§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E.)
said he wished to make a request which he was afraid would be a matter of some inconvenience to the Government; this was, however, unavoidable. The House was aware, and would share his regret at the illness of the Leader of the Opposition—[Cries of "Which one?"]—the Leader of the Opposition. He was sorry to say he was informed that there was no chance of his right hon. friend being there before Monday at the earliest, and he could not be certain that he would be present on that day. He regretted to say that his right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham was also laid up with an attack of influenza, and it was impossible that he should be there to-morrow. He thought the debate on the Motion of the hon. Member for the Colne Valley†† SIR JAMES KITSON—Free Trade: That this House, recognising that in the recent General Election the people of the United Kingdom have demonstrated their unqualified fidelity to the principles and practice of free trade, deems it right to record its determination to resist any proposal, whether by way of taxation upon foreign corn or of the creation of a general tariff upon foreign goods, to create in this country a system of protection.1150 would—obviously from their point of view—be very incomplete without the presence of those two right hon. Gentlemen, and he gathered, from observations made at an earlier stage this session by the Prime Minister, that their absence would be equally regretted by the Front Bench opposite. Under these circumstances he asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be good enough to postpone that Motion, he would suggest, till to-morrow week, and, if he could comply with that request, whether he could say what business would be taken to-morrow.
§ MR. ASQUITH
said that he was sure the House heard with very great regret the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. They all felt, as he said, that from his point of view, and he would say from their point of view on that Bench, the debate on the fiscal question would be very incomplete in the absence of both right hon. Gentlemen representing the Opposition—in the absence not only of the Prince of Denmark, but of the ghost. He would not presume to allocate those parts as between the two right hon. Gentlemen themselves. he did not, therefore, feel under the circumstances in a position to deny the request which the right hon. Gentleman had made. At the same time, as the House would appreciate, it placed the Government in a position of very considerable embarrassment, because the whole of their arrangements for business had been made on the footing that to-morrow would be devoted to this question, a question which they thought right should be submitted to the House at the earliest possible moment. In assenting to the right hon. Gentleman's request he must ask the House to choose between one or two alternative courses for to-morrow, both of which would be attended with a certain amount of inconvenience. They could to-morrow take the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair on going into Committee of Supply on Navy Estimates. The House would understand that those Estimates could not be circulated till to-night, and would not be in the hands of hon. Gentlemen till to-morrow morning. Or they could take the necessary Vote on account for the Civil Services, but that again could not be circulated till to-morrow morning. It would be in the Vote Office at the meeting of the House and 1151 would be then accessible to Members. The Government was completely in the hands of the House in the matter, and would be prepared to adopt whichever of those courses was held to be the least inconvenient. He assured hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Government were divested of responsibility in the matter, which was entirely due to the most regrettable necessity which had upset previous arrangements.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that perhaps the arrangement as to which business should be taken to-morrow could be most advantageously settled by communications among all those interested through the usual channels. He was obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he had met his request.
§ MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)
submitted that to-morrow would be an opportune moment to lay the whole question of old-age pensions before the House, as to take the business suggested would be embarrassing.