HC Deb 21 June 1907 vol 176 cc741-8

who had a Motion on the Paper that the House at its rising adjourn until tomorrow (Saturday), said he had hesitated about proposing the Motion in expectancy that the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone would rise. He wished to ask the noble Lord whether he had any light to throw on the position in which the House had been placed. Of course the Government had no desire to have a Saturday sitting unless it was necessary, though if the noble Lord persisted with his impediment in the way of the coming debate next week, he thought they had no alternative but to clear that impediment out of the way. In order to put the matter in order he begged to move "That this House at its rising to-day do adjourn until to-morrow, at ten of the clock."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House at its rising to-day do adjourn until to-morrow, at ten of the clock."—(Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.)

LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)

said he felt in a great difficulty about the matter. He had no desire at all that the Government should insist on the Saturday sitting, which, it appeared to him, would operate with the least disadvantage to hon. Members on that side, with more disadvantage to Ministerialists, and still more to the officials of the House. It was, therefore, a very bad and clumsy expedient for dealing with the difficulty. He was only anxious to be quite sure that the Government were really going to deal with the question of blocking Motions without delay and in a businesslike and proper spirit. It had occurred to him that a possible way out of the difficulty would be for the Government to appoint a small Committee, representing all sections of the House who were interested in the subject, for the purpose of arriving at a common agreement as to how the question should be dealt with. They were told by the Government that they were anxious to deal with it by common assent, and he thought that could not very well be done by a discussion in the House. It was clumsy and difficult to deal with the matter by a long series of negotiations carried on by persons who perhaps were not very anxious for the success of the negotiations, and, therefore, the better plan, he thought, would be to have a meeting of a small number of Members representing the separate sections of the House, not according to their numerical strength, the question not to be decided by a majority, or anything of that kind, for the purpose of discussion and arriving at a common agreement. If the Government assented to some such proposal as he had suggested, he would be very pleased to move that the Order for the Second Reading of his Bill should be discharged.


said the noble Lord had put forward a plan which seemed to him (Lord R. Cecil) to be the best. He doubted if it was the best. He thought that private negotiations and consultations would be quite as likely, perhaps more likely, to attain the result they all desired than a sort of informal Committee. He did not know what the nature of such a Committee would be, but, however that might be, it would be a matter they would have to take time to consider, and in the meantime the debate was to take place on Monday, and the noble Lord's Bill was an impediment in the way of the debate's taking place. He could not understand why the noble Lord, as he had said yesterday, should deliberately commit the offence which he denounced, in order, at the expense of everybody else, to punish the Government for having been dilatory in bringing forward a remedy for this undoubted evil. A Motion such as that passed before Easter usually pointed to a consideration of the question, and ordinarily, according to his recollection, it was usual for all these questions of emendation of the rules of procedure to be dealt with at the beginning and not in the later part of the session, and it was not easy to see why they should proceed in hot haste to amend this rule. If the noble Lord would be good enough to remove this impediment, he was willing to consider the course he had suggested, or any other course, but it required to be considered. As the Leader of the Opposition had said, it was a matter which required considerable thought and investigation before the House laid down a new code of rules on the subject. He would not say that the difficulties were insuperable. But how to attain unanimity was the question. He did not think they could do more than they had done and were in process of doing. They were actively pursuing the matter before they ever heard of the noble Lord's Bill; they intended to go on with it, and he trusted that they might come to a conclusion which would be satisfactory even to the noble Lord. At any rate, he did not think they ought to be forced in any way out of the course they were following by action of this sort hastily taken, and so self-contradictory and so utterly inconsistent as committing in the face of the House the very offence which they were invited to proceed to make impossible. It was not in that way that they would be induced to exercise greater activity, but they were willing to do all in their power. He honestly said so, and the noble Lord ought to take it for granted that they would do what he said they would. They would even consider the noble Lord's suggestion and arrive at a conclusion upon that subsidiary question in the course of a few days. In the meantime he trusted that the noble Lord would have the grace and good nature to withdraw the Bill and depart from the commanding portion which he occupied.

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

said he was sure that his noble friend would be the last person to doubt the pledges which the. Prime Minister had given as to this question. But his noble friend, considering what had occurred in the past, was justified in concluding exactly the very opposite of what the Prime Minister meant, namely, that the Government were anxiously devoting their whole powers to rapidly solving this question. Might he remind the right hon. Gentleman how the situation had arisen? It should be borne in mind that his hon. friend the Member for Norwood had put down a Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who requested him to defer it. His hon. friend, following the course always adopted where such a request was made by the Government, postponed his Question. In the interval which elapsed between the putting of the Question and the date on which it was to be answered, a Motion was put down, before Easter, on the subject, and it was discussed and carried unanimously, with the support of the Government, who announced their desire to take up the question energetically. Nearly three months had passed since that time, and the energetic proceedings had only gone so far as to see whether any arrangement could be come to between the Front Benches as to the sort of proposals that would require to be laid before the House. He believed the Prime Minister himself would admit that his noble friend was amply justified in taking any course which the rules of the House allowed to bring the matter prominently before the attention of the Government, and he did not believe that the course his noble friend had pursued was seriously condemned in any part of the House. Everybody felt that more rapid procedure was desirable; and if the "hot haste" of the future was not to be hotter than the haste in the past it would be some time before the question was dealt with. His noble friend had suggested an informal Committee, a sort of round table conference, upon the subject. The Prime Minister objected to that; at all events, he saw difficulty in that course. It did not commend itself to him; and, at the first glance, he himself did not say that there were not objections to it, because clearly it was not a course in accordance with ordinary precedent. But he did not quite follow the Prime Minister's objection to dealing with the subject, if not by an informal Committee, at all events by some Committee. The Prime Minister said it was not usual to deal with the Standing Orders in the latter part of the session. He was not aware that there was any rule or precedent on the matters; but certainly it had been in accordance with the practice of the House to have a Committee to discuss procedure towards the end of the session. He rather thought that the Committee which the right hon. Gentleman himself proposed last session, which had for its business to deal with certain very large changes which the Government proposed in the Standing Orders, sat as late as June or rather later. Whether the right hon. Gentleman thought an informal Committee was or was not desirable, or in accordance with precedent, no human being doubted that the appointment of a Parliamentary Committee was strictly in accordance with precedent, and he could not help thinking that if the Government had any real wish to press on this matter a small Parliamentary Committee should be appointed. He had always held that if the Government had a clear idea of what ought to be done in regard to the amendment of the Standing Orders they were justified in taking the responsibility upon themselves, and submitting their plan to the House for acceptance, rejection, or amendment. But in this case the Government had indicated that they had not got a plan, that they only intended to have a plan after they had gone through a certain amount of preliminary discussion, not confined to their own friends, but ex- tended to all quarters of the House. The accepted, orthodox, and familiar method of arriving at such a plan was to have a Committee representative of all sections of the House before which the matter could be discussed. He ventured to say that the Government should follow the principle which they themselves laid down in the last Parliament with great insistence, and which seemed to be the only one, in view of the uncertainty prevailing in their own minds as to the course which they ought to pursue. If they desired to show, as he was sure they did, their earnest wish to deal at once, and effectively, with this difficult position, they had only to get up and say that they would appoint such a Committee. Of course it could not be appointed that day. Notice would have to be given, and the Government must have time to consider the reference. If the right hon. Gentleman would say that he was prepared to refer the question to a small Committee representative of the Whole House, he believed that would solve the difficulty in which they found themselves, and would bring a rather strained position to an amicable conclusion, while they would all be saved the labour of a Saturday sitting. He believed it was the universal and unanimous wish of the House that the debate on the House of Lords should begin without difficulty on Monday next, and the course he suggested would, he thought, afford full satisfaction. He was sure it was a suggestion well worthy consideration, and was in full accordance with Parliamentary tradition.


said they now had two proposals before them. He confessed that the right hon. Gentleman's proposal seemed to be more defensible than that of the noble Lord. But the right hon. Gentleman's proposal had been sprung upon them after the noble Lord had sprung his. The point of the whole thing was that the noble Lord was not willing to withdraw his Bill unless the Government said immediately what they were going to do. If they had made up their minds that would be a small point to yield, but at the present time they were engaged in the process of gathering consent, and he thought that was a regular way of proceeding. Up to the present they had not succeeded in finding any particular remedy, and now the right hon. Gentleman had asked for a Committee. The Government would consider, not unfavourably, the proposal that they should appoint a Select Committee, but it was too much to ask that they should decide the question at once without looking into precedents to some extent and taking into account the general effect of that course. They must have a little time for consideration. The Government would consider the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions, and he did not think he could say any more than he had said. The noble Lord seemed to think that the Government were desirous of running away from the position they had taken up, but they had no such idea, and they were just as anxious to see the thing settled as the noble Lord himself. But the noble Lord's action had to be taken at once. He left him the responsibility for it.


said he understood that the right hon. Gentleman would favourably consider the plan he had suggested. The course which his noble friend had taken had not been fruitless; he had made a clear step towards a rapid solution of the question. His only desire was that the least inconvenience should be inflicted upon the Members of the House, and above all upon the officials, and after what had occurred he ventured to suggest that his noble friend should withdraw his Bill.


said that under the circumstances he would accept the course suggested by his right hon. friend. He would have accepted his suggestion, even if he did not agree with it, but in this case he did agree with it. Without saying anything more which might imperil the good understanding which now existed he would be very glad to move that the order for the Bill standing in his name be discharged.

*MR. ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)

Under the circumstances, Sir, I think that we should have it authoritatively from the Chair that it will be possible to-day to withdraw the Bill.


said when the order for the Bill was reached at five o'clock it would be open to the noble Lord to move to withdraw it.


then asked leave to withdraw his Motion for the Saturday sitting.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.