HC Deb 20 May 1908 vol 189 cc371-408
MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)

rose to call attention to the length of speeches delivered in this House; and to move, "That no speech by a Member, other than a member of the Government, made in the House shall exceed one half-hour in duration, except with the leave of the House granted without a negative voice, and that no speech made in Committee of the Whole House shall, subject to the same qualification, exceed a quarter of an hour; that, at the close of the said period of one half-hour or a quarter of an hour respectively, Mr. Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, do take the pleasure of the House whether the Member be allowed to proceed; and that this Resolution be a Standing Order of the House."

SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)

rose to a point of order and submitted that the Resolution should be divided into two parts, that the first part should stop at the word "proceed" in the last line but one and that the second part "and that this Resolution be a Standing Order of the House" should be put as a separate question. The first part dealt with certain alterations which were proposed to be made and which if carried would have the effect of a sessional order. The second part dealt with an alteration of the Standing Orders of the House. He submitted that a single Resolution could not create a sessional order and at the same time alter the Standing Orders of the House.


In reply to the point of order which the hon. Baronet has put to me, there is a power inherent in the Chair of putting a Resolution in two parts if it should be to the convenience of the House that that should be done, and if hon. Member's would feel embarrassed by this Resolution being put as a whole the Chair can put it in two parts. So far as I am concerned, I shall put it as a whole, but I will report what the hon. Baronet has said to me to the Speaker and he will then decide what shall be done. I have no doubt if the House should so desire he will divide the Resolution into two clauses.


said that when the ballot favoured a young Member he had either to choose one of the stock subjects such as Macedonia, the Congo, or Tariff Reform, or to bring forward a matter of general interest I not belonging to this category. But the connection between such subjects and this Motion was, nevertheless, in his opinion, of an intimate character. It often happened that subjects were dealt with on sparsely attended private Members' nights, in which foreign nations and the world outside these islands was far more interested than in the domestic Motions the consideration of which filled the House. Debates on such matters as Macedonia, the Congo, or education in India were eagerly devoured over seas, and readers abroad had no means of estimating the actual importance to be attached to individual orations of a certain class, to the harm done by which he, himself, as a frequent traveller in foreign countries could testify, for even when there did not happen to be a banquet in honour of a Prime Minister on private Members' nights, not only was the House comparatively empty, but almost all the Members who attended were committed to the views of the mover of the Motion. Thus it happened that when Macedonia was treated even as if it were Monmouthshire, and the Congo as though our connection with, and responsibility for, that vast region, were as complete as if it were Camber-well, private Members who did not adopt this attitude, either abstained from attending, or if they came were probably unable to get a hearing. If the mover took half an hour and the seconder the same length of time, of which the House would probably not complain, there were always two or three gathered together who were, or deemed themselves to be, specialists. Then came the Front Benches and the debate was at an end. Similarly on Fridays when private Members took the legislative bit between their teeth, and bolted over the Parliamentary course, there was little chance of any Members being heard except such as adopted the views of the mover, or such as belonged to the Opposition, fortunate in the alternate call, and fortunate in one sense if not in another, in that their attenuated numbers gave their individual Members free opportunity of speech. And again, although it was well-known in England that the emptiness of the House on an Indian night, for instance, was due, not to absence of interest, but to the presence of confidence, complete and all embracing, in the Minister charged with the conduct of Indian affairs, the only organisation which actively reported the debates for the express benefit of the Indian native newspapers, made the most of hostile and critical speeches, which were subsequently disseminated all over India by a seditious Press. If the Motion he had the honour to move were administered in the letter and the spirit, there would be more numerous and shorter speeches, and the balance would to some extent be redressed. This was a matter of no small importance, and the mischief done by apparently insignificant organisations and newspapers, was unfortunately little appreciated in the United Kingdom. It was believed that the adoption of this Motion would to some extent mitigate this mischief, would be an advantage to the course of business in that House, and would promote the efficiency of its proceedings. It was, however, if he might speak for himself, far from being his intention to give further facilities for the making of more laws—for he never forgot the maxim of Tacitus, corruptissima republica plurimœ leges, and would only provide that more Members of the House might be able to participate in the debates upon such measures as must come before it, that the voices of the constituencies might be more freely expressed, that the necessity might be obviated for autumn sessions, and for late summer sittings, for over-working and clogging the wheels of public offices, and so impairing the efficiency of the administration, upon which, far more than upon legislation, depended the happiness of all those affected by the multifarious activities of Government. Moreover, he could not help thinking that the Government of the day, to whatever party it belonged, was to some extent influenced by the one-sided character of the long speech debates, in which dissentient voices had little chance of being heard, when vague, altruistic aspirations, clothed as to their externals in more or less legal form, were put forward as Bills, deserving at any rate, it was pleaded, of a Second Reading, amorphous masses which might be licked into shape upstairs, It might be urged, however, that it was highly undesirable that a Second Reading should be lightly accorded to half debated and undisgested proposals, which ever afterwards could boast of having been approved by Parliament. Nevertheless, Motions on Wednesdays and Bills on Fridays, whether or not on account of previous conference with Ministers or "Whips, he could not say, not infrequently met with the support of the Front Bench. In many cases this was of a somewhat platonic character, and there was every reason to believe that large numbers of private members who voted for such Motions and Bills, did so with no intention, and indeed no desire, of making them effectual, or of making them law. If the length of speeches were restricted, it might fairly be expected that other Members would come forward and express their dissent from what appeared under existing circumstances to be, what in fact it seldom or ever was, the almost unanimous feeling of the House. Indeed it was more than probable that on many occasions the majority in the House and the country did not concur in these apparently almost unanimous conclusions, which depended so largely for their success upon the paucity of Members in the House, the difficulty the non-contents upon the benches had in getting in a word athwart the prevailing current, and the discouragement and dissuasion with which such dissenting Members were met by others present, who were almost to a man sworn supporters of the private Motion, or the private Bill, for the moment under consideration. Indeed it required some little temerity even to bring forward a Motion other than such as met with the approval of the active groups above described, and there was no guarantee that without their help a House could be made, for they included a large proportion of the Members, who were most regular in their attendance, no matter what was the business before the House. Yet there were, outside these groups, amongst the Members, many, who though young Parliamentarians, might be by no means immature or inexperienced, whose speeches, if becomingly brief, might for special reasons possess a certain value on particular occasions. An instance occurred in the Motion brought forward in 1906 censuring Lord Milner for some untoward and unimportant occurrence for which he was technically responsible, and for which, following the traditions of his class, he accepted the fullest responsibility. Every Member who had served under, or with, the Governors of our Colonies and foreign possessions must have earnestly desired to appeal to the hon. Member for Salford to withdraw his motion, but in point of fact, the debate was confined, including tie mover and seconder, to six Members, of whom three sat on the Front Benches, and actually only one private Member spoke for five minutes, besides the mover and seconder, each of whom had not more than a quarter-of-an-hour. Upon the Foreign Office Estimates again in 1906, there were only eleven speeches, one of which, by a private Member, occupied about seventy-five minutes, while four others took each more than three-quarters of an hour. Yet this was the chief, if not the sole, occasion which offered to the House of discussing the many and great subjects with which the world wide activity of our Foreign Office was concerned. It had been laid down by his hon., eloquent, and independent friend, the Member for Preston, that the House of Commons was never so wrong as when it was unanimous, and this might well be the case when the House was, so to speak, packed, as it was on private Members' days, and would continue to be unless Members of different complexions found they could participate more freely in the debates. It was usual in the lobby to hear a conversation of this kind regarding an approaching private Motion. "Who is likely to speak besides the mover and seconder?" "Mr. Blank and Mr. Asterisk." "Well, they always want so long each, and then there is the Front Bench, and there is no chance of getting in. I shall go home." Yet the homing Member, had he been called, might have spoken with the voice of the House, or with the voice of the country, and not from the standpoint of a party, a group, or a philanthropic association. It was more particularly on private Member's days and nights that there was a necessity for some curb upon eloquence. Such, however, would probably be admitted to be required even on other occasions. As an example which would serve for the moment, might be taken the Second Reading debate on the Licensing Bill, a subject of the first importance, which might, indeed, be said to divide the country into two hostile camps. On this occasion thirty-five speeches were delivered, occupying twenty-four and a quarter hours, giving an average of over forty-two minutes to each speech, and of the speeches delivered, one occupied an hour and three-quarters, one an hour and a half, five one hour and a quarter, and six one hour. Five speakers took three-quarters of an hour, and ten half an hour, each, and but for the moderation of seven speakers who contented themselves with a quarter of an hour, the average would have been far higher, While upwards of fifty Members who were most anxious to be heard, never had an opportunity of getting in at all. Yet on such an occasion, indeed upon most occasions, it was desirable as far as possible that each individual Member should give expression to the views of his own constituency. How many subjects too, there were which might be brought forward with advantage if only a little of the time so freely granted to the captains general of the Chinoleptic contingent, and the promoters and supporters of other popular causes, were available for the rank and file of the private Members. How frequently a debate ended without the enjoyment of a speech such as the House was accustomed to welcome from the hon. Member for South-East Durham, who illustrated in his life and conversation the Horatian maxim: Ridentem dicere verum quid vetat? Who could tell whether upon the back Benches might not languish, unheard, and unappreciated, Members young in years and in Parliamentary experience, who in the fullness of time and with favouring circumstances might approach as nearly as might be, to the consummate art of the Prime Minister, who could in a comparatively short speech make the finances of a mighty Empire crystal clear to an ordinary intelligence? Opportunity for speech together with insistence upon compression would give budding statesmen a chance, which now was, in ordinary circumstances, lacking. He could not help thinking, too, what advantages might result from the introduction of more voices into the debates in order that certain established positions, usually taken for granted on certain occasions, should be assailed. It might, indeed, be contested that humanity was exclusively a British attribute, that it could only be preserved by continuous residence in Britain, that it was endangered by wider experience and extended travel, that it was altogether lost when the Briton became a British agent and administrator abroad, that a representative Government was the only form of rule worthy of adoption all over the world, that all things in all countries should be measured by British standards, and that Colonial and Indian administrators were ex officio oppressors of subject races. At the least the objectors to such comprehensive conclusions should be heard. It now happened not infrequently that Members who had passed their lives in the study of, and in actual acquaintance with, certain subjects were unable to speak when such came up for discussion. He himself had sat out a whole Indian debate with that result, which, he confessed, moved him to the one reprisal, which ill became the mover of this Motion, and to a speech which exceeded half-an-hour in duration. For this he repented in Parliamentary sackcloth and ashes, and he might at any rate plead that when an occasion offered for a glorious repentance he took it, and now sought to deprive others as well as himself of that opportunity to do ill deeds which conduced to make ill deeds done. Moreover, it was hardly to be expected that if some Members indulged in long speeches, others would not, in kind, retaliate. Again, if certain Members knew, or had a reasonable expectation, that they would be called, they could indulge in a little much needed preparation, which under existing circumstances would probably be labour lost. Without preparation, brevity was apt to become obscurity brevis esse laboro obscurus fio. With the adoption of this Motion there would be a chance after many centuries for the acceptance of the advice of the wise old Greek poet who said— How much the half is better than the whole, and it would be the aim and object of every orator to put his best into the half which he was able to present to the House. With the time-limit staring him in the face, an hon. Member would, moreover, escape from the painful position in which he too often laboured heavily over his penultimate peroration, and seemed, despite desperate efforts, unable to grasp the fleeting phantom of the last word. It might be argued that this Motion was not sufficiently drastic, but anything of a severer character would have no chance of acceptance. It was offered as a first step, and if accepted as a Standing Order, would come under periodical revision. The late Mr. Talbot, of Margam, who in his day, was the Father of the House, arrived at the conclusion, which he strongly held, that the time-limit for speeches should be half an hour. Had this Motion been drawn for ten minutes, or even twenty, and for half that period in Committee, it would have worn a more heroic aspect, but it would have had less chance of being carried. It was obviously necessary to exempt from the operation of the Motion Members of the Government, chiefly upon public grounds, also, and in a less degree, as a bribe in the hope that their support might be secured. It might, of course, be fairly argued that a similar length of time should be allowed to the Opposition, but it might also be taken for granted that the House in whose hands the working of the rule would be, would concede to an ex-Cabinet Minister all the time which, as a matter of right, would belong to a Member of the Government. On the other hand, the value of the rule might be impaired if an exception were made in favour of all junior members of past administrations, any one of whom might desire at any time to deliver one of those exhaustive and exhausting orations which it was the object of this Motion to check. The rule as drafted, would lay down half an hour as the limit for speeches under ordinary circumstances, and it was believed that this principle once established, half that time would soon come to be regarded as the proper length for a private Member's speech. It would be impossible to make an exception in favour of experts, whose great name was often usurped by travellers who had enjoyed a delirious three weeks "in partibus" in which they might well have absorbed the maximum of error and interested misrepresentation. Not indeed that there was no balm in Gilead, for if "the words of the wise are as goads and as nails fastened by masters of assemblies," the expert whose advocacy was fatal to the cause he espoused was of no less service in his day and generation, and his every word was a nail in the coffin of the cause he essayed to support. It would not, however, be desirable on this account to give him more law, and no Standing Committee or other tribunal had yet been set up, charged with the delicate duty of preparing a list of true and trustworthy experts. It was now nearly sixty years since Mr. Milner Gibson introduced a Resolution into the House of Commons, that the speeches of Members should be limited in duration to one hour, the introducers of original Motions and Ministers of the Crown being exempted from the rule. It was upwards of a decade since the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelmsford carried a Resolution that the duration of speeches in this House had increased, was increasing, and should be abated, and it was seven years since Sir Joseph Dimsdale, then Member for the City, moved that no Member should, except by leave, speak for more than twenty minutes, or twice on an Amendment in Supply, Ministers, ex-Ministers and Movers of Bills excepted. The success of the hon. Member for Chelmsford, his Motion not being moved as a Standing Order of the House, was unavailing, and the Motion of Sir Joseph Dimsdale was negatived on a division. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had on a previous occasion expressed his readiness to support a Motion somewhat similar to the one now before the House, if it related only to private Members' nights, and he said that the time would come when the House must adopt a time-limit. He understood the last remark to be of general application, and surely that time had now arrived, and the time-limit might be applied not only to licences for public drinking, but to licences for Parliamentary speaking. Nor could it be regarded as other than a most propitious circumstance that the present Leader of the House, as often as he spoke, offered a model of concise and compressed eloquence. It was believed that in all our Colonies a time-limit existed, and also in certain foreign legislative bodies, though he regretted he had been unable to obtain such accurate information as would justify him in laying it before the House. In the House of Representatives of the United States, the rules of debate provided that no Member should, with certain specific exceptions, occupy more than one hour on any question in the House, or in Committee, that when general debate was closed by order of the House, a Member might be allowed five minutes in which to explain any Amendment he might offer, and any one other Member five minutes in which to oppose, and that on a Motion to suspend the rules, debate might extend to forty minutes, one half in support and one half in opposition to the proposition. In Italy deputies were at liberty to read their speeches, so long as the reading did not exceed a quarter of an hour. This rule, however, was hardly analogous to British practice, or to his Motion, for hon. Members did not here, as they did in the only other legislative assembly in which he had sat, read their speeches. The reason given, whether seriously or not, he did not know, for the practice which prevailed in the Legislative Council of India was, that if an eloquent Bengali once got on his legs, he would never be likely to sit down. Or possibly a feeling prevailed that when an hon. Member represented, as he did himself, for four years, a population almost as numerous as that of the United Kingdom, he was, with a burden like that of Atlas on his shoulders, at least entitled to a seat. In the London County Council no speech might exceed fifteen minutes, without the consent of the Council, while the mover that the consideration of a question be postponed, or that the debate be adjourned, might not speak for more than five minutes, the same rule as to time applying to Motions that the Council do adjourn. To sum up his case; under existing circumstances in the House of Commons the individual voice of a constituency could not as a rule be heard, unless it happened to be represented by a Minister. In the recent debate upon Lord Ashtown's case, Mr. Speaker stated to the House that he had no power to stop a Member who was speaking at such length as to give rise to considerable impatience in a certain quarter in the House. Under this Motion, such power would be given to the House itself. Some such rule was absolutely necessary, for in this country they could not, and indeed did not wish to, look forward to the day when the people would break into Parliament, cut off the head of a Member who would not stop speaking, and present it on a stick to Mr. Speaker, as happened with the French Convention in 1796. It was indeed once suggested long before the women's suffrage movement, and the evolution of Miss Maloney and her bell, that exuberance of Parliamentary verbosity should be checked by the Clerk Assistant ringing a bell in the House. Neither the chopper nor the bell, however, were likely to be brought into requisition. Yet the time had arrived for dealing, in that slaughterous sense, which the late Lord Salisbury said was inherent in the word, with Parliamentary verbosity. In the Egyptian "Book of the Dead," an Ancient declared that he had not inflicted long lectures upon his hearers, and the loyalist, Hugh Grove, who was executed in 1665, pleaded in his last moments that he was never guilty of much rhetoric, or ever loved long speeches. In their last moments they thought of the greatest crimes that could be laid to their door, and protested their innocence. In order that Members of Parliament might have the like comfort in their last hours, and to the end that they might be heard in moderation in their lives, he ventured, with sincere thanks to the House for the indulgence with which it had listened to him, to move the Motion which stood in his name.

SIR CARNE RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)

seconded the Resolution.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That no Speech by a Member, other than a member of the Government, made in the House shall exceed one half-hour in duration, except with the leave of the House granted without a negative voice, and that no speech made in Committee of the Whole House shall, subject to the same qualification, exceed a quarter of an hour; that, at the close of the said period of one half-hour or a quarter of an hour respectively, Mr. Speaker or the Chairman, as the case may be, do take the pleasure of the House whether the Member be allowed to proceed; and that this Resolution be a Standing Order of the House."—(Mr. Rees.)

MR. MALLET (Plymouth)

said that his hon. friend had introduced this Motion in a, speech which nobody had found too long. He took it that in urging the adoption of a time-limit for speeches they were all thinking of others rather than of themselves. He wished to support this proposal, not because he thought a thirty minutes time-limit in every case was an ideal thing, and not because he endorsed the proposal to allow to Ministers only a licence in speaking which might easily become a freehold in long-windedness, but because he thought some kind of time-limit was needed, and was anxious to test the feeling of the House on this point. He thought they were all agreed that there was too much repetition and waste of time in debate. This House had few rhetoricians and no bores, but many of them were tempted to speak longer than they should do, and to frame a rule which would check redundancy and repetition, whilst allowing the great speakers ample freedom, would be a real advantage to debate. His hon. friend had mentioned a Resolution proposed by Mr. Milner Gibson sixty years ago. In 1833 a Motion was proposed by Mr. Buckingham advocating twenty minutes speeches for Members on the ground that it would afford all Members an "equal opportunity" of joining in debate. What a mockery that sounded to those who knew the practice of the House. Some Members had had to wait eleven months, eighteen months, and even two years before they were called upon to make their maiden speech. Many of them anxious to speak had sat through a full-dress debate only to see their best points stolen and their arguments mangled by speakers luckier than themselves, and finally had returned home disconsolate, to vent their undelivered speeches in letters to the Press. Unless they adopted some kind of time-limit they could never hope to give an equal opportunity to the many able speakers in the House of Commons. Sometimes they were reminded that speeches were now a great deal shorter than they used to be. They all knew the story of the Begums speech of Sheridan which lasted for five hours and forty minutes. In the old days Burke, Pitt, and Fox, all maintained the tradition of long speeches. Mr. Pitt owed no small part of his supreme hold on the House of Commons to his majestic lengthiness of speech, and there probably never was a man of character and genius so uncommon, who left behind him a greater mass of noble - sounding commonplace. But these great men were not examples to be followed now in the matter of long speeches. In the old days there was no necessity for a time-limit because hurry and condensation were unknown, and all talk was apt to be long-winded, because to be long-winded was to be polite. He submitted that we had left these leisurely methods of the past behind, and that to ask the House now to keep up the tradition of unlimited speeches was surely an unreasonable thing. We had got to the days of motor-cars and telephones, to the days when newspapers had no time to wait for news, and therefore manufactured it themselves, when our great novelists devoted themselves to the writing of short stories, when our greatest poet, Mr. Kipling, wrote sometimes in. curt, inspiring slang, when conversation was almost a collection of clippings, men of fashion not having the time to finish the words they had begun; and in such days it was an anomaly that the House should still cling to unrestricted speeches when it had turned its back on all the leisurely traditions of the past. He did not like the distinction which his hon. friend had made between Ministers and ordinary Members. There were obviously private Members of the House who ought to have as full an opportunity of speaking at length as any Minister. He would like to begin on a smaller scale than the hon. Member proposed, and to limit the length of speeches on private Members' Bills or Motions, and on the Committee stage, the Report stage, and the Third Reading of all Bills alike. In the case of the First and Second Readings of Government measures he would give every man his fling. It was a difficult matter, but if they could arrive at a well-conceived arrangement for limiting speeches, he believed the speeches would not only be diminished in length, but strengthened in quality too.


said he was inclined to agree with the mover of the Resolution on the intrinsic merits of the case. There was no one in the House who was not entirely opposed to long speeches, but he thought he was right in saying that the Resolution went much further than they desired. Speeches now were as a whole shorter than in times past, and consequently there was no need for the Resolution. He assured the House that in opposing the Resolution he had no desire to infringe its spirit. This Resolution had been brought before the House periodically.


It is not the same Resolution.


said that if it was not the same Resolution, it was in the same spirit as previous Resolutions. He ventured to think that there was not much interest in the question at the present moment. He sincerely hoped that the excellent speech of the mover would have the desired effect in preventing hon. Members from indulging in undue loquacity. His reason for opposing the Resolution was that he resented the restriction of discussion in any form. Hon. Members had every right to bring forward and discuss anything in which they were interested. It was for that reason that he took every opportunity of resenting the operation of the closure; and he sincerely hoped that on whatever side of the House he might sit he would always oppose anything in the nature of the closure. They knew that the closure was entirely contrary to the idea of Parliament and was as yet entirely unknown in the electorate. The general trend by the action of the closure was to establish in this House an all-powerful oligarchy in the shape of the Government, or what was worse, but not the less possible, an omnipotent autocrat in the shape of the Prime Minister. What was wanted was free discussion, and the good feeling which attended free discussion. If this Resolution was assented to it would be the foundation of a system far more drastic in its character than the present; and he could see a time coming when Members of the Government would be allowed to put forward their propositions while all other Members of the House would only be permitted to say "Aye," or "No." It had not been his privilege long to be a Member of the House, and he had some diffidence in putting forward his views; but he was convinced that the proposal of the hon. Gentleman was very dangerous, and the more dangerous from its insidious and attractive character. A majority of the House might be inclined to vote in favour of curtailing discussion when they had been tired by long and uninteresting speeches, or were seduced by other attractions in the House with which they might regale themselves when their fellow-members were too tedious to listen to. Again, if the freedom of discussion were refused to advanced and Labour Members they might see orators traversing the country from one end to the other, advocating a social upheaval. Instead of that, they saw these hon. Gentlemen quietly sitting in this House and they could not but look upon them as anything but harmless volcanoes. In this country we were free from what other countries suffered, viz., the terrible curse of anarchy, and that was because there was here the privilege of free speech. It could not be denied that that freedom of speech acted as a safety valve for placing in the light of public opinion those views which only became dangerous by reason of their suppression, and which, if harmful and consequently contrary to public opinion, evaporated in steam instead of sowing the seeds of anarchy and revolution. Moreover, to his mind, the Resolution was in no sense necessary. The whole trend was for speeches in the House to become shorter, and it could not be said that the speeches in the present House of Commons were to be condemned for undue length. Reference had been made de to Mr. Biggar, who had spoken for six hours, and there was a record of a voluble Member of the Jamaica Senate who spoke for twenty-four hours and threatened to speak for another twenty-four if the resolution he was opposing was not withdrawn. There was no danger of speeches of that kind now. It should be left to the judgment of the House to make the necessary curtailment of speeches they did not desire to hear. Very closely allied to the question of long speeches was that of obstruction. They all deplored obstruction, although every single Member of the House at some time or the other welcomed the effect of obstruction. He was certain that it was due to the action of the closure that obstruction existed, although it did not obtain to the same extent as before. He sincerely hoped that this Motion, even as an expression of opinion, would not pass.


said he agreed with the noble Lord that any restriction on fair and free discussion was undesirable, but he had been long enough in the House to regard with some equanimity the effect of what the noble Lord called restrictive measures. He could speak with some detachment on this subject, because he had always only spoken under compulsion, and he doubted if there was any Member in the House of Commons who had as good a record as he had. He did not think that the speeches he had made since he became a Member would work out as occupying more than an average of one hour per annum. Therefore, he could look upon this question without prejudice. He could respond to the appeal of his hon. friend the Member for Montgomery Boroughs, and treat his Resolution in no unfriendly spirit. He agreed that a change in the direction aimed at by the Resolution would probably be salutary, but as proposed it was certainly sudden. He was not quite sure that the House understood the position or the effect of the Resolution if carried. Supposing the Resolution was taken in two parts, and was carried down to the word "proceed," he understood on very high authority that in effect it would become, not a Standing Order, but a Sessional Order, and it would become operative to-morrow. In these circumstances it was very necessary to see where they were going. He would call the attention of the House to the fact that though there might be something like general agreement in favour of the Resolution its supporters were not altogether agreed as to its terms; and before they adopted a Resolution which might become operative to-morrow, they should consider what form it was to take and in what manner it could be carried out for the regulation of their debates. He agreed that it was most desirable, not only to save time by curtailing speeches which were unnecessarily long, but also to secure a more fair distribution of the available time of the House, especially to those Members who desired to speak, and were well entitled to speak, but whose qualities did not make them so persistent as others in endeavouring to catch the Speaker's eye. In that respect, a change was desirable. But he was not at all sure that the resolution, as it was drawn, would have the effect of shortening the duration of speeches, and giving fuller opportunities to others. His hon. friend had made a very interesting analysis of the debate on the Licensing Bill. Certainly some of the speeches might have been curtailed, but the average was certainly longer than the average speeches in other debates in this House. If they adopted for general purposes of debate a limit of half - an - hour it might be an inducement to Members to speak up to that limit. He would undertake to say that the average duration of a speech in Committee was nothing like a quarter of an hour. The effect of this resolution might be to cut down a speech that was necessary and encourage others to speak up to the limit, and thus lengthen the proceedings in Committee. But he must point out that the promoters of the Resolution were not at all in agreement upon its terms. For example, he would deal with the proposed exclusion of Members of the Government from the operation of this Resolution. Members of the Government were often the worst offenders. He did not blame them altogether, because, though it was not at all difficult to make a speech lasting a long time, it was difficult to compress a great deal of important matter into a short compass. Very often the length of the speeches of a Member of the Government was due to want of time for the preparation of them. But he could not see how it could be said that there should be no limitation whatever on any speech of a Member of the Government whilst every other Member of the House was to be limited to a quarter of an hour. He did not think that that was a proposal that would commend itself to the House. But that again was a matter for consideration. If the Amendment on the Paper had been moved he would have had to criticise that as he now had to criticise the Resolution of the hon. Member, because it was not possible to impose a fixed and arbitrary limit on Ministers' speeches. The Prime Minister was a master of language, who could compress to an extraordinary extent matter and argument into a small space, but even he delivered a speech on the Licensing Bill which lasted one and a half hours, and shortly afterwards a speech on the Budget which lasted two hours, and no hon. Member would suggest that either of those speeches could have been curtailed. These observations had reference to the Amendment on the Paper which would of course have to be carefully considered before this Resolution could become either a Sessional or a Standing Order of the House. Another point was, how was it proposed to establish a time-limit? In other countries he knew they had mechanical arrangements to show when the time-limit was reached, but how was Mr. Speaker to judge the exact time? Was he to observe the clock? He himself remembered in his own experience the clock stopping. All these might be treated as very small points, but it was the small points of procedure that had to be carefully considered and thought out. Before the House adopted a Motion of this, sort it was necessary to consider these matters so as to get in a concrete form what it was proposed to adopt. It therefore seemed to him that full consideration must be given to these questions. It was clear that hon. Members had no idea of what the exact effect of this Resolution would be if carried even without the last sentence. It would become a Sessional Order and would come into operation immediately. It was only when this matter was inquired into carefully that they discovered that they were on the eve of passing a new Sessional Order which, whether good or bad, was a very great change in the procedure. He therefore proposed that the hon. Member should be satisfied with the appointment of a Select Committee to consider this particular question. The Government could not accept the Resolution as it stood, and if the hon. Gentleman accepted his proposal no time would be lost, because essential and speedy consideration would be given by the Select Committee.

MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

thought the right hon. Gentleman had given some very useful information to the House but that he had not taken the strongest line that might have been taken in opposing this Resolution by a man occupying his position. It was open to the right hon. Gentleman to remind the House of two things: first, that this was a matter of procedure, and that procedure was a matter which the Government ought to keep in their own hands; that there were even now several proposals of the Government with regard to procedure which had not been considered by the House, and that this particular Resolution was not included in them. That was the first part of the answer the right hon. Gentleman should have given, because such a revolutionary proposal as this ought not to be proposed except by a responsible body in the House. The second answer should have been that this House had been for some years working out an experimental system on lines totally different from those of the Motion; namely, to limit the length of the debates as a whole. When he was a Member of the majority in the House he sometimes took the view that the debates ought to proceed upon the line of trying to get the minority as well as the majority to adopt some sort of co-operation similar to that which was seen in the majorities of the House. It always appeared to him that when a time-limit for a debate was imposed a body of persons interested in securing the best use of the time allowed should be created, and the most important of the matters under discussion debated. If a time-limit in speeches was imposed they would fail entirely to secure that co-operation to which he referred. He thought that the House would be very ill-advised to accept this Motion at a stage when they had an uncompleted scheme of reform in the hands of the Government itself which would develop on totally different lines, and that the Government should not abandon their experiments in favour of this experiment of quite a different character. He did not wish to see the House brought to the level of a diocesan conference, and he hoped therefore they would not do more than limit the proposal in the first instance to discussion upon private Bills. He thought the distinction between members of the Government and unofficial Members of the House was hardly tenable or defensible, and still less the distinction between the proceedings in Committee and the whole House. He had to remind the mover of the Resolution that he had entirely forgotten that the Budget speech had to be delivered in Committee of the Whole House. If he failed to maintain his distinction between private Members and members of the Government, his Motion would strike at the Budget speech itself. He considered it was a difference which was extremely likely to be rejected if put to the test of the House. He thought, therefore, they ought not to adopt the Resolution except in the most tentative and experimental form, and he should vote against it, believing the House was better employed in making experiments on a totally different line.

MR. THEODORE TAYLOR (Lancashire, Radcliffe)

said he had been an enthusiastic supporter of the hon. Member for Essex, who in modern times had been the father of this movement. The noble Lord the Member for Maidstone had deprecated the stifling of discussion. He (Mr. Taylor) was in favour of the Resolution, but he did not want to stifle discussion. He thought there was a way of stifling discussion by letting a small number of men occupy a great amount of time. He was one of those. who believed in short speeches, and if he wanted to give any of his friends an idea of what the House of Commons was like he told them that it was like a series of long sermons, to which they could listen or not as they pleased. Fortunately, there were places where hon. Members could take refuge from speeches they did not want to hear. He knew it was impossible to please everybody and he often sympathised with the Speaker and the Deputy-Speaker who had to choose those who were to conduct the debate. It must be extremely difficult in the case of measures like the Education and Licensing Bills. There were a good many of them who liked to give as many ideas as they could in as few words as possible, but they were obliged to hear a number of other hon. Members who spread as few ideas over as many words as possible. He did not think there was any other body in the country—certainly not the great trade unions—who would stand this. He agreed that any time-limit would not necessarily be a cure for a fault they saw in others, but not always in themselves. No doubt they were all impatient at the length of other people's speeches, especially when they wanted to put in a few words themselves. He recognised that a time-limit was not necessarily a cure, but he thought it would be something towards a cure. He did not believe hon. Members would talk up to the time-limit. The noble Lord had said that obstruction was due to the closure; no, the closure was due to the fact that there was obstruction.


I did not say obstruction was due to the closure. I said it was accentuated by the closure.


said he did not agree with the noble Lord. There had been no more obstruction since the closure than there was before. Replying to the hon. Member for Plymouth, he wished they had more "dull" men in the House who would say what they wanted to say in a few words. It was phrase-cleverness and culture which often caused obstruction. There was too much artificial talk and persiflage in the House. Parliament should be a business assembly. The House would tolerate eloquence when it was the outcome of strong feeling, but it did not care two pins about set speeches. The Prime Minister had been mentioned. To his thinking the right hon. Gentleman's speeches were models of conciseness and lucidity. He wished every Member of the House of Commons said as much per minute or per five minutes in his speeches as the Prime Minister; there would then be no complaint of long speeches. What did they say about sermons? He had always said that he did not want to hear any sermons which were longer than half an hour They told the parsons that if they could not say all they wanted to say in twenty minutes they did not want to hear any more. Let them apply the same rule to themselves. Of course, no Motion of this kind would strike at a Budget speech, and he also thought the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer should have a little more time than most Members. Although he agreed thoroughly with the purpose of the Resolution, he was sure the mover would be well advised to accept the offer of the Government to appoint a Committee to consider this question, and he hoped he would withdraw his Motion in favour of that offer.

MR. J. MACVEAGH (Down, S.)

said the noble Lord the Member for Maidstone had reminded the House of the achievement of Mr. Biggar, who once spoke for four hours, and the hon. Member for Plymouth had instanced the case of Mr. Burke, who once talked for five and a half hours, but he had no intention of emulating the example of his distinguished countrymen. He would like to point out, however, that obstruction was not produced by long speeches. Let them ask the hon. Member for the City of London, who was an expert in the art, whether long speeches were conducive to obstruction. Anybody who had studied the science of obstruction knew that it was to make short speeches frequently, and move as many Amendments as possible. He felt sure the hon. Member for the City of London, if he would make a confession, would agree with him. The Home Secretary had said that it was easy for anybody to make a long speech, but it was not always easy to make a short speech. He was inclined to agree with him. He recalled the apology of a clergyman for a long sermon, that he had not time to prepare a short one. As a matter of fact, that was the explanation which might be offered for a good many of the long speeches delivered in the House; at least they might charitably hope so. He could not support the Motion unless the hon. Member could see his way to add to it a most important proviso, something like this, "And further that no Member shall be allowed to make more than ten speeches in any one session." The hon. Member who moved the Resolution confessed to having once occupied the attention of the House for half an hour on the Indian Budget. He thought he was nearer an hour. He forgot, however, to tell the House that he made such long speeches that he had killed one if not two important Bills.


They were very short speeches.


said they were long enough to kill the Bills and that was a record which was not surpassed even by the Member for the City of London. The hon. Member had sinned not only by the length but also by the frequency of his speeches. He had made more speeches in the House during the past year than the hon. Member for the City of London. He had had the curiosity to look up the general index to Hansard for last year, and he found that the hon. Member who was so anxious for few and short speeches, during last session spread himself over no less than 178 subjects and took the House into his confidence with regard to his views upon all those topics. Only three of them had any reference to Montgomeryshire, but the hon. Member thought Imperially. He was only a parish politician, but an hon. Member with an Imperial mind like the mover of the Resolution was able to talk upon every subject under the sun. He admitted that long speeches were a bad thing, but he thought frequent speeches from some people were even worse. The hon. Member did not seem to appreciate the distinction between verbosity and loquacity. It was not given to everybody to be omniscient, but it was given to the hon. Member to think that he was. During the last session he had told the House what he thought about the extension of the Djibut railway in Abyssinia. He had never heard of the railway until he heard the hon. Member holding forth about it, and he doubted very much if the hon. Member had ever heard of it himself until he read something in the Daily Mail, or some other equally veracious organ, about it. The hon. Member had entertained the House with his views of the necessity for the erection of Christian schools for heathen children in Central Africa. He had told the House what he thought about the erosion of the Chinde River bank. He thought at first it was in Montgomery, and that it had some connection with the Royal Commission recently appointed on coast erosion. But no; it was out in Siam or some place like that. It was certainly not in this country. He had confided to the House his views about the rumoured discovery of a cure for sleeping sickness on the Congo. He never proposed any cure for sleeping sickness which showed itself during some speeches at Westminster. He had spoken on another occasion about the rewards paid for slaying leopards and tigers and the danger to Chiromo from lions, and about the Raipur-Vizianagram scheme and the Vizagapatam Railway. On four occasions he had held forth on the operations of the tsetse fly. Any hon. Member could escape from long speeches by going out to the library, the smoking room, or the bar, but he defied any man to escape from the speeches of the hon. Member. If he attempted to discharge his duties in that House efficiently he entered the Chamber at the imminent risk of finding the hon. Member in possession, and therefore, holding strongly as he did that obstruction arose not from the length of speeches but from the frequency of bad speeches, he should oppose this Motion unless the hon. Member could see his way to accept the Amendment which he suggested.

MR. STEADMAN (Finsbury, Central)

said he strongly supported the Motion. Parliament would never get through half the work it had promised the country unless some reform in this direction was made. He had occupied the time of the House on one or two occasions for an hour at least, but if there was a standing order similar to that of the county council he had no doubt he could condense his remarks within the prescribed time. He had not succeeded in catching the Speaker's eye on the Port of London Bill, though he had served his apprenticeship on the river and knew more about it and its docks than any Member who had spoken in the debate. He failed again to catch the Speaker's eye on the Budget night. On the other hand he noticed that some Members spoke on every subject that came before the House. No man should attempt to speak merely for the sake of speaking. If he knew from a practical point of view the subject under discussion he might enlighten the House. It did not matter how humble a position a man might occupy in the social scale, if the House thought he was an honest man it was always willing to give him a fair hearing. He did not throw the responsibility for long speeches on the Government. Private Members were more responsible than the Government. On a Friday, for example, a private Member moved the second reading of a Bill in a speech lasting an hour, and the seconder followed his example. When the closure was moved the Speaker refused it, and he did not wonder. The mover defeated his own object by the length of his speech. A working men's congress could show the House of Commons how to get through business. They curtailed a mover to ten minutes and a seconder to five, and if they did not get through business fast enough they curtailed even more than that. The London County Council could not get through their work without the fifteen minutes limit. They had about sixty committees and sub-committees mooting weekly. A member was allowed to occupy more time by permission of the Council, and he had never known permission refused. There was, however, a great difference between the County Council and the House of Commons—one was an administrative and the other a legislative body—and, to be fair to Cabinet Ministers, whether Liberal or Tory, there were matters which it was impossible for them to explain thoroughly under an hour or even two hours, and he should not be prepared to support a proposal to limit their speeches to an hour or less. The closure, he agreed, was undemocratic, but there were times when drastic measures had to be taken, otherwise the Party in power could not get a single measure through, and there were times when many of them wearied of the speechifying that was done for pure obstruction and welcomed the closure. This was not the only Assembly that had to adopt the closure to get its work through. He doubted whether the Licensing Bill would get through Committee before Christmas unless the Government adopted the principle of closure by compartments. The country was looking to the present Government to do some work. They had years of social legislation to pick up. They had not done much at present—not so much as he would like to see them do. Labour Members stood in a far different position from that of the average Member. They were bombarded outside by their own people. When they asked him why this, that, and the other was not done, he told them that if they came to the House they would see the reason for themselves. The way the time God Almighty had given them was wasted was downright wicked. He appealed to the mover of the Resolution to adopt the suggestion of the Home Secretary, who had made it perfectly clear to him that a drastic alteration such as this Resolution proposed could not be made in five minutes. The hon. Member had served his purpose by introducing the Motion, and had got further than anyone else had got by the offer the Home Secretary had made. He could have no fear if the matter went to a Committee. It would be thought out and in the end they would get a practical remedy for the wilful waste of time that now went on.

SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somersetshire,) Wellington

said that he, eight years ago, seconded a Motion for restriction of length of speeches moved by his hon. and gallant friend, but he had altered his opinion. The views of "Whips" in regard to speeches varied; there were times when a long speech Member was a good friend; there were times when he had known energetic efforts adopted to bring a speech to a rapid conclusion. If this Motion were carried, the duty of Whips would be easier, for it might be assumed that every Member would speak to his half-hour limit. ["No."] The condition of things had changed. Time was when they had a free House, but now the Government had established four tied houses in the Committee-rooms upstairs, where political refreshment was dispensed without the semblance of police supervision in the shape of an official reporter. All their proceedings were conducted in secret, and now that the Government had got these four tied houses he appealed to the Patronage Secretary to let them have this old established free House of Commons open to public discussion. Let them tie the houses upstairs, but at least they should give them the old established free public House downstairs. This was a very great amendment of their Rules of Procedure to be brought in by a private Member. Such an alteration of procedure as the Motion would effect should be made on the responsibility of the Government, not of a private Member. He could recollect occasions when speeches had been interrupted by Motion?, "That the hon. Member be no longer heard." Speakers Peel and Gully had ruled that such a Question could not be put. That was quite right. Thus they came to this, that a Question which two predecessors of the Speaker ruled they could not put, could be decided by one voice against 668. That was a total subversion of the practice, customs, and Rules of the House. He thought it would be very unfair to the Opposition, whether the official Opposition or hon. Members from Ireland or hon. Members who represented Labour, that a Minister should be allowed to make a speech of any length while they were precluded from speaking for more than half an hour on Second Reading, or a quarter of an hour in Committee. The House had always been exceedingly generous towards minorities, and was it fair that in addition to having all the power of numbers, all the weight of ability and knowledge which necessarily attached to those who sat on the Treasury Bench, and all their permanent staffs behind them, they should also have a great majority of the hours of speech in the House? How would such a rule work in connection with the discussion of a Home Rule Bill, or a great Army Bill? The Prime Minister of the day would get up with all his facts before him and make a most eloquent First Reading speech. The Leader of the Opposition who would follow would be limited to half an hour. Difficult as it was to make a carefully prepared speech in half an hour, it was quite impossible on the spur of the moment to condense into that time one's criticism of Government proposals which had just been heard for the first time. The leaders of the Irish Party and of the Labour Party would be put in the same difficulty. He did not think that either the House or the country would like this restriction. The country liked a debate to be fairly carried out on both sides of the House. As to the limit proposed for the Committee stage, he would give the House a concrete illustration of how it would work. On Monday next the House in Committee would discuss the Budget Resolution on the income-tax. The Prime Minister had given the ordinary pledge that on that Resolution they would be allowed to discuss the whole financial arrangements of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer on that occasion would be able to speak for half an hour, an hour, or two hours if he liked. His right hon. friend the Member for the City of London, if the limit were in force, would only be able to speak for fifteen minutes. He would only speak for fourteen and a half minutes, and, paraphrasing language which was historic, he might say "I will sit down now, but you will hear me after a minute and a half." He himself would get up and say "I agree with my right hon. friend, and I intend to vote with him," and his right hon. friend would get up again and speak for fourteen and a half minutes. Then another hon. friend would get up and speak for a minute, and thereafter his right hon. friend the Member for the City of London would get up again to continue his speech. [An HON. MEMBER: Where does the Speaker come in?] He was pointing out the absolute futility of the proposal. Instead of economising time, speeches would become longer. The whole thing was so fantastic that it would not work, and he hoped the House would not adopt the proposal. If they were going to put the Government in first, and then close the Opposition's innings in half an hour, the country, he was sure, would not consider it fair. This proposal was a serious invasion of the liberties of the House; it would do nothing to economise time, and it would seriously handicap some of the younger Members.


expressed regret that the right hon. Gentleman's position as Chief Opposition Whip entailed more or less enforced silence, because his speeches when they were made were very great contributions to debate. If the Motion went to a division, he would vote for it. He had a Motion on the Paper to the effect that private or unofficial Members should be in exactly the same category as Government Members. He remembered an occasion when Mr. Courtney, now Lord Courtney, got up and said he would be very pleased indeed if special privileges were given to Cabinet Ministers, and Mr. Gladstone, speaking with excitement, replied— I will never sit in a House of Commons in which the equality of Members is not acknowledged. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary did not act up to the principle of his revered father. He did not agree with the details of the scheme proposed by the hon. Gentleman opposite, but he would vote for the Motion as an expression of his approval of the principle that speeches in this House should be curtailed. His hon., gallant, and extremely acute friend said that this Resolution was in the interest of private Members. It was not in the interests of private Members. He had been in this House during five Parliaments, and he maintained that if a Resolution of this kind had been carried into action it would have rid the House of Commons of its greatest nuisance—the astoundingly stupid and extremely dull Parliamentary bore. [Cries of "Name."] Confession was good for the soul. He remembered standing up when, as he thought, a very serious outrage was committed on account of inconsiderate action in regard to the privileges of other Members. In those days of three hours debates, when the idea was to inform public opinion, a Gentleman unduly monopolised the time of the House. He knew he was out of order, and committed a Parliamentary crime by asking Mr. Speaker whether there was any way of stopping that Gentleman, whereupon Mr. Speaker said that there was no way of stopping a man who had once begun. There was, however, one way of stopping a Member, and that was by the Parliamentary cry of "Divide "—when they did not want to divide at all, but only to get him to stop orating. There were rules against tedious and irrelevant repetition, and a very wise rule which forbade a man to read his speech, for clearly he might go on reading and reading and never come to a conclusion. Then there was "the sense of the House." No one cared to set himself against "the sense of the House"; he would not do it even it were only to gratify his own vanity, for violating "the sense of the House" defeated its object. If speeches were shortened other Members would have an opportunity of speaking, which they would not otherwise have at all. He was bound to say—and the speeches of the Leader of the Opposition bore out the idea—that the present principle was that the Government and official Members should be the speakers, and the private Members should be a kind of Greek chorus to cry out "Hear, hear." That principle was largely carried out now. Everyone who knew Parliamentary history was aware that every measure of reform that made for the comfort of the people, for human freedom, for broadening the franchise, for extending the benefits of education, had been proposed first by private Members. The effect of the Resolution would be that private Members might just as well be abolished and an automaton substituted which would say—at proper intervals—"Hear, hear." At present young Members were actually snubbed, except they were friends of the people in power. How often had young Menbers—especially on the Tory side—come into this House with the greatest Parliamentary ambitions, and hoping to be permitted to make a deep impression. But when he had only spoken a few sentences, up would come a friend and whisper: "We have been delighted to hear your speech, but Mr. Balfour cannot move the closure. Do, my young friend, sit down." His noble friend had taken the Resolution to pieces, and had shown all the objections that could be made to it. What he asked was, was every man who came into the House to have a fair chance of taking part in its deliberations—every man who wished to inform public opinion? He ought to be heard, whether they agreed with him or not. At the same time he believed that anyone who had a gospel to deliver to the House could deliver himself of it within thirty minutes. But now they had an official set of debaters on the one side of the House or the other, their supporters were supposed to sit quiet and listen to them and to be delighted with them. He spoke in reference to this Motion in a purely altruistic spirit. He had been always well received in the House; he had always had his say whether he was in or out of order; but the cardinal objection he had to the proposal of the hon. Member—though he would vote for it—was that it differentiated between the official and the private Members of Parliament. If carried out in its entirety it would give a preference to the right hon. Member for Bordesley over Mr. Cobden, and make a distinction between one Member and another. He did not like to think that they were very much superior to their predecessors—or inferior. He knew that he had already transcended the ten minutes rule, but he could not help saying that the idea of official members having a precedence over Irish Members was simply intolerable, because they would always be unofficial Members in that House. When they got a Parliament of their own they would be delighted to take office. He would say one word as to the preference given to the official as against the unofficial Members. He believed Mr. Parnell when in this House held, probably, a position greater than that of a Cabinet Minister, yet he remembered that when Mr. Parnell rose to deny that he was the writer of the letters the infamous fac similes of which appeared in The Times, a member of the Government of the day obtained precedence because he was an official Member and by talking at great length successfully prevented Mr. Parnell from putting his denial and his explanation plausibly before the House in time to get into the Press. That showed the great danger of differentiating between official and unofficial Members. It had not been the practice merely of the present generation to make long speeches. Long speeches were unknown until the time of Chatham. Long speeches, which he introduced, had gone on ever since. But his successors were not such geniuses as Chatham. The Members of the present Treasury Bench were men of respectable but not dazzling ability, and were only slightly more clever than private Members. If a rule of this kind was passed it would prevent selfishness and give due consideration to the rights of private Members, and give the young men their chances. As he believed the private Members had started all proposals which made for freedom and the well-being of the people of this country he would with great fervour support the Resolution.

MR. KETTLE (Tyrone, E.)

said the Motion provided him with one of those rare opportunities upon which he could vote against some of his colleagues, and particularly the hon. and learned Gentlemen who had just sat down. He should vote against this proposal because he discovered in it the Liberal Imperialist alternative to Homo Rule. As at present constituted this Assembly was neither efficient or effective. If this Motion were carried, the effect would be to make this Assembly efficient and effective, and to that, as an Irishman, he objected. So far as Ireland was concerned this Parliament either did nothing or did harm, and he preferred that it should do the former. What was the Parliamentary history of the hon. Member who introduced this Motion? Last Session he spoke on 178 different subjects, and upon the Bill for the extension of the suffrage to women, argued, in support of its rejection, that their loquacity made them politically incapable. The hon. Gentleman then entertained the House with voluminous extracts from the Old Testament in favour of his contention, and but for the merciful rule which terminated debate on a Friday at five o'clock, the hon. Member in his endeavour to talk the Bill out would no doubt still be quoting Jeremiah. The real reason of the hon. Member's moving this Resolution was that he desired to speak on the Indian Budget, and to occupy the time that was taken up on that occasion by the Secretary of State for India. The true and inward explanation of that desire was that the hon. Gentleman had written a book upon India, a very interesting book—he himself had read the preface of it—and the hon. Gentleman desired in the debate on the Indian Budget to read the book piecemeal to the House. Was that a humane proposal; was it a proposal that would tend to the efficiency of this House? He had now mentioned his main objection, he had others, to this proposal. It was entirely hostile and unconstitutional. The genius of the British was much admired by those who thought they possessed it. Not possessing it himself, he could speak with detached admiration of it. But the genius of Great Britain was naturally long-winded, dilatory, and diverse. The Motion of the hon. Gentleman aimed at all that. He sincerely sympathised with the Home Secretary as the Minister in charge who had to listen to the debate. He would have thought, having regard to his record, the Secretary of State for War would have boon a far better judge of the matter. Speaking from the detached and impartial standpoint of a foreigner, he had said that his main objection to the Motion was that it was contrary and hostile to the genius of Great Britain. This Assembly did not exist for the purpose of making laws. If the people had wanted laws, they could have chosen a much more effective method of obtaining them. It existed in the first place in order to relieve the feelings of the electors, and in the second place—and it was a very subordinate one—in order to make laws. In certain other spheres they found the genius of the country opposed to the imposition of a time-limit. The Licensing Bill was objected to because it established a time-limit; they went to Egypt promising to leave in six months, and they had been there ever since; they went to South Africa expecting to take a picnic to Pretoria in a few months, and it took them three years; they passed a Land Act in 1903 which was very popular in Ireland in 1852 at the very latest. The sole effect of the Motion would be to make the House a more effective instrument for doing what he thought it ought not to do, and that was attempting the vain and impossible task of governing the country from which he came.

SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)

said he had listened to every speech, and with the single exception of the mover, though several Members had expressed their intention of voting for the Resolution, no one had supported it in a whole-hearted manner. The hon. Member for South Donegal seemed to have been under the impression that he was discussing the Second Reading of a Bill, and that he could reserve to himself the right of amending it in Committee. His argument was that he was so anxious that the principle that new Members should have the power of speech should be adopted that, though he disagreed with the Resolution in every particular, he was going to vote for it. He could hardly have realised that to-morrow all the evils that he had shown—preference given to right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench as against the leaders of his own Party and of the Labour Party—would result. He agreed with him thoroughly. The fatal principle that there should be a difference between Members of the House would ensue.


The hon. Baronet said that this Resolution could not be made a general Order. I accordingly deferred to his information and supported the Resolution.


said the hon. Member had misunderstood his informant. If the Motion were carried it would become a Sessional Order; and, if it was put in one Motion and not two, it would become a Standing Order. He had looked at the debates upon this question before, and he found that it was the Member for the Scotland division of Liverpool who said that absolute and perfect equality between all Members had always been the guiding principle of the House from time immemorial. By this Resolution they would alter that, and put the Members of the Treasury Bench in a position totally different from that of any other Member. They were not even going to include the Members of the Front Opposition Bench. The Chief Whip had pointed out with very great force the evils which must result. The Secretary for War, for example, on the Vote for men might make a speech of two hours or more. The speech might be interesting and absolutely necessary, but the speech of his predecessor on the Front Opposition Bench would he limited to a quarter of an hour. Was it fair that questions of that sort should be dealt with in such a way? They had heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite that they wanted to restore freedom of discussion and to prevent Parliament becoming an instrument to register the decrees of the Government. Here they had an hon. gentleman who had been only two-and-a-half years in Parliament and who, without any real knowledge of its proceedings, brought forward a Motion which would give his leaders on the Treasury Bench an ad vantage which was denied to all other Members. The reason given for bringing forward the Motion was that the hon. Member did not think a sufficient number of Members spoke. He was supported by the hon. Member for Stepney who thought it would facilitate business, and went on to say that if the rule were adopted he would be able to speak oftener. On great debates or Second Readings, on which occasions he never attempted to rise and, therefore, he was not speaking in a personal way, if the rule was adopted there would be at the most another hour in each day at liberty, and consequently perhaps two more Members would speak. On the Second Reading of the Licensing Bill the best speeches were the long ones. The speeches of the hon. Baronet the Member for Spen Valley and the hon. Member for Hackney were very powerful contributions to the debate, and they exceeded an hour, but the vast majority of speeches did not. The hon. Member for Plymouth said that young Members had been eleven months in the House before they were called upon. It was a rule of the House that when a new Member got up to make his maiden speech he was always called upon.


May I interrupt? It has not been the invariable practice in this Parliament.


said it might happen that the Speaker might not know at the moment whether it was a new Member, but the moment his attention was called to the fact that a new Member had risen he held it was the custom of the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees to call on him at once.


I think the difficulty is due to the fact that in this Parliament you have sometimes had half-a-dozen new Members trying to make a maiden speech at the same time.


said that was rather an illustration of the reason why the Resolution had been brought in. It had been brought in because this was a new Parliament with a large number of new Members, and difficulties were inevitable. But it would be foolish to destroy rules and regulations which had been in existence for hundreds of years merely because in a new and very exceptional Parliament five or six Gentlemen particularly wished at the same time to speak. This alteration would not give them the privilege that they desired. One or two might get it and the other four or five would go away and be still more despondent and angry than they were now, when perhaps not so many of them desired to speak. The result of this would in no way facilitate business on big nights. The waste of time, as the hon. Member for Stepney called it, would go on just as much as it did now, because more Members would speak. The hon. Member said he would like the Resolution limited to private Bills and the restriction on Members of the Treasury Bench removed, and if these alteration were too drastic he would like it confine it to set speeches on certain nights, and on the Second Readings of Government measures full fling would be given to everybody. Then how could he support the Resolution if full fling was given to everybody? But there was a very much greater danger even than this. It was not everybody that went to the House regularly every day. The situation which the hon. Member disliked arose only upon set debates upon Government questions which were interesting to the country; but there were a great many other discussions on other topics when the House was by no means full, and when every Member who desired might speak. Very often there were not enough Members to speak.

And, it being Eleven of the Clock, the debate stood adjourned.