HC Deb 09 June 1904 vol 135 cc1229-32

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he is aware that on the Notice Paper of the House there are thirty-four Notices of Motions for which no days have been fixed, and that in consequence of such Notices the House is prevented from discussing the following amongst other questions: Fiscal Reform, Preferential or Protective Duties; the Misgovernment in Macedonia or in the Congo State: the War in Tibet; the Reorganisation of the War Office; Asiatic Labour, the Rate of Mortality in South African Mines, or the Recruitment or Payment of Chinese Indentured Labourers; the Public Health; Military Training or Compulsory Military Service; Local or any other Taxation; the system of putting down blocking Motions; and the necessity for an immediate dissolution; and what steps the Government propose to lake to promote liberty of debate on such subjects.


I suppose the hon. Gentleman by the phrase in his Question," the House is prevented from discussing" questions, which he proceeds to enumerate, means prevented from discussing them on Motions for the adjournment of the House as definite matters of urgent public importance or on Motions for adjournment for the holidays.


I admit that some questions can be discussed in Supply.


The first example which the hon. Gentleman gives is Fiscal Reform and Preferential Duties. That has been discussed nine days in the present session. The second example is Macedonia. That has been discussed twice in the present session and can be discussed again this afternoon. The third is the War in Tibet. There was a long discussion on that on 13th April. The next is the War Office. A discussion on that will be in order, I imagine, on the Vote for the Secretary of State for War. The next is Asiatic Labour, which has been discussed on five days in the course of the present session. Then there is the Congo, which, I believe, is to be discussed on the Vote to be taken this afternoon. Then there is Public Health. We have had the Local Government Board Vote discussed a whole evening. Military Training or Compulsory Service might, I suppose, be incidentally referred to in connection with War Office reform —with the Army reforms to be explained by the Secretary of State for War. Then there is Local Taxation, on which subject a Valuation Bill has been introduced. There remains the necessity of an immediate dissolution. It will be seen that most of the subjects about which the hon. Gentleman complains have not only been discussed, but in most cases have been rediscussed and re-rediscussed. As to the remainder, while many have been discussed or are subjects for the discussion of which opportunities still remain, they are not questions which by any possibility could be brought up on a Motion for the adjournment of the House. In these circumstances it appears to me that the hon. Gentleman's enumeration of grievances is not one which is likely to support his case.

MR. PIRIE () Aberdeen, N.

With regard to the question of fiscal reform, which the right hon. Gentleman says has been discussed nine days, may I ask whether it is not the case that the Government have always shirked the plain issue on that question?


I will not argue whether this is an accurate description of what has occurred or not, but I will make two observations. In the first place an adjournment debate never can raise a plain issue, and that is the grievance of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Then, if the Government have avoided a plain issue on nine occasions, they are not likely to be taken in on the tenth.

MR. J. F. HOPE () Sheffield, Brightside

Is the Prime Minister aware that another discussion on the fiscal question is blocked by a Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich?


I am not aware of that fact, if it is—as I have no doubt it is—a fact, but it does not seem to me to touch the general question with which I have been dealing.


I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he will agree to the appointment of a small Select Committee to consider the difficulties which have arisen from the placing on the Paper of Motions designed to prevent the House from considering definite and urgent questions of public importance.


The hon. Gentleman who asked the last Question was good enough to bring forward instances of the nature of the grievance, and I do not think an examination of them greatly strengthens the case of the right hon. Gentleman. But I quite admit that in my opinion, at all events, there ought to be no limitation of the powers of the House to discuss anything upon a Motion for adjournment for the holidays. I do not think any limitation ought to exist, provided a reasonable arrangement be made for the duration of such debates. I am prepared to put down on the Notice Paper my idea of a Rule which would meet, I think, legitimate desires on both sides of the House. As. regards the wider question whether we should alter the *Rule about blocking Notices preventing discussion on matters of urgent public importance, I do not think that can be treated by itself. I think we should have, in addition, to discuss whether the present Rule allowing, the adjournment has been abused, and, if it has been abused, whether it is capable of amendment. I think we should also have to consider whether there are no other abuses of the existing Rules of the House—as an example I may mention taking a division upon the Question put from the Chair by the Chairman of Committees that he should report an agreed Resolution — whether that also ought not to be discussed. But I think it would perhaps be sufficient for the present needs of the case if I put down, my idea of an Amendment which would remove such legitimate grievance as exists in respect of Motions for adjournment for the holidays.

MAJOR SEELY () Isle of Wight

Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that in point of fact the abuse of Motions for the adjournment to which he refers is very largely owing to the existence of these blocking Motions. It is essential—


Order, Order! The hon. Gentleman is now proceeding to argue the question.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these blocking Motions are occasionally put down after consultation with the Government Whips?


I never inquire into matters of consultation either on the other side of the House or on this.


A policy of retaliation.