing worth calling Parliamentary obstruction with respect to this Bill, and I hope that, that having been said publicly in this House by time Minister who has charge of the Bill, we shall hear no charge of that kind in the country. No man has a right to go down to his constituents and say that there has been any obstruction in respect of this Bill, after that statement by the Prime Minister.
The right hon. Gentleman gave us some information with regard to the number of days Bills had been in Committee. I maintain with absolute confidence that you cannot exhaust the matter in that way. It is not a matter of arithmetic. There are other elements and circumstances. What is the nature of this Bill? What has been its career in this House? What are the circumstances attendant upon its origin and introduction to the House? There has been no popular demand for the Bill. That is my first observation. 656 I am old enough to recollect very well the meetings that took place in 1869, prior to the introduction of the Bill of 1870. I had the honour to be chairman of one of the local authorities set up under that Bill. I remember there were meetings all over the country, where working men attended in thousands demanding a Bill. It was just after the enfranchisement of the working men in 1867. No such demand has been made today. You have had private meetings and meetings of Convocation. That was the origin and source of the Bill, and it is on an entirely different footing to the great measure of 1870. Then as regards the nature of the Bill, I cannot admit, with a leading journal, that this is a short and simple measure. I think I may claim to know something as to the drafting of Bills. It is sometimes my duty to look into them and to judge whether the Amendments will run into the framework. Having given my mind to the subject, I say deliberately that after I saw the Bill, so drafted and so worded, I sympathised with the Chairman of Committees trying to do his duty under the most arduous circumstances in regard to Amendments. If we could get at the mind of the Chairman in respect to this Bill, I am sure we would find that it was most difficult for him to think what Amendments were, or were not, in order. The Bill was so drawn that the Chairman might, with the best intentions in the world, make mistakes in his rulings. That should not be the case. The Amendments raised by the Bill were multitudinous, as it re-cast the whole system of local government. The Prime Minister last night said that we had been dealing in these discussions with anything but education. I have no doubt that education is the most paramount thing in the mind of the Prime. Minister, but he has lost sight of the manner in which the Bill touches many great, problems of local government, and more especially the rights of conscience. The number of Amendments is a proof, as was pointed out by my hon. friend below me, of the slovenly drafting of the Bill. In its passage through Committee no less than) 120 lines have been added to the Bill by Amendments, and if hon. Members take the trouble to go through. 657 every Clause and count the lines in the Bill they will find that just in proportion as the Committee was allowed full and free discussion, in that proportion the Bill has been amended. Words have been dropped out and others inserted, and these figures alone, I venture to say, form an ample and entire justification for every hour which has been spent in Committee on this Bill.
I have some ground, and I think the House has some ground, for complaint of the conduct of the Bill and the action of the Prime Minister. When a Minister is conducting a great Bill like this, it is a most unwise thing for him during that process to make a great Party political speech outside the House. It re-acts on the minds of the Committee, and when the Prime Minister went down to Manchester and made that great speech, and said that the Bill would not do this, that, or the other thing, he was not treating the House of Commons quite fairly. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh, oh!" and "No."] I will explain. I do not mean to cast any reflection on the Prime Minister, except from a Parliamentary procedure point of view. The right hon. Gentleman should have put down his Amendments on the Paper, rather than go with them to a public platform. The old Parliamentary way was, when a Minister was conducting a Bill like this, never to open his mouth on a public platform in respect to it during its progress through Committee, but to put the Amendments he desired to see made down on the Paper. That, I maintain, contributes to the smooth passage of a Bill. I see the Chancellor of the Exchequer present. No one knows better than he that there is nothing like taking your fellow Members into your confidence and putting your Amendments on the Paper. In addition to that, I maintain that there has been a want of practical knowledge and experience on the part of those conducting the Bill, that has not contributed to its progress. The Prime Minister has been fair and reasonable, and I would be sorry to say anything in the least personally discourteous to him, but I venture to say that of the three Ministers conducting this great Bill not one of them has had a seat on a local authority in this country. They have had no practical experience. Two of them come from 658 beyond the Tweed, and I have noticed that Scotsmen find particular difficulty at times in understanding our religious difficulties. They are happily so free from that kind of thing north of the Tweed that they do not quite enter into the feelings of the Nonconformists especially. Therefore, I maintain that there has been, to some extent, a want of practical acquaintance with the subject with which these three Ministers are dealing. Sitting here in this corner, for the most part as a silent Member, I have been a most interested spectator of the proceedings in Committee. The House of Commons is after all a most interesting place. You see a good deal of human nature displayed, and if you watch the passage of a Bill through Committee you can gauge the capacity of those conducting it. Nothing has astonished me more than the great gulf on this Education Bill between what is going on in the House and what is going on outside. Why, the papers teem with letters from hon. Gentlemen opposite, but they are not followed up by speeches in the House. We see bishops and the clergy all writing on the supposition that we are conducting this Bill through the House in a spirit of sweet reasonableness, and that ample time has been allowed us to make Amendments. As we know here, the state of things has been very different. I venture to say that no case has been made out for the violent method proposed in the Resolution now before us. I believe the Bill comes without any due Parliamentary authority, and it is being passed with a want of appreciation, even on the part of those who support it, of its inimical effect on the great question of national education. I venture to say that the exercise of a little more time and patience on the part of those conducting the Bill would have been a much better method of securing the object they have at heart than this Resolution, which, to my mind, to use a rather vulgar term, bears the stamp that it comes from Birmingham, and has been adopted to degrade the House of Commons to the mere position of a voting machine.
§ MR. WANKLYN (Bradford, Central)
said that he had had the honour in 1895 to be returned to Parliament for the city of Bradford on the question of the co-ordination of education and the support of the voluntary schools. The first speech he had delivered in the 659 House in 1897 was in support of denominational schools and of the system instituted by his great predecessor Mr. W. E. Forster. In 1900 he had again the honour to be sent to Parliament as a supporter of denominational schools, and his opponent, who was the Chairman of the Technical Instruction Committee of the West Riding, put education in the forefront of his programme. So far as his Parliamentary experience went, education, the coordination of education, and the placing of the voluntary schools on the rates, had been in the forefront of the battle always. It had been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord that there had been no wanton obstruction. An hon. Member opposite, in the course of a debate, said that time was a Parliamentary weapon, and that they meant to use it. While there had been no wanton obstruction, and no personal abuse, it could not be denied that time had been used as a Parliamentary weapon, and that there had been a waste of time and words. That was within the common knowledge of all present. In the North of England a waste of words and a waste of time was regarded as a waste of money. It was lamentable that the heads of great Departments of the State and Ministers of the Crown should be detained in this House four nights a week for nine or ten months in the year till one or two in the morning by a mere waste of words. From a business stand-point the mode of existence led by Ministers of the Crown was not a wise one. In the case of a partner they would not regard that as a condition of life which was good for his health, which could not last under the strain. If in a private business the partners led such a life it would not be regarded as a very wise proceeding. The heads of the State were the partners of the country, and they would not be wise in allowing such a condition of affairs as now existed. The remedy for this evil, no doubt, in the first place, lay with the constituents of hon. Members, who could say to their Members, "You talk too much and waste the time of the country. If you have anything to say, say it in the fewest possible words." The remedy was with the country, but he also thought Ministers might move in the matter, because he was sure the country would support any step, in reason, which the Government took to 660 stop this waste of words, which in this House was a seriously increasing evil. That this was so was proved by the fact that the great newspapers were ceasing to report the debates of the House because they found that the public did not read them. The public were tired and weary of so much talk, and any suggestion put forward by Ministers to remedy the evil would have the full approval of the country. Ministers could limit the opportunity for talking; they could limit the session, and they could make the Twelve o'clock Rule a real Rule of the House. He would like to see it made an Eleven o'clock Rule. He did, not believe any good work was done after twelve o'clock at night. The attitude of the Opposition could hardly be taken seriously, because it was common knowledge that they welcomed the proposal to closure the Education Bill even more heartily than those who supported the Government, for the reason that they knew that in this House they could not support the statements they had made on public platforms, and because they could not bring up Members in any force t o oppose the Closure. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would of course go to the country and complain of this procedure, and therefore it was desirable to bring out these facts before the sess on terminated in order that their constituencies should be able to judge of the value of the complaints hon. Gentlemen opposite would make.
§ (6.20) MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has suggested many subjects for discussion winch may be very instructive, but winch are hardly relevant to the Question before the House. I think the hon. Gentleman is the only Member in the House who has suggested that in our opposition to this Bill there had been—he said he would not call it obstruction or an. abuse of the Rules of this House, but simply a waste of words. The Prime Minister, who is perhaps a better judge of obstruction than the hon. Gentleman, said he would not put it on the ground of obstruction at all. It is very remarkable that in a Resolution of this kind, which suggests the termination of a debate by violent means, there has been, in the 661 arguments in support of it, no charge at all of deliberate obstruction in the discussion of the Bill. A good deal has been said about the working of Parliament and its methods of working, and the hon. Member for the Partick Division of Lanark made some comparison with America, but in America difficulties of this sort have been met by referring local matters to local bodies, and when the hon. Member quotes America, I should like to know whether he is prepared to adopt the same practice of the devolution of local matters. So tar as Wales is concerned, it has regularly voted by a majority of four to one against this and what a difference it would have made in the progress of this Bill if the Welshmen had been left to settle it. The Government is forcing on different parts of the country measures which may or may not be applicable to England but which are certainly not applicable to Wales, and which they do not want, and that is the reason why they have got into this difficulty. The remedy for such a state of things as now exists is not violence, but the devolution of domestic matters to local Parliaments.
On the ground of congestion I do not contend that the Government are not within their rights in proposing such a Resolution as this before the House. I have voted for such a Resolution once or twice, and I may have the honour to vote for one again, but the precedents quoted by the Prime Minister are not applicable to this case. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the Crimes Act, the Home Rule Bill, and the Evicted Tenants Bill. In two of those Bills there was the element of urgency, and there was a mandate for Home Rule. But will the Prime Minister say that this Parliament has been elected on the basis of sectarian education? That is the real difference. Or, take the case of urgency. Is the Education Bill a case of urgency like the Crimes Act? The conditions underlying the Education Bill have been in existence for years and years. The Prime Minister introduced a Bill in 1806 and dropped it; in 1899 he introduced another to deal with the same question and dropped it; he introduced another in 1900. It is only after six years that 662 the Prime Minister has suddenly found out that this is an urgent problem, to be dealt with in a certain way. I think the case against the Resolution is that which the Colonial Secretary made against a similar Resolution in 1893, that the Government were dealing with a problem in a way for which the country had given no mandate. The Colonial Secretary could not say that there was no mandate to deal with Home Rule; all that he could say was that the Government of that time had no mandate to deal with the details of the Bill in the way they proposed But in respect of the Education Bill it is a case of principle which has never been placed before the country. I shall be curious to hear the Colonial Secretary explain why in 1893 he considered it to be a case of wrecking the liberties of debate and degrading Parliament, while now he is supporting a Resolution as to a. Bill which was not even hinted at in the election which was sprung on the country in 1900. The Government then had a majority of 132,000 votes in the country—that was the total majority of the votes registered. The right hon. Gentleman said thousands and thousands of voters in a district in the North, Liberals and Radicals, not giving up their principles, were voting on one issue, and one issue alone, and according to the right hon. Gentleman that was the War. Having obtained their votes, having gone to the Midlands and said "You can venture as Liberals and Radicals to vote because there is no issue except the War," the Colonial Secretary now utilises votes obtained on other pretences to press through by Closure, by suppression of debate, a measure which he knows perfectly well not one of the thousands he appealed to ever gave a vote in support of. It has been said that England has voted by two to one in the House in favour of the Bill. I ask hon. Members opposite, will they venture to say, even the hon. Member for Central Bradford, the successor of Mr. Forster—("What a falling off was there!")—that two to' one of the electors in England were in favour of this Bill?
§ MR. WANKLYN
In the recent municipal elections in Bradford twelve 663 Conservatives supporting the Bill were returned, as against five Radicals against it. The chairman of the Liberal Party came out on this Bill, and was thrown.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I think the hon. Member is not correct in his information, even about his own constituency. I am informed, at any rate on the authority of The Times—I go no higher than that—that in Bradford there was a win of two Liberal seats in the municipal contest. If there were to be a corresponding gain throughout the country, I should like to know what becomes of the huge majority that supports this Bill in the lobbies? But let us take the election addresses during the last General Election. I am not carrying the mandate principle too far, I do not say you can get an absolute mandate for every Bill you bring in, but I venture to say no important Bill, except in a case of urgency like the Crimes Act, has ever been introduced to the House, at any rate within the last thirty or forty years, without a responsible leader of the Party indicating before the General Election that he was in favour of the problem being dealt with in a certain way. What was the case in the last General Election? I have gone through the election addresses of some hon. Members. The Colonial Secretary never said a word about the education problem. His election address was full of South Africa. The Prime Minister never said a word about education, neither did the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich. The hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells, another light of the Church Party, never took his constituents into his confidence, and the right hon. Member for Oxford University never informed his clerical supporters that he intended to support a rate-aided Bill. I cannot find that even the hon. Member for Central Bradford ever said that he was in favour of giving rates for the support of denominational schools.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
Again, I accept the hon. Member's statement, and I say that this is not the only respect in which the hon. Member was singular. 664 The hon. Member, then, was the pioneer of this movement. Now the House has got the real parent of the Bill in Mr. Forster's successor. With that exception I can find no election address in which there was any reference to this Bill. There was no mandate for it, and the Government never took the electors into their confidence, and every indication that has been given since shows clearly that, at all events up to the present, it is a Bill that the electors are not convinced about. Have the Government then the right to curtail discussion which has been fruitful? Hon. Members have gone to their constituents and said that the Bill has been changed for the better up to the present, but, if hon. Members acknowledge that it has been changed for the better, they have to thank the Opposition for it as the result of discussion. But just as these changes are coming they are suddenly stopped. There is to be no more discussion, there are to be no more Kenyon-Slaney Amendments—and that is the real reason. If the Government had said to the electors, "We mean to abolish School Boards and to put voluntary schools on the rates, to subsidise definite dogmatic teaching, arid give a third control to the ratepayers," what would have happened? In Liverpool, it would have been "Vote for the Low Church." Suppose there had been a placard in Birmingham, "Vote for Collins and the Catechism," "Vote for the Colonial Secretary and true religion," how would Birmingham have regarded it? Even now the fate, not merely of the Ministry, but of the Empire, depends on this Bill. The Colonial Secretary has told his constituents, "If you do not get this Bill through, well, I will have to go, and there is an end of the British Empire." Of course, the right hon. Gentleman's constituents all believe that he is the very linchpin of the British Empire. But what did they do? They passed a series of five resolutions—I do not know that any one of them has yet been embodied in the Bill. At any rate, there was severe condemnation of this Bill. There was no mandate even from Birmingham for this Bill. The hon. Member for Central Bradford said, "Let us look at this as a business transaction." Let me take a similar view 665 of it. Take, if you like, a prospectus. You want money to develop a business in Africa; you go to the subscribers and get your money. Having got it, instead of using it for the African business, you use it to set up an opposition business next door to your African business. I do not know what business men would call such a transaction, but I know what the law would say. It would say it was obtaining money by false pretences and a fraudulent transaction. The Government have not treated this question fairly. They have brought in this Bill to put Christianity on the rates, for which they have no mandate. There has been a good deal of pressure brought to bear on the Government, and that is the real history of this Bill. There is not an hon. Member on either side of the House who ever dreamt of this Bill 1900. If they dreamt about it, it was grossly unfair of them not to tell their grossly unfair of them not to tell their constitutents at the time. What happened? Petitions from the clergy came pouring in by the thousand. This is how the Bishop of Truro recommended ome of the petitions—Nobody was so open to pressure as the Cabinet, and he believed that on this question the Cabinet was not untied.Then the letter says something about the Colonial Seceretary—It was not to be expected that men like Mr. Chamberlain, brilliant and able as they were, but who only knew the Church from the outside—That is rather on the right hon. Gentleman. But they went on to bring their pressure to bear. Thousands of petitions came pouring, in because they knew a Bill was to be tabled this year dealing with education. Afterwards they find there is an optional Clause, and they issue another circular saying—You succeeded in bringing influence to bear on the Government to bring in this Bill; now use the same influence again to strike our the optional Clause.Where did the pressure come from? Not from the constituencies, but from thousands of clergy who sent in petitions. I do not think it is fair. This is a matter which deals with millions of people in this country, and it is unfair to take one profession in the land and simply accept their dictation. The real reason for this Resolution is that suggested by the 666 Colonial Secretary with regard to the Government of 1893. He said—You are afraid of discussion, the by-elections are going against you. I ask you to show me the secret reports of your electioneering agents with regard to this Bill.I wonder whether we dare suggest that same inquiry to him. If only the secret reports of the electioneering agents about this Bill could be tabled here. And the by-elections! The Government are afraid of going on because the pressure in the country is increasing. ["No."] What about the Cleveland Division and East Toxteth? [An HON. MEMBER: Devonport.] Oh, Devonport? a shilling a day.
There is another reason, and that is the difficulty the Government are getting into with Amendments. They accepted an Amendment few days ago, and what has happened? They have been violently abused in language that I cannot help deprecating. It is really too strong. This is what the Church Times, the organ of the High Church party, said about them:—On many a point since this measure was introduced the Government has shown itself capable of mismanagement, cowardice, and even imbecility, but on Friday it fairly eclipsed all precious records.That is the real reason—the feeling that is growing up amongst their own people. The Government are afraid of amending their own Bill. One ecclesiastic wrote the other day charging bishops with sharp practice. I do not know what the effect of dogmatic Christian teaching may be in the schools, but one thing is clear—it does not improve either tempers or manners. They call their leaders imbeciles and charge bishops with sharp practice. Really, we have never gone so far as that. It is clear that the country is against the measure [Cries of "No,"]; they never had an opportunity of considering it. The Colonial Secretary at the last election took the ratepayers by the hand and said to them, "Fix your eyes on South Africa; wicked Radical politicians will tell you to look around at your own affairs, but keep your eyes on that golden shore 6,000 miles away." They followed his advice, and while the poor man was looking ahead they robbed his orchard, destroyed some of his best fruit trees, and by this Bill the Government are distributing the fruit among the clergy at whose dictation the measure was introduced.
§ (6.50.) MAJOR RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)
I rise to support most respectfully the contention of my right hon. friend the Member for the Sleaford Division in reference to an extension of time for the discussion of Clause 13, because although I am bound to say I think the Government are perfectly right generally in their proposal, I think they are wrong in detail in this particular matter of finance. Very few people realise how important this matter is to the agricultural interest, how deadly in earnest we are about it, and how strongly we feel on the subject. What do we care about your Cowper-Temple Clause or your Kenyon-Slaney Amendment? The importance of the Bill, so far as we are concerned, is in its financial Clauses. I would remind my right hon. friend the Prime Minister that a good deal of water has run under the bridge since he made his statement on June 24th last, and that is the reason we want a little more time to discuss Clause 13. On June 24th the proposal he made was inadequate, but very fair; it was not sufficient then, it is by no means sufficient now. You have ruled, Sir, that we cannot go into the details of the Bill on this Motion, therefore I will simply say that what was good enough for us then is not good enough now. We find that the agricultural interest is stopped from speaking on these, matters which are of the most serious importance to us—by whom? By the very people who profess to be the best friends of the agricultural interest. I am bound to say that we have no fault to find with them—they are the friends of the agricultural interest, and we have supported them as such—except in this particular matter. I have shown my gratitude, because, although I voted against the First and Second Reading of the Bill, ever since the First Lord made his speech on the financial proposals on June 24th, giving us what we thought was adequate consideration, I have voted for every Amendment of the Government, without even looking at it to see what it all was. Gratitude is very well, but we must draw the line somewhere, and with all respect to the Government, and with every desire to support them, as I have done consistently on this Bill—with the exception of the two details to which I referred just now— 668 we draw it where we are stopped from laying before this House the fair and proper complaints of our people.
§ (6.55.) SIR BRAMPTON GURDON (Norfolk, N.)
I need hardly assure hon. Members on the other side of the House that we shall be just as glad to get to the end of the Education Bill as they will. But if it is to be forced through the House by means of this very drastic Resolution there must be fair play. There must be no obstruction from the Government side of the House, there must be no talking against time, and if we are to proceed according to this Resolution, Members must make up their minds to come down to the House at the hour at which the Bill is appointed to be taken, and if an unimportant Motion is under discussion to dispose of it at once. I say this not in any controversial mood, but merely as an appeal to the honour of hon. Gentlemen on the other side. I ask whether it would be fair for the measure to be closured wholesale at the end of an evening, if we are not to begin punctually as soon as the House meets. I have had the curiosity to count the speakers on some of the Amendments discussed last week, and I find that on one Amendment out of eighteen speakers thirteen were on the opposite side of the House, while on another Amendment no fewer than twenty-four speakers out of twenty-six were from the same Party. I do not say that they were talking against time or obstructing; I merely mention it to show that all the speaking has not come from this side of the House. It will really be impossible to get the Bill through if every speech of five minutes on this side is followed by half a dozen of twenty minutes on the other side. The hon. Member for Central Bradford has suggested that it is open to the constituencies to tell Members that they talk too much. That is true, but they can go on telling them so, and it may be a great many years before they will be able to carry their threats into effect. I would suggest to certain Members on the other side, who shall be nameless, but who are rather given to lecturing us, a mode by which they may greatly facilitate the progress of this Bill. Remembering the old adage, "example is better than precept," I am not going to preach anything I do not 669 myself practise. I would suggest to these hon. Members, to whom I will not more specifically refer—their own consciences will tell them who are the guilty ones—that they should not rise oftener than do, that they should cut their speeches as short as I cut mine, and that they should try to be a little less dull. By so doing, they will give great satisfaction, not only to this side of the House, but equally to their own friends; they will give still more satisfaction to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, and they will give most satisfaction of all to the Chairman of Committees.
§ Sir JOSEPH LEESE (Lancashire, Accrington)
I wish to make one point with regard to a certain paragraph in the Amendment of my right hon. friend. The Amendment reads—…and, while assuming to establish a permanent system of national education, endows denominational teaching —and so on. It, in fact, charges the Government with assuming for this Bill that it establishes a permanent system of education. I venture to say that whereas, in order to obtain success for any educational system whatever you must be perfectly certain that you will be backed up by popular co-operation, this Bill is not a Bill for popular co-operation, and that you are, in fact, legislating not for a majority but for a minority of the people of the country. I have here a Blue-book published not long ago, which gives certain striking figures to which I desire to draw the attention of the Government. It states that the average attendance of all the children in the national and Church of England schools throughout the country amounts to 1,887,000. The number in average attendance at the Roman Catholic schools is 257,000. This gives a total of 2,144,000 children in average attendance at the Church of ' England, the national and Catholic schools. I have added these together because it is generally assumed that the Church of England and the Catholics welcome this Bill and receive it with approbation. There are in average attendance at board schools 2,239,000 children, in British schools 250,000, and in Wesleyan schools 127,000, making in all a total of 2,580,000 children whose parents have not required that there should be denominational sectarian 670 teaching for their children. That being so, by this Bill you are legislating for a minority of the parents of the children. If you desire permanence for this Bill you are going a very curious way to obtain it, and you are forcing upon the country that which more than half of the parents of the country do not desire. I venture to say there has been abundant evidence to show that a majority of the parents are against denominational teaching, and at the recent bye elections the verdict has been against this Bill.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
Although the Education Bill is a measure that deeply affects the welfare of the people, the representatives of the people are not to be allowed free discussion upon it. Not only have many of our Amendments been closured, but our consciences as Nonconformists, especially in the rural districts, have been stirred in a manner which has not been equalled in the lifetime of any Member of the House. At the fag end of the session we are to have this Bill rushed through by the brute force of a majority elected for other purposes, with no indication whatever that the Government ever intended to deal root and branch with the education of the country. Here we are at the end of the session with only half the Bill passed, and we are to have this brutal application of superior numbers to destroy our efforts and opportunities to impress our opinions upon the various Clauses of this measure. In a Bill which is going to deal with the future education of this country, elementary education is by far the most important part of the system, because without sound elementary education, good secondary education is almost impossible. If we had had two sessions to deal with this great subject, it would not be too much having regard to its far reaching importance. All those who have studied the industries of the world, and taken note of the enormous advance made every year by invention and chemistry in its application to industry, must know that education is the great force of the future, and that unless this country is equipped in knowledge it will suffer as it is now suffering through the competition of the more educated nations. This fact would have made the Government pause 671 before making this reckless proposal which we are now discussing. A sound national system of education is more important to the British nation than the British Army. Efficiency in education is more important than efficiency at the War Office, and yet we are dealing with it as if tremendous issues were not involved, and the Government are proposing to cut short this discussion by using the Closure—that tremendous instrument for the destruction of representative government. We have had the School Board system growing up with brilliant success, and now the Government are proposing to supplant it with a system of Bumbledom detrimental to the interests of the people.
§ MR. BROADHURST
If I have transgressed it is through my folly in noticing remarks made by the other side. In my opinion, this is an iniquitous Motion and an outrageous Bill. We are going to be deprived of opportunities for full discussion by the brutalising application of mere numbers in the Division Lobby, and whatever may happen in consequence, all those who support this system of the destruction of popular government must be answerable for it. The Government are going to force upon an unwilling community instruction in dogmas which are repugnant to the feelings of one half of the inhabitants of the country. The schools are going to be subject to the whims of particular ministers of the Church of England in hundreds of parishes.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is not entitled to make a Second Reading speech upon this Motion.
§ MR. BROADHURST
Of course, Mr. Speaker, I bow to your ruling. It was only the strong personal feeling I have against this measure which led me into that particular line of argument. I protest against the application of this wholesale closure upon a matter which goes deep down into the soul of every Nonconformist in the country, especially in regard to our poorer neighbours in 672 the rural districts, where they will not have the same opportunity of defending themselves against these aggressions as men would in the great centres of industry. I detest the Bill, Mr. Speaker, and I look upon it as a monstrous measure, and I will do everything in my power that is legal to destroy the Bill. A more hateful measure to me was never introduced into the House of Commons, and this hateful process of the Closure is being applied to put an end to what is a reasonable and fair demand and almost a birthright—the right to discuss a measure of this kind so long as we discuss it within the limits of reason. We have not had sufficient time to discuss and improve the measure. We have been closured again and again, and no argument has been listened to, and now the whole thing is to be cut down, as it were at one blow, by the Government and their followers. Like the hon. Member for Central Bradford, they are ready to "execute" the public rights of the citizens of this country at the call of the Party Whip. The hon. Gentleman said "Let us go to our constituencies." I only wish that we were going next week. [Cries of "Divide."] If we did go, many hon. Members would find that their time for calling "Divide" had come to an end.
§ (7.17) MR. TOMKINSON (Cheshire, Crewe)
I could not help thinking when the hon. Member for Carnarvon was speaking that while there was no one perhaps who had addressed the House more frequently and at greater length than he had, there was no one against whom the charge could be less justly brought of having wasted the time and obstructed the proceedings of the House. I have one claim to address the House from the fact that I have not spoken one moment since we reassembled after the recess. On one occasion I did attempt to speak on the refusal of the schools for the purpose of political meetings, but the Closure was moved and I had not the opportunity. Therefore my conscience is perfectly clear as to having wasted the time or obstructed the proceedings of the House. Reference has been made to the opposition to this Bill, and a comparison drawn between the proceedings now and those in regard to the Home Rule Bill of 1893. I venture to submit 673 that the attitude of the opponents of the Home Rule Bill was wholly different and that the analogy breaks down. There was an avowed intention to wreck the Home Rule Bill altogether, and a repudiation of any idea of improving it in any way. No charge could be less true in regard to the Education Bill. Amendment after Amendment has been moved, and in many cases accepted, and these now form part of the Bill. I venture to say that, if on three great points Amendments moved by the Opposition had been accepted—first, the Amendment which would have continued the School Boards for a time; second, one that would have given the ratepayers two-thirds of the managers instead of one third; and third, one that would have left open the field for teachers, and done away with religious tests—they would have practically removed the objections to the Bill, which might, by this time, have been very far towards completion. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition has said that there is no possible reason or pretext for hurry, and for the bringing to a conclusion of these debates, and I perfectly agree with him, yet I think there may be, in the minds of some hon. Members opposite, a reason for wishing to come to the end of them, namely, the attractions of certain other occupations in the country. When I think of the statement of my hon. friend the Member for Durham, of how the House has been bored by interminable debate. I would remind him of the lines written by a late Member of the House who was well known, and whose son is now an honoured Member of it. Describing his experience of the House of Commons, he said—Last night in St. Stephen's so wearily sitting, (The Member for Boreham sustained the debate) Some pitying spirit that round me was flitting, Vouchsafed a sweet vision my pain to abate."†Then he went on to describe a very delightful run with the foxhounds as being to him the sweet vision which had entirely obscured the mace, the Speaker, and the House. I venture to think that the pleasures of the country form no little element in the desire of some hon. Members opposite to facilitate the conclusion of the debates on this Bill. We† The late Mr. Bromley Davenport's lines, entitled "The dream of the old Meltonian.674 say boldly not only that the Government has no mandate for it, but that it is in direct opposition to the wishes of the country at the present moment. There is only one test by which you can judge, and upon every opportunity which the country has had of expressing an opinion, namely, by means of elections, the country has invariably pronounced against, and overwhelmingly against, the passage of the Bill. I do not think any hon. Member can look at the long list of honours published in the papers yesterday, and notice the total absence of any peerage conferred, without thinking that there was some reason for it. It is an open secret that the Government, to use a perfectly straightforward phrase did not dare to make vacancies in seats here for fear of losing seats. If there was one seat in the country which was believed to be more overwhelmingly Conservative and secure than another it was Sevenoaks, and yet the Party opposite came very near defeat in that constituency. We are, therefore, justified in saying not only that the Bill is unpopular, but that the country would pronounce very largely against it. That is one of the strongest arguments that can be brought forward against hurrying this debate to a conclusion. Something has been said as to what the attitude of the Colonial Secretary towards the Bill has been. Over and over again in the course of the last year or two he has assured the country that there was only one issue before it. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place at present. In connection with the election which took place at Dewsbury in January last, the right hon. Gentleman sent the following message in favour of the Unionist candidate:—Tell Mr. Haley that I am watching with great interest the gallant fight that he is making, and wish to remind the electors of the Dewsbury Parlimentary Borough that in this election patriotism comes before partisanship, and that this is no contest between Liberals and Conservatives, that there are only two parties—those who are for their country, and those who are for the Boers.Nothing could be more direct than that definition as to what the question was. I have only to say that this Education Bill was never before the country. I have received protest after protest against it, and I have not had a single Petition in favour of it so far as I remember. I 675 am confident that, if my constituency were appealed to tomorrow it would give me a larger majority than I had on the last occasion.
§ MR. PRIESTLEY (Grantham)
I think that possibly, though a comparatively new Member of this House, there is some justification for my offering a very brief, but very emphatic, protest against what I myself consider the unconstitutional and unnecessary proposals of the First Lord. I do not wish to display any presumption in this antagonism, but I hope that even as a young Member of the House I have as great a desire for the true welfare of Parliamentary debate as more experienced Members, or the Leader of the House. I think these proposals are not only unfair to the country, but impolitic from the highest point of view. In reading the great debates of past times we have, I think, always recognised the inestimable value of freedom of debate, and if a subject does not bear examination by free debate, you may depend upon it that there is something radically wrong. The question of education which we are now discussing is possibly the greatest we can discuss in this House. If the Government had received a mandate from the country to deal with the question, or if the Bill had been submitted in any shape or form for the consideration of the country, there might be some justification, after a reasonable time had been given for discussion, for closuring debate, but I think we may say without hesitation that the subject is one of far greater importance than the debates in the House would lead one to suppose. It seems to me that great issues have been at stake in connection with this education question. It is a question which will affect the future prosperity of millions of the people of this country; and when I hear more or less quibbling over small differences, it seems almost sad that this Parliament, which is the first in the world, should not avail itself of the opportunity which is now presented of dealing with the question in a more heroic manner than by wrangling over the question of religious instruction in our schools. I think the Party in Opposition are perfectly justified in saying that before the First Lord submitted proposals for crippling and practically destroying 676 legitimate debate he ought at least to have submitted in some shape or form the question to the country.
§ It being half-past Seven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned
§ Debate to be resumed this evening.