HC Deb 10 August 1905 vol 151 cc964-88

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a third time."

*SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

said that he hailed with satisfaction the announcement of the Prime Minister to appoint a new Royal Commission to inquire into the administration of the Poor Law. There were, however, one or two points he would like to suggest for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman before the Commission was constituted. The great Poor Law Commission of 1834 consisted only of nine members, and he suggested to the Prime Minister that this new Commission should be a small body composed of competent and independent men. He had been a member of the Labour Commission, and he thought that of all the Commissions that ever sat this Commission was perhaps the most completely smothered by its constitution and the amount of evidence it received. The accumulated amount of evidence was enormous. Personally, he believed that no human being ever read a word of it, and there was no outcome of its work except the enormous expense that it cost the taxpayers. He suggested also that the Prime Minister should take care to see that some women familiar "with the administration of the Poor Law were appointed on the Commission. In his judgment the inclusion of women would promote the success of the inquiry.

On the Second Reading of this Bill the Prime Minister made a speech in which he said that— His Majesty's Government posssess the confidence of this House, and we do not think that, while we possess the confidence of this House, it can be justly charged against us that we lack authority to deal with home, foreign, and colonial affairs. I repudiate as utterly unconstitutional the doctrine laid down by the right hon. Member for East Fife, that the Government of the day derives its authority from anything but the majority of this House. That was a proposition which he traversed. It was devoid of authority as far as experience and constitutional law could show. A notion prevailed, not confined to the Press only but held by some Members of the House, that there was a constitutional right possessed by the Government of the day or the Parliament of the day that the House should sit for a period of seven years. The Septennial Act simply said "may sit"; there was no obligation. In America there was an obligation that the President should be in office for four years, and other constitutional countries had their own periods of tenure of office for the Executive of the State and for the Legislatures. But we had no such doctrine here. There had been twenty-six Parliaments summoned and dissolved during the ninetenth century, and of this number three only had sat for six years. The limit which the practice of the country had laid down had been that Parliament should not sit for seven years. The strength of our Parliamentary institutions depended upon their being in sympathy with, and representative of, the opinions of the electorate from whom their authority was derived. He suggested to the Prime Minister the consideration of a sentence in a speech of the late Lord Salisbury which drew the distinction which existed between this country, which had no written Constitution, and those countries that had a written Constitution defining the duration of its Parliamentary and administrative authority. Lord Salisbury said— We must remember that we live under a system of unwritten law. Your Parliamentary Constitution, of which you are so proud, is written in no statutes; it rests on long traditions and understandings honourably observed. They had a right to ask the Prime Minister that these "long traditions" should be honourably observed; and he suggested to the right hon. Gentleman that, when it was clear from almost unanimous evidence that the House was out of sympathy and out of touch with the opinions of the electorate, the duty fell on the Ministry of the day to terminate the existence of such a House.

The Prime Minister said that it was sufficient for the Government to possess the confidence of the House of Commons. But the authority of the House depended on the people. The final Court of appeal and supreme authority was the electors. There was a catena of authorities on this question who had stated the present difficulty and what they held to be the constitutional position. Mr. John Richard Green, the historian, had written— It is impossible, indeed, to provide for some of the greatest, dangers which can happen to national freedom by any formal statute. Even now a Minister might avail himself of the temper of a Parliament elected in some moment of popular panic; might simply by refusing to appeal to the country govern in defiance of its will. Such a course would be technically legal, but such a Minister would be none the less a criminal. Professor Dicey on the Law of the Constitution said— The reason why the House can, in accordance with the Constitution, be deprived of existence is that an occasion has arisen on which there is fair reason to suppose that the opinion of the House is not the opinion of the electors. A dissolution is allowable or necessary whenever the wishes of the Legislature are, or may fairly be presumed to be, different from the wishes of the nation. Referring to the dissolutions of 1784 and 1834, Professor Dicey said— The essential point to notice is the principle that the authority which ultimately determines the right of a Cabinet to retain office is the nation. The authority of the House of Commons is derived from its representing the will of the nation, and the chief object of a dissolution is to ascertain that the will of Parliament coincides with the will of the nation. The greatness of Chatham and of his son lay in their perceiving that behind the Crown, behind the Revolution families, behind Parliament itself, lay what Chatham calls the 'great public,' and what we should call the nation, and that on the will of the nation depended the authority of Parliament. The precedents show that in modern times the rules as to the dissolution of Parliament are like other conventions of the constitution, intended to secure the ultimate supremacy of the electorate as the true political authority of the State. The Secretary to the Board of Education in his work on the constitution had stated distinctly that where there was evidence that Parliament had not the confidence of the nation there ought to be an appeal to the country. He would quote finally two Prime Ministers who had grappled with the difficulties of the situation. Mr. Gladstone said— It is repugnant to my feelings and not compatible with the best interests of the country that a Government should continue to govern when there are daily increasing evidences that it no longer represents the will and opinion of the constituencies.

MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

What was the date of that?




After the election?


Yes. He would quote one who, for the Prime Minister and hon. Gentlemen opposite, was a higher authority still. Lord Salisbury, speaking on October 22nd, 1884, at Dumfries, said— A dissolution is the only appeal the people have against a Prime Minister who is not act- ing according to their wish. I deny that he has a right to interpose his will and say, the people may storm and object, they may think that my course is wrong, but so long as I can control the majority in the House of Commons, elected under my auspices, controlled by my machinery, so long I will not permit an appeal to be made to the people against myself. That does not seem to me to be true constitutional law. On these grounds he submitted that there ought to be an appeal to the country in existing circumstances. It might be, as one Minister had been courageous enough to assert, that the country was not disposed to change the present Ministry—that an overwhelming majority of the country would return the present Administration to power. But that was not the view of the Prime Minister himself, because the whole of the argument by which the right hon. Gentleman justified his course was that he would be succeeded by men who were incompetent.


When did I use that argument?


said there appeared to be some dispute as to what the right hon. Gentleman said at the Foreign Office, but undoubtedly, in rather strong language, he intimated last week that in his opinion there was no man on the Opposition side of the House, except the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean, who throughout the session had spoken with anything approaching a sense of responsibility.


What does the right hon. Gentleman say was my opinion?


That no man on this side of the House had made a speech, which indicated his sense of responsibility.


That is not exactly what I said. But the right hon. Gentleman himself has spoken very little this session.


said that if he defended any one from the charge of incompetency it would not be himself, but his colleagues who were not present. In their absence he would say that there were men who had sat through ten sessions on the Opposition side of the House and who were not wanting in ability, competency, administrative experience, or patriotism; men in whose keeping the honour and interests of the nation would be as perfectly safe as in the hands of any man on the Treasury Bench.

The Prime Minister's argument was that there would be a political danger in a change of Government at the present time. But if that were so, ex hypothesi the men whom the Prime Minister held to be incompetent had the confidence of the country. Who was to be the final authority of competency? Not Gentlemen on one side of the House or the other, but the constituencies. If the constituencies were going to commit the blunder of placing the affairs of this country in the hands of other Ministers, that was their affair. They were the final Court of appeal. If the Prime Minister believed what he said, he should welcome a dissolution. What strength it would give him? He declared that now in all the Chancelleries of Europe and in all the Colonies there was anxiety with respect to a change of government. All that anxiety would be swept away if the right hon. Gentleman was returned again with a large majority. He would speak with an authority which he did not now possess. There would no longer be any necessity for extraordinary whips to his supporters, or for the withdrawal of Bill after Bill, until the Statute-book of the session had been reduced to less than the size of a sixpenny magazine. It was because the country was not behind the present Administration that its authority was weakened abroad and its usefulness impaired at home. There never was a crisis in modern times when it was so clearly the duty of the Ministers of the Crown to advise His Majesty to refer to the sense of his people and trust to them to clothe them with a real authority which they themselves admitted they did not now possess, and the absence of which was weakening the country in Army administration, in foreign affairs, in colonial administration, and in home administration. The straightforward, the patriotic, the wise course to take was to ask the country to utter its verdict, not so much upon the past administration or the past or present intentions of the Government, but upon what was, after all, the supreme and, he believed, would be the principal, controversy at the general election.


The right hon. Gentleman has replied to-day to a speech which I made two days ago. I do not complain of the course which he has adopted. He courteously informed me last night that he did propose to answer that speech, although he did not inform me what part of the speech it was which had roused his controversial indignation. I now learn that it is that part of the speech which dealt, I must say extremely briefly, with the constitutional point which was raised not two days ago for the first time, but which was thoroughly threshed out a fortnight ago, when I ventured to lay before the House in considerable detail the actual constitutional precedents which governed our action at that time, and which will, I hope, govern the action of our successors when they come, in due course, into office. Now, what has the right hon. Gentleman to say against the conclusion which I then laid before the House? The conclusion was this—that the absolutely invariable course of precedent showed that no Government in this country had treated a single division of the character of the division in which the Government were defeated on the Irish Estimates on Thursday fortnight, as by itself conclusive as to the course which should be adopted. Every Government since the Reform Bill of 1832, and, I doubt not, every Government before it, has taken a very different course.

I regret that I have not investigated the whole series of precedents which might be elicited from a study of constitutional history, let us say, since the beginning of Mr. Pitt's first Administration; but I remember perfectly well, without referring to that series, that Mr. Pitt himself was defeated on a great issue, and defeated again and again on a great issue, and never thought of resigning on that account. But I think the House would regard it as sufficient if I base my views of the course which Governments ought to pursue—for it is not an individual question or a question relating to this Government alone—upon the history of this country since 1832. Now, those precedents are, as far as I know, quite unbroken. Every Government that has existed for more than a very short time has suffered on some subject or other a defeat in this House. The number of long Conservative Administrations since 1832 has not been so great as the number of Liberal Administrations, but they have also suffered defeats. I do not, however, base my argument on the course that the Prime Ministers at the head of those Governments pursued, because it is more effective when you are arguing as between Parties to draw your illustrations from the conduct of the Liberal Prime Ministers. I do not in the least intend to imply that the constitutional view of Liberal Prime Ministers has been essentially different from that of Conservative Prime Ministers, but I think if you will compare Lord Melbourne's Administration, Lord John Russell's Administration of 1846, Lord Palmerston's Administration of 1868, Mr. Gladstone's Administration of 1868, Mr. Gladstone's Administration of 1880, and Mr. Gladstone's last Administration of 1892—I have deliberately chosen Administrations which had a long period of office except the last one—you will find that they suffered a great many more defeats during their time of office than such an Administration as Sir Robert Peel's of 1841, Mr. Disraeli's Administration of 1874, which was the next longest Conservative Administration, Lord Salisbury's Administration of 1886, and the Administration which began in 1895, of which the present occupants of this bench may be regarded as the successors. If you examine all these long Administrations which have been in office since 1832 you will find that the Liberal Administrations have shown themselves far more patient of defeat, far more tolerant of adverse by-elections, than have the Conservative Administrations which held office during the same lengthened period of time.

Now, if that be an accurate historical statement, and I do not believe that it can be contradicted, what is there to put on the other side? I have quoted the statesmen; the right hon. Gentleman has quoted the thinkers. But the thinkers are not all on one side, because my right hon. and learned friend the Lord-Advocate, whose resource on these occasions is illimitable, has supplied me on the spur of the moment, with a readiness which I infinitely admire, with a passage in Hallam's "Constitutional History" which I will not quote, but which really is worth reading. It is to be found on page 317 of the third volume of that classical work; and there Mr. Hallam points out, as the moral to be drawn from the constitutional history of this country, that the object and purpose of the Septennial Act which we ought to keep in view is that the House of Commons should have a tenure which does not depend necessarily upon what are interpreted—and I will say very often wrongly interpreted—as the contemporaneous moods of popular thought but that, in the interests of continuous administration, the Septennial Act is a most valuable part of the constitution and should not be interfered with unnecessarily. But I am not going to pin my faith upon any thinker; I prefer to go to the actual practice of that long succession of statesmen on both sides of the House who have governed this country for the last seventy or eighty years.

I remember that when we were discussing this matter three weeks ago some gentleman opposite—I am not sure that it was not the right hon. Member for East Fife—said that the Melbourne Administration were no doubt constantly defeated, but that everybody admits that they were in the wrong and that they showed a great weakness in not either resigning or dissolving before the inevitable end came. Well, I need hardly say that the Parliamentary history of this Government is very different from the Parliamentary history of the Melbourne Government, and no possible parallel can be drawn between the two; but the Melbourne Government consisted of some of the greatest constitutional authorities, Whig authorities, that we have ever possessed—such as Lord Melbourne himself, Lord John Russell, Lord Macaulay, the Lord Lansdowne of the Reform Bill. There were others, but I mention those whose names will always be remembered as men whose opinion on constitutional questions was not an opinion to be despised, and who certainly had no desire, for any sordid or personal reasons, to remain in office.


But Lord Melbourne's Government did resign and a new Government came in, and then the difficulty arose in reference to the ladies of the Household, after which Lord Melbourne came back to office.


Yes, what the right hon. Gentleman says is perfectly true; but Lord Melbourne's Administration may very properly be divided into two parts by the brief Administration of Sir Robert Peel. It was soundly beaten in both halves. It was well beaten before 1839, and still better beaten after.


The Parliament was dissolved in 1837 by the death of the Sovereign.


NO; the right hon. Gentleman, is confusing two things. He is confusing the dissolution of Parliament, which necessarily occurred within six months of the demise of the Crown, as the constitutional law then stood—he is confusing that with the resignation of Lord Melbourne's Ministry. He did not resign in 1837.


I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I want to get the facts right. Sir Robert Peel's Administration wasdefeated in 1835 after a general election. Then Lord Melbourne formed another Administration, which remained in power, and was not, I think, defeated between that date and 1837. There was then a dissolution, and the constituencies returned Lord Melbourne to power. About twelve or eighteen months afterwards Lord Melbourne's Government was defeated in this House. Thereupon he resigned, and Sir Robert Peel was sent for and endeavoured to form an Administration. A difficulty then arose between him and the Sovereign, and Lord Melbourne resumed office. Then, I grant you, between 1839 and 1841 there were defeats, and after a vote of want of confidence was carried by a majority of one, Lord Melbourne dissolved Parliament in 1841.


Yes, Sir; most of the facts, but not all of the facts, recited by the right hon. Gentleman are accurate, and the two facts which he has wrongly stated are the material facts. It is not accurate to say that Lord Melbourne was returned to office in 1837 after a general election. He was Prime Minister when the dissolution occurred, and he remained Prime Minister after the country had given its verdict. It was one unbroken Administration from Sir Robert Peel's resignation, on the question of the Speakership, I think in 1835, till 1839; and during that period of Lord Melbourne's Administration the Government—and this is the second error the right hon. Gentleman has made—was several times defeated—a good deal more often than we have been, at all events.

What is the use of quoting text-books of constitutional history when you have against you the unbroken verdict of every considerable politician on every side? I do not rely even on Mr. Hallam; I rely upon two things. I rely, in the first place, upon the unbroken precedents since the Reform Bill of 1832; and, in the second place, upon the obvious and underlying principles which should regulate the conduct of Governments in these matters. The right hon. Gentleman appears to think that it is part of the duty—I would say the main duty—of the Government to watch carefully the stream of public opinion, and either to square the action of the Government precisely - with the temporary public mood, or else to resign and to allow that public mood to show itself at the polls. I deny that altogether. I do not think that is the way in which representative institutions can best be managed, and I do not believe that any serious thinker will take that view.

How are you going to test this movement of public opinion? That is the first question. [AN OPPOSITION MEMBER: By-elections.] By-elections are very fallacious. I remember very well, in the relatively early experience of my political life, that during Mr. Disraeli's Government of 1874–1880 the elections had not been going very strongly against the Government, but there was just before the general election a by-election vehemently contested, which the then Liberal Opposition were confident of winning. It was, as a matter of fact, won by Sir Edward Clarke, and that election was regarded as a very strong indication of the way that popular feeling was running. Mr. Disraeli dissolved, and the elections had not gone on a week before it was perfectly evident that the stream of popular opinion was running in precisely the opposite direction, and the great defeat of the Tory Party took place in 1880. I think if any hon. Gentleman will look at the forecasts that were made at an earlier period with regard to Lord Palmerston's dissolution, I think on the China question, in 1857—an election which absolutely wiped out the so-called Radical Manchester school—he will find that the general feeling was that the constituencies took a very different view from that which, as a matter of fact, it was proved they did take when the general election actually showed conclusively and numerically what public opinion was.

By-elections are necessarily misleading; but that is not the only consideration which ought to be taken into account. It is quite obvious, it is one of the familiar commonplaces of politics, that any Government in office by the mere fact that it is in office turns many lukewarm supporters into enemies, and many firm supporters into lukewarm supporters, very often because of what it does rightly, sometimes because of what it does wrongly. It is an inevitable process, not very difficult to explain, which every Government and Party suffers from or gains from in turn. The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, will be the last to deny that. At what particular stage of that process are you to say an election should take place? Hon. Gentlemen hope to come in at the next general election. As soon as they come in the natural process of decay which I have described will set in; I think myself it will probably set in with great violence. The hopes which they have raised will find instantaneous disappointment; Bills which they have vaguely shadowed will lose their charm when they are brought out in the crude details in which a draftsman necessarily has to indulge; hopes will be disappointed; it may be even that individuals will be disappointed. What will be the result of that? On the right hon. Gentleman's own principles the Prime Minister of the day would immediately have to set to work to calculate exactly what is indicated by the loss of such and such a by-election, whether the diminution of the normal majority of the Government from such and such a figure to such another figure indicates that they are really losing touch with the country, and at what point is he going to determine that he has not got the confidence of the country?

There is one plain test whether the Government can carry on the business of the country, and that plain test is whether the House of Commons supports them. I do not believe any other plain test can be provided. Every other test is open to doubt, is open to qualification. Those who are defeated at by-elections are always rich in explanations why that particular disaster should have happened. The conditions under which a by-election is taken are very different from those which obtain at a general election, and necessarily different, and, if the Prime Minister or his Government has to undertake the duty not merely of gauging the opinion of the House of Commons, not merely, to the best of his ability, of carrying on by the help of that House of Commons the general policy of the country at home and abroad, but has to make the very existence of his Government depend on what may be a temporary wave of popular feeling, it seems that you reduce the British constitution to an absurdity. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, who acts as the Chief Whip on the other side, was once asked, when he was a Minister, at what time a general election would occur. He gave a concise, but perfectly lucid reply. It was, I think, in a speech he made in Leeds. He said, "The general election will occur at the time most disagreeable to the Tories and most agreeable to ourselves," or words to that effect. The right hon. Gentleman, as I understand, if he were Prime Minister and if there were a great feeling, perhaps a temporary feeling, upon some question of policy which his Government through their fault or misfortune had raised, would say, "Dear me! The country does not seem to like this last act of ours; this is a Bill which is not popular; this is an administrative procedure which raises a great deal of feeling; let us go to the country at once." Is that going to be the case? I think the right hon. Gentleman complained that that was not my policy.


You yourself were not satisfied that you possessed the confidence of the country.


I am supposing a case which has happened in the right hon. Gentleman's experience in connection with Liberal Administrations, and may happen again, in which there is a very violent public feeling raised by a particular action of the Government. Take such a case as the abandonment of Gordon. I am not going to raise an old question. I mention it as being sufficiently far back not to touch present issues, and yet within the memory of most of those here. Supposing Mr. Gladstone had said, "Evidently the country is against us, If there was an election now we should be beaten; let us dissolve." Would that be common sense, would that be in conformity and harmony with the British constitution? I say it would not; I say that this constitution, like the American constitution, provides, though in a less direct and obvious manner, for some stability of administration apart from the temporary movements of public opinion. Of course, every Government and every Party depends, and must depend, on public opinion, and on public opinion alone, for its final and ultimate success, for carrying its policy to a conclusion or administering this vast Empire. That is obvious, that is true, and there is not a man on either side of the House who will deny that that is a fundamental and essential characteristic of the modern British constitution. But to say that whenever by-elections are going against you you are therefore, and for that reason alone, immediately to dissolve the House and seek the opinion of the country is not only not in conformity with the essential principles of the British constitution, but, in my opinion, it would be the greatest blow that could be dealt against free representative institutions, because you would emphasise the essential weakness, perhaps the only weakness, of free institutions—namely, that they are subject, however you arrange them, to violent flows backwards and forwards of popular opinion.

I remember a fortnight ago, when this question was raised, saying I regarded the action which the Government then took as being not merely one dictated by precedent or in consonance with Party interests; I said that, in my opinion, it was a vital and essential part of the British constitution, whichever Party was in power, and I ventured to look forward to a time when perhaps we and those who sit with us shall not be the occupants of these benches; when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will have thrust upon them the responsibility of power, and when they will find that, if they are to carry on any connected policy, or to deal upon any connected plan with higher and permanent admininistration and foreign policy, they will have to hold themselves, as their predecessors have held themselves, above the chance division, it may be engineered division, which the right hon. Gentleman appears to think ought to be the sole test of the continuance of a Government in office. I differ from the right hon. Gentleman in the view I have mentioned. That is the last observation I shall make. I differ from him in thinking that by-elections are the true test of whether a Government should or should not appeal to the people. I differ from him in the second place in thinking that divisions, such as those that were taken the other night, should be the signal to a Government that the time had come when it should ask the Sovereign to relieve it of its functions. And I must say—I have not dwelt upon this topic before, because it is outside the strict constitutional argument in which we have been engaged—that if in future Parliaments and future sessions this plan, which has now come into favour, of so arranging business that the Government may be defeated not because the House of Commons differs from it, but may be defeated because matters could be so arranged that those who supported it were away, and those who were against it were present, is to be followed, you will do a great deal to injure the actual working of Parliamentary institutions, and of the Parliamentary machine, not a very easy machine to work under any circumstances.

I said to the right hon. Gentleman, by way of interruption in the middle of his speech, that he had spoken so little in the course of this session that I did not bring him within the mischief of the general charge which I made against some of his colleagues—that their speeches never seemed to me the speeches of men who expected to have responsibility and power thrust upon them, and only of politicians who desired to find some weapon wherewith to wound their political adversary. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is open to that charge, speaking generally. I would ask him, therefore, to consider the events of this session and the last few sessions, if he will do so, in the light of the general observations which I have ventured to lay down, and I think he will see that by throwing the weight of his great name and his great experience into the scale of those who criticise the Government for what they have done, and who would attribute what they have done to motives certainly not amongst the highest which ought to actuate politicians, he has been doing a very ill-service to his own Party, and, what I am convinced will influence him still more, has been doing a very ill-service to that constitution of which I know in his heart he is the greatest upholder.

MR. POWER (Waterford, E.)

said he did not think that the House devoted so much time to the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill as it ought to have done, and it was reasonable, therefore, that more time than usual should be given to-day to the Third Reading. Another reason why the Bill should be discussed was that the Budget was now enormously larger than in previous times, and that there had not been the opportunities this year for the discussion of the Estimates which were afforded in previous years. Many of the Estimates had been passed without any discussion whatever. On the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill his hon. and learned friend the Member for Waterford rose to make some remarks; he had no intention of speaking at particular length, but he had not been speaking for more than three or four minutes when the Prime Minister rose and moved, "That the Question be now put." He himself had had twenty-two years experience of that House and he must say that he really never saw the leader of a Party treated with such scant courtesy.


No reflections are possible on the closure. That is the action of the House, and the hon. Member is not entitled to discuss it.


I will not discuss it, but I say on my own behalf, and on behalf of my own friends, that we resent the discourtesy of the treatment which he received, and perhaps other opportunities may arise for expressing our views.


The last thing intended was discourtesy to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

*MR. WYLIE (Dumbartonshire)

said he desired to call the attention of the House to a matter of great importance and urgency in connection with the Volunteer force. For more than three years the fate of 60,000 men, including officers, being 25 per cent. of the force, had been hanging in the balance, and from what the Secretary of State for War had said on the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill he thought that that state of matters still continued. He did not at all concur in the criticism which had been directed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite against the recent circular, issued by the Secretary of State for War, asking for information in regard to the physical condition of the Volunteers. He believed that in connection with the Volunteer force there should be stringent conditions in all respects as to efficiency, and that one of the very first conditions of efficiency was the physical condition of the men enrolled. He thought that in the futur earrangements for the Volunteers an essential condition of enlistment should be that the men should possess the requisite physical condition. As to the point which he wished to raise in regard to 60,000 of the Volunteers being in a state of suspense, the hon. Member reminded the House that in their able and comprehensive Report issued last year the Royal Commission warmly eulogised the services rendered to the country by the Volunteers, and that the whole tenor of their recommendations was to the effect that until we had a more complete and comprehensive system of military training, the Volunteers should be maintained at least at their present numbers, and that their efficiency should be increased.

The recommendations of the Commission had to come under the considerasion of a very able and sympathetic Secretary of State for War. He was sorry there had been insinuations that the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman was not entirely in favour of the Volunteer force. He believed the right hon. Gentleman had been doing what he could in connection with the Volunteers. The Government had laid it down as their policy that the Regular Army was maintained principally for the purpose of service abroad while they looked to the Volunteers for the defence of these islands. When the Secretary of State for War was sympathetic to the Volunteers and when the Government recognised the importance of the force, what malign influence had been at work to cause the action of the Government in this matter? The country and the Volunteers were absolutely astounded after the Report of the Royal Commission when at the end of last session the Secretary of State for War came to this House and stated that the Government had resolved to reduce the administrative strength of the Volunteer force from 347,000 to 200,000, and the effective strength from 250,000 to 180,000, and that there were other drastic proposals for the reduction of their position. They could only surmise that the professional element at the then War Office, and now in the Army Council, had prevailed. It was believed that some members of the Council considered that every penny devoted to the Volunteer force was so much subtracted from the Regular Army, and that anything done for the Volunteers was, in fact something done in opposition to conscription of which they were enamoured. The plan of the War Office at that time was not to increase the grant to the Volunteers, but actually to decrease it by £300,000. He was glad to say that the strong and determined expression of opinion in that House and throughout the country prevented the decrease of the grant from being carried out, and that the Government now intended to carry on the force with the same amount of grant, but differently distributed. It was to be given to a smaller number of men.

The force was in many respects in a very unsatisfactory condition. Though the strength of all ranks had been maintained to the extent of 248,000 men, the deficiency of officers amounted altogether to 2,770—a deficiency which made the force at the present time almost ineffective. He quite concurred with the stricture made by the present Secretary of State for War, that a large number of the Volunteers were under standard and not available as soldiers, but under the circumstances what was going to be the policy of the Government? As the Secretary of State for War had said, the whole question was one of funds. In order to give effect to the recommendations of the Norfolk Commission additional expenditure would be necessary, and the right hon. Gentleman thought that at present there were no funds available for that purpose. The Norfolk Commission deprecated any changes which would nullife the spirit which this force had cherished, or any fundamental change in its position, except some comprehensive measure which would replace both the Militia and the Volunteers, and which, while giving greater military efficiency and at least equal numbers, would also render permanent that sympathy between the nation and the Army which before the raising of the Volunteer force was undoubtedly defective. What was wanted in connection with this recommendation of the Norfolk Commission was that the Volunteer force, consisting of 248,000 men, should be made much more efficient by grants necessary for that purpose.

At present there was being expended on the Volunteer force the very paltry sum of £1,250,000, To carry out the recommendations of the Norfolk Commission would require only £500,000 more. If the grants to the Volunteer force were increased by £2 per head on the average with a minimum increase of £1 per head rising to a maximum of £3 according to the degree of efficiency—he believed there would not be that dissatisfaction in the force which had existed for so long a time, and which acted so much to its detriment, but the greatest enthusiasm. He hoped the Government would make up their mind to give the Volunteer force that increase. A few years ago the Imperial Yeomanry was a despised and in many respects an inefficient force, but now it was one of the most splendid forces which the Empire possessed, consisting of between 20,000 and 30,000 men. He had been told by capable officers that the Yeomanry would stand favourable comparison with the Regulars. What had caused this immense improvement in the Yeomanry? It had been the liberal terms afforded to them. What was asked for was that the Volunteers should be provided with a very little addition to their grants and facilities—an increase which would be paltry compared with what was spent on Regular Army. If the grants to Volunteers were only increased to £1,750,000, they might have a well-trained force, capable of being compared with the men of the Line, which would be able to defend this country from invasion and would be able to go anywhere. He commended that suggestion to the Secretary for War, and hoped that during the recess the right hon Gentleman's attention would be directed to this important question. It was now proposed to reduce the grants, except in exceptional cases; but he trusted that those responsible for the administration of the Volunteer force would go into this subject in a liberal spirit and raise the Volunteer grant by £500,000. If the right hon. Gentleman did so, he would not only satisfy a just demand, but would make an enthusiastic force of 250,000 men efficient in every respect, and very little inferior to any Army in the world.

*MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

said he regretted that there was no Scottish representative of the Government on the Treasury Bench, because he had matters to discuss which might easily occupy an hour or two. He had sent for the Lord - Advocate, and he hoped the right hon. and learned Gentleman would find his way into the House in due course. Now that he was present he wished to appeal to him to urge the Secretary for Scotland to follow the example of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, when Secretary for Scotland, who visited the remotest parts of the Island of Lewis, to inquire personally into the condition of the people. That was the only way in which an administrator could get any true idea of the conditions of life in that part of Scotland. That was the course which had been adopted in Ireland by the late Chief Secretary and his predecessors. Only the other day a Return had been made which showed that between 1898 and 1904 nearly half a million of acres of land had been added to the deer forest area in the Highlands. In fact no less than fifty-two new deer forests had been created during that period. What had the Congested Districts Board been doing? They seemed to have been asleep and to have taken little or no interest in the welfare of the people in the most congested part of the crofting area, viz. the Island of Lewis. Lord Balfour of Burleigh obtained a very full and complete Report in 1903 in regard to the social condition of the people in the island; but no action whatever had been taken upon the recommendations in that report or of the suggestions put forward by the local committee as far back as 1903. That was what he complained of. He knew that the present Secretary for Scotland was new to office, but he was obliged to complain of the inaction of the noble Lord because he was responsible for the administration of the Congested Districts Board the Fishery Board, the Scottish Local Government Board, and nearly every other Board in Scotland.

Opportunities for bringing matters relating to the condition of the people of the Outer Hebrides before Parliament were very few, and be complained that Highland questions did not receive the attention to which they were entitled. Take the question of the line fishing in the Island of Lewis. The catch had diminished during the last fifteen years by one half owing to the depredations of illegal trawlers. That was a very grave situation for the poor fishermen. He could not understand the patience of the Highland people. If he himself were a crofter and suffered loss through the deer destroying his crops he would not hesitate to trap them if on his croft and cut their throats. If the authorities were more energetic, alien millionaires would not dare to come to the Highlands and take the law into their own hands. He appealed to the Scottish Office and to the Lord-Advocate, to make an inquiry into these matters and bring about some remedy. The time had more than arrived when some prompt, sharp, and decisive action should be taken to stay the extension of the deer forest area.

MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR (Essex, Romford)

said there was nothing he regretted more than that at the last moments of the session he should detain the House. But there was a question which affected his constituency, which it was incumbent on its representative to bring before the Government, in order that they might consider what action they might take to remedy a very grievous evil. He referred to the very inadequate provision made in regard to the education rate. The local authority, it was said, had refused, to administer the Act, and that that action prevented the Government from legislating to give them relief. He wanted to do all he possibly could to enable the Government to see what could be done to afford the necessitous districts relief. The relief had come, as announced by the Secretary to the Board of Education, and it amounted to 1½d. in the £! That did not amount to much in East Ham. The resolution of the local authority not to administer the Act had been rescinded on the understanding that relief would be given. It was absolutely in the power of the Board of Education to give relief to the necessitous districts; but they had given relief to districts where the rate was only 5d. or 6d. in the £, while exactly the same relief was given to districts where the rate was 2s. 6d., 2s. 10d. and 3s. in £. In fact, they gave relief to the strong and withheld it from the weak. This was not the correct method of dealing with a national obligation. Districts did not educate their people for the benefit of the district, but for the country at large, and therefore it was only just and right that equal treatment should be meted out to all to enable each to meet its obligations. It would have been a perfectly simple matter to have given a graduated scale of relief to the various districts.

It was because the relief had not been given so as to ensure that those who required it most got an adequate amount that he now appealed to the Government to see, when they reconsidered this question, that the distressed districts got more than the others which did not need so much. He hoped early in the coming session the Government would deal with this matter, and do what they could to remedy the great injustice that had been created.

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

asked the Secretary of State for War to see that the Volunteer artillery were furuished with a proper equipment and guns. A controversy had arisen as to whether this force should be trained as field artillery or garrison artillery, but whichever they were to be they should have new guns, because it was quite impossible for the men to do their training properly with their present equipment, their guns being quite unfit for use and almost dangerous. He also asked the right hon. Gentleman to see that something more was done with regard to giving out orders for bayonets as between the Governmeut factories and the trade. Ordinarily, he said, the orders for bayonets were equally divided between the two, but early in this year it was laid down that owing to the small demand for these weapons the whole of them should be made in Government foracties. Happily the decision had not been adhered to, and a small order had given out to the trade. He submitted that whether the number required was large or small the orders should be equally divided, and he hoped the Government would see their way to do that in the future.

*MR. DELANY (Queen's County, Ossory)

asked what steps the Chief Secretary was going to take with reference to the complaints of the staff in the Irish Agricultural Department. The grievances complained of by the clerks in the Veterinary Branch of the Department had been repeatedly brought to right hon. Gentleman's notice by Question during the session. Did he intend to order an independent inquiry into the status and treatment of those officials? If not then he would hear more about the matter. The different public bodies in Ireland, amongst them the Dublin Corporation, had pronounced unanimously in favour of the claims put forward by those officials; and taking into account that the working of the Department depended upon the good will and support of the local bodies in Ireland, would he (the Chief Secretary) say whether he was prepared to grant the inquiry asked for?


said the hon. Gentleman had asked this Question many times and he could only give the same reply that he had given before. He had satisfied himself that there was no foundation for any complaint, and he did not intend to hold any inquiry into the matter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill road a third time, and passed.

Whereupon, in pursuance of the Order of the House of the 31st day of July, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put.

Adjourned at twenty - eight minutes before Five o'clock.