§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Mr. GRANT LAWSON (Yorkshire, N.R., Thirsk) in the Chair].
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
I rise for the purpose of moving that you, Mr. Chairman, do report Progress. I do not imagine that the situation requires explanation. The short discussion last night showed that there was a strong feeling on the part of many Members of the House that the House should adjourn until† See page 8591520 Monday, and I hope that a night's reflection will have brought to the same conclusion many of those who on the spur of the moment did not realise the necessity of that course. Sir, His Majesty's Government is now considering with due solemnity and deliberation the question whether they should retain their offices. They have until Monday for that purpose. It is almost unseemly, as it seems to me, for the House of Commons to be invited to transact business during what is substantially, if not really and ultimately, an interregnum. On the occasion, a few years ago, when a Vote in Supply caused the resignation of the Government of which I was a member, that event happened on a Friday, so that there was a convenient Saturday and the early part of Monday for the consideration of the position of the Government. That is not literally to be quoted as a positive precedent for this case, but I am sure that on consideration the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House must have seen that it is at once the most dignified course, and the course most in accordance with usage and with the general conception of the prevailing relations between the House and the Ministry, and I think he must have come to the conclusion that it is better that we should adjourn until Monday. I earnestly hope with regard to the Bill on which we are engaged that it is in no danger whatever of being lost by lapse of time. It has been subjected to many delays, but the parts of the Bill which are really urgent and necessary for the purpose of maintaining peace and restoring the general principles of equity in Scotland have already passed through Committee in this House, and I feel perfectly certain that there will be no idea of endangering the fate of that measure if we miss this day, which has come to it accidentally, and suspend the proceedings of the House until Monday, when we shall have a statement from the Government as to the course they intend to pursue.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again."—(SirH. Campbell-Bannerman.)1521
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
If I dissent in important particulars from the recommendation made by the right hon. Gentleman, I think I shall do so on grounds which will appeal to him and to those who sit behind him. He touched lightly upon precedent, and especially the precedent in which he and his friends wore nearly concerned, the cordite Vote of 1895. But if he will remember, on that occasion the Government of the day did proceed with business up to the very limits allowed, by the Standing Orders of the House. They adjourned Supply and they continued to deal with the Bill which I should certainly be reluctant to take to-day, because I regard it as too controversial. But they did not regard it apparently as controversial in 1895, and they went on with the Naval Works Bill after their defeat in supply.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Will the right hon. Gentleman excuse my interfering. They followed the business of the day, and they transacted the business of the day, as we did last night after this vote was taken. We went through the Orders of the Day. So did the Government of 1895. But that is a very different thing from having an entirely new day, with new matter before it, interpolated between the event and the decision to which that event gives rise.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It is quite a new view of operative business in this House that the reading through of the Orders of the Day by the Speaker in the Chair, and the Treasury Whip saying "To-morrow," or "This day," or "This day week," should be regarded as transacting the business of the House in the sense which alone is relevant to this discussion. The fact is, that after the defeat of the right hon. Gentleman's Government in 1895, they proceeded to carry on legislation. They certainly carried on legislation on the same day. I have some reason to think they carried on legislation even on the Monday. A friend of mine who has refreshed his memory in regard to this transaction so informs me. Therefore the analogy 1522 breaks down in every particular. In fact, the analogy conclusively proves that the House of Commons is in a fit state to do the business in the interval between the vote and the time when the Government make the announcement to the House of the course they intend to pursue. I shall not ask the House to take business of a Party character to-day. I do not say that I should not be justified in doing so, but I shall not think of doing so as a matter of fact. I shall not press the House to work through the Orders of the Day, but I do think it would be extremely inconvenient if we were not to take this opportunity to go on with a Bill which is in no sense a Party measure, which has received a very large measure of support from both sides of the House, and which it is in the highest degree important should be got through its remaining stages as quickly as possible. Therefore, I would ask the House to consider exactly the situation as it is presented to us by the right hon. Gentleman, with his facts corrected as I have ventured to correct them, from a reference to what took place in 1895. According to precedent, the House did actually legislate in 1895 upon a matter which, if not controversial, then hon. Members; have tried to make as controversial as they could ever since. All I am asking the House to do in the brief interval which will separate the vote of twelve o'clock last night from the statement which it will be my duty to make at half-past two on Monday—and surely it is only reasonable that I should ask them to do it—is to do business which does not arouse Party passion, which does not touch the question of resignation or non-resignation, but which will prevent a Parliamentary day being wasted at a moment of the session in which, whoever may be in power, and whoever may have the conduct of public affairs, Parliamentary days are worth their weight in gold. I think it would be neither in accordance with precedent nor in accordance with common sense that the House should refuse to take the course I very respectfully urge upon it. I think the feeling of the right hon. Gentleman is not to throw any obstacle I in the way of a Bill which, I am sure, he desires to see passed, and which all 1523 Scottish Members agree in desiring to see passed, and which I think may he passed through what remains of the Committee stage in a very brief time. If the House desires after that to adjourn, I shall not dissent.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
I recollect the occasion in 1885 when the Government of Mr. Gladstone was unexpectedly defeated. Mr. Gladstone then moved that we should adjourn over the next day, which was Wednesday and not a Government day, and therefore a day on which controversial matters did not arise.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If I may remind the right hon. Gentleman, what the Government of 1885 was defeated on was the Budget, and a defeat on an essential part of the Budget, if not always—not perhaps, usually—regarded as decisive of the fate of a Government, is at all events of much greater importance than a defeat in Committee of Supply.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Postponed Schedule agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.1524
§ MR. BRYCE
Let me take the opportunity of saying that my hon. friends who are opposed to Clause 5 and to the schedule have allowed them to go owing to the exceptional circumstances of the moment. It is only right to say that they reserve their right to oppose this clause on the Report stage and also the questions which in deference to the general feeling of the House they do not now contest.
§ Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 281.]