§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife E.
rose to move the Resolution on the Paper in the name of the Prime Minister, i.e.:—"That 1153 a Select Committee, be appointed to consider the question of procedure in the House of Commons, and to report as to the Amendment of the existing rules and upon any new rules which they may consider desirable for the efficient despatch of business." He said: The terms of this Motion are identical with those which were considered and carried by the House twenty years ago at the instance of Sir M. Hicks-Beach. That, I think, was the last occasion on which a representative and authoritative Committee of the House sat to discuss the general question of their procedure. One of the complaints, I remember, which we made when in opposition some two or three years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman who now leads the Opposition proposed from this Bench the largo changes in the rules which now govern our procedure, was that the matter had not first been submitted according to precedent, and I think also according to convenience, to a Committee representing all sections and quarters of the House. Although I do not deny that in some respects those rules have introduced Amendments into our procedure, yet I think that on the whole our experience of them has justified the attitude which we then took up. I feel I am not going beyond what I am sure will be agreed to by the majority of the old Members of the House, and almost all the new Members when I say that, as regards such important matters as the hours of sitting and the time of adjournment the new procedure has been and is productive of the maximum of inconvenience. There are, of course, many other matters, some of them changes introduced by those rules, some of them parts of the old practice of the House, which, in view of the altered conditions in which we are now met, seem to deserve reconsideration and redecision. I do not want to go into any detail, but I wish clearly to indicate to the House what is the course proposed by the Government. We propose to appoint a strong and representative Select Committee, and when that Committee opens its investigations we suggest that they shall not take the form of a fishing or roving inquiry over the whole grounds of procedure, but that the Government shall submit to the Committee, as they will be prepared to do, a definite scheme of their own for consideration, examination, and report. The 1154 result of that, I hope, will be that there will be very little loss of time, and that the Committee will be able to pronounce its opinion, aye or no, on definite and particular proposals in regard to such urgent matters—I only mention one or two by way of illustration—as the hours of sitting and adjournment, the larger extension and more convenient application of devolution of certain classes of business to Committee, and the setting up of some machinery satisfactory to the House to avoid the necessity of harsh and summary applications of the rule of closure—what used to be called the guillotine—some satisfactory machinery which will, in the general confidence of the House, provide for the allocation of time as between different classes of measures, and different parts of the same measure. These are only some of the questions which the Government regard as of the most urgent and paramount importance. It is by no means an exhaustive enumeration of the matters to go before the Committee. If the House agrees to my Motion, as I hope it will, I trust that the Committee will be able to get to work almost at once, and that, by sitting three days a week, it may come to an end of its labours before Easter. On points on which there is exceptional urgency, I think they might exercise the power which I believe is inherent in every Committee, of presenting Reports from time to time dealing with the particular matter, and of not waiting until they can make one final Report before making any suggestions. I do not think I need say anything more in support of this Motion, because I do not expect it will be opposed in any part of the House, and I think the House will agree that the sooner the Committee gets to work, and the more quickly it reports, the more prospect we in this House will have of doing our business in a business-like fashion, worthy of the traditions of this great Assembly and of dealing with the ever-increasing mass of work that devolves upon it
Motion made and Question proposed, "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Question of Procedure in the House of Commons, and to report as to the amendment of the existing Rules and upon any new Rules which they may consider desirable for the efficient dispatch 1155 of business."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.).
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E.)
So far from desiring to offer any opposition to the Motion for a Committee of Inquiry into our procedure I heartily welcome it. Successive Governments have from time to time attempted so to modify the procedure of this House as to conduce to the most efficient conduct of its business. No one who has any experience of the House will hold that we have reached perfection. I am quite sure that there is room for a great deal of further improvement, and I am glad the matter is to be referred to a Committee for investigation and report. Even amongst those with whom I commonly act there is a good deal of difference of opinion in regard to some of the latest reforms in procedure. Some of my friends do not hold the same views as I do as to what times of sittings and what adjournments are most conductive either to the despatch of business or to the convenience of individual Members. I hope in any changes that are made there will be an endeavour to provide not merely for the efficient discharge of its duties by the House, but—what I believe is essential for that discharge—for the convenience of hon. Members who, while giving, and are ready to give, a large measure of their services to their country and to the House, have other occupations which take up part of their time, and who cannot, like myself, be at the service of the House at any time and for any length of time. As regards the methods of procedure which the right hon. Gentleman has foreshadowed, I assume that the fact that the Government have a scheme cut and dried which they are going to submit to this Committee will not be used in any way to prevent the Committee considering any other suggestions which may be laid before them. We are at one in feeling that the procedure of the House should be the result of a consensus of opinion in the House, and not in any sense the mere expression of the views of a section. I venture to hope that as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has this scheme cut and dried he will communicate to the House the main principles and outline of what it is the Government contemplate. If they had said they 1156 merely proposed to appoint a Committee to inquire, I should have felt that the case for inquiry was obvious. But that is not the line they took. They have a schemer of their own, as the Chancellor said, cut and dried. [Mr. ASQUITH: "No, no.") I think those were the words used. But, at any rate, they have a scheme ready to submit to the Committee. It really would be an advantage to everyone if the main outlines of that scheme were communicated to the House to-day, and I cannot conceive of any reason why it should be withheld from us. It is a matter which concerns every one; it is a matter on which the Committee will be desirous of finding a solution that will take due account of every opinion in the House, and the Committee would be much more likely to arrive at a satisfactory result if they had to guide them in their deliberations the results of a preliminary discussion in the House itself. I think it would serve the interests of the House as a whole if the right hon. Gentleman would communicate to the House in general terms the steps which the Government have decided to recommend to the consideration of the Committee. The changes which the right hon. Gentleman has adumbrated are not small changes. They are not small questions of detail. The proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has adumbrated in the vaguest possible terms may lead to changes, not of procedure only, but changes of a constitutional character in the organisation of that House, in the conduct of its business, and in the opportunities which the House or the minority has to make its views heard upon oven the most important questions. This Government ought to be not only willing, but anxious, to take the House of Commons into their confidence at the earliest possible moment. With a desire to assist the right hon. Gentleman to make our procedure business-like and effective, I now appeal to him to take the House into his confidence, and not show a suspicion and a jealousy of it that is undeserved, and which can only tend to make a realisation of our common wishes less likely than it would otherwise have been.
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorganshire, Mid.)
failed to see what evidence of jealousy or suspicion of the House could be found in the statement of the 1157 Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that the Government proposed to lay before the Select Committee as early as possible the plans on which it had decided, and it would be a mere waste of time for the Chancellor to state even the main proposals of the scheme to be submitted to the Committee. It would only lead to a lengthened discussion and could have no good effect. When the Committee reported upon the proposals, it would be entirely within the province of the House to approve or disapprove of their recommendations. The House, instead of being a real working, business-like assembly, was nothing of the kind. Its functions should be two-fold. First, it should be a deliberative assembly, able to discuss both the legislative proposals of the Government and its administrative Acts, and then it should be a legislative workshop. As a deliberative assembly it was not a great success. Many speeches were delivered which no one wanted to hear, arguments were constantly repeated, and the House certainly was not the business machine it should be. He hoped that the Committee when appointed would be representative of all classes and that its aim would be to bring the House into lines which would make it a good modern working appliance. Everybody would desire that it should cease to be a mere talking shop, and should apply itself to good general Liberal work. He was glad, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had taken this early opportunity of moving the Resolution, and if he might be allowed to say so, he approved entirely of their proposal not to give the Committee a roving commission, but to place before it definite proposals. The country would rightly feel that the Government with its huge majority should place that majority in a position to do good work. No doubt the Government proposals would be open to amendment should it be found that the wisdom of the Committee was greater than that of the Government. He hoped the House would be steadfast against the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman. A Committee ought to be appointed at once and ought to report as early as possible, either on the proposals of the Government, or upon its own schemes and then, and then only, would be the fitting time for the House to consider the question as a whole, and bring 1158 their wisdom to bear on the wisdom of the Committee.
§ MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
said he only rose to take up the words which fell from the hon. Member for Mid Glamorganshire just before he sat down. The hon. Member said that when this Committee had reported the House should have the power of forming a judgment on the scheme as a whole. That was a matter of paramount importance. Under the procedure which this House had followed for centuries, the House had enjoyed the opportunity of seeing the proposals as a whole, and of weighing one part of those proposals as against the others. He put this question to the Government. If this Committee was appointed, and if their scheme was submitted to the Committee, although the scheme had not been submitted to the House, would the House at a future stage have an opportunity of seeing the scheme as a whole which the Government brought forward on its own responsibility as a Government? The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the remarks he had made had caused him some uneasiness. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the Committee would be appointed forthwith, and urged to be expeditious, and that it would be invited to present interim Reports. That raised the whole question of this Committee. Was it to give the House interim Reports, and, if so, was the House to be invited to come to a judgment on these interim Reports, because, if so, the House would not have that which he claimed for it—tho right of considering as a whole the scheme brought forward by the Government of the day.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said it was very interesting to old Members of the House to hear the different points of view from which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen approached a question when they had changed from the Government to the Opposition side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had made a touching appeal as representing a small minority of this House, saying that he thought the procedure of the House ought to be a matter of the general consensus of opinion of the House; but some Members would remember that in 1902, when the last procedure rules were carried, they were carried by closure by the 1159 Government in the teeth of a very large minority. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover had raised the point that it would be consistent with the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Committee should make interim Reports upon certain features in the scheme, and that the House should be asked to adopt those schemes and leave over the rest. He earnestly hoped that that was the intention of the Government, because if they wished to get any alteration there was no other chance of their getting soon—this session—any reform of those defects in the present procedure as to which they were all practically agreed. The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, except for that very circumstance, was one that gave him some little anxiety, because it seemed to him that the Government were going to prepare another great scheme of reform of procedure, with the idea that they could transform the present House of Commons into a real workmanlike and efficient assembly. If that was the hope of the right hon. Gentlemen it meant that these particular changes which, if small, were important, and which, if they could be earned out at once, would add materially to the comfort and efficiency of the House, would be thrown on one side altogether. He was one of those who would welcome most heartily any effort the Government might make to alter certain features of the rules passed in 1902, and if that was their real intention he had great hopes that they might very shortly be able to recommend certain changes to be adopted—before this session came to an end. With regard to the hour at which the House met in the afternoon it was either too early or too late. He knew that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil took the view that the House ought to meet far earlier than two o'clock. He did not quarrel with that view. If the House could make up its mind to meet and transact its business in the daytime and meet say, at eleven o'clock and stop at six or seven he would be delighted; but if it was going to continue to be a House which insisted on transacting its business at night, two o'clock was a most inconvenient hour to meet, and the hour of meeting ought to be put back to the old hour of three o'clock. Then as to the hour at which the House adjourned—that was a most inconvenient hour, and he hoped the present Govern- 1160 ment would take that into consideration. The whole character of the House was rapidly changing, and it would change still more. It was ceasing to be a chamber occupied entirely by the wealthier and the leisured classes, and it was becoming a chamber in which the working—he did not mean merely the Labour Members—men of the country who were engaged in earning their daily bread in the professions or in business or by labour occupied a large number of seats. It was also a House in which the proportion of poor men was increasing. They found it impossible to live in the centre of the metropolis; they had to live on the outskirts, and it was a severe tax upon such men that the House should sit to such an hour that they could not get trains and, in order to get home in comfort, were obliged to drive at great expense. He hoped, therefore, that the question of not sitting so late as twelve o'clock would be included in the scheme, and that if the Committee still considered that they should go on sitting until a late hour, they would make up their minds that the sitting must close long before twelve o'clock. With reference to the dinner-hour, no arrangement could be more absurd than the present, and he thought that nothing that had ever happened in connection with procedure had had a worse effect. Before the rule in question was passed—of course it was passed, like everything else then, by the closure—he said it was a device invented for the benefit of the drones and the dummies of the House, and that it would not be of any assistance to the working Members of the House. And that was what happened. What was their experience in the last Parliament? It was supposed the House would stop work from 7.30 to 9 o'clock. But it stopped from 7.30 to 10 or 10.30, because hon. Gentlemen who went away to dinner never came back until then, and meantime night after night they had the ridiculous spectacle of the Government with a nominal majority of over 100 putting up men to talk against time-From 9 o'clock till 10 they, in order to save themselves from defeat, had to do so; and all old Members would remember the scenes that used to take place when the then Member for Peckham threw himself into the breach and talked against time 1161 with his eye cautiously on the door watching for the signal that enough Members were back and that he might sit down. The dinner-hour had not benefited anyone really concerned in the work of the House, and he hoped it would be abolished. There was another matter that he would respectfully suggest, viz., that the House ought not to sit any year beyond July 1. The objection to that was that the financial business of the House had to be got through. But he could not conceive why the regulations as to the financial arrangements for the year could not be changed. It might, no doubt, entail some inconvenience temporarily on the Treasury. But he thought there could be no other argument used against it. If necessary let the House of Commons meet in the autumn. Almost every other legislative assembly in the world had an autumn session. Let them sit from the 1st October until Christmas, adjourn until February, and sit to July 1. Just as the attempt to carry on the work effectively in the small hours led to unsatisfactory results, so the attempt to get men to transact serious business with proper attention in the oppressive days of July and August failed. One word more. He had said that he hoped the Government were going to confine themselves, for the time at any rate, to that kind of effort. He trusted that they were not going to embark upon a great scheme in the hope of making the House of Commons a business-like and efficient assembly. If they embarked on this latter course they would meet with the same fate as everybody else who had attempted to deal with this question during the last seventy years. Since 1832 there had been twenty-one such Committees as was now to be appointed. There had been half-a-dozen great schemes for the reform of the business of this House with the object of enabling it to transact its responsible duties. They had all failed. The position of affairs to-day was worse than it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, and day by day it was becoming worse. The right hon. Gentleman said something about a scheme for the devolution of business to committees. That was a very large and difficult subject. It had been tried, and they all remembered the high hopes with which the Grand Committees were called into operation. These Grand Committees had been sitting now for years. 1162 The House had been sending upstairs Bills for the consideration of the Grand Committees in the hope that the operation would hasten the work of Parliament. They had had no such effect. The Grand Committees had been an absolute failure. ["No."] In his opinion, and in that of the overwhelming majority of those who had had any connection with these Committees, they had been a failure. His own experience was that repeatedly Bills, sometimes almost of a non-controversial character, had been killed in Grand Committee. The number of measures carried into law by the operation of Standing Committees was so small as completely to justify his statement that the Committees were a failure. It was not in that direction that the House could be saved from its present state of inefficiency. He was not going on this occasion to make a Home Rule speech, but he would point out that the House of Commons was endeavouring in one body, sitting for six months, to transact business which would legitimately occupy the time of at least five such assemblies. New Members, deeply impressed with the grievances affecting the mass of their fellow-countrymen, had come here to demand from this new Parliament and new Government, with its unprecedented majority, the settlement of a number of great questions—education, temperance, old age pensions, the position of trades unions, and so forth. How many of those questions did they think could be dealt with in five years? He was in sympathy with all those reforms, and so were his friends, but he uttered this word of warning to those Members who came here filled with an enthusiastic belief that they could get redress: they could not. Any one measure of really first-class importance was as much as could be carried in one session of Parliament, and if a great imperial question arose suddenly it would inevitably have the effect of putting upon one side the consideration of the great social reforms that England, Ireland and Scotland desired. The truth was they were attempting under the present system to be, at one and the same time, the local Parliament of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and the great Imperial Senate of the nation. They could not do it. The whole experience of the world was against them. With a population of only 5,000,000 1163 in Canada they required seven or eight separate Parliaments; in Australia they found the same; in South Africa they found the same; while in America, with only double the population of the United Kingdom, they had fifty legislative assemblies. They had found out, as Germany had found out, that it was physically impossible to transact local and Imperial affairs satisfactorily in the one Parliament. He would say to this new House of Commons, that, while they might mitigate the rigour of their lot, make it easier for Members to attend, with less sacrifice of health and money and time, do away with some of the worst features of the rules of 1902, they would not succeed, no matter what their desire and their power and their majority, in making this an efficient legislative machine until they lifted off its shoulders the consideration of those purely local affairs with which it was absurd that the time of a great Imperial Parliament should be occupied, and which could only be efficiently and properly transacted under local conditions, governed by local sentiment and local knowledge. He wished the Chancellor of the Exchequer God-speed in this work, and sincerely hoped that before the session was over they might have some limited recommendations from this Committee, by which the House might be enabled to mitigate in some degree the rules unconstitutionally forced upon them by closure by the late Government.
MR. KEIR HAEDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)
said the interesting speech to which they had just listened was the best argument that could be adduced in support of the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire. It appeared to him that as to-morrow was to le a sort of Parliamentary off-day by reason of the postponement of the Free Trade Motion, that day, or a portion of it at least, might well be taken by the Government for a preliminary discussion of the proposals to be submitted to the Committee. The Committee would be expected to work with promptitude and despatch, and if the Committee had for its guidance a discussion of some of the main proposals in the Government scheme they would have an index to the mind of the House which would by most valuable to them in coming to 1164 a speedy decision on the points submitted to them. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take the suggestion regarding to-morrow into his consideration. It would save discussion at a later stage of the session, when time was more valuable. Reference had been made to the number of new Members in the House. Those hon. Gentlemen were not bound by the traditions and associations of the House, and if the proposed Committee were to contain a large proportion of new Members, who would bring a free and open mind to the consideration of the question, he was sure the result would be beneficial. Further, amongst the Members to be appointed on the Committee there should be a large proportion of those who had had experience of municipal work. The House of Commons was the laughing-stock of every municipal councillor who paid it a visit. The rules adopted by many town councils might with considerable advantage be applied to the business of this House; and if hon. Members who had experience of the London County Council, or any of the great municipalities in the country, were to obtain a predominance on the Committee, he was sure the result would give satisfaction all round. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford had raised several points of considerable interest. There was one more he would like to refer to, and that was the limitation of the time allowed to Members for speech-making. There were addressed, not to the House of Commons, but to constituents outside, long, drawn-out speeches, the reporting of which was very often paid for by Members themselves, and of which the House would be well rid. He hoped the House, therefore, would seriously consider and adopt the suggestion of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Chelmsford Division of Essex in regard to the limitation of speeches. If also the House would take its courage in both hands, and decide to meet not later than neon and rise not later than eight o'clock in the evening, they would have an assembly that would do more business and produce legislation of a better quality than was at present the case. Whatever recommendations were made by the Committee which, while safeguarding the rights of Members, increased the efficiency of the working power of the House, they would find hearty supporters 1165 amongst the Members in whose name he spoke.
§ MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
said that the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested that this reference embraced two classes of topics, one of which would require a protracted discussion, and the other consisting of simpler questions which would admit of earlier determination. The right hon. Gentleman evidently contemplated that it might be convenient that the proposed Committee should present an interim Report. One great authority which he had consulted stated that if a Committee desired to present a Report before it had finally completed its inquiry upon the terms of reference, it could do so only by leave of the House. If that was correct it was perfectly clear that words should be inserted expressly authorising this Committee to present an interim Report. If some such words could be added it would be an instruction to the Committee that if they could see their way to present an interim Report, it would meet with the approval of the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I would refer the hon. Member on that point to Standing Order No. 63, which says—Every Select Committee having power to send for persons, papers and records, shall have leave to report their opinion and observations, together with the minutes of evidence taken before them, to the House, and also to make a special Report of any matters which they may think fit to bring to the notice of the House.I must remind the hon. Member also that the Public Accounts Committee are constantly making interim Reports.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
said the limited character of this proposal had not prevented the hon. Member for Mid Glamorganshire making a substantial contribution to the debate travelling over a wide field. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford had raised two or three tremendous issues. He had presented to the House a sweeping condemnation of the whole system of Grand Committees and also the more interesting question of the unedifying scenes which had resulted from the change in the dinner hour. If that 1166 question was to be gone into on one side it was necessary that it should be gone into on the other. If there was the unedifying spectacle of hon. Members talking against time upon the re-assembling of the House at nine o'clock, surely the discredit was to be shared by those who knowingly in the sight of all men, and under circumstances which were no secret, ingeniously engineered those carryings over until nine o'clock, long after the debates were known to have been completely and finally exhausted in so far as adding to them anything that was new was concerned. There was one practice which ought to be closely adhered to, and that was that the proceedings of Select Committees should be regarded as strictly confidential. Owing to accidental circumstances in the past, private matters had been divulged and persons had been censured. He wanted to know, in case the right hon. Gentleman communicated to this Select Committee a scheme of new rules, whether that scheme was to be jealously guarded as part of the confidential proceedings of the Committee. He supposed that this Select Committee was not going to act wholly without evidence, and that the evidence desired would be mostly the evidence of hon. Members of this House. He suggested that shortly after the assembling of the Committee some steps should be taken which would amount to a publication of the Government scheme as a whole, so it might be laid upon the Table of the House. The question of interim Reports went to the root of the whole question, because, although there was an inherent power of making first and second Reports, it was obvious that any consideration of the procedure rules must fall under some four, five, or six general headings. There was the question of the morning sitting, whether it should be on Friday or Wednesday. Then there were the questions of how Questions should be put and answered in this House by Ministers, of the dinner hour adjournment, of the Supply Rules, of the Thursday rule, and of the deeply interesting question of the time limit, not upon speeches but upon debates. There were also such questions as the hours of the sittings and adjournment, and the devolution of business to Committees. The hours of sitting and adjournment would depend upon what relaxation was allowed during the 1167 progress of the sittings, and the devolution to the Committees would depend upon the amount of time which those hon. Gentlemen who were elected to the House had at their disposal. The manner of putting and answering Questions was another part of the general economy of time, and the same might also be said of the dinner hour, the Supply Rules and a time limit. Therefore it could not be said with truth that they could detach any part of this question from another part. There was another great question which arose upon the terms of reference. The reference was—To consider the question of procedure in the House of Commons, and to report as to the Amendment of the existing rules and upon any new rules which they may consider desirable for the efficient despatch of business.Would this Committee be empowered to consider alterations in the rules, which, to carry them into effect, would require statutory authority? He thought it would have been better if the right hon. Gentleman had really made a clean breast of his scheme, if it was in anything like a ripe condition.
§ MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
said there was a unanimous feeling that some change was necessary in the rules of procedure. The view was not limited to any one side of the House. But the question was whether the proposal of the Government was calculated to bring about the result which they all desired to achieve. He might be alone upon this matter, but he was bound to say that he had difficulty in recognising that there was any need for the appointment of this Committee at all. The Select Committee which had been proposed would not be a Committee in the ordinary sense as they understood it, because the Government had a scheme which they were going to submit, and they would have a majority on the Committee. Therefore, he thought the Government ought to take the responsibility if great changes were about to be made. As it was evidently considered necessary that this Committee should be appointed he would not oppose it. He would remind the House, however, that no Committee was appointed when the last alteration in the rules was made. The late Government had a large majority and were responsible for any changes just the same as the present Government 1168 would be responsible for any changes now. Private Members as well as official Members must take the responsibility for any changes that were made. Speaking as a private Member, he rather feared that the appointment of this Committee might go further than the House had any conception of. He noticed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton was going to be the Chairman, and he would be acceptable no doubt to all Parties. He would be on this Committee as the representative of the Government, and however, generously minded he might be, his first consideration would lie in the direction of what would be best to carry out the desires of the Government. The present Government had been returned to power to carry out great measures of legislation, and they would have his hearty support in utilising the time of the House for carrying out the mandate that the country had given them. During the existence of the late Government, the rights of private Members were practically abolished, and their opportunities for bringing forward Motions were taken away. Their time for debating questions in Committee of Supply was also seriously curtailed by the guillotine, which made it impossible for them to say anything upon the Votes of many of the great departments of the State. He asked the Government to allow private Members to be well represented on this Committee, and he trusted the Committee would not be allowed to go into questions which ought to be left to the whole House. He could see a difficulty with reference to the question raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Was this Committee going to recommend that the power of questioning Ministers should be limited? If it was, he would offer the recommendation all the opposition he could when the Report was brought before the House. He thought the main questions of procedure which ought to be settled immediately were questions on which the Government should take full responsibility. Even if this Committee made recommendations, the Government would still have to take the responsibility. The Government would take no recommendation of the Committee with which they were not in thorough accord. It seemed to him that one discussion 1169 would have been sufficient if the Government could have given the House the scheme they were going to submit. He hoped the scheme would abolish the dinner hour, and do away with the limitation of twenty-three days for Supply. He hoped also there would be an alteration in the hour of sitting on several days of the week, and that the scheme would give them back the Wednesday evening. The suggestion as to more day sittings would be acceptable to those who had nothing else to do but attend to politics and the affairs of this House, and who were supported by the Parties with which they were indentified. At the same time, there were some Members who had their own affairs to attend to as well as the affairs of the House. He thought they might have a day sitting on Wednesday, and still keep the week-end for some members who attached importance to it. He hoped these suggestions would be embodied in the programme of the Government. This matter should not be forced through by a majority, and if the Government scheme had been laid on the Table of the House, a general debate on these points would have enabled the Government to get their proposals through without the delay entailed by the appointment of a Committee. After all, there was little or no evidence to be taken by the Committee. There were a few points on which the opinion of the Speaker or the officials of the House would be necessary, but the changes to be made, in so far as they were personal, would not affect to a great extent the ordinary procedure of the House. Therefore, the Committee to be appointed would be guided by their own personal and private views, and would to a large extent act for themselves. The question of procedure and rules, as a general rule, the House ought to keep in its own hands. Every private Member should have a right to give his views in regard to the proposals without being prejudiced by the importance which might be attached to a scheme brought forward by a Select Committee. It was all very well to say that they would have their opportunity for criticism when the scheme came from the Committee, but they would be told that the Committee was representative of all Parties in the House, that the Committee had come to a decision, and 1170 that they must stand by it. He regretted that the Government had thought it necessary to propose the appointment of a Committee, but it was obviously the desire of the House that it should be appointed. The two requests which he had to make were that private Members should be fully represented on the Committee, and also that, when the Committee reported, the Members of the House should have full opportunity of ventilating their views and making any recommendations they thought necessary.
§ MR. LAUEENCE HARDY (Kent, Ashford)
said he thought the Government must have realised from what hon. Members had said that they were taking a course which would involve the maximum of inconvenience and the minimum of advantage. They were to-day having what might be called a First Reading debate without the advantage of the explanation by the Minister in charge of the Bill. It seemed to him that this was a question of evidence, and that the best way of obtaining evidence on a matter of this sort would have been to have an ample debate in this House, where every Member could have given his opinion upon the different points. These opinions would have been placed on record, and would have afforded the best materials for a Select Committee of the House when they came to the consideration of the question. That would have been a better way of proceeding than having a select number of Members giving evidence before the Committee. In a matter of this sort it seemed to him more important to get at the real opinions of private Members than at the opinions of those on the Front Bench on whatever side they sat. In regard to this particular reference they were informed that it was formed on the same lines as a reference many years ago Immediately after being told of that precedent, which undoubtedly would give the Select Committee power to act on its own initiative and frame a scheme on its own ideas, they were told that the Government had a cut and dried scheme of their own which they would submit to the Committee. That was a scheme which the Government with their enormous majority would be able to carry when it was brought to the House. By that means when the Committee came back 1171 to the House with the scheme the impression would be given that it was not the scheme of the Government, but a scheme threshed out by, and in accordance with the general opinions of the Committee. What they were asked to do to-day was to place before a Select Committee the cut and dried scheme of the Government. If that was so, every Member who had any interest in the matter, should point out at this stage what seemed to him desirable in amending the rules, in order that the Committee when considering the cut and dried scheme of the Government might also take these points into consideration. With reference to the changes which took place some time ago he was glad to see that on some points there had been a change of opinion. He objected very strongly in his place in Parliament to the alteration from Wednesday to Friday when it was proposed, and he was strongly of opinion now that it was not a change for the advantage of public business or the convenience of the House. He thought there was a change of opinion with reference to that. With regard to the suggestion that they should revert to three o'clock as the hour of meeting, they must always bear in mind that the Committee work which was done, not in this chamber, but in the precincts of the House, was acknowledged by many to be the most satisfactory part of the proceedings. If they were to accept the suggestion to meet at noon, or eleven o'clock, they would practically destroy the Committee work of this House. He hoped that very great consideration would be given to the matter, and that no hasty conclusion would be arrived at. There was another subject "which had been raised in a somewhat, aggressive way, by the hon. Member for Waterford. The hon. Member condemned root and branch the system of Standing Committees. He himself had had much experience of the Standing Committees, and he was convinced that they were a most valuable adjunct of the House. He would only instance one measure with which he happened to be connected a few years ago, namely, the Bill to amend the Factory Act. He did not remember a more businesslike discussion than the one which took place on that measure. The work of the Standing Committee was performed satisfactorily, and in a manner which hastened the 1172 passing of the Bill through the House. If the Committee of the whole House had considered the Bill, he was perfectly convinced that it would never have passed into law in that or any subsequent session. In the last week of last session the Chairmen of the Panel met and considered a Report to this House in connection with the business of the Standing Committees. That Report was now available, and he hoped that the Government, when framing the new rules, would study it beforehand. That Report, which was unanimous, pointed out the matters which were impeding the advantageous use of this devolutionary system. He believed himself that the reason why the Grand Committees had got into disrepute at the present moment was that they had suffered from the action of the House, owing to the fact that public Bills in the hands of private Members were often sent to the Grand Committee in order that they might reach a stage further than if they had remained in the House, and so give a chance of proceeding with other Bills. The consequence was that every kind of controversial Bill was constantly being thrown on the Grand Committees. He and others had rightly protested in the House against that practice. There was another disadvantage connected with it. These private Members' Bills came up to the Grand Committee without the authority of a Government Department, and it was very often extremely difficult to get a quorum. Members disliked the idea of being dragged up day after day to consider a Bill which they know had no chance of passing in the House; they thought it was very much of a farce, and that they ought not to be required to do it. Hence the amount of undignified work thrown on the Grand Committees had rendered their working unsatisfactory and accounted, to a great extent, for the opinion felt in regard to them in the last Parliament. He asked whether the Government could not seriously consider the suggestions of the Panel of Chairmen, and whether the whole system could not be revised with the object of making these Grand Committees more effective. While the Report to which he had referred stated that in those Committees some sort of 1173 power of closure should be given to the Chairman, he himself had always stood aloof from that opinion of his brother-chairmen.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I do not think the hon. Member is entitled to discuss the procedure in Grand Committee. The Question of the procedure within the Committee itself is not now before the House.
§ MR. LAURENCE HARDY
said that unless the Standing Order was altered to enable the Chairman of a Grand Committee to apply the closure, he did not know how this question could come before the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The way to raise the point referred to by the hon. Member would be to extend the Motion now before the House.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
On a point of order. The Government in their proposal referred to a scheme of devolution. I take it that that applies to something in the form of a Standing Committee. Now, hon. Members who have dealt with these Committees for many years are clearly convinced that one of the greatest drawbacks to their success is the want of power on the part of the Chairman to apply the closure. Is not this the proper time to raise the question, when the Government are proposing a scheme of devolution?
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
On a point of order, may I ask whether the Resolution now before the House enables the Select Committee to recommend the granting of closure powers to the Chairmen of the Grand Committees or would that recommendation be ultra vires under the terms of the Motion now before the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The answer to that question is that it would really depend upon the view taken by the Chairman of the Select Committee. It is for him 1174 to interpret the limits of the reference, and I would not like to lay down any hard and fast rule in regard to that.
§ MR. LAURENCE HARDY
thought that the words of the reference would naturally include questions of that character. He might say that the procedure in the Standing Committees were supposed to follow that in Select Committees. The procedure in Grand Committees had, however, changed very much of late from the procedure of a Select Committee and had followed in every detail the procedure of the Committee of the whole House, and the consequence was that the Chairmen of the Grand Committees, in making a ruling, on many points had often found themselves in considerable difficulty. If the procedure of the Grand Committees could be considered by the Select Committee he would suggest that they should lay down more precisely what that procedure should be, and how business should be carried on. There was another point. He was the only Member of the House who had been directly connected with the rule which influenced the position of the Deputy-Chairman. He would suggest that the position of the Deputy-Chairman should be more strictly defined than at present. His duties were undefined, and now that the House had conceded to the Deputy-Chairman a very ample salary he should be given duties corresponding to that salary. In the last Parliament circumstances had arisen under which that rule caused considerable inconvenience. In case of the illness or absence of Mr. Speaker, Mr. Deputy-Speaker took the Chair; but the Deputy-Chairman could not at once step into all the duties of the Chairman of Ways and Means and of Deputy-Chairman without an announcement being made at the Table that Mr. Speaker was absent from the House for some particular cause. That was rather a difficult position, because, if the Chairman of Ways and Means left his place as Deputy-Speaker, and if he wished the Deputy-Chairman to have full power, he must remove himself at once from the House in order that it might be announced that he was absent. He thought that if it was very desirable to have a fifth wheel to the coach, so to speak, the House 1175 should surrender some of its jealousy in regard to these matters, and make a rule that these offices should be absolutely interchangeable without unnecessary formalities. It was advisable that these small details known to those who had had practical experience of their inconvenience, should be considered by the Government.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said that, as he had been a Member of the House for twenty years, he hoped that he might be permitted to point out some of the difficulties which arose from the existing rules of procedure or from the new rules which had been suggested. As to the hour of meeting it would be perfectly impossible to fix an hour which would suit every Member. Supposing the hour was fixed at noon, what would be the result? He was not speaking in a personal sense, for any hour would suit him. But although twelve o'clock might suit a large number of hon. Members who had just come into the House, and who he hoped would come in larger numbers—what would the effect be? First of all, there was a very large class of business men in the House who would not be able to come there and, at the same time, give the necessary time to their private affairs in the hour or two after eight o'clock given in exchange for attending in the House at noon. A second class were the lawyers. He knew it was not a very popular thing to defend the lawyers here or anywhere else. Some people imagined that they could get on very well without them, although he certainly did not think so. It was hard enough for men engaged in their profession all day to get to the House at two o'clock, and he knew that the House had lost a good deal by their absence until three or four o'clock. But if the House met at noon there would be confusion worse confounded. Their presence was not only desirable, but essential for the proper conduct of the proceedings of the House. Then, there were the Ministers. These Gentlemen were in the House until the adjournment at midnight or later. If the House were to meet at noon how could these Gentlemen attend in their Offices to the business of the State? It was perfectly impossible. Another thing was that Committees sat at half-past 1176 eleven or twelve, and they could not have all the Committees and the House itself sitting at the same time. Proposals of this kind of change were made at the beginning of every new Parliament, and it was a common thing at such seasons to declare that this was the most antiquated establishment in the country as far as business was concerned. But in spite of that, there was a good deal to be said for the House of Commons after all. Their arrangements had been formed after great consideration, and the reason why they did not work well lay, not in the form, but in the system which had grown up in the House of resolutely preventing business being done. An alteration was made by the late Prime Minister under which hon. Members received written replies to Questions, and that was a very great benefit. He hardly knew of any other rule, however, which was brought into operation at that time which was not a conspicuous failure. The most conspicuous failure was that which concerned the dinner hour, under which the sitting of the House was suspended from half-past seven until nine o'clock. No English gentleman could dine in an hour. A division lasting twenty minutes might be taken at half-past seven. That meant that hon. Members got away at ten minutes to eight, were driven to the other end of London, and yet were expected to be back by nine o'clock to take part in the business of the House. It was an impossible condition of things. It might be all very well for Irishmen and Scotchmen because they would give up their dinners, if necessary, but such a regulation was not good enough for the Englishman who could not be expected to go without his dinner. Therefore the whole system had broken down and scandals occurred during the last Parliament which were disgraceful. They had the Government complaining of obstruction on the one hand, and then, after nine o'clock, placing men on the Ministerial Benches for the purpose of obstruction until hon. Gentlemen could be brought back from their residences. Whatever remained, such an arrangement as that must go. In former times, an hour out of the hour and a half was occupied by speeches which otherwise would never have been 1177 delivered and they got into the local newspapers. The time was at all events usefully employed. The only other point he intended to refer to arose out of the right hon. Gentleman's hint as to a scheme of devolution of business upon Committees. He did not know what the right hon. Gentleman meant, and his hon. friend the Member for Waterford apparently did not think much of the suggestion. He had always looked upon a scheme of devolution with favour, and he thought that the real reason why Grand Committees had not succeeded so well as they might have done was that the Chairman had not the power of the Chairman of Committees of this House. He recalled one instance in which this power had been very useful, and Scotch Members would remember it very well. There was a Scotch Committee appointed once to deal with a Scotch Bill, and it was one of the most businesslike proceedings that ever took place in the House. His hon. and learned friend had said that he knew perfectly well that there was no substitute for Home Rule, but what he himself said was that if the House would resolve to send Scotch, Irish and Welsh business, or such business as it chose, to Scotch, Irish, or Welsh Committees, there would be plenty of time to do the business of the House, and they could adjourn early three nights a week, and at whatever hour they liked. He thought that the precedent of the Scotch Committee ought not to be lost sight of, and the Government ought, in his opinion, to adopt some such system. He thought, however, that in the matter before the House the Government had been perfectly straight. It was obvious that a Committee must be appointed before great changes could be made, and it had always been the case that changes of this character had been considered by a Select Committee. [AN HON. MEMBER: No.] He thought that upon every occasion before the last change was made the matter was considered by a Select Committee. It was obvious that the Government ought to be fortified by the opinion of a Select Committee. This House was a new one, and there were, perhaps, more new Members in it than ever sat in a new House before. Therefore it was desirable that the 1178 Government should be assisted by a Committee, and should also ascertain the general view of Members both old and new. He hoped that the Committee would sit promptly, and that this Session would not be wasted. He trusted they would get some report from the Committee containing a recommendation which would thwart the abuse of the rules of the House of Commons which had been known to exist in the past.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
said that as the Government had not thought fit to produce a scheme which they must have prepared, at all events in the rough, he thought he might be pardoned, as the result of twenty years experience, for offering a few suggestions as to the way in which he thought the rules of the House might be materially altered. He apologised to the House for intervening in the debate, but he did so for various reasons, one of which was that the Party to which he belonged was specifically and specially attacked by the existing rules. That statement was not a matter of inference, because he had for it the word of the right hon. Gentleman who was now the junior Member for the City of London. That right hon. Gentleman made a speech at Blenheim in 1901 in which he declared that the new rules would be very important from the point of view of restraining the discussions of the Irish Party in this House. The other right hon. Gentleman who divided the Leadership with the junior Member for the City of London did him (Mr. MacNeill) the honour to refer to him personally in that connection. The gist of the rules was that the Irish Members were specially to be hit. He wished to refer to the dodge of blocking Motions, for preventing the discussion, on a Motion for the adjournment, of definite matters of urgent public importance. If anyone would look at the Order Paper upon the last day of the session of the last Parliament he would see at least twelve Motions, every single one of which was put down to prevent the discussion of matters of public interest. These Motions were carefully prepared in the Whip's Room, and the moment anything of importance occurred, and it was supposed that a Motion for adjournment might be moved on a matter of urgent public interest, a 1179 blocking notice at once appeared upon the Paper in order to destroy the opportunity of discussion. The last page of the Orders of the Day last session was certainly a curiosity. One hon. Member went to excess in the matter. He was afraid that there might be a Motion to discuss the scandal of blocking Motions, and he actually put down a proposal to discuss them, with a view of averting a Motion for the adjournment of the House. A Motion for adjournment upon the Cass case was discussed for some seven or eight hours, and ultimately carried. The time occupied was not too little considering that the liberty of the subject was involved. Now a Motion for the adjournment was relegated to the evening sitting, and, as all the time that could be obtained was three hours, the discussion was necessarily confined to a very few men. In his judgment if a subject was of sufficient interest to be called attention to on a Motion for adjournment, it was of paramount importance and should be taken the first thing. Otherwise it should not be made the subject of such a Motion. He should never forget the first Motion for adjournment under the new rule, when Mr. Speaker Gully, on the necessary number of Members rising, said—The hon. Gentleman will bring his Motion on at the evening sitting at nine o'clock.He should never forget the excitement of hon. Gentlemen who never spoke themselves and did not break the record of Balaam's Ass, which only spoke once. He thought the old Motions for adjournment should be restored, and he was speaking in favour of right hon. Gentlemen who when they were in the Government themselves gagged the House. The rules had never been properly codified; they had been merely strung together, being made under very different circumstances and having very different effects. The rule which forbade anyone from saying anything disparaging of judges, Governors-General of India or other high officials, was a very proper rule, but when it was passed it was passed for the purpose of giving the friends of anyone attacked a proper opportunity of defending them. These matters were then made the subject of a special Motion. If the senior Member for the City would look into old cases he would see that the judges were inveighed against 1180 in a manner which was not possible now. But the effect of the present rule was to make a judge immune from criticism, which was a thing that ought not to be permitted. That was the case with many of the rules. They were passed under different circumstances, and were now used in a way that it was never intended they should be. Then there was the question of the interrogation of Ministers across the floor of the House. The hon. Member for South Tyrone sang a triumphant pean of praise on the new answer rules, but though the rule affecting answers to matters of detail being given in the Votes worked well, it was quite a different thing with regard to the Answers made in the House. That rule destroyed the power of interrogating Ministers across the floor. This Parliament was only a few days old, yet there were seventy-four Questions starred for oral answer, of which only fifty were answered owing to the absurd time limit. It might be a matter of great importance which a Member desired to raise by a Question to the Minister, but if the Member was not in time, or if, through some arrangement of the Questions being put in groups for the convenience of Ministers, the Question was not reached, the interrogator had to be content with a written answer which did not permit of a supplementary Question being put. He thought it would be better to go back to the old rule and put up with a little inconvenience and waste of time so that any hon. Member who wished to interrogate a Minister should have the opportunity of doing so. He desired to say also that one of the great scandals of the Procedure Rules in the late Parliament was the abuse of the Ten Minutes Rule. When it was first introduced the House was told by right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench that it would only be used for the introduction of Bills of secondary importance, but it had, on the contrary, been used to introduce Bills of first class importance, and he thought some alteration should be made to ensure that only Bills of minor and secondary importance should be introduced under that rule. He was also strongly opposed to the rule of two o'clock for the meeting of the House. The hour of meeting was not early enough to 1181 allow hon. Members to do a day's work in the daylight, and it was too early from the other point of view. When he first entered the House they met at four o'clock, which gave time for hon. Members to do a day's work for themselves before coming down. For his part he would like to see Parliament conducted on the same lines as the business of the law courts. Parliament should no longer be a lounging ground for the wealthy and leisured classes. He should like to see it meet at ten o'clock. Hon. Members ought to give their best efforts to Parliament. He himself was here far from home and gave his whole time and attention to the House, and in his opinion the rule that destroyed the half holiday on Wednesday and gave them five days' hard work without a break imposed too great a strain upon hon. Members. It was never intended to benefit the working Members of the House, but to extend the prerogative of that dangerous element, the "weekenders," who had for so many years carried on the government of the country. He would gladly see even Saturday sittings from the commencement of the session. The old Members of the House perhaps thought more of their own immediate interests than of those of their constituents. Why should not the House sit on Saturdays and give their best time to those whom they represented? Why hon. Members should not do their work he did not know. If the House did not meet at eleven o'clock he would rather they met at four o'clock or half past three than at two o'clock. He considered that the Wednesday afternoon sitting should be substituted for the Friday afternoon sitting.
§ SIR CARNE RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)
said as a Member of twenty years standing he was very glad this Motion was introduced, and he would support the Government to the best of his power. He could not conceive things being worse than they were at present, and he hoped real and substantial changes would he brought about. They wanted something practical. What did it matter whether a Member took an hour or an hour and a half for his dinner, whether 1182 he ate a dog biscuit in a corner of the lobby, or whether he went home at mid-night or later? They wanted something larger than that, and there was only one thing that could do them any good. They could economise the time of the House. All the rest was leather and prunella. What they wanted the Government to do was to shorten the opportunity for the exercise of the dialectical ability of hon. Members. There was no conceivable reason why it should not be done. They had tried to do it pretty often, and although they were supported by the President of the Local Government Board on one occasion they were not always successful; but, to use an ordinary phrase, they were not down-hearted. The first occasion on which the subject was brought up since he had been a Member, was when the hon. Member for Boston introduced a Bill proposing that the speeches of Members should be curtailed by the ringing of a bell. The next time they brought in a Bill they were aided by the right hon. Gentleman opposite and there was a good majority. Then they introduced a Resolution and got a majority of three to one, but after that Ministers took uncommonly good care they should never carry a Resolution of the kind again. Why should not the Government incorporate such a proposal in their Bill or Resolution, or whatever they might bring forward? In the London County Council there was a time limit. In the Church House, although it looked like flying in the face of Providence to closure a bishop, there was also a time limit. The same rule applied in the United Service Institution. Why should it not be introduced into this House? Hon. Members might say, and had said, that the present custom was good enough for their predecessors 100 years ago, and it ought to be good enough for the Assembly to-day. But things were different. A good deal of water had run under the bridge since then. Hon. Members elected to this House a century or less ago did not come here to speak. If they looked up the journals of the House they would find that not more than fifty Members on either side of the House ever talked at all. They sat silent or applauded their leaders, and got their reward by promotion to another place. 1183 But it was all different now. Hon. Members were obliged to speak, to put Questions, and to introduce Bills. Reluctant as he was always to interfere and take up the time of the House, he was forced by his constituents to introduce a Bill for the compulsory marking of shrimps. Since he had been in the House he had seen some shocking instances of how the time of the House was taken up with absolutely nothing. He remembered hearing four members of the medical profession talk for four hours on vaccination. He remembered an hon. Gentleman, now on the other side, talk for an hour and a quarter on a bog in the Hebrides. How could they expect the business of the House to fee carried on properly when such things were allowed? He would suggest that the new Government should bring themselves honour and glory in the first session by helping the House to kill the Jabberwock which they had so often tried to do, but failed.
§ SIR BRAMPTON GURDON (Norfolk, N.)
considered that the questions of the time at which the House should meet, the dinner hour, and the day on which the morning sitting should be held were questions for the House itself and not for the Government to decide. When the question was previously under discussion, Members implored the late First Lord of the Treasury to allow the House to pronounce its opinion, especially on the question of the half day being on Wednesday or Friday, without the intervention of the Whips. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Ashford in what he said about early meetings of the House, and he earnestly hoped the House would go back to the Wednesday arrangement instead of the Friday. Four nights in succession at the House made a great tax upon the Members, and especially upon the officials of the House. He wished to call attention to the question of Supply. Primarily the business of the House was financial—the control of the whole expenditure of the State—and it was a great responsibility they shared with no other place. It was a great misfortune, and indeed a scandal, that Parliament should be called upon to vote millions of money without discussion. He would like to 1184 see six or eight or twelve votes put down for a night and as soon as the discussion on any vote began to flag he would like to see the closure put on, at the end of an hour or two according to the importance of the subject, instead of allowing a sort of trivial talk on one vote to monopolise all the time. He also desired to see the discussion on Votes on account confined to the questions whether too much or too little was taken, and whether any new Votes were taken which ought not to be taken on a Vote of account. He did not know whether the Committee would have power about holidays. He hoped there would not be such long Easter and Whitsuntide holidays, as they necessarily prolonged the session. Most would like to have the shortest possible holiday at Whitsuntide in order that they might get away in July.
§ SIR JOHN KENNAWAY (Devon, Honiton)
associated himself with hon. Members on both sides in welcoming the announcement of the Government. It was time something was done; he had felt for some time that the House was losing the confidence of the country as an efficient machine for carrying out the will of the people and representing the opinions of the country. That loss of power and efficiency was due to many causes, but partly to the omnivorous appetite of the House itself, which claimed to deal with every matter, great and small, over the whole area of the Empire, and also of local government, and was most unwilling to part with any of its jurisdiction either to Grand Committees or to local bodies. There was a determined effort some years back to bring about a system of obstruction by which the House should be deliberately prevented from carrying out its own will. If some better means could be devised in regard to the procedure of the House, he would heartily welcome it. Their Leader, whom he had hoped to welcome back that day and who was never afraid of tackling thorny questions, made an honest attempt to deal with the subject, and allowed the House to make the experiment of transferring the half holiday from Wednesday to Friday. That was not merely a laudable attempt to please the wealthy and luxurious, the drones and the dummies, of whom they had heard that day; it was felt that 1185 the business should not be transacted alone by the professional politician, but that those connected with the great industries of the country should be able to attend to the business of the House without sacrificing their own private interests. He regretted the change because it put too great a strain on both Members and officials. They had been passing through a comparatively quiet time, but there might come a time when great constitutional questions were at stake and a conflict between the two Houses of Parliament might arise. He had been told that the interval on Wednesday used to be most valuable to enable differences to be settled and to avoid that friction and heat which they all deprecated. Therefore he hoped the short sitting on Wednesdays would be restored. As for the dinner hour arrangement at present existing, it seemed to him really to be a waste of time. With regard to private Bills he thought the system by which one hon. Member was able to block a private Bill was too great a power to place in the hands of one man, although it might be used occasionally to prevent vexatious measures from passing. He thought the object of the Government had been attained by this discussion, and he hoped some practical proposals would be forthcoming which would restore the confidence of the country. It would be a very dangerous thing if the country lost confidence in the House of Commons, and he trusted that confidence would be maintained by the substitution of rules of a moderate and useful character.
§ MR. SOAMES (Norfolk, S.)
said that last session certain days were allocated for the discussion of certain matters, and what happened? One whole night was occupied discussing matters of very small moment, and when the end of the session arrived important questions had to be passed without any discussion at all. The same thing might happen the next session and the session after that, and they might again have one of the most important departments of the State passing Estimates without any discussion at all. That was not at all satisfactory and would not be considered so, he felt sure, by any section of the House. He thought that a certain amount of 1186 time ought to be allocated each session to two or three particular departments, and the next session the time ought to be devoted to the discussion of departments which had not been discussed in the previous year, and in this way every department would get a full discussion of its Estimates in turn. At one period of the session they were engaged in marching through the lobby, and all the good that this did was to allow those who had not attended the debates regularly to increase their records in the division lobby. He objected to scores of millions of pounds being passed without discussion, and if some change in this direction could be made it would be a distinct gain to the public service. With regard to the great waste of time caused by the present method of taking divisions, he thought some change was necessary. In the present Parliament there was a very large number of Members who would vote on one side, and consequently they would have a very large number in the same lobby. He would suggest that as soon as the clerks were at the desks and the tellers at the doors, hon. Members should be allowed to pass through after having their names marked off, and then they could be counted without waiting for the whole House to be cleared. In this way they would be able to save at least five minutes upon each division. With regard to the practice of clearing the House, he thought it was absolutely unnecessary, and he would remind hon. Members that it was quite a modern custom. It was not the practice to clear the House at all until quite a recent period. He trusted those suggestions would be considered by the Committee. Personally, he did not think tellers were necessary, and they might have a turnstile which would register the number of persons passing through. In that case they would not require any tellers at all.
§ COLONEL SANDYS (Lancashire, Bootle)
said he was glad to have the opportunity of saying a few words on this question, because it was a matter in which for a long time past he had taken a very great interest, and one in which he thought all Members were greatly interested, no matter to which side of the 1187 House they belonged. He trusted that in the matters left for the consideration of the Committee this principle would not be lost sight of, namely, that the regulations of the House should be framed in some such way as to prevent the waste of vitality caused by the late sittings of the House. This was the only Parliament in the world which conducted its public business in the middle of the night, when, at a time when their vitality for natural causes was beginning to wane rather than to increase, they applied themselves to tasks which required the whole powers of mind and body. He trusted, therefore, that any alteration of the rules would take the direction of reducing the lateness of the hour until which the House sat. The rule at the present time was that the Speaker should adjourn the House at one o'clock but he would suggest that that should be altered to midnight, and the other rule he would like so altered that the main business which was now interrupted at midnight should in future be interrupted at eleven o'clock. He had sat in five consecutive Parliaments and, having watched carefully the working of these rules, he had come to the conclusion that if this rule could be carried it would conduce to the better and more efficient conduct of public business. It might be argued that the discussions in the House could not be carried out in the time proposed to be allotted. It might be asked if they abridged by one hour that time, how were they going to get through the business in the short time that would remain? His answer was that any alteration of the rule should provide some means for effecting a reasonable curtailment of debate. Of course, a great deal must be left to the taste of hon. Members themselves. He should like to see an automatic division taken at seven o'clock every night, provided the measure before the House had been under discussion two hours; but in case a Minister moved that the automatic division should not then be taken it might be allowed to go forward to a second automatic division, say, at ten o'clock, by which time, if the dinner hour was abolished, the division could be taken. This would enable the question to be settled after it had been 1188 vigorously, tersely, and clearly discussed. The French Chamber met at twelve and rose at six o'clock, and if the deputies could conduct the business of the French nation in six hours, he did not see why the British House of Commons, if it met at three and carried on its work till eleven o'clock without interruption, should not be able to get through its business. He hoped the Government would consider that suggestion.
§ SIR FRANCIS POWELL (Wigan)
said he was glad that this discussion had arisen because the elucidation of the opinions entertained by hon. Members would be of great service in future. He hoped that no change would be effected in the arrangements now prevailing under the new rules which prevented the obtrusion of private business into this House at any time. Before 1902 they were not secure at any time; and the whole control of the business of the House was in the hands of Parliamentary agents instead of the Government. This most seriously embarrassed business, and he was sure that the change which had taken place had been highly beneficial to private business, while the fact that the control of the House over its own proceedings had been resumed was a great benefit to all Parties. He wished to refer to the interrogation of Ministers. He believed the system which prevailed in the House of Commons was unique. He believed that the system of personal interrogation across the table was confined to this Assembly, and he was most jealous of this right. It was a right which secured the interest of the people, and kept Ministers, if he might use a colloquial expression, up to the mark. He was sure it tended to efficiency in administration. He hoped that they would revert to the Wednesday half-holiday. That was a duty which the House owed to its officials. If attendance four nights a week consecutively was excessive for hon. Members who had the privilege of coming and going, what must it be for the officials who were detained during the whole of the time? That was unfair, and the convenience of Members was secondary to the health and efficiency of those who served them so ably and well. He voted against the change from Wednesday to 1189 Friday, and he would gladly vote for a reversion to the old system. As to the question of devolution, he had long served on the Law Committee, and his opinion was that so long as the House delegated to Standing Committees the duties they were intended to undertake the work had been done efficiently. What was not intended to be delegated to the Standing Committees was highly controversial business, and when that kind of business was devolved on them the tone of the Committees changed. He believed that the just complaint which had been made in regard to those Committees had arisen from that mistaken devolution. It began when the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill was sent to be considered by a Standing Committee. That was a highly controversial matter, and it introduced a totally new spirit into their debates. He hoped that in future a rule would be laid down that no Bills of a highly controversial character were to be delegated to these Committees. He believed it would be easy to devise such a rule. The change which had been made in the hours at which the House met had lessened the time at the command of these Committees, and although they did to a certain extent sit when the House was sitting it was very inconvenient and highly undesirable to do so. They must have regard to the efficiency of any Committee to which the business of the House was delegated. The sitting of Committees during the sitting of the House did so far diminish the efficiency of the House. That was a matter which must be carefully considered by those who had the permanent settlement of the rules. He thought there had been too severe condemnation of the rules proposed by the late Prime Minister. He did not say that all those rules ought to be maintained or that improvement was impossible, but he did say that benefit had arisen from many of them. He hoped that the changes now to be made would assist the new Parliament in the conduct of its work.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (Sir HENRY FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
said the debate this afternoon had been a very admirable one for enabling hon. Members to state their views in the manner which 1190 he understood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire desired that they should be stated to the House, and, through the Press, to the public. He thought the debate also had fully justified the course which the Government had decided to take, namely, to move for the appointment of a Committee to consider the whole question. When the Report was presented the changes recommended would be fully discussed. One fallacy seemed to him to pervade the debate, however, namely, that the House was parting with its powers and delegating them to the Committee. The House was not asked to do anything of the sort; it was asked, as it had invariably been asked before when any great change in the rules was contemplated—except in the unfortunate instance of the rules of 1902—to refer them first to a Committee. The immediate precedent for their proceeding to-day was that of exactly twenty years ago. At the end of February, 1886, Sir M. Hicks Beach, who had been the Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented to the Committee a series of changes which he proposed to make, and which were by no means interdependent, any more than the changes which the Government now proposed would be interdependent. They were discussed, and the Committee by no means accepted them; they accepted some of the most valuable ones, and altered others, and added to them. The Committee which it was proposed now to appoint would have as free a hand as possible in dealing with all recommendations; they would be able to take all the steps that might be required—to take evidence if it seemed desirable, and, of course, evidence, if taken, would be printed and laid before the House. The Government had no cut-and-dried scheme. As a matter of business, in order to facilitate the working of the Committee, and they themselves being responsible for the conduct of the business of the House, the Government would submit to the Committee the changes which they recommended, and the Committee would deal with them as they thought fit. He agreed that the Committee must be a representative one, and it was very difficult to limit its numbers; but he thought the House would agree that it must not be too large a Committee if it was to work rapidly and effectively. His desire was that it should be a strong Committee, 1191 one whose opinion would be valuable to the House, and would tend to guide their ultimate deliberations. Many defects in the procedure of the House had been referred to; he was sorry to have to say, as one of the old Members of the House, that he thought its procedure was in the most unsatisfactory state it had ever been in. He entirely agreed with one hon. Member, who said it could not be worse. He thought a great many valuable suggestions had been made that afternoon. With regard to the holidays at Easter and Whitsun, however, the hon. Member who objected to those holidays could, of course, move an Amendment when the proposal was made that the House should adjourn; but his experience was that generally the House found fault with the shortness of those holidays, and an appeal was made for their extention. They were familiar, also, with a proposal sometimes made to the Leader of the House that if the holidays were extended business would be hurried on rapidly. After all, the House must recollect that the Leader of the House was responsible for the business of the House being done. He did not think that was a very serious complaint. The reference in regard to the dinner hour and one or two other matters justified his right hon. friend in having made this proposal. He thought that the Committee should report as soon as possible, because delay on this question, which excited the greatest interest in all quarters of the House, until the presentation of a great scheme for dealing with our whole business would be most unwise and most unsatisfactory. He hoped the very first thing the Committee would take up would be the present hours of sitting. As to Grand Committees, he knew that they were not working as rapidly or as satisfactorily as they ought to have done. But he would remind the hon. Member for Waterford that they had passed a great number of valuable measures which never would have been put upon the Statute-book without the aid of the Grand Committees, and great reforms of a most valuable character, such as the Scottish Private Bill Procedure Act and Mr. Ritchie's Bill with reference to local government and temperance. The number of Bills which had received the Royal Assent with the assistance of the 1192 Grand Committees within the last four or five years amounted to 124.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
said he did not know. The weakness of the Grand Committee system had been the departure from the principle Mr. Gladstone laid down, and the sending of controversial Bills to these Grand Committees. It was Mr. Gladstone's intention that the Grand Committees should only deal with non-controversial Bills, and that they should settle only details which the House itself had not time to give proper attention to. These were questions which would come under the consideration of the Select Committee, and also the very considerable evils which could not have been foreseen, but which had appeared in the actual working of the Grand Committees. He was sure that any Committee sitting on this question would deal with these and other suggestions. He himself, if on the Committee, would look upon them with a perfectly unprejudiced mind, and he was convinced that the Committee would make their supreme consideration, not the convenience of individual Members, but the general good of the House and its ability to discharge its business most effectively and rapidly.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY
Does the Reference to the Select Committee coyer recommendations which would require the authority of a statute to give them effect?
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
said that the recommendations of the Committee could have no power whatever in that direction; and the House could either accept or reject them. If the House should accept any recommendation and it required statutory force to give it effect then the statutory force would be given to it by Parliament. For instance, if the Committee recommended any change as to the sitting of Parliament or said that Parliament should close at a certain date, such a proposal would require an Act of Parliament. It was the prerogative right of the Sovereign and of the Sovereign alone in this country to summon Parliament and to prorogue it. 1193 By the constitution of the United States the date of the meeting was fixed, but our Parliament was summoned to meet by the Crown. The Committee might express an opinion that the House—as he himself thought was desirable—should meet in the autumn. This subject was discussed some years ago on a Resolution brought forward by Sir George Trevelyan, and the suggestion that Parliament should meet in November was carried by a majority. He hoped that the House would now accept this Motion so that the Committee could be nominated as soon as possible, and get to work.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
asked if the Government would, after they had communicated their suggested reforms, make the House at large acquainted with those suggestions? That could easily be done by laying a Paper. Without such a Paper Members who might be called on to give evidence before the Committee would not have time to give proper consideration to their evidence as to what would be necessary or useless.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
said that that was a matter purely in the discretion of the Committee. It would be very inconvenient, and he knew of no precedent for it.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
But after the Committee have arrived at an opinion upon a definite subject—for instance, the hours of sitting—will that be presented to the House, or will that be kept until the Committee have finished their work and presented their Report to the House?
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
I think it would be very inconvenient if discussions on any particular proposal were carried on at the same time in the House and in the Committee.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
If any member of the Committee makes a recommendation, that will be recorded and a division taken upon it. I should think it very possible that the Committee 1194 would like to have the opinion of Mr. Speaker, the Clerks at the Table, or other officials of the House, and that will in due course be reported to the House.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD
When a matter, such as a change of hour, is passed by the Committee, is that decided, straight away?
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
Oh, no. If the Committee decides to make an interim Report, which I gather it is the general sense of the House that they should, the Government will give the fullest information of the details to the House which will deal with it.
§ MR. BURDETT-COUTTS (Westminster)
thought that from the course of the discussion the right hon. Gentleman might congratulate himself on having obtained the opinions of some hon. Members on many interesting points. That showed that they ought to have had longer notice of the proposals of the Government in order that they might have had the opinions of hon. Members more widely taken. As he understood—and this point was raised by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy—this Committee would bring its Report to the House backed by the great authority derived from its composition, which, to a large extent, would be Ministerial, and by the fact that the changes had been suggested by the Government. He put it, what opportunity would there really be for the House at large to have a free hand with regard to the recommendations made by such a Committee?
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
said that the changes recommended would have to be passed as Standing Orders of the House, and there would then be ample opportunity for discussing them.
§ MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
said the right hon. Gentleman had missed his point. He alluded to the weight of authority with which the Report would come to the House, a Report based on insufficient knowledge of the opinions of private Members. He would not enter into the details raised by some hon. Members on which, as a Member of 1195 twenty years standing, he also held opinions of his own, but he must say that he did not see how the opinions of these private Members could reach the Committee before the Committee came to a decision. He would put one point like that touched upon by the hon. Member for North Norfolk who spoke from behind the Ministerial Benches with regard to the financial business of the House. It would be within the knowledge of some hon. Members that a proposition was formerly under the consideration of the House to have an Estimates Committee formed of Members from both sides of the House which should agree as to the comparative importance of the various Estimates and the amount of time that ought to be devoted to their discussion. It had always seemed to him that one of the most debatable points was as to how the time devoted to the Estimates should be distributed. Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether that proposition would be considered by the Select Committee: would it be contained in the unwritten reference to the Committee with the view to facilitating the saving of the time of the House and rendering its business more effective?
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
could not understand why the Government did not bring forward their own views and ask the House to express an opinion upon them. Private Members would like, he thought, to know the Government views. There was one matter upon which the House was almost unanimous, and that was that the two o'clock meeting caused the greatest inconvenience. It would be very simple for the Government to put down a Motion on that subject on the Paper—a proposed Standing Order—and ask the House to vote upon it according to their convenience. They did not want a Committee to inquire into such a simple matter as that, and to appoint one was a pure waste of time. He did not understand whether the Committee would take evidence or not, or what opportunity private Members would have of laying their views before the Committee. Would they have the right to write a letter to the Chairman, and, if 1196 they did, what guarantee would they have that it would be considered?
There was a matter about which there could not be any question at all, and that was that the adjournment over dinner was a great convenience to very many Members, and a very great relief to the officials of the House, to whom it must be very tedious indeed to sit throughout a continuous sitting. As to the short sitting being upon Wednesday or Friday they all had their own opinion, and even Members whose first session it was were able to come to a conclusion in regard to which day was the best upon which to deal with private Members' Bills and rest in the evening. His private opinion was that Wednesday was the more convenient day, and that private Members had suffered greatly in consequence of the change to Friday. He sympathised with the view that the interests of private Members had been jeopardised by the change from Wednesday to Friday. This session a division would, in the great majority of cases, take twenty-five minutes, and it must be remembered that a comparatively small number of Members could challenge one. Let the House consider the delay which must inevitably take place under these circumstances. In the French Chamber a division took twelve minutes, and in this House, ordinarily, it occupied only twelve or fourteen minutes; but this session, as Parties were now balanced, and if the Government carried with them the Nationalist and Labour Members, every division must, as he had said, take twenty-five minutes. He therefore thought that some better means of taking divisions should be devised. He hoped the Government would withdraw the Motion and abandon the Committee. He could not understand what the Committee was going to do, and everybody had agreed that the Motion was absolutely useless. For himself he could not see why the Government should not put their views on the Paper, and let them take a division upon them after such discussion as was necessary.
§ MR. MORTON (Sutherland)
said the speeches they had had from the opposite side of the House had all condemned 1197 the rules and regulations laid down by the late Government a few years ago. He did not see how the appointment of a Committee could be avoided, and pointed out that the Government would have a majority upon it. When the Report came back, therefore, it would practically be in accordance with the wishes of the Government, and would pass through the House without much debate. He should like to say that new Members like himself had found out during the last fortnight that the adjournment from half-past seven to nine o'clock was an absolute waste of time. It was much too short a time to go home or to go to one's club, and much too long an interval in which to wait about the House. If the Committee took the middle course, and recommended the giving up of one hour of the hour and a half, and that the House should close at eleven o'clock, it would be for the advantage of all. For himself he did not care how early they met; they might meet at nine o'clock if they liked, and also meet on Saturdays. After all, they had pledged themselves to attend the House and do the work of the nation, and they ought not to make a holiday or a beanfeast of the business. They should do the work properly in fulfilment of their pledges to their constituents. He hoped a change would be made in regard to the starred Questions, so that the Government of the day would be bound to answer all of them. The opportunity of questioning Ministers was very precious, and if the period of interrogation was cut short at a particular period they should never get the Answers which they required in the interest of the country. One of the most important matters the House had to deal with was the examination of Supply, of which all Governments tried to prevent the discussion. He should like the House to be allowed to look after that part of its work in a businesslike way. He sympathised with the hon. Member who suggested a time limit for speeches; there was a sort of feeling that no man was fit to sit on the Front Benches unless he could make a speech of at least an hour in length, and right hon. Gentlemen seemed to think that they would be deemed incompetent unless they could 1198 speak at that length. He was not against the closure, although it operated unjustly against some hon. Members; but a time limit of ten minutes would do no one any harm. This would mean that the speeches of hon. Members would be reported in provincial papers, and unless one got reported what was the good of making a speech. A ten-minutes speech was as much as they wanted to hear from anybody. He was also in favour of the devolution of the business of this House, as a good deal of time which should be devoted to Imperial matters was taken up by local business. He was also in favour of the six o'clock sitting on Wednesday. The making of a short day on Friday only encouraged hon. Members to go to Margate, which they ought not to do, and encouraged them to idleness in regard to the duties which they were sent to Parliament to discharge. If the changes he suggested were made they would be able to carry on their business in the future better than the late Government wanted it carried on.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Ordered, "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the question of Procedure in the House of Commons, and to report as to the Amendment of the existing Rules and upon any new Rules which they may consider desirable for the efficient despatch of business."—(The Chancellor of the Exchequer.)