HC Deb 20 August 1909 vol 9 cc1675-701

The summary of the matter is this, so far as the future is concerned. We ask the House to proceed with three, and only three, measures of a contentious kind introduced by the Government—

But we hope, so far as this House is concerned, at any rate, that we may succeed in getting through the Bills, the titles of which I have read out, and which fall into the first category. As regards those which are on the Notice Paper to-day, we shall not press them if there is anything in the nature of serious opposition in any quarter of the House. I ought not to conclude without referring to a suggestion which has been made by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Arthur Henderson) in regard to the time of sitting. He has represented that it would be convenient to himself and his Friends, and indeed to a large number, at any rate while the Finance Bill was before the House, we should sit at rather an earlier hour of the day. I think he suggested as early an hour as eleven o'clock in the morning. I can only say, so far as I am concerned, that I leave the matter entirely in the hands of the House. A change of that kind in the hours of sitting can only be arrived at by general agreement, but I am very much afraid that the hon. Member will find that there are considerable sections of the House to whom these early sittings would be, I do not say intolerable, but very inconvenient as interfering with business and other avocations. It is a matter which we should regard generally, and I should prefer that the Government should not take any initiative in proposing such a change. I do not think there is any other observation which I have to make at this stage in regard to the programme as a whole, but I shall be glad to reply to any inquiry in regard to the progress of any Bill.


The Sessional statement habitual in our procedure has, I suppose, never been made so late in the year as 20th August. It is at least a month later than we have been familiar with under the practice of the right hon. Gentleman himself, and, I think, of his predecessors. It may be that there is a precedent for it, but certainly my own recollection does not at the moment supply me with any precedent for a Motion which is usually supposed to herald the end of the Session being made at so late a date. The right hon. Gentleman has put off this Motion a month later than usual. Now that he has made it I cannot see when the end of the Session is to be. But I should gather from the general tenour of his remarks that we may look forward to the prospect of spending two or three months more in the pursuit of these legislative chimeras. It is surely not without its significance that the right hon. Gentleman has framed his Resolution in a manner hitherto without precedent, because of the near approach of Michaelmas. I believe I was myself responsible as Leader of the House for the original Rule which gave the Government precedence on all Fridays, except two, after Whitsuntide, and I remember there was a great discussion, and it was then felt that unless there was an Autumn Session there was no reason why we should not introduce that limit. The right hon. Gentleman hates Autumn Sessions, but does he hate sitting in the autumn? He has the strongest objection, I am sure, on private grounds—that is a view common to all parties in the House—and on public grounds, he has a great dislike born of experience to asking the House to reassemble in the autumn to carry on its business. But he has no objection at all to the House sitting through the ordinary period, through the ordinary holidays, and then through the months of the Autumn Session. Of the two bad things, I frankly admit that I regard the latter as very much the worse. It is a very singular policy for the Government to pursue, who only a few months ago announced that they did not think it was a proper use to put the Parliamentary machine to; that it was injurious to the careful study of legislative projects; that it threw an undue burden upon the officers of the House and upon the permanent officials, on whose assistance every Government must rely so much for the accurate working out of the measures they bring in. It may be even injurious to their efficiency if they are asked to sit through these two terms.

A no less interesting part of the policy of the Government is I notice that they ask the House to suspend the Eleven o'clock Rule. The Prime Minister has got a fine sense of humour, which he has shown by the manner in which he has asked the House to go through this very empty form. It is like informing the citizens of some besieged place who have had nothing to eat for many days that they ought to be content with half rations. We are informed that henceforth we must never expect to go to bed at eleven o'clock, when, as a matter of fact, so many of us never go to bed at all. It is I will not say adding insult to injury, but it is something very like it to ask us to sit up all night for four consecutive days, and then to come down and with all the solemnity of Parliamentary form and Ministerial statement to say that henceforth the Eleven o'clock Rule is to be suspended. I do not know that I need make any further reference to that except to refer to what fell from the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the proposal which has been suggested by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle. The Member for Barnard Castle, recognising, I suppose, that the sittings might be long, thinks that at least they might occur during the hours when ordinary respectable citizens do their work. The Government decline all responsibility for making any proposal of the kind, and if they do not nobody else can. And there is one very serious objection in addition to the object hinted at by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's objection was that there are many Gentlemen—and I hope there will always be—who have other avocations and other work than merely carrying out their Parliamentary duties. But there is this further objection—what security have we that if we begin at eleven, let us say, on Monday, we shall be any more likely to get to bed before nine o'clock on Tuesday morning? That would be, if anything, worse than the existing system, which is that of sitting up all night. It would that of sitting up all day as well. Much as I object to spending 15 hours of the 24 in this House—too many of these 15 hours are in the small hours of the morning—our case would not improve if we were to add on to them all the ordinary working hours of an ordinary civilised day. Under these circumstances, I venture to suggest to the hon. Member for Barnard Castle, if he will accept the suggestion from me, that before advancing the idea that we should meet at an earlier hour, he ought to take some further steps to insure that we shall not sit late.

I go now to the actual statement which was made by the right hon. Gentleman. He divided the Bills, according to his own custom and the custom of his predecessors in the office, into Bills which are controversial and Bills which may or may not be controversial, and Bills as to which he is tolerably confident that they are not controversial. I am not sure that the classification is one which would precisely in every respect meet the views of the habitual opponents of the Government. We all admit that the Budget is one Bill that is controversial. There is no question about that. The London Elections Bill and the Irish Land Bill are also controversial. But is the right hon. Gentleman right in saying that another Bill to which he referred—the Scottish House Letting Bill—is not controversial? I do not profess myself to have an acquaintance with that measure, or with all these questions which it suggests, but I certainly have received hints and suggestions from those who are more acquainted with the subject than I am that it would be well not to ask the House to pass that Bill without having a very full discussion, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman must not be too confident.


It is on the Report stage.


Of course, if the Bill has gone so far there may be some hope of its proving less difficult than I was inclined to think with such imperfect information as I had. But we shall see, at all events. Then the right hon. Gentleman is tolerably confident that the Temperance (Scotland) Bill is uncontroversial.


No; the right hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. I am under no such illusion. It is not non-controversial.


I thought that was a Bill which the right hon. Gentleman believed would pass without contention. My own experience is that if everybody is unanimous about desiring temperance nobody is unanimous with respect to the methods by which it is to be attained, and it would be a most fortunate measure which would escape controversy, whether proposed by Gentlemen on this side of the House or by followers or Members of the party opposite. We know nothing about the Anglo-French Convention and its relation to the Workmen's Compensation Bill, and therefore it is quite impossible for me to say anything. At first sight it is extremely puzzling to me to know how our relations with France can affect compensation to British workmen.


It is only to give reciprocal rates to French workmen in this country and English workmen in France in regard to compensation.


I am very far from condemning such a proposal—very far. I think it may be a perfectly proper proposal; but, unless I have been misinformed, the right hon. Gentleman on his own authority entered into reciprocal relations with the French Government to give information with regard to property held by French citizens in this country and by English citizens in France, and the result will be to drive out of London an immense mass of securities which are held here. Unless this effort at reciprocity is more happily framed than the one in which the right hon. Gentleman has already indulged, I think it will be very disastrous to this country, but hope for better things. The only other Bill to which I need refer at all is the Coal Mines Regulation Act Amendment Bill. If I remember aright the Coal Mines Regulation Act was passed late last year, and has only been in operation a very short time. I quite agree that in a complicated measure we cannot hope to pass it without its requiring subsequent amendment, but certainly I should have thought that the Coal Mines Regulation Act was not a very complicated measure. It has been under the consideration of this House so often and so long, and the Government have had such opportunities of dealing with it, that they might have been able to frame its provisions and to avoid the necessity of its being amended almost before it has come into operation. I gather that this is not so much a Bill introduced on its merits at the end of August, but that it is rather a Bill introduced in order to fulfil a pledge casually given at a bye-election by one of His Majesty's Ministers. That is an additional reason for thinking, as I have often thought, that the plan requiring Ministers of the Crown to seek re-election on taking office is extremely absurd; this is a new and additional objection to the plan, which I have always thought antiquated and belonging to a wholly past phase of our Parliamentary Government. If these re-elections are to be the occasion on which new and unauthorised programmes are to be started by Ministers in distress, and if, thereupon, the House is to be asked to sit after Michaelmas in order to carry them through, it really adds a new terror to Ministerial life. If I remember rightly a pledge was given by another Minister, also in distress—the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, His pledge was as to Home Rule. Even the energy of the present Government and the patience of the present House of Commons are, I presume, hardly equal to beginning a Home Rule controversy, not in the dog days, but long after the dog days have passed and the autumn frosts are about to begin. I have nothing more to say about the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman. We shall see how it works out. I think that, like many of his predecessors and like myself when I occupied his place, he is somewhat over-sanguine as to what measures will be passed, but if he is really going to throw upon this House in the next two or three months a strain at all comparable to the strain that has been thrown upon it during the last six weeks, then I can only say that, in my opinion, he is doing the very greatest possible disservice to the traditions of the House, to the efficiency of the House, to the health of Members, and to the effective capacity of the permanent officials and officers of the House to carry out the immense responsibilities with which they are entrusted. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Lyttelton) puts to me whether it is worth while to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can forecast the time we shall be here. Clearly there is no use whatever in asking him that. He cannot tell us how long we shall be sitting here. I do not ask him for a prophecy which he might be reluctant to give, and which, if he gave it, would almost certainly be falsified by the fact.


The suggestion of my colleagues is, that under the very special circumstances in which the House has been working during the last few weeks it should be made possible for us to meet at an earlier hour. The Leader of the Opposition has asked us to try to arrange, before seeking to bring about an earlier hour of meeting, to bring about an earlier time of closing. It seems to us that if the Government could have arranged for the sittings of the House to begin at 11 or 12 o'clock, as we do on Friday, it would so have facilitated the work of the House that we would, at any rate on most days, have closed the sitting three or four hours earlier than we have been doing during the past few weeks. We were encouraged to bring before the Government the suggestion that we might meet on an earlier hour, because of the fact that at this time of the Session few, if any, of the regular Committees are sitting, and I believe I am right in saying that when a Debate has taken place on previous occasions on the subject of earlier time of meeting of the ordinary sittings of the House, two strong arguments have always been advanced, first the number of Committees that required the attendance of Members at 11 or half-past 11 o'clock in the morning, and the other was the difficulty of getting the attendance of so many Members who were engaged in connection with Committees upstairs, or as lawyers were engaged in their cases in the law courts. That argument cannot apply at the present time, for I believe I am right in saying we are in the Long Vacation, and as I have already stated Committees are scarcely at all sittings.

No argument seems to be left against meeting at 11 or 12 o'clock, except it be that of Ministers who may be engaged in Departmental work. That argument was not advanced to-day. The argument that the Prime Minister advanced, namely, that of asking Members of the House who have business to attend to to come here at an earlier hour, seems to me not to have the force in it that might at first be imagined. What are we doing to-day? We are not asking all the Members of the House to sit here till the early hours of the morning. At any rate, we do not get the whole of the Members of the House, or anything like a large percentage of the Members of the House, to sit here morning after morning to an early hour. What have we found during the past week? I think during the whole of the last all-night sitting we had 130 on one side in nearly the whole of the Divisions, and between 40 and 50 Members on the other side. Surely, if it is possible to arrange, and I suppose there is a certain amount of arrangement, whereby a large number of the Members are permitted to go home for certain hours and permitted to come in when it most suits their convenience, surely if that is possible when we are working through the whole of the night and into the early hours of the morning, it is also possible to arrange for a sufficient number of Members to be here at 11 o'clock, so that the work of the House can be carried on at a time when Members were best capable of giving all that was best within them to the work that the House had in hand? It seems to me that no solid practical argument can be advanced against making an arrangement, especially during the time the Finance Bill is under consideration.

However, I am glad that the Prime Minister has left it to the House. I do not take it, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition does, that because the Government have not made this proposal, or proposed the change that we have suggested, that it is impossible for the change to be brought about. It seems to me that the responsibility is now thrown: upon the Members of the House, and all parties in the House, and if there can be general agreement, as I hope there can be, that the business of the House could be conducted from 11 o'clock or from 12 o'clock until the ordinary hour by getting a sufficient number of Members in attendance, it ought not to be impossible for that arrangement to be brought about. After the very extensive programme that the Prime Minister has brought before us, not one of the measures of which we, sitting on these benches, think ought not to be passed, any Member of the House would prefer to make all the sacrifice that would be necessary in order to have the whole of the Government programme pushed through before the end of the Session. We should be prepared to make the whole of the sacrifice, to wait up even under the present arrangement, in favour of that, if there was no alternative. But we are not convinced that there is no arrangement possible. There is an alternative, this alternative I have suggested, an arrangement whereby Members who sit through the early hours of the morning could be induced to come down here two or three hours earlier, as we have done to-day and as we do every Friday, and that we could thereby get home three or four hours earlier, which I think would be an advantage, not only to the Members, but would be an advantage to the ordinary officials of the House who have to be kept here, as we are kept here, until each of the sittings close. Therefore I sincerely hope the Members of the House will be prepared to join with us on these Benches to see if some arrangement cannot be made whereby this alteration can be entered into at the earliest possible moment.


May I ask the Prime Minister to give an indication as to the remaining stages of the Housing and Town Planning Bill?


The hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson) made the interesting suggestion, which was alluded to by the Prime Minister, that the House should meet at 11 o'clock in the morning, and should go on regularly to 11 or 12 o'clock at night. If that were the real proposal which the Government would hold out to the House, I confess, though I should regard it as a bad expedient, yet as an alternative to sitting up all night, I must say there is a good deal to be said for it. But I do not gather that the Government would give any such undertaking at all. They have not given the slightest sign of doing so. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here, but I feel quite confident he would not be a party to any such proposal being made. I shall have a word or two to say about that later on. I desire to add one word to what the hon. Member for Barnard Castle said. He alluded to the fact that during the all-night sittings there was a small portion of the House present. That is quite true, but I do not draw the same conclusion that the hon. Member did. I think that shows what a very bad expedient all-night sittings are. I think it is not a good precedent at all, for what ought to be done in reference to the procedure of the House. There is a comparatively small number of the Members of this House who take a great interest in a particular measure. Necessarily that must be so, and I think it is one of the glories of the House that you always find a certain small number who are more or less experts in every Bill that comes before the House. What you want to secure is the attendance of those Members of the House during the discussion of the Bill. It is really immaterial whether the great mass of the Members attend or not except that there must be a majority of course to keep the Government of the day in office. But beyond that it does not really much matter whether they attend or not. The strain of the all night sittings on the small number is the real difficulty which all-night sittings seem to have. I do not think the fact that they attend or not. The strain of the all-night occasionally is any guarantee you will be able to get them here from day to day, sacrificing their own private business from 11 o'clock in the morning to 11 o'clock at night. At the same time, if it were really possible to make a definite binding arrangement that the House would not be asked to sit up all night, I think that it would be so great a boon and improvement that I should be myself prepared to support such a proposal as that made by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle, in order to deal with this present difficulty, and as an exceptional measure for the difficulty we find ourselves in now.

I should like to draw the attention of the Prime Minister to one or two of the Bills on the Paper. I do not suggest that the Government should take up any other private Member's Bill, but I ask them to consider favourably, for another occasion, a little Bill in which I am personally interested, namely, the Infant Life Protection Bill. There is no real opposition to it, but I do not think it would be fair to ask the Government to take it up this Session, because there are some Gentlemen—I do not know what their reasons may be—who are still opposed to it. It is, however, a measure of real reform, not a very large one, but of an important character, and I hope the Government will be able in the future to take it up. Then may I refer to the Bishopric of Sheffield Bill, in which I take great interest. I regret that that Bill cannot be regarded as altogether uncontroversial. That is regrettable, because I am convinced, whatever opinions there may be as to Disestablishment and Nonconformity, everyone must desire that improvements should be made in a great organisation like the Church of England, which, after all, is engaged for the most part in work which all of us regard as of the highest importance and in the best interests of the country. Therefore, I hope the Government will at some time or other, if they have time, consider carefully whether some general Bill in reference to bishoprics cannot be passed to facilitate the creation of subordinate bishoprics where it is quite plain that for the proper accomplishment of the spiritual work of the Church such a thing is desirable. Every Member of the House, when he comes to think over the subject impartially, will, I am sure, agree that such a measure would be a desirable change in our organisation, and one which might be passed without very severe opposition.

1.0 P.M.

I think the House at large has some reason to complain of what has been done in reference to the Housing and Town Planning Bill. Last year an immense amount of time and labour was spent on the consideration of that Bill in Standing Committee, but owing, to want of time it did not get any farther. The Government then said, "We are going to give great facilities to this Bill. We will have a new departure; we will rush it through Committee, Report, and Third Reading, and send it up to the other House"—where, whatever we may think of their decisions, there are a great number of gentlemen who are qualified to express opinions upon the Bill and give it consideration from a practical point of view. But what has happened? That was said at the beginning of the Session, and the Bill is still in exactly the same position as it then was. That is not a proper way of treating the matter. The Government have submitted the Bill to a guillotine of a very severe kind; there are to be only two days for Committee and one for Report and Third Reading, which is perfectly preposterous when you consider the amount of detail contained in the Bill, and will do nothing but waste two or three days of Parliamentary time in futile and inadequate discussion. It would have been far better to have sent the Bill to a Standing Committee in the ordinary course early in the Session. It would have meant a considerable amount of attention and reconsideration of points which were partially considered last year; but the Bill would not have been any the worse for it, as it still requires a good deal of attention, and no time would have been lost in passing the measure into law. I greatly regret the course the Government have taken in regard to the Bill, and under the circumstances there is grave doubt whether it is any good proceeding further with it this Session. With regard to the Development Bill, we only know what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us; but the principle laid down by him seems to be so exceedingly dangerous, that if the Bill carries it out I cannot believe that it will prove to be in any way non-contentious. One word in conclusion about the proceedings on the Finance Bill. I do not think any Member regards the methods which have been employed to carry the Finance Bill as far as it has gone as anything like satisfactory. Nobody can pretend that to discuss complicated and technical details between three and nine in the morning is in any way a satisfactory method of legislating. It is said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is at any rate an improvement on the guillotine. I do not agree. Personally, as I have said over and over again, of all expedients for legislating I consider there is nothing worse than all-night sittings. The guillotine is very bad, but I prefer the guillotine to all-night sittings. I do not believe you get substantially better discussions at an all-night sitting than under the guillotine, and there is the additional disadvantage that it destroys the temper and health of Members of the House. It is not only the private Member; he has his own way out of the difficulty—he may simply absent himself. It is disastrous to the government of the country, because it weakens and destroys the vitality and energy of Ministers. It is a very serious matter, and I am convinced that it is fatal to the constitution of the country. The Government came into power pledged to restore the position of the House of Commons, but although they have been in office three and a half years they have done next to nothing to improve the conditions which obtain. I have urged that a Committee should be appointed to consider the matter, and the Prime Minister has been good enough to say that he largely agrees with me. I do not see why that Committee, which a large number of Members desire, should not have been appointed weeks ago. I do not believe that the problem of the procedure of this House is insoluble. I do not believe in the guillotine nor in all-night sittings, nor even in the new Closure—which I understand is now described as "Kangaroo Closure"— although it does not work badly in some respects, provided it is applied fairly by the Chairman. It all depends on the absolute impartiality of the Chairman who presides over our Debates. I am not going to say a word in criticism of either the Chairman or the Deputy-Chairman; but I do desire to emphasise that point very strongly, and to press upon the Government and the House generally that if this system is not applied fairly it will certainly break down, and not achieve even the modified amount of good which its fair application might secure. But however good it may be no one can pretend, after the experience of a week or two, that it is a complete solution of the difficulties of the procedure of this House. It may be an improvement, it may do some good, but it is not a solution, and I say that if this House is to continue—and it must continue—we must find somehow or another a real solution of the difficulties of the procedure of this House. If we do not the House is going to lose its position, and with it, as I have often said before, the chief instrument of government, not only of this country, but of the Empire at large.


I rise to say one word upon the Scotch Temperance Bill. I do not quite know whether the Prime Minister realises the position of that Bill. It passed its second reading in February—the first Bill to do so. It went to Grand Committee and remained there till 12th May. There cannot be the slightest suggestion of obstruction, for the Closure was never once applied. It only shows that a Bill that took three months to consider in Grand Committee, without the Closure having been once moved, is hardly a Bill to bring forward on 20th August in addition to the others that have been mentioned. I therefore really do hope that the Prime Minister, now that he is made acquainted with the facts—though, no doubt, he knew them before—will recognise that it will be quite impossible to pass this Bill through the House unless we are going to sit till Christmas.

Mr. J. D. REES

May I ask whether the Prime Minister will try to get through the Places of Worship (Enfranchisement) Bill? It would be very acceptable to Wales. My Constituents and my colleagues are greatly interested in the Bill, and as the Welsh have been disappointed in regard to another, and a larger Bill, if the Prime Minister could manage to get through this little matter, it would be very much appreciated.


I must think that the conduct of the business by the Government this year has been such as to require a protest from anybody who really values the dignity and status of the House of Commons. I shall say some things which, I am afraid, will not be altogether palatable to the Government, but I take this opportunity of saying to their face what I shall certainly say in the country hereafter. I maintain that the Opposition in this long Session has every title to the kindly consideration of the Government for the method in which they have conducted the Opposition. I do not go beyond this Session. There have been four Bills of very great importance which might easily have been treated in a factious way by the Opposition had they followed the example of their predecessors on these Benches. But they have not done so, as has been acknowledged by the Ministers in charge of these Bills—I refer to the Housing and Town Planning Bill, the Labour Exchanges Bill, the Trade Boards Bill, and the South Africa Bill.


And the Indian Councils Bill.


Yes, and the Indian Councils Bill. Let us take the Housing and Town Planning Bill. I have some expert knowledge of this subject, and on both occasions I have spoken in favour of the second reading of the Bill. My friends never divided upon the second reading at all. For 18 days last year we considered this Bill in Grand Committee, and a real endeavour was made, especially by my Noble Friend on this side of the House and by many hon. Gentlemen on that, to get the Bill into some sort of shape. I cannot say that it was altogether successful, because the Bill as drafted was so absolutely unintellgible, and those in charge of it, who had not the assistance of a law officer—I do not blame either of them, for they were not lawyers—were quite incapable of explaining to the Committee the provisions of their own Bill. Ultimately—I do not think it really was due so much to the Government as to private Members—the Bill was put into shape. But it is a novel proposition, a difficult experiment, and I say this with perfect seriousness, that if ever there was a Bill that required the collective experience, sagacity, and practical knowledge of the whole House it is this Bill. What is the reward for the conduct of the Opposition, who spent days in endeavouring to hammer this Bill into some shape? The guillotine has been put on, two days allowed for Committee, and one day for Report and Third Reading. I say, with absolute sincerity, that the work involved in the Bill is the best work this House can do. It is that on its general principles both parties are agreed. Such work is ruined by such treatment as this. Men who have the most friendly disposition towards the Bill will, if it has to be passed through in that way, feel a just resentment against certain measures which have been imperfectly considered. I shall endeavour to make it clear that the Government are responsible, and must be responsible, for the disfigurement which must exist owing to their conduct of this measure. The Opposition have agreed to two other measures, both, in my opinion, useful, but both novel and serious experiments, the Labour Exchanges and the Trade Boards Bills. The President of the Board of Trade has admitted publicly that but for the assistance obtained from the Opposition with regard to the Trade Boards Bill it would not have had a chance of being passed into law. Without going quite so far as that with regard to the Labour Exchanges Bill, I think a similar remark is tolerably accurate. Lastly, there is the South Africa Bill. From the opinion of all that Bill has been treated in an absolutely unbiassed and non-partizan spirit by the Opposition. We are all human, and I must say that if ever upon a great topic the Opposition had some excuse for being factious it is upon the subject of South Africa. The conduct of their predecessors, when they were upon these benches was such as to be apologised for by the Colonial Secretary, Lord Elgin. The late Government was described by the President of the Board of Trade—I do not use such long words myself—in very long elaborate sentences that it would not be Parliamentary for me to reduce into the Anglo-Saxon language. Yesterday's Divisions proclaimed in absolutely unmistakeable terms that if we had yielded to the temptation, and had imitated the wreckless and unscrupulous tactics of the Government when they were in Opposition the great work of South African statesmen would have been placed in jeopardy, and a very damaging blow might have been struck at the Government. Let nobody mistake me for a moment. I do not mean the Opposition were in the least danger of yielding to that temptation, but I claim that in abstaining from taking up any sort of partisan position on the Bill they were entitled, more than entitled, to fair and considerate treatment regarding the conduct of the business of this House from the Government. My Noble Friend has referred to the Budget. Surely that was a proposal of the greatest possible magnitude and of the greatest possible novelty. It has been described by an ex-Liberal Prime Minister as revolutionary; by its own authors it is claimed to be an original, far-reaching and elaborate measure, and it is acclaimed by those having Socialistic opinions. There is not a candid man in the country who does not admit that it is a measure which not only invited, but required and demanded the most serious possible criticism and the most searching scrutiny. I do not think anyone denies that. Yet everyone knows the conditions under which, owing to the conduct of the Government, the House has had to proceed with its criticisms on that measure. Notwithstanding that we have been kept here night after night and morning after morning in a manner exhausting to health and most damaging to the House of Commons, what has this Opposition accomplished? The Bill has been almost remodelled. The cost of valuation, which really with ludicrous want of knowledge, was supposed to be paid, in the first instance, by the owners and the landlords, and which was to be rendered in 30 days, has now been thrown upon the State. Agricultural land has been exempted, open spaces and town-planning arrangements have been provided for in some measure, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when I raised the point upon the Resolutions, said I had only to wait to see the Bill and everything would be satisfactory. So little did he know of his own Bill that when I opened it not a single word was to be found in it in reference to this subject, and the Amendments were only inserted through the exertions of private Members. The absurd provision about ungotten minerals has gone. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says from the first he really meant the taxation of royalties, while the Bill provided for the taxation of ungotten minerals. The concessions, as the Govern- ment call them, but which I say have been forced from the Government by fair argument, have absolutely justified us. The Government have seen if they did not yield they would have had to suffer for the disfigurement of their measure. I say it is not fair or true for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come down here and speak of concessions and appeal to our gratitude. I say the boot is upon the other leg. I say we are entitled to the gratitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having shown to him and explained to him the necessity for this remodelling of the Bill, and which, if not carried, would have reduced the Bill to failure. We have been treated in this matter by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a manner that I, for one, do not consider fair or right. The Chancellor, as has been often remarked from these benches, has conducted the discussions in this House with great courtesy and good temper; but that courtesy and good temper and fairness have only been for consumption on the premises in this House of Parliament. On off-nights, at Limehouse and other places, the Chancellor exhibits far different and far more objectionable qualities. I can only say he has been guilty outside this House of calumnious inaccuracies; he has made appeals to class passions, and I say it is contrary to every principle of fair play that we should be cajoled with fair words and coaxed into sitting up all night by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this House while outside hè should resort to the methods which appeal to the worst passions of his supporters and to their lowest motives. I say this with absolute sincerity: I am certain that methods which involve such immensely long hours as well as such continuous sittings, the House of Commons which we have known cannot continue. The present House of Commons—although the majority of its Members differ widely from the opinions I hold—is a House of Commons of great ability, which under fair conditions discusses and debates subjects as well, if not better, than any of its predecessors. I agree with my Noble Friend that that which often distinguishes this House of Commons, as against all other Assemblies in the world, is that it contains a number of men who are profoundly experienced in the different classes of business and knowledge. Scarcely any debate can take place upon any subject that two or three men to whom it is a liberal education to listen do not rise and take part in it. You cannot keep such men in the House if you insist upon exhausting them with such hours and such labours as you are putting on the House. The greatest Parliamentarians of the past have always admitted this. Mr. Gladstone actually said that seven months work was all the House of Commons could reasonably be expected to do. The Prime Minister who is always courteous to us, since he has been in power, and despite the professions of himself and his party when in Opposition, has laid a heavier burden upon this House, and has, I venture to say—and I have spoken to many people outside upon this subject—done more to bring this House as a business assembly into the general contempt of business men outside than anyone else. I say that because I know it is so, and I have heard it said on many sides. Who can possibly be found to deny that it is a preposterous and unbusiness-like thing to invite this House to consider all through the night and during the early hours of the morning proposals of great intricacy which are imperfectly understood by those who propose them, and which require a clear mind to consider them during ordinary hours, instead of the early hours of the morning. I submit this protest, because I feel sure that if this kind of procedure is persisted in this House cannot maintain its past character and dignity.


It is difficult to see what relevance the tirade which the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered bears to the Motion before the House. It is charitable, perhaps, to regard it as a rehearsal or trial trip of an oration which is hereafter to do.service, perhaps, at Bingley Hall. I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman into the charges which he has made against the Government, and I am not going into the claims he has put forward in regard to what he appears to regard as an exceptionally virtuous Opposition. What has this exceptionally virtuous Opposition done to merit any degree of consideration and generosity beyond that which it has so amply received? It has positively voted, not against, but in favour of a Bill of which it approves. That is the utmost claim the right hon. Gentleman has to put forward. He takes the South Africa Bill of yesterday, and he says "We might have been factious, and, like publicans and sinners, have talked about Chinese labour, but we make broad our phylacteries, and thinking the Bill in favour of the interests of the Empire we positively voted for it." That is what the Opposition has done, and that my right hon. Friend says distinguishes it from all previous Oppositions. But now, Sir, let us see what reward, or, rather, what absence of reward, this virtuous Opposition, which has been so badly treated, has met with. What is the result? My right hon. Friend positively asserts that they have turned the Budget inside out, and I rather gather from his speech that he is now claiming for himself and his Friends a share in the authorship of the Budget—that they are really the joint authors of the Budget. We now know where to look, at any rate, for its pedigree. Could there be two more inconsequent propositions? First of all my right hon. Friend says: "We are an exceptional and virtuous Opposition. How have we been treated? You have given way to almost every one of our arguments and objections on the most vital points." And yet here they stand in the face of the country and say they have been worse treated than any previous Opposition. Let my right hon. Friend go to Bingley Hall or anywhere else and present that case to his fellow-countrymen, and see how they will receive it. For my part I am content to abide by the result. I now pass on to deal with the questions put to me by previous speakers. The hon. Member for Barnard Castle raised the question of the hour of our sittings. I may say that I have a perfectly open mind on that subject, but I think the hon. Member will agree with me when I say that the Government cannot undertake to make a far-reaching change like the one he has suggested unless they are satisfied that it will meet with the general approval of the House. One or two questions have been put to me about the Housing Bill, but on that point I cannot give any positive or definite assurance, although I hope we shall be able to devote two days to it the week after next. That, at any rate, is our present idea.


That is in a fortnight.


I mean the week after next, the 30th instant. That, at any rate, is our present intention. With regard to the Coal Mines Bill, which the Leader of the Opposition referred to, he said it was introduced in consequence of an electoral pledge. I do not believe that that statement is accurate, because, so far as I know, my right hon. Friend gave no pledge on the subject. I believe, how- ever, that it is a Bill which is required by the mine-owners as well as by the men; but we shall not press this measure if it meets with anything like serious opposition. I am sanguine enough to think that the measure will meet with general approval. The hon. Member for Marylebone made an interesting speech, which ended by deploring the decadence of this House, and he revelled in the contempt with which he imagines this House and everything connected with it is regarded by the country at large. I do not revel in that contempt, partly because I do not believe in its existence. I take such opportunities as are afforded me of ascertaining what people outside think of our proceedings, and the only sentiment which I find is anything like universal is one of wonder and amazement and sometimes of disgust that the House of Commons should spend so much time doing so little. The statement that the people outside this House think we are being overdriven, and that we are trying to get from the legislative machine a larger output than it is capable of dealing with I believe to be an entirely unfounded charge. What the country really wants is that the House of Commons should really be more efficient and a more rapid instrument for the production of good legislation. Something has been said about the suspension of the Eleven o'Clock Rule; but, as the House is aware, financial business has always been excluded from the operation of this Rule, and there is nothing abnormal in what we have done in this respect. Although we have sat longer during the last few weeks than is customary, the adoption of the Eleven o'Clock Rule as a normal condition of our procedure is a very great reform. With regard to the new form of Closure, we have only had it in operation for a very short time, but I think already it has more than justified its adoption. Applied by an impartial, high-minded Chairman—and we have always been in the habit of having in the Chair men in whose impartial disposition we can place absolute reliance—I believe this new form of Closure, avoiding as it does some of the worst evils of the guillotine, namely, the passing without discussion really serious Amendments, will save the time of the House and improve the quality of its Debates. Once more, I assure the Noble Lord that I do not think we have got to the end, or by any means to the end of these reforms. I am prepared to set up the Committee for which he has asked, and, so far as the Government is con- cerned, and so far as it has any voice in the matter, he will find it is composed almost, if not entirely, of non-official Members, because I think it only right that, whilst a Committee of that kind may have the advantage of hearing official persons as witnesses, its conclusions ought to represent the considered judgment of the rank and file of the private Members. Their suggestions and recommendations would, I believe, carry far more weight if they proceeded from a body so constituted than if there was an undue infusion on it of the official element. I am prepared to set up that Committee, but I do not suppose anyone expects they will make any great progress during the remainder of the Session. The hon. Member for the Montgomery Boroughs (Mr. Rees) asked me about the Places of Worship (Enfranchisement) Bill. I am extremely sorry to sacrifice that. It is a Bill in which I take a personal interest, but, with great reluctance, we have been compelled to throw it overboard, together with a number of other measures which may reappear next Session, and get a better chance.


What about the Temperance (Scotland) Bill?


I was familiar with the facts to which the hon. Baronet called my attention. I am not in the least under any delusion that it is a Bill of a non-controversial kind, nor is it a Bill which we should begin to discuss after 11 o'clock. The object of suspending the Eleven o'Clock Rule is to take for a very short time some of these non-controversial Bills which otherwise have no chance of passing at all. If we do take the Temperance (Scotland) Bill, I hope we shall give proper time to its consideration.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say a word about the Bishopric of Sheffield Bill?


It is united in its fortunes with the Places of Worship {Enfranchisement) Bill, to which my hon. Friend (Mr. Rees) referred. They are being played off on the Parliamentary board one against the other; and, unless there is a truce of God between the parties to help forward these particular measures I am afraid I cannot hold out much hope.


I wanted to draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the Building and Engineering Works Bill. I certainly do not think some of the Bills to which reference has been made rank with such importance as that measure, which makes provision for the saving of life. The Government have by their extension of the Workmen's Compensation Act done a good deal in that direction, and I would like to press upon them the desirability of proceeding with this Bill if possible. The next Bill to which I wish to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention is the Checkweighing in Various Industries Bill. If my memory serves me correctly a Bill was brought in by a private Member, and was not proceeded with on account of the Government having made a promise that they would themselves bring in a Bill. That has been done, and I desire to urge upon the Government the desirability of further proceeding with the Bill rather than with some of the Bills which have been mentioned, and which are certainly not of the same importance as the two to which I have referred.


One thing the Prime Minister said with regard to the position of procedure in this House appeared to me to be of very great importance. He said, and I believe he is quite right, that outside the House the most common impression is one of wonder, and even disgust, that the House should talk so much and do so little. He said that what the country wants is a more efficient and a more rapid machine for turning out legislation. I believe that is quite true. The general view of the public of the House of Commons is that of what we call a sausage machine. They think the functions of the House is not that of a debating assembly, but that of turning out so much legislation—good, bad, or indifferent. I believe that is the view taken outside, but is it a view which the right hon. Gentleman himself holds or with which he has any sympathy whatever? That is the important point. If Ministers take that view, I do not in the least see why we should continue, and I do not believe we shall long continue, to have what our ancestors have known as the House of Commons at all. I can see no advantage, and I do not believe anybody can see what advantage there is of bringing Gentlemen from all over the country, men of experience and capacity, to sit here if you are to go on as we have been going on, preventing them from contributing out of their knowledge and experience to the Debate, and if you are to regard them as mere instruments for turning out from the House a certain amount of legislation. If the Prime Minister is right—and I believe he is—that the view held outside is that of a sausage machine, I draw the exact opposite conclusion. It is all the more incumbent upon Members of this House of all parties who believe in the necessity for a House of Commons to stand together and firmly resist, as far as they are able to do so, this continued encroachment upon the liberty of debate in the House. I believe we are all agreed that the situation is really serious. It arises from the enormous and increasing mass of work which this Government, notably, and all Governments more or less, insist upon forcing through the House of Commons. Already this Session there have been 15 Bills passed. This increasing mass of work brings us into a vicious circle. You have an enormous mass of work before the House of Commons. The result is that there is no time, we are told, to deal with it. Legislation is forced through without discussion, with the result that it does not work. You create new grievances. It saves no time in the end, because it creates a fresh situation which.has to be dealt with anew by legislation, and it gives rise to the necessity for more of that gorging of the House with Bills. For my part, I desire, with great respect, to make a suggestion to the Government, which I do not think has been made yet, and which appears to be worthy consideration in all quarters of the House. We are continually being presented with expedients for dealing with the situation as it arises from time to time, and they always take the form of increased restriction of the rights and liberties of private Members. I have sometimes wondered whether we shall not be driven back to what appears to be a sound principle—that of trusting and believing in the good sense and the sense of fairness of the House as a whole. In old days the difficulties of Ministries were just as great as they now are; they had to face violent opposition, long sittings, and prolonged obstruction. But in those times Ministers managed the House; they were forced to do so. No doubt compromise was resorted to, but the House was managed and business was got through. The system by which legislation is now thrust upon the country at large simply creates more grievances; it adds to the trouble, and the House is continually being asked to submit to more restrictions. I am sanguine—it may be because I am inexperienced—that whatever may be thought of the general wisdom of this House, no one can doubt its sense of fairness, and my firm belief is that if some day some Minister came down and declared his trust in the House—if he said: "These are our proposals, and we submit them to the House, and we will remove some of the ropes by which the House of. Commons is bound at this moment," the House will itself show that it will not tolerate mere obstruction and will reassert its own power. I believe it is in the direction of trusting to the good feeling and the sense of fairness of the House itself that the best remedy is to be found. I admit that this course would involve the necessity of dealing with, and meeting, fair criticism, but still that is the direction in which the best solution of the present difficulty is to be found. I am delighted to hear that the Prime Minister, who has at heart the real interests of the House of Commons in this matter, is going to appoint a Committee to inquire into the whole question. I believe that that is an admirable and salutary step, and I thank him for taking it, as I believe it will tend in the direction of securing those rights, liberties, and freedom of Debate which in the past this House has enjoyed, and which I trust it will continue to possess in the future.


I do not think any Members of this House will blame me for expressing my regret that the Shop Hours Bill is to be dropped. I recognise, as well as any Member of this House, the fact that an enormous mass of business has been brought forward this Session, but I cannot agree with a previous speaker that we have been bored by legislation. Possibly that is because we on these benches have voracious appetites and are, therefore, not easily satisfied. It was a responsible Minister who, last year, promised that the Government would do something for that large mass of workers whom I have the honour to specially represent, but when the Bill was introduced, I recognised that—owing to the Finance Bill and other measures—there was very little hope of its being further proceeded with this Session. Still, on behalf of the shop assistants, I desire to thank the Home Secretary for introducing the Bill, as it will enable its provisions to be discussed, and I trust the Prime Minister will give us a promise that in the next Session—which I do not think it is a far-fetched prophecy to say will be held under the present Administration—this Bill will be given a favourable place in the legislative programme of the Government, and that, thereby, justice will be secured for a very large body of workers in this country.


I wish to express my regret that the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors on Sunday Bill has not been included in the list of measures receiving the favourable consideration of the Government. It has already passed through a number of stages, and I had hopes it would get through another place without practically any objection. I am sorry it has had to share the fate of many other good Bills, and is not included in the programme to be carried through this year.


I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether he has received a memorial from Members of this House in favour of the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors on Sunday Bill, No. 29, being given an opportunity to be passed through? It is a very minor measure, a very meagre portion, and much less than those who are engaged in the trade care for. They would like the whole day, but this measure limits the time to half what it is now, viz., four hours in London instead of eight and to three hours in the provinces instead of six. I hope the Government will give some consideration to that particular request. Then I should like to ask why the Licensed Premises (Election Days Closing) Bill has also been dropped? I think we should all prefer to come here on

a sober electorate rather than risk a drunken one, and we shall, at all events, do no harm if we keep the electorate sober on election day. It may not be beneficial to some parties, but all honest men desire that every vote recorded should be a sober vote, and I see no better way of doing this than a Bill of this description.


What is to be the fate of a Bill called the Assurance Bill, which has passed all its stages in another House.


I mentioned it.


I am sorry. I did not hear it.

Question put, "That, for the remainder of the Session, Government Business be not interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order regulating the Sittings of the House, and may be entered upon at any hour, though opposed, and have precedence at every Sitting; that, at the conclusion of Government Business each day, Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without Question put; that on Fridays the House, unless it otherwise resolves, shall at its rising stand adjourned until the following Monday; and that no Motions be made to bring in Bills under Standing Order No. 11."

The House divided: Ayes, 99; Noes, 27.

Division No. 485.] AYES. [2.0 p.m.
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry Gooch, George Peabody (Bath) Norman, Sir Henry
Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury, E.) Griffith, Ellis J. O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)
Balfour, Robert (Lanark) Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) Parker, James (Halifax)
Barnes, G. N. Hardy, George A. (Suffolk) Partington, Oswald
Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-sh.) Pointer, J.
Brigg, John Haworth, Arthur A. Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.
Bright, J. A. Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Radford, G. H.
Brooke, Stopford Henderson, J. McD. (Aberdeen, W.) Rees, J. D.
Brunner, J. F. L. (Lincs., Leigh) Henry, Charles S. Richards, T F. (Wolverhampton, W.)
Buckmaster, Stanley O. Herbert, Col. Sir Ivor (Men. S.) Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Hobart, Sir Robert Robson, Sir William Snowdon
Byles, William Pollard Holt, Richard Durning Rowlands, J.
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Hyde, Clarendon G. Russell, Rt. Hon. T. W.
Cleland, J. W. Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)
Collins, Stephen (Lambeth) Kekewich, Sir George Scarisbrick, Sir T. T. L.
Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow) Kelley, George D. Schwann, C. Duncan (Hyde)
Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinstead) Lambert, George Sears, J. E.
Cox, Harold Lamont, Norman Seddon, J.
Crooks, William Lundon, T. Simon, John Allsebrook
Cross, Alexander Lupton, Arnold Steadman, W. C.
Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.) Lyell, Charles Henry Stewart, Halley (Greenock)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester) Sutherland, J. E.
Erskine, David C. Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs) Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)
Esslemont, George Birnie Maclean, Donald Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander
Evans, Sir Samuel T. M'Callum, John M. Waring, Waiter
Everett, R. Lacey Maddison, Frederick Watt, Henry A.
Falconer, J. Mallet, Charles E. White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)
Fenwick, Charles Marnham, F. J. Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)
Gibson, J. P. Massie, J. Williams, Sir Osmond (Merioneth)
Gill, A. H. Montagu, Hon. E. S. Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)
Gladstone, Rt. Hon. Herbert John Murray, Capt. Hon. A. C. (Kincard.) Winfrey, R.
Glendinning, R. G. Myer, Horatio
Glover, Thomas Nichols, George TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Captain Norton and Mr. Fuller.
Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster)
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Forster, Henry William Randles, Sir John Scurrah
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Gordon, J. Renton, Leslie
Corbett, T. L. (Down, North) Guinness, Hon. R. (Haggerston) Sloan, Thomas Henry
Craik, Sir Henry Hamilton, Marquess of Stanier, Beville
Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott- Hills, J. W. Thorne, William (West Ham)
Doughty, Sir George Kimber, Sir Henry Tuke, Sir John Batty
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R. Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Du Cros, Arthur Lyttelton, Rt. Hon. Alfred
Fell, Arthur Morpeth, Viscount TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Stewart Bowles and Mr. Rawlinson.
Fletcher, J. S. Powell, Sir Francis Sharp