Sir GILBERT PARKER
May I ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the number of blocking Motions on the Order Paper, some of which prevent discussion on matters which are wholly uncontroversial; and whether he cannot yet see his way to a reform which will remove from the procedure of this House this most reprehensible practice?
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
Before my right hon. Friend replies, I would like to ask whether it is within his recollection that when the Government proposed to deal with this question it was opposed by Lord Robert Cecil from the other side of the House.
May I call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that there are no less than twenty-five of these blocking Motions on the Paper which is an unprecedented number, and they cover almost every subject under heaven and earth.
§ Mr. ARNOLD WARD
May I ask the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the evils connected with blocking Motions and the gross abuse of this privilege by hon. Members who have blocked every subject which there was reason to expect would be raised by Members of the Opposition on the Motion for Adjournment to-day; and whether, in view of the fact that the subject of the Mormon propaganda in this country is one of the matters so blocked, and having regard to the widespread public interest and urgent 492 importance of this question, he will undertake that the House shall have an early opportunity of discussing this subject after Easter.
§ Mr. SWIFT MACNEILL
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that under the late Government blocking Motions were manufactured in the Whips' Rooms?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
This is a very old grievance. In the past the party in Opposition has complained, and complained sometimes with a good deal of reason, of private Members taking advantage of the privilege which they undoubtedly possess to prevent, on the Motion for Adjournment, the discussion of particular topics. In the last Parliament I went so far as to suggest that we might by agreement limit this procedure. I was quite prepared to do so, and although I tried very hard for two Sessions I could not get anything like a disposition to come to my assistance. This, like all other large changes in our procedure, I think ought only to be attempted with something like general consent. I was obliged to desist from the efforts I then made. If I can see in this Parliament any disposition to come to a general agreement I shall be only too pleased to deal with the matter. With regard to what my hon. Friend said just now, he is one of the victims of this operation, he and the Mormon propaganda. That is a very serious matter, but it may relieve the hon. Member a little if I tell him that the Home Secretary has made careful inquiries into this matter. Those inquiries are not yet complete, and until they are completed it is premature to say that this question is ripe for discussion in this House.
May I ask the Prime Minister whether it is not a fact that the grievance of blocking Motions is especially onerous and oppressive at a time when all other private Members' opportunities of putting down or discussing Motions are taken away by the Government for reasons good or bad. It would be out of order now to discuss this point, but I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether this is not a peculiarly flagrant case of an abuse which the right hon. Gentleman has truly said has been a matter of complaint for many years. I would also ask whether it is not a fact that a suggestion was made by myself that, at all events, on Motions for the adjournment for the holidays, the operation of blocking Motions should be limited, whether it is not a fact that that is a very moderate and reasonable reform; 493 and whether, if combined with a limitation of the sitting, so that instead of going on indefinitely to some unknown hour, to everybody's inconvenience, we might not by a Rule arrive at a compromise which would diminish the extreme gravity of the abuse as it now exists and as it is seen in the Notice Paper. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether that might not be a very reasonable method of dealing with this question.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the blocking Motions, so far as the Motion for the Adjournment is concerned, was started by hon. Members opposite blocking the question of unemployment and Post Office Boy Labour, and that the other Motions on the Order Paper are due to the policy commenced by hon. Members opposite?
§ Lord BALCARRES
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the first blocking Motion dealt with the collection of Income Tax and the Holmes' circular, and another matter raising the Swansea School case; that of fifteen blocking notices placed on the Paper yesterday only one was placed there by an hon. Member on this side of the House—
§ Lord BALCARRES
And that no blocking notices dealing with the question of unemployment appeared on the Notice Paper except in the name of an hon. Member who supports the Government?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I know nothing about what the Noble Lord has been saying. I saw the notices for the first time this morning, and until I saw them I did not know that they were on the Paper at all. With respect to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I think he has made the suggestion before.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I think limitation of powers for blocking Motions on holiday adjournments, coupled with a limitation of hours, might be a desirable change in our procedure, but as I said before it should not be carried out unless there is something like general consent. I shall be very glad to inquire to see what can be done.
§ Mr. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
In view of the fact that this matter has really come to a crisis now, and in view of the fact that what has occurred in this case has been in the nature of a raductio ad absurdum; and in view of the further fact that generally throughout the House and amongst all parties there is a feeling that this rule ought to be modified, I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he will take advantage of the circumstances of the moment to endeavour immediately to gather opinion so that he can deal with this question?
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether blocking Motion No. 26 is not an outrage heaped upon an outrage? May I call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the blocking Motion which stands in the name of the hon. Member for West Cavan (Mr. Kennedy), calling attention to the system of blocking Motions, so that not only are these Motions blocked, but you cannot even discuss whether Motions should be blocked.
§ Mr. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
May I make an appeal to you, Sir, on a point of Order in reference to one of these blocking Motions, the circumstances of which are peculiar? A fortnight ago I gave notice that I intended on the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill to draw attention to the circumstances under which seventeen young men of one particular political party were prosecuted for political rioting at Bantry and sentenced to six months' imprisonment, with hard labour, each. The Chief Secretary for Ireland pleaded that he was quite unacquainted with the facts, and would therefore not be in a position to take part in any Debate that night, and he himself suggested that this Motion for the Adjournment would give me the necessary opportunity for having the question fully and fairly discussed. At once, in deference to the right hon. Gentleman's position, I deferred any reference to the subject on the Consolidated Fund Debate. Yesterday I sent private notice to the right hon. Gentleman that, in conformity with his suggestion, I intended to take advantage of the opportunity on the Motion for Adjournment today to draw attention to the unfair action of the Irish Law Officers in reference to 495 the political riots at Bantry and Crossmolina, respectively. This morning I find the subject is blocked by a Motion in the name of an hon. Member, a supporter of the Government, who, as far as I know, has never taken any part in the proceedings of this House before, and who, I venture to say, scarcely ever heard of the name of Bantry before yesterday. I charge nothing, because I know nothing as to how that Motion came upon the Paper. I do not for a moment identify a man of the stamp of the Chief Secretary himself with so shabby a transaction, but I ask you whether, even if such a mode of procedure is technically correct, it is in conformity with the spirit of fair play and with the freedom of speech which ought to prevail in the proceedings of this House. May I remind you that, although a third of the Session is now over, not a single day has been devoted to the discussion of any Irish question. It has been made impossible for us to discuss the vital question of the complete overthrow of the Land Purchase system in Ireland, and we have no opportunity of protesting against the future of Home Rule being handed over to a small Committee, only one member of which, out of seven, is an Irishman.
If this Motion should prevail, we are prevented equally from drawing attention to a matter of the most vital importance, if there is to be any respect left for the administration of the law in Ireland.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am sure I regret extremely what has occurred. Yesterday there were fourteen blocking Notices given. Thirteen emanated from the right-hand side of the House and one from the left-hand side. I regret extremely that should have occurred, but as long as the Rule subsists, I am bound to enforce it. I think it is a most unfortunate circumstance that hon. Members should be deprived of availing themselves of the only chance they get of raising their particular grievances by the action of other independent Members. It is a matter I regret extremely, but, as long as the Rule exists, I am powerless to over-ride these Motions, and I must enforce it.
§ Mr. WILLIAM O'BRIEN
I am extremely grateful for that expression of opinion from you, and I beg to give notice— [HON. MEMBERS: "Order, order."] I will take rulings of order from the Speaker and from nobody else. Gentlemen who were in a minority before 496 may be in a minority again. I beg to give notice that at the first opportunity, if ever freedom of speech is recovered in this House, I shall draw attention to the system by which free speech is first prevented by brute force in Ireland, and then prevented in this House as well, in the interests of the section upon whom this Government are depending for their existence.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
I would like to ask the Prime Minister if he is aware that representations were made on behalf of the Labour Party to hon. Gentlemen opposite who had put down Motions which blocked questions we were desirous of raising on the Motion for Adjournment, and that it was only when we failed to get them to enter into that honourable undertaking to which reference has been made that we retaliated. I frankly admit we organised this, because of our failure to get the withdrawal we sought.