§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
The Motion which I now have to make has been made at one period of the session or another for many years past; and it has usually been necessary for the Leader of the House to make an elaborate survey of the Bills which he still hopes to pass into law. In moving this Resolution on July 31st I think I can compress all that I have to say in order to recommend the Resolution to the House within the compass of a very few minutes indeed. That the time has come when the twelve o'clock rule should be suspended, will I imagine, be denied by none. Indeed, though there have been examples when this Resolution has been proposed at a later period of the session, the more common practice has undoubtedly been to propose it somewhere about July 20th, ten days or a fortnight earlier than the moment which the Government think appropriate on the present occasion.
I mean to reverse the ordinary mode of exposition in this matter, because I would rather enumerate 956 to the House what are the Bills and Resolutions which must absolutely be passed before the close of the session. That session ought, in my judgment, as the House well know to be brought to an end in the course of next week; and before the end of next week we must pass the following Bills and the following Resolutions, which either deal with Bills or deal with one form or another of Supply. As regards Supply, we have an excess Vote for the Civil Service and one for the Navy, which ought to be passed at once in order to bring our. proceedings in Supply to a conclusion. We have a Vote for a new service which under the Standing Order must be introduced before the termination of Supply—a new service connected with the relief of distress in Ireland. Then there are, in addition to these and to the ordinary Supply of the year, two expenditure Resolutions connected with the Navy and the Army. This is an annual proceeding which always has to be carried out before Supply is finished, and it is a proceeding which has led, in my own recollection, to a good many prolonged sittings; and it is not for me to say whether the modern practice, under which we discuss these matters at great length, or the ancient practice of having little or no discussion on them, is the better. But, at any rate, they have to be passed, with or without prolonged discussion.
With regard to Bills, there is, of course, the Appropriation Bill itself; the Naval Works Loan Bill, of which the Second Reading has been passed and the Committee stage not touched; the Relief of Distress (Ireland) Bill; the East India Loan Railway Bill, which is absolutely necessary in order to enable the Government of India effectually to carry on its schemes in this branch of its work; the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill; the Public Works Loans Bill, and the Isle of Man Customs Bill. There are, in addition to these Bills, and in addition to the Supply work, the Report of the Telephone Resolution, discussion on which was promised under a pledge given by the Postmaster-General with my full knowledge and consent. It is possible if and when these measures are passed to bring the session to a close. I do not know, 957 and I do not think anyone can tell at present, what amount o discussion the House will desire or insist of having in regard to these matters, which for the most part might be treated uncontroversially, but which, no doubt, are capable of being treated controversally.
There were some expressions which fell from persons of importance in this House to the effect that His Majesty's Government was not to be allowed to get through any business at all except by force majeure, by the actual weight of long discussion and majorities. Of course if that is true, and those counsels prevail, then the prospect of doing anything but the necessary business becomes extremely small. If, however, as I venture to think, wiser counsels prevail, and if we are permitted to consider the phrases I have referred to as hasty phrases used in the heat of debate, without carrying with them any serious or vital consequences, then I should greatly hope that other measures besides those I have enumerated would pass this House. It is manifest that at this period of the session, and in the circumstances which I have briefly and uncontroversially referred to, no measure which receives serious opposition from any quarter of the House has any chance of passing into law. But I hope, and I may almost say I believe, that there are measures, some of them small and wholly uncontroversial—such as the Cinque Ports Bill just introduced—which the House may desire to pass. But in addition to smaller measures of that description there are, of course, larger measures on which, if the House is agreed, I think we might make not only substantial progress but actually come to a final conclusion. Whether that hope of mine will be fulfilled depends not upon me nor upon anything I can do it depends entirely upon the attitude of the House in general and of hon. Gentlemen opposite in particular. I will, therefore, say no more on that, contenting myself with having told the House when it is that I think our labours should be brought to a conclusion and what are the measures absolutely necessary in order to obtain that result.
Before sitting down I want to say one word on a part of the Resolution which appears on the Notice Paper 958 now for the first time. It is that part which deals with the introduction of Bills under what is called the ten minutes rule. So far as my recollection serves me, no unofficial Member has ever introduced a measure under the ten minutes rule until the present session. It is a novelty. I do not express an opinion as to whether it is a desirable or an undesirable novelty; but I will remind the House that this rule was introduced, not in order to give unofficial Members an opportunity which practically they did not before possess of making a speech on the First Reading of their Bills—it was introduced for a very different purpose, namely, that of enabling the Government to explain briefly any measure they desired to bring before the House, and to permit a brief comment upon that explanation, avoiding the prolonged debate which occasionally took place upon even second-rate Government Bills, and was the ordinary practice upon first-class measures. The innovation introduced by that rule was, I think, a great advantage so far as Government Bills were concerned. Whether it is a useful innovation if it is to be habitually used by any unofficial Member who wishes to explain his Bills, I will not say; but at the present time of the session at which we have now arrived there is no possibility of any private Members' Bills becoming law, or even making the smallest progress towards becoming law. No man whom I am addressing has the smallest doubt that every Bill introduced at the present time by an unofficial Member is destined to remain at the stage of the First Reading, and will not and cannot make the smallest further progress towards its final consummation.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have already said that no Government Bill that receives serious opposition, other than those I have mentioned, can be proceeded with. But if the hon. Gentleman meant that the Government ought not to introduce Bills under the ten minutes rule at this stage of the session, I hope that he will notice the excellent example which I ventured to set just now when I introduced a Bill, which I have long 959 promised, without the statement which in different circumstances and earlier in the session I should have been very much tempted to make.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
Will the Tight hon. Gentleman mention any other Bill except the Cinque Ports Bill that he hopes to pass?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish. I would remind the House that of course nothing in this rule prevents private unofficial Members from introducing what measures they like. They may cover the Order Paper with their projects of legislation and have them printed at the public expense.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
All that the addition to the rule provides is that, if any hon. Gentleman introduces a new project of legislation, he will require to follow the example just set by the Government and introduce it without any preliminary explanation. It will be noticed that, if the so-called ten minutes rule was used to its full extent, it might be possible on any measure introduced by an unofficial Member to have a ten minutes speech proposing the measure, another of ten minutes opposing it, and a division, which would last a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes; and forty minutes in that way might be exhausted on one measure alone. So much for the addendum to the Resolution.
The hon. Member for Islington asked me just now to give an idea of what Bills I hoped to pass or expected to pass if there was time for them. I think the hon. Gentleman will feel that his request is rather an unreasonable one. I have already told the House that the amount of time which has to be spent on business which, in large measure at least, is not controversial, depends not upon me, but upon the House, and it is not until I have some conclusive indication of the course 960 which the House desires to take in, regard to the list of necessary measures which I have read out, that I can offer the hon. Member, or anyone else, anything in the nature of a correct forecast of the business we shall be able to perform outside the relatively narrow limits of the necessary business which must be passed before the session comes to an end. With this brief, and, I hope, adequate explanation [Cries of "No."] I beg to move.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, for the remainder of the session, Government Business be not interrupted, except at half-past Seven of the clock at an Afternoon Sitting, under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed; that at the conclusion of Government Business each day Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put, and that no Motions be made for leave to bring in Bills under Standing Order No. 11." (Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
The right hon. Gentleman was quite right in what he said at the beginning of his remarks as to this being the usual time, in an ordinary session, for a Motion of this sort being made. There has always been a little by-play as to the particular day selected for the process. Some say it is too early; others that it is too late; but as a rule the House has been accustomed in past years for the most part to agree to it without much difficulty. The session is supposed to be practically over. The harvest of legislation has been accomplished, and the wearied harvestmen are anxious, one and all, to take their harvest home, to go home carrying their sheaves with them. That is the usual situation. There are usually some measures which have been unfortunately, and to the regret of all, omitted; there has been no time to overtake them, and they are, to use the common phrase, massacred. But where are the innocents to-day? Not only are there no innocents, but there are very few measures. There never has been a more barren field than that which we see before us to-day. The Aliens Bill, a measure of first-class importance according to hon. Gentlemen 961 opposite, also a measure capable of very rapid transformations in the course of its two years experience, has been practically saved by being sent into harbour in another place; but the Unemployed Bill, what of it?
The right hon. Gentleman has taken a course which I think was never taken before. He has stated certain pieces of business which must necessarily be got through before we rise, and then he says "It depends on how long you take in transacting that business whether we take anything more." He has not even told us that, if there is any superfluous time, such a Bill or such Bills would be those that he would pass. Evidently he does not expect that there will be any time, and he knows that the measures which he could proceed with are of little value. Of course there are great measures—the Unemployed Bill, which has been wrecked, I presume; the Scottish Education Bill, which I am afraid was dead a good many weeks ago; and there may be one or two other useful Bills but except those there is nothing to regret, nothing to mourn over, and nothing to look forward to if we find any time. Sir, we never were in such a situation in the course of anyone's experience.
But I think that not only is there this extraordinary barrenness of the session, but there is another element in the case which goes deeper, and is, I think, more worthy of attention. "What is the authority of the Government for asking us to allow ourselves to be worked overtime? What is the authority of this Government to conduct the business of the House, whether it be before midnight or after midnight? That is the primary question with which we are faced. What is the authority of the Government derived from? Is it from the country? Is it from the House? Or is it simply from a sense of their own indispensable character? I wish we could get an Answer to this. The hon. Baronet who represents the Education Department is our great authority on constitutional questions. I will not quote again those words of his which have been so often quoted and with such irresistible effect; but at the end of those words he goes on to say that a Ministry 962 in certain conditions, which he describes, and which are an actual picture of the conditions existing in this year of grace—a Ministry in that position ceases to be a Ministry and becomes a mere group of personages. I should like to ask one of the personages to tell us what their authority is. The fare provided for us this session is of quite a minor and trivial character. It has been so all along. The single aim of the Government, apparently, has been to devote all their ability, and, what has been more useful, all their agility, to staving off expulsion from office.
Why is it we were called upon to meet late and are now being invited to retire early? Why was there so much delay in proceeding with these Bills, which, out of respect for their comparative position, I will call the principal measures of the session? They would not have been the principal measures in any other session, but they occupy that position now. "Oh," we are told, "the Opposition wasted so much time over the fiscal question." Who introduced the fiscal question? It was not the fault of the Opposition in any sense that the country has been distracted and the time of this House occupied by the fiscal question. The fiscal question was introduced by a member of the Government, the Colonial Secretary of the day, who, of course, would never introduce such a huge and all-absorbing subject unless he had the full consent and approval of the Cabinet to which he belonged. It is they who have created the fiscal controversy at this moment and they must take the consequences. And when I ask why there has been this delay, I think the answer is that it is because of this single pre-occupation of theirs, this single, settled belief that, whether in action or in repose, whether advancing to the attack or fleeing away, present or absent, in a majority or in a minority, they are the men of destiny, and the country and the Empire would totter to their fall were it not for their Titanic support. It is that which is the underlying supposition of all we see going on now-a-days. It is about the worst compliment which could be paid to the country. I am not questioning for a moment—it would be 963 sacrilegious to do so—the merits of the Government. I merely ask what are their credentials? What is their right to be there? How came they to be there? I am not thinking of the more recently adopted members of the family, who, of course, are there on their merits, such as the Colonial Secretary and the Secretary of State for War. But what of the older and original members of the Government which took office in 1900? The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for India, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, the President of the Local Government Board—I think those are all that I can recall—they have the 1900 certificate. Most of the Government then formed sits on the Back Benches, and those whose merits and claims probably conduced as much as if not more than many of their colleagues to win that victory, they are on the Back Benches.
The Government took their place on the Treasury Bench after the 1900 election, which was a snatch election. ["No, no !"] There was no seven years proscription then. The election was taken much sooner than it might have been because of the advantageous circumstances. It was taken also, which is another feather in their cap, on false pretences. It was taken to carry out a definite and defined policy limited by a great emergency. What is my authority for that, my main authority? I have my own powers of observation, but I have something much better. At Blenheim on August 12th, 1901, there was, as we all remember, a great glorification. Perhaps if I called it a "Maffickation" it would be a good description. The Prime Minister was there, but the hero of the day was the then Colonial Secretary. What he said was this—This great question"—which was the cutting down of the Irish representation—"was not before you at the last general election. Then it was the question of the war we have been waging in South Africa which was the question which Party should conduct it to its conclusion, which Party should make the settlement, the satisfactory and final settlement, at its close. You know that our opponents tried to confuse the issue.Since the wolf sat down with the lamb I know nothing better than that—They were not allowed to do so. They had to fight on that line whether they liked it or not, and they did not like it.964 We like still less the use which has been made of it—But the result has been such a mandate from the people of this country as has never been given before to any Government, so clear, so defined, or by such an enormous majority—a mandate on which we are acting and on which we intend to act.This alone is enough to show that some of these wasted and mischievous years have been years of usurpation. But the Government do not take that view. They take the election of 1900 as all-sufficient for all purposes. We do not hear of a mandate of a definite kind, and they mike no account, of course, of any possible number of by-elections; and yet there are indications that the Government are not altogether easy in their minds as to the terms on which they stand with the country.
There are one or two extraordinary features in what is disclosed to us of their view of the question. For months past they have been putting it about that the next Government will certainly not be a Unionist Government. For a Ministry to indulge in this kind of prophecy is an absolute novelty. The main defensive argument of the Government, when they are pressed, generally is a warning against the dreadful kind of people who will succeed them; but when men or Ministers abandon making claims on their own merits, and merely use the sort of argument to which I have referred, saying, practically, we may be bad, but there are others who will be worse—[MINISTERIAL cheers]—l am glad to find I so accurately represent the views and main motive principles of hon. Members opposite—when either Ministries or Parties are driven to this, they are at their last extremity. But then they have gone further. They have actually fallen into a habit of addressing us as if we had already been put in as official receivers, as if we were already in some way responsible for the government of the country. It is, "What are you going to do?" They say, "How are you going to unravel this knot or clear up this mess that we have made," not "if you come in," but "when you are in?" It has been carried to such a length that we have even in a premature way actually had a vote of confidence made against us by the hon. Member for Rochester. In 965 fact, we might be in apprehension any day that some other hon. Member, exhausted by the pleasant pastime of inventing blocking Motions, might come down and move some Motion expressing detestation of the heinousness of our policy.
This is all very new and very curious, but what it shows is this. They have realised, to a greater extent than they would like it to be known, perhaps, the fact that the country has exhausted its appreciation of their services. They are in a position, with which we are familiar in domestic affairs, of having had notice given them, and I do not know why they do not leave before their month is up. If we penetrate beneath the surface, I think we shall find that this tenacity is the outcome of a solemn and settled conviction that if they are to go to the country disaster will overtake them. I do not hear any violent contradiction of that assertion. It is a mere supposition on my part, but it is not objected to. So long as they can contrive to sit there and use this Assembly as a sanctuary and a rest-house the catastrophe can at least be postponed. To avert it, of course, is beyond their hope. If they stay here, talk a little about Imperial defence, spend lots of money, and pass occasional votes of confidence in themselves, then they may still pass for a Government of some sort. They allege, I believe, that they have still the confidence of this House. ["Hear, hear!" from the MINISTERIAL side.] Yes, "a sort of confidence" which cannot be in any way a substitute for constitutional representative authority; and this confidence with which the Ministry is blessed is a kind for which the leaders have seldom in our history been thankful. So long as the Prime Minister leads them to the edge of the precipice and does not take them over, then he has their formal and unfailing support. But if it is anything else, whether redistribution or no redistribution, whether the loaded revolver or the unloaded revolver, whether free food or penal tariff—what do these things matter? There is nothing under the sun on which a shivering vote of confidence might not be obtained by a little dexterity. Defeat in this House 966 was the test to which the Prime Minister appealed. Therefore, we attached unusual importance, perhaps, to the event the other day on that account.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
One of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues said it. Some influential person on that side in the immediate neighbourhood of the right hon. Gentleman said so. [Cries of "Who?"] I am not sure that it was not a blood relation. [Cries of "Quote" and "Gerald"] I do not think it is necessary to quote; the passage has been quoted again and again. There is no ambiguity about the matter. But when a defeat in the House comes the right hon. Gentleman quotes a string of precedents in which Governments have not heeded. Of course you can find any number of precedents; but when the right hon. Gentleman derived the greater number of them from Lord Melbourne's Government I think that he must have been conscious of the character which that Government bore in respect of this very matter. But if appeals are made to precedents, where is the precedent of a Government that dares not defend in this House its own policy which is put in the forefront, of a Government which is driven to withdraw its forces bodily in order to avert defeat? Such a Government is a beaten and discredited Government, and there is no room for it within the bounds of our Constitution.
To sum up, whether you view their presence here in going on with the business and in moving the suspension of the twelve o'clock rule and so forth as if they were a real Government; whether you view them from the standpoint of the general election or the by-election or have regard to the fact that the country is exasperated by their retention, of office; or whether you look at the tenure on which they hold office from this House, namely, that neither incidental defeats nor carefully-planned strategical withdrawals can effect their freehold, their moral authority has gone. And this is the Government which to-day asks us to express our willingness to give the whole twenty-four hours of the day, 967 if necessary, in order to pass a few Bills for which nobody cares, not even the authors of them. Never, I trust, will any of us, even the most long-lived among us, see again so damaged and disqualified a Ministry treat with such insolent disregard at once the will of the country and the rights of Parliament.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said the statement of the Prime Minister was of so extraordinary a description that, full and admirable as had been the comment by the Leader of the Opposition, there were other points which certainly ought to be alluded to. The Prime Minister had not told the House, according to unbroken practice—and the House had a right to demand, and would demand, a statement on this occasion—what were the measures he intended to proceed with in this session. It was only by inference that they were able to gather that such a measure as the Unemployed Bill was not to be proceeded with. Why? It was alleged by the Prime Minister that that was a measure to which he attributed supreme importance a short while ago. That measure was being abandoned not on account of the obstruction of business by the Opposition in that House. The right hon. Gentleman did not make that allegation. He was challenged on three occasions to say whether there had been any obstruction by the Opposition, and on each occasion he had said the contrary. The right hon. Gentleman had alleged that the only time that was wasted was early in the session, on a discussion of the Army proposals of the Government. Why was time wasted on those proposals, if it was wasted? Those hon. Members who through the whole of the Army debates in the early part of the session had been interested spectators without taking part in them knew that time was l at wasted except in so far as it was wasted owing to the inability of the Government to state what their proposals were, a fact which, after the promises of last year, was certain to lead to waste of time if it was wasted, in the Army debates. Nothing else had been alleged by the Prime Minister for the session being short in legislation.
968 There had been a total failure of the Government to legislate since their authority had been destroyed by the raising of the fiscal question without that question being brought to a solution in the proper way by a general election and by the people of the country. The total loss of authority by the Government was a great danger to the country. There were not only enormous arrears, as the Government themselves had admitted by the language they had used in regard to their own legislative programmes of the last two years, but great danger existed in the case of the Unemployed Bill by the mere raising of the question and then dropping it—the raising of it in such a way as to excite hopes in the country in that class whose hopes were most easily excited and most easily disappointed. An hon. Member of the House the other day alluded in the gravest way to what might occur in the country if the Unemployed Bill were not passed. It was stated that it was a matter of urgency that this matter should be dealt with, and the Government, while disappointing the hopes which had been raised, had not accompanied the abandonment of the Bill by any reason for the de Germination to which they had come on the subject.
There had been nothing said that day as to what should have been the main topic of the session, and which they were now told would be the main feature of a future session. What were called the Redistribution proposals were the first proposals in the short list in the King's Speech. Personally, he did not think the present Government would be able to legislate on that subject. The only interesting thing about it was "Who killed Cock Robin?" He said it was his hon. friend the Member for Waterford. He had the credit of being the executioner on that occasion, lie himself was afraid from what members of the Government had said that they looked forward to the resuscitation of this interesting animal in the course of next session. Personally, he believed the proposals were dead. These were the main proposals which the Government had stated that they intended to put before the House, and they had been 969 withdrawn without any definite statement to the House in regard to the future intentions of the Government. This was a matter which, at all events, was of first-class importance. He had alluded to the first, second, and third items of the programme of the Government. The Prime Minister that day, in speaking of what was called the ten minutes rule, told the House that it was made use of for the introduction of secondary measures. The Aliens Bill was introduced under the ten minutes rule, and, therefore, the only one of the legislative proposals of the Government which had a chance of passing into law—the only one of the first nine items in the King's Speech—was one which the Prime Minister himself looked upon as a measure of secondary importance. That was their record. There had never been a session which had shown such legislative failure.
There were measures abandoned which the Government had claimed to be essentially necessary and of immediate importance. The Workmen's Compensation Bill, for instance, figured fifth in the King's Speech this year, and it stood higher in the Speech from the Throne last year. That Bill was really urgently demanded by the whole of the labour world without any difference of opinion. He submitted, as he had done in regard to the Unemployed Bill, that it was a great danger to the country if it came to be felt that the House of Commons was unable to pass into law measures of first - class importance which were put high up in the programme of the Government. But was the House of Commons unable to do so if it were properly led? Was it the fault of the House of Commons? The real reason was the loss of authority of the Government since the fiscal question was raised, and not any loss of power on the part of the House of Commons to legislate on subjects of this kind. The Scotch Education Bill merited that a word more be said. How had that measure been used before the House of Commons? Last year when the Scotch Education Bill stood very high up in the list in the King's Speech and had made more progress than this year, strong remarks ware made that that Bill had been made 970 use of as a stop-gap for Ascot week. This year the scandal had been even greater, because, notoriously, at no time had the Bill had any chance of passing, and yet on two occasions it had been used to waste time. Everybody engaged in those proceedings was perfectly aware on both occasions that it was all a waste of time. Again, nearly all the Bills dropped last year were the Bills which this year had been dropped for the second time. One of these was the Irish Labourers Bill, which was the subject of a positive pledge the year before last. Then, last year there was a Bill mentioned which was brought forward again this year for the establishment of a Ministry of Commerce and Industry. A day or two ago the Prime Minister, in answer to a Question, said that he was going to redeem his promise in regard to that Bill and the right hon. Gentleman had that day brought in a Bill which was of an entirely different kind, and one unheard of before. The Bill did not establish a Ministry of Commerce and Industry, but was a Bill to make the Board of Trade and the Local Government Board offices of a Secretary of State—for which a great deal was to be said.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said he thought the right hon. Gentleman had mis-described the Bill mentioned in the King's Speech.
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE
said that the note he had of the King's Speech was that the Bill was for the establishment of a Ministry of Commerce and Industry, but if he was wrong he apologised and would not press the point. His case of waste of time was sufficiently strong without it. At the end of the list of nine Bills mentioned in the King's Speech, there was one which interested his hon. friend near him. Year after year the whole rating system of the country had been condemned; and the Government had said that they were burning to deal with it. Every Party said it ought to be dealt with. But the Government said they must first pass a Valuation Act as the first step in dealing with the rating question. Last year the Government placed such a Bill very high up in their programme and introduced 971 a Bill, but it was dropped. This year the subject had again been brought forward, but had again been abandoned without a struggle in fact, the Bill had never been introduced at all. The only labour Bill passed last year was a sham; and this year the only Bill claiming to be a labour Bill—the Aliens Bill—that had been passed by the House of Commons was also a sham measure. He did not know how far he would be in order in saying that those Bills which were killed last year and many of those introduced this year and abandoned without the slightest struggle, were also dead for text year as well; for it was an undoubted fact that the Government had stated that the leading item in their programme for next year—if the Government did intend to meet the House at all next year—damaged, discredited, weak as they were to conduct legislation—was their Redistribution proposals. He need hardly say that it would be almost impossible to carry such a measure except at the sacrifice of almost all other Bills. And therefore these Bills were dead for next year to all intents and purposes.
That was not a state of things which some Conservatives would regard as a state of things favourable to Conservative opinion in the country. Of course there were a few Conservatives in that House like the late Mr. James Lowther and a few noble Lords in another place who asked why Conservatives should desire such legislation? But that view could not be openly taken here or in the country. There were a few Conservative Members and even Conservative constituencies who desired legislation, and the old high Tory view was dying out. The modern Conservative's cry was that their Party was as well able to deal with measures for the benefit of the people as the Liberal Party. The Government did not present themselves as representing the Party which opposed legislation desired by the people; but they introduced measures and then abandoned them. The Government told the House and country that it was necessary to introduce legislation for the unemployed as it was required; but without alleged obstruction against the Opposition they said that unfortunate circumstances had occurred which compelled them to with- 972 draw that proposed legislation. These unfortunate circumstances were the weakness of the Government, and their inability to carry out their own measures. This proposed legislation was not of a reactionary character. The Government was strong enough—wrongfully, as the Opposition thought—to carry reactionary legislation into law. But now, when the proposed legislation would have been beneficent to the people, the Government had lost the strength to carry it. That he ventured to describe as essentially a revolutionary situation. The constituencies knew the evils under which they suffered; they knew the measures which they desired; but the Government this year and last year had to confess that it was impotent to pass it. The Government was impotent because they had lost that confidence, that spring of life which alone gave a Government a right to the continuance of its existence.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said he wished, with clearness and brevity, to state to the House his reasons for objecting to the Motion of the Prime Minister. But before doing so, he wished to say a word or two with reference to the statement of the Prime Minister that afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman commenced by reminding the House that it had been the habit of the Leaders of that House to make an elaborate survey of the legislation of the session which the Government had been able to accomplish in the time at their disposal. And the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he would not on this occasion make that elaborate survey, but confine himself to a few words. He was not surprised at that; for how could the right hon. Gentleman, or anyone else, make an elaborate survey of the programme of legislation of the session when that would pass even the ingenuity of the right hon. Gentleman. There had been practically no legislation that session. He would not labour that point, which had been already put with sufficient clearness and great ability to the House.
In the list of Bills which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned must be passed was The Relief of Distress (Ireland) Bill. That was the only Bill dealing 973 with Ireland. Let him recall the facts. At the commencement of that session the Members of the Irish Party impressed on the Government that there were matters for inquiry and legislation in connection with the relief of distress in Ireland and they were told that such legislation would be introduced at an early date; but it had only been introduced in the closing days of the session. What was the nature of that Bill? It was in the nature of an Indemnity Bill, giving indemnity to certain local authorities for taking necessary action. in relief of acute prevailing distress. But it was not a Bill which it was necessary to pass within any definite time; and as there were some matters which were gravely defective in the principles on which the Government had acted, and as these matters were connected with that problem of distress in Ireland which must be discussed at some time, he thought that they had better postpone the Bill until next year, until the Government of the day could give the Irish Members adequate opportunity for discussing these matters.
One other word with reference to the programme of the Government. He had listened with very great attention to the speech of the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean in reference to the Unemployed Bill. The right hon. Baronet went on the supposition that that Bill had been abandoned by the Government, and he was justified in that, for the reason that the Prime Minister had omitted all mention of that Bill. He, himself, would like to be clear on the point. Had or had not that Bill been abandoned? He insisted on a definite Answer being given to that Question, because there was no sacrifice which the Irish Members of that House would not be willing to make in order to secure that that Bill should be passed into law. The measure was demanded by those who professed to have, and had the right to speak in the name of the people concerned. That being so, as he had already said, there was no reasonable sacrifice which the Irish Members would not make to enable the Labour Members to obtain a measure which they thought it worth their while taking. Therefore, he would like the right hon. Gentleman 974 in his reply to say something on the question as to whether the Unemployed Bill had been actually abandoned or not.
His reasons for objecting to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman were two-fold. His first reason referred to Ireland, and the treatment of Ireland in that House during the present session; and his second reason was entirely higher and much wider and much more important than the first. So far as Ireland was concerned hon. Members must know well that since the House met there had been absolutely no attempt at legislation. That was not due to the belief that there were no great Irish problems awaiting solution, for everybody admitted that there were plenty of such problems. They existed, no doubt, in this country as well as in Ireland, but probably he would be forgiven if he looked at this matter from his own point of view, and, anxious as he was to see great reforms carried for England, his first anxiety was to see them carried first for Ireland. All those great problems which were awaiting solution in Ireland had not been touched, and no attempt whatever had been made to deal with them.
What were these problems? Notwithstanding the fact that the great measure of land reform was carried in 1903, which he took leave to say was yet destined to do an enormous amount of good in Ireland, and which would remove, he believed, a great many of the difficulties and bitternesses which existed between the two great classes in that country—notwithstanding that it was universally admitted that that Act in its working had proved defective owing to mistakes which were made by that House—he might say entirely through ignorance and not through malice, but nevertheless they were mistakes—which made that Act inoperative in many of its most important respects, yet no attempt had been made by the Government to deal with the question by legislation. He did not think the Chief Secretary would contradict that statement, because he would not venture to say that the little Land Bill which he had suggested a few days ago had anything of the character of the legislation of which he was speaking. That was a Bill to enable landlords to 975 accept stock instead of cash in payment of the price of their property. The object which the right hon. Gentleman had in view was a most important one, viz., to remove the block in the working of the Act. No one denied the importance of that object, although they differed as to the means proposed to achieve it. That was not what he meant when he said that it was necessary to have legislation to remedy the defects of the Land Act.
At the present time large classes of the Irish people were shut out from the benefits of the Act, and they were just those classes of people who must be dealt with if the Land Act was to effect the appeasement and regeneration of that country. No attempt had been made, and no suggestion had been made that it could be dealt with by this Parliament. Take the labourers' question. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean had said, this was a subject upon which they had received the most distinct and unequivocal Parliamentary assurances. It was a question upon which everybody in Ireland was agreed. Landlords and tenant farmers and labourers were all agreed as to the essentials for a proper settlement of the Irish labourers' question, and the late Chief Secretary had promised that it should be dealt with. Last year a very defective Bill was introduced to deal with this question, and in Grand Committee, after Amendments had been agreed to by all the Irish Members, the Bill was dropped by the Government, and this year no Bill at all had been proposed to deal with the question.
There was a case where the Irish Members themselves attempted to legislate—he alluded to the Town Tenants Bill. The necessity of introducing some legislation to protect tenants' improvements under proper limitations and conditions was admitted on both sides. A proposal to that effect was introduced as a private Bill in that House, it was passed by an overwhelming majority on its Second Reading, and was supported by hon. Members opposite as well as by the Nationalist Members. Even the Attorney-General for Ireland did not vote against the Second Reading, so 976 that Irish Members, including those who sat upon the Treasury Bench, either voted for the Bill or abstained from voting against it. That Bill went before a Grand Committee, and for ten weeks it was obstructed before that Committee by hon. Members for English constituencies and by members of the Government. Although that was a very modest and a very small measure, and extremely moderate, that was its fate. Not only did the Government refuse absolutely to deal with Irish problems when an attempt was made by private Members to deal with a question which had the support of all sections of opinion in Ireland, but the Bill was obstructed by English Members and defeated by the action of members of the Government sitting upon Grand Committees. He might go through all those problems which were waiting for settlement; he might recall the repeated pledges given by the Prime Minister upon University education in Ireland and the housing of the working classes in Ireland. There were on all sides in Ireland grievous and most urgent problems waiting for treatment, and that House from the commencement of the session down to the present moment had not devoted one single hour of time to any legislation dealing with those matters.
How was the treated administration of What had been their experience in regard to Supply? Supply was of the gravest importance to English Members in that House, but he respectfully submitted to them that the value of ample opportunities to them, for discussion in Supply was not one-tenth as great as the value of such discussions must necessarily be to Ireland, because Ireland was shut off from this country to a large extent. English Members knew little or nothing about the administration of affairs in Ireland or how the money raised for Irish services was spent. The whole of this business was in the hands of a little knot of men in Dublin Castle who were entrenched there and were quite irresponsible so far as public opinion in Ireland was concerned. It was absolutely true that the public opinion of Ireland was powerless to alter one single jot of the policy of those gentlemen in Dublin Castle. There 977 they sat entrenched behind the ramparts of Dublin Castle, and the only possibility which existed for Irishmen bringing a flood of light upon their work, or any influence upon their policy, was by discussion of Irish matters in that House. Although Irish discussions were not attended by very large numbers of English Members, nevertheless he valued opportunities of discussing matters affecting Irish administration. He had seen those opportunities dwindling year after year, until now it might be almost said that such opportunities did not exist at all.
What had been their experience that session, and what had been their experience every session? Simply that the fringe of Irish Supply was scarcely touched in the debates in that House. No less than twenty days were allotted for the Supply of the United Kingdom, but if the whole of i those were devoted to Irish Supply they would not be too much. Out of the twenty days only three were devoted to Irish matters, and in those three days it was manifestly impossible to touch more than the fringe of those great questions which affected Irish administration. Ireland was governed by about forty different boards, each one independent of the other and each spending money lavishly out of the public purse. Every few years a new board was created, and the latest was the Agricultural Board, which was the most expensive of them all, and yet in that House no opportunity was given to them of going into details to examine the expenditure in order to see whether it was excessive or not.
How great and serious for Ireland questions like these were might be gathered from the fact that the cost of governing Ireland was double that of governing Belgium, and the cost of governor Ireland had increased in amount by over £3,000,000 within a comparatively short period of years. Why was that? Many people imagined that England was getting a great benefit out of the amount of taxation raised in Ireland, but it was nothing of the kind. The Imperial contribution of Ireland had not increased, although 978 the total taxation had increased by three or four millions a year. The whole of that went in the increased cost of the most inefficient and the rottenest system of government which was to be found in any country in Europe. The rivers of Ireland were undrained, her railways were 50 per cent, more expensive than those in other countries, her harbours were falling to pieces, and millions of acres of waste land were waiting reclamation, and yet nothing was done by the Government for the promotion of the welfare of the people, although the population was steadily going down year by year. He was not speaking of the additional cost of the war, but of the additional cost for Irish services. Within the last ten or fifteen years millions had been added to the cost of Irish government without the slightest benefit to Ireland, and without the slightest benefit to this country. Was that not a serious state of things?
He thought English Members ought to help them in endeavouring to get a searching examination in Committee of Supply into these questions. Instead of doing that, what had happened? An hon. friend of his had called has attention to the figures for the last two or three years. In 1903, only four subjects affecting Ireland were discussed in Supply, viz., the Board of Agriculture Vote, the Development Grant, the Vote for Criminal Prosecutions, and the Vote for National Education. The total amount of those Votes was £942,000, and there remained undiscussed for that year Estimates amounting to nearly £4,000,000, which were passed under the guillotine without a single word of discussion. Last year they had the same experience; somewhere about £500,000 of the money expended was discussed and nearly £4,000,000 remained undiscussed. It could not be put forward that the reason for this state of things was that Irish Members had taken too long discussing that half million of money. Last year the Irish Estimates amounted to £4,379,101, out of which they only discussed Estimates to the amount of £411,919. They discussed National Education, Board of Agriculture, Land 979 Commission" A "Vote, the Chief Secretary's Salary, Queen's Colleges" A "Vote, and the Equivalent Grant. All the rest were passed without discussion under the closure. Was it not natural, where the administration of all these Indies was put into the hands of a little ring of irresponsible men who were quite out of touch with the sentiments of the people, and where these vast sums of money were never discussed—was it not natural that the charge for the Government of Ireland should go on year by year increasing, while the population of the country was steadily diminishing, and the efficiency of the Government was going down.
He took the opportunity of protesting against the way in which the Imperial Parliament managed Irish affairs. Nothing, in his judgment, would justify the Act of Union, but, at any rate, they would have been able to make a good and plausible plea before the world if they had been able to show, after a hundred years of that Act, that Ireland was well, reasonably, peacefully, and successfully governed; that the population was not diminishing, and that the taxation was not increasing; that the country was contented, and that the Government had the confidence of the country. But they could not say that. The exact opposite was the truth. The population was going down; the taxation per head of the population was 50 per cent, more than it was fifty years ago. They could not say that the people were contented, and they lad not got the confidence of all classes of the community. There was only one section of men in Ireland who invariably supported the Government—the men who were the expectant place-hunters of the country. None of the business men in the great cities had any confidence in Dublin Castle government, and even the landlords, despite the Land Act, could not give a vote of confidence to the present Government. Every class was profoundly dissatisfied with and divided from Castle rule by reason of the sentiments of the country.
He protested against the way Ireland had been neglected that session. He objected to the House giving the 980 present Government any facility for any business. He agreed with the Leader of the Opposition that the Government had no authority to sit on that side of the House. The Prime Minister had alluded to words which he said had been used in the heat of debate with reference to this matter. He did not know to whom the Prime Minister referred, and he was not going to put on any cap that the right hon. Gentleman might dangle before his eyes. But he would repeat what he had said the other day that in his judgment the Opposition in the House would be justified in using every means at their disposal to prevent the possibility of the present Government continuing to hold the reins of office. He believed they had lost the confidence of the country, and they dared not challenge the confidence of the House of Commons except upon some put-up Resolution upon some occasion selected by themselves. Whenever a vote of censure was proposed on the most vital issue of all, the fiscal policy, the Government ran away. They either moved the previous Question, as was the case in another place recently, or they abstained from coming into the House altogether, and left the Government Benches empty, with the result that two or three votes of censure had been carried against the Government and stood recorded on the Journals of the House. Therefore, he said that they had lost the confidence of the country and the House, and it was little short of a scandal that the should carry on the Government at all. He was recently reading with interest a speech made in 1884 by the late Lord Salisbury, who was at the time opposing a Liberal Government and a Redistribution Bill brought in by a Liberal Government. Lord Salisbury then said, and he would commend these words to the Prime Minister—The House of Commons was elected upon issues that have passed away.Was that, or was that not, true of the gentlemen now sitting on the Front Bench?Its life has been nearly spent. It is the most, servile House of Commons—servile to the Minister, servile to the caucus—that the Palace of Westminster has ever seen.That also was nearly true of the present Government, because although they might linger out for a few months longer an 981 ignoble existence the House could congratulate itself that the end could not be far off—We are denounced because we will not allow this House of Commons, so discredited—discredited by every circumstance, discredited by every by-election that takes place—to settle upon an unsound, partisan, and inequitable basis the Constitution which we are appointed to protect… The Ministry profess to appeal to public opinion against the House of Lords, but what sort of public opinion is it? They will not come to the constituencies, to the polling booths, where alone the public opinion of Englishmen can be pronounced. They dare not do so. They know that deluded hopes, broken promises, oceans of blood unnecessarily shed, a weakened prestige of power abroad, a distracted Empire, a discontented Ireland—that all these will be brought up against them, and that an account will be demanded of them.It was for reasons such as those that he opposed the Government; it was because it was discredited in the House and in the country; it was because the continued existence of the Government was, in his judgment, an outrage on the Constitution that he declined to give them any facilities to carry on their business; and because, in his opinion, the proper way to deal with the Government would be on a broad constitutional basis he said that the Government had no right to carry on the government of the country, and if this attitude was taken up by the Opposition he believed the Prime Minister would soon be forced to have recourse to the provisions of the Constitution and to ask from the electors a verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty."
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)
said the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition spoke of the Government as harvestmen who might be expected to return home carrying their sheaves with them. Those words did not lead those who represented labour in the House to anticipate any harvest for those whom they represented. All that they had hoped was that they might, as gleaners in the field of legislation, be able to pick up a few ears of grain which the harvesters had left behind them, but from the statements made that day by the Prime Minister when moving his Resolution it would appear that even that meagre hope was to be blighted.
There were two Labour Bills mentioned in the King's Speech—the Workmen's 982 Compensation Bill and the Unemployed Bill—to which not the slightest reference had been made by the Prime Minister. Probably when the session was over the Government would take credit for having passed a labour measure in the form of the Aliens Bill. But the workers of the country were not blind to the fact that, whatever else that Bill might be expected to do, it was not expected to assist them in their struggle for better conditions. The one proviso suggested as a means for helping the working classes, namely, to declare blacklegs who were being brought in under contract to be undesirable aliens, was defeated by all the power which the Government was able to command. So far as he was able to judge from the speeches made by supporters of the Government, the real object of the Bill was to protect the pockets of wealthy Jews who objected to having to contribute to the support of their poor compatriots who had come over, as they themselves came before them, either to seek refuge from persecution or to improve their conditions of life. That being so, labour representatives had a right to ask why the Workmen's Compensation Bill and the Unemployed Bill had been dropped. The Workmen's Compensation Bill was the product of a special Committee, and, though there were points in it to which objections were taken, and omissions which ought to be remedied, it was not a highly controversial measure, and the differences which existed in regard to it could easily be adjusted if time were given for discussion.
If it were true that the people of Ireland had reason to protest against neglect of their interests, it was a thousand-fold more true of the working people of England. A Supplementary Estimate was now before the House providing a grant of £20,000 to relieve distress in Ireland, but the Government refused to contribute a single penny for the relief of distress in England, although it was by the votes of British working men that the Party opposite owed their return to this House. He desired specially to ask why the Unemployed Bill was not referred to by the Prime Minister. It was perfectly true that the unemployed problem was no 983 new one. The winter was approaching, when the unemployed difficulty would be more acute than it had been for some winters past. Already the amount of unemployment was increasing according to the Board of Trade Returns; the resources of the men out of work were exhausted; the public authorities were at their wits' end as to what they should do to enable the unemployed to tide over their period of distress, and this Bill which was intended in some measure to enable the authorities to cope with that state of affairs was to be dropped. Why was not the Bill included amongst the measures which it was necessary to pass before the end of the session? With the Amendments proposed to be made by the President of the Local Government Board most of the objections urged on the Second Reading would have been removed.
As far as he could make out, the reason why the Bill was not pressed forward was that a sect on of the Government's own supporters refused to allow the measure to become law because it proposed to enable public authorities to provide honest work for honest men out of employment. The President of the Board of Trade might say that he proposed to take that clause out of the Bill, and thereby to facilitate its passage. But the right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that that particular clause was the one operative provision of the Bill which made it of any value at all as a method of dealing with the unemployed difficulty, and that without the clause the Bill was not worth the paper upon which it was printed. Why had the Government yielded to the pressure of their rich supporters in this matter? Who were the men who had prevented the passage of this Bill? For the most part they were either faddists who sacrificed the welfare and the life of the poor to a doctrine, or rich loafers, themselves dependent upon the working classes for the food they ate, the clothes they wore, and the houses they inhabited, but who refused to yield even a penny in the pound of their income to assist the working classes to tide over a period of distress. A charge of cowardice lay against the Government for having allowed itself to be bullied and intimidated by its rich 984 supporters into sacrificing the voiceless and helpless poor in the persons of the unemployed. He trusted that even yet the Government would refuse to sacrifice so important a measure.
It was not as if the Bill affected only the convenience of a section, of the community; it affected their very life and well-being. Hundreds of thousands of honourable decent men and women were regarding the coming winter with a feeling of apprehension which Members of that House could not understand or appreciate. Not a morning passed but the papers recorded the fact that some poor fellow, finding the struggle too hard, had preferred to end his life rather than face the coming winter. And yet this Government returned to protect the interests of the people turned a deaf ear to the pleadings of the poor at the bidding of the rich who subscribed to its funds. That kind of thing could not be done now-a-days with safety. Ireland received attention to a certain extent because there were eighty-two Irish Members to voice her grievances and claim redress. If the Government desired to assist the spread of the Socialist movement in England it could not do it more effectively than by continuing to neglect and ignore social and labour questions and to despise the poor. The feelings of common humanity might surely have prompted the Government to make a firm stand against those who were seeking to wreck this measure. But if feelings of humanity did not weigh with them, considerations of political expediency might have warned them of the result of dropping a measure of this kind. For the first time in the modern history of British politics hopes had been aroused in the breasts of the unemployed that at length a Government had arisen with the courage to do something for them. But now, when they found that those hopes were being blasted and that this Government, like other Governments, was concerned only for the interests of the rich and the well-to-do, there would be produced a feeling not only of despair but of resentment, which without a shadow of doubt would find expression during the coming winter. The poor would not continue to suffer in silence they would take the Government at its word, and being ruled outside the 985 law they would behave as being outside the law. Who could blame or find fault with them for so doing?
He should oppose this Motion, not because he was anxious to do so, but because he was prepared to support the Resolution and give the Government all the time it required if they could only have an understanding that part of that time would be used to put through the measure to which he was referring. He confessed he could not understand what the extreme urgency for winding up the session on August 11th was. He was in as much need of rest as any hon. Member in the House, and he could appreciate rest as well as any of them, but when a House of Commons elected by the people had to choose between sacrificing its own pleasure and sacrificing the well-being of the poor, their own pleasure should give way in order that the interests of the poor might be attended to. He knew that in Scotland the house would be ready on the 12th, but the grouse could wait for a fortnight. He thought the Government should do its duty by the people of England before adjourning to slaughter innocent birds on the moors of Scotland. He asked, therefore, that the Government, even now, should give an undertaking that amongst the measures which would be sacrificed to meet the convenience of hon. Gentlemen opposite this Unemployed Bill should form an exception, and that it should be a Bill not only providing that land might be hired for farm colonies, but also that the rates might be used to capitalise them, and thereby enable local authorities to provide honest work. What was the alternative? Demoralisation of the poor still more by charity and degrading them by the workhouse, and this was being done by those who professed to be the champions of the honour of England, and who claimed that they were keeping the present Government in office in order to uphold the dignity of England. He thought it was especially incumbent upon them, if they did not desire to be charged with, hypocrisy as well as cowardice, that their pledges to the people of England should be redeemed by legislation for the most helpless class of the community, namely, the men who were able and willing to work, but who were denied the opportun- 986 ity of working through no fault of their own.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said he thought the House had been much affected by the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down in favour of this measure. The Leader of the Irish Party had also expressed a desire that the Unemployed Bill might be taken this session. The Prime Minister had not told them what Bills he was going to proceed with; but he thought hon. Members on both sides of the House would be willing to sacrifice time in order that the Unemployed Bill, which was of the utmost importance, should have an opportunity of being discussed and passed by the House this session. He agreed with almost everything which had fallen from the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil; he knew quite well the very serious position in which London and other parts of the country stood in regard to this most important and most difficult measure. In regard to this question the Government had raised hopes which they ought not to have raised unless they intended to realise them; they had raised in the breasts of honest working men out of employment the expectation that this Bill, which was passed by such a large majority on its Second Reading, would be carried into law, and the Government ought to have done their utmost to fulfil the hopes which they had raised.
He regretted very much that the Government had shown in this matter a very great lack of courage. In the first place they ought to have retained their original Bill and carried it through at all risks. As far as the attitude of hon. Members on the Opposition side was concerned, as well as the attitude of three-fourths of hon. Members opposite, they had done their best from the beginning to treat this matter as a non-Party question. They had made no effort to obtain any political advantage from it, and they supported the Government because they believed that the introduction of this measure was an honest attempt to solve the most difficult of all problems. He deeply regretted that the Government had not seen their way to carry their original Bill, and to carry it more or less 987 in the form in which it was originally introduced. They were not able to put the responsibility for not proceeding with the measure on any other shoulders than their own; hon. Members on both sides of the House had done their best to assist them, and if the Government had allowed the original Bill to get into Committee, it would have been carried by the House, and they would all have done their best to get it through. They had done their best to arrive at that consummation and he very much regretted that even the emasculated Bill, poor and feeble as it was had not been allowed an opportunity of passing. He trusted that even in that respect he had misunderstood what had fallen from the Prime Minister. For his own part he should like to see the House agree to the Third Reading of the Bill even if it contained merely the title of a Bill to deal with the unemployed question, because that would be something to place on the Statute-book, and even the emasculated Bill had some good points. Its machinery was good, and in some directions there was power to use the rates to purchase or lease farm colonies. He agreed with his hon. friend that so far as dealing immediately with the unemployed problem was concerned, unless the money came from public funds it would be of very little practical value.
His hon. friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil had spoken with great natural warmth with regard to the outlook for the future. He looked with the greatest possible anxiety to the coming winter. There was a great deal of distress last winter, and the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, who was then the President of the Local Government Board, took a very considerable step forward in dealing with it. That was, however, only a temporary measure, and unless it was followed by legislation he was afraid the coming winter would be one of the most serious they had encountered fur many years past. Last winter was bad, but the summer had been bad this year, and the men who might have recovered by better employment this summer had failed to do so, and therefore a larger number during the coming winter would be thrown entirely out of employment and they would have to be dealt with. Last winter very large sums of money were 988 spent out of the rates upon the unemployed, and no less than £100 000 was expended by the borough councils in addition to enormous sums spent by Poor Law guardians. It was not a question of saving the rates, but a question of putting on a proper basis a system under which these men, who in his opinion were entitled to have their cases considered, would have the money expended in providing work for them in a proper way instead of its being wasted or causing an increase in pauperism. If this question was not going to be settled, it should not have been raised at all, and if raised it ought to have been settled. He was prepared to accept the original Bill, which would have been a very considerable step forward in the direction in which this great problem alone could be met. In spite of the almost unanimous support of that House, the Government were now offering them another Bill which was vastly inferior, but he hoped even at the eleventh hour they would be allowed to carry into law even the emasculated Bill, because he thought it would lay the foundation for something better.
§ MR. CHURCHILL (Oldham)
said the request made by the Prime Minister that afternoon was admitted by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side to be not an unreasonable one or an unusual or improper request, having regard to the period of the session, and if he for one joined with those who would resist the request it was not because he thought the Motion was one which should not be made, but because he did not think the right hon. Gentleman was the proper person to make such a Motion at all. That, of course, was a matter on which there would be difference of opinion between the two sides of the House. They had not heard much of the opinion which was entertained of this proposal upon the benches opposite. There had been, if he might say so, almost a conspiracy of silence. One might almost have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite were mutes celebrating the obsequies, or approaching obsequies, of His Majesty's Government.
989 He did not think that any part of the House would doubt that the session through which they were passing had been extremely unsatisfactory and disappointing. It had been unsatisfactory and disappointing to the Opposition. They had tried to turn out the Government but had failed, or rather they had turned them out and they would not go, and that came to very much the same thing. It had been an unsatisfactory session to those who sat on the benches opposite. Looking back to the months of effort and inconvenience which they had passed through could they say that the results achieved had been satisfactory to them as a Party or to the House of Commons as an institution? He believed it was true to say that in this session there had been less obstruction than in almost any other session of the present Parliament; there had certainly been more closure, and yet in spite of that double condition the output of legislation was un precedently small. The session was the most barren, he believed, in modern history. What was the one Bill which the Government had passed? It was the Aliens Bill—a measure which its own supporters characterised as a third-class measure in point of magnitude, and which its opponents regarded as a third or fourth-class measure in point of quality. He did not think anyone would contend that the Aliens Bill was a serious measure or a serious effort at legislation. It was a piece of electioneering which had gone wrong. How was the Aliens Bill passed? It was introduced to the House of Commons in a tumbril. They began debating it on the steps of the scaffold, and before two days had passed in Committee they were hurried to the framework of the guillotine.
This year they had been asked, as usual under the present dispensation, to pass Estimates as enormous in time of peace as had, except under this Government, ever been demanded by any British Government in time of war. And how had they passed the Estimates? By falling back this year on an entirely novel form of guillotine closure in Supply—a form which he did not think had been used at all in any preceding session, certainly not in any session in recent 990 years. When they were dealing with Estimates of such enormous magnitude they had been denied the three extra days which it was customary to grant, and which they had every reason to expect. He did not wish to be unnecessarily controversial that afternoon, but he thought it was perfectly true to say that there had only been two instances of consideration shown by the Leader of the House to the House. The first was when a night was given for the consideration of the Report of the Public Accounts Committee. The second was that the Supply rule had, at any rate, been fairly worked by the right hon. Gentleman, and that the Opposition had been properly consulted in regard to the various Votes they would like to have set down. Of course, the Supply rule was a matter which was personal to the right hon. Gentleman. He invented it, and it was possible that he would have greater respect for the working of his own arrangement than others who would follow him in future years. But certain he was that unless the rule was worked with fairness it would become intolerable.
In all their discussions they had been disturbed and disquieted by a very bad habit into which the Government had fallen. They had been in the habit of raising all kinds of disquieting and awkward questions involving grave issues, and then dropping those questions the moment they were confronted with the smallest difficulty with regard to them. A responsible Government should never introduce proposals to the House of Commons unless it was earnestly prepared to make efforts and sacrifices to carry those proposals into effect. Let the House look over the political field and see how strongly that contention might be borne out. There was, of course, the fiscal question. On that hon. Gentlemen were possessed of enough information to enable them to form their own opinion. There was the question of Ireland. Immense issues had been raised in Ireland, and men's minds were excited about them. All sorts of new hopes had begun to develop. Our whole policy had been changed and reversed, and at the very moment when Irish opinion was perhaps more favourable 991 to this country than ever before, a measure of Redistribution specially and deliberately aimed in its character at Ireland alone was introduced.
He asked the House to look at the Army and the other services which might be said to belong to the land services of the Crown. The Militia had been bound over to come up for judgment when called upon. The Volunteers had been disturbed from one end of the country to the other and no one was quite certain what it was intended to do with them. The Army had been disturbed by enormous proposals of reform affecting every branch of the military service and absolutely revolutionising its whole organisation. These proposals had been laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State, but because some hostile criticism was: directed upon them they had been withdrawn into obscurity, and the House did not really know at this moment what executive action the Government had in view in regard to the great forces of the Crown. There was the Redistribution proposal which affected at least 100 constituencies. At least 200 candidates were affected by that proposal. What did the Government do? They tossed their proposal on the Table of the House to be left there until next session so that all the winter in 100 constituencies all over the country Members and candidates would not know, and the workers and electors in those constituencies would not know, whether they were to be subjected to a Redistribution Bill or not.
To-morrow they were to have a new proposal. They were to have a proposal for establishing a Minister of Commerce. That was a proposal which, he believed, had been caustically described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham as a proposal for calling the Board of Trade by another name. That was a project in which great interest had been excited in commercial centres all over the country. The Government would make some detached oration in its favour, but it would get no further. It would be one of the many plans adumbrated to the House, and then abandoned as soon as the smallest difficulty was experienced in carrying it into effect.
992 What was the last question which had been recklessly raised? He did not think that the House could have failed to be struck with the impressive speech which had been made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil a little while ago. It was to the hon. Member a very serious matter and not at all an academic question when the winter was coming on, and when they were to have the certainty in the months which were to elapse before Parliament met again that hunger would be in the streets, and that many deserving homes would be plunged in want. The machinery which the Government themselves had thought fit to propose would not have been established in any degree too soon. He was amazed at the attitude taken up by the Prime Minister in regard to the Unemployed Bill. He had heard the right hon. Gentleman frequently say in the fiscal controversy that he was quite ready to be bound by his own speeches, but that he would not be bound by any opinion of those speeches expressed by other people, or any construction put upon his policy by other people. What did the right hon. Gentleman do in regard to the Unemployed Bill? The right hon. Gentleman the other day gave as the reason for not proceeding with the important and vital clause of the Bill, not that he had changed his mind on the principle of the clause, but that some Labour Members attached to it a certain meaning which he did not himself think it involved. If the Government really believed in their own principles, and in the merits of the proposals they were making to Parliament, their own convictions and pride for their schemes would prevent them from bringing them forward and then dropping them. When any inconvenience and difficulty arose they would be bound to make an effort to carry them into effect.
When hon. Members complained in this House he was bound to say that the consolation which was offered was very thin. They said the right hon. Gentleman trampled on the liberties of parliament, and they were invited to observe that he always did it in perfect taste. They said he was a Parliamentary dictator, and they were asked to remember he was also the arbiter of elegance. They said the policy he placed before the country was 993 crude, foolish, and even vicious, and they were told it was always introduced in Speeches in the most approved Parliamentary style. If at any time a declaration he made to the House appeared somewhat lacking in clearness, vigour, or depth, they were always assured that at any rate no preparation had been wasted upon it, that the counsels he offered to Parliament, and the arguments he submitted to the country were at any rate not the result of previous consideration, but arguments dictated on the spur of the moment to meet the accidents and exigencies of the hour.
The great feature which they had to regard this afternoon was the amazing and surprising sterility of the session. How was it that the result of the session was absolutely nothing. The policy of tamper and retire, of fiddling with great questions and dropping them again, had no doubt disturbed their discussions, but that was not sufficient explanation. He thought mismanagement and want of forethought in regulating public business, especially at the commencement of the session, was also the explanation of the difficulties in which they had been involved. After all, these were only partial explanations. There was a more real and serious explanation of the difficulties they were now in. They had been working for the past two years in the shadow of a great unsettled controversy. He could very well remember his feelings two years ago when they were preparing, as now, to separate for the holidays. He asked hon. Gentlemen opposite who bore that period in recollection whether there was not a very general—almost universal—impression that when they separated in 1903 they were never going to meet again in the present Parliament? It was the opinion widely entertained throughout the country and in this House that this Parliament had done its work; that a great new issue had been raised, and that it should be brought to a decision in the only way possible—by the vote of the electorate. Nobody dreamt in those days that the right hon. Gentleman would carry on the Government of the country for other two whole sessions of Parliament.
994 It seemed incredible after the breakup of the Cabinet in 1903 that in August, 1905, the right hon. Gentleman should be asking to suspend the twelve o'clock rule. The unexpected had happened; the impossible had been achieved. The opposing electoral armies which were advancing against each other had been arrested petrified at the moment they were to begin the attack. The spell had lasted two whole years. They had faced each other for two whole years with uplifted weapons—motionless. He did not grudge the right hon. Gentleman the congratulations he deserved for what was a marvellous and wonderful feat of tenacity and cunning. But, after all, a victory was valuable only because of its fruits, and he searched his mind in vain for any advantage that had been gained by the right hon. Gentleman's surprising efforts and extraordinary skill and ingenuity. He had heard it said that the Conservative Party were fighting a battle against time; and every year they had to give away some valuable portion of those rights of property which it was their function to conserve. When the earth was no longer habitable, the balance of their constitutional principles and the rights of property remaining unsurrendered or unexpended would form the measure of their triumph. If that were so, there was one consolation which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends might nurse in their hearts. Whatever else had not been done, two precious years had been wasted. But the crisis had been delayed, not averted. These two years of delay had not united the Party opposite, or laid to rest the great disintegrating issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, and another two years who aid not increase their hold on the affections or respect of the electorate.
The House knew well that the tariff issue was still the supreme issue, the great dividing line between Parties. But a new issue — a constitutional issue, not less disastrous — had been added to the economic issue. Bight hon. and hon. Gentlemen on those benches through their fault or misfortune had allowed it to be said of them that they were holding office when the country 995 had ceased to give them its confidence and support; and no charge could be more damaging to an Administration depending upon a popular franchise. And the divisions which the tariff controversy had raised were just as fierce, vexatious, and furious as they had ever been. In every constituency they were being fought out with growing bitterness and exacerbation. The truth was that the first Parliament of the King died a natural death two years ago, but an unnatural and uncanny interval had been interposed between its death and its dissolution. They had been, as it were, in a trance, under the influence of a mesmerist.
He was reading the other day a story by Edgar Allan Poe, entitled, "The Facts in the case of M. Valdemar"—he wondered whether the Prime Minister had read that story, for if not it might repay his study. The point of the story which made it applicable to the present situation was that M. Valdemar was approaching the crisis of a fatal illness when he was placed in a mesmeric trance, in which state he continued above seven months—that was not, indeed, so long as the Government had continued in that state. It was uncertain whether death had or had not supervened, but while M. Valdemar was in that state he retained the power of making certain feeble and erratic motions with his limbs, and even of answering in a stertorous and obscure manner questions which were put to him under the influence of mesmerism. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh!"] At length the time came when it was necessary to awaken him. He did not intend to inflict on the House the grim and morbid details with which that awakening was described, but he commended the whole story to the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his colleagues for their reading in the holidays. It might be found a source of instruction and profit. They were coming to the end of the period of trance, and he presumed that if they were to meet again in this House for the resumption of business the session would not be a very lengthy one.
In making the Motion to suspend the twelve o'clock rule, the Prime Minister had not alleged that the Opposition had been guilty of ob- 996 struction—indeed, he believed there had been less obstruction this session than in any other. The right hon. Gentleman had not the right to parade any superior virtue in regard to obstruction. Everyone knew that the Prime Minister himself, when a member of the Fourth Party, indulged in flagrant forms of obstruction for a very considerable period. But it should be remembered that Mr. Gladstone defined obstruction as an attempt to influence the opinion of the House otherwise than by argument—it began when argument had failed. The history of obstruction began under Mr. Biggar and Mr. Parnell only after the constitutional agitation of Mr. Butt had failed.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order! The origin and history of obstruction is rather remote from the Motion before the House.
§ MR. CHURCHILL
said he would not dwell on the historic aspect any more; but he was entitled to trace the origin of the vicious and dangerous position in which they stood. The duel between closure and obstruction was like that between guns and armour. No sooner had they discovered a new method by which a private Member could make a speech in introducing a Bill than the Prime Minister came down with a proposal to prohibit it. Every discovery which was made by the Opposition in procedure was followed by a counter movement by the Government; and every closure was followed by a more desperate resistance. And so they went on in a vicious circle. And so they were compelled to ask themselves whether there was not a juster and saner method of adjusting their differences and preserving the privileges of the House. The Government had used the power of their majority against their political opponents as it had not often been used in this House. He spoke with an experience which was not given to all, for he had crossed the floor of the House, and he told hon. Members opposite that until they crossed the floor they would never know how powerless a minority was, tied and fettered under the new rules of procedure. Until argument was reinstated in some position of respect 997 in the House there would never be an end of obstruction.
But the Motion of the Prime Minister would have been inevitable even if there were no question of obstruction. The House was crushed by the enormous amount of business which was placed upon its shoulders. It had no longer the power to discuss questions of great interest at the time they occupied public attention. The dispute between the Viceroy of India and Lord Kitchener raised an issue of supreme importance as between military and civil Government, and as between Great Britain and her great Indian dependency; and yet not even an hour for its discussion could be obtained under the procedure of the House. It was only by the two-fold process of the devolution of business to local, provincial, or national assemblies, and the delegation of financial affairs to properly-constituted Committees upstairs that the arena of the House could be cleared for the discussion of questions worthy of so great an Assembly, and that the British Parliament would be enabled once again to guide the thought of the modern world. But they might very easily be led into exaggerating the decline and decay of the House of Commons.
No doubt they were suffering from a period of depression; no doubt they were threatened with dangers from without and with dangers from within, and of those dangers from within the Prime Minister should be able to speak with more authority than anybody else; but British institutions had a knack of surviving many vicissitudes. There was a tide in these matters which ebbed and flowed. It was now at the ebb and they were in the slack water which preceded the return of the flood. After all, no one could contend that the House of Commons even paralysed and fettered as it was, was as prostrate as when constituencies could be bought by wealthy men in the market, and when Members could be bought in the lobby. They had survived that; they would also survive the affable tyranny of the right hon. Gentleman. A single heave of the national shoulders would be sufficient to rid them of that, and in the new 998 Parliament, elected by the representatives of a sobered people, the House of Commons might once again obtain its old and rightful position in public transactions and in popular regard; and would, perhaps, under more favourable circumstances, be able to devote itself to the considerations of some of those larger issues to which he had been allowed to refer.
MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
said he should not like the debate to close without seizing the opportunity of saying a word or two. For close on twenty years he had had the honour of listening to similar speeches to that which had been delivered by the Prime Minister, both from that right hon. Gentleman and from previous occupiers of his office, and he confessed that, in common with many of his colleagues, he listened with some considerable surprise to the statement made by the Prime Minister, and he was particularly surprised at the omissions in the speech which he had delivered that afternoon. It had been the practice of previous Leaders of the House, when they had reached that period of the session, and when it was necessary to appeal for the whole time of the House to be given to the Government, to deal frankly and honestly with the House both with regard to the measures which they expected to carry and the measures which they had no hope of carrying. There were two very important omissions in the statement made by the Prime Minister, viz., with regard to the Unemployed Bill and the Bill to amend the Workmen's Compensation Act. Those were two measures to which, whatever the House might think of them, the working classes outside attached very considerable importance indeed; and for his part he could not think but that there was some design and intention in the mind of the Prime Minister in leaving out of his statement all references to those two questions.
Let the House remember where they stood with reference to the Unemployed Bill. Special prominence and importance was given to the question in the Gracious Speech from the Throne at the commencement of the session. More attention was given to that one question 999 than to any other project of legislation named in the King's Speech, for the following were the words which were put into the mouth of His Majesty—I have noticed with profound regret and sympathy the abnormal distress which has been caused by the want of employment during the present winter.The speech called attention to the fact that temporary provisions had been made for tiding over the difficulties of last winter, and special legislation was promised for dealing with the question. In consequence of the prominence which was given to that project of legislation in the King's Speech, the hopes of the unemployed and those who were responsible for guiding and directing labour organisations were considerably excited. They naturally expected that some project of legislation would be introduced dealing with the question which, if not altogether satisfactory, would certainly carry them some distance on the way they desired to go. It could not be contended, after the prominence given to the subject in the King's Speech, that it was a mere Departmental question; they could not come to any other conclusion than that it was a matter of supreme importance, considered by the Cabinet as a whole and to which they had given their consent. Consequently legislation was proposed on their own initiative. It was a Hill proposed by the Government and over which the Government had absolute and complete control in regulating all its provisions. Who was responsible for its withdrawal? Certainly not those who sat on the Opposition Benches and least of all those who spoke directly in the name of labour. They supported the Government in reading the Bill a second time, and the responsibility for the withdrawal of the Bill rested absolutely on the shoulders of the Government and their supporters.
It was not enough for the Prime Minister to say that certain Members of the House who claimed to speak directly in the interests of labour had read into his original Bill a meaning which he and his Government had never intended; he must stand or fall by the provisions of his own Bill, for he must have considered what was the effect of his policy as embodied in 1000 the Bill. He could not shelter himself behind certain statements alleged to have been made by Members of the House or by persons who had influence with the unemployed outside. He felt that they had some ground of complaint against the Prime Minister and the Government for the absolute omission of any reference either of an intention of going on with the new Bill or with the original Bill. In his judgment the original Bill was not a satisfactory one, but they were prepared to accept it so far as it went, and were quite prepared to give it a fair trial so that they might be able to gather some experience from the working of the Act to guide them on future occasions. Therefore, the responsibility for not carrying through the Bill rested not with the Liberal Opposition but the Government itself.
He pointed out that the Workmen's Compensation Bill had found for two sessions a place in the King's Speech, vet nothing had been done. When those who had been twelve years in that House recollected what happened to the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife, they certainly had reason to complain of the inaction of the Government on this occasion. An appeal was then made by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and supported by the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister, to settle once and for all whether it would not be better to provide compensation for every workman for every accident, and they carried an Amendment in another place which defeated the Bill. When they had the opportunity what did they do? They passed a Workmen's Compensation Bill which provided for less than one half of the workers. It was true, when faced by the Election of 1900 they passed a Bill which brought the agricultural labourer within the Compensation Act. Since then the late Colonial Secretary had denounced every Labour Member in the House for having hindered and opposed the passing of the Act of 1897, when all their efforts had, on the contrary, been directed to improving the Bill and extending its operations. There were 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 workmen who would be affected by the Workmen's Compensation Bill which was now before 1001 the House, and they were certainly much more deeply interested in the measure than in the Aliens Bill. They were closely associated with large bodies of workmen outside the House, who had just reason to express their regret that no mention had been made by the Prime Minister that night in regard to this question. He hoped no attempt would now be made either by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham or anybody else to put the responsibility for not passing these measures this session upon the Labour Members.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
said the Prime Minister's scheme, which the House accepted some years ago, for dealing with Supply had admittedly broken down. The control of the House over Supply was going he might almost say had practically gone. The most useful instrument ever placed in the hands of the House for the control of Governments, namely, the control of Supply, was fast passing away from the House. The position this year was absolutely unprecedented. There had never been anything like it in the history of the finance of this county.
The number of Votes to be passed for all services was 150, and at this moment only seventeen had been taken. There were 133 Votes—though some has been partially discussed—remaining to be dealt with. That could not be said to be a satisfactory state of Supply. The entire sum to be voted was £111,250,000. The House had voted £60,500,000, and in that Vote was included the very heavy Vote on account, which was over £20,000,000, and on which only one subject was discussed. Therefore practically there remained £72,250,000 which would be voted without investigation or discussion under the existing rules, Of the twenty days allotted to Supply, the greater portion had been given to the Army and the Navy. In the Civil Service Estimates, Class 1, three Votes had been agreed to, twelve still remaining In Class 2, which this year was a very important one, because upon it the Prime Minister made his statement on Imperial defence, three only had been agreed to, and thirty-seven remained to be dealt with. In these thirty-seven 1002 were included the whole administrative functions of the Government. In Class 3, law and justice, one Vote had been agreed to, and only one. The whole administration, legal and judicial, which deserved and demanded the immediate attention of the House—all that was absolutely to be ruled out. With education practically nothing had been done. For the foreign and colonial services not a single Vote had been agreed to in the non-effective class no Vote had been agreed to; miscellaneous, no Vote had been agreed to; and in the Inland Revenue no Vote has been agreed to. The figures had only to be stated to show to what a state our financial system was being reduced. The control of the House had gone, and gone altogether. And this year different from every other preceding year in the administration of the Prime Minister in this extraordinary feature that he had deprived the House of the additional three days it hid always had before for Supply.
If he remembered aright, when these rules were under discussion an Amendment was proposed to give twenty-five days for the discussion Supply, and the right hon. Gentleman resisted that Amendment on the ground that practically the twenty-three days that would be granted would be amply sufficient to deal with the Votes brought before the House, but the right hon. Gentleman now took away the three days usually given. He thought that the system of fixing a certain number of days was a wise one, but it had not been carried out. The Government had no responsibility to the House they had no familiarity with the pressure of certain Votes over other Votes, and did not know the peculiar circumstances of each case. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have accompanied the reform with the allocation of days to the discussion of certain Votes, so as to give full and fair discussion. The House would not in that case resent the closure being moved when the time limit was reached on any specific Vote; but it certainly resented the voting of between seventy and eighty millions of money without any discussion, thereby putting the expenditure of the country into the hands of the Executive without a check, 1003 In earlier days the power in Committee of Supply was the dread of discussion in the House, but now arrangements had only to be made to bring the Vote under the closure rule and there was no discussion whatever. He did not impute that this was done intentionally, but it was the natural instinct of self-preservation to avoid any serious risk.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
pointed out that the business in Supply was generally arranged to suit the Opposition.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
said that there were many classes of Votes which were never put down for discussion at all, and his contention was that if the Government were to limit opportunities they must have a controlling power to apportion time. The system was not only incomplete, but it was growing worse and worse. He thought that the present position of the House in respect of expenditure was a very dangerous one. The House had lost its control of finance, with the result that there would be extravagance and loss of that control of policy and administration which the Constitution intended it should have, and which ought to be exercised constantly in all Departments.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The discussion has ranged over a wider field than I ever remember to have been the case before. Hon. Members have dealt with the history of the country in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and they have surveyed the fortunes of Parties and the causes which induced the rise and fall of Administrations. Some hon. Members have also indulged in a good deal of prophecy as to what this country is to be in the future, and others have spent themselves in dealing with a criticism of the past, which may be well or ill-founded, but which has very little to do with the suspension of the twelve o'clock rule.
The right hon. Gentleman has just made a suggestion as to the reform of the Supply rule. But the right hon. Gentleman's remedy is to make what is called "the gag" far more elaborate than it is now; for it would take away from the present system that elasticity which it certainly possesses, and which I think 1004 would be ill-sacrificed for some such elaborate arrangement of Supply business as he foreshadows. The right hon. Gentleman makes the admission for the first time on behalf of his Party that the number of days in Supply must be a limited number. I entirely agree with him. I am convinced that the more the subject is studied the more certain that proposition will seem. He also says that we ought not to leave the arrangement of Supply to the Opposition, and that we ought in advance to settle what Votes are to be taken with discussion and what Votes without discussion, as well as the amount of time to be divided among the various Votes submitted. I do not think that this would be an improvement on the present system. However anxious the Opposition of the day might be to deal with certain questions, if before the session began that particular Vote had been put in the category of Votes which were to be closured at the end of the session or which had been given a very few hours for discussion, it seems to me that the opportunities to criticise the Government would not be improved, but would be greatly deteriorated, and we should be far worse off, as far as the criticism of the Executive is concerned, than we are at the present moment. If and when the Party of which the right hon. Gentleman is so distinguished a member, have to deal with the rules of the House we shall see whether their views in office are different from their views in Opposition, and how far they will venture to modify the rules which were proposed and carried a few years ago.
I have not much to say about the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, because obviously that speech had nothing to do with the twelve o'clock rule. It was a speech which, I presume, the right hon. Gentleman intended to make on some other occasion, as, for example, when we were discussing the constitutional question last week as to whether or not it was in accordance with practice for a Government to resign on such a division as took place last week. The right hon. Gentleman examined a number of constitutional topics, which might have been appropriate then, but which are wholly, I venture to think, 1005 inappropriate to the debate we are now dealing with.
The same remark applies to the Member for Oldham, to whom we owe a great deal of constitutional wisdom, a great many prophecies as to the future of the present Government, and a great many metaphors dealing with the past history of the Government, to all of which I listened with interest and respect. There is one thing, however, which the hon. Member forgot in the course of his historical investigations, and that was that the accusations which he has levelled against the present Government are really the familiar commonplaces of political controversy, be they good or bad. When he says that the accusation of unduly clinging to office is one proof exceptionally damaging to the present Government he perhaps forgets that this accusation has been levelled against every Administration as far back as I remember—certainly against every Administration that has held office in my time—and every Administration of which I have ever read. If he will cast his mind back over the periodic revolutions which go on in the history of this or other constitutional Governments and the changing popularity of Parties according to the movement of public opinion, he will see that there is nothing abnormal in the existing state of things and that this Government is open to no charge to which other Governments are not equally open. The present debate gave conclusive proof of it, because I think that almost the only observation from the other side of the House which called forth some apparent enthusiasm was the extract read by the hon. Member for Waterford from a speech delivered by Lord Salisbury. In that speech very much the same things were said—I will not say very much in the same manner—of Mr. Gladstone's Government one and a-half years before he resigned as hon. Members have been saying on this occasion.
There has been one set of Questions put to me which in my judgment is far more germane to the debate than the generalities in which the Leader of the Opposition and others have been indulging. Those were Questions asked by the hon. Member for Northumberland, by the right hon. 1006 Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, and by others. They related to the Unemployed Bill, and I have been asked why I did not mention the Unemployed and other Bills in making the statement with which the debate began. The reason is surely obvious. The Opposition may object to the general plan which I have laid down for the session. They may think that the limits put to the session are too narrow; but, granting that it is in the general interests of the proper conduct of business in the House that we should endeavour to conclude it at the end of next week, the way in which the time is to be allocated must depend, not on me or on the views of those who support the Government, but on the expenditure of time which hon. Members choose to make with regard to those Bills and Resolutions which are absolutely necessary in order to bring our work to a close. How can I forecast the expenditure of time which these measures and Resolutions will require?
The hon. and learned Member for Waterford said that he and his Party would make sacrifices to enable the Unemployed Bill to be passed. I do not know whether he referred to the original or to the amended Bill, and, as the hon. and learned Member proceeded to deliver a violent attack on the Government, I do not know how seriously I am to take him. Then the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil denounced me for not having found time for the Unemployed Bill and for raising expectations which we did not intend to satisfy. But what did he proceed to say? That the Bill as amended by my right hon. friend was not worth the paper on which it was written, because it did not contain the clause enabling labour farms to be paid for out of the rates. I have said that to pass that clause is absolutely impossible, and that it has long been impossible to pass this Bill except as a machinery Bill.
§ MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
Who said that the Bill was not worth the paper it was written on?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It was said by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, and the hon. Gentleman will not contradict him.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have no means of knowing for how many the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil speaks, and if the hon. Member repudiates him it is a quarrel which must be settled between them, and of which they cannot expect me to be the arbiter.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I did not say he did. But the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil is a member of the Labour Party, and though his exact authority I cannot judge, yet he cannot be ignored. As we approach the end of the session the power of individual Members to make their views felt on Bills that they disapprove increases in a rapid and augmenting ratio, so that when so important a Member of the Labour Party declares that the amended Bill is not worth anything it is a statement of great importance from the point of view of those interested in the Bill. The hon. Member for Poplar is extremely anxious that a Bill should be passed, but he thinks that the amended Bill is a very poor Bill. He was almost content, indeed, that any Bill should be parsed provided that it had the title, "A Bill for dealing with the unemployed." In other words, what the hon. Member wants is not so much a practical measure to deal with the immediate necessities as something which will affirm a principle capable of infinitely greater development.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I ventured to give my own opinion why I thought the amended Bill, even in its emasculated form, is one containing valuable provisions which I really believe would be of advantage.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I entirely agree with the hon. Member. But I am not dealing with that part of his speech with which I agree; I am dealing with that part of his speech with which I disagree. He said that he would be con- 1008 tent almost with a Bill without contents, but adorned by a title of which he approved. The hon. Member for Wansbeck was rightly anxious, from his point of view, that no charge should be levelled against him of having made it difficult to pass this Bill. Therefore, I understand, so far as he is concerned, though I am not quite sure, that he would welcome it gladly in its new form.
I told the House very frankly that I did not like the original Bill, though I supported it an Second Reading. But I like the second Bill less than the original Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Is this encouraging? The hon. Member did not like the old Bill, but he likes the new Bill less. On looking at my notes I find that the hon. Member for Poplar minimises the effect of his own speech because he distinctly said that as a measure for dealing with immediate distress the new Bill would be useless. I took down the words at the moment.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member should not express such open contempt for the opinions of his friends. He will perhaps realise that I am replying on the debate, and that I cannot reply without referring to those who have spoken.
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE
My statement was that the only objection to the Bill came from the Government's own supporters, and if the right hon. Gentleman will bring pressure on them to agree to the clause in the old Bill, then the new Bill will go through without opposition.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member now asks for the old Bill to be passed, which is clearly impossible in the existing position of public business. [Cries of "Why?"]
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE
I protest against this closure. [Cries of "Order, order!"] Order yourselves. It is too serious a matter.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
May I say that I think the habit of interrupting speakers has become rather excessive? I might be allowed to deal with the subject in my own fashion and my own line of order. Hon. Gentlemen will have their own opportunity of dealing with it. We have had three speakers on the Unemployed Bill—the hon. Members for Merthyr Tydvil, Wansbeck, and Poplar—and all of them are agreed that the Bill is an indifferent or a useless Bill. That is not a very tempting prospect for those who desire to pass it.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
What I said was that as compared with the old Bill it was an emasculated Bill. I said that it contained useful matter in regard to machinery, and therefore I hoped that the Government would carry the machinery clauses even if they dropped others.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I understood the hon. Member to say that, as far as dealing with distress in the autumn was concerned, the machinery of the Bill would be useless. Of course, if he contradicts that, I will withdraw the statement. In these circumstances, would it not be folly to say more than that if we can get through necessary business with rapidity, there will be time for other measures to be taken. But, until I know what that time is, it is impossible to say what those measures will be. I have received no encouragement with regard to the Unemployed Bill, but we can leave that over for consideration until we know what time we shall have at our disposal.
1010 Now I come to what has been the most serious charge against the Government. At all events, the charge in this particular debase is that we have mismanaged the time of the session and failed to pass any measures of importance. I am not going to discuss the importance of the measures which we have passed, and I am not going to trouble myself to charge the Opposition with obstruction or the reverse. The hon. Member for Oldham gave us a long disquisition on obstruction. He quoted a definition, I think, of Mr. Gladstone. He said that obstruction was the natural weapon of a minority against the tyranny of a majority, and that every new instrument the majority invented brought into play a new obstructive device on the part of their opponents, and, as is the hon Gentleman's opinion there never has been so tyrannical a Government as the present, I suppose he admits that the Opposition have made use of the natural weapon of all Oppositions and have obstructed. But it is ot at all necessary to deal with this question. I never care to accuse an Opposition of obstruction. The hon. Member says that I myself was a great obstructionist. Be it so. I do not quarrel over it. I have no doubt that every Opposition will obstruct whenever they think it suits them to do so.
But let us consider how the time of the sesson has been spent, whether by obstruction or debate. The Government have in the course of the present session had precedence for their business on ninety days. Twelve were occupied on the Address; thirty- seven were occupied in Supply on allotted and non-allotted days, including the two days spent in the closure of Supply; two were devoted to Motions for the holidays; three to votes of censure, if the transactions of last Monday are to be included in that category; twelve to the Budget and Finance Bill; one to the Indian Budget; one to the election of Mr. Speaker; and we have had exactly twenty days for legislation, and no more—of course, not counting the Budget Bill under the term legislation. I do not believe that in twenty days more legislation could have been dealt with than has been dealt with. Now, who is to blame 1011 that only twenty days have been given to it?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Well that, at all events, is a reason the validity of which, so far as it goes, I accept. Of course, if we had met earlier we should have had more time.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not agree with the hon Gentleman as to what is the usual time, but that is not the charge that has been made against me all the afternoon; that is a charge thrown at my head in the middle of my speech. The charge that was made in the afternoon is that after we met I, by lack of what I think the right hon. Member for Berwick calls personal magnetism, or some other substitute for the closure, was not able to induce the House to take less time for Supply and give more time to legislation. I have not been able to induce the House to take less than twelve days for a Budget which was perhaps the least controversial Budget ever introduced into this House. Very well, there is the broad fact of the distribution of time, and here I come back to the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite a few moments ago. He bitterly complains that only twenty allotted days were given to Supply instead of twenty-three. Well, even with that curtailed amount of time there will have been at the end of session no less than forty days given to the business of Supply, including the two days given to the closure. Now, I do not believe that this House, however it modifies business, will ever be able to give more than that, or ought indeed to give as much as that, to discussions in Supply. It really is running in the face of arithmetic for hon. Gentlemen always to cheer when some one on this side gets up and says, "We have not been able to discuss Supply, or do this or do that." The Member for Waterford and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton to-night 1012 complained that we had not given enough time to Supply and enough time to Irish legislation. But you cannot have both. The hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs thinks everything would have been well if we had met ten days earlier. I suppose that seven of those would have been Parliamentary days. The addition of seven Parliamentary days does not remedy the evils of which we are talking. It is really absolutely impossible for hon. Gentlemen both to have their cake and eat it, both to have unlimited tine in which to abuse the Government for their executive action and unlimited time in which to criticise the legislative proposals which they may bring forward and if they insist on indulging both of these reasonable appetites to the excess in which they have indulged them this session, the amount of time for operative legislation is necessarily curtailed. That is the whole explanation of what has occurred.
The hon. Member for Oldham—and, I think, other Gentlemen opposite—have said that we have not passed great Bills this session because the shadow of an unsolved controversy is over us. Well, that is a very poetic explanation, but I venture to say that it is a very irrational one. Supposing the controversy had been solved, would that have enabled you to spend forty days in Supply in a reasonable session and yet carry great Bills? Why, of course it would not. The shadow of an unsolved controversy no doubt may have given the Opposition an excuse for asking for two votes of censure but, of course, the Opposition are always finding grounds for votes of censure. You cannot expect any Opposition to be content with much less than two; and that is the only effect which this unsolved controversy has had on the passage of business. Business, after all, passes because you have time to pass it; and if instead of using the time which you might have for passing it you insist on using it in discussing the conduct of the Government on Votes of Supply or on votes of censure, or on the King's Speech, the amount of time given to Bills will necessarily be curtailed. I can assure the hon. Member for Oldham and the right hon. Member for Berwick that, 1013 should the time ever occur when they have got to deal with the time of the House, they will find that solving controversies and personal magnetism are very poor expedients for getting controversial legislation through, and they will, in spite of themselves, have to descend to the painful and clumsy method of putting on the closure when the discussion has got beyond a certain point. If they wish to pass a long controversial Bill, I have not the least doubt that they will adopt that elaborate system of gagging in compartments which the right hon. Gentleman opposite wishes to see applied to Supply, which we and our predecessors have applied to great Bills in the past, and which, in what, I trust, will be an improved form, even fervent lovers of Parliamentary liberty like the hon. Member for Oldham will find it necessary to apply in the future.
§ MR. CROOKS
said that the statement which the Prime Minister had just made had left him as much bewildered as he was before. There was, after all, a larger House than this—the country outside, where public opinion was expressed. He would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite how the unemployed working man was going to feed his children during the coming winter? The performance of the right hon. Gentleman was a brilliant one, but that would not satisfy any man out of work. He expected that the right hon. Gentleman would have got up and said that he and his Government had a real living interest in the unemployed, but that they were not particularly concerned with the measures which the Opposition desired to see passed; they wanted to push on their own measures. He could not understand this, because the right hon. Gentleman had a vast majority which had over and over again, with the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, been saying that they were the Party which stood for the well-being of the working classes of this country; and they pointed out the marvellous things they had done for the working classes, and that if they had the proper opportunity how much more marvellous things they would do for them.
1014 They wanted the Workmen's Compensation Act to protect the widows and children, and the Bill now before the House showed how right the Labour Members in the House were, when the Act was pushed through Parliament, in their criticisms. Here they were all agreed and they wanted to do something, but they had not got any time. Dead birds were of no importance to them; they were dealing with living men. As they posed as business men, conducting the business of the nation on business principles, it did seem strange that they offered excuses for not continuing the permanent job they had got. They had said very pointedly and very plainly to the British public, who had told them they did not want them, "If you do not know when you have got a good servant we know when we have got a good master, and we are going to stick. We are not going to be frightened out of a good job like this. You may win by-elections; what do we care? We are not going to leave it." Well, well, all he said to them was, ''Keep on with the job." He was not asking them to leave it; he was asking them to stop and work.
They had made a first-class measure of the Unemployed Bill, and it had formed the subject of many sympathetic speeches. The Member for West Birmingham had made speeches upon it. He had said that if they made a fiscal change there would be no men out of work, and it to aid settle the unemployed question. If they allowed him to have his way, there would be two jobs for every man. That was 200 years old. When it was found out that there were more men in the village than work, they put the hay in the loft over the stable, and instead of bringing the hay down to the horse, they heaved the horse up to the hay. That made plenty of work, but it did not mean food for the people. That sort of thing was merely an idle excuse. It was a Bill the creation of the Government and Tabled in all good faith. Surely it WHS a libel to say that they introduced it, put it on the Table, had a first-class debate on it, and got a majority of 217 for it, merely in order to kill time till the birds were big enough to shoot? That would positively be a 1015 libel on the Government; it would not do anything like that. It was a serious thing, and it had been pointed out what it meant to the poor people outside. From the bottom of his soul he wished any hon. Member would go and stay with him for a fortnight quietly and unknown he would willingly give up his bed and sleep on the floor if he could only convey to the minds of the Members how important the subject was. Some of them had given up their heal hand strength; they had no leisure for shooting; they bad had to do their best year after year to deal with the poor, and their hopes had been raised that the Government were really in earnest. He did not suppose there ever was a Bill which satisfied everybody, but the Government had led them to believe that they desired to deal with the poor people who had nothing to sell but their labour and who were claiming an opportunity to fulfil the curse inflicted upon them "Henceforth thou shalt live by the sweat of thy brow."
Was no effort going to be made to alter the present condition of affairs? Parliament was said to have no time to deal with it; but he had sat night after night between the hours of nine and eleven when hon. Members had got up and "stone-walled," keeping their ends up, as it was called, until someone had finished a social function in which there were about fifteen courses to be got through and taking about two hours. The hungry might go hungry until they got a majority. Then they talked about wasting time. It was positively wicked to make such an assertion. He asked them in all honesty whether since he had been a Member of the House they had done a single thing the working classes were the better for. If not, then so far as the majority of the community were concerned they might as well be without the House of Commons. The House of Commons was created so that the rights of the people who were unable to protect themselves should be protected by Parliament; it existed to see that no injury was done to an honest man, and as a terror to the evil-doer. It seemed to him that the evil-doers had bad an innings, and that they had had all the 1016 best of it. He only asked the Government to keep in a little longer, and having pushed through Bills for those, the brewers, the clergy, and the rest of them, who could help themselves, he asked them to stop and use the same means to push through Bills for those who could not help themselves.
They were told that if they behaved themselves and were very good lads and helped the Government to push through their other measures the Government would think whether it was possible to find the two or three hours necessary to push through the Unemployed Bill. Was that fair? For the next nine days they were supposed to work night and day, and then they were expected to give proper attention to all the questions which were considered. There were no men so silly as tired men, and they saw the House absolutely out of order when all the Members were tired. If they wanted to use the time for the best, it seemed to him it was quite a mistake to run into the early hours of the morning. It would be far better to suspend the Standing Orders and sit from ten till eight. Then they would get something useful done. If they were all tired out and wanted a holiday, let the Prime Minister get up and say they would go and kill the grouse and pheasants, and that, when they had got them strung up in Leadenhall Market or somewhere else, they would come back and finish the business off. He had no objection to their taking a holiday. He would like to have a holiday every Sunday if he could get it, but he could not, though he was sometimes able to have a nod and a rest in the House when some Members were talking. The work of the nation ought to be done when Members were fresh and not when they were tired. He objected to social functions over-riding the nation's business.
What they wanted was that some proper attempt should be made to deal with the unemployed problem. When they were told that a crisis would arise they must not misinterpret the term crisis. It was a very different thing to the crisis that had arisen in Scotland over the Church question. The people there would have been no worse off, and they would not have gone hungry, if the Church Bill had 1017 not passed. A crisis with regard to the unemployed did arise some years ago when fearful and terrible things took place; when after a meeting in Trafalgar Square the men ran amuck in the West End, in which all the thieves, pickpockets, and blackguards used the unemployed agitation for doing the wickedest and cruellest things ever known. Did the Government want that to occur again. He asked the Government to come to the help of the unemployed. Here were these poor men, as the hon. Member for Poplar said, in midsummer, 120 of them, able-bodied men, applying for parochial relief; taking two loaves home to feed their starving wives and children. Only that morning three men came to his door and said, "For God's sake give us something to take home, we cannot go over the way," meaning to the workhouse.
The great evil was that when they went for relief men lost their manhood. We were wealthy as a nation because of our hardworking industrial classes, but after they had sold, as he had known them do, all their little household gods until they had nothing left but the bare boards, then they sank so low that they said, "What does it matter? There is only 6d. between the man who wants work and the man who does not, and the man who does not generally gets it," and they lost their manhood. The nation wanted good, sound, hardworking men in time of peace as well as men to shoulder a musket in time of war, and he applied to the House to help them now. Suppose it did cost a little to start a farm colony, what did they not get for it? Was it not worth while on the part of this House to make an effort so that it might be possible for a man to get his daily bread and to enable him to retain his self-respect. Let it not be said that this House had no feeling for the unemployed until there was three feet of snow upon the ground. Let not these poor people say, "We are not to have any relief until we are up to our knees in snow and slush, but the nation can have any money it wants for any expedition anywhere it likes." It had truly been said, "You may fool some people all the time, and you may 1018 fool all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time." Forty years of popular education had given the people knowledge and they would use it.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.