HC Deb 03 June 1907 vol 175 cc320-43

I took the course of asking hon. Members who had Questions on the Paper with regard to Bills before the House to postpone them or drop them, in order that I might, with the leave of the House, make a general statement as to the position of public business. I think that is the most convenient and agreeable course for Members of the House, and I hope they will approve of what I have done. On the Motion for the adjournment over Whitsuntide I gave a brief review of the position of business at that time, and proved, I think satisfactorily, that business was in a good position and that the time of the Session up to that moment had been well spent. I admit that there is one blemish. I hope I shall get credit for my candour. I admit that we have been rather backward in introducing Bills. I do not think it has caused any backwardness in business generally. But undoubtedly we have not dealt with some of the Bills we have undertaken to produce, and I do not hesitate to state what was the reason of that unreadiness, so far as it existed. It was due to the long autumn Session of last year. This is not the occasion, nor will I occupy the time of the House in attempting it, to discuss the often raised and rather controversial question of the proper disposition and allocation of the time of the House during the twelve months of the year. I have always entertained a desire which is prevalent in most quarters of the House, to have an early summer rising. But the difficulty is how you are to make up for the time thus taken off. Although we may, and I hope we may, fall upon some way of distributing the business which will avoid the evil of which I speak, still undoubtedly there are great evils where the House is kept in the active process of legislation up to the days immediately before Christmas. Not because of any tax that that puts upon Ministers — they are the last people to be pitied, because it is their own doing if the business is so arranged — nor of any inconvenience oven to Members of the House, but because of this very evil to which I have referred, namely, that the draftsmen and officials of the departments are kept so occupied up to the last moment in watching and assisting in correcting legislation which is in process of passing, that they cannot devote their attention to the Bills that should be ready for the next session; and at the end of the winter session they deserve a short holiday. Therefore, practically, their work cannot begin, until the new session has been inaugurated. I do not say that it is an insuperable evil, but it is a considerable evil, and at all events it is the cause on this occasion of the delay in introducing our Bills. With that example before me, I feel pretty sure that the House will approve of the decision of the Government that we should not repeat this year the autumn session. I know there are many of my hon. friends—gentlemen in all parts of the House—who are quite ready to sacrifice themselves; but the practical difficulties to which I have referred would be almost duplicated if there were two autumn sessions one after the other. There may be occasions when the pressure of business, or circumstances apart from the ordinary legislative business, require an autumn session, but I do not think it is desirable to have a busy legislative session as a whole kept up to the end of the year. From that, which is rather an obiter dictum directly affecting what I have to say to the House, I pass to the task which I have before me. I think the most handy and businesslike thing I can do is to take the King's Speech at the beginning of the session and see how we stand in regard to it. Our programme, was, no doubt, a large one.. It mentioned thirteen Bills of consequence. But that is not an extravagant programme. If it had been more extensive that it is, I think we could hardly be blamed, because we have been for many years prevented from carrying into legislative effect principles to which we have always proclaimed our adherence; and we should not have been worthy of the place we occupy if we had not made a strenuous endeavour to give effect to as many as possible of those principles. Well, there are thirteen legislative items. The first measure named in the Speech was a Bill for the reform of licensing, and the fact that it occupies the first place is a proof of our earnestness and of our desire to proceed with it with as little delay as possible. We have departed in no degree whatever from the opinion we have held on that subject. We believe that this is perhaps the most important and immediate matter to which the House can address itself. But this is precisely one of those measures which have suffered from the autumn session. The introduction of this Bill has been so long delayed that, although very great progress has been made in sketching a number of provisions which might be constituted into a Bill, it has been practically crowded out this session. But the obligation laid upon us remains. I myself gave last year a most positive pledge on this subject, one from which I do not recede for a moment. We feel ourselves bound by these pledges, as well as by our own instincts and desires, to promise that this great measure shall be the very first measure of next Session. I believe that any attempt to hurry a measure of this kind through the House would be unwise, and nothing may be lost after all by the time that is given for full consideration. I next come to the proposals for more clearly defining the functions of the Military Forces of the Crown. That refers to the Territorial and Reserve Forces Bill, of which I need only say that the House has received it, on the whole, with favour. Certainly the main design of it has been received with favour, and I have no reasonable doubt that it will pass without much difficulty into law. Then I come to Bills dealing with small holdings and valuation in Scotland. As to the first of these, it is before the Scottish Standing Committee, and I can only hope that the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London and his associates may not find it absolutely necessary to give to the greater part of the Bill that minute examination which has been devoted— [Opposition cries of "Why not?"] — that minute examination which the hon. Member, no doubt for excellent reasons from his own point of view, had devoted to the first few words of the first line of the first clause of the Bill. The Scottish Valuation Bill has been introduced; I do not know that it has actually been circulated, but it will be immediately in the hands of Members. I now pass to the very large question of Irish legislation. The Irish Council Bill, although intentionally and designedly a measure limited in its scope, was, after all, a great measure, because it was so framed as to place under the direct control of the Council, of which by far the largest part was elected, and elected on the most extended franchise, all the chief Irish Administrative Departments—the Local Government Board, including administration of the Poor Law; education, primary, intermediate, and technical; the Department of Agriculture, reformatory and industrial schools; and the Board of Works, with all that appertains to it. That Bill also contains financial provisions that would have enabled this Council, had it been erected, to make great additions to the efficiency of the public services in Ireland. We believe that this measure was one which the Irish people would have done well to give greater attention to, in its details, than appears to have been bestowed upon it at the recent Convention. There appears to have been some misapprehension as to certain details, but those details, so far as they embodied any real fact or truth at all, could have been modified in Committee. Some of them seem to me to have been entirely misunderstood; but, the Leader of the Irish Party in this House having authoritatively announced that he would abide by the decision of that Convention, and the Convention having unanimously rejected it, we feel that we have no choice but to conclude that the entire influence of the Irish Members, speaking for the Irish people, would be thrown against the measure; and in those circumstances, which are a source of sincere regret and disappointment to us, we of course cannot go further with it. It is also clear to the Government, with regard to another great question, that of University education in Ireland, that no practical results can be expected to follow from the introtion, during the present session, of a Bill of that magnitude. During the autumn recess my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary purposes, in Ireland, to devote time and personal attention to this question, and my right hon. friend, whom we all know to be of a cheerful and even sanguine disposition, believes that it is possible and even likely that there may be established or discovered a harmony among the jarring interests and opinions on the subject in Ireland—a task I admit which has hitherto defied the best efforts of the pacificator. We do, however, intend to produce in this session, and at an early date to press forward with all the means at our command, a Bill for the restoration of evicted tenants, and to obtain such compulsory powers of purchase as may be necessary to give immediate effect to a long-standing Parliamentary pledge. The object, I believe, will not be without support above the gangway on the other side. The next item in the King's Speech was a Bill for the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal. That Bill has been read a second time, and the tenor of the debate is such as to give us good reason to hope that there will be no undue delay. Next in order comes the regulation of the hours of labour in mines. A Bill, as we all know, has passed the Second Reading unanimously. It is a private Member's Bill, and that Bill, obviously and on the face of it, requires elaboration. My right hon. friend the Home Secretary had appointed a Departmental Committee, and I cannot mention that Committee without speaking of the debt we are all under, all of us, and especially those interested in this question, to the Member for Gloucester and those who served on the Committee with him for the manner in which they conducted the inquiry. They have held a most careful and strenuous investigation into the economic conditions and aspects of this question. They have now rendered their Report. That Report, in the first place, shows how absolutely necessary it was to have this inquiry; and, in the second place, it, I hope, furnishes a prospect, at any rate, of a basis for agreement on the subject. My right hon. friend hopes to be able very shortly to prepare a Bill in the light of the Report of this Committee, and, if it is found that differences are not very great, he is not without hope that that Bill may pass during this session. A more likely contingency would be that it should be introduced, that it should be criticised, and be the subject of arrangement and consultation and suggestion and perhaps compromise during the autumn, and that I think is pretty certain to give a satisfactory, workable, and therefore more easily carried Bill in the Session that is to come. In either of those cases, no time will have been wasted by this Committee of ray right hon. friend. I pass to the Patent Laws. My right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade is piloting that Bill through the Committee, and I do not think it will make any large demand on the time of the House. With regard to valuation in England and Wales, I may be allowed to remark that this is not so simple or straightforward a matter as in Scotland, because in Scotland we have the great advantage of an admirable machinery and assessment system to which we can add any further functions or directions that we choose to give. But in England that cannot be said. The machinery | here is complicated and defective. I trust there will not be much bitter controversy on the subject, and I am the more hopeful in that respect because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin brought in a Bill in a recent year for this very purpose, and I believe that the main provisions of that Bill can be taken as the basis, at any rate, of any further Bill upon the subject. I would only say that this makes it, of course, difficult to speak positively as to the introduction of this Bill, and its passing into law during this session. We propose to incorporate—it is right that I should say so—with the machinery, proposals or a clause on the lines of the provision in the Scottish Bill, providing for the separate valuation of land divested of improvements. If the happy result should arrive that this Bill can pass, so much the better; but if not, we are well aware it is only due to the authorities that they should be informed of what is intended, and there should also be an opportunity again of receiving suggestions and representations from them, and the way will have been made clear for legislation at the earliest available time. The next Bill on my list is the English Small Holdings Bill, which has had a most favourable reception on the whole, and, above all, it has been fortunate in eliciting an expression of an urgent desire on all sides—particularly among those who think that they ate especially able to speak with authority for the landowners of the country—for a great extension of the facilities for the purchase of land. A sort of coroner's inquest has been held on a speech of mine in which I spoke of the denial of land where it was required. I made no allegations then against any particular class or any particular individual. I merely stated what I know to be a fact, but I am very glad that the language I have used has drawn from such high authorities such explicit and unmistakable expressions of their earnest desire to go forward in the matter of the sale of land or the disposal of land for the purpose of small holdings. There ought not to be such a difference of opinion upon this subject as to justify protracted debate. The next item is that of the housing of the people. My right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board has had a Bill drafted which he can produce at any moment, and will introduce, if it is thought it would be beneficial to the cause that it be introduced this session. That exhausts my list, with the exception of one Bill, a Bill to enable women to serve upon public authorities, which Bill has been introduced into another place, and, in a somewhat improved state of feeling, will not, I hope, prove to be a contentious measure. These are the Bills which were named in the Speech: but now I come to another Bill which has been introduced since the commencement of the session—namely, the Education (Special Religious Instruction) Bill. The Government, after much hesitation, and much regret in many respects, have determined that it is not desirable to go further with that measure. The course of business and the prospects of next session have been considerably modified since this Bill was introduced, and we see our way to propose that we should undertake next session the great task of putting the educational system of the country in order. We intend to give effect to the principles which we have always adhered to on the subject—principles with regard to the control and management of the public elementary schools of this country. It can never have been supposed, I should think, by any one that we should be content to acquiesce in the position of affairs which was left by the action of the House of Lords at the end of last session; and therefore this announcement that in the very earliest session available to us we will deal with this question on broad lines, which will be our own lines—this announcement cannot give rise to any surprise. [Mr. BALFOUR: Hear, hear.] Apparently I am exactly anticipating the wishes of the right hon. Gentleman. We are most anxious, of course, as any one must be, to give relief to those who are suffering for conscience sake — we fully appreciate the tremendous sacrifices that are being made for conscience, and which will continue to be made, or be in danger of being exacted, so long as the Act of 1902, which was the work of the Leader of the Opposition, remains in its provisions unrepealed and unlimited. But we think it is a wiser course not to proceed now with the smaller measure. If I describe this smaller measure as an unsatisfactory Bill, I do not wish to be misunderstood; it is not because I agree in any measure with the objections taken against it on what I call denominational grounds; it is on the very opposite grounds that I think it is unsatisfactory. The objection I have in my mind, and which I think is largely entertained on this side of the House, is directed against the adoption of any legislation calculated to give further currency and Parliamentary sanction to the idea that a denomination is entitled to secure for a financial consideration that its particular tenets shall be propagated to nearly half the children in the elementary schools in the country. Therefore, although this small Bill would have a relieving effect to many of those suffering, yet it would have had other effects as well which it is desirable to avoid; and with the immediate intention and prospect of full relief by the adoption of a larger measure I think the best thing is not to proceed further with this Bill. Now I have gone over my list of measures proposed in the King's Speech. I said when I began that I hold both the progress made and the prospect of progress during the rest of the session as satisfactory. I think I have given handsome proof of this in dealing with the different measures we have got. Shall we be criticised on this ground from the other side of the House? I looked, with some tremor, because I did not know what I should discover, into their record, and I find that right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in office during the last two years of their reign mentioned twelve Bills in the King's Speech, and passed three. Three out of twelve! I think we shall do better than that. The singular fact that three out of twelve was accomplished in 1904 and repeated in 1905 rather leads us to believe that that is their normal pace, and that they consider it a proper proportion. I have no fears, therefore, of being taunted with doing little justice to the programme advanced at the beginning of the session. The House will have gathered from what I have already said that we do not intend to call Parliament together for an autumn session. What we do propose is, if I may recapitulate, to pass before the prorogation the following measures: —The Finance Bill, the Territorial and Reserve Forces Bill, the Small Holdings Bills, England and Scotland, the Valuation Bill (Scotland), the Patents Bill, the Court of Criminal Appeal Bill, the Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Bill, and the Women on Local Authorities Bill, and other less conspicuous Bills which I need hardly enumerate. But let me guard myself against being supposed to be too sanguine, and presuming too much; when I speak of passing a Bill and not being able to pass a Bill I am referring to this House alone. I can only speak for this House. This list is not too much, we think, for this House to pass within the reasonable limit of a session, provided we have, and I make no doubt that we shall have, reasonable co-operation and good will in all parts of the House. But when I look abroad, when I look beyond the House of Commons, my powers of prophecy and forecast fail me altogether. Xo one can tell, I have no knowledge, and no one, on this side of the House at least, has knowledge of the treatment which will be measured out to our legislative endeavours in another place; as to that we are completely in the dark, unless occasionally we are vouchsafed a a little gleam of enlightenment from the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Sir, it is not only that the views, the theories, and the sympathies which are predominant there are, as it seems to us, in conflict with the judgment given by the electorate, of which sometimes they seem to take no account; they are more universally in conflict with the tone and spirit which have been breathed into this assembly. That is why we can form no estimate. What defies calculation is that their power of destruction is so capriciously exercised. One Bill comes before them which is denounced as fraught with disaster, red ruin, and breaking up of laws, and yet after all it comes back to this House unamended in any particular. Other measures, no doubt displeasing to Members of that House, and the classes and orders of men to which they belong, are suddenly discovered to be so dreadful that they are subjected to arbitrary and summary treatment. In those circumstances, we cannot count upon them, and we have nothing to do with any estimate that can be made as to what may happen elsewhere. And here I come to the end of my task; but I am brought by this grave consideration with which I have just been dealing to another subject, the promise made in the King's Speech. It would have been out of place in my little review of the King's Speech, because it had nothing to do with immediate legislation. The House will recollect the declaration then made of our deep sense of the importance of this matter. The words in the Speech were these— Serious questions affecting the working of our Parliamentary system have arisen from unfortunate differences between the two Houses. My Ministers have this important subject under consideration with a view to a solution of the difficulty. Some hon. Members have taken it into their heads, apparently, that we are half-hearted in this matter, and I have had numerous inquiries made by inquisitive Members as to when we should proceed to take action in the matter. I am glad to be able now to relieve that anxiety. We have long been of opinion that things cannot be right with our legislative system so long as matters remain as they are. I do not believe there is any man who justifies the present position of affairs. There may be some who find it convenient for their own purposes, but they cannot defend it either in principle or in practice. Therefore, I do not doubt there may be a good deal of united feeling in the matter. But at all events, whether or not we receive support from the side of those who have been impressing upon mo the desirableness of acting speedily, we propose, as soon as we have made a very little further way with the essential business of the session, to bring forward a Resolution on the subject. [OPPOSITION laughter.] And this [pointing to the Opposition benches] is the Constitutional Party! We propose to bring forward a Resolution on the subject, which I believe to be the proper and invariable Parliamentary proceeding. It will be moved either on the 17th or the 24th of this month, probably the 24th; and we will then state fully our view of the matter, and shall be glad to submit that view to the judgment of the House.

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

The House has been treated by the Prime Minister to a statement of great importance; but the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that, so far as I know, the course he has to-day pursued is one totally without precedent in making a highly controversial speech which ended with an elaborate attack or advance attack on the other House of Parliament. Such a speech has never been made by the Leader of the House except upon some substantive resolution. The right hon. Gentleman spoke by leave of the House. He spoke, therefore, in a sense, without authority. I am following equally by leave of the House; and those who will follow me—as doubtless there will be some to follow me—will be in an equally irregular position. The right hon. Gentleman spoke for three-quarters of an hour. Ho touched upon topics of the profoundest interest, and it is impossible that such a statement should be allowed to pass without some criticism from me. Observe that the day which the right hon. Gentleman has selected for this performance is one on which, by his own action, the House is precluded from pursuing its ordinary course of moving the adjournment, and is also a day when the closure comes into operation at half-past ten o'clock. The right hon. Gentleman assured us more than once that he was extremely well satisfied with the state of public business. What is the position of public business? June has begun, and no Government measure of first-class importance has reached the Committee stage except the Army Bill. That Bill is in Committee under conditions which limit debate. Its main provisions have not been discussed. Yet on one of the few days we are allowed to consider it the right hon. Gentleman comes down and for three-quarters of an hour comments upon what has passed this session, what is going to pass in the autumn by way of negotiation, what is going to happen next sesson, and he seasons his observations by an attack on the other House by way of lightening the general gloom of his picture. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to congratulate him on one matter, it is that he has come round to the opinion which I ventured to lay before the House on many occasions last year with regard to the propriety or impropriety, expediency or inexpediency, of autumn sessions. I ventured then to say that it is impossible, under a system of autumn sessions to carry on the business of the country. The right hon. Gentleman has put the difficulty down to the draftsmen. But I say that the Ministers who have to direct the draftsmen cannot do their work. This Ministry in particular have not done their work, and largely because they have been so occupied with the autumn session that they were not able to give their minds to framing the lines of the measures which it is their business and not that of the draftsmen to frame. But the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that I do not think the Government are likely to be in a very much better case under his new method of conducting the business of the House than under his old method. He has told us there is to be no autumn session, but he lays down a programme which I venture to think will take us well on into October before it can by any possibility be concluded. I will not say much about the programme for next session. The right hon. Gentleman told us he had shown his earnestness in favour of temperance reform by putting the Licensing Bill in the forefront of the King's Speech. But what is the use of putting a Bill in the forefront of the King's Speech if, on the very first occasion a statement is made about it, it turns out that the Government do not propose to present it and have not had even time to prepare it? When the Government put this measure first in the King's Speech by way of showing their enthusiasm in the cause of temperance reform, if they had not the Bill drafted at that time, they were not treating the Sovereign as he should be treated ["Oh, oh"], and certainly they were not treating this House as it should be treated. Now it turns out that after they had been reflecting on the temperance question for all these years out of office, and for eighteen months in office, they did not know what the Bill was going to contain, and they do not know now. What is the programme which the right hon. Gentleman, who says he is so well satisfied with the state of public affairs, has put before us?—a programme which would have included the Irish Council Bill, if the Government had carried out what I always thought was their view, that in legislating for Ireland they should consult Irish opinion. It is quite evident they never consulted Irish opinion before introducing that Bill; and it is only owing to that singular accident that we are saved from adding to the programme the enormous controversy which any Bill dealing with local government in Ireland must necessarily provoke in this House and in the country. Well, what is the programme for this session? There is the Resolution about the House of Lords. I do not know how long the right hon. Gentleman thinks that will last, but I do not imagine he thinks that a great constitutional change can be dealt with in a few hours. There are the remains of the Territorial Forces Bill. There is the South African Loan Bill, which has not boon mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. [A LIBERAL MEMBER: Will it be opposed?] It will certainly be opposed; but whether it is to be criticised or not, I do not understand why it has not been mentioned by the Prime Minister. Then there is the Eight Hours Bill for mines. There is the Scottish Valuation Bill, which has not reached the Second Reading, and which raises questions of the deepest importance. There is the English Valuation Bill, of which the same may be said, because nobody is likely to be taken in by the right hon. Gentleman's naive observation that that Bill was in the main to be founded on a measure suggested by my right hon. friend the Member for South Dublin. That is a good foundation, no doubt; but the right hon. Gentleman is going to build on that foundation by adding provisions which cut at the root of the most fundamental principles in regard to property. The right hon. Gentleman knows that cannot be done, and ought not to be done, without the fullest consideration. Then there is the Evicted Tenants Bill, which was not mentioned in the King's Speech, by the way, and which is not yet drafted. There is the English Small Holdings Bill, which has not reached the Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman, with an air of surprise, congratulated Members on this side that they showed a desire to see the purchase of land facilitated in England. We have always desired to see the purchase of land facilitated in England, in Ireland, and in Scotland; but when the right hon. Gentleman bases upon that view an opinion that the English Small Holdings Bill requires no discussion in this House, I would remind him that that Bill does not involve the purchase of land, and that it embodies many other and very important principles, including the coercing of county councils by a Government Department. These are projects the right hon. Gentleman desires to see hurried through before the rising, of the House. Lastly—perhaps relatively unimportant—there is the Pacific Islands Bill, which is absolutely necessary to carry the Convention, for which he is responsible, into effect, and there are other Departmental Bills, like the Wireless Telegraphy Bill, which must be passed. There is the Budget Bill, which must be passed, and there is, I suppose, the House of Lords Resolution, which is to be passed before the end of the month. So there is the whole propaganda, not to mention the Departmental Bills, which, as the right hon. Gentleman says, are more or less in the background, to go through before the House rises, during the months of July and August, I suppose September, and not improbably far on in October. Of those Bills how many are drafted? The House of Lords Resolution we have not seen; the South African Loan Bill we have not seen; the Eight Hours Bill we have not seen; the Scottish Land Valuation Bill—has it reached Second Reading? [Cries of "No"; "Not printed."] It has been introduced, and if it has not yet been printed, weeks having been allowed to pass; that is a gross irregularity which, no doubt, the Minister in charge will see remedied at once. The English Bill we have not seen; the Evicted Tenants Bill we have not seen; the Small Holdings Rill has received a First Reading; the Housing Bill we have not seen; and there are Departmental Bilk we have not seen. The right hon. Gentleman is satisfied with the position; is anybody else satisfied? Is there any other human being in the House who has heard my enumeration of Bills and description of the state of public business who will say that the position is what it ought to be, and is not most discreditable to those who are responsible for it? It is not as if the Government had introduced a great many measures which have not passed; they have not been introduced, not drafted, not decided upon; and in the near neighbourhood of the dog days we are going to have a whole mass of legislation thrown at our heads without even now having the least idea of what that legislation is going to be. Yet this sanguine Government have even now got so far in the construction of the King's Speech for next session that they tell us they are going to deal with the Irish University question by a Bill which is not to be on the lines which their late colleague said were the only lines that would be acceptable to the Government. I confess I do not understand the view of Ministerial responsibility the Government seem to hold. I imagine that Mr. Bryce, when he was a member of the Government, spoke for the Government, and the fact that he is no longer a member of the Government does not render his words wholly vain and nugatory. I, therefore, listened with amazement when the right hon. Gentleman said the lines which Mr. Bryce said were the only lines the Government would consent to consider are to be abandoned. I am glad they are to be; but they are to be abandoned by the unfortunate Minister who has now charge of Irish affairs, and he, poor man, is to spend his autumn in devising a new Irish Universities Bill. But the Home Secretary is still more to be pitied, for he is not only to spend his autumn in trying to devise a temperance measure, but he is also to be occupied in negotiating an Eight Hours Bill for mines to be passed next year. Last of all, we are to have education reform from top to bottom on broad lines. But is that to come before temperance, or is temperance to come before education? and where are we going to find the interstices for the Eight Hours Bill and the Irish University Bill? All this programme is irregular, is inopportune in the time chosen for its description; surely it is mere word-building. The right hon. Gentleman must know as well as I that this or next session will not suffice to carry out the programme he has in a sanguine spirit chosen to lay before us. I do not believe that any Government on 3rd June ever promised so many first-class Bills in the hope of passing them in the same session, some of the Bills not having been even introduced. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to precedents; but can he find any Government, either of his own Party or of this, who ever on 3rd June announced—not for an autumn session, but in a normal session—seven first-class Bills for passing, not even read a first time? I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has cause to congratulate himself, as I thought he did, on the position. If he is happy, it is hardly for us of the Opposition to complain. I agree with him that the heaviest labour falls on the Ministers—perhaps less on present Ministers than others I have known—but the greatest labour does no doubt fall to the Ministers; but if ho looks forward with satisfaction to sitting on to October it is not for the Opposition, whose labours are lighter and in many respects far more agreeable, to complain. I believe that the part of the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that will attract more general interest than the fantastic programme written on a slate to be afterwards wiped off, though it occupied the larger part of the three-quarters of an hour—the great topic of interest is, after all, the Irish Bill. Upon that I do not mean to dwell. I suppose the Leader of the Irish Party will have something to say upon that, but I may congratulate the House upon the abandonment of a Bill which had no merit whatever from any point of view. It most ingeniously contrived to dissatisfy every Party and every fraction of a Party in the House. It is not the kind of measure upon which it was worth while to ask the House to spend great labour through weary nights and days, and the House is to be congratulated upon the position at which it has arrived. But why was that position necessary? Why was there this division of opinion between the Ministers who brought in the Bill and those whom the Bill was to satisfy? I should have supposed that there would have been formal, or at all events informal, communications passing before the introduction of the Bill; but of that I can say nothing—others are more deeply concerned than I; but this I will say, that it is one of the most singular attempts I have yet seen to govern Ireland according to Irish ideas. I am aware that, like the Prime Minister, I am only speaking by the leave of the House, and we are both irregular. I think I have dealt with all the topics suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, and I have only to thank the House for the courtesy of listening to a speech which I admit has been somewhat controversial in character, but which was not unprovoked.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

I take it for granted the House will extend to me, as to others, its courtesy for a few moments. I can, however, promise not to abuse that indulgence by delivering a controversial speech. I have risen only for the purpose of making two or three remarks which seem to me are rendered necessary by the statement of the Prime Minister. First, let me say upon the topic that concerns all Members —the advancement of business and the convenience of Members in all quarters of the House—that while I admit there was no other course open to the Prime Minister than to abandon an autumn session this year, at the same time I entertain the view very strongly indeed that the only way in which the accumulating business of the House can in any degree be effectively transacted is by regulating the arrangements for the sittings of the House, so that, adjourning earlier in the summer, a regular autumn session might be held every year. In that way the House would be enabled to rise early in July, and I do not think the majority of Members would object to a two months' sitting in the autumn to finish before Christmas. I do not think that any other satisfactory arrangement can be made for discharging the duties imposed on the House. With reference to the Irish Bill, to which the Leader of the Opposition has just alluded, I have only one or two observations I desire to make. I am not one of those who was greatly astonished or greatly disappointed with what has happened. I know, as every practical man knows, that the late election resulted in the return to the House of, I believe, a substantial majority of Members who believe that the ultimate settlement of the Irish Question can only be found in putting full trust in the Irish people in the same way as it was given to the French in Canada and to the Dutch in the Transvaal, and so forth. At the same time, I knew as a practical man that the Government would not, for reasons which I need not enter into now, but which I deplored most earnestly at the time, introduce in this session of Parliament a Home Rule Bill. I further realised, I never in any communications which I may have held with anybody disguised the opinion, and always realised that in attempting this half measure, Ministers were undertaking an impossible task, and that they would find by hard experience that there was no alternative, no reasonable or logical alternative, to a full trust in the people in this matter. Although I have been willing, and I have done my poor best as far as I could, to assist those who were endeavouring to find such a settlement as was attempted, I never for one moment disguised from myself that the task was in the nature of a hopeless one, and that it would be impossible to devise a really workable and logical half-measure. With reference to the Bill itself there are one or two matters to which I desire to allude. First of all the Prime Minister said that it seemed in his view that it would have been possible, if the Bill went into Committee, for us to obtain all those Amendments we considered vital to the Bill. I daresay we might have induced the majority of this House to make some Amendments, and I agree with the Prime Minister that apparently there was some misunderstanding with reference to some of the more vital portions of the Bill, because I have heard it stated since that—for example, on the question of the Lord Lieutenant's veto—we did not fully understand the mind and intention of the Government. What I want to point out is that on the point which we all considered the most vital of all, viz., on the constitution of the body, I had no belief, and I have not now, from anything I have heard or knew, that in Committee it would have been possible for us to have obtained an Amendment such as I might say without any breach of confidence we pressed on the Government as strongly as we could. My information was entirely to the contrary. That was a settled point, and there was no hope that we should be able to obtain that Amendment if we went into discussion on the details of the Bill. There is only one other matter about the Bill I want to allude to. I was astonished when I came back to this country from Ireland to find that an idea was prevalent among some Members in this House that the defeat of the Bill, in Irish public opinion, was due to clerical interference and influence. Ono of the heart-breaking things about Ireland is that it seems to be impossible for people in this country thoroughly to understand Irish questions or Irishmen. I appeal to all my colleagues in this House who are around me, and many of whom, remember, are Protestants, whether it is not absolutely true for me to say that there never was a decision given in the field of Irish politics which was less influenced by any clerical considerations whatever. The point which is in the minds of some hon. Members with reference to the education portion of the Bill was not discussed to any considerable extent in Ireland at all, and one, two, or three eminent ecclesiastics who did speak upon the Bill actually picked out this as the only redeeming feature of the Bill. The Archbishop of Dublin himself said that the educational portion was the only redeeming feature ho saw in the Bill. I therefore say that there never was a more complete misunderstanding of the case than the idea which has been spread abroad in this country that the result was influenced by clerical interference. It was not. It was, if I may so describe it, a perfectly genuine and spontaneous outburst of Irish lay opinion on this question. I, who had been considering this matter, and considering details, to see whether it was possible that something in this direction could be done, was not shocked by the Bill in the same way as men to whom it came for the first time. When these people, who, while they were not expecting full Home Rule, did expect something short of Homo Rule and which should yet mean a complete trust in the people, saw this Bill put before them, there was a spontaneous outburst of public opinion, not influenced by mo, not influenced by my colleagues in this House or by my colleagues in Ireland or by public men of any sort—an absolutely spontaneous outburst, in the face of which it was absolutely impossible to believe the Bill would meet with any other fate than that which overtook it. The rejection of the Bill raises very serious considerations. The Irish people cure comparatively little about all your ameliorative legislation compared with the question of self government, and the rejection of this Bill raises the serious question in what direction they will marshal their forces so as to put this question again in the forefront of Imperial polities. I pass now to another matter. I confess I heard with great regret the statement made by the Prime Minister on the University question. Let me in two or three sentences recall to the memory of the House how the matter stands. The late Government declared that they could not deal with this question until there was practical unanimity of opinion in Ireland. That meant, of course, the practical shelving of the question, because you never can have practical unanimity on a question of this kind in Ireland any more than you can have practical unanimity of opinion on any educational question in England. But when the present Government came into office they adopted what I regard as a much more statesmanlike and reasonable attitude. They first appointed a small Commission to complete an inquiry already set on foot to inquire into the whole problem of University education, and when the Report of that Commission came out the late Chief Secretary (Mr. Bryce) made a most remarkable speech, and he made it under most extraordinarily dramatic circumstances. The new Chief Secretary had been appointed. He had not actually taken up office, but I understand as a matter of fact that he held office at that time. At any rate he did hold office a few days afterwards. He was nominated for the office and Mr. Bryce went over to say his farewell word to the Irish people, and, by way of fare-well to them, he made them a solemn promise, not, mark you, on his own behalf or on behalf of himself alone, but as the representative of the Government and on behalf of the Government, and what he said amounted to this: that the policy of the late Government in hanging up this question until there was absolute unanimity in Ireland was not the policy of the present Government, that they were determined to take up this question, to introduce a Bill immediately, and he proceeded to sketch in detail what he said was the Government scheme. Whatever differences there may have been as to the merits of this scheme in comparison with other schemes previously suggested, this at any rate was the result of that action: that all those who represented at any rate Catholic and national opinion came out and declared that they would accept his scheme. The representatives of the Irish Nationalist Party said so; the Irish Hierarchy said so; and practically all those in Ireland who may be classed in the terms Nationalist or Catholic declared that they would accept the scheme, although in many cases it was not the one that they individually would have preferred. But now, not only are the Government not going to introduce this Bill this session, but we are face to face with the fact that they are not going to introduce it at all. I did not believe that they could pass it this session, but I did believe they could introduce it, as they are doing with reference to another Bill mentioned, for discussion in the autumn. Not only that, however, but they have absolutely reverted to the policy of their predecessors, that is to say, they (the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary) are to spend time in devising a scheme that will unite everybody in Ireland. Well, that is an impossible task. No one knows it more than the Chief Secretary himself, and I think it is most lamentable that this backward movement should be made upon this question. One word upon another subject before I sit down. I rejoice extremely that the Government are going promptly to fulfil the promises made at the beginning of the session with respect to the evicted tenants by giving the Estates Commissioners powers to take land compulsorily in order to restore these men to their homes. [An HON. MEMBER: How many of them are there?] The Chief Secretary promised the figures before the end of May, and said that by then his inquiries would be completed, and that he would be able to give the exact figures. But I do not think—I say this, of course, without having seen the figures —that the number is so large as to make it a very serious or difficult question, and I recall with the greatest pleasure the conciliatory speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin in the debate which took place at the beginning of the session, when he clearly indicated that he and his friends would be no parties to standing in the way of the fulfilment of the promises made that these tenants should be restored to their homos. But there is another matter about which I feel the greatest possible anxiety, namely, the delay which is occurring in the presentation of the Report of the Dudley Commission. The disturbances, such as they were, have been greatly exaggerated, and in the West of Ireland are entirely due to the delay in the issue of that Report. I am not to be taken as blaming Lord Dudley or anyone connected with the Report, but I would urge the Government to expedite the work of that Commission in order that they may be able to found next year legislation upon that Report. There is at present before the House a Bill introduced by the Irish Party, dealing with the amendment of the Land Act of 1903. The Second Reading was supported by the Government, and was passed through that stage by a large majority and sent to one of the Standing Committees. But we recognise that it is impossible for us in the remaining portion of the session to turn that Bill into an Act of Parliament, and I regret that the Prime Minister did not include an expression of hope which would have given us confidence to the effect that he hoped next year to legislate on the lines of the Irish Land Bill now before the House and on the lines of the Dudley Report, which so far as one can gather will be a unanimous Report recommending a sweeping amendment of the Land Act of 1903. Those are the only remarks I have to make. I regret extremely that we had not had a more satisfactory attitude from the right hon. Gentleman in regard to Irish affairs. But at the same time I recognise that in these matters, friendly as this Parliament and this Government are to Ireland, we shall have to rely in the long run, as we have done for the last twenty years, on ourselves alone.


said the Labour Party regretted very much that the Prime Minister had not seen his way to give them the pleasure of an autumn session. They had come to Parliament to do work; they had appealed to their constituents to be allowed to do work; and they desired to sit through the autumn in order to fulfil their pledges. The Prime Minister must have been painfully aware that even the programme, the exited programme, which he had set down would take him up to the end of October to carry out if the House was to have any chance of considering the proposals of the Bills that had still to be introduced and of those which had been introduced but had hardly passed beyond the introductory stage. There were two matters in which they were very much interested, as to one of which ho put down a question for that afternoon which was postponed on the understanding that the information would be given in the right hon. Gentleman's statement. He wished to know what was going to happen to the Scottish Education (Provision of Meals) Bill. The Prime Minister must be aware that the Secretary for Scotland in the Committee upstairs gave a distinct pledge that the Bill for which he was responsible was going to be proceeded with, and that it was therefore unnecessary to go on with the Bill for which he (Mr. Macdonald) was responsible. Because of that pledge he (Mr. Macdonald) had accepted a certain course upstairs. He wished to know now what the Government proposed to do with regard to the Bill, because the right hon. Gentleman had not referred to it in the statement he had just made. The other Bill in which they wore interested was the Minors Eight Hours Bill. He could hardly believe that the Liberal Government would wait for the Report of a Commission to find out what the opinion of the trade was on an eight hours day, or the economic effect of an eight hours day. Seventy-five per cent. of the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman had committed themselves to a miners' eight hours day. An Eight Hours Bill was mentioned in the King's Speech. The House had given the Bill a Second Reading time after time, and if the Bill introduced this year was loosely drafted, the explanation was simple. It was that the Government had given the most effective pledge it could give, that they had considered the whole of the question and were prepared to produce a Bill of their own. So far as the Commission to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred was concerned, there were different opinions as to the value of its Report. There were many who were under the impression that the expenditure of £20 would have produced as good a Report as this which would cost some thousands. But however that might be, the position was clear. They had been told at the beginning of the session that this Bill was going to be introduced; that the whole details had been considered; and in the King's Speech they were certainly given to understand that the Government was going to do its best to push the Bill forward. The position now was that the Government was going to introduce a Bill which was to be subject to the criticism of the House, and that, having drawn that criticism, they were going to withdraw the Bill to introduce it possibly next year. There were two parties in the House who did not agree on the subject—the Miners' Federation, which demanded a Bill on the lines introduced by the Labour Party this year, and another section which declared that an Eight Hours Act would not meet its industrial conditions. No argument or criticism would eliminate the difference between those parties. The Government had either to force a Bill through the House with its large majority, or to declare that it did not intend to do anything at all. The Miners' Eight Hours Bill and the Scottish Education (Provision of Meals) Bill might well be put down for an autumn session, and then those who wore prepared to work could come and work, and those who were not or could not must take the responsibility of being absent. He admitted that the officials might find it awkward to do their work in their Departments, but as the right hon. Gentleman had stated that he was now content with the state of business, was it not possible, if that was so in 1907, he might come to the House again in June, 1908, after an autumn session, and express content with the state of business then? The fact of the matter was that the business in which the Labour Party was concerned was in such a bad state owing to the business passed by previous Governments that it must be pressed on, and if they could not face an autumn session in a new Parliament they would not be able to do so later on. Then there was the Housing Bill. If that Bill was ready, why did not the Government introduce it, late though it was? He hoped it was not too late to urge the Prime Minister to bring them together for an autumn session to attend to these matters.

Sir ALFRED THOMAS (Glamorganshire, E.)

said he hoped the Government, who wore not going to have an autumn session—although he would be very glad to sit in the autumn either this year or next- would not forget the great questions in which Wales was interested.