HC Deb 31 March 1909 vol 3 cc345-8

Further considered in Committee.


The CHAIRMAN (Mr. EMMOTT) in the chair.

Motion made and Question proposed: "That it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money Voted by Parliament for Army Services of compensation for damage and other expenses caused by billeting under any Act of the present Session to provide during twelve months for the discipline and regulation of the Army." [Mr. Secretary Haldane.]


, in moving to report Progress, said: Under the circumstances in which we stand to-day I make an appeal to the Prime Minister to at once consent to report Progress on this Resolution, and to allow us to proceed with the next order. The Government have only allowed us two days for the discussion of the second reading of a measure of extreme interest and vast importance, and fraught—as many of us think—with the most dangerous consequences, not merely to the prospects of land purchase in Ireland but to the general prospects of good administration in that country. We are allowed only two half-days for second reading, and now, on the second day, without any notice given to the House whatever, we find that this Army Resolution is put down in advance of the Irish Land Bill. I do not wish to speak with any warmth, but I think the Prime Minister himself will agree that it is not desirable to treat the House of Commons in that way—that it is not fair to interpose a stage of this kind without any indication of the intention of the Government given beforehand.


On Thursday last the Prime Minister indicated that he would be prepared to give a morning sitting to the Committee stage of the Army (Annual) Bill. Subsequently it was found necessary that this stage of the Money Resolution would have to be passed between last Thursday and next Tuesday, which is the day finally proposed to be allocated for the purpose of the discussion of the Army (Annual) Bill in Committee. There was no opportunity on Friday after five o'clock or on Monday. I hoped to secure it last night. The only alternative, if it is to be opposed after eleven o'clock and after five o'clock next Friday, was to place it as first order either to-day or tomorrow. It was thought undesirable to interfere with the discussion of the Indian Councils Bill to-morrow, and while the Government recognise the importance of the Irish Bill, having conferred with representatives from Ireland, I thought it was expedient to put it down to-day. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "What representatives?"] It was the Nationalist party. If there is responsibility on any Member of the Government I certainly must assume the- responsibility myself, but I thought, after speaking at any rate with one representative of the Opposition last night, there would have been an opportunity of it passing without any opposition.


It is really not convenient to take it now. I think it would be more convenient for the Government to take it to-morrow. Let them suspend the 11 o'clock rule and take it then instead of interrupting the Irish debate.


It would be necessary then to take it as first order tomorrow. Of course, it will be a debateable motion if put down in any other form.

The SECRETARY Of STATE for WAR (Mr. Haldane)

May I explain what this amounts to? It is the purest formality. All that is proposed is that the House should be at liberty, if next Tuesday it passes the clause about billeting, to discuss the further question whether it will adopt the clause providing for the expenses of billeting. That cannot take place unless the formal Resolution is now passed. It prejudices neither the question of billeting nor whether the House will authorise the provision of money for the billeting. It is a pure formality to enable us to get the discussion next week.


May I explain what this amounts to? It means that we are allowed two half-days nominally for a transaction which involves £180,000,000, and there is not time or opportunity in the limited time which has been given for all those who are anxious to speak to discuss the matter. The Prime Minister, I understand, gave an undertaking that we should be allowed these two half-days. At the last minute, owing to some exigencies of the hon. Gentleman, the Government are put in the position that they must take time from Irish Unionists, because the Nationalist party are quite content, or from the discussion on the Indian Bill, which has has not yet been begun, and in obedience to the Nationalist request they proceed, in breach of the spirit of the undertaking, to deprive the Unionists of the chance of discussing the matter, which they certainly had a right to expect. I hope my right hon. Friend will go to a Division in order that we may register our protest against such singularly unhandsome treatment.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

This is a Resolution which under ordinary circumstances would have been passed without discussion—I speak from considerable experience—and it ought to be passed without any discussion at all. There is not the faintest intention of subtracting five minutes from the time allowed for the discussion of the Irish Land Bill on this purely formal stage. But since the matter has been received in the spirit in which it has I shall not press the Resolution now because I want to give hon. Gentlemen all the opportunity possible for talking about the Irish Land Bill, and I can only hope, as I am obliged to put it down to-morrow—otherwise we cannot proceed with the Army Bill on Tuesday—it will then be allowed to pass without undue discussion.


There are two or three things which arise under Clause 7 of the Army (Annual) Bill.


But you can discuss them on Tuesday.


Before this clause can come up, the right hon. Gentleman has got to pass through a somewhat long and technical debate, which excites very real interest, and I am afraid that unless we take the opportunity of discussing it in Committee we shall find our chance gone. There are members on this side of the House who are interested in the financial matters.


Is this to be the first Order to-morrow?


I should like to consider that. We must take it to-morrow somehow.


The Question is that I report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report progress; to sit again to-morrow (1st April).