§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
, on rising to-move the Resolution of which he had given notice for the expedition of the Licensing Bill, was received with loud cheers and counter-cheers and cries of "Gag."
I hope that throughout this debate, which obviously causes considerable excitement, hon. Members-will refrain from using other than purely Parliamentary expressions.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think, at all events, I can promise that nothing I shall say this morning will add to the excitement the effects of which you, Mr. Speaker, deprecate. Before I enter on the arguments which I hope will convince the House that the Motion I am making is a reasonable and necessary one, may I say, by way of preface, that in the manner in which it has been placed on the Paper—that is, as to the amount of notice given—the Government has not been open to the criticisms which have been freely made against it? We have been accused of violating all the precedents in respect of the shortness of the notice given to the House and the consequent inconvenience imposed on hon. Members who may have desired to give notice of opposition or to consider the course they should take when the Motion is introduced. I was very 321 much startled by a statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, and I have since looked up the precedents. It will not take a moment, if the House will allow me, to run through them. I find that ii the case of the Crimes Act of 1887 notice was given at the commencement of the sitting of 9th June and the Motion was moved on 10th June.
§ ME. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)
But there is a good deal of difference between giving notice in the afternoon and after midnight.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
In the case of the Parnell Commission Act of 1888 notice was given on 1st August and the Motion was taken on 2nd August. In the case of the Home Rule Bill of 1893 notice was given (the terms not being settled till the afternoon) on the 28th day of the month and the Motion was male on the 29th. In the case of the Evicted Tenants Bill of 1894 notice was given in the afternoon of 30th July and the Motion was moved on 31st July. It will be seen, therefore, that we have far exceeded the notice given in the case of all these precedents; and, although I do not wish to base myself on precedents, I should be sorry if the House remained under the impression that any unusual course has been taken now against their interest. If there has been a departure from precedent, it has been in the direction of extending and not restricting the amount of notice given.
In moving this Resolution I do not propose for one instant to discuss the merits of the Bill which we have had under consideration. It would be out of order. It would not only be out of order, it would be wholly irrelevant to the argument which I propose to address to the House; for I do not think any hon. Gentleman is competent, if I may respectfully say so, to give a judgment on the Motion I am now proposing, unless he considers that Motion in relation to the whole course not merely of Parliamentary business in this session, but in any session. And it is because on the broadest principles I believe there is no course open to us but that which I have adopted that I am now asking the House 322 to adopt it. It is no new opinion of mine —it has been an opinion often expressed in this House, and it has been an opinion of predecessors of mine of greater authority — that the Parliamentary machine cannot be expected to work smoothly, efficiently, or reasonably if too great a tax is put upon it as regards the time to which its sessions extend or the labours with which those sessions are occupied. In my judgment, and speaking broadly, I think six months and a half is quite as much time as it is wise to ask the House of Commons to give to its work. I think it would be most foolish to lay down a fixed day, as is the rule in some foreign countries, when our labours should come to an end. I quite agree that exceptional circumstances may arise when we may profitably but unfortunately drag on our deliberations to much beyond the period I have suggested; but that period, with the exception of the Education Bill year, has been the normal period, or about the normal period, since 1896. It is far in excess of the labour imposed in France, in Germany, and in Italy on the Parliaments of those respective countries; and I am convinced that no worse service could be done to the House of Commons than to ask it to undertake an average of business that would extend, roughly speaking, not only beyond the six months and a half I have spoken of, but to some indefinite period that might extend—as, indeed, on one occasion it did extend— not only over the remaining months of the year in which the session started, I but far into the year succeeding.
If that general proposition be accepted, and I do not think it will be denied surely; this second proposition will be accepted by any man who considers in a calm and reasonable spirit the conditions under; which we carry on Parliamentary legislation. These six months and a half must be devoted, of course, to more than one subject—I will classify the subjects in a moment—but everybody must admit surely that a reasonable portion of the time must be granted to the Government of the day for carrying through its legislation. Of course, if the Government of the day brings forward some enormous and impossible programme—I do not mean in the sense of unreasonable, but impossible in point of size—and endeavours to thrust this down the throats 323 of the House of Commons—if we are guilty of the charge of having brought forward, or of being desirous of thrusting down the throats of the House of Commons, a programme of unreasonable size, then I think there would be a valid reason against the Motion I am now-proposing. Now, how are you going to allocate the various kinds of business the House has to deal with in the course of an average session of six and a half months? I will venture to say that perhaps the first and most important business is the function of criticising the administrative action of the Government that happens to be in office; and I think that any attempt to unduly shorten the time for this function for the purpose of passing great legislative measures, be they good or bad, is to be deprecated. But while giving full play to the duty of criticism, there must be a limit to the function of criticism if you are going to nit only six months and a half and are going to legislate and are manifestly going to be occupied in something besides comments, reasonable and fair though they be, on the administration of the affairs of the country. Consider what time we spend upon this during the session. I will classify the occasions. There is, first, the debate on the King's Speech, there are the debates in Supply, on adjournments of the House moved at Question time, discussion upon Motions of adjournment for the holidays, and debates on votes of censure. These are the occasions when criticism takes place. The next call upon the time of the House is that made in the interests of private Members—I do not mean in reference to private Bill legislation, but public business proposed by private Members; and I think the House will admit that, having done our best to put the rights of private Members on a fair and solid basis, having regard to the time at our disposal, we have faithfully adhered to the compact—I will not say compact— the arrangement arrived at when the Rules were revised. In no single case has the Government this session trespassed on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday upon which a private Member by the Standing Orders has had a prior claim. That is the second great block of work that has to be done. The third is the Budget; and the fourth is ordinary legis- 324 lation. In regard to the Budget I will say a word in a moment, I mean in relation to my argument. Well, I will say it now, that the House may see the line of argument I am trying to develop. There are times when it would be absurd not to distinguish the Budget from ordinary legislation. The great death duties Budget of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was a case in point; it was legislation of the most novel and most controversial kind, which it might be quite right to pass, but which for business considerations must be regarded as part of the controversial work of the year; but, without going into its merits or demerits, that surely cannot be urged against the Budget this year. There must be a Budget to deal with the year's finance if the money obligations of the Government are to be fulfilled; and I do not think that financial business could be carried on or obligations fulfilled by a less controversial method than that adopted by my right hon. friend. I do not do more than touch upon this, but I think every fair-minded man will recognise that I am not wrong. Having thus classified the business of the session, it is manifest that the time you give to one department of our activity must in proportion be taken from another. If the House insists on spending night after night on criticism, the time to be given to the consideration of legislation must thereby be curtailed. It is not a matter for argument, it is a simple question of addition and subtraction.
In the light of these general propositions, let the House consider the course of business this session. Before Easter we had one afternoon sitting, and one afternoon sitting alone, which we were able to devote to legislation, all the rest of the time was entirely taken up by what I have described as criticism. Between Easter and Whitsuntide we had seven afternoon sittings for legislation, and since Whitsuntide we have had twelve afternoons for legislation. In my opinion that is too little. I know that an hon. Gentleman who interrupted me earlier thinks the House has not had enough time for criticism and that everything that for the moment stemmed and diverted the flood of criticism, anything that saved here and there an afternoon 325 for legislation and has prevented it being used for purposes of criticism has been an afternoon wasted. I do not deny that criticism of a Government may be reason-able and useful; all I say is, if you consider the burden upon Parliament, the time has been in excess of that which should be given to it. I will not say it has been couched in improper language, or that it has been on improper subjects, or that it has been of a kind that an Opposition in the carrying out of its constitutional functions should not make on the Government in power; but I do say, and say emphatically, if you are only going to allow the Government to have one afternoon before Easter for legislation and if between Easter and Whitsuntide you allow only seven, and when the course of business subsequent to that has been of the character which is fresh in every hon. Member's recollection, then I say you are making an apportionment of the time given to us for our work on wrong principles, which does not allow enough for legislation and gives too much for the element of criticism. Of course, as I have said, there is one qualification of the general principle I have laid down which must never be absent from the minds of hon. Members on either side. Repeating what I said earlier, while you must give reasonable time for legislation, it is on the other hand the duty of the Government not to ask the House to attempt a too great legislative task in the I time available, If this Motion were brought forward to enable us to pass one Party measure after another, a series of Government Bills to which the Opposition strongly objected, if we attempted to force such Bills through the House of Commons by the method to which I have now unhappily to ask the House to assent, that would be an unreasonable and tyrannical use of the power of a majority. Can any reasonable man who looks at our programme of legislation think that so far as controversial Bills are concerned we are throwing an undue burden on the House, or that the Resolution I am asking the House to pass to-day is an undue attempt to make light of the task of Parliament, or that I ignore the desire for fresh air and exercise we hope to realise somewhere about the middle of August?
Now let me pass on to consider the work before us and our means of 326 accomplishing it if this Resolution is carried. Let us suppose—it is not, I know the time for a statement on the Government programme—let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that there are only two Bills which can be certainly said to divide the House on strictly Party lines, the Licensing Bill and the Defaulting Authorities Bill. Let us suppose these are the two Bills. I have not made any statement about business, I am laying before the House a hypothesis which I think will enable them exactly to understand the position in which we stand with regard to business, and it is on that position, and that position alone, that I rest this morning my argument for the Resolution before us. On the hypothesis that the only controversial Bills are the Licensing Bill and the Defaulting Authorities Bill, I do not myself think it is possible that the House should rise before its ordinary time—12th August. On that hypothesis, will anybody say that is an unreasonable amount of legislation? I have never known hon. or right hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they were in the place which we now occupy, content themselves with so modest a programme. Hon Gentlemen seem to think it is relevant to this argument that they happen to dislike both these Bills, if they do, as I think they do. But we have usually disliked the Bills that hon. Gentlemen have brought in; and I see no prospect of that happy day of harmony coming when the Opposition, from whichever side of the House they may be drawn, will rush into the lobby in support of controversial measures brought forward by their opponents. The argument is altogether outside the merits or demerits of a Bill, or whether a Bill is liked or not. Nobody can deny, even if we restrict our controversial proposals to these two Bills, that the session will be at least equal to a session of ordinary length. I claim that the House has a right to deal, favourably or unfavourably as it chooses, with these Bills; and I claim further that the Government which allows itself to be defeated by time on measures of that character and in the circumstances on which I have endeavoured to rest my appeal to the House — I think that the Government which allows itself to be beaten by time, would really be unworthy 327 of the responsibility which rests upon it.
I have little more to say except to point out to the House, with regard to the particular Bill to which this Resolution refers, that it is, if I may venture to say so, wholly absurd to say that it will be otherwise than adequately and fully discussed by this House under the Resolution. I am not going to minimise the importance of the Bill, because I think its importance is very great; but it doss not embody many novel principles. It embodies the principle that existing licences, whether they be ordinary licences or whether they be ante-1869 beer licences, should not be taken away without compensation. Nobody can say that that principle has not been adequately discussed. It embodies the principle that new licences should only be granted under conditions which would prevent a monopoly growing up—a most important principle, but one on which there is no division of opinion between the two sides of the House. We have already settled in debate the modification of magisterial jurisdiction; we have already discussed in Committee the time limit; we have already discussed in Committee the important, but what I will venture to call the subsidiary, point of tied houses, and the basis of compensation; and the general policy of the Government as to new licences has, of course, been before the House more than once, I therefore entirely deny that the fundamental principles of this Bill, the principles which make it approved of on this side of the House or disapproved of on the other side of the House, have not been thoroughly thrashed out and that in the time still left in the compartment provided by this Resolution there will not be ample and adequate time for dealing with the strictly subsidiary points which may still remain to be discussed. But let the House remember this. The question before us is not whether particular speeches have been too long or too short, or whether particular Amendments were reasonable or unreasonable. The question is not whether the House could not go on discussing this Bill for weeks or months without irrelevancy, without anything which in the narrower use of that word might properly be described as obstruc- 328 tion. An ingenious friend of mine has made a calculation which seems to show that, if the progress of the Bill in the future is to be precisely upon all fours with its progress in the past, it will take exactly a year and a quarter to pass it. I do not know whether that calculation, were we to allow a year and a quarter, would prove to be below or above the mark, but I earnestly deprecate allowing a year and a quarter, or anything like it, because I think it would mean absolute ruin to debates in this House. When the right hon. Gentleman who moved the closure by compartments on the Evicted Tenants Bill came down and, in a ten minutes speech, recommended that proposal to the House, I remember that in his peroration he insisted upon taking up the Paper of Amendments and saying:—" If you want justification for this Motion—circurmpice." The Amendments which so frightened the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the Evicted Tenants Bill consisted only of 22 pages. There are now 65 pages of Amendments on the Paper with reference to the Bill which we are now discussing. I do not doubt that these 65 pages will prove highly prolific and will have a progeny not less numerous than themselves.
The House will see now the grounds—not irrational grounds, I think—on which I venture to ask them to pass this Resolution. It is described, and from one point of view accurately described, as a curtailment of the liberties of this House. But unless the House will consent voluntarily to certail its opportunities of discussion, I venture to say it is perfectly impossible from time to time to avoid passing a Resolution of this kind. There is one thing worse than this species of curtailment of the liberties of the House, and that s that we should become a wholly impotent Assembly, carrying on endless debates month after month, wearisome to ourselves, nauseous to the country, and destructive to the dignity and efficiency of this Assembly. I do not deny that such powers as I am now asking for may be abused. I do not deny that Governments to come, as Governments in the past, may come down to the House and ask for powers of this character which would indeed be a dangerous attack upon the liberties 329 of the House. Each case must be I judged by the House on its merits; and if the time should come, as perhaps it may, when other Ministries are in power, if they find themselves within six weeks of the normal termination of the session, having had but a relatively insignificant amount of time allowed them for their legislation, and if the programme that they put forward is as modest in point of bulk as that which we have pressed upon the House, I do not see myself how it would be possible for the House not to feel, as I feel now, that it is in the interests of this Assembly that some such step as this should be taken to prevent the evils which otherwise would ensue.
Sir, I do not propose to claim for this Party the possession of greater virtues than those I see so amply exhibited upon the Benches opposite. It may be that we shall also ask for night after night on the King's Speech, for one evening after another spent in discussions on the Adjournment of the House, and for all the opportunities of criticism which have occupied us since 2nd February, when we met. But if that occasion should occur, then, but then only, would they come down to the House with the kind of justification which claim for the Resolution which I ask the House to accept. I am perfectly certain that if we desire to retain the place that we have hitherto held in public estimation one of two things must be done. Some Leader of the House must come down with a general scheme of distribution of the business which shall avoid the evils I have endeavoured to detail to the [...] from time to time, very rarely I hope, but inevitably now and then, those responsible for the conduct of business, from whatever side they are chosen, will feel, however unpleasant the necessity may be—and it can be I pleasant to no man—that they will be compelled to come down and ask the future House of Commons for the same powers which I now with some confidence ask this House to give us.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the proceedings in Committee and on Report of the Licensing Bill shall be brought to a conclusion in 330 the manner hereinafter mentioned on six allotted days—
- "(a) The proceedings in Committee on Clause I on the first allotted day.
- "(b) The proceedings in Committee on Clauses 2 and 3 on the second allotted day.
- "(c) The proceedings in Committee on Clause 4 on the third allotted day.
- "(d) The proceedings in Committee on the remaining clauses of the Bill, and on any new Government clauses, and on schedules and any new Government schedules, and any other proceedings necessary to bring the Committee stage to a conclusion on the fourth allotted day.
- "(e) The proceedings on Report on any new clauses and on Amendments to Clauses 1, 2, and 3 of that Bill, be brought to a conclusion on the fifth allotted day; and
- (f) The proceedings on Report be concluded on the sixth allotted day.
§ At 11 p.m. on the said allotted 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 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 to be concluded on the allotted day.
§ In the case of Government Amendments, or of Government new clauses or schedules, he shall put only the Question that the Amendment be made, or that the clause or schedule be added to the Bill, as the case may be.
§ "At 12 midnight on the day on which the Third Reading of the Bill is put down as first Order, or, if that day is a Friday, 331 at 5.30 p.m., the Speaker shall put forthwith any Question necessary to conclude the proceedings on that stage of the Bill.
§ "Proceedings to which this Order relates shall not be 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 Licensing Bill stand as the first Order of the Day, no dilatory Motion on the Bill, nor under Standing Order No. 10, 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 put forthwith. Nor shall any opposed Private Business be set down at the Evening Sitting for consideration on any of the allotted days or on the day on which the Third Reading of the Bill is put down as first Order.
§ "If Progress be reported, the Chairman shall put this Order in force in any subsequent sitting of the Committee."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fifeshire, E.)
In rising to move the Amendment which stands in my name, I am not going to criticise in detail but I shall traverse from top to bottom, from beginning to end, the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman—a proposition which I tell him frankly at the outset is, in our judgment, an outrage upon the dignity and liberties of the House of Commons. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman occupied much the larger part of his speech with a disquisition which seemed to me to have very little relevancy indeed to the question, upon the possibility of a more philosophic, a more artistic, distribution of Parliamentary time. But there was one serious fallacy, unperceived apparently by the right hon. Gentleman, latent in the whole of his argument, viz., that the persons who are responsible for the distribution of Parliamentary time are not the persons who sit on the Bench opposite. Why, the right hon. Gentleman tells us that we have spent a great deal of time in criticising the administrative action of the Government. So we have. But criticism must bear some proportion to the area of criticisable matter, and if a Government provides such an unexampled provision, as His 332 Majesty's present advisers have done, of material for criticism in every quarter of the globe, and in every branch of administration, this House would surely be failing in its duty if it did not attempt and agree, with no slow and laggard steps, to keep pace with the abnormal activities of those who are responsible for the government of the country. But what opportunities have the Government given us for discussing their legislation? Take this very Bill—the Licensing Bill, the capital measure of the session, as the right hon. Gentleman himself admits. It was not introduced until the 20th of April. The Motion for the Second Reading was not made until the 9th of May, and here we are on the 1st of July — having spent nominally six, but in reality something like three Parliamentary days on it in Committee. It is that mismanagement of the Parliamentary bus ness, of the Parliamentary time—it is that tardy and delaying treatment of subjects which the Government asked the House to believe to be of capital and national importance, it is that, far more than prolixity or exuberance of speech on one side of the House or the other, which has brought Parliamentary business into the intolerable muddle which the right hon. Gentleman comes here to-day to confess and for which he asks the House to provide him with arbitrary means of escape.
I must say one more word about this matter of time. On how many evenings were the first hour or two at any rate, deliberately frittered away by Gentlemen opposite, docile and most convenient followers of the Government, in order that time might be given to others to transact their other avocations before coming here to perform their Parliamentary duties? We have read in the ordinary means o: communication, of the almost despairing appeals which have been made by the Government Whips to get their men to come to do their duty, and the not obscure menace of the Prime Minister, that if they did not do so they would be sent to the country to answer to their constituents. I am not sure whether these Whips have been very effective so far. I cannot help contrasting the full and animated appearance of the Benches opposite to-day, when it is not a question of getting on with the business of the 333 country, but of curtailing the facilities for discussion in this House and of accelerating the advent of the holidays, I cannot help contrasting the appearance of those Benches now with that which they presented on many an evening during the discussions on the Finance Bill and on the Licensing Bill itself.
I want to avoid following the example which the right hon. Gentleman has set, and to come to close quarters with the actual proposal he has made. The right hon. Gentleman has dealt in a very light and offhand fashion with the question of precedents, and I venture to say that there is not a single one of the not very numerous cases in which this sort of procedure has been resorted to, by one Government or another, which affords any colour or pretext for the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, In every case but that of the Evicted Tenants Bill the Bill under discussion had been in Committee for twenty or thirty days, and I think, in one instance, for more than thirty days. That was not so in the case of the Evicted Tenants Bill, I agree. But what was the reason? The reason given by my right hon. friend, who then led the House, for the drastic proposal he made, was that it was in the interests of social order. It was because it was believed by the Government, and by the majority of this House at that day, that, unless that Bill was promptly aid expeditiously passed, the cause of social order in Ireland would be in serious danger. That single exception stool on its own legitimate footing. But there is not a single case in which a Minister has come to this House to ask for such powers, without any attempt to prove that there has been something in the shape of organised obstruction. Our discussions in Committee on this Bill — I want the House to realise the facts of the case —we have occupied nominally six days, but in reality the exact time is thirty-four hours. How has that time been occupied? I will give the House some figures which I think will prove instructive. I have them for each of the sittings. At the first sitting there were twenty-five speeches made from the Government Benches, and twenty-three from the Opposition Benches. At the second sitting twelve speeches were 334 delivered from the Government Benches, and eleven from the Opposition Benches. The third sitting hardly counts, for it only lasted half an hour; but at the fourth sitting there were twenty Government speeches and thirty-two Opposition speeches. At the next sitting there were nineteen Government speeches and twenty-six Opposition speeches; and on the last occasion there were thirty-four Government speeches and forty-one Opposition speeches. In other words, during the thirty-four old hours there were delivered from the Government Benches 115sp3eches, and from the Opposition side 135; but a very large proportion — I believe thirty — of the speeches on the Government side of the House were made either suggesting or actually supporting Amendments. It is impossible, in the face of facts like these, to say that any case has been made out for anything in the nature of obstruction. I may say, having sat through the Committee stage of this Bill, and having in that respect the advantage of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, that during the whole of my experience in this House, which is that of a great number of years, I never heard more business-like discussions—discussions in which the speeches were terser, more argumentative, and more obviously animated by a desire to grapple with the real difficulties of the case. If that had not been so, we surely would have had a more repeated application of the closure. I do not think, though I know that it has been refused once, that the closure has been granted more than twice; and I am quite certain that any one who has actually observed the proceedings of the Committee will agree that no case whatever has been made out that any point has been more than adequately discussed.
The right hon. Gentleman has given us an imaginary sketch of the points which have been considered in Committee. It must have been supplied to him by somebody else, because he was not here. This is not the occasion to discuss the merits of the Bill; but to show how imaginary that sketch is, let me just call attention to this one fact, that we are at this moment in the midst and by no means near the end of the discussion, of 335 what, I agree, is not the most important but a very important principle, viz., the demarcation of the jurisdiction between the licensing justices on the one side and the quarter sessions on the other. Assuming that the proposed change is made, any man who has followed these lebates will agree that it is difficult to say where the one begins and the other ends. The same may be said to be true of a vast number of the provisions that have been discussed. I say, then, in the language of the Amendment I have put on the Paper, that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman is without any justification in the previous course of the debate. But I will go a step further. It is impossible to ignore, when you are debating a Motion of this kind, the character of the measure itself, and the circumstances under which it is brought forward. I have never been an extreme believer in what is called the doctrine of mandate. I think that under normal conditions, if the country gives a majority to the Government of a particular political Party, it cannot complain if in the course of their term of office they do a good many things that were unexpected at the time they came in. Yes, that is the case under normal conditions. But this Parliament assembled under conditions that were entirely abnormal; and to justify that statement, which I do not make at random, I will recall to the attention of the House one or two of the declarations of the Prime Minister himself. The Prime Minister, speaking in the course of the election at Manchester, used this remarkable language. He said—It was impossible that the country should at this moment have anything in its mind to exclude the paramount interest which events in South Africa necessarily excited. He asked them, whatever their politics might be, or to whatever Party in the State their allegiance had been given, to remember that this election did not turn on any of the old questions which had divided the electorate at previous elections, but it was a new issue governed by a new consideration.Developing the same point, the same right hon. Gentleman the following night at Preston said to the electors there, speaking in support of one of his own followers—It was not now a question of programmes of domestic legislation; it was a question of Imperial policy; and he could not imagine how 336 any elector, be his previous political career what it might, could hesitate which of the two candidates he should support.One more quotation, and one only, from a Gentleman who was at that time a Minister of almost equal authority with the Prime Minister himself, the right hon. Member for West Birmigham. He said—He asked for the support, not only of those electors who were ordinarily with the Government for personal or Party reasons, but of patriots, who in a time of national danger put their patriotism before their Party.This is the reward they are getting! The right hon. Gentleman went on, I am quoting from another speech—In the North of England thousands and thousands of miners who have never voted Unionist before, and still call themselves Radicals and Liberals, on this occasion, even if it were only to be for this occasion, have supported the Unionist candidate. He did not say they had changed their views, they were probably Liberal and Radical as before, and would probably vote for Liberals and Radicals at the next election; but at this election they had voted for the Unionist candidate. Why did they do that?
§ MR. ASQUITH
That was not the answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave. He said it was—Because they saw that the issue at the present time was not a question of domestic policy such as "—he particularised—Church discipline or liquor prohibition, but the question of the existence of the Empire.Well, I might multiply these quotations ad nauseam, but I will not do so. because what I have read is, I think, quite sufficient to justify the proposition which I am laying down quite apart from any general doctrine of mandate. We have heard that the Parliament was elected in reliance, or very largely in reliance, on appeals of that kind. I have heard the right hon. Gentleman say, when an argument of this kind has been used before, "Oh, look at your own election addresses; did you not put forward a programme of social and domestic reform?" and so forth. Of course we did, but our programme was 337 rejected, and because, as the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham said, not a few people who ordinarily voted Liberal and Radical, and were in favour of those programmes, deliberately set them aside in the belief that they were going to return a Parliament for a new purpose and for one purpose alone. And what is the state of things to-day? The majority secured in that way, in reliance upon those appeals, I might almost say upon those pledges—that majority, in probably the last session of an expiring Parliament, at any rate, in the fourth year of its existence, is being asked to revolutionise the law of licensing. [An HON. MEMBER: No.] I am not going to discuss the merits of the Bill, but let me remind the hon. Gentleman who says "No" that the Government did, two years ago, in 1902, introduce a Licensing Bill. I think they had a perfect right to introduce it because it was practically a non-controversial measure. I agree there was no mandate for it, but it was a non-controversial measure, assented to very largely on both sides of the House; and it is incredible, if the Government in 1902 believed either that they had authority or that it was in the public interest to establish the licensing law on a totally new footing, that they would not have made some such proposal at that time. We know very well why the proposal was brought forward. It was done not because we were near the election of 1900, but because we are near the next election. It was done because, as the brewers and their friends showed very clearly last year, unless some legislation of this kind is brought forward it will not be a case of the good Liberals and Radicals voting under the stress of patriotic feeling for the Unionist candidate, but of the devoted followers of the Unionist Government, the publicans and brewers, voting under the stress of their own woes for the turning out of the Unionist Government and the substitution of a Liberal Government.
Now, I venture to assert, and I think the facts I have laid before you justify it, that, whether you look to the character of the discussion which has taken place, whether you look to the nature of 338 the measure itself, or whether you look to the origin and position of the present House of Commons, the right hon. Gentleman's proposal is wholly unsupported by precedent and is a flagrant innovation of constitutional principle and practice. Here I come to what is, after all, the gravest aspect of the matter. We cannot look on this as an isolated proposal. The right hon. Gentleman, at the close of his speech, made some remarks about measures of this kind being necessary for the dignity and efficiency of the House of Commons. I confess I think political cynicism has rarely reached a higher level. I say so because this is only the latest, though I hope it may be the last, of the attempts which have been made under the right hon. Gentleman's initiative, or patronage, I care not which, in the last two years to stifle the voice and paralyse the action of the House of Commons. Parliamentary majorities come and go and Ministers come and go, bat there is one thing which hitherto, at any rate, has persisted through all these chances and changes of Party fortune, and that has been the authority and the freedom of the House of Commons. That is a great permanent asset in our national balance-sheet, and it will be an evil day for the future of democracy in this country when the House of Commons comes to be regarded as a mere automatic machine for registering the edicts of a transient and, perhaps, a crumbling majority. What is the record of the present Government in this matter? What is the position in which they stand to-day? They are afraid either to face the country or to listen to the House of Commons. For twelve months the Leader of this House has exploited and exhausted all resources of our procedure to reduce us to a dumb show. Shift after shift, and manœuvre after manœuvre, have been applied to prevent our giving an open deliverance on the greatest of the issues of the day. Not content with that, the right hon. Gentleman, through the ingenuity of some of those who sit behind him, has contrived to erect, step by step, an impenetrable blockade against the free debate of almost every subject of importance. Now, to-day, as a fitting climax to the whole, we are to lose the power of effective criticism for the rest of the 339 session in regard to the largest and most complex of all the proposals of the Government itself. Sir, is the House prepared, at the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman, to take this last step on the road to humiliation and impotence? I trust it is not; at any rate, it is to save ourselves from an ignominious surrender of our privileges, and to save those who come after us from a disastrous precedent, that I move the Amendment that stands in my name.
In line 1, to leave out all the words after the word 'That,' and insert the words 'this House declines to consider a proposal to deprive the House of Commons, without any justification in the previous course of the dehate, of all power of reasonable and adequate discussion in respect of a measure which seeks, in the absence of any authority from the country, to make fundamental and much controverted changes in laws vitally affecting the well-being of the people.'"—(Mr. Asquith.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'the proceedings' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. PIKE PEASE (Darlington)
said he had listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but he thought the majority of the House would agree that there had not been a single argument put forward to damage the case which the Prime Minister had put so clearly before the House in one of the greatest speeches he had ever delivered. With regard to the doctrine of mandate, he questioned whether any elector believed that when this Parliament was elected, he was electing a Parliament which would not legislate in the direction of domestic legislation. Everyone knew that Mr. Gladstone himself had fought an election with regard to one great matter and then introduced a number of controversial questions. They also knew that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose Burghs had clearly stated that this Government was justified in legislating with regard to controversial matters. Anyone who had listened to the debates during the last few days would agree that many of the speeches had been made purely for obstructive purposes. [MINISTERIAL cheers and OPPOSITION cries of "Name."] 340 Everyone who had heard the speech of the hon. Member for Barnsley descriptive of his recent expedition would admit that it could not have been made except for some purpose of that kind. It was well known that Mr. Gladstone and Mr. John Bright were both in favour of compensation for publicans out of the rates, and it was extraordinary that the Party opposite now condemned the policy of getting that compensation out of the licensed victuallers themselves. He sincerely hoped that the House would by an overwhelming majority support the Motion of the Prime Minister.
§ MR. LAMBERT (Devonshire, South Molton)
said that never in the history of Parliamentary procedure had such a. drastic procedure been proposed on such flimsy pretences. In introducing it the Prime Minister had spoken of everything but the Resolution. He had spoken of the opportunities for criticism, but there were hosts of questions that the Government had brought forward which the Opposition could not criticise, and now forsooth, not content with that, the right hon. Gentleman asked the House in this matter to guillotine discussion and prevent it taking place. The whole justification put forward for this Resolution was that it was a most reasonable proposal on the part of the Government. He agreed with his right hon. friend the Member for Fife that such a Resolution applied to a Bill only introduced last April was the last despairing effort of a discredited Minister. What sort of commentary was this Resolution on the new Rules, upon which so much time had been spent in discussion, and which the right hon. Gentleman promised would add great dignity and much efficiency to the debates of this House. All the return they got for the time spent upon the new Rules was that the system of closure by compartments was more stringent than ever. This was the last despairing throw of a political gambler. Had it not been for the political exigencies of the Unionist Party the Licensing Bill would never have been introduced. They were told after the Licensing Bill of 1902 that the licensing laws of this country could not be bettered. Then what did this mean. It meant 341 that the right hon. Gentleman's supporters, the brewers, were going to turn him out of office if he did not accede to their demands. What happened in the case of the Education Act. In that case there was closure by compartments; they were not allowed to discuss its vital provisions and the result was that the Act was not working harmoniously and the rates for education purposes were rising with alarming rapidity. There could be no finality in any legislation passed by this drastic method. No one would suggest that the Education Act was a final measure. It would be amended on the very first opportunity that was given to the country to express an opinion upon it, and no one believed that the Licensing Bill, if passed by means of the closure in this way, would finally settle the licensing difficulty. Another Government would come in at perhaps a not distant period and amend it. The right hon. Gentleman had now a measure before the House in regard to which he did not dare to call a public meeting in the country and in regard to which he was endeavouring to stifle discussion in the House itself, and yet they were told that the proposition before the House was reasonable. It was a perfect scandal to the Parliamentary procedure of this country.
This was one of the most important measures the right hon. Gentleman could deal with. What was the hurry for it. Surely there was no hurry at all, because if, as the right hon. Gentleman promised, the Government would be in power next session, they could bring this measure in then. If that were done the country would have an opportunity to consider it in the autumn. This was a most unreasonable proposition on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, because there had been nothing like obstruction. Members on the Unionist side of the House had over and over again appealed to the Government to make concessions, and the result of the right hon. Gentleman's shutting down discussion had been that those Gentlemen had voted in the Opposition lobby. In every one of the discussions on the education question the right hon. Gentleman had taunted the Opposition with being numerically small, but though the Opposition in the House had 342 been numerically small in the country it had been numerically large. The right hon. Gentleman knew his majority was crumbling away. He did not want to carry the doctrine of mandate too far, but undoubtedly at the last election the electors were asked to vote on the question of the war. Since then, however, the Government had upset the education of the country, and had not won very much prestige thereby, and now they were trying to upset the whole licensing system by giving compensation where it had never before been granted and by interfering with the discretion of the licensing magistrates. In view of the fact that they now proposed to carry their Bill by the drastic method of the closure, every common-sense man should protest against their action to the utmost of his power.
SIR MARK STEWAET (Kirkcudbrightshire)
desired in a few words to explain why he intended to support the Motion of the Prime Minister. He was one of those who could not go all the way n supporting the policy of the Licensing Bill, but he intended to vote for the Motion, because he thought it was necessary to give the Government that power and influence in the House of Commons without which they could not carry on the business of the country. There could be no doubt that the House of Commons did not possess the prestige in the country it formerly enjoyed, and that was not due to any wrong-doings of the present Administration as hon. Members opposite seemed to think. He thought the mischief dated back to 1880–86. when the first marked difference was made in the treatment of the House, and the conduct of the then Government had left a far deeper impression on arliament than any act of any subsequent Administration. If the House was to have power to do its work they must pass the Resolution of the Prime Minister. It was ridiculous to say that the Bill could not be dealt with in six days. There were proposals in the Bill to which he was opposed, but he had no apprehension that he would be shut out by the Motion from stating his objections to them. The last speaker had had a good deal to say about the mandate of the last general election. He 343 would remind the hon. Gentleman that whenever an election took place the candidates, in their addresses to the electors, dealt with a variety of matters which were of general interest but it was not to be expected that any man would exhaust the list of subjects of possible legislation during the life of a Parliament. It therefore did not follow that because a question was not mentioned in election addresses, it ought not to be dealt with by Parliament. In view of the near approach of the end of the session and of the large amount of business remaining to be transacted he thought they ought to give the Government the whole of the time of Parliament, not that they might get away for their holidays in good time but in order that they might secure that health and strength necessary to enable them to properly perform their duties to their constituents.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said the hon. Baronet the Member for Kirkcudbright had suggested there was no danger that Parliament would not be shut out from discussing questions of vital interest on the Bill. He would like to have the ruling of Mr. Speaker as to how far it would be in order to discuss, not the merits of the Bill, but the extent to which the Motion would shut out the consideration of parts of the Bill. He, for one, had up to the present taken no part in the discussion, either on the Second Reading of the Bill or in Committee. He had not put down a single Amendment, but there was one part of the measure on which he felt very strongly. So, too, did many of his constituents. It was a great mistake to suppose that the Bill was supported generally by the licensed victuallers. At certain pleasure resorts and in bsautiful parts of the country, licensed victuallers held under conditions of tenure binding them to restrict the sale o f intoxicating drinks. The principal hotel in his own constituency was held under a lease which directed the tenant to do his utmost to prevent the sale of these drinks. Yet these men who would gain nothing from the Bill were to be taxed under it. The Prime Minister had toll them that under his plan the Bill would be adequately and fully discussed. 344 He added that it did not embody any novel or important principles.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said if the right hon. Gentleman had used words he had not wished to, he would not hold him to them; but he had said also that the basis of compensation under the Bill had been before the House several times. His contention was that the Motion of the Prime Minister would have the effect of excluding the basis of compensation from discussion, because it was included in a portion of the Bill which had not yet been reached, and was not likely to be reached under the plan. He must repeat that, in the opinion of those who conducted licensed houses in pleasure resorts and beautiful places, the Bill would throw upon them an excessive charge. They were men who did not make profit out of drink; they got their living by entirely different means, and their grievance could not possibly be laid before the House if the Motion were carried; for the Motion would exclude from discussion the most difficult and complicated clauses of the Bill—the schedule, and the clauses affecting the schedule. The Prime Minister must bear in mind that the debates of this Bill had only extended over a few hours, and that the discussion throughout had been careful and business-like. Some of the most important parts of the Bill had not been reached, and it was because the Government proposal would prevent their discussion that he was opposed to it.
§ MR. HENRY HOBHOUSE (Somersetshire, E.)
said that, as a supporter of the Bill, he found himself quite unable to vote for the Motion. It was not because he thought that such a Motion was never justified, for he agreed with the Prime Minister that every case must be dealt with on its merits, and he was one of those who without hesitation supported I the Resolution to enable the Government to bring to a more rapid close the debates on the Education Bill. But the circumstances of this case were entirely different. Up to the present he had made but one short speech on the Bill, because the 345 points in which he was chiefly interested occurred in the latter part of the measure. He desired to see the Bill passed, if it were modified in certain important respects, so as to advance the cause of temperance. But at the present stage of the proceedings on the Bill, they were not warranted in taking any such drastic steps as were proposed in the Motion of the Prime Minister. With regard to the suggestion that the Bill had not been fairly discussed in Committee—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the hon. Gentleman listened to my speech, he would know. I carefully abstained from even suggesting that there was obstruction.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It was absolutely unnecessary to my argument to say whether there was obstruction or not, and I did not suggest it.
§ MR. HENRY HOBHOUSE
said he would pass from that point, merely saying that the questions which had been discussed were important, and in his opinion an unreasonable amount of time had not been given to them. The fact that the closure had not been resorted to showed that the ordinary resources were not exhausted, and his contention was that in the interests of good legislation the necessity for this Resolution must be proved up to the hilt before it could be agreed to. The only strong or plausible reason for bringing forward the Resolution appeared to be the fact that they had now 346 arrived at the month of July. But, after all, the Licensing Bill was the principal measure of the session, and very little time was given to its discussion in the month of June. Surely it was not very satisfactory from the point of view of Parliamentary business that one of the most important weeks in the session, in the middle of June, should be given up to the discussion of the details of a Bill such as the Scotch Education Bill, which might with common consent have been sent upstairs and discussed in a friendly and business-like manner. He felt strongly on the subject, because in certain quarters, and especially in certain newspapers, there was a tendency to bring discredit on Members of this House and their business-like capacity by suggesting that for social reasons they postponed their most important Parliamentary business. He sincerely hoped that no ground would be given for such suggestions. With regard to the character of the Bill, he sometimes thought the Government themselves did not rate the importance of the measure too highly. Many Members on the Government side thought it a measure of quite second rate importance for protecting a few publicans from a few cranky magistrates, but he believed it was far worse than that. The Bill went to the very root of the licensing system. It was an admission that the system of annual licences, which had prevailed for so many years, had practically broken down, and that it was necessary to introduce the recognition of a longer interest. It provided not only for compensation for the extinction of licences, but also for the creation of new licences under new terms. The measure excited very strong feeling in the country among many earnest men, both Churchmen and Nonconformists, Conservatives and Liberals, who believed that if the present occasion for the advancement of temperance reform were lost, it would be very difficult, with this Bill in operation, to advance that cause in the way they and, he believed, the majority of both sides in the House thought it ought to be advanced. For these reasons, if for no others, he thought the Bill was worthy of somewhat prolonged discussion.
347 What did the Government propose? Under the Resolution one day was to be given to the discussion of the conditions under which new licences should be granted, whether they should be annual or for a term of years, with or without compensation, whether the surrender of licences should be regarded as a legitimate or as an objectionable operation, and also the extent to which they should encourage the system which many people believed would turn out to be the most hopeful line of temperance reform, viz., the granting of licences to companies which had a disinterested view as to profits. All these matters would have to be discussed within the limits of one Parliamentary day. Under these circumstances did it not stand to reason that legislation in this House became somewhat of a farce? He could not help regarding the proposal as a severe blow not only to the power of private Members but also to the credit of the House of Commons. He protested against the general system of Parliamentary procedure, under which matters were allowed to drift—he did not refer to any particular Government more than another—during the first three quarters of the session, and a huge mass of undigested legislation was forced through in the dog days, sent up to the other House in the month of August, when it could not possibly receive proper consideration, and this House was held responsible for the exact form in which that legislation was turned out. Measures such as that now proposed should be the last resource in extreme cases. The ordinary closure ought to be tried first. If things were as bad as the Prime Minister had stated, let the Standing Orders be altered so that all measures were sent upstairs for consideration in detail by Grand Committee. That was a strong measure, but it would be justified if matters were as bad as his right hon. friend had described. At the worst he suggested there should be an autumn session. That would be extremely hard on members of the Government, but he thought it ought to be resorted to before the House decided to omit all discussion of important principles and questions in a Bill which excited great public interest throughout the country.
There was one other consideration which might well be considered by his 348 hon. friends. In this Resolution were they not forging a grand weapon for a future Radical Government? He could not conceive Governments with a. large popular majority behind them, anxious to make the best use of their time, bringing forward a number of drastic proposals, and, by a Resolution similar to that under discussion. forcing those proposals through at the point of the bayonet. It would not do for his hon. friends to rely too much on the other House. If a Radical leader brought forward a scheme for imposing additional taxation on land, or further taxes on public-houses—a very likely consequence of passing the present Bill as it stood—there would be no appeal to another place. This Resolution was therefore a most dangerous weapon, and was not warranted by the circumstances. As to the Bill itself, if no reasonable facilities were given for discussing the various important questions which remained, many of those who voted in favour of the Bill on the Second Reading would have to consider very gravely whether they should not take a different course on the Third Reading.
§ SIR JOHN LENG (Dundee)
said that as he had not contributed to the discussion on the Bill he might say a word as to the genesis of the measure. It seemed to him. that it was entirely in the brewers' vat. By the Amendment of which he had given notice he had intended directing attention to the almost complete absence of a public demand for the measure. The Report on Public Petitions just presented gave the figures from 2nd February to 24th June. It appeared that the number of Petiitions against the Bill had been 6,659, with 224,872 signatures, while only one Petition, with 253 signatures, had been presented in favcur of the Bill. Moreover, there had been 3,394 Petitions, with 55,064 signatures, against the alteration of the law with regard to the renewal of licences, which was the main proposal of the measure. Hence there had been 10,000 Petitions, with 300,000 signatures, presented against the Bill, and only one, with 253 signatures, in its favour—a fact which, if any regard whatever was to be paid to Petitions, should carry some weight with the right hon. Gentleman. He had also directed the attent on of the 349 Prime Minister to a declaration signed by the heads of all our Universities, and the heads of settlements in the East End, both male and female, who had devoted their lives to this most important work for the betterment of the working classes in the East End. All these people were most earnestly and seriously interested in the social welfare of the people, and he asked the Prime Minister whether, after receiving such declarations signed by persons of great influence and authority, he had modified his views upon this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he could not understand how temperance reformers, if they desired a reduction of licences, could take the attitude they did. They were all in favour of the reduction of licences, and a large number of them were in favour of the principle of compensation, but what they strongly objected to was that this Bill placed a limitation upon the discretion of the magistrates, a discretion which they had enjoyed for centuries.
SIR JOHN LENS
The opposition to this Bill came from all quarters, and from many social organisations. Reference had been made to the protest of the Bishops; but the right hon. Gentleman paid very little regard to that. This Bill had been put forward as a measure of temperance reform, but he would remind the House that the National Temperance Federation had recently passed a Resolution entering its indignant protest against the proposal of the Prime Minister to apply closure by compartments to the Licensing Bill, and the Resolution invited the House of Commons to vote against this attempt to curtail the discussion of a measure of such vital importance to the community. So far as the opinions of the masses of the people were concerned, the right hon. Gentleman did not think much of them, and he did not appear to think much of the recent Hyde Park demonstration. There had been demonstrations against the Bill all over the country. The demonstration in Hyde Park was held by the working people themselves, who knew how much they were affected by this question. But, however much 350 the right hon. Gentleman might disregard the masses of the people now, when the time came he would find that he would have been much wiser if he had disregarded the menaces of the brewers and publicans and paid some regard to the opinions of the people. He regretted that the Prime Minister had shown so little consideration to ethical, social, and philanthropic influences. From a political point of view it might be well for the right hon. Gentleman to use this closure to stop debate in the House, but by so doing he was only arousing a stronger feeling against the Government throughout the entire country. When the time came for the right hon. Gentleman to submit his policy to the country, he would find that not only in regard to this measure, but also in regard to the Education Bill and other measures, and in his attempt to reduce representation in the House of Commons to a mere nullity and make it a mere machine for recording the decisions of the Cabinet he had entirely miscalculated the views of the people in this matter.
§ MR. EMMOTT (Oldham)
said his right hon. friend the Member for East Somersetshire had told the House the reasons why he was unable to support the Resolution moved by the First Lord of the Treasury. The hon. Member was a man of ability and of experience, he spoke with authority, and was respected on bath sides of this Assembly. The reasons which the hon. Member advanced for the course he proposed to take were reasons with which he entirely agreed. He proposed to comment briefly on only two of them. There were two specific cases that the right hon. Gentleman had mentioned in which the Government had either made mistakes or might have, by a different arrangment of business, given reasonable and adequate opportunity of discussion with regard to the Licensing Bill, always supposing they regarded the measure as one of first class importance. The right hon. Gentleman complained of the mismanagement of the business of the House in the past, as, for instance, in Ascot week, when they brought forward the Scotch Education Bill, a Bill which might have been sent to a Grand Committee, and thus have reduced the time 351 occupied by the House. Again, if the Government really desired to get this Licensing Bill, why did they not have an autumn session for it as they did in the case of the Education Bill? Surely, if they attached so much importance to the Bill, they should give time for its adequate discussion, and not force it through after totally inadequate attention by the House. It had been asked why the House of Commons had not now the same authority in the country as it had in the past. He was found to say that the House had lost its authority chiefly during the period that the Government of the country had been Conservative and Unionist. He did not, however, attach particular importance to that. The question was whether that loss of authority was from a permanent or a temporary cause. He did not think the House need be so despondent as they sometimes were in this matter. There had been two changes in the conduct of business in the House. One was that the present Prime Minister attended much less in the House during debates than any of his predecessors, and that fact had a great influence upon business. The other was that the measures of the Government were unstatesmanlike. As to the opposition given from the Liberal side to the Education Act, it was perfectly justified by the fact that the Act was not working satisfactorily in the country, and that one part of the country was practically in open revolt against it. The Opposition called the Education Bill an unstatesmanlike measure, and he thought they would be found in the course of history to have been justified in that view, and therefore lengthy opposition to it must be allowed to have been justified.
The real question was, could the House give adequate discussion to the Licensing Bill in the time allowed by the Motion of the Prime Minister? He did not think they could, because they had never been able to come to grips upon the question yet. It took some days for one side of the House to appreciate the position of the other side, and he felt sure that the Prime Minister had not that grasp of the views of the opponents of the Bill which he would have if he attended the debates 352 regularly. He agreed with the Prime Minister when he said he did not regard precedent as of much importance. It must be remembered in reference to the precedents which arose during the period of the Liberal Administration that after all there was a consideration of some importance affecting Liberal measures which did not appertain to those measures emanating from a Tory Administration. That consideration was that there was a House of Lords which, when a Liberal Government was in office, was more or less a deliberative Assembly, but which he thought in the case of a Unionist Government did to some extent abdicate its functions. He thought that the precedents of previous Unionist Governments with regard to the proposal now before the House were wholly and entirely against the Prime Minister. He did not set great store on precedents. As the Prime Minister had said, they must decide each question on its merits. There was no question that the matters dealt with by the Licensing Bill did require discussion. The Bill referred to one of the most important social questions of the day. There was no disputing the fact that the considerations connected with licensing were amongst the most complex relating to any social question of the time. Having regard to the enormous amount of misery and crime which resulted from the undue use of intoxicating liquors, there was no doubt that this was an important and complex measure. This Bill attempted to introduce a new system and to fix a perpetuity of tenure for licence-holders hitherto unknown to the law. It did so on the ground of justice, but it seemed to him that the justice stopped at the brewers. There was no justice for the public and very little for the publican in the Bill as drawn. These were matters which required the close scrutiny of the House, and to which the House could not give adequate attention if the Resolution of the Prime Minister were passed.
He did not wish to press the question of the mandate to any undue length, but he must point out in regard to a moribund Government, like this, bringing forward a question of great complexity which was extremely obnoxious to many temperance reformers, that the only way 353 they could bring home the facts of the situation to the public was by prolonged discussion in this House, and that was prevented utterly and entirely by the system of closure by compartments. In any system of closure by compartments, and still more in a drastic system of this kind, it was impossible to exercise any pressure upon the Government, for they had only to sit tight during debate and then bring their supporters into the division lobby and they got what they wanted. If they had a reasonably prolonged debate Members on both sides had a chance of pressing their views upon the Government, but under the closure system that was impossible. Without desiring to be offensive to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, he felt compelled to take objection to the way in which the Bill had been conducted. It was not too much to claim for previous Liberal Administrations which had brought legislation before the House that they had on the whole, particularly in regard to their important measures, only put them in the hands of men who had thoroughly studied the subject. He thought the House had some right to complain about the way in which it had bee I treated by Ministers in regard to this Bill. The Bill was nominally in charge of the Home Secretary, whose efforts in regard to the measure had been mostly noted for his observance of the principle of golden silence; the right hon. Gentleman had taken, if he might use a vulgar phrase, a back seat in the discussion, and that was a great drawback to the House. Now he came to the Solicitor-General. He noticed the Solicitor - General had had principal charge of the measure. The Opposition would rather deal with him so long as he had adequate power. But over and over again, when he appeared to be meeting them in debate, he was thrown over by the Prime Minister. That operated against efficient legislation in the House. As to the Prime Minister he hoped he did not do him an injustice, but as far as he had followed his speeches in regard to the question, he had never studied it fully and thoroughly. He had heard with a ready ear the complaints of the brewers, but he was absolutely ignorant, as the right hon. Gentleman himself had confessed, of the grave and injurious scandals 354 in his own constituency in regard to the licensing system. He did not complain of the Prime Minister's ignorance except in so far as he had shown his mind was open to one side of the question, and totally closed to the other. That was not the way to get adequate legislation in the House. He thought it ought to be stated in defence of the Home Secretary, that he had another heavy Bill on his hands in Grand Committee. But everyone of His Majesty's Ministers appeared to come to the House with a mind overworked, and distraught by many other questions, and they could not give adequate attention to this great and complex social question which it deserved. No single one of them appeared to have studied, or attempted to study, this most important Bill, as Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Gladstone studied the great measures which they introduced. An hon. Gentleman laughed, because he thought the comparison was not one which could, with any justice, be made. Under these circumstances, it was clear that the Liberal Party must absolutely refuse all responsibility for this Bill. If this Motion was carried they must pledge themselves to reverse it at the first possible moment. They must make it perfectly clear that they did not accept the principle of perpetuity of tenure on any terms, and they would see who was going to win this fight in the long run.
He had only one word to say in conclusion as to the discussion of this question in detail. They had spent two daysȔfifteen or sixteen hours in all—in the discussion of the time limit raised on a false issue. The Prime Minister might have helped them out of the difficulty, and they might have been able to discuss the time limit in the way they desired if the right hon. Gentleman had not thought it his duty to his Party to chip in at a certain moment and take care that the discussion should take place then, when it was more convenient to the Government, inasmuch as it brought in the question of the time limit in regard to other matters besides compensation. They spent a few hours over the question of the tied houses and that was closured by the Government. They spent a good many hours over the disciplinary question. Hon. Members did 355 not realise the importance of that question until it was discussed in Committee, and that showed the value of having adequate discussion. By discussion they got into the heart of a subject, and they did not know really before they began what were going to be the important and what the unimportant points. On Clauses 2 and 3 there were six or eight questions—he need not enumerate them—of very great importance, any one of which would occupy in the ordinary course at least one day's discussion. They were all put into one day by the Prime Minister's Resolution. They could not get reasonable legislation on such a principle as that. But most serious of all was the wider question of the degradation of the House of Commons. He admitted that the closure under modern circumstances must too often be necessary. They all admitted that the closure in itself had a bad effect. He believed that in wise hands the closure might be worked in a way that in the long run would obtain the sanction of the country. But here was a Government which after all was regarded—he did not say on this question but in regard to another question—with great suspicion by two important groups of Members—he supposed they were one half of the nominal supporters of the Government. A Government of that kind which was on its last legs, and which was bringing forward a measure of this importance and complexity on a violently controversial subject, now came in with this closure Resolution in order to make it sure that the House would not get adequate discussion of it. He had only to say that such a course was an outrage on the decencies of debate, and it seemed to him the last despairing effort to capture, at any rate, that portion of the vote which the publican could turn.
§ MR. DISRAELI (Cheshire,Altrincham)
said the hon. Member for Oldham was hardly fair to the Prime Minister when he said the right hon. Gentleman was unaware of the gross scandals which had occurred in his own constituency. The introduction of this Bill hardly bore out what the hon. Gentleman said. Everybody knew that the scandals of Manchester were the beerhouses which infested that city.
§ MR. EMMOTT
Allow me to explain to the hon. Member that I referred to the fact that certain magistrates were influenced by the trade in some way or other, and tried to interfere with the work of the police. Evidently the hon. Member does not know of that, or that they were struck off the Bench.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said he knew that, but he thought the hon. Gentleman was referring to the state of licensing in Manchester which the Prime Minister by introducing this Bill aimed at doing away with. The worst class of licensed houses were the ante-1869 beerhouses, and he did not think the hon. Gentleman had any reason to hold up the Prime Minister to any extraordinary opprobrium in connection with the introduction of this Bill.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said he was one of those who voted against the closure on the Home Rule and on the Education Bill, and it was not with a very happy conscience that he should give his vote that day. But he considered that after twelve years in that House one's ideals got rather upset. In this matter one was led, perhaps, more to consider, not the immediate, but the ultimate benefit to the country which would result from the course the Government were now taking. He entirely denied what had been said over and over again in the debate, and especially on the other side—that this was a very difficult and complex measure. The position of the magistrates, to his mind, was left very nearly the same as at the present moment. Their rights and duties were left practically as they were now. Each county and each town would now be able to do away with public-houses which were not required. He thought the result of this Bill would be so beneficial that he would vote for the closure Resolution of the Government, though, perhaps, that action had been taken before it ought to have been taken.
It had been said on the other side that there had been no opposition to the passage of the Bill which had not been fair. He thought the principle of the Bill was contained in the 357 first five or six lines. They discussed that on the Second Reading for several days, and it had also been discussed in Committee. The House having once accepted the principle, the Bill to his mind was one which could be passed, leaving the machinery as it was now to be administered by quarter sessions. The argument that much of the machinery of the Bill would not be discussed if the Resolution now before the House were passed was not a strong one, because most of the machinery was to be carried out by quarter sessions themselves. The principle of the Bill having been accepted he ventured to think that the Government were, perhaps, not doing such a wrong thing as some might consider in forcing the closure at this early stage. He thought the Government might have given a little more time for the discussion of the Bill. He did not mean the sort of discussion that had come from the other side. He did not mean a controversy between brewers and teetotalers and lawyers, but discussion on the issues with which the magistrates would have to deal in their administrative capacity. The fact that it had come to pass that the closure had to be enforced in the way proposed was, to his mind, one of the many condemnations of the new rules of procedure passed by the House. It had been clearly shown that the House could not sit four or five days continuously on a big Bill without hon. Members being placed in a condition of almost physical ineptitude and unfitness to do the work. He hoped the Prime Minister would consider that the surrendering of the Wednesday evening had placed the House in that position. The new Rules had absolutely broken down. To his mind this was a detestable action to take, but it had been adopted before; it had been initiated by the other side. In this case, although he had never voted for closure by compartments before, he would vote for this closure because he believed that the benefit to the country would be greater than the disadvantage or harm done to the House of Commons.
MR. LAWSON WALTON (Leeds, S.)
said that the hon. Member who had just sat down had recognised the extreme importance of the Motion now before the House. He had pointed out that it did not involve the mere question of the fate 358 of the Bill which the House was now engaged in discussing, but that it involved the constitutional position and capacity, in its legislative sphere, of the House of Commons, and, if passed, it would establish a precedent which, in the hands of successive Governments, would be used to curtail, to the point of destruction, the exercise of the deliberative functions of the House in framing its legislation. Here they had a Bill, not unduly long, and not unduly complicated, but highly controversial. There seemed to be no ground for putting this measure into an exceptional category, except that it excited strong feeling in the country, which was reflected on these Benches of the House of Commons. There had been no waste of time involved in its discussion during the few hours devoted to it; and if, under the circumstances, they were to come to the conclusion that the machinery of the House of Commons was to be acknowledged to be unequal to the strain of framing the measure, then there was no highly contentious Bill to which, in the future, the same argument might not be applied with equal force. He would ask the House for one moment to look at the practical result of this Motion. Were they, or were they not, prepared to declare that, as a body, the House was unfitted to frame its measures? He agreed that that did not involve the declaration that they were unable to define the principles of these measures, because to some extent these were settled by the debate on the Second Reading of the Bills. But the Motion declared when a Bill passed into Committee, if time was short, or if the measure was controversial, or if any elements of complication arose, it was to be taken, not in the form in which Parliament had settled it, but in the form in which the Government draftsman had framed it, and in which the Cabinet had chosen to adopt it? The Constitution had undergone a serious change. It was said that it had ceased to be government by Parliament. It had become government by Cabinet, and an even later development, they were told, had taken place, and it was now government by Prime Minister in Cabinet, little distinguishable from the autocracies into which the democracies of the past had degenerated.
But the present point was not so much the authority of the Cabinet or the Prime 359 Minister in the Cabinet. The question was one which was very near to every one of them, whether they were the enemies of this Government, or any other Government. It was a question for every individual Member of Parliament who was proud of the institution, to which he belonged, whether or not the House was to surrender the function of giving its impress, after debate and deliberation, on the form of the measures which it passed. Everyone recognised that the miserable six days which were to be allotted to discussing the clauses of this Bill would involve that whole clauses would be taken en bloc, by some haphazard method; and that other Amendments of the greatest importance, owing to the mechanical application of what the Prime Minister called the time limit, would be shut out; and that they would send to the country a Bill which here and there might reflect the opinion of this House, but here and there would reflect no opinion except that of the Cabinet draftsman. He had had some little experience of the criticism to which Acts of Parliament had of late years been subjected by those whose duty it was to administer them, and the strongest language had been used in regard to the ill-adapted framework by which Parliament had chosen to express its will in the direction towards which legislation tended. It must be remembered there was no tribunal by means of which Bills might be revised and criticised. They became law after passing through Committee. If they had a body of experts who could review and revise legislation, they might have some security, but the only security which Parliament had was in the discussion and deliberation of this House, and if they came to the conclusion that that deliberation and discussion could not be expended on their measures, then they were abandoning one of the most important functions which this House had hitherto exercised. What steps was it proposed to take? The Prime Minister was all for hugger-mugger methods. The Prime Minister said: "Let the business spin out in a happy-go-lucky way until the allotted period is reached," and when the allotted period arrived, however important the clauses might be, deliberation must be curtailed by this mechani- 360 cal limit of the compartment. The time limit of the Prime Minister was Procrustean in its application, and the result would be that they would cast upon the country a half-considered and ill-digested measure in respect to which there had been no adequate discussion. The Prime Minister said that Parliament was going to be degraded by the length of time that was expended in the discussion of measures of this kind. But was not the true degradation to be found in the declaration, which they were, in effect, making that Parliament was unequal to the discharge of its constitutional duties?
The Prime Minister had said that they could not in Committee adequately discuss the measures they were to pass; but if that were so, it was the duty of the Prime Minister to offer a true solution of the difficulty. If the situation had arisen that they could not adequately discuss measures in Committee, by whom were they to be discussed? Was a measure to be sent out to the country unconsidered, because, owing to the lackadaisical conduct of the business at an early period of the session, the time which might have been usefully spent on a measure of first-rate importance had been otherwise absorbed? He contended that if that was the present situation of this House as a deliberative assembly, then it was for the Prime Minister as the Leader of the House to substitute for the abandoned functions of the House some other method of adequately considering and deciding upon the framework of their legislation. He did not approach the consideration of this question in any Party sense. This was a precedent which would be established from which there would be no escape. Closure by compartments would be applicable in the future to any Bill. The Prime Minister might get up and say: "This is a highly controversial measure. The time at the disposal of Parliament is limited. It must be passed. The Committee stage must be abridged, and we shall ask the House to send this Bill forth without discussion." The precedent arising out of this debate would be quoted with irresistible force in order to induce their successors to agree to such a Motion.
361 He could quite understand the Prime Minister making this Motion if there had been anything in the nature of obstruc-tion to this Bill. But the criticism of the measure had proceeded from both sides, and nearly every Amendment which had been moved had been received with sympathetic consideration by the Solicitor-General, who represented the Government. There was scarcely an Amendment which had not been regarded as most reasonable, and in one case, after a large amount of time had been consumed in its discussion, the Solicitor-General came forward with a very important Amendment which he himself put before the Committee. How was the Prime Minister to predict that similar cases might not happen again? What was thought of as mere machinery was apt to involve questions of principle. Was the door to be closed to all fruitful suggestions and modifications or improvements, because forsooth they would not sit after twelve, or because they must have their holidays on the 12th August? The fate of the House of Commons as a deliberative assembly was at stake. The declaration of the Prime Minister that the House would not sit after 12 o'clock at night, or prolong the session beyond the middle of August, to discuss a measure of such prime im-portance.was a degradation of Parliament, and the right hon. Gentleman who made it would be held responsible for the feeling it would cause in the country. He felt strongly on this matter, and he offered these observations in no Party sense whatever. He hoped that hon. Members on. the Government Benches would lift this issue above Party, and say to the Prime Minister: "We think you are mistaken; we are prepared to come and prepared to stay to discuss this measure, which has aroused such popular feeling throughout the country—a measure of which it must not be said outside that Parliament grudged adequate time for its consideration."
§ SIR JOHN GORST (Cambridge University)
said that with the Party aspect of the question at issue he should have nothing to do. He had listened with admiration to the excellent speeches of the First Lord of the Treasury and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fifeshire; and his memory was irresistibly 362 carried back to days when he had heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fifeshire make a speech from the Treasury Bench exactly like that of the First Lord of the Treasury, and the First Lord of the Treasury make a speech from the Front Opposition Bench precisely like that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fifeshire. His object in rising was to protest most earnestly against the application of the principle of closure by compartments to social legislation. He had listened with great pain to the confession of the First Lord of the Treasury that the House was practically incapable of carrying through a measure of social legislation, and that, too, in the case of a Bill where there had been no undue discussion, where even the First Lord of the Treasury himself repudiated the notion that there had been anything like obstruction.
§ SIR JOHN GORST
At all events the right hon. Gentleman does not venture to allege that there has been obstruction.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My right hon. friend must not put it in that way either. I was quite ready to allege it if it was necessary to the argument I addressed to the House. It was not necessary, and therefore I did not allege it.
§ SIR JOHN GORST
said he would put it in this way—that in relation to a measure the consideration of which he ventured to allege had been characterised by extremely business-like debate, the First Lord of the Treasury had said that it was impossible for the House adequately to carry on discussion in Committee. Surely, if that declaration of the First Lord was recorded by the adoption of this Resolution, it might be said that the House of Commons had written itself down as incapable, under its existing Rules, of passing an ordinary measure of social reform. Now, would the House consider how these Bills which dealt with the social habits and conditions of the people were framed? They were sometimes prepared in accordance with the Report of a Royal Commission or of a Select Committee, in which event all interests had, at least, an opportunity of 363 being heard. The Bill was therefore prepared with some knowledge of the various points of controversy and with the various interests that had to be considered. But that was not the case with the Licensing Bill. That measure did not follow either the Majority or the Minority Report of the Royal Commission. It was a Bill framed by the Government itself. It would be framed by a number of gentlemen selected haphazard, who necessarily had no greater knowledge of the subject of legislation than anybody else, assisted by permanent officials in the Civil Service, who also were selected at haphazard and who, again, had not particular expert knowledge of the subject under consideration. There were, no doubt, powerful interests and powerful influences who managed somehow or other to get a say in the preparation of Government Bills; but even the most careful Government could never feel certain that all interests had been considered and that all the points in connection with the Bill had been brought under review. No doubt the Bill would be exposed to discussion, but he did not know whether the closure had not been imposed even in the Cabinet itself. Then, finally, the Bill was submitted to the House of Commons. Now, what he wanted to impress on the House was that here, on the floor of this House, for the first time an opportunity was given to every interest involved in the Bill of being heard, and every difficulty had an opportunity of being raised. Had the Government had an opportunity of really considering the operation of their own Bill? Had the Minister in charge of the Bill, who ought to be a person of authority trusted by his colleagues, had an opportunity of so modifying the original proposals of the Government in accordance with the principles laid down, so as to make it acceptable to the House of Commons, and to remove from it the deficiencies which had been shown to exist, and to finally pass through the House of Commons a measure that would be acceptable not only to the Party to which the Government belonged, but to the country at large, and which would work for the benefit of the whole people? In this Bill, he thought, they had an excellent example of the value of discussions in the House, because, during the short time it had been under discussion, he ventured to 364 say that the Solicitor-General had learned a great deal about the licensing laws of this country in their social aspect which he had never known before. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had received criticisms from both sides of the House with great sympathy and consideration and had accepted important Amendments; and he believed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have been disposed to accept more Amendments if his zeal had not been curtailed by the First Lord of the Treasury.
Now, what would be the effect of the proposal of the Government? It would undoubtedly be that the Licensing Bill would be passed into law with a great number of points, perhaps points of detail, but of important detail, greatly affecting the happiness of the people and their moral welfare, which had not been submitted to the judgment of the House or had not received the independent criticism of the House, and without the Government having had an opportunity of correcting the procedure. In fact the Bill would rather resemble one of. those foreign legislative propositions which went by the name of "ukases," passed not in concert with the representatives of the people, but solely by permanent officials of the Government, and which consequently were not only not obeyed by the people, but gave rise to revolutionary sentiments and occasionally to the assassination of some unpopular Minister. From incidents such as these, this country was happily free, and chiefly because legislation was submitted to free discussion in the House of Commons. The results of a procedure such as was now proposed were apparent in the fact that so many of the Acts dealing with the social condition of the people had by their authors to be made the subjects of amending Bills. Why, even the Education Bill, with the general principles of which he was in entire accord, would have been better if it had been thoroughly discussed in the House, and many other matters which had been decided under closure would have been better had there been full discussion and expression of opinion. On the whole he did not think that there was any real saving of time. Looking beyond the session, no saving of Parliamentary time resulted from Motions such as these; an enormous amount of time would be saved, now spont on 365 amending Bills, if more care were given to the original measures. He was inclined to think that it would be better not to attempt to pass any social legislation at all until the rules of procedure were amended so as to secure that social legislation, at least, should not pass without full discussion. The Prime Minister mentioned the alternative, only to dismiss it, of amending the rules of procedure; but the House would do well to amend them so as to ensure adequate discussion for every social measure. It would not be in order for him to mention particular projects, but in this connection he was a strong supporter of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, who had often advocated the appointment of a strong business Committee, something like the Committee of Selection, chosen from both sides of the House and composed of the older Members, not so much influenced by Party considerations—a strong business Committee to allocate the time to be occupied in various discussions. He could not enlarge upon this idea, but at least it would save the House from the absurdity of attempting to pass social legislation when under its Rules the House might be incapacitated from discussion.
§ ME. WHITTAKER (Yorkshire, W.R., Spen Valley)
said he confessed he approached the consideration of the Motion with a strong feeling of indignation, and could not discuss general procedure with the philosophic calm of the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken. From a Party point of view, no more favourable Motion for the Liberal side of the House could be made. The Prime Minister smiled, but he must not suppose that they were incapable of looking at the question from any but a Party point of view. The Bill had created a remarkably strong feeling throughout the country altogether apart from that section of the community with which he might be considered to be specially identified; and that a measure of such gross injustice should be forced through the House by a method of closure absolutely unparalleled in Parliamentary history would, from the Party point of view, suit the Liberal Party well. But they did not need it. The country was indignant enough with the Govern- 366 ment already. It was sick of the Government and needed not this additional stimulus to its indignation. The long dissertation of the Prime Minister upon business was beside the mark. The whole trouble arose from the right hon. Gentleman's mismanagement, from his waste of time early in the session, and his attempt to crowd business into the latter part of the session. The right hon. Gentleman said that the only complaint would be if the Government had proposed a great number of measures. Surely there was another source of complaint. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman use the early weeks and month of the session to get on with the business and not have it now crowded together because of his bungling and mismanagement? Why did not the Government bring in the Bill earlier? Before Parliament met there was every indication that the Bill would be introduced almost immediately after the conclusion of the debate on the King's Speech; but never in the recent history of Parliament had Government Bills been introduced so late. There was a two-fold reason. In the first place, the Prime Minister could not rely on his supporters for the working of the Parliamentary machine. Yes it was; but not because they wanted to discuss measures adequately, but because hon. Members would not attend to their Parliamentary duties; they had to be dragged to the House to vote for the closure. Time was wasted because Members would not return after dinner, wasted by the week that Members might go to Ascot. With his lackadaisical supporters the Prime Minister had mismanaged business, had lowered the character of Parliamentary representation, and now came down to closure debate in a ruthless manner.
Hitherto it had been the custom, of which they had reason to be proud, to accept social legislation because the country was assured it had been freely discussed, and because it had been customary to carry even controversial measures, more or less, by consent. There had always been a definite and deliberate intention on the part of the Government to meet, as far as possible, objection; and the Opposition were always given a fair opportunity of expressing their objections. But on no such 367 ground would the Licensing Bill be accepted. It was a measure full of vital changes; it was not merely a compensation Bill. That was not the main object. The main object was to deprive the justices of discretionary powers they had exercised for something like four centuries. If the inner history of the Bill were known, it would be found that the original scheme was to curtail the power of the justices. Now that was to be done indirectly. It was a vitally important matter touching the interests of the whole nation. The licensing question had wrecked powerful Ministries and baffled the efforts of the most astute statesmen, and to ask the Committee to deal with such a Bill in half-a-dozen days was an outrage upon Parliament. The Government had found the greatest difficulty in drafting their measure. It had been drafted and redrafted a dozen times, and if those gentlemen who had to consider the subject without any special knowledge,and having consulted the representatives of one party to the controversy only, found such difficulty, how, with any show of reason, could the Government attempt to force it down the throat of the House of Commons without any adequate opportunity for discussion. The main points of the Bill had not been discussed. Clauses 2 and 3 would settle the whole basis and method of compensation, a id was that so simple a matter that it could be disposed of in a day? They would have to settle the method of ascertaining the value and by whom it was to be ascertained; and what was more important, how the money was to be divided. The proposals of the Bill as to the division of the money were simply outrageous. They were that those who provided the money would not get it, and that those who got the money would not provide it. There were also the important questions of the tenant's title to make deductions and of the borrowing powers under the Bill. All that to be squeezed into a single Parliamentary day! It was ludicrous. In one day also they had to lay down a basis for a new system of granting licences in connection with an entire revolution in the system as to old licences. And for the rest of the clauses and the schedule and the new clauses of the Government and everything else—one day. Clause 6, which was one of the 368 most extraordinary clauses ever proposed in any Bill, would put into the hands of the Home Secretary the power and the duty of framing rules for carrying the Act into effect, so that this was not even legislation by the Cabinet or by the Prime Minister; it was to be legislation by the Home Secretary. Never had there been a Licensing Bill presented to the House before in which the fullest provision was not made for indicating the duties to be done under the Bill and the conditions under which they were to be discharged. But the whole of this Bill was to be put into operation by the Home Secretary, and he did not understand a word of it. Was Parliament to have no voice? Either the Government was not quite clear in its own mind or this was a new system of closure to keep from the House the opportunity of discussing those details. The arrangement of Clause 6 to hand over to a Government Department matters that ought to settled on the floor of the House was preposterous and an outrage on the House of Commons.
Reference had been made to what other Ministers would do if this Resolution were made a precedent, but Liberal Administrations had no protection in another place, and might as well rely on the Carlton Club to pass their measures. They had to depend entirely upon the strength of their own position in this House. They had no protection in another place as hon. Members opposite had. Why was this particular Bill selected for such treatment? Why was everything giving way to the brewers' Bill? Why not go on with the Valuation Bill? Why not go on with the Port of London Bill? It was a great injustice to the traders of London that they should be kept in a state of uncertainty. The only other measure the Prime Minister said he would put through was the Welsh Coercion Bill. No measures for the interests of the people were to be passed; only measures in the interests of a class. The real truth of the matter was that the Prime Minister and the Government of the day were in the hands of a trade. Their Parliamentary life depended on the vote of those in that House who were interested in the trade. These Members could cut the thread which held them from going over the precipice of a general election. In a division the other day, 369 when their majority was only thirty-eight, there were fifty Members voting for the Government who were actually interested in the liquor trade. But for these votes their fate could be decided at any moment on such divisions as had taken place. They were between the devil and the deep sea. They knew the fate that was before them, and dare not face it. Let the Prime Minister act the part of a man. It must be a pitiable position to be in—to be brought to the heel of the liquor trade by a crack of the whip. Ministers were depending on a trade whose motto was "Our trade, our politics," and had, as was avowed by the Home Secretary, brought in this Bill to protect a trade that had no higher political ideal than its own greed, its own selfishness. Yes, and the Prime Minister in his own constituency was more at the mercy of that trade than man v. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University had referred to the great influence and interest that can have access to a Government. Some reference had been made to Manchester scandals. He would be the last man to suggest that the Prime Minister would knowingly lend himself in any way whatever to anything that he knew to be unworthy; but he might be, he ventured to think he ha I been, surrounded by influences which had brought about proposals which were unworthy, without his knowledge that they were so. [An HON. MEMBER: Question.] [HON. MEMBERS: What influences?] This was a question of the influence which was at work in inducing the Government to select this particular measure to be pressed forward by most arbitrary means, and it was the question. He was asked "What influences?" What was it that induced the Prime Minister to knight Sir John Mark of Manchester and to confer a decoration on the chief constable?
§ MR. CUST (Southwark, Bermondsey)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I wish to ask if it is in order to make a personal attack on a Cabinet Minister.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is often done and is not necessarily out of order. But the hon. Member is travelling beyond the question before the House. It is a question of relevance.
§ MR. WHITTAKER
said he had carefully guarded himself in what he had said. It was most undesirable for a Prime Minister to be surrounded by a number of gentlemen who did bring influence to bear upon him and put a matter before him in one way only, so as to lead to results that were disastrous and discreditible to the country. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he quite knew where his surroundings were taking him. Up to the present the Government had staved off the rapacious demands of the trade; and now they might be said to be at the mercy of the trade and under the influence of drink. It was a humiliating and degrading position for a Government to be in, and it was disastrous for the country to be at the mercy of a Government so upheld in that House. The Government knew that the country was against them on this Bill. The by-elections, Petitions to that House, the representations of both Houses of Convocation, the feeling of the benches of magistrates of this country, the resolutions of the justices of the city of Manchester, of which the Prime Minister was a most distinguished representative in this House, the representatations of the justices of Liverpool and other great cities showed that the country was against this Bill and the Government had not the political courage to face the country.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N,)
said he had not supported this Bill or voted for it at any of its previous stages because there were certain things in it of which he did not approve; on the other hand, he did not vote against it because there were many things in the Bill of which he did approve. But, speaking from an experience of Parliamentary life of many years, he could say that this was the only Bill that had ever been introduced, which, with all its defects, had a prospect of reducing the number of public-houses. They were engaged at the present moment in a great Parliamentary battle with those with whom they were not in sympathy; a battle in which he had taken part in former times and one in which if he lived, and his constituents had the good sense to still send him to this House, he should continue to take part in the future. It was well known that there were two ways 371 of attacking a Government; first, they might attack the Bill on its principles, but the other and perhaps more effective way was to attempt to choke the Government with Amendments to the Bill. That was what the Opposition were at present trying to effect, because it must be plain that if the Government did not take any steps in the direction which the right hon. Gentleman suggested to-day this Bill would go on till Christmas, and he doubted whether it would be done with then. As that was an impossibility the Government were determined to pass the Resolution now before the House. The right hon. Member or East Fife had made a very eloquent and interesting speech, in the course of which he had laid down a strange principle for future political action. The right hon. Gentleman had said a Government returned with a mandate had practically no right to go beyond that mandate or to deal with any question of domestic legislation.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
That, at any rate, was the impression which the right hon. Gentleman's speech had produced upon his mind. In that House when a great lawyer spoke they were never quite certain what he wanted to say. or what effect he hoped to give to his words, but allowing for all the intricacies of the legal mind he (Colonel Saunderson) had arrived at the fact that this Government was elected for one object; to carry through, if possible, to a successful termination the South African War. That was the mandate that the Government had received. If the speech of the right hon. Member for East Fife meant anything at all, it meant that the Government had no right with only that mandate to embark on any kind of domestic legislation such as that they were now considering. He did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman if he became a member of a future Government would be content to rely upon that principle. He, also, was an insignificant Member of the House of Commons, and he had a mandate given to him nineteen years ago, and at every general election since the same mandate had been 372 given to him and he had acted strictly up to it. That mandate was at all hazards and by all the efforts at his disposal to keep a Unionist Government in and a Separatist Government out, and, although he had admitted that this Bill had not found much favour in his eyes, he asked himself on the present occasion whether he would be justified in helping to turn the Government out and allowing their place to be taken by hon. Gentlemen whose policy was diametrically opposed to all the best interests of the British Empire; a Party who had apparently laid down the principle that their own country was always wrong and that the enemies of their country, whether in South Africa or Ireland—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! There are some considerations which may operate on the hon. and gallant Member's mind which are not relevant to the Motion.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said, believing as firmly as he did what he had stated to the House, he had asked himself whether he should be justified, holding these views, in assisting the Party opposite, whether from Ireland or England, to turn out the Government, and he had come to the conclusion, although he did not like the Bill, that even if it were infinitely worse than hon. Gentlemen opposite made it out to be he should still be right in voting for the Government.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down had not dealt with either the Motion of the right hon. Member for East Fife or with the original proposal. He was prepared to give a vote rather against his own principles in order that he might maintain a Unionist Government in power. The hon. and gallant Member had stated his opinion that the liberties, privileges, and rights of the House of Commons were of trivial importance in comparison with the supreme issue of maintaining right hon. Gentlemen opposite in power. He thought that speech and what had transpired during the 373 last three or four hours singularly I illustrated the indifference and almost contempt of the House of Commons which was at the bottom of this Motion. The arguments of his right hon. friend the Member for East Fife, of the right hon. Member for East Somerset, and of the hon. Member for Oldham, and the powerful and eloquent speech of the Member for Spen Valley, had not been considered worthy of a reply by Members on the Treasury Bench and their supporters. They seemed to be absolutely indifferent. They could not answer the arguments put forward shoeing why this Resolution should not be passed—the disgrace involved and the effect on the Bill itself—and they maintained this policy of silence which was but another phase of the registration of those ukases to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University had referred. Let the House recall the position at the close of the speech of the Prime Minister. The great part of that speech was the laving down of what the right hon. Gentleman considered to be a necessary change in the procedure of this House in order that it might be enabled to discharge its duty. Before the right hon, Gentleman proceeded to apply that principle to the j present state of affairs and to the Bill before the House he dealt with the general question of the utilisation of the time at the disposal of the House, He (Sir Henry) did not wish to refer to previous years. He was quite ready to admit that the condition of public business at the present time was absolutely unprecedented and intolerable. But who was responsible for that? Not the Opposition. The Leader of the House was responsible for the conduct of business. Who fixed the meeting of Parliament so late as the 3rd of February? Under the present state of affairs the great demands on the Government, the questions that had been raised affecting the whole policy of the country, and with war going on in different parts of the world—the House of Commons should have been summoned earlier.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
Yes. The House met too late, and it had had too long holidays. If this was the most important Bill in the Government's programme then it ought to have been introduced much earlier and got through its crucial stages at an earlier period of the session. But what had occurred?For a month after they met they were engaged in endeavouring to find out what was the Prime Minister's policy, what were the views of His Majesty's Government on the most vital issue that had been raised in this country for a generation. And to this hour they did not know what those views were, and if there was a dissolution immediately they were not in a position, and he did not believe the Government or any person was in a position, to state what were the views the right hon. Gentleman and the Government held on the fiscal question. Of course the Estimates had to be passed before the 3lst of March, and he did not complain that this Bill was not brought in until after the 31st of March; but then the Government brought in what was termed an uncontroversial Budget. The right hon. Gentleman was right in bringing in the Budget when he did, but it ought to have been gone on with and got out of the way. The difficulties of Parliamentary business had been aggravated by the various attitudes of the Prime Minister as to the course of business. He interposed the Scotch Education Bill, which was eminently a Bill for a Committee upstairs, and the time of the House was wasted for another week. Then came this Bill. The House went into Committee on 6th June when a whole day was occupied. On 7th June, there was a whole day, on 8th June there was one hour, and then, forsooth, the House went back to the Finance Bill, and it heard nothing more of the Licensing Bill till 27th June. Even the Treasury Bench had then forgotten what had happened, and a good deal of time was spent in trying to remember where we left off. There was a whole day on 27th June, a morning sitting on 28th June, another on 29th June, and in the Evening Sitting an hour and a half, and the total time up to that day spent in Committee was thirty-four hours. It was under these 375 circumstances that the Prime Minister had come down to the House and asked them to close all discussion in this matter and brought forward his Resolution in order—he thanked the right hon. Gentleman for teaching them the phrase—to force this Bill down the throat of the House. Two years ago the right hon. Gentleman recommended the House to guillotine the education debate. But under what circumstances was that done, On that occasion the Bill had been in Committee thirty-eight days, and the right hon. Gentleman said a strange light was thrown upon the Parliamentary situation in which they found themselves by the fact that after being in Committee thirty-eight days they were still a considerable distance from the end of the Bill. But he would recall the right hon. Gentleman's memory to the act that in that Committee the right hon. Gentleman was in almost constant attendance, that he heard a great many of those Amendments moved and argued on both sides, which had not been his practice in this Bill. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman adopt the same policy here; he quite admitted that there might be some justification for a Motion to bring that debate to a close.
said he was perfectly sure that he voted against it, because he wished to throw the Bill out. The Licensing Bill, however, this vital measure on which the Government were standing or falling, had only been discussed in Committee for a period of time which, being added up, amounted to thirty-four hours, and he put it to the Prime Minister whether that was a sufficient time for the consideration of such a Bill. The right hon. Gentleman could not say that there had been obstruction on the Bill. He did not know whether the Prime Minister had ever heard of a well-known saying of Lord Beaconsfield, that "The man who leads the House of Commons must live in the House of Commons." He was not one of those who expected the Prime Minister to be here at every hour of the evening and attending to all the debates; but on the 376 vital Bill of the session, which the Prime Minister regarded as of supreme importance, he respectfully submitted to the right hon. Gentleman that it would have facilitated its passage if he had been present to acquaint himself with the well-reasoned and strong objections to this badly-drawn Bill, a Bill which, if it was to be put into shape to be rendered workmanlike, required amendment in almost every line. He did not blame the Government for the drafting of the Bill—he supposed they were advised about that, though whether by their legal or their non-legal friends he could not say—but it was drawn on a wrong principle. The Bill was brought in to meet an admitted general difficulty that magistrates had with reference to diminishing the number of licences on account of their excessive number; and if it had been confined to that instead of being very cleverly drawn so as to include a large number of matters which would very seriously, if not practically, destroy the disciplinary control of the licensing magistrates, outside the simple question of refusing renewals on the ground of excessive number, it would have proceeded upon a better principle. The Prime Minister could not say that the Bill had been fully discussed. This Bill depended greatly upon its details, and these had not been discussed. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think it would be a calamity if the House were not permitted to rise on 12th August. It would be an even greater calamity to the House to have its proceedings throttled. He did not know whether the Prime Minister realised the danger, alluded to in the admirable speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Somerset, that this Bill could not be a final settlement. The right hon. Gentleman was now introducing a new principle into legislation. Hitherto, when a Bill had been considered—when both sides had brought forward their objections and these had been considered—such legislation had been accepted as a rule. But if Bills were to be passed without discussion then the Prime Minister could not complain if the majority opposed to those Bills refused to accept the decision taken under such circumstances, and felt themselves at liberty to re-open the whole question. The Prime Minister had not forgotten the Bill of his right hon.
377 friend the Member for West Monmouth. That Bill was fought tenaciously by a combination of some of the ablest men in that House, yet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth never once applied the closure, There was not an Amendment of the law which the acutest mind desired which was not discussed and voted upon in the House. What had been the result? That when the very men who had opposed it, notably the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for West Bristol, who was one of the leaders I of the Opposition to that Bill, found themselves in power the alteration of hardly a syllable was proposed.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
I myself introduced six Amendments and the Chancellor of the Exchequer one.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
Ah, we must not only number the Amendments but weigh them. My hon. friend will not deny the general principle that the Death Duties have now been practically accepted. Then there was another Bill of which, perhaps, I may say a word or two. I sat for thirty-five days on the Treasury Bench carrying through the Local Government Bill; at one time there were 1,400 Amendments to that Bill. I believe there were between 400 and 500 divisions, and the closure was only moved once, and that was by an hon. friend of mine without my knowledge. That is a mode of procedure which is not open to the danger of the present proposals. [An HON. MEMBER: The Government sat into the next year.] Yes, because the Government were in earnest, because they considered their legislation necessary for the good of the country, and thought that of more importance than even the hunting or other seasons.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
One of my right hon. friends reminds me that one Amendment lasted seven days. I do not say the Opposition was unreasonable. 378 At the close of that prolonged controversy I said that I had no right to complain or to maintain that there had been any obstructive opposition, that it was a measure in which the" interest of the House was very strongly aroused. A Bill could have no moral weight when passed under such circumstances as were now proposed.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
It was altogether, I believe, eighty-two days in this House, but that Bill was brought in in direct compliance with a mandate of the country taken at the general election. Mr. Gladstone was returned to power by a small majority, it is true, in 1892, but he was returned to pass Home Rule. At all events, it was not sprung upon the country. Mr. Gladstone, when he went to the country, did not ask for the support of Conservatives on some other specific ground, which they considered of great importance, and then consider that a mandate for Home Rule. In 1900 the Government got Liberal votes, and men are sitting on the opposite side of the House by Liberal votes given solely and purposely for one reason—namely, the patriotic support of the Government in a time of war, but now the votes obtained on that issue from Liberals are given to defeat what the electors considered their most cherished political convictions. I will sum up in one sentence of the Prime Minister's. I will add nothing to it nor take anything from it. What the right hon. Gentleman said in reference to a similar Resolution was that "he resisted it because it would be the wreck of the liberties of Parliament—"
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
It was in 1894—"and for all time would impair the efficiency and cloud the honour of this Assembly." It is for that reason I shall vote against the Motion.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said that this was the fourth occasion on which he had taken part in a debate on a Motion of that nature. The first was in connection with the Crimes Act, the second the Home Rule Bill, and the third the Evicted Tenants Bill. The difference between these cases and the present Motion was enormous. The Prime Minister had said, and said truly, that each case had to be considered on its merits, but he did not tell them what was to be done when a case had no merits. With regard to the Closure Motion on the Crimes Act and the Evicted Tenants Bill, everyone who knew anything about the state of Ireland in those days knew that the social condition was such as to necessitate prompt procedure, while as to the Home Rule Bill that was an Imperial issue which had been discussed at very great length, and was bound to be settled at some time. But the present case showed no resemblance to either of those three. The Prime Minister had not proposed this Motion on the ground that there had been obstruction, but he would not say that there had not been; evidently he had no settled convictions upon that point. He had not yet made up his mind. But he would tell the right hon. Gentleman that there had been cool and deliberate obstruction upon this Bill. What did he mean by that? Of course the Prime Minister was not expected, with his multifarious duties, to attend that House at nine o'clock, and as a matter of fact he had not seen what had been going on under his new Rules. But what had happened when the Bill had been in Committee was that the Government at nine o'clock had been in a minority, dreading the attendance of the Irish Members, and so they had had speeches from the hon. Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Then we have had speeches from the hon. and learned 380 Member for Finsbury, and the hon. Member for Newcastle, who were not artists in the business at all. [Some cries of "Peckham."] He reserved Peckham, because his hon. friend the Member for Peckham was an artist, and did not lend himself to obstruction. What he would point out to the Prime Minister was that there had not been one word that could be construed as obstruction, save and except the deliberate obstruction arranged by the Government to prevent them from being in a minority. It was monstrous that the result of their having to listen to these Parliamentary banalities should be that their Parliamentary liberties were to be docked, curtailed, and restrained, and because hon. Members would not come from their clubs and dinner parties to discuss the business of the nation. He did not care who was the author of the Rules of Procedure, they ought to be abolished forthwith. No obstruction! Then why did not the right hon. Gentleman take this Bill during Ascot week? Let the country understand that the Prime Minister deliberately set this Bill aside during Ascot week in order that his supporters should enjoy their fun. He had another reason to advance agains this Motion. The Bill had only been discussed for thirty-four hours. The Education Bill was discussed for thirty-eight days, the Home Rule Bill eighty-two days, and the Evicted Tenants Bill three days. Compare that with the thirty-four hours devoted to this Bill and let them look also at the nature of the debate. Off-licences were debated several hours and were ruled out of the Bill; the whole scheme of new licences had been altered, and the proposal to give compensation to licences granted after the passing of the Bill had been rejected. Again, hours had been spent over the question of the duty of publicans to supply other than intoxicating drinks, and the Government had had to give way on that. If in thirty-four hours it had been possible to secure such important concessions, how could it be suggested that there had been obstruction? He regretted that the right hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh was not in his place. He had taken up a very extraordinary position. He had said: "I dislike the Bill. I have not voted for it and do not intend to, but I shall 381 support this Motion because there is a chance the Government will go out if it is not passed." The right hon. Gentleman need not be alarmed that the Government would go out. They were not thinking of going out, and would not go out if the Motion were rejected. The right hon. Gentleman disliked the Bill and the Motion. But he had a still greater horror of a Separatist Government. Who, however, were the real Separatists? The Prime Minister said the House must either be reduced to impotence or it must cease to be a deliberative Assembly. Did the right hon. Gentleman think the people of England would allow their Parliament to be reduced to impotence or consent to it ceasing to be a deliberative assembly? The people of England were not to be humbugged in that way. By a statement of that kind the Prime Minister could only mean devolution of the work of the House. They might call Home Rule by any name they liked, but they would find that the thing was the same. Who had asked for this Bill? It had not been demanded by a single public meeting; every one of the Labour Members had voted against it [An HON. MEMBER: And will do so again]; Bishops and Nonconformist ministers alike were unanimously opposed to it. It had been introduced and was to be forced through because of the dominance of an imperious trade, and his authority for saying that was the language of the deputation which recently waited on the Prime Minister in one of the rooms of that House. They did not ask for compensation, they only asked that the discretion of the magistrates should be stopped, and they said that unless that was done something would happen to 382 the Tory Party at the next general election. That was the origin of the Bill. It was a mere election dodge, and if it was possible to indict a Government as it was possible to indict an individual Member for a corrupt practice there was not a judge in the land that would not unseat the whole Ministry.
§ MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)
said that unfortunately he had already been twice closured since he had become a Member of this House, and if this Motion were carried it was very probable that a Motion he had down, with a view of securing that the compensation should go to the licence-holders rather than to the brewers, would also be closured. Labour Members naturally felt rather keenlv about this proposed restriction of their rights of free speech. They had not the House of Lords behind them; no Labour representative had ever yet been made a Peer, and he did not think it was likely such an event would ever occur. It was as the last speaker had said—wherever the people of the country had had an opportunity of doing so they had expressed their disgust with the Bill. He wondered that they had not had Petitions sent in in favour of the Bill yards upon yards long, but with the signatures a foot apart, so as to secure length and weight of paper. Possibly the explanation was that the licence-holders were not so strongly in favour of the Bill, because they realised that the compensation under it would not reach them, but would go to men who already had more than their proper share. He listened to the speech of the Prime Minister that morning with very great attention. One had always been led to believe that the right hon. Gentleman had a genuine desire to meet the 383 wishes of the nation in regard to domestic social legislation. But quite recently a Bill was brought forward at the request of 3,000,000 of organised workers, and the House was good enough to pass its Second Reading by a majority of thirty-eight votes. Now the Government had discovered it had no time to devote to the further stages of the measure. Why were the claims of these workers pushed on one side in favour of the demands of a small body?
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order ! I understand the hon. Member is referring to a non-Government Bill which has passed a Second Reading on a Friday That is not relevant to this Motion.
§ MR. CROOKS
said he feared he was a somewhat troublesome child, for he had not yet got into the ways of the House. What he was trying to arrive at was what justification there was for obeying the dictates of 110,000 licence-holders while there were so many measures for the wellbeing of the whole community urgently called for. There were thousands of men idle, thousands of children hungry, and thousands of the poor inadequately housed. He would like to see this Licensing Bill improved in the interests of morality and temperance. He was on one occasion rebuked by an hon. Member for saying that it seemed to him that politics in that House was a game, but how could he help saying that when he sat there hour after hour and day after day and saw the time of Parliament wasted as it was, when it might be devoted to carrying measures for the benefit of the poor instead of for the endowment of the rid.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said there was not a Member of the House who did not regret the necessity for the step that was now being taken, but it had to be recognised that it was a necessity. He was quite prepared to acknowledge the feeling which such a proposal naturally excited amongst the Opposition, and he thought that on the whole the spokesmen of the Party opposite were to be congratulated on the moderation with which they had stated their case. Possibly one or two Members had somewhat overstepped the mark; for instance, he thought the hon. Member or the Spen Valley Division, when he came to read his speech, would probably regret that it had not contained a little more charity, tolerance, and forbearance. But the main point the House had to consider was whether or not there had been adequate time for the discussion of the matters already dealt with, and whether or not, under the proposal of the Prime Minister, sufficient time would be allowed for the remainder of the Bill. Personally he believed there had been adequate time for the consideration of the main controversial portions of the Bill already dealt with, and that sufficient time was being allowed for the proper discussion of the principal controversial portions that remained. There were one or two points connected with the present position of the Bill which ought to be borne in mind. It was common knowledge that hon. Members on the Opposition side had over and over again avowed in the lobbies that the Government should have no legislation this year, unless they secured it at the point of the bayonet. [OPPOSITION cries of "No."] The statement had been made to him personally. 385 [Cries of "Name."] That being so, it was impossible for the Government to carry any legislation, unless by the drastic means of compulsion. It was also germane to consider not only what had been done, but what yet remained to be done. Only three lines of Clause 1 of the Bill had been disposed of in Committee; there remained nineteen more lines of Clause 1, and to these lines as many as 270 Amendments stood on the Paper. Surely that must mean to all fair-minded men that it was intended absolutely to strangle the Bill with Amendments. It was a significant fact that of those 270 Amendments only two stood in the name of hon. or right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench. He thought that afforded clear evidence of what the Government had to meet if they attempted to fight on ordinary lines.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
pointed out that there were 176 Amendments down in the names of Unionist Members alone.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY
said that that was on the whole Bill, whereas he was now referring only to the remaining nineteen lines of Clause 1. By the attitude they had adopted the Opposition had made it impossible to carry the Bill, except by some such method as was now proposed. Hon. Members made a mistake when they supposed that the chief function of the House of Commons was that of a deliberative and debating Assembly. The country desired that they should deliberate and debate, but it also desired that they should act, and it was in order to turn the House from a deliberative and debating body into an executive Assembly that the Prime Minister was taking a course which 386 the majority of the House believed to be right and proper, and of which he thought the country at large would approve. He should support the Prime Minister, believing that, in the face of a concerted conspiracy to destroy the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman was acting in the best interests of Parliament and of the country.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said he agreed with the hon. Member for South Tyrone that the Government would remain in office so long as they could do so by hook, crook, evasion, or anything else. Their organ in the Press was the Daily Mail. He thought he was justified in calling it their organ, because so proud were they of its defence of everything they did that they had made its proprietor a baronet. The other day there was an article in that paper which declared that, no matter what happened in the House of Commons, the Government must not go out of office; if they did, the country would be ruined, for their places would be taken by the Pro-Lamas of the Opposition. That was precisely as good a reason for the continued existence of the Government as any that had been given in the debate. As to the Bill, all In would say was that a more scandalous, iniquitous, and corrupt measure no bad, wretched Government had ever tried to force on the House of Commons or on any other legislative Assembly in the world. He appealed to hon. Members not to inflict upon the House any more cant. The Bill had been spoken of as a temperance measure. Did hon. Members suppose that vendors of liquor would support the Bill if it were a temperance measure? They were not such fools. They wanted to sell their wares; the more they sold 387 the more profit they made; they would not be anxious for the passage of this Bill if they thought it likely to result in their selling a drop of liquor less than they now disposed of. Lord Rosebery had alluded to the Government as a Government of "hanky-panky." On consulting a technical dictionary he found that "hanky-panky" was taken from a Romany word called hickory-pokee, which meant a substitution by sleight-of-hand of a bundle containing stones or lead for another containing money or valuables. It further appeared that the person who habitually practised hickory-pokee was known in gipsy circles as a "hanky-panky bloke" It was, therefore, strong language that Lord Rosebery had used. But had he spoken after this Resolution proposed by the Prime Minister his language would have been stronger still. His own language would be much stronger only he could not find Parliamentary terms in which to express his opinion of the Prime Minister and his Government. After the experience of the present session he had thought that nothing the right hon. Gentleman did in the way of evading or crushing out discussion would surprise him, but he had to confess he had been mistaken. The Government now had the effrontery to throw the blame on the Opposition for the delay of a Bill which their own supporters had obstructed. Time after time they had put up men to obstruct their own Bill until by bullying or teasing they could get a sufficient number of their supporters back from dinner to give them a majority. Good reasons had been given why there should be a lengthened discussion of the Bill, and he was quite prepared to state what he intended to do under the circumstances. He represented a self-respecting constituency, and that 388 self-respecting constituency would disapprove of their representative discussing and voting in fetters, and while this proposal was before Parliament for forcing upon it a bribing Bill he would not give a single vote in the House.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs) moved the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the debate be now adjourned"—(Mr. John Morley.)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed "upon Monday next.