§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
In moving that we do now adjourn I may perhaps say to the House, in pursuance of the pledge I gave them earlier in the afternoon, that the Motion I propose to move to-morrow consists essentially in providing that every Vote necessary by law to finish the financial business of the year shall be closured at the latest date which makes it possible to fulfil the law. It provides, also, that no Government business other than Supply shall be taken until the close of the financial year; it leaves the rights of private Members at the evening sittings and on Fridays undisturbed, and it will not, I hope, lead to any late sittings of the House.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
The statement which has just been made by the right hon. Gentleman indicates very clearly the important and complicated nature of the Motion of which he 1504 has given notice. I desire to renew the appeal I made to him at Question time that he should postpone the consideration of this Motion until such time as it has appeared on the Notice Paper sufficiently long to enable Members thoroughly to master it and to put down such Amendments as they desire to move. I think it would be for the convenience of the House if the right hon. Gentleman would read to us the terms of the Motion. I rather gather from what he has said that if he did read the terms the House would see that the Motion from its character was one which it would be improper to ask the House to enter on the discussion of to-morrow when it had not been on the Notice Paper a single day. It is against the Rules of the House to ask a Question unless that Question has been in print on the Notice Paper twenty-four hours, and yet we are asked to embark on the discussion of this long, unprecedented, and complicated Motion without seeing it until the morning of the day on which the discussion is to be inaugurated. In the interest of the proper conduct of public business I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give a little more notice of this absolutely unprecedented Motion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The Motion is a long one [cries of "Read"], but it is not complicated. [Cries of "Why not read?"] I do not think anything would be gained by reading it. It is only long because it deals with each separate piece of business that we have to finish in order to comply with the law.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
I would like to point out that the right hon. Gentleman has given no instance in which such a proposal has ever been moved without notice. This Motion relates to the guillotine closure of the discussion on the Estimates. The right hon. Gentleman has the ordinary closure in his hand, and therefore he could have gone on with the Estimates in the ordinary way and have accelerated the progress with the ordinary closure. This would have given the House an opportunity to amend this extremely revolutionary proposal. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that he is not justified by anything that has occurred in proposing this revolutionary 1505 Motion. It is entirely due to the late period at which the House has been called together.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I should have thought that this was not the proper time to debate whether the Motion was necessary. I think I can prove to the House conclusively to-morrow that the ordinary closure of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke is totally inadequate to meet the legal necessities of the case, and until I have attempted to make my case, I hope that the House will not try to prejudge it.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Time is going on. What pledge can I get in return with regard to the management of business.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
All I can say to the right hon. Gentleman is that this attempt to drive the House without any notice will not result in the saving of time.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have no desire to drive the House more than is absolutely necessary. [Cries of "You are driving it, "and "It is intolerable. "] The hon. Gentleman can give no pledge as to the course—
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
The Prime Minister has made a rather pointed appeal to me, and I submit that I am entitled to answer that appeal. [Interruptions from the MINISTERIAL side.] The unmannerly interruptions ought not to be made. If the right hon. Gentleman will follow the precedent of previous years, and if necessary suspend the twelve o'clock rule on one or two nights, as he has done for the last ten or twelve years, I have no doubt that the House of Commons will get through the necessary business. But what I protest against is an entire innovation and the creation of a totally new precedent.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL (Oldham)
May I ask the right hon. Gentle- 1506 man whether the Motion which he will move is in the following terms—That, in order to comply with the Law the proceedings necessary to dispose of any Supplementary Estimates and Vote A and Vote 1 of the Estimates for the Navy, and of the Ways and Means Resolutions consequential thereon, shall, if not previously disposed of, be brought to a conclusion in the manner hereinafter mentioned.At half-past Five of the clock on the 21st day of March next, the Chairman shall forthwith put every Question necessary to dispose of the Vote then under consideration, and shall then forthwith put the Question that the total amount of the outstanding Votes for the Civil Service Supplementary Estimates be granted for the services defined in those Estimates, and shall also forthwith put every other Question necessary to dispose of those Votes.As soon as the Resolutions so disposed of are reported to the House, the House shall forthwith resolve itself into Committee of Ways and Means, and the Chairman shall forthwith put every Question necessary to dispose of any Resolutions proposed in that Committee.At Ten of the clock on the 23rd day of March next, the Speaker shall forthwith put every Question necessary to dispose of the Report of the Resolution then under consideration, and shall then forthwith put the Question that the House doth agree with the Committee in all I Resolutions reported in respect of the Civil Service Supplementary Estimates, and shall then put a like Question on the Resolution reported with respect to the Supplementary Estimates for the Army, and on the Resolutions reported with respect to Vote A and Vote 1 of the Estimates for the Navy.On the consideration of the Report from the Committee of Ways and Means, the Speaker shall forthwith put the Question that the House do agree with the Committee in the Resolutions reported.And that at half-past Eleven of the clock on the 27th day of March next, the Speaker shall forthwith put any Question necessary to dispose of the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill; and at Seven of the clock on the 30th day of March next the Speaker shall forthwith put every Question necessary to dispose of the Third Reading of that Bill.And that the proceedings on going into Supply on the Army Estimates, and in Committee, and on Report, of Vote A and Vote 1 of those Estimates shall, if not previously disposed of, be brought to a conclusion in the following manner.At half-past Six of the clock on the 28th day of March next, the Speaker shall forthwith put every Question necessary to dispose of the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair on going into Supply on the Army Estimates.At halfpast Six of the clock on the 29th day of March next, the Chairman shall forthwith put every Question necessary to dispose of Vote A and Vote 1 of the Army Estimates in Committee.At Eleven of the clock on the 30th day of March next, the Speaker shall forthwith put 1507 every Question necessary to dispose of the Report of the Resolutions with respect to Vote A and Vote 1 of the Army Estimates.Until the Business to which this Order relates is concluded the consideration of the Business of Supply at any sitting at which Government Business has precedence shall not be anticipated by a Motion for Adjournment, and no dilatory Motion shall be received on proceedings on that Business, and the Business shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order.Until the business to which this Order relates is concluded no Business other than Business of Supply shall be taken at any Sitting at which Government Business has precedence.I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he thinks that is a proper Resolution to give the House only a few hours notice of?
§ *MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)
I think the right hon. Gentleman should give a reply to that Question. If the right hon. Gentleman has no right to reply surely the Patronage Secretary of the Treasury who is sitting beside him can answer. Thanks to the enterprise of my hon. friend, we are now in possession of the terms of the Motion. This is an absolutely unprecedented Motion, and the right hon. Gentleman will find his task cut out to prove the contrary when he comes to move it. I suppose, Mr. Speaker you cannot even have seen such a Motion as this before. Times have been when Speakers would have intimated pretty strongly [Cries of "Order"] to the Leader of the House of Commons [Renewed cries of "Order"]—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member not to make any reflections upon the Chair. The Resolution is not one which has been drafted by me in any shape; and the hon. Gentleman is now making suggestions which he has no right to make.
§ *MR. JOHN ELLIS
If, Sir, anything I said conveyed, in the slightest degree, any reflection against the Speaker I withdraw it absolutely. Nothing was further from my thoughts than to make any suggestion as to the conduct of the present occupant of the Chair in this matter. I was only referring to what may perhaps be called ancient history, rather 1508 too ancient history, in my opinion, as to such matters as these. Of course you did not see the Resolution, and are in no way responsible for it. I am entitled to say that this is a most unprecedented Resolution which has been brought forward. I presume that we shall be allowed ample time free from any application of closure to discuss it. I protest against such a Motion in the strongest possible way in the name of the rights of the House of Commons, and of the rights of the minority, in which position, at some time, perhaps, before long, it will be the lot of hon. Members opposite to be.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman again, as I did at Question time, to consider whether the whole thing cannot be postponed till Thursday. It is a most complicated Resolution, and how can it be possible for us to hand in our Amendments when the matter is to be dealt with to-morrow? We are obliged to hand in every Amendment, and I know nothing more inconvenient to the House, and to you, Sir, than the adoption of the course now proposed to be taken. I would submit that nothing would be lost by discussing the Resolution on Thursday. The right hon. Gentleman could take the Supplementary Estimates to-morrow. It is most unfair that a complicated Resolution like this should be taken for discussion a few hours after notice has been given of it.
§ MAJOR SEELY (Isle of Wight)
I think that probably the right hon. Gentleman, in giving notice of the Motion, has forgotten the very special circumstances under which the most important Estimates are to be presented this year. I cannot speak with long knowledge of the House, but I believe it is unprecedented to bring the discussion on the Army Estimates to a close in this summary fashion. The Army Estimates this year are in a position that they have never been in before. Last year certain Estimates were presented to the House for an unprecedently large sum of money. The Secretary of State for War stated that they were only presented to the House on, 1509 the understanding that certain great alterations were to be made by him and by the Cabinet in connection with an entirely new scheme. As far as we can understand, that new scheme is not now to be proceeded with. It cannot be denied that this House was quite unwillingly deceived, on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, into passing the Army Estimates last year without the least discussion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman to say that there will be a subsequent occasion when it will be possible to give the Army proposals adequate discussion.
§ MAJOR SEELY
I am sure we are all grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the promise he has given. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that we are not put in the position of voting money and parting with our control for the second time in successive years. This is, of course, essentially no Party matter. We have been induced to pass Army Estimates on a certain basis, and the promises given have not been fulfilled for reasons which may be good or bad. Now, in the following year, the same difficulty arises, and for the first time in the history of Parliament we are asked to curtail the discussion of these Estimates in an exceptional degree. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that as soon as the new year begins he will give us the opportunity of discussing the Army. I should very much doubt whether he will be able to give that opportunity, and I would press him to reconsider the Resolution, if only with regard to the Army Estimates. With the best will in the world he will admit that it may be impossible, after the money has been voted, to discuss this matter, which is of transcendent importance to the Empire.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said he had never known any Government gain anything by "snap" Resolutions. When the right hon. Gentleman proposed this Resolution the House would discuss the whole matter in order to get time to put Amendments on the Paper. 1510 He believed, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would gain more by coming to some arrangement by which they would have an opportunity of putting their Amendments on the Paper before the discussion came on.
§ MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W. R., Barnsley)
said the Prime Minister was alone responsible for the conduct of the business of the House. The present difficulty would have been avoided if the right hon. Gentleman had called the House together a fortnight earlier. The special responsibility rested upon the shoulders of the Prime Minister of maintaining the tradition, rights, and privileges of this House, and he ought not to closure debate in the way he had been doing recently.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
expressed the hope that no further appeals would be made to the Prime Minister from his side of the House. This was a matter which must be fought out. Everybody knew that these appeals were not going to have the least effect. He had seen in the last few minutes an incident which was unprecedented, and, to his mind, shocking. When he came into the House the feeling of respect towards the House was so great that every Member was compelled to read the words of a Resolution. He had lived to see the day when the Leader of the House declined to give to the public the information which had already been given to the clerks. He understood that the Prime Minister gave a distinct pledge that the terms of the Resolution should be given to the House that day. The manner in which the right hon. Gentleman fulfilled that pledge was to say that the Resolution would be presented with the Parliamentary Papers in the morning. Was it not intolerable that at ten minutes to one o'clock— [Laughter and interruption on the MINISTERIAL side.] He knew that the right hon. Gentleman could offer no insult to the House of Commons which would not be condoned and approved by Gentlemen on the other side. He put it to every Member of the House who still had some respect for the functions of this Assembly whether it was tolerable that the Leader of the House should decline 1511 to put the House in possession of the Resolution the terms of which were in the hands of the clerks at the Table. So far as he could trace, it was part of the policy of the right hon. Gentleman to flout and insult this Assembly on every possible occasion. Under the régime of the right hon. Gentleman, in every session of Parliament for years, millions of money had been voted without, one word of discussion on the part of those who were mainly sent there to watch the interests of the ratepayers. That was a system which in time would make this nation a by-word for its extravagance among the nations of the world. He had one suggestion to make. The right hon.
1512 Gentleman should relieve the House and the country of a Premiership of which the country, at least, had shown itself weary; and he should transfer to Russia and the Tsar his eminent services in gagging discussion.
On the Question, "That the House do now adjourn," being put, there were cries of "Yes" and "No. "
§ *MR. SPEAKER
It is my duty to declare that the Ayes have it, and to say that the House now stands adjourned.
§ Adjourned at six minutes before One o'clock.