HC Deb 13 July 1906 vol 160 cc1188-201

moved:—" That until and including August 4th Government business be not interrupted under the provisions of any standing order regulating the sittings of the House, and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed; that at the conclusion of Government business each day Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put; and that no Motions be made to bring in Bills under Standing Order No. 11." He did not know whether any serious objection would be taken to this Motion. It might perhaps be said that it was made too early in the session, but he did not think that according to precedent that was so. As he mentioned the other day, the session began rather later than usual, and it was proposed to finish this portion of the session rather earlier than usual; but apart from that, although for the last four years the Motion had been taken on an average nearer the end of the session, yet for the previous four years it was taken twenty-four days before the end, and it was now twenty-one days before the proposed adjournment. On the small point of precedent, then, there was not much to be said. No doubt Members would be anxious to know what use the Government proposed to make of the extended powers they were seeking. The Bills they proposed to deal with wore mostly departmental Bills, or at all events non-contentious, non-party measures. He knew the fallacy lurking under the expression non-contentious, but he gave a general indication when he mentioned such Bills as Plural Voting—as an example to the contrary—or the Merchant Shipping Bill, or the Workmen's Compensation Bill; those were not Bills to which the attention of the House would be directed during the remaining weeks of this part of the session. Several of the Bills to be dealt with were legacies from the late Government, and from these it might be assumed the venom of contention was withdrawn; and another Bill included among those with which the Government wished to proceed had the distinction of being backed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—the Musical Copyright Bill. The object was by a little extra overtime to secure the passing of some useful measures. He would give the list of these measures. The Government did not limit themselves to this list; there might be other Bills of the same character which they would proceed with. First, there were routine and departmental Bills, the Post Office Sites Bill, the Isle of Man Customs Bill, the Statute Law Revision (Scotland) Bill, the Open Spaces Bill, the Dean Forest Bill, the Crown Lands Bill, the Charitable Loan Societies (Ireland) Bill, the Marriage with Foreigners Bill, the Infectious Diseases (Ireland) Bill, the Wireless Telegraphy Bill, and the Land Tax Commissioners Bill. These were Bills which would meet with the approval of the vast majority of the House. Then there were non-party Bills which had been through Grand Committee. There were three commercial Bills of considerable importance, the Marine Insurance Bill, the Prevention of Corruption Bill, and the Bills of Exchange Act Amendment Bill. There were two agricultural Bills, the Dogs Bill, and the Fertilizers and Feeding Stuffs Bill; and there were also the Fatal Accidents (Scotland) Bill and the Labourers (Ireland) Bill. The only Bills which remained on his list were the Musical Copyright Bill, the Revenue Bill, the Colonial Marriages Bill, the Judicature (Ireland) Bill, the Trade Disputes Bill (which he admitted was of a somewhat different character, but it was quite understood that it would be taken before this portion of the session terminated), the Public Trustee Bill, and the Street Betting Bill, a most useful measure which had come down from the House of Lords, and which the Government had adopted as their own. There might possibly be two or three other minor measures of a similar kind. It would be a distinct addition to the useful work of the session if they were able to pass these measures in the few days that remained before the adjournment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, " That, until and including August 4th, Government Business be not interrupted under the Provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed; that at the conclusion of Government Business each day Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put; and that no Motions be made to bring in Bills under Standing Order No. 11."—(Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.)

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)

said there were some portions of the right hon. Gentleman's brief statement to which he did not take exception. But he thought the right hon. Gentleman had quite misunderstood the present position of business, and the parallel he had drawn between the present session and previous sessions was wholly misleading. If he really was going to ask the House to spend the time remaining to them before the adjournment in doing work other than that of Supply and the Education Bill, he would be violating the spirit and the letter of the understanding that was come to upon an earlier occasion. ["No."] He raised no strong objection to the Government's taking Bills which did not divide parties or excite general opposition. But if the right hon. Gentleman was going to take a measure of the first importance like the Trade Disputes Bill in the small hours of the morning in July he asked the House to consider whether that was a reasonable proposal. It would be unreasonable in any circumstances; it was grotesquely unreasonable when they had an autumn session before them. They had not had a clear authoritative statement as to how the time of the autumn session was to be occupied. It was true that the Trade Disputes Bill passed its second reading without a division, and no one denied that it dealt with a subject that ought to be dealt with, for the existing state of the law could not and ought not to be allowed to continue. But the Government had two different and inconsistent solutions of the question, and they required very full consideration on the part of the House. The Bill dealt with the interests of the great trade unions, the general conditions of industry in this country, and the relations between employers and employed. With an autumn session before them, this was not a proper Bill to be taken in the small hours of the morning. Apart from the merits of these Bills, he submitted that the time at the disposal of the House ought to be devoted to Supply and the Education Bill. The Government had followed the single precedent of last year by giving only twenty days to Supply instead of the maximum of twenty-three which the Supply Rule permitted. Last year when the late Government gave only twenty days to Supply what course did the Prime Minister pursue? He did his best by Questions across the floor of the House to protest against such a limitation of discussion in Committee of Supply. Not only so, but the right hon. Gentleman moved that twenty-three days be given instead of twenty. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told them ten months ago that the Supply Rule had broken down because within twenty-three days they could not get through an adequate discussion of Supply, and now the same right hon. Gentleman was a party to restricting discussion in Supply to twenty days. He had not felt disposed to raise violent objection to this restriction this session until he learned the course the Government intended to pursue with regard to the Army Estimates, because he recognised that the Estimates were in the main the Estimates of the late Government. But the discussions in Supply were not mainly discussions on particular financial proposals; they afforded the great opportunity which the House had of criticising the administration of the Government. There were great needs of criticism which the Government had brought upon themselves. One related to South Africa and the other to the Army. There were questions of the utmost importance connected with the new Constitution of the Transvaal, which could only be discussed, as far as he knew, on the Estimates. They constituted a great claim for additional time. Since last night a new necessity had been thrown upon the House for commenting upon the great proposals made by the Minister for War. The Secretary of State made two able and interesting speeches which occupied three hours and ten minutes. He did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman could have made them any shorter. He granted that, and it was part of his case. Of the time occupied by the whole debate less than two hours were occupied by Members of the Opposition.

MR. J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)

There were only three of you present part of the time.


said that so long as the Government were of opinion that Members could devote themselves to dinner and debate at the same time that phenomenon would often repeat itself. But the fact remained that of the single night given up to the exposition and discussion of a plan of Army change, which involved the destruction of ten battalions as well as other important alterations, only two hours wore allowed to the Opposition for expressing their views. Could anyone say there was a Parliamentary precedent for such a restriction of liberty of debate as that implied?


The statement of policy of my right hon. friend had nothing whatever to do with this year's Estimates. It was a statement of his prospective policy, which it was thought respectful to the House to make at this early period, in order that they might have the whole autumn to examine and familiarise themselves with it and criticise it when the time comes.


said the right hon. Gentleman's interruption filled him with greater surprise than he had before, and he would tell the House why. The right hon. Gentleman was not present last night when an earnest appeal was made for more time. They asked for time in the autumn. They recognised that it was difficult, if not impossible, for the Government to find time at a reasonable hour in the evening before separating in August, and what they humbly put in a request for was that they should have an opportunity of considering and commenting upon the plans of the Secretary of State for War before the right hon. Gentleman carried out his scheme or took such steps as would prevent him from withdrawing it. If the Prime Minister meant, by his very courteous interruption, that they should have time to consider the scheme in the privacy of their own chambers, in quiet meditation, or to prepare their speeches for next year's Estimates, of what use was that for attacking the scheme if they thought it to be wrong or of modifying it if they could persuade the Secretary of State that it required modification? If the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to give in the autumn such privileges as the late Government invariably gave when great Army changes were suggested, he would not say another word on the subject of the Army Estimates.


I think it is very likely that, if the right hon. Gentleman and his friends wish to sit a day or two longer than they otherwise would have to do in the autumn session, we might afford them an opportunity of doing so. I think it is reasonable that a certain amount of intellectual steam should be let off on the proposals.


I do not quite know what the right hon. Gentleman means by intellectual steam. If that is his polite way of describing a debate in this House—


I thought steam was a motive power?


Not when it is let off. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to give us days for this discussion?


A day. [" Oh."]


thought that one day was neither in accordance with precedent nor with the necessities of the case. One day was better than nothing, but he earnestly trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to give more than that. But, at all events, let that opportunity, whether it was one day or more, be before the Government were really committed to the work of destruction, as he and his hon. friends thought—of change, as all must admit— which was adumbrated in the speeches of the Secretary of State for War yesterday. So much for Supply. Now he turned to the Education Bill. It would not be in order to dwell on the insufficency of the time given to this Bill, except by way of a premiss to the conclusion that if there was more time it ought to be given to the Education Bill. Let him remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he considered the Parliamentary pledge which was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the debate on the closure resolution. In reply to a question put by himself, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that they must be up by August 4th, and that if they were to be up by that date, with the exception of three Fridays, the Government were prepared to give the whole time between then and the date stated to the Education Bill and the necessary business of Supply, and he added that two of the Fridays were private Members' Fridays, and that the third Friday would be devoted, it might be to the Trade Disputes Bill or to some other Bill—he was not in a position to say which. That was a statement made argumentatively in order to show that the Government, however desirous of giving more time for the Education Bill, could not do so. The letter of that pledge would prevent their even carrying those small administrative and uncontroversial Bills to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred. He did not press them to keep that part of the pledge. He did not for a moment desire to exact the strict letter of the law and have his pound of flesh. But he was quite unable to see how the Government, in face of the pledge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, could make such a proposition as that of using the time after 11 o'clock for such a measure as the Trade Disputes Bill. He did not know what the views of the Labour Party might be. No doubt they were anxious to have the Bill, but he could not believe that they would desire that the measure, the importance of which they would be the first to recognise, should be passed through the House without adequate discussion. He did not think that by trying to force on the discussion of such a measure after 11 o'clock the Government would make much progress. They would certainly arouse an unnecessary bitterness of feeling on a Bill which deserved full and fair discussion, and which ought in no sense to be made the battleground of parties.

MR. LEHMANN (Leicestershire, Market Harborough)

Why not discuss it after 11 o'clock on its merits?


said that if they were not competent to discuss Supply after 11 o'clock they were not competent to discuss the Trade Disputes Bill after 11 o'clock. He was not in the House at the time, but he understood that the Labour Members most earnestly pressed the Government to restrict the hours of debate to 11 o'clock; and the very gentlemen who now wished to discuss the Trade Disputes Bill after 11 o'clock were those from whom the 11 o'clock rule was devised. The Government had wasted many days this session during which they might have got on with this measure. [An HON. MEMBER: What days 1] Well, they spent two days over a fiscal resolution which they could not explain, and they spent another day over a minute analysis of the wit of a learned Judge. There were three days which might have been better spent on the Trade Disputes Bill. After 11 o'clock the House was not nearly so well qualified to deal with controversial subjects. He hoped the Government would feel that he had made out a case. He did not raise objections to the uncontroversial Bills; but considering that only twenty days instead of twenty-three had been given to Supply, and that in the Education Bill they were dealing with a vastly controversial measure under a system which did not enable them to discuss half the Bill, he must say that the Government were precluded from dealing with such subjects as the Trade Disputes Bill after 11 o'clock. Small Bills if they liked; but it was not in the interests of the House that the right hon. Gentleman should use his great majority in order to pass such important measures as the Trade Disputes Bill at inconvenient hours in the morning.


said he did not know that he was in order in again rising, but he asked leave to make some explanations which he hoped would disarm some of the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman. After all, the strong point in his objection to the proposal of the Government was the position given to the Trade Disputes Bill. But the Government did not intend to take more than the Committee stage of the Trade Disputes Bill before the House adjourned, and their intention was to take that on a Friday between 5 and 11 o'clock. In that way there would be time for the discussion of the really one point in that Bill which excited strong feeling. The Report stage and the Third Reading would be taken during the autumn session, during which those who had taken strong views on the subject would have an opportunity of expressing them. Then the right hon. Gentleman complained of the comparatively small amount of time given to Supply. But how did they stand in regard to the amount of Supply that had been taken this year?


said he did not refer to money, but to policy.


said that none the less money was of material importance in this matter. He found that this year at the end of the fourteenth allotted day 71 per cent. of the whole sum involved had been passed, whereas in 1905 at the end of the eighteenth day only 61 per cent. had bee a passed, and in 1904 at the same time only 55 per cent, had been discussed. They did not stand badly, therefore, in that matter this session. As to the Army Estimates and Army questions generally, five days had been given to them this session, so that there again there was no ground for complaint. The right hon. Gentleman had quoted the Chancellor of the Exchequer as saying that the time of the House up to the adjournment would be given either to the Education Bill or to Supply, with certain exceptions. Well, that was true. The time of the House, according to the Standing Orders of the House, would be so devoted ["Oh"] but now they asked for the suspension of those Orders in order to find time for certain other uncontentious, departmental, useful measures which they thought the House ought to pass. He thought that was a complete answer to the whole case of the right hon. Gentleman, and they would be prepared to leave a certain opportunity for the discussion of the great Army question in the autumn session.


said he now understood the right hon. Gentleman to promise that they should have an opportunity of discussing the Army scheme before the Government were absolutely committed to the practical steps of that scheme.


was understood to dissent and to say that the Secretary of State had already stated that he could not consent to refrain from action until his project had been further discussed.


said that at any rate he hoped there would be no attempt to take the Trade Disputes Bill after eleven o'clock.

MR. LAURENCE HARDY (Kent, Ashford)

asked for information as to whether the Government intended to bring in any new Bill. He thought they ought to receive an assurance that no now Government Bill of an important character would be introduced at this period of the session or in the autumn session. The right hon. Gentleman had made reference to some Bill of the first rank as being free from controversy, and as being legacies from the late Government. There was one in which he was personally interested, viz., the Dogs Bill. He hoped that every opportunity would be given to get that Bill passed, although it had met with considerable opposition on the Ministerial side of the House. He thought that everybody would admit that the discussion which they had had in regard to Clause 4 of the Education Bill was one which was justified and one which was likely to be properly renewed upon Report. He thought they would also be justified in asking the Government whether they could take it that no further public bills would be introduced, and that they would not take such Bills on Supply days. They ought also to know what the business of the autumn session was.


asked the indulgence of the House in order to explain two things. Then was a little ambiguity in regard to the word "steps" and he did not want there to be any misunderstanding. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that he understood that there would be no "steps" taken for carrying out the policy of the Secretary of State for War until the autumn session. H" did not know what the right hon. Gentleman meant by "steps," and, as his right hon. friend the Minister for War said yesterday, he could not restrict himself in regard to taking steps in the matter. Therefore he did not think they could at all admit that he was restricted in this matter. He trusted that the opportunity that would be given would be in time for the enforcement so far as it could be enforced of the general criticism of the right hon. Gentleman. To talk plainly upon the matter, in the case of the reduction of some battalions, some steps might be taken, and he could not promise that they would not be taken. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down made a great point of nothing being taken except Supply on Thursdays and Supply nights when overtime was worked. He found, however, that in 1900 ten bills were proceeded with after this Motion was carried; in 1901 four bills; in 1902 nine bills; in 1903 four bills, and in the next year he thought five bills. Some of these were highly contentious measures.


said he did not rise to deal with the question which the right hon. Gentleman had raised. Indeed he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman's statement. He wished to call attention to another matter. The right hon. Gentleman now said that he could not pledge himself that something would not be done by the Secretary of State for War before the autumn sittings. Rumours had reached him that something had already been done before the House heard the scheme. He would not be in order in complaining of that now, but on another occasion he would complain of it seriously. He merely rose to express the hope that as little as possible would be done before the House had had an opportunity of considering the whole question, and that that opportunity would be given as early as possible in the autumn session.


said he did not understand what the right hon. Gentleman meant by "as little as possible." It was very undesirable that an undertaking should be given in any vague terms, as there might be a dispute afterwards as to its meaning. He therefore thought they must leave themselves free.

MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)

said that, as one who had strongly advocated the new Rules under which the House rose at eleven o'clock, he wished to give unqualified approval to the proposals which the Government were now making. He trusted that the Resolution would meet with the general support of the House. He would remind hon. Members, especially on the Opposition side of the House, that the discussion of the Trade Disputes Bill certainly need not occupy any great amount of time. The Bill had been discussed so often and the principle of the new clause was accepted unanimously by the House upon the Second Reading. Prolonged discussion therefore did not seem to be necessary, as the only point remaining to be decided was the words which would best secure the carrying out of the intentions of Parliament to give protection to trade unions. That being so the time offered by the Government with reasonable limitations as to the length of speeches and in regard to repetitions, would be amply sufficient for the purpose of enabling that measure to pass.

SIR JOHN BRUNNER (Cheshire, Norwich)

asked what the effect of this Motion would be in regard to private business, both opposed and unopposed. He did not understand that there was any intention to interfere with private business.


said he did not think that private business would be interfered with by this Resolution. If private business was unopposed it would be taken first, but if it was opposed it would have to come on at such time as the Chairman of Ways and Means might fix. Of course if it happened upon a d"y allocated to the Education Bill it would have to be taken after half past ten after the closure was concluded. If the private business came upon a Supply day it would be taken at a quarter past eight o'clock.


said the Secretary of State had told the House that he was going to take them fully into his confidence as to these changes in the Army. He now said he was going to destroy ten battalions of the Regular Army, and these battalions consisted of 3,000 men belonging to the regular artillery. The right hon. Gentleman was about to break up the Militia garrison artillery: to destroy the Royal Arsenal Volunteers and to make other changes of very great magnitude which when once made could not possibly be repaired. Were they to understand, in view of the statement of the Secretary for War that he was going to take them fully into his confidence, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer considered it a compliance with that pledge that before one of these very important details had been discussed in the House he was going to make the whole of the changes?


said he had only repeated what the Secretary for War had said that he could not be limited in this matter.

SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

asked whether he was correct in understanding that the reduction of the Army was going to take place without further consultation with the House of Commons. [OPPOSITION cries of " Yes."] Were they to have no opportunity of discussing the matter?


said the Secretary of State for War was perfectly entitled to take any steps upon his own responsibility without consulting individual Members of the House of Commons.


inquired if the right hon. Gentleman could disband the whole Army upon his own responsibility? If he was entitled to disband 20,000 men without consulting the House of Commons he supposed he could disband the entire force.


asked if the hon. and gallant Member supposed that 20,000 men could be disbanded from the Army between now and the months of October or November.


inquired whether the Prime Minister thought that in pursuing that policy he was restoring the supremacy of the House of Commons which was said to be one of the mandates received by the Liberal Party at the General Election.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That, until and including August 4th, Government Business be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed; that at the conclusion of Government Business each day Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put; and that no Motions be made to bring in Bills under Standing Order No. 11.— (Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.)