§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fifeshire, E.
said he rose to move the Motion standing in his name with regard to the allocation of time for the Report stage of the Licensing Bill. The House resolved last July that five days of Parliamentary time should be allotted to this stage 302 of the measure. Of course, it was no longer open to them to consider or discuss the question whether that was or was not an adequate provision of time, but the House at the same time adopted what he ventured to think a very wise innovation on the procedure which had hitherto been established in regard to closure Resolutions, by reserving till the close of the Committee stage, when the course of the discussion would have made it clear what topics had arisen in 303 the debate which required further consideration, the manner in which, as between the five days resolved upon, the different clauses should be apportioned. He would point out by way of summary that the number of clauses discussed in Committee was nineteen, the number undiscussed was twenty-eight, one clause was dropped, and one added. Of the twenty-eight undiscussed clauses, twelve were not opposed. Therefore, it was fair to assume that of the undiscussed clauses, at the outside sixteen presented nothing in the nature of controversial matter. Of the seven Schedules, four were discussed, and one of the remainder was not opposed at all. That was the situation as it confronted them now in regard to the actual employment of the time during the nineteen allotted days in Committee. In those circumstances, it became the duty of the Government to endeavour to allocate as fairly as they could the five days for the Report stage. The governing principle, which he thought the House in all quarters would agree they rightly had in view, was to allow the House to consider first of all any new proposals of the Government, and next any Amendments which the Government proposed to introduce in order to carry out promises given during the Committee stage. Subject to the time given for the consideration of these new proposals, the table had been arranged so far as possible to allow further discussion on the most important parts of the Bill. He said at once that he should listen with interest, and with every desire to consider them, to any criticisms or suggestions which could be made from any quarter as to the precise allocation of time which they proposed. With that preface, it would be perhaps convenient that he should discuss seriatim the proposed allocation as between the successive days. The first day, which would be Friday—the House saw on the Paper that the time was 10.30, but in accordance with the Resolution passed in July, if the allotted day fell on a Friday, five o'clock was to be substituted for 10.30—they proposed to take Clauses 1 and 2. The Government's new clauses, of which there were only two, provided, as to the second of them, for the closing of public-houses 304 at polls for Parliamentary elections, etc., which was fully discussed in Committee, and in regard to which, though he could not say they were proposals which were likely to meet with universal assent, yet they might have sympathetic consideration on the other side of the House in view of the declaration made by the Leader of the Opposition. The other new clause, that first on the Paper, raised questions which were rather questions of practical detail than of principle, and dealt with two matters with which the Government during the Committee stage promised to deal. Then there followed the new clauses proposed by private Members, some of which undoubtedly raised important points, but he should hope at any rate that no large part of the time of the first day would go to the discussion of these new clauses, because, for one reason, any such discussion would necessarily curtail the time to be given for the consideration of the first and second clauses of the Bill. As regarded Clauses 1 and 2, they had been amply discussed in Committee; three days were given to their consideration, and, he thought they might fairly add, the best part of another day, devoted to the consideration of the first Schedule, which was an appendix and could only be considered in relation to Clause 1. He came next to the second day, which they proposed to divide into two compartments, the one to close at 7.30 and the other at 10.30. That was Monday. The first matter for consideration would be Clause 3, which, as regarded the first part of the Bill, was considered in many quarters the most important of all its provisions. That clause was fully debated in Committee, but of course there ought to be a further opportunity for discussion, inasmuch as they had put down a proviso—a concession, it was described as in some quarters—which he said in the debate in Committee the Government were willing to make, by which an extra seven years was given at the expiration of the reduction period of fourteen years before the State would resume the monopoly value of old licences. That the Government regarded as a matter of very great importance, and that the House ought to have time to consider. The Amendments which the Government proposed 305 to make in Clause 4, which followed in the first compartment of the second day, were purely drafting Amendments. The second compartment embraced Clauses 5 to 9, and they had put down Clause 5 advisedly as the first matter to be considered in that second compartment, because, as the House would see, if they looked at the Amendments on the Paper, it would raise the question of the position of off-licences after the end of the reduction period. Clauses 6, 7 and 8 were administrative, clauses, and the only Amendments which the Government proposed were some drafting Amendments, and raised points not on Clause 7 but on Clause 9 as to Welsh local option, which had been fully discussed. They came to the third day, which included Clauses 10 to 17. They rightly began the third day with Clause 10, which was an extremely important clause, and the Amendments which the Government had put down on the Paper to that clause raised the question of the value to be placed, in assessing the compensation annuity, on the concession of the further seven years period which they proposed to give on Clause 3. As regarded the remainder of the clauses in that bundle, Clause 14 raised the question of the constitution and functions of the Licensing Commission, which were very fully discussed during the Committee stage. [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh," and "Never."]
§ * MR. G. D. FABER (York)
The policy of the Commission was never discussed. We were told we must wait for the clause, and the clause was never reached.
§ MR. ASQUITH
said his recollection did hot tally with that of the hon. Gentleman. He thought every aspect of the Commission, its functions and composition, was discussed in a most exhaustive way. Clauses 15 to 17 made purely administrative changes, and he did not believe, as far as he could judge, that there was any very serious opposition to the proposals which they contained. Coming to the fourth day, the first part of Clause 18 (the Sunday Closing Clause) had been very fully discussed. Clause 19, which was not discussed at all in 306 Committee, the Government thought a very important clause, dealing with the children and it was right that the House should have an opportunity of reconsidering it on Report. On the fourth day they dealt with Clauses 20 to 23. Clause 20, which enumerated the conditions which justices might attach to the renewal of licences, was a very important clause, and certainly ought to take the first place in any compartment allocated for the Report stage. The Government had put down an Amendment so as to allow the justices, in view of the special circumstances of particular localities, the power to prevent drink being sold before eight o'clock in the morning. Clauses 21 to 23 were unimportant. The fifth and last day they proposed to divide into two compartments. The subject of discussion in the first compartment began with Clause 24, a very important clause, dealing with monopoly value. Inasmuch as there was no opportunity for discussing this clause in Committee, the Government thought the House was entitled to take it first for discussion on the Report stage. As regarded the remaining portion of this bundle, Clauses 25 to 35 were of minor importance, and to a great many of them no Amendments of any kind were put down; and from general experience it might be assumed that no real objection was taken if no hon. Gentlemen on one side or the other put down any Amendment. The second compartment of the fifth day included the clauses on clubs, which were discussed in Committee during the whole of three days. There was no part of the Bill which had been subjected to greater consideration than that particular section. In regard to the Schedules, the first and fourth were put in front. That which had reference to passenger vessels was assented to by most of those concerned. That was the allocation which the Government proposed. They had put down the Motion after much careful consideration, with a view of carrying out the principle which he indicated in his opening remarks. But at the same time the Government were perfectly ready to listen to any Suggestions which would, in the opinion of any considerable body 307 of Members, secure ampler discussion of matters which either were undiscussed altogether in Committee or, in consequence of the Committee discussion, acquired a novelty or an importance which they did not appear previously to possess. He would only say, in conclusion, that if they were to have compulsory closure of measures of much complexity and importance like this, the precedent which the Government were setting of reserving the allocation of time for the purposes of Report until the conclusion of the Committee stage, was a most useful precedent, because it would prevent what had undoubtedly happened in days gone by—what hap-
|Allotted Day.||Proceedings.||Time for Proceedings to be brought to a Conclusion.|
|First||New Clauses and Clauses 1 and 2||10.30|
|Second||Clauses 3 and 4||7.30|
|Clauses 5 to 9||10.30|
|Third||Clauses 10 to 17||10.30|
|Fourth||Clauses 18 and 19||7.30|
|Clauses 20 to 23||10.30|
|Fifth||Clauses 24 to 35||7.30|
|Clause 36 to the end of the Bill, and any other matter necessary to bring the Report stage to a conclusion||10.30|
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
said he certainly did not rise to make any attack upon this particular allocation of time. The real matter of which they complained was that the right hon Gentleman should allow only five days for dealing with matters which every man, he did not care to which party he belonged, knew perfectly well had never been discussed at all in the earlier stages of their debates. He was, he confessed, disappointed with a phrase which fell from the right hon. Gentleman in the closing words of his speech, for he seemed to consider that the methods adopted for dealing with this Bill were likely to be perpetually adopted when any com-
§ pened certainly in regard to the Licensing Act, 1904—that particular provisions of the Bill were passed by that House without there being an opportunity for consideration either on the Committee or the Report stage. He begged to move.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the proceedings on each of the five allotted days given to the Report stage of the Licensing Bill shall be those shown in the second column of the following table, and those proceedings shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion at the time shown in the third column of that table—
§ plicated measure of this kind was brought forward. With all the experience of the ten closures by compartment for which in three years the Government had been responsible, absolutely the only improvement which had suggested itself to the inventive mind of the Government was that they should, having allocated blindly at the beginning of their closure by compartments a certain fixed time for dealing with Report, manipulate that brief time in the interests of discussion. He thought it was, perhaps, better that they should have the Report stage dealt with by compartments than that they should have it confined to a very narrow space of time without compartments. He did 309 not quarrel with that. But to suppose that this alteration, namely, closure by compartments, was anything in the nature of a reform of Parliamentary procedure was really absurd It might be the faintest and most insignificant palliation of a great and growing evil, but more than that it certainly was not. They had only to listen to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to learn that nothing he was proposing to-day did away with the original vice of the arrangement to which the Government committed itself last July. They suffered now, and, whatever arrangement was made, they must suffer now under the plan which the Government had adopted, and so far as that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was concerned, he only regretted that there was no hint or suggestion that he had in his mind some better method of dealing with complicated Bills than the rough-and-ready methods which his predecessors did adopt occasionally, but which he and his friends had made an habitual, chronic, almost invariable practice, and to which he apparently looked forward with serenity in the long vista of the future history of Parliament. He thought that was a very unhappy state of things, and he was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman could not even by a phrase or a parenthesis indicate that he hoped something better would occur in the future than a repetition of that policy, which had produced such unhappy consequences in the past. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that there were forty-seven clauses of this Bill, of which a very large number had not been discussed, but of that large number a great many had not been divided against, and, therefore, he understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that because those clauses had not been divided against, they had been considered not worthy of discussion and were unopposed. The right hon. Gentleman after all was an old Parliamentary hand, and he must know perfectly well that clauses, though they might contain some pernicious details, were passed over because they had not time to discuss or comment upon them, and were only allowed to vote Aye or No. That put them in an extremely difficult position. A Member was naturally very unwilling to commit himself wholly in opposition to a clause with much of which he might happen 310 to agree. It was really inconceivable that the Government should suppose that unless a section of the House was prepared to vote against a clause standing part of the Bill, that such clause was not worthy of commentary, discussion, or amendment. It was an entirely novel doctrine to be laid down by any Government in that House, and it was one utterly subversive of Parliamentary discussion in Committee of the Whole House. Such a position was wholly untenable. It did nothing to mitigate their objection to a Bill, which was so arranged as to raise previous issues connected with social reform, and the largest issues connected with the title of individual citizens in their own property—a Bill which raised those two groups of questions in a most aggravated and acute form, and a Bill 88 per cent. of which had been absolutely untouched and [...] undiscussed in Committee, only, 179 lines out of 988, having been discussed at all in that stage. So to treat a measure was really to turn discussion in the House into an absolute travesty. The acquiescence of the Government in it, and the absence from the right hon. Gentleman's speech of any suggestion in regard to this deplorable method of carrying on Parliamentary business, he confessed filled him with gloomy apprehension for the future of that House. The right hon. Gentleman must know that they had never had a chance of discussing the question of off-licences nor of the addition to the fourteen years which he represented as a concession to the licensing trade, but which seemed to them, so far as he understood the matter, not to be a concession at all. They had never had the Government policy explained of why off-licences were not to be subjected to local veto and why on-licences were to be so subjected, and he could not see that the right hon. Gentleman meant them to have any opportunity in the allocation of time which he was now giving to monopoly value. For any human being in the House to think that it was decent, when they were dealing with interests so vast, to allow such important questions as monopoly value to pass untouched was to have the strangest view of what was really due to the House of Commons and its constituents. The right hon. Gentlemen had referred by comparison 311 to the Act of 1904, which he and his friends thought pernicious at the time, but which they had adopted as the basis of some parts of the Bill. He would not go into the merits or demerits of the Act of 1904, but it was a simple measure which carried out one plain proposition, with which they might agree or from which they might dissent. It was discussed absolutely ad nauseam, and there was not very much to be said about its details. Simple as it was the Bill of 1904 was discussed at a length absolutely beyond comparison with the time which had been allowed for this Bill, if they took into account the comparative length of the two measures. The peculiarity of this Bill was not merely that it was a long one, but that it contained within it a number of isolated and separate changes in the law, each of which, if taken alone, would be regarded as quite as controversial a subject as any passed in the Act of 1904. There was the question of the time-limit, which could have been treated in a separate Bill. There was the question of off-licence, which also could have been treated in a separate Bill; and there was the whole question of local option, which could have been similarly treated. He mentioned only some of the subordinate measures contained within the ambit of this extraordinary scheme, and each of these, if the Government had brought them forward separately, would have required discussion on the Second Reading of the Report stages, and, as everybody knew, each of them would have taken a very large portion of Parliament's time. But simply because the Government had chosen to bind together these fragments of licensing reform, having no mutual connection or logical coherence, and cram them into the limits of one measure, they thought they were justified in saying to the House that they would only allow so much time in which to discuss them, and if five days on the Report stage were not sufficient, well then it was a great misfortune, they were very sorry, but it was not their fault. But it was their fault. It was the fault of the Government, not merely that they tried to pass too many Bills, but because they tried to put into what they called one Bill, the substance of half a dozen separate Bills. Of course, hon. Gentle- 312 men opposite differed profoundly from the views held on his side of the House with regards to the merits of many of these proposals, but was there one of them familiar with Parliamentary proceedure in the past who did not know that in the very criticisms he was passing on His Majesty's Government, he was not in the least exaggerating the kind of task which they expected the House to perform; and if the House was unable to perform it under the old rules, which in the main governed their procedure, the fault was with those taskmasters who put before them a work which they were unable to perform, and not with the assembly which was asked to do the impossible. In the actual distribution of the time during the five days which the right hon. Gentleman was giving to Report, he personally took very little interest. It was perfectly clear that it was never intended that they should discuss this measure. In their method of conducting the business the Government exhibited, he had almost said, a malign pleasure in showing how little they considered the rights and dignity of the House, because—though they had many months for deliberation—when they had Government Amendments to be discussed on a particular evening, the printed Amendments appeared on the Paper only on that evening. He did not know whether they were going to do the same on Report. How many Amendments other than those on the Paper were the Government going to bring forward? Was the Solicitor-General, on whom so much of the burden of the discussion of this Bill had fallen, as the unfortunate slave of the powers which he was unable to control, going to ask them to deal for the first time on one of those evenings with an Amendment which they had never seen, and which, no doubt, the hon. and learned Gentleman had never seen but which he was put up to move? Was that other victim of unhappy fate, the the First Commissioner of Works, going to come down some day on the Report stage and explain a new clause which turned out in the opinion of the Government to mean something quite different from what it meant according to its grammatical structure? This had been their infelicitous experience. A great amount of Parliamentary time would 313 have had to be given to this Bill, which as a matter of fact, was unnecessarily large and cumbersome. Of course, they should have opposed the fundamental and essential principle, because they differed from it, as they thought they had shown reason for differing from it. But that could have been discussed within the time allotted to them, if the Government had not insisted, not only upon the central principle, but upon all sorts of subsidiary matters which they regarded as great questions of licensing reform, all of which required discussion, and none of which had received it—["Oh."]—Well, very few of which had received it. Whatever was the division between the two sides of the House on the actual merits of many of the Government proposals, he believed he was talking to an absolutely sympathetic audience when he said that, dealing with an immense subject, touching the interests of every working-man in the country outside those who habitually used public-houses, raising the most violent feelings of hostility and prejudice touching the main subjects of social reform, there was not a Member who did not know well that he was not exaggerating in the least when he said that a measure of this magnitude to be passed through the House in the manner in which the Government had tried to pass it through, and were still going to try to pass it through, was not merely to deal another blow at the liberty of discussion, which, though in a diminishing degree, they had enjoyed up to the present time, but it was to send the Bill from the House of Commons for discussion in the country without the imprimatur of that House upon it, and without anything behind it in the shape of argument, discussion, or criticism which should commend it to the great mass of their fellow-countrymen.
§ * MR. BARNARD (Kidderminster)
said the right hon. Gentleman had complained that the Bill had not been adequately discussed. He thought the fault lay largely on the shoulders of the right hon. Gentleman himself and his friends. The Bill in its details had been deliberately boycotted. If, as he said, it was based largely on the 1904 Act, did it not show there could not be the same necessity 314 for dealing with the points taken from that Act? He objected to the leading features of the Bill, but he realised that there was going to be a Bill and he believed there was going to be an Act of Parliament, and it was essential to try and contemplate the details of the measure, and see to what extent they could be improved and brought down to the position of practical business. He had never doubted that the Government had made very great concessions, but he was of opinion that the concessions could be still further improved, and that they could be moulded into a shape which he believed would render it more advantageous generally to have a Bill than not to have one. He thought the allocation might be advantageously altered. There had been points of uncertainty in connection with the discussion. It was obvious that in a great measure like this some features in the hurry might be overlooked, and he thought there were two or three groups of subjects which had not been sufficiently discussed. It would be an extremely desirable thing to discuss further the question of the compensation to public-house tenants. He recognised that the Government had gone a very great way towards protecting the interests of the public-house tenants, and that they would be in a better position after the Bill became law than ever before, but further discussion was necessary in order to elaborate and round off some of these points. The extension of the time-limit to twenty-one years had left a doubt in people's minds because he did not understand now the exact arrangement of the three years compensation and other points of that description which he thought might be dealt with at greater length. He put it to the Prime Minister whether it would not be possible in connection with the time-limit to take off this clog of local option. They had not got local option with the off-licences, but it was on these on-licences, and it clogged the whole position. It got rid of the security. It did not enable the people to insure themselves against these risks, and it was acknowledged in every part of the House that the two-thirds majority on local option was not likely ever to be effective or to be put into operation, at any rate in the greater part of England. He 315 should like to have further time on the matter of compensation, which had not been very largely discussed. It appeared to him that if there was not to be a limitation upon the levy to be charged equally, if there was a doubt about that, there ought not to be a limitation upon the method of compensation.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is now discussing some future Amendments to the Bill. He cannot do that at this stage. He must wait until the opportunity arises.
§ * MR. BARNARD
said there were many reasons why, in his judgment, further time should have been allocated for the consideration of the important clauses and Amendments, because in that way they were more likely to produce a Bill which might be workable than otherwise. He had occupied rather a difficult position during the debates. After the Prime Minister had made the concession of the seven years he had explained that that was a position which ought to be contemplated and weighed up, and that was where he parted with Members of the Opposition. In his judgment it ought to be contemplated in detail. They thought it ought to be dealt with solely in the manner in which they had chosen to deal with it. After his speech, in which he said this thing should be looked into in detail, he had got into a terrible tangle. The trade papers proceeded to say he was ratting, and all the rest of it, and there was a quarrel amongst the interested parties inside his own constituency. The licensed victuallers met, and passed a resolution unknown to him—it was published in all the Birmingham papers—in which they said they were of opinion that he had been perfectly right in fighting one by one, to the best of his ability, these Amendments. If hon. Members above the gangway were so positive in not going into the details of the measure—if they were perfectly certain that the publicans of England were with them—all he could say was that he was not. He could hope that the earlier days might be rather extended and the later ones cut out.
§ EARL WINTERTON (Sussex, Horsham)
said he did not propose to follow 316 the hon. Gentleman. He should certainly be out of order if he did so. But if the hon. Member had taken the trouble to look into the number of times he had spoken in Committee, he did not think he would bring the accusation of obstruction against the Opposition. The Prime Minister had stated that twelve of the clauses which were undiscussed were non-controversial, and therefore unimportant. That threw a very lurid searchlight on the attitude the Government took up on the time they considered necessary to allocate to the discussion of each clause. Apparently the right hon. Gentleman thought that because a clause was non-controversial it was unimportant. That was the effect of his words. They were to understand that when clauses were controversial, when fierce party passions were aroused, and when words were bandied across the floor of the House, the Government thought it necessary and important that the clauses should be discussed, and when they had clauses equally important containing matters of detail, because they were not controversial, the Government thought it was not necessary to discuss them. When the Prime Minister held these views it was obviously a mere waste of time to discuss the details of the allocation. He was pleased that for the first time when they had discussed guillotine Resolutions they had not heard the hoary old fiction trotted out that the guillotine Resolutions were rendered necessary by the obstructive tactics of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman had admitted frankly, not merely that, owing to the Resolution passed in July, his hands were more or less tied, but that in a controversial Bill of this kind it was necessary to tie down the House to prevent a great many clauses being discussed, for the physical reason that there was not sufficient time to discuss them. That again was a very important admission, as was also the admission that this procedure was to be widely adopted in the future. The right hon. Gentleman had one ally much more powerful than any of his colleagues—the clock. That was the General Blucher who never failed him, and was always in time. If he might make a suggestion with all courtesy and seriousness and 317 without impertinence, it was that the right hon. Gentleman having that powerful ally might well give some of his colleagues a well-earned holiday and enable them during the Report stage to give a little much-needed time to the work of their own offices.
§ MR. YOUNGER (Ayr Burghs)
said they did not think it in the least necessary to accept the right hon. Gentleman's invitation of suggested alterations in his scheme. The difficulty arose from the shortness of the time at the Prime Minister's disposal. It would be impossible to recast the time-table in such a way as to ensure the fair and proper discussion of many clauses which they had not had an opportunity of saying a word about in Committee and were not likely to have an opportunity of discussing on Report. The Prime Minister had laid great stress on the fact that very many clauses were allowed to pass, not only without opposition, but without any very great number of Amendments appearing on the Paper. That arose largely from the fact that they knew it was perfectly impossible to reach them. The right hon. Gentleman must not therefore consider that these clauses were thought incapable of amendment. He agreed that, so far as he had been able, the Prime Minister had redeemed his pledge of giving them an opportunity of discussing the new Amendments, but he was certain the Bill would leave the House without many of its important clauses having been discussed at all. The whole trouble arose from the fact that six or seven Bills had been crammed into one, that barnacles had been attached to the main body which it was perfectly impossible to discuss or remove, and, therefore, they must not be held, simply because they had not discussed or sought to amend the clauses, as accepting their principle.
§ * MR G. D. FABER
said the Under-Secretary for the Home Department on 17th July last, when the setting up of the guillotine was under discussion, used the following words—The hon. Member for the Ashford division of Kent suggested that there would be no time to ascertain the feeling of the House as to the manner in which the five days should be distributed. 318 But during the long weeks in which the Bill would be under discussion there would be ample time for the Government, through the ordinary means of communication, to gather views from the various quarters of the House as to which clauses Members desire should have preference on Report. From that point of view the proposal of the Government for the new allocation on Report was not open to objection or criticism.He had asked the right hon. Gentleman who had control over these matters as regarded their own party as to whether the whips on the Government side had approached him, and he did not gather that any such communication took place. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have carried out the undertaking, and gathered the general views of the House before the discussions for the five days were actually stereotyped. As regarded the general discussion, he felt that the matter was past praying for. The whole mischief was done when the guillotine Resolutions were originally taken, and nineteen, days were allotted to Committee and five to Report—manifestly insufficient in either case. The actual allocation of the time for the discussion arising on the Report stage was relatively of minor importance. The Government could not tell in anticipation how many days would be required, and if they were going partly to reserve the guillotine with regard to the Report stage it would have been better to have reserved it altogether and derided now instead of then how many days should be given. They had not done it, and it was not much use carrying the matter further. He was sorry that in the heat of the moment he had interrupted the Prime Minister on the question of Clauses 14 to 17. Those clauses had really never been discussed as regarded the policy of the establishment of the Commission. They had discussed the number of the Commissioners, but the Chairman had held them down to that, and the question of policy was reserved until they got to the notice to omit the clause, and it was never reached.
MR. STANLEY WILSON (Yorkshire, E.R., Holderness)
wished to make his humble protest against this allocation proposal. The position seemed to be utterly absurd in view of what had already taken place in Committee. Only 319 about one-seventh of the Bill had been discussed, yet he was glad to think the Prime Minister had not accused them of obstructive mehods. He, himself, had not made a single speech. It had been left to the hon. Member for Kidderminster to accuse them of obstruction. He was entirely unjustified in his remark, and if he had totted up his speeches he would probably find he had made as many as any Member of the House. In spite of the drastic way in which the Government had forced the measure through the House, it was freely acknowledged that they had managed to get themselves into a greater muddle than any Government had ever got into in modern, times on an important measure such as this. Amendment after Amendment of the most drastic character was placed in the Bill by the Government or else accepted by them. And what of the other part of the Bill which was not discussed at all? It was clear that the Government had not given proper consideration to the measure, and they had shown their hopeless incompetence in dealing with it. When they came to the Report stage they found they were practically dealing with a more or less new Bill, utterly different from that which they had passed on the Second Reading. It was absolutely absurd to endeavour to force it through the Report stage in five days. He acknowledged that, given the small time allowed them, the right hon. Gentleman had done his best to allocate it as fairly as he could. He noticed that with the exception of one day the right hon. Gentleman, intended to see that everyone got his dinner comfortably, as he had allotted only two clauses for the dinner-hour each day, with the exception of the fifth day, when they were to have eleven clauses at the dinner-hour, and he was afraid the latter part of the Bill would not receive the discussion which the Prime Minister told them it would receive. A three hours discussion for twelve clauses and the Schedules appeared to be absolutely absurd. One could not help feeling thankful that the Bill after it left the House would go to another place where it would receive that fair and proper discussion which it merited. The country had come to see that it was not the House of Commons 320 which gave fair consideration to any measure, but the House of Lords, and the country was looking to the House of Lords to do something drastic with the measure.
§ MR. ASQUITH
said he gathered from the speech of the hon. Gentleman that he thought this the most muddle-headed and incompetent Government that ever held office. It was very sad to hear that opinion, but nothing he could say which would be relevant to the question would induce the hon. Member to change it. He would not go into the general question whether or not the Government had given sufficient time for discussion; he would simply point out that, by the time the Bill had passed through the Report stage, it would have had six full weeks devoted to its discussion. It was not easy to give a larger measure of Parliamentary time to any measure. The Leader of the Opposition had alluded to particular points of importance in regard to which he seemed to think the House was not being treated fairly. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned particularly the additional period of seven years, the monopoly value, and Clauses 3, 5, and 24. He agreed that, in view of what took place in Committee, they all presented some novel features worthy of discussion; and it was in consequence of this that the Government had given each of those clauses the first place in one of the periods to be allotted to the Report stage. He thought that by so doing they had met the legitimate demand for an opportunity to discuss those portions of the measure. The noble Lord the Member for Horsham had spoken of turning a lurid searchlight on the policy and procedure of the Government. And what did the searchlight disclose? That the Government had chosen for preferential discussion on the Report stage controversial portions of the Bill. What would the noble Lord have said if a preferential position had been given to clauses which passed through Committee, without any Amendments to them being placed upon the Order Paper—at least six, he believed, fell within that category—or to others upon which, when they were put from the Chair, a division was not challenged? 321 He acknowledged the fair and dispassionate spirit which had characterised the discussion. Nobody liked these closure Resolutions, and, as he had often said, nobody disliked them more than he did. He would not enter into the vexed question, on which they would never come to an agreement, as to the occupants of which of the two front benches was the more responsible for the introduction of this particular form of procedure. He was glad to see that nobody had seriously questioned the fairness of the allocation of time that the Government had attempted to make between the various clauses, and he trusted that the House would now allow them to proceed to a division.
§ Ordered accordingly.