HC Deb 03 April 1905 vol 144 cc256-60

Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Sir A. Acland-Hood.)

MR. TREVELYAN (Yorkshire, W.R., Elland)

asked the Patronage Secretary if he, could give the House any reason for the absence of the Prime Minister from the debates to-day. The right hon. Gentleman left the moment the debate began, and was not present, except for a short time, during the speech of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, nor was he present when the Leader of the Opposition made his speech, nor when the Secretary of State for War addressed the House. The absence of the Prime Minister was the more remarkable because he was the president of the Committee of Defence, and the Army scheme of the Government seemed likely to land them in as much difficulty as the fiscal question. It was owing to the Prime Minister's special recognition of the very great importance of this subject that they had been allotted extra time for the Army debates this week. Did the Prime Minister intend absenting himself from all debates? The right hon. Gentleman had refused to attend fiscal debates and apparently he had no intention of attending debates upon a question which was causing as much difficulty on the Ministerial side of the House as upon the Opposition side. He should like to know if the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury could give them any reason for the Prime Minister's absence. Was he unwell, or what was the reason?

MR. WHITLEY (Halifax)

said that surely they were not on every occasion to go without an Answer. The right hon. Gentleman opposite had generally treated the House with every courtesy, but the Question which had been put to him was a legitimate one which ought to receive an Answer. This was the only opportunity they had of pressing the matter.

MR. McKENNA (Monmouthshire, N.)

said if they were only referring to an occasional absence it would be quite a different matter, but it occurred so frequently that they could only conclude that he desired to show to the public that he really felt a contempt for the proceedings of this Chamber. His absence to-day was only one more instance of the expression of that feeling on the part of the Prime Minister. No doubt the Patronage Secretary would reply that he was not in a position to answer this Question, but at any rate he might undertake, to convey to the Prime Minister the strong expression of opinion which had been made from the Opposition side of the House that his continued absence from debates of first-class importance was a most regrettable incident, which they hoped would not recur.


supposed it was quite useless to expect that any reply would be given to the Question, They had got used to being treated, either voluntarily or involuntarily, with considerable discourtesy. Perhaps if the right hon. Gentleman opposite said anything now he would only reveal that his chief had left him with no defence, and that under the circumstances he felt that the best thing to do was not to get up at this critical moment but allow the debate to lapse. He could assure the Patronage Secretary that they were not disappointed by the fact that he had not given them any Answer upon this Question. In asking Questions of this kind they had got used to being treated with considerable discourtesy. They did not mind this particularly, because they were anxious to impress upon the country the way in which the House was being treated by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister did not merely leave the House, but he organised a boycott. The right hon. Gentleman had organised on several occasions a deliberate boycott of the House. It was very disrespectful to the House; it was very disrespectful to the Chair.


It is an insult to the Chair.


said this had not only been the conduct of the Prime Minister in the past, but it might be the policy of the future. Tomorrow, he supposed, there was to be another organised boycott. It should be known to what miserable and disreputable shifts the Prime Minister resorted to eke out his remaining weeks and months. The absence of the Prime Minister left the Chair without that protection to which it was entitled from the Leader of the House. Supposing upon this occasion he might be betrayed into saying something that would transgress the limits of order: the Leader of the House was not present to support the decisions of the Chair. He was very anxious that it should be known outside this House what extraordinary treatment the House of Commons was receiving from the Prime Minister, for he believed it was quite unprecedented. The Leader of the House not merely shirked his own duties, but he invented and calculated occasions when he could inflict deliberate and studied insults upon the House of Commons. He thought his hon. friend was well justified in raising this question. It had been raised before and it would be raised again. It was necessary to adopt this course in order that it should be made known throughout the length and breadth of the land that in the dregs of his career in office the right hon. Gentleman accepted every humiliation for himself, and offered every humiliation to the House of Commons.


said he could only speak once and so had waited until hon. Members opposite had fired off their guns. The Question put to him was one to be put to the Prime Minister. ["Where is he?"] He thought the Question might be put in the form perhaps of a starred Question, perhaps as an unstarred Question. If hon, Members opposite would put that Question down he was quite certain the Prime Minister would answer it.

MAJOR SEELY (Isle of Wight)

said he did not think the right hon. Gentleman, whose courtesy they all acknowledged, quite realised that this was a special case. He had suggested that a starred Question should be put down. What they wanted was to secure the attendance of the Prime Minister during the Army debates, and for that purpose a Question put down on the Paper was useless. What the House wanted to know was what the Government intended to do in regard to the Army. But for his absence they would probably have ascertained what these proposals. The Prime Minister was responsible for what was proposed to be done because he presided over the Committee of Defence. His hon. friend the Member for Oldham had pointed out that the House missed much by the absence of the Prime Minister. The most revolutionary changes had been proposed, and there could be do doubt that those changes had had a most disastrous effect upon the morale of the Regular Army, the Militia, and the Volunteers. Nothing had been vouchsafed to them as to the real intentions of the Government, and the one man above all others who could tell them was absent from the House. They deeply resented what they regarded, whether rightly or wrongly, as the discourtesy of the First Lord of the Treasury in boycotting the house on the occasion of a great debate to which he himself had invited the House.

SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cornwall, Camborne)

asked whether the Chief Whip would convey to the Under-Secretary of the Board of Trade the importance of his being present at the fiscal debate tomorrow night.

No reply was given.

Adjourne at twenty-nine minutes before One o'clock.