§ Resolution reported, "That a sum, not exceeding £8,648,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the expense of the pay, etc., of His Majesty's Army (including Army Reserve) at home and abroad (exclusive of India), which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1912."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
May I ask the Prime Minister what the arrangements are for the remainder of the business to-night? I cannot believe that the important matters which still remain before us can be usefully or desirably discussed at this time of night.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not suppose it would be in order to make a statement now as to the order of business, but I can answer the Question put to me very simply and clearly. The Government must get to-night the necessary and important Votes for the Army and the Navy, otherwise the Consolidated Fund Bill, which is absolutely necessary for the Services of the year, could not be introduced and brought on for Second Reading to-morrow. Personally, I am disappointed, though I make no complaint, because I recognise the importance of the matters raised tonight, that so many hours have been spent upon the Report and the Army Votes, giving, as I had undertaken to give, a day in addition to and outside the allotted days for further discussion of the larger and more general questions of the Army. However, the House in its discretion has thought fit, and probably rightly, to occupy time upon the discussion of these Army Votes. We must get to-night the necessary Navy Votes to work upon. I am quite prepared to drop such of the Navy Votes as are not necessary for the Consolidated Fund Bill. We must get Votes A and 1, and Votes 13 and 14. I think Votes 13 and 14 are purely automatic Votes.
I may remind the House that I have agreed to put down the salary of the First Lord of the Admiralty for discussion in Committee on the 6th of April. I do not think it is an unreasonable proposal to ask the House to pass the Report Stages of these four necessary Votes when the Government are prepared to drop the other Votes passed in Committee the other night for the purpose of arriving at a settlement. I have Carefully studied 536 the amount of time given to these various Votes, and to their Report Stages, in past years, and I think, taking all the provisions the Government has made, including the additional day for the Army and the day for the salary of the First Lord of the Admiralty to be discussed immediately before Easter, I doubt if the amount of time given will compare unfavourably with the average of the last ten years. I do not want to go into any controversial matter. I put the case upon its merits, and I ask the House to agree to pass the remaining Army Votes and the necessary Votes for the Navy in order to pass the Consolidated Fund Bill in proper time.
§ 12.0. M.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
To put myself in order, I shall move "That the Debate be now adjourned." I think the Prime Minister has hardly appreciated what he is asking the House to do. It is no doubt necessary that Votes A and 1 for the Army and the Navy should be got from the Consolidated Fund Bill, and in such time as to enable the Bill to be passed before the end of the financial year. But it is not necessary that Votes 13 and 14 for the Navy should be passed for that purpose. I am not quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind what it is he asks the House to do. We have reached twelve o'clock, and he has asked us to enter upon Vote 1 for the Army and other Army Votes, for Vote A for the men of the Navy, and also for the pay of the Navy, and two other Navy Votes. I do not really think that he, or any other man, can pretend that this is a reasonable proposal, unless it be absolutely necessary in order to prevent a breach of the law. But this is not necessary in order to prevent a breach of the law. If the Government get the Vote for the men and the Vote for the pay they will have all that is necessary to comply with the law. If the House consents to give them these four Votes in one night it will be doing something which it has never done before in recent years. I may remind the right hon. Gentleman of what happened on a previous occasion, which was quoted by him some few years ago in this House in 1905. On that occasion discussion on the Supplementary Estimates was so much prolonged that the Government found it necessary to propose a very severe closure in order to carry through the necessary financial business by the end of the financial year. My right hon. 537 Friend the Leader of the Opposition accordingly moved what was admittedly a very severe guillotine Resolution, but he pointed out on that occasion that he had not encroached upon the time of private Members, but had left them the days allotted to them, and had not taken an hour of Government time in the Session so far for any Government legislation. Therefore, private Members had retained their full time, and the whole of the time had been given to the discussion of financial business on which the Opposition had then exercised a very full right of criticism, and it was absolutely necessary that the business should be completed in order to prevent a breach of the law that he moved his Resolution. In spite of that the Resolution was opposed by the present Prime Minister in language of rather exceptional strength. I do not know whether the Prime Minister remembers, but he said on that occasion:The House has become accustomed under the leadership of the right hon. Gentleman to an encroachment of its powers, its authority and its freedom, for which there is no parallel in its past history. Master of paradox as the right hon. Gentleman is, nothing has amased me more in the speech he has just delivered than the statement that he has brought forward this Motion to protect the credit of the HouseWhat is the right hon. Gentleman's own experience? Is not every word of his censure applicable to his own performance to-night. My right hon. Friend quoted a precedent, but the Prime Minister roughly swept that precedent on one side saying, "We had not a heaven-born War Minister then." But we are blessed with a heaven-born War Minister now. Every word of the censure which the right hon. Gentleman directed against the Motion of my right hon. Friend is pointedly applicable to his own action to-night. The only thing which is not applicable is the defence which my right hon. Friend raised, that the Government then did not take private Members' time. The Government have not left private Members' time, for before private Member's had had even an evening or a Friday the Government claimed the whole of the time of the House. Again, the Government have not confined themselves to the necessary financial business, but they have used the time which they filched from private Members not to press forward the necessary financial business, but to press forward unnecessary and contentious legislation. The case my right hon. Friend made on that occasion was infinitely stronger than anything the Government can make now. It is not, however, for that 538 purpose that I cite it. It is to call the attention of the Prime Minister to what was demanded by the Opposition, and what was granted by my right hon. Friend. On that occasion it was the Army Votes which suffered the greatest curtailment.
To-night it is the Navy Votes, on which, as the Government have already been reminded, we have had no answer to many of our general questions, though we were promised it a long time ago. I am not complaining there was any wilful breach of the promise. It was an impossibility for them to give it. The promise, however, is still outstanding, and is to be fulfilled. It is not reasonable that we should be asked to take fulfilment of it in the early hours of the morning. My right hon. Friend was asked on that occasion by the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, whether in the week beginning on April 3rd Vote 1 of the Army would be put down on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday—four days. My right hon. Friend replied that if the House desired the discussion to extend over those four days he would provide them, but it was a very exceptional demand to make on the time of the House, and he rather thought it would not be necessary to take the whole of those four days. I do not ask for four days, but I do say that the right hon. Gentleman has not a shadow of a case for taking anything but Votes A and 1 of the two Services to-night; and that, if he has those given to him to-night, he ought to follow the precedent set by my right hon. Friend in 1905 and give us, I will not say four, but two days for the Navy Votes immediately after the close of the financial year. That is a proposal which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will seriously consider, and, in order to enable him to deal with it, I beg to move that the Debate be now adjourned.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not quite understand what is the proposition which the right hon. Gentleman is making. Is it that we should take to-night simply Votes A and 1 of both the Army and Navy?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Of course, we cannot carry on for more than a limited period with the amount of money we should thus have provided.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The right hon. Gentleman, of course, has to put down the Navy Votes or the Army Votes to get more money, but in the case of the Navy Votes we have not begun the Report stage yet. My suggestion is that a Vote should be put down, on which by agreement, a discussion can be taken.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We can do that very well on the Salary of the First Lord of the Admiralty. I am aware the Archer-Shee case is to be discussed on that, but I should hope it would not take the whole of the evening. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, Oh!"] I am only expressing a hope. On that Vote we could have a general discussion on Naval policy. It would equally be in order, and the Government would be prepared to give facilities for that purpose, but it is a Vote which does not carry much money.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am afraid we cannot possibly do that, but we can give a day almost immediately after the holidays. The holidays are very small things.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I should like to investigate the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman before I definitely fix the two days. At any rate, I will follow precedent. There will be one day for the salary of the First Lord and another day—as to which we will consult the general convenience of the House—at a later stage. I only want to know now if that proposition meets the requirements of the right hon. Gentleman.
The House will understand the difficulty of trying in this conversational way to arrive at an agreement. I understand that the general position of the Government in regard to the Army and Navy Estimates is this: They have promised an extra day for the Army, and they offer under the circumstances two more days for the Navy—one before Easter and the other immediately after.
Yes, immediately after would probably be very inconvenient. I understand further that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared under such an arrangement to agree that the two days shall not be taken as counted days.
Well, leave that out for the moment. He certainly suggests that, if an arrangement can be made with regard to these two days, we, on our part, should give him what he wants for financial purposes. He wants, in exchange for the day, at present unfixed, Army Votes A and 1 and Navy Votes A and 1, also some Votes of a fat, non-controversial kind, in order to fill up the Exchequer. He further wishes to bring in the Consolidated Fund Bill to-morrow. The thing which remains uncertain from the right hon. Gentleman's point of view is whether these two extra days for the Navy are to be counted or non-counted. In my personal view if we have two more days for the Navy—which are to-rank as non-counted—and another day for the Army we might give the right hon. Gentleman the Army and Navy Votes A and 1, and we might also even go the further length of passing some non-controversial Votes.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
This is an informal discussion, of course. I think I can make an arrangement on the basis of what the right hon. Gentleman says. We have already agreed that the 6th April, to be set apart for the Vote for the salary of the First Lord, shall be a counted day and that the extra day for the Army shall be a non-counted day. I am prepared to assent to the suggestion that the second day for the Navy shall be a non-counted day also. Thus, on the old principle of bargaining, there is to be an extra day each for the Army and Navy Estimates which are not to be counted.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
It would seem to be an unreasonable thing to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the right hon. Gentleman's horse has no teeth, or, at all events, it has one very much decayed tooth. The counting days are not Government days at all, and when they offer us those days they offer us something which belongs to somebody else. All that they do is to put down the First Lord's salary for the 6th of April. By giving us the 541 counting days they lose nothing, because they are not conceding anything fresh by putting down a particular Vote on a particular day. Therefore, to offer us the counting days is not fair at all. That is nothing, and what the right hon. Gentleman now offers us is one day more for the Navy.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
But those days may be at a very remote period. The right hon. Gentleman has not fixed any day for the Army.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Noble Lord is a little suspicious. I have already stated the course to be pursued as regards the Army as well as the Navy.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The right hon. Gentleman is the last person in the world to build upon the fidelity of his assurances. At any rate it remains clear that the offer of the Government is a very small concession. In respect to getting two Votes, A and 1, without any real discussion at this hour of the night, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that there was only one day's discussion in Committee—a very unusual circumstance. To the best of my recollection such a thing has never happened while I have been in Parliament. I do not think Votes A and 1 have been taken through on a single day—or in a single sitting of Parliament. My recollection is that they are usually taken on successive days, although the former practice was somewhat different, because they were taken at afternoon sittings, and that may make a difference. I do not believe there is a recent precedent for having Vote A and Vote 1 in a single day. At any rate the Government were very fortunate in getting this and all the other Votes they put down yesterday. If so very admirable a concession is made to them as to give them all these Votes without any further discussion on Report, because that is what it comes to, they might go so far as to give us two non-counting days for the business then outstanding instead of only one, and offering us what is really an unreal concession to put down the First Lord's salary on a particular day. Counting days are no concession. The Government ought to give us two days out of their own time and not out of the House's time.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I would seriously ask the Government to consider whether or not this policy of continually giving away days with the view of conciliating an Opposition which has made-up its mind not to be conciliated, is really furthering the programme which they have in view, and carrying out the wishes of their supporters. I think the attitude of the Noble Lord shows clearly what the real purpose of the Opposition is. He is not anxious about having an additional day. He is afraid it is going to be delayed to a later period of the Session, because he fears it may come after the Parliament Bill. There is only one explanation of the attitude of the Opposition in this matter, and that is that they are determined by every means in their power to delay the progress of the Parliament Bill. It is open and avowed. Let there be no mistake about that. The number of days which have been given in regard to the Services and the days which have been promised are adequate, looked at from all points of view. The Opposition have to remember that this is an exceptional Session, and an exceptional Parliament. The Government are returned to carry as their first and most important measure the Parliament Bill, and behind the Parliament Bill there is an arrear of legislation caused by the action of hon. Gentlemen opposite and their friends in another place. I seriously appeal to the Government whether they have not now gone to the very limit of concession. Some of us sat here till two or three o'clock the other morning, and at the very moment almost of a settlement, in order to conciliate the Opposition an extra day was given them. What has been the response? There is no idea of gratitude at all, but simple and persistent opposition. I do not blame hon. Gentlemen opposite. If I were there I have no doubt I should be doing the same thing, though I hope with a little more artistic finish. While their duty is to delay the Parliament Bill our duty is to pass the Parliament Bill, and it is the duty of the Government to take stock and see whether or not their duty is to go boldly forward with their programme.
§ Mr. WYNDHAM
The motives which the hon. Gentlemen attributes to the Opposition are in complete discord with the views expressed by the Prime Minister, who was careful to say nothing had taken place this afternoon to which he could take exception. I do not think 543 any hon. Member took part in the Debate who was doing anything beyond his duty, if these grave matters are to be properly discussed by those who take an interest in them. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is easy for hon. Members to say "No," but perhaps the hon. Gentlemen who say "No" have that peculiar felicity of speech which enables them to state their views on complicated matters in a very few moments. No charge can be made that there was unduly prolonged discussions of Vote A of the Navy. I myself was careful to speak just for twenty minutes, and I did not rise again. It is really unjust on the part of the hon. Member to say that there is an organised plan on the part of the Opposition. Surely the hon. Member has a very peculiar idea as to what our duties are if he thinks it is to pass legislation and nothing more. During the course of this Session we have heard plea after plea for the examination of the expenditure of the Government. We have heard claim after claim preferred by private Members that they have some rights in this House and that they have some duties in this House which they are bound to perform.
On Vote 1 of the Army, which we have not yet reached, there is abundant and well-known opportunity for private Members to perform their obligations for, on the one hand, effecting economies, and, on the other hand, directing attention to grievances. Are we not to discuss Vote 1 at all? That Vote includes a great deal of detail, and it is presented to this House to be examined, and not a line has been examined. On Vote A we have this afternoon discussed thirteen pages of interesting figures and information, and we have not done so at undue length. Vote 1 consists of sixteen pages, and there are thirty-six pages of print in an Appendix, giving information which has been asked for in the past by private Members in order that they might be able to discuss the Estimates. The work of extracting this information from the Government was done by such Members as the late Sir Charles Dilke and others in order that private Members might have some control over finance and some opportunity for raising grievances in this House. We are told now that it is useless to conciliate the Opposition. It is not a case of conciliating the Opposition. It is a case of Members of this House performing their elementary duties.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I do not rise for the purpose of interfering in the domestic difficulties of the hon. Member for the Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) and his Leader, although his speeches might sometimes make the right hon. Gentleman wish that he had been removed to another place.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I would appeal to those hon. Gentleman with whom I have been associated in protesting against the time of private Members being taken from them. Several hon. Gentlemen opposite have also protested. The hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) has been one of them. The point I wish to put is that this concession which we are discussing is not as large a concession as might at first sight appear. It is within the recollection of all who were Members of the Parliament that came to an end in 1905 that in that Parliament, although we were subjected to an amount of delay in our legislation which has been unparalleled in this Parliament, and which may have had, in the words of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel), an artistic flavour in it which, so far as his speeches are concerned, is not easily recognisable at the time, yet, although the Government of the day were extremely bothered to get their legislation through, we always in the last three Sessions of that Parliament had three additional days given beyond the allotted days which are referred to in Sub-section (4) of Standing Order 15. We have never had those days since the present Government came into power. Though it is quite easy for the Debate to degenerate into a somewhat frivolous character in these matters, there is a really important point involved in it. I must say, in all fairness, that I always smile when I hear right hon. Gentlemen on either Front Bench speak of time. I know that one is as bad as the other where the principle is concerned. But I do say that in carrying out that principle the present Government is exceeding all bounds in filching away the time of private Members. This has made the position of private Members quite intolerable, and I hope that the House will not acquiesce in this arrangement.
§ Sir FREDERICK LOW
As a private Member of this House, may I respectfully suggest to the Government and the House that at this time of night we have spent 545 quite long enough in discussing whether the business of the House should go on or not. We who sit on these benches are prepared to stay here as long as anybody requires to carry on the work of the country, and that being so, if the concessions that the Government have offered are unacceptable to right hon. and hon. Members on the other side of the House I, speaking, I think, for a good many private Members who are sitting around me, would respectfully say to the Government let us continue the business of the House and continue it until such hour, however late it may be when it is disposed of.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
No doubt the hon. Member who has just sat down and other Members are quite ready to sit up until all hours of the morning, but the question is whether there is any advantage in so doing if the business can be expedited without doing it. I want to know where we stand after the amenities of this discussion as to adjourning the Debate. I want to know what the offer of the Prime Minister definitely is. Are we to understand that he has withdrawn the offer with which he began, that there should be two extra days, because I understood there were to be two extra days for the Navy without implying that the day already allotted should count? It does seem to me that if we could get two days for the Navy besides that extra day that it would be a reasonable proposition. There is no doubt whatever that this is, not a suitable hour to begin a discussion on Votes A and 1, especially after the truncated discussion that has already taken place on those Votes. As the right hon. Gentleman certainly did suggest two days when he begun, I want to know whether he will hold that good, as it seems to me it certainly ought to be held good.
I should not have ventured to rise but for the very bullying speech of the hon. Member for Norwich (Sir Frederick Low), who rose as if he alone was able to tell the House when to sit and when to go to bed. I as a humble and private Member protest against sitting these inordinately long hours in the early part of the Session. Private Members are returned for the purpose of keeping an eye on expenditure of all kinds, and it is a perfect scandal that night after night we should be asked to suspend the Eleven o'clock Rule. What 546 is the point? In the early part of the Session we are asked to commence these all-night sittings, to discuss enormous masses of figures, and go into the most minute details as to the Army and Navy. Towards the close of the Session, when business has to be wound up, no one would grumble about sitting up to clear away the tail-end of the work, in order that the House may break up. But to start all-night sittings at the beginning of the Session is to treat us most unfairly and ungenerously. To carry on our business under such conditions, in my opinion, is a positive scandal. The hon. Member opposite said he was quite prepared to go on with the business to any hour. Of course he is, and so are we, but is it reasonable, or does the country expect that hon. Members should conduct business in this way? The proper time for business, as laid down by the Government, is up to eleven o'clock, and that was the rule which they laid down when they came into power. They said it was absurd to expect business to be done after eleven o'clock. They abolished the dinner hour in order that they might accomplish their work before eleven o'clock.
The hon. Member says he is prepared to sit up all night, but that is against the expressed wishes of his own Front Bench. Never was anything more ridiculous than to pass the Eleven o'clock Rule, and then, consistently night after night, sit until twelve o'clock, or one, or two, or else all round the face of the clock. It is not the intention of the country that the Members of this House should sit as late as they are in the habit of sitting.
By leave of the House, may I say I do not really understand exactly the position in which we stand. I do not criticise the rather bellicose speeches always made at this time of night. I ask the Government, on the point of business, exactly where we stand. I think that a reasonable arrangement would be if the Government got Vote A and 1 of both Army and Navy to-night and nothing more, and if we promise to give them those four Votes, one being already given, to-night, that they, on their part, promise to give one additional day to the day already promised. I venture to say that that is an extremely moderate request. It is a smaller request than has been made by other Oppositions and granted by other Governments and other Leaders. At the same time nothing is taken over except 547 what is necessary to carry out the law or bring in the Consolidation Bill to-morrow. I think if it was understood that we should have this extra day—non-counted day—that I may hope both sides would agree.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I confess I hoped the right hon. Gentleman was going to make a rather larger offer than he has done, and that he was going to give us the fat Votes. What I understand the right hon. Gentleman to ask is that we should set a day more, a non-counted day. We have already promised to give a non-counted day to the Army, and the salary of the First Lord of the Admiralty is to be taken on a counted day. If we agree to give one non-counted day to the Navy, which, I understand, is the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, then I think we may arrange to meet him on those terms. As to what had been said by the Noble Lord the other day, I did not suppose that that was regarded as otherwise than generous. I do not think that anybody can say that the Government has acted otherwise than generously in giving the one non-counted day.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Let us be quite certain that we mean the same thing. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell me whether the one non-counted day on the Navy is to be open to general discussion?
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.