§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I beg to move as an Amendment to the Address, to add at the end thereof:—
"But humbly regret that there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of any intention on the part of His Majesty's 589 Goverment to make proposals for the improvement of the procedure of this House."
I am putting the Amendment forward, not as a party Amendment in any sense, but, if I may so describe it, as a House of Commons Amendment, and I hope and believe that there are several hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite and in other parts of the House who are not out of sympathy with the general objects which I have in view in putting the Amendment forward. May I beg the attention of the House to the present position of our procedure? And I must say at once that the main subject to which I wish to call the attention of the House is the guillotine. We must recognise that the guillotine has become a normal part of the procedure of the House. That is the broad fact which has emerged during the last few years. I do not wish to enter upon any controversial matter, and if I refer to one or two measures in the course of what I say I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will understand that I am merely using them for the purpose of illustration. I do not on the present occasion desire to make any criticism of the Government for the action they took in reference to these measures, but in making such a reference I must point to such a measure as the Welsh Church Bill. I do venture to say that five years ago the procedure which the Government took, with the general approval of their supporters, in guillotining that Bill, before it had been discussed in Committee at all, was a procedure which marks a definite stage in the establishment of the guillotine as our normal procedure. It might have been right; I do not say it was not right on the present occasion; but, right or wrong, I think the Prime Minister himself will admit that such a procedure would not have been practicable even five years ago. No one would think of doing it. It would have been impracticable, not so much because the majority would have rejected it, but because no Cabinet would ever have thought it was a proper thing to propose. By the force of circumstances the guillotine will be applied to every contentious measure without exception in future, whichever party is in office, and whatever may be the nature of the subject of the Bill. That is the broad fact which we have to face. Now in connection with that, and as part of the same subject, I think everybody will agree that the course of Parliamentary history for the last few years has made it increasingly 590 difficult for private Members of the House to exert any important influence upon the deliberations of the House or to take any important part in its procedure. The opportunities of private Members are this year extremely restricted, owing to circumstances it is unnecessary to describe. Last year there were no similar reasons. What happened? Only one private Member's Bill succeeded in being discussed in this House on Report. That was the Bill of Mr. Lansbury, who was then Member for Bow and Bromley. It was a Bill of a very trifling and unimportant character, as I believe everyone will agree. Owing to circumstances it is unnecessary to raise again, it failed to secure its passage on Report during two whole Fridays. The result was that, in point of fact, no private Member's Bill which was opposed—I am not sure whether or not there were any unopposed Bills—succeeded in passing this House, unless the Government took that Bill under the ægis of their protection.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
The Noble Lord will excuse me for reminding him that we did not take an hour of private Members' time.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
That makes the position all the stronger, even in a normal Session. I do not charge the present Prime Minister with being personally hostile to the rights of private Members. I think his whole record has shown that he is personally in favour of allowing the greatest amount of freedom that he can to private Members. I am not making any personal or political attack upon the right hon. Gentleman; I am merely indicating the inevitable course of events. I do not wish on the present occasion to deal with it, because it is a separate subject. But in addition to that we have had the growing scandal of Blocking Motions. My hon. Friend (Captain Tryon) has just alluded to a result of that Rule, which is certainly very unforseen and unexpected. I do not wish to inquire how that result came about. If it was unintentional, it only makes the absurdity of the Rule more clear than it was before. I am quite satisfied, whatever else is done in this House, and whatever other change is made in its procedure, that the Rule against anticipations must be drastically reformed. It is an absurdity to have a democratic House, as some of us are fond of calling it, and yet to have our Resolutions, our time, and our procedure 591 hampered by an absurd pedantry which has grown up in consequence of circumstances upon which I need not dwell. What is the result of all that? I think the result has been, what with the guillotine and what with the gradual loss of private Members' rights, that the House has lost its self-respect. I was reading not very long ago an article in the "Quarterly Review," written by the late Lord Salisbury in 1864. I think the article is called "The House of Commons." I am not attempting to quote his words, but he described the great corporate feeling which existed in the House, so that no Member of the House was able to do anything of which the House as a whole really disapproved. He pointed out that the Rules were then such that any single Member or any two Members could, if they chose, hold up the whole proceedings of the House and prevent any business whatever being done, but that in point of fact that never was done. If the Opposition thought they were being badly treated a protest might be made in that way, but in practice the House was allowed to legislate normally as a business Assembly and consider properly the Bills put before it. That was done not by any Rules at all, but by a general feeling that it was to the interest of the House as a whole that the Rules of procedure should not be made use of to prevent it doing its work.
I remember some articles published in perhaps the most intelligent supporter of the present Government in the Press, the "Westminster Gazette." There were some rather interesting articles published a few weeks ago in reference to the difficulties that arose in connection with the Franchise Bill and Women Suffrage generally. The general tone of the articles was to say this, that without the party pressure, without the coercion of the party system, the House was reduced to a mere disorderly mob, and was incapable of doing anything in the way of legislation. Such an article as that could not have been written in the sixties or the seventies. Nobody would have thought that the House required the coercion or the guidance of the party system, as we understand it now. The private Member then was the master of the situation. Governments trembled before him. If any Government had then ventured to say that private Members must abandon their rights for the sake of the Government, all the private Members in the House would have instantly united to 592 explain to the Government that they had made a great mistake as to their position and powers in this House. That has been the result, as I think, of recent Parliamentary history. Coincidently, and as a result of that, our Debates have lost—I think I may say this with general assent—reality and sincerity. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I confess I am rather puzzled that anyone should doubt that proposition. No one who sat through either of the big Bills last Session would doubt it. I am not for one moment saying that the Debates were good or bad, but in the great majority of them, not absolutely every one, there was a sense that it was all a form, that it did not really matter, and that we should do just as well for all practical purposes if we decided, without the formality of discussing them, the matters which were decided. I listened with some surprise to a sentence from the Prime Minister the other day. He said:—I think the country respects the House of Commons, just as much as it ever did.I confess that is not my experience. I dare say that in the serene atmosphere of 10, Downing Street, it may be true, but I cannot think that anyone who looks at the matter quite impartially and who is doing his best to divest himself of all party questions can really say that the House of Commons as a House, and as an institution, quite apart from what it is doing, occupies the same position in the country as it did twenty years ago. I do not wish to make too much of it, but, of course, one knows that the reports of our proceedings, particularly in the more popular sections of the Press, are extremely restricted. Very often there are a few lines of, shall I say somewhat imaginative summary, of what has actually taken place, and even the speeches of Members of the Front Opposition Benches are commonly reported in a very perfunctory way, and it is very remarkable that a speech delivered outside this House by a prominent politician is very often much better reported in the Press than a speech delivered by the same Gentleman within this House. The platform has become more important than Parliament, and that is a very striking fact. Of course, the Prime Minister may be right and I may be wrong. I only give my general impression of the common talk of the people in the railway carriage and in the street, and I say the common attitude of mind of that person is infinitely less respectful to this House than it was twenty or thirty years ago. That is my strong feeling, and I 593 must say that if it was not so I should think less well of the intelligence of the ordinary person in the street and in the railway carriage. After all, can anything be less satisfactory than the contrast between the forms of this House and the actual facts which we all know? We are nominally here in questions of controversy, debating solemnly whether a particular measure shall or shall not be passed, or even whether a particular detail of a particular Bill shall or shall not be adopted. The discussion goes on in all the forms, we are solemnly addressing one another and asking one another to give the matter impartial consideration, and vote according to the merits of the question. But we all know that that appeal is usually addressed to about twenty Members, or something of that kind, and that the great mass of the Members of the House do not even take the trouble to come in and listen to the Debates, but at the conclusion of the Debate they come in from other parts of the House and vote without any reference whatever to discussion, and without any reference whatever to the merits of the question, simply and solely because one vote would turn the Government out and another vote would keep the Government in office. That is, I think, a very serious state of affairs, and the result is that the Government—I am dealing particularly with committees, because the proposal I am going to suggest deals almost exclusively with Committees—is now practically never defeated in this House on any Government Bill or a detail of any Government Bill, however trifling, unless the Government choose to invite defeat.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The Prime Minister reminds me of the Division which took place in the autumn of last year. It was a nine days' wonder.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
It was looked upon as such a portent that it was always described as a "Snap Division" by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not wish to bandy words as to what is or is not a "Snap Division." We should all admit that if Members of the Ministerial party had been present in their usual strength on that occasion it would not have occurred. Whether it was due to their 594 slackness or indifference to the Bill, or whatever it may be, I do not wish to go into it now; but everyone knows that that casual defeat was out of the ordinary Parliamentary course and was regarded as an astonishing and exceptional thing—something which called for a reversal in some form or another by the House afterwards, and a kind of thing which seriously imperilled the very existence of the Government unless it had been reversed. That surely emphasises what I have been saying, that in Committee on a Bill a Government never is defeated now, and it is my belief that, except by some accident of that kind, the great probability is that a Government never will be defeated again, whichever side it represents in this House. The hon. Member (Mr. Lyell) the other night was saying that was not so seventy years ago. He was perfectly right, but he need not have gone so far back as seventy years. It was not so thirty years ago. I have looked into the history of the Parliaments between 1870 and 1885 and I find the Government was then defeated in this House quite as often as it now is defeated is Grand Committee—three or four times a Session. Practically it never happens now and that is a great change which has been wrought in this assembly. That means that this House has ceased to be a deliberative assembly because the essential feature of deliberation is that the result is in some measure in doubt. Otherwise, it is a mere consultative body and not a deliberative body. There must be an element of doubt as to the result. The normal minority must have some hope, be it very remote or be it very near, of finding itself in a majority, otherwise the whole debate must cease to have any reality and any genuineness.
The other day the Postmaster-General said "Look at the immense changes which were made. How can you say there is no value in debate when you consider the immense changes which were made in the Home Rule Bill and the Welsh Church Bill"? When you look closely at that matter it merely confirms and emphasises what I am saying. Those changes were not made by the House. They may be valuable changes or not, according to the point of view from which you look at it, but assuming they were very valuable they were changes made by the Government. It was because the Government being, as we know, the most open-minded, candid and fair-minded Government that ever sat upon the Treasury Bench, was convinced in certain matters—I 595 hope that last observation will not be taken too seriously—by the observations made in this House, it may be, but I think much more often made outside the House, and legitimately made by the supporters of the Government, as to the desirability of such a change, and they were in every case changes made by the Government and not by this House. Some of them were made, as we know, under guillotine without any discussion, and some were made in deference or in avowed deference to observations, but in no single case were these the decisions of the House itself as a deliberative assembly. They were all decisions of the Cabinet, and not of the House. I have tried to describe, and I hope not with undue bitterness, the condition of affairs which I believe everyone in the House really admits to exist at present. Undoubtedly one great cause, which I am not going to deal with, because it would not be relevant or germane to the Amendment, is the growth of the party system. Everyone knows that the course of the independent Member is much more difficult than it used to be in times past. I am not going into the reasons for that. They are connected, I think, not with any particular party or any particular policy. They are connected with the great growth and size of the electorate, and consequently the great increase in the importance of the machinery of organisation. That is a matter which we have no concern with at the present time. That is no doubt one of the reasons why the Government is so much more powerful in this House than it used to be.
But I am convinced that another great reason is the restriction on the debates in this House, known by the name of the guillotine. The result is that at the present time the Government knows quite well that, whatever happens, the decision on an Amendment will be taken at a particular time, and that if they can rely, as they generally can, that their supporters will be here at that particular time. All that is essential is that the debate should be kept going, somehow or other, until that time comes, when the Division will be taken inevitably and without any possible resource. It is quite true that in the old days, when the House was really free, opinion was moved by debate to some extent—I do not say on the vital and most important questions, but on the lesser questions. When that passed away, and the first alteration in the procedure took place, there was still left to the Opposition 596 the power to debate a particular point of a Bill, and they could produce some effect on as many Members as are now present. There was a Division, and every Member present in the precincts came in to take part in the Division. Those present said to the others, "There is really a great deal in what the Opposition is contending for on this point." They came back into the House, and the same point was raised again, for that is how the procedure worked in my own recollection. The point was again discussed before a somewhat different audience, and if again the Opposition appeared to be in the right, there was further pressure put on the Government, and gradually you got the Government to make a concession. It was not a perfect form of deliberate assembly, but still there was an indirect connection between the discussions that took place and the decisions arrived at.
All that is absolutely destroyed by the guillotine. There are two secondary results. With the guillotine has come the kangaroo. I am not a determined opponent of the kangaroo, and I have not the slightest desire to make any kind of criticism about the way in which that implement is being utilised by the present occupant of the Chair. We all know that we are extraordinarily fortunate in the present Chairman of Committees, and that he treats the Opposition with absolute fairness and consideration. I know that in my own party there is not a dissentient voice on that subject. But what is his position? He has a section of a Bill to be got through at 7.30 or 10.30, and he has a large number of Amendments on the Paper. He quite properly selects the Amendments which raise the widest issues. What is the result? The debates which take place are repeated over and over again. They are Second Reading debates, and there is an inevitable unreality in the whole proceedings. I am not complaining of the action of the Chairman in the least. I do not see what else he can do. I do not see how he can select the smaller details to be discussed under the guillotine. But the result is to reduce the Committee proceedings of this House to an absolute farce, so far as they are concerned with the consideration of the details of a Bill.
I wish now to make some suggestions as to the remedy for this difficulty. As far as debates on the Second Reading or the Third Reading of a Bill are concerned I have no proposal to make on the present occasion. I look myself—I do not wish to 597 conceal it—to a change in the constitutional arrangements of this House in the nature of a Referendum as the only chance of restoring reality to these debates. That is not a proposal that comes within the procedure of this House, and I leave it on one side. The proposal, therefore, I am going to put before the House is entirely with reference to the Committee stage of Bills. I must say just one word on some other remedies which have been proposed. There is the remedy which the hon. Gentlemen on my left, believe in, namely, devolution. I use a very neutral term. I am convinced that devolution is no remedy. The congestion in this House is not due to the great amount of business that it has to transact. It is due to obstruction. Ultimately the cause is obstruction. Perhaps the House will allow me to indicate the history of the matter, for I think it is really important. Obstruction as a regular Parliamentary weapon was invented by the Irish Nationalists in 1877, or thereabouts. I find in the Annual Register for 1877 this passage which explains exactly what was done. It is a comment on what it called a strange plot by Irish obstructionists to clog altogether the wheels of legislation. After pointing out the elasticity of the Rules of the House of Commons it says:—Only a sense both of self-respect and of what is due to the House can restrain a Member from a dangerous abuse of his political privileges. It speaks highly for the House of Commons that till the present Session no grave abuse of this kind has been recorded. A few stubborn dissentients would now and again waste the time of the House in attempting to impede the passage of some Bill obnoxious to them, but after all the Bill would pass and in the meantime the determined obstructors of one measure on one night would become, the rational debaters of another on the following night, and perhaps do as much to facilitate business on the latter occasion as they had done to delay it on the former.That indicates the state of things which previously existed. What happened was this. Mr. Parnell in the exercise of his judgment—I am not quarrelling with what he did for a moment—determined to hold up the Government of this country until his demand for Home Rule had been conceded. That was declared. There was no concealment about it, and I am not saying anything that would be resented by hon. Members from Ireland. It was done with great courage and resolution, and with great skill, though I do not think the skill was so remarkable as the courage and resolution. It was found to be an effective weapon. The Members of my own party joined in it at first. I am not making any party point. The late Lord Randolph Churchill was undoubtedly one 598 of those who participated in the obstruction of 1880. When the Liberal party went out of office and the Conservative Government came in, the Liberals took up the weapon of obstruction and obstructed freely the measures of the Conservative Government, as we all remember, in 1887 and 1888. It thon became part of the ordinary weapon of the Opposition. The Closure followed; various alterations followed; the guillotine followed. The obstructionists devised new methods of obstruction according as one particular method was cut away. Ultimately we have come to the form of guillotine, plus strangulation, which has reduced the Committee stage to the state which I have described. That shows that the cause was not congestion of business but was obstruction, and until obstruction is abandoned that cause will continue. If that is so no devolution, no lessening of the business of the House, is likely to improve materially the existing condition.
The business of the House did not grow materially from 1877 to 1887. In 1877 the House was able to transact its business without any rules of procedure. In 1887 it had become necessary to devise further and further restrictions on Debate. No doubt our business could be transacted perfectly well at the present moment if the whole House desired to transact it, and if the state of public opinion in the House was the same as it used to be. Various suggestions have been made for the mitigation of the guillotine. We are told that it would be better if the guillotine were devised by an impartial Committee instead of by the Government of the day. I think that is absolutely a worthless suggestion. I do not say that the guillotine devised by the Government for the Home Rule Bill or the Welsh Disestablishment Bill was perfect. I think that possibly it might have been better arranged in various respects, but the alterations would have been perfectly unimportant from the point of view which we are now considering. It might be you would have had a day more for one particular part of the Bill and a day less for another. All that is quite unimportant and does not touch the root of the matter. Then we are told that short speeches would be a good thing. That I think is true, but it is again true that that would not touch the root of the matter. That is all in the nature of lessening the business of the House, whereas what we want is a changed heart in the House. With regard to Grand Committees I 599 am a convert. When I first came into this House I was a violent opponent of Grand Committees. I remember opposing the proposals of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman to extend them. I wish to stand in a white sheet. I withdraw entirely everything that I said against Grand Committees on that occasion. I believe that Grand Committees are the only hope which this House has. I wish to abolish the Committee stage of Bills in this House. I wish to send every Bill to a Grand Committee.
I propose to retain the Report stage for two reasons. In the first place, I wish to pay due respect to the venerable fiction that this House should have control over legislation. I am sure that it has not got control over legislation, but there are some hon. Gentlemen who still believe that it has. I think, therefore, on one occasion it ought to have the opportunity of deciding as to the details of a Bill if it desires to do so. The Report stage should be retained on that ground. Another ground on which I should retain it is that I think it desirable in the present condition of things that on important questions the Government should be able to settle the form of the legislation for which they are primarily responsible. Therefore there ought to be an appeal from the Grand Committee to this House on Report on which the Government can use the ordinary weapons for securing that a decision in Grand Committee of which they strongly disapprove should be set right. But that there is any reason for double discussion of the details of a Bill in this House I cannot see. I cannot see why we should have a Committee stage and a Report stage, even on principle. I believe in no other Legislature in the world, except those strictly modelled on this House, is such a discussion allowed. I do not believe that it exists in France. I know that it does not exist in America. I have had great difficulty in ascertaining what exactly is the procedure in France. It is very complicated to a foreigner, and I am not quite sure that I appreciate it clearly, but there is no reason in principle why it should be done. But the reason I desire to have every Bill sent to a Grand Committee is because I believe that on a Grand Committee—and I have sat on a great many of them—there is a different spirit from that which exists in the House itself. There is more freedom. There is a genuine feeling on the Grand Committee 600 quite apart from the membership of political parties. There are two main reasons. In the first place, the decisions of a Grand Committee cannot affect the existence of the Government of the day. If the Government is beaten it is beaten only by a section of the House, and it cannot be pretended that it has lost the confidence of the House itself.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
That is entirely untrue. I know that my hon. Friend hates Grand Committees and never sits on them.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I have never been fortunate enough to sit on a Grand Committee with him except on one occasion, and then he left after a short time. But it is quite untrue to say that the Government pay no attention to the decisions of a Grand Committee. They have reversed a certain number of decisions of Grand Committees on Report stage in this House, but generally speaking they do not reverse them, and I think that even in the miserable condition to which we are reduced in this House there would be a revolt if the Government made a practice of reversing the decisions which had been arrived at in Grand Committee. Of course, if they did make a practice of doing so, then the whole proposal which I am submitting to the House would be absolutely valueless, but I do not believe that that would happen, and I cannot believe that any Government would wish to stultify the House to that extent. But there is another reason why we get better decisions in Grand Committee. Decisions take place there the moment the discussion has concluded. The doors are locked the moment the discussion is over, and only those who have heard the discussion vote on the question before the Committee. That is an enormous advantage. I have sat always in a minority in Grand Committees, but I do recognise a difference toto cœlo between the atmosphere of Grand Committee and the atmosphere of the Committee stage in this House. There are less important questions you do not divide on. You do not separate yourselves into two, flocks under the close supervision of the shepherds when you come to divide. 601 There is something in the physical question of voting where you sit instead of having to pass the cold eye of the Whip.
There are several objections to which I wish to refer. It is said that obstruction would reappear if you sent the most contentious Bills to Grand Committee—that you would have the same obstruction there just as in the House. I do not believe it, and I will tell you why. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Mental Deficiency Bill."] I remember, for I was there for a short time, and I quite admit that there is some force in the suggestion which is made. But, generally speaking, you would not have any considerable obstruction, or real obstruction of a Bill in Grand Committee, for this reason, that if obstruction does take place there is no chance of getting any real changes in the Bill. The result of obstruction is to enrage the majority of Members of the Committee, and they will not listen to an obstructive when there is not a real and solid objection to put forward. There is a field in which obstruction is not legitimate in Grand Committee, and there is resentment if it takes place. In my experience the result of any violently contentious methods of obstruction has not been successful in Grand Committee; it has not been successful in securing the defeat of a Bill; it has never been successful in interfering with a Bill, except perhaps the Aliens Bill. The Mental Deficiency Bill was not obstructed in Grand Committee, it went through that Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was dropped."] The greater part of it went through. But look at what had happened. It was a Bill introduced very late in the Session; it was of a very long and complicated character, and it did not reach Grand Committee until the autumn. That was a very different case. But I agree that if obstruction takes place in Grand Committee some means should be found to deal with it. My own belief is that obstruction must be dealt with, not by restriction of Debate, but by penal provisions against obstruction. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes. I am asking the House to discuss this matter in an absolutely serious manner, without attempting to make party points. I say that obstruction in Grand Committee must be met by penal methods, and it could be met quite easily in Grand Committee, much more easily than in this House, because all you have got to do is to discharge the obstructives from attendance in Grand Committee. That would be 602 quite an easy thing to do, and would not be at all a cumbrous proceeding. I do not believe that you will find obstruction from the general Opposition for the reasons I have given. You may find obstruction by individuals, as there was, no doubt, on the Mental Deficiency Bill. I was not one of the obstructives, but I do not in the least mind giving away those who were. I was only at two sittings of the Grand Committee, and I think I spoke about three times altogether. But if there were obstruction by two or three Members, as there might have been, it would be very easy to discharge those Members from attendance in Grand Committee. I think that would be the proper remedy, if real obstruction took place. But my own belief is that you would not have obstruction to any great extent. Remember that there is much less temptation for it in Grand Committee. You cannot hold up the whole course of legislation in Grand Committee. You can merely obstruct the proceedings in that Committee; and, if you had every Bill referred to one or other of the Grand Committees, you would have six or eight Grand Committees sitting at the same time, and all the other Committees would go on with their work, so that obstruction in one Committee would have no value, being merely obstruction to a particular Bill.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I am quite prepared to give an answer. I would appoint a Committee of the most respected Members of the Grand Committee at the outset; that could easily be done by the Committee itself. They would sit as an Advisory Committee to the Chairman, and, if the Chairman thought there was obstruction, he could consult the Committee as to whether they agreed with him that such and such a Member had been guilty of obstruction, and upon the report of that Committee action could be taken. I do not think there would be the slightest difficulty in doing what I submit. There is another objection which I think really appears to be at the bottom of my hon. Friend's observations. He thinks Grand Committees would facilitate legislation. [Sir F. BANBURY: "No."] Perhaps he does not. But some people think that reference to Grand Committees would unduly facilitate legislation. I am not a believer in legislation being carried too 603 rapidly and inconsiderately through this House. I quite agree that it is undesirable to have too great rapidity. But if you have legislation of a violent and controversial character by all means erect safeguards in your Constitution. Whatever you may decide upon, do not do it by trying to make the whole machinery of legislation impossible. What is the effect of the present system? I am not speaking of great party measures; they get through somehow or another, very bady, in my opinion; but the measures stopped and destroyed are the small useful measures which the great majority of the House is agreed upon. Those are the measures which are really wanted, in my humble opinion, in this House, much more than the great party measures. Your present system is designed to let through that party legislation under conditions which make it very difficult to discuss it properly, and to prevent small useful measures, to which there is no objection on the part of any great section of the House, from passing into law. I am told that my scheme would put too great a strain upon Members. If you have six or eight Grand Committees sitting, you must agree that the House should not sit as a House in the evening after a certain date in the Session. I should suggest that members of the Grand Committees should not be in the House on two evenings. You could not expect hon. Members sitting all day long in Grand Committee to sit all night long in the House. Moreover, there would be much less work for the House, as you would have taken away all the Committee stages.
I do not wish it to be said that there is no possible alternative to the present system. I am convinced it is possible. The plan I propose may not be the right one, but I put it forward to repel the taunt that I have no practical policy to suggest. What I ask the Government to assent to to-day is not, of course, my scheme, but that they will appoint a Committee to consider this subject. I ask them to appoint a Committee which will have upon it a majority, a preponderance of unofficial Members. I ask them to do this because I do regard this matter as one of vital importance. I am quite convinced that the present state of things is intolerable, just as much to Members of the majority as to Members of the minority. I believe that the boredom of the 604 life of a Member of the present majority is a very serious consideration. I cannot conceive a more disagreeable position. A Member of the Opposition has, at any rate, some freedom, and he is allowed to do very much as he likes so far as his speaking is concerned, but a Member of the majority has not even that melancholy advantage. But Members of the minority—I speak not by hearsay or by observation, but by actual experience—do feel with bitterness the injustice of the present procedure in this House. They feel that, as any rational human being would feel, to be asked solemnly to discuss day after day the details of a measure, knowing all the while that unless they are fortunate enough to persuade the Members of the Government, they have no chance whatever of convincing the audience they address here, is an intolerable position to be asked to occupy. I do ask the House as a whole, and irrespective of party, to make a great effort to discover some remedy for this state of things; I do not ask them to accept my proposals, but I put them forward for the reasons I have given, and I do ask hon. Members to use their influence with the Government and insist on the appointment, the immediate appointment, of such a Committee as I have suggested. I do hope and trust that the deliberations of that Committee will result in some practical and effective method of improving the procedure of this House.
§ Mr. GOLDSMITH
I feel that the House will be grateful to the Noble Lord for the interesting speech which he has made. I think all of us, in whichever part of the House we may sit, must be anxious in the first place that the House of Commons as such should stand high in the estimation of the people, and in the second place, from our own point of view, that our procedure should be as perfect as it is humanly possible to make it. The Noble Lord reminded us that the question whether this House stands as high in the opinion of the country as it did is a question of a controversial character; and while the Prime Minister told us a few days ago that the country respects the House of Commons just as much as ever it did, the Noble Lord and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition do not agree with the Prime Minister. However that may be as to whether the House of Commons stands as high in the opinion of the country or not, I believe there is no doubt that the country at large does not take the same interest in 605 the Debates and proceedings as they used. [An HON. MEMBER: "More."] I believe it is hardly possible to expect the ordinary elector to take the same interest in our proceedings when he knows perfectly well, with absolute certainty, that every measure which the Government chooses to introduce will be passed by an obedient majority. It is only in certain exceptional cases, such as Women Suffrage, when there is any doubt about a measure, that the man in the street takes the slightest interest in our Debates and in our Divisions. I know that some hon. Members opposite probably do not agree, but I think even they would admit that the Rules of Procedure of the House of Commons are capable of considerable improvement. We had an instance yesterday, and I think the House is agreed that something ought to be done to deal with the system of Blocking Motions, and that they should be done away with or amended. Every new Member, when he comes into the House, is astounded at our complicated rules of procedure. He is astounded at the great waste of valuable Parliamentary time and at the futility of a great many of our Debates. When he has been in the House a certain tune he will come to the conclusion that one mast have a clear and exceptional brain such as the hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) to understand the Rules of Procedure of the House, and he will come to the conclusion that our Rules of Procedure do not facilitate the course of business, but that they complicate it and in many cases retard it. He will be convinced that some steps ought to be taken to revise our present Rules of Procedure. The Noble Lord has told us that one of the first objects we ought to have in view is to restore to the House of Commons some of its independence and to free the House from some of the evils which are connected and bound up with our over-developed party system. I know it has often been said on this side of the House, and I believe it was often said by Members on the other side when they were on these benches, that the House of Commons at the present time is not what it was, that it is not a deliberative assembly. I believe that is perfectly true, although it has been suggested by both sides of the House when they have been in opposition. At the present moment I believe it is true to say that the Cabinet legislates with the consent of the House of Commons, and that that consent is given as a matter of course to every Bill which is 606 introduced by the Government. Discussion is still allowed, but even that discussion under the guillotine is limited and restricted. What is worse is that Debate under the guillotine is put down as unreal, and becomes barren in results.
A great many remedies have been proposed. The Noble Lord has mentioned some of them. I believe that the remedy which will eventually be adopted will be on the lines suggested by the Noble Lord, because it is perfectly clear that as long as we have got a Parliamentary Executive that Executive must depend on and must have a clear majority upon matters of vital importance in the House of Commons. Every Minister who is in charge of a Bill looks upon every part of that Bill as of vital importance, and every Amendment is looked on as a vote of confidence. If by any chance he should be defeated, the defeat is called a snap Division and the vote rescinded at the first possible opportunity. I believe the House will agree that once the principle of a Bill has been approved, the details of that Bill should be left to the unfettered judgment of the Members of the House. That freedom of action we apparently cannot obtain on the floor of the House, but we can obtain that freedom of action in Committee upstairs. I think the suggestion of my Noble Friend, that the Committee stage of a Bill should be taken in Grand Committee, will eventually have to be adopted by the House. We know that at the present time the best, most efficient, and most useful work of the House is done by Committees upstairs. Under the proposal of my Noble Friend the House could be divided into a number of Committees, and I suppose all Members of the House would be allotted to one or other of those Committees. That would be another advantage. It would compel practically every Member of the House to serve on one of these Committees. At the present time no one can maintain that the Committee work of the House is fairly and evenly distributed amongst Members. If we look at the Return published at the end of each Session we shall find that there are large numbers of Members who do not take their fair share of Committee work, and perhaps are not members of any Committee at all. We are not in the same position as formerly. Members of Parliament now receive a salary from a grateful nation. That grateful nation has never been consulted, but we cannot get away from the fact that the nation has a right to expect 607 some value and some services for its money. It believe that under the proposals of the Noble Lord we should be able to get every Member to serve on one or two Committees. One of the great advantages of Grand Committees is that a defeat of the Government is not followed by the same serious consequences as a defeat of the Government in this House. Moreover, the party Whips on all the Committees on which I have been a Member have been conspicuous by their absence. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The Noble Lord told us that on a Grand Committee a Member could not vote unless he had heard the whole of the Debate. I do not quite agree with him. Even in my short Parliamentary experience I have been a Member of a Grand Committee when, at the last moment, Members were imported from another Committee in order to save the Minister from defeat. We also know that the weapon of obstruction has been used on Grand Committee. The Mental Deficiency Bill has been mentioned.
§ Mr. GOLDSMITH
I was not a Member of that Committee, and I do not know whether it was obstruction or justifiable debate. These, however, are details which could be dealt with by a Committee. All that my Noble Friend asks is that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the various proposals which have been made and to report to this House. No doubt that Committee would make many recommendations for the improvement of our existing and rather imperfect Rules and Standing Orders. One of the great advantages attaching to the proposal that the Committee stage of Bills should be referred to a Grand Committee is that this House would have more time to consider the Estimates, which, after all, constitutes one of the most important duties of the House. A private Member would no longer have his time taken away by the Government, as so often happens now. Mr. Gladstone said, in 1884, that it was difficult for anyone except those who had passed their lives within the walls of Parliament to understand how vital and urgent was the necessity for the reform of Parliamentary procedure. I believe that those words were spoken in consequence of the obstructionist policy of the Irish Members of that time. As the Noble Lord has pointed out, obstruction 608 is not now confined to the Irish party; it has become the treasured possession of the whole of the Opposition, whichever party is in power. I believe that the reform which Mr. Gladstone considered so important in 1884 is of equal and even greater importance at the present time. I hope, at any rate, even if nothing further be done, that we shall succeed in securing the appointment of a Committee to investigate and report upon the whole matter.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I need hardly point out to the Noble Lord that, while I welcome the opportunity of discussion and the manner in which he has taken advantage of it, yet in strictness this is an Amendment which deplores the absence from the Gracious Speech from the Throne of a topic which it would be most improper to introduce into it. It is the function of the King's Speech, as far as it deals with matters other than those of policy and administration, to outline the legislation of the Session. The procedure of the House of Commons has never been and never can be a matter of legislation. It is a matter entirely for this House. I think it would be most improper to refer it to the House of Lords or the two Houses jointly, to both of which the Speech is addressed—apart from the portion dealing with finance, which is addressed to the House of Commons alone—and it would be an innovation which no one would welcome to introduce into the King's Speech a topic such as this, which concerns one House alone. Therefore, I do not think the House in any circumstances would feel themselves justified in expressing regret in the terms which the Noble Lord suggests. But I do not press that, because it is quite proper and right that the Debate on the Address should be taken advantage of, particularly in view of what the Noble Lord has said, with a good deal of truth—I do not go the full length with him—as to the curtailment of the opportunities of debate. I should be sorry to think that the Debate on the Address could not be usefully and appropriately taken advantage of for the discussion of a matter so vitally affecting the House of Commons. As I have said, I have nothing whatever to complain of in the manner in which the Noble Lord addressed himself to his task. I thought that once or twice in the course of his speech, as when he told us that it was our business to change our hearts rather than our rules, he approached perilously near the tone and 609 language of the pulpit. We are accustomed to hear enunciated from the pulpit ideals which we are not always capable of realising under the hard exigencies of daily life. Subject to that reservation, I have really nothing to find fault with in the great bulk of the Noble Lord's speech.
I will not go back to the question, which is more or less controversial, on which some of us touched the other night in another connection, as to how far the House of Commons has or has not sunk in the estimation of the nation, and whether there is a falling off, as the Noble Lord very strenuously contended, in the reality of our discussions. I hold the view, which I expressed the other night, that in all essentials the House of Commons still retains the respect and the interest of the nation. And I cannot pass by without protest—I am not going to argue the matter—the suggestion that it has in any real sense of the word ceased to be a deliberative assembly. I will not mention any particular occasion or Bills belonging to one party more than another, but I think that the discussions which have taken place, even under the rigorous modern conditions of Closure and guillotine, have led, if the pressure of argument is serious and on the whole substantial, to beneficial modification and amendments of the proposals of successive Governments. I do not at all agree with the view that the Noble Lord has put forward that debate on the Second Reading and in Committee has become a mere formality. Putting that on one side, I quite agree that there are features in our present procedure and our methods which no one who has at heart either the dignity of the House of Commons or its efficiency as a deliberative or legislative machine can regard with satisfaction. I think the causes are to be found, not in any special endowment of depravity in the modern Member of Parliament as compared with his predecessors; they are to be found outside this House altogether; to be found really under the conditions which democratic Government, either in this country or in other countries, is carried on. As to these conditions, I will not go into detail, but they are productive of two results which are relevant to our present discussion. The first is that a Member is expected by the constituency which returns him here to take a more active and a more frequent part in the deliberations of the House than was the case thirty or one hundred years ago. 610 There is no doubt about that. That must lead, if hon. Members fulfil the expectations of their constituents—and without attributing any obstructive intention to anybody—to a prolongation of debate by the multiplication of speeches. That is one very obvious result of the new conditions under which we live. Another, which I do not think the Noble Lord did complete justice to, was this: That the enlarged electorate takes a quickened and continuous interest in our proceedings—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not talking about our speeches. I do not say they read our speeches—I am under no such delusion—not in our proceedings, but in the general result. That has led, I believe—and I believe the experience of hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with mine—to constituents being more stringent in demanding a strict party allegiance. I do not think that the disposition which the Noble Lord has complained of—of hon. Members following the crack of the party Whip, of listening to debate, of coming in at the last moment and voting according to the instructions of the Government or the Opposition Whip—I do not think that is due to any change in procedure or any deterioration in the character of this House. I think it is far more due to the watch and ward which the electorate keep over their representatives to see that they do keep, on the whole—I am not inveighing against the generosity and indulgence of constituents generally—to see that on the whole Members do not give way to the vagaries of individual judgment, but keep abreast of the general movement of their own party and their own cause. These two circumstances, I think, which are entirely independent of anything that takes place here, accounts for not a little of the change which the Noble Lord speaks of, and which I quite agree with him is a real change, and one that ought to be taken notice of. No doubt the original cause was the development of the art of Parliamentary obstruction to which the Noble Lord has referred.
Something like thirty years ago it became necessary to apply first in a tentative and very incomplete form the weapon of the Closure. That was followed, as we all know, by the guillotine. The Noble Lord has frankly admitted that in his view, and I believe the view of all parties here, that whatever Government is in power, 611 these two methods, the Closure and the guillotine, must form part of the normal Parliament machinery. I will come back in a moment to that. I wish to refer to what the Noble Lord said upon another topic, namely, that of Blocking Motions. No one has a stronger view, as the Noble Lord knows, than I have of the inexpediency of this rule or practice—it is not a rule—which allows an indiscriminate use of Blocking Motions. I myself presided over a Committee years ago which recommended a change in our Rules. I regret to say nothing has been carried into effect. But I hope something may be carried into effect which would enable us to determine whether or not a Motion for Adjournment on any particular topic ought not to be entertained because there was another Motion down on the Paper on the same subject, and to enable the hon. Member to have regard to the probability of an early discussion on the matter of which notice has been given. I think that would be a great reform. The Motion to which reference was made was not a Blocking Motion at all.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I did not refer to it as a Blocking Motion. I merely referred to it as an instance of the unfortunate operation of the rule.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is not what we understand as a Blocking Motion. In the first place, I believe it was put down in complete ignorance of the fact that it would have the effect of preventing discussion of the Amendment of which notice has been given. In the next place, it fixes a specific day, the earliest possible day, the first day open to a private Member's Motion for the discussion of a topic which might or might not have come on for debate. At all events, they secure under any system the earliest possible day for the discussion of the matter referred to, But that is an incidental point which has no real bearing upon the general topic. The Noble Lord said that the private Member had ceased to have the weight and importance which he used to have in days gone by. I think he used the expression, "Governments trembled before private Members." I am not sure that Governments do not now tremble before private Members. I have known in the course of my experience, both as a Member of the Opposition and as a Member of the Government, private Members of this House—one who is no longer with us, and 612 whose name I could give, Mr. Caldwell, and another whose name I need not mention because I see him sitting opposite to me—I take these two, and I say there has never been a Government, for the last twenty years, that has not trembled before those two hon. Gentlemen, and which has not had very largely to mould its proceedings in the course of their business—I do not say in obedience to their behests—but with a certain amount of deference to their views. From that point of view the private Member is still an important factor in our proceedings. But I come back to the main point. We have adopted, as I have said, the closure and the guillotine. We have done so for reasons which are not peculiar to this House, but which have been found operative in almost every legislative assembly in the world. I believe I am right in saving that with the exception of the American Senate and the Canadian Parliament there is no legislative assembly in any free country that has not some machinery, not precisely identical or even similar, but some machinery of this kind for the purpose of preventing obstruction and facilitating the transaction of business. I am quite sure, though I say it not as any lover of these expedients, and as one who has denounced them in language as strong as anybody on those benches—I say with unaffected reluctance and regret that I am perfectly certain it would be perfectly impossible for any Government to conduct the affairs of the nation and carry through the legislation to which it is pledged without having recourse in the future as in the past to machinery of this kind.
But I agree with the Noble Lord that makes it all the more important that we should be very careful and jealous in watching the operations of these present modes of procedure. Now his main complaint is that in the Committee stage—he does not complain I think very much of what goes on on Second Reading—but in the Committee stage of our discussions public time is wasted, and that the energies of Members are wasted, because the discussion is carried on under unreal conditions by a small handful of Members present to take part in the proceedings, and that the great bulk of them come in uninformed and vote, not in accordance with the arguments adduced in debate, but in accordance with preconceived convictions, or in accordance with the directions of the Government or the Opposition Whips. What is his remedy? His remedy 613 is to transfer the consideration of all Bills, as far as the Committee stage is concerned, to Grand Committees. I have great sympathy with the Noble Lord. The present Government when they came into office in 1906, appointed the Committee of Procedure presided over by the late Sir Henry Fowler, as he then was, and in consequence of the recommendations of that Committee, all Bills now go automatically to Grand Committee, unless the House otherwise orders. [An HON. MEMBER: "Except Finance Bills."] Prior to that a special order had to be made before a Bill was sent up to Grand Committee. All Bills were kept in the House except those specially sent upstairs, except Finance Bills. The Noble Lord proposes to withdraw from the House that power of keeping the Committee stage of Bills on the floor of the House.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I am afraid it was impossible for me to go into the whole of the details of my proposal. That was not my proposal. I want, as a matter of practice, that all Bills should go to Grand Committee.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am very much in sympathy with the Noble Lord's general object, but I do not know whether he would command a large measure of support in the House from those who sit around him. We have generally heard objection taken that Bills of a controversial character and complexity ought to be retained on the floor of the House, and that is in accordance undoubtedly with Mr. Gladstone's original intention when Grand Committees were started, and it was the intention, reaffirmed by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and from which we could not depart without some further instruction from the House without something like a breach of faith. And, therefore, we have consistently kept or endeavoured to keep the spirit of this undertaking by keeping Bills which are of a really controversial character in the House.
An HON. MEMBER
Like the Insurance Act.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We sent the part of the Insurance Act as to which there was really no controversy—the unemployment insurance—to a Committee upstairs. 614 I am quite prepared to consider a modification of our procedure. But I think if Bills are to go in future, as a rule and without exception, to Grand Committee, I must point out that the machinery of procedure in Grand Committee will require considerable amendment. I quite agree with what the Noble Lord says, that the discussions that take place there take place to a large extent in a more informal way by people specially interested and acquainted with the subject-matter of the Bill, and that they are often of a much more fruitful character in suggesting amendments, modifications, and remoulding than the more formal discussions which take place on the floor of the House. I think that probably Members who take part in the Divisions in Grand Committee are for the most part Members who take part in the discussion. I do not think that is invariably the case. I have a suspicion that it used not always to be the case, and that often in the last five or ten minutes Gentlemen were produced from the purlieus of the House who had not given close attention to the whole discussion.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Very improper, but until we can have cleansed our hearts by a purifying process—until that operation is complete—I am afraid these things, regrettable as they are, will continue from time to time. But, subject to that reservation, I quite agree with what the Noble Lord has said of the superior methods from a business point of view of Grand Committee discussions over discussions here. But what about obstruction? Obstruction, conscious or unconscious, is the real secret of the difficulty under which we labour in carrying on legislative debates in this House. How is he going to deal with obstruction? One or two Members could be most effective. The Chairman has not got the power of using that form of Closure which enables him to select Amendments in accordance with his view of their relative importance, and it is therefore much more within the power of a small and resolute minority to prolong proceedings on a Bill referred to Grand Committee than it is actually upon the floor of the House. The Noble Lord recognises that some steps must be taken if this proposal is carried out to deal with that evil, and he proposes a new penal code which is to apply to the obstructor. The hon. Baronet the Member for the 615 City showed a good deal of sensitiveness during that part of the Noble Lord's speech, for the hon. Baronet asked what I may call a very pertinent question: "Who is to be the judge whether I or anybody else is obstructing or not?"
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Oh, no. I am speaking of people whose methods have reduced this matter to a fine art. The Noble Lord I think sees some difficulty in dealing with a matter of this kind, and so he proposes to set up a kind of Holy Office of four or five Members who at the beginning of the proceedings in Grand Committee are to be prospectively invested with the power of determining as regards their fellow Members whether or not they have been guilty of this offence. That is a novel proposal which would require a good deal of consideration before it is adopted. But quite seriously I put these criticisms forward, as the Noble Lord will see, not in a hostile spirit or with the view of disparaging or discouraging the suggestions he made, but only to show that he must proceed in this matter very cautiously, after much deliberation, and, which I regard as more important, in such a way as to command the general assent of the House. It is no good adopting what I would call counsels of perfection, it is no good adopting methods of procedure which are repugnant to the feelings of any substantial minority in the House of Commons. We must carry the House with us in any change, and for that reason I welcome the proposals which the Noble Lord has made. I think the time has come when we have every reason, in view of our experience, in many respects a new experience in the last few years, once more to submit the consideration of our Rules of Procedure, and the expediency of readapting them, to a really authoritative Select Committee. The Noble Lord on previous occasions, I think, has suggested that official and ex-official Members of the House should be excluded from the deliberations of such a Committee, but to-day he has been a little more indulgent to what he regards as the common enemy of the private Member. I entirely agree with him that in the composition of the Committee a substantial majority should consist of Members who have never soiled their fingers with this new Parliamentary implement, Members whose record is un- 616 stained, and therefore so far as the composition of the Committee is concerned I agree it ought to be one on which the private Member has a predominant voice. I think the House will probably agree that that is the best course we can take, and, having heard my statement, I hope the Noble Lord will be disposed to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
On such occasions as these we always listen with more than ordinary interest and pleasure to speeches from the Prime Minister. I am glad to say that what the right hon. Gentleman said in conclusion makes it very unnecessary for me to occupy the time of the House for more than a few minutes, for I think he has adopted the right course. There are one or two points in his speech which I may perhaps be permitted to refer to. He spoke of himself still trembling before private Members, but that was not the kind of trembling to which my Noble Friend alluded. He did not mean trembling before the possibility of obstruction, but trembling before the effect of arguments. In this connection I understand that the right hon. Gentleman made an allusion to Mr. Caldwell. I remember when I occupied the position which my Noble Friend does not think enviable, of being a private Member, the only occasion when he found fault with an expression of mine was when I disagreed with a small matter connected with my Constituency, and the Secretary for Scotland pointed out to my Friend, Lord Dunedin, as he now is, that if the seven Glasgow Members had consisted of seven Mr. Caldwell's there would not have been a moment's hesitation about the matter. My Noble Friend spoke of the power of the private Member on the side of the Government. I think that was pretty well agreed when I first entered the House. At that time I was suffering from a disease which does not afflict me now. It was that I was not able to make speeches which I wanted to, and now it is the other way about. I do think that in all quarters of the House we recognise that the present position of things is a very undesirable one. I think we are all agreed about that.
As to the causes of it which were mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, I am in substantial agreement. Everybody knows there has been an enormous change in the nature of the House of Commons itself. In the old days talking in the House was done by about a score of Members at the outside, but now everybody 617 is able to make a speech, good or bad, and most of us want to make one occasionally. Therefore it is not so much a question of long speeches, although I think they are often too long—the Prime Minister certainly sets us a good example, and I do not think I have been a special sinner in that respect—the length of the speech is not so much the evil as that everybody is competent to speak, or thinks he is, and desires to take his share in the debates. I think the real trouble has arisen from another cause, and that is deliberate obstruction. My Noble Friend gave a history of that. It was started by Nationalist Members below the Gangway, and the wonder is now that we have got so accustomed to it that there was so long a time before it was begun. I think the explanation is a very simple one. Up till that time there had been practically only two parties in the House. Each of them hoped in turn to get into office, and therefore each felt that whatever was done by them to-day might be done against them to-morrow, and therefore I think obstruction has come to stay now, for the reason that there are independent parties who do not expect in the immediate future to be called upon to form a Government.
I have always been very much struck by the fact that up to the present time we have been able to avoid any Closure resolutions for obstruction. That has been because the two parties each in turn thought they would hold office. What is going on now is interesting, and it will be equally interesting to see—I only allude to it from this point of view—whether they will be able to continue what is certainly a far more desirable method without Closure. The Prime Minister referred again to-day, as he did on the opening day of the Session, to the question of the amount of respect which the House of Commons commands in the country. I do not wish to bring any controversial note into this Debate, but I disagree with him. I do not think the same interest is taken in the House of Commons as used to be. I really think it, is possible almost to demonstrate it. Cannot you judge of the amount of respect which will be entertained for the House of Commons by the amount of respect paid to it by Ministers themselves? Is not that a fair test? I remember in the Home Rule debates, when important financial provisions were going through, provisions which really vitally affected England, as well as Ireland, neither the Prime Minister—I under- 618 stand he could not be present—nor the Chancellor of the Exchequer, were present to take part in the proceedings. The reason was obvious. They knew that it was a foregone conclusion, and that they did not need to be present.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer indeed in a moment of expansiveness in a speech he made at Aberdeen described what was not only his view, but I think the feeling of everyone when he said, that he strolled into the House of Commons occasionally when the Home Rule Bill was going through and found only the people there who were waiting their turn to speak, and then he went out again. That was the state of the House then. Is it not obvious that if that is the view entertained for the House of Commons by a Minister himself it cannot have very much respect as a deliberative Assembly amongst the people outside. There was another matter referred to by my Noble Friend, and I pointed out the same fact in a platform speech myself some time ago. I do notice that with prominent politicians, from the Prime Minister downwards, when they make a speech on the same subject in the House of Commons and on the platform it will not only be reported more fully in the newspapers if it is made on the platform, but it will excite far more interest and attract far more attention than if it were made in the House of Commons. That used not to be so. In the old days the best theatre in which to make a speech was always the House of Commons. I think that this is due to this fact: The discipline is so firm that the moment it is known which party has a majority, and there is no "cave," interest in our proceedings ceases. That all comes down to the evil, if it is an evil, of the tightness with which the party machine is driven. That is the whole thing. Of course, anyone who is the leader of a party, does not want to see too much slackness of discipline. It is very difficult to get on without discipline, but at the same time I do think that owing to action onside more than anything else, owing to the action of the electors belonging to our different parties in the constituencies more than in the House, there has been a tightening of discipline which, on the whole, has not been an advantage. Though, I certainly do not want to make any suggestion to do away with it with regard to the party with which I am concerned, I should be very glad to see it lessened. It is that tightness of party machinery which is the cause of one of the 619 greatest evils of the present day. The result of our system is that great party Bills are forced through. If they cannot be forced through with decent debate, then as we found last year they have to be forced through without it. Other measures on which there is not the same party division and which I think would do much more good have no chance whatever of getting through. Why is it? It is be cause party feeling is so strong that the party in opposition will not give the Government of the day credit for doing anything decent if they can help it. That is one of the reasons. That is a great evil. If the result of the Committee about to be set up will be to bring about a system whereby the Government will not take credit to the extent they do now for useful measures, and whereby the Opposition will not gain anything by obstructing then I think one of the greatest blots on our procedure will be removed. I am sure the House will be very glad the Prime Minister has agreed to appoint a Committee. I do not know what success it will have. I would not have been prepared to have subscribed in toto to the suggestion of my Noble Friend, and I do not know what suggestion the Committee will make, but I do think it is a subject well worth considering, and, speaking for myself, although this is a bad time when party feeling is so strong, for considering a question of this kind with an open mind I shall be glad to welcome and to assist in any way I can any attempt to make our proceedings better than they are at present.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Mr. JOWETT
We shall all agree that the House and country generally are very much indebted to the Noble Lord for bringing forward this Motion to-day. I am in full sympathy with it myself. For the past five years I have been constantly advocating the principle which has been sketched by the Noble Lord. I am there-fore more phased than I can express that the subject has been lifted into the position of importance which it deserves. Under our system of allowing the details of Committee work to be done in an Assembly consisting of 670 Members, a very small attendance is registered during the Committee stage of any great Bill, and debates of far-reaching importance are addressed to a mere handful of Members. It is the habit of Members to simply watch the indicators and to come into the House 620 just for the pleasure of being present when there is a star turn on. I do not blame them under the circumstances. They feel they cannot turn the Division in their favour, and there is no encouragement for them to sit throughout the Debate. I cannot see how anybody can defend the present system of considering the details of a complicated and important measure in an Assembly which is practically a moving multitude of "ins" and "outs." The Prime Minister referred to obstruction, and he appeared to think that to take the Committee stage of Bills in Standing Committees would facilitate rather than mitigate obstruction. It is a very daring thing for an hon. Member like myself to disagree with so great a personage of so much experience, but I venture to do so. When the Committee stage is taken in the House of Commons there is at the back of the minds of the obstructors in the majority of cases the desire to obstruct other measures which are not at the time before the House, the stoppage of one particular measure keeping back the general programme. It is because there is a desire to stop the general programme that obstruction takes place.
That would not operate if the Committee stage of Bills was taken in Standing Committee to anything like the same extent, because four or five other Standing Committees would be dealing with the general business of the Session, and obstruction would not hold it back one iota. The only motive for obstruction, and I agree it could be dealt with, would be antipathy and antagonism to the measure itself. There would be no obstruction to any great extent for ulterior motives connected with other measures. It therefore follows that obstruction would not be facilitated, but rather diminished, by sending Bills to Grand Committees. My experience during the seven years I have had the honour of being a Member of the House has been to show that in this matter of business arrangements local government is far ahead of national government. The great county councils do their business in a far better way and with far more sense of responsibility than we do. In the matter of the Committee stage of Bills, and the suggestion we are now discussing, let me give one personal recollection of the purposes to which obstruction is applied and may be applied in this House. I well remember the Committee stage of the Old Age Pensions Bill, and the very first discussion, I believe, that took place during 621 the Committee stage was on this great issue—whether or not the Clause should read—I am leaving out the details—"Every person in the United Kingdom shall be entitled to an old age pension," or whether every person should be "paid" an old age pension. That is a distinction without much difference. Will it be believed, I am sure the public outside would hardly credit it, but still it is a fact, that speeches were made, as the Noble Lord will remember, on that very serious issue and a Division was taken. Later it was found to be impossible to move an Amendment which the Labour party wanted to move to get the issue decided whether the pension age should be sixty-five years instead of seventy. It is impossible to resist the suggestion that some of these minor Amendments, the character of which I have mentioned, had a definate object in view, and that was to prevent discussion upon, and a decision being taken upon, that very much more important issue whether sixty-five or seventy should be the pension age.
Surely the purpose, the test, of a businesslike arrangement for the Committee stage should be the extent to which it is possible to get a definite decision on every point of importance, and I think the country has a right to expect that we should so mould our proceedings that every issue of importance can be sure of a definite decision being taken upon it by the House of Commons. The present system gives us nothing like it. If the Grand Committee system were substituted for Committees of the whole House it would to a very large extent effect that purpose. Experience, and I think we have had some experience, shows it. We all remember that—indeed the Prime Minister referred to the matter—when the Insurance Bill was dealt with. The health insurance part was considered by the House itself, and the unemployment part went to the Grand Committee. I followed the proceedings of the Grand Committee, so far as I could, and I do not believe that a single issue of importance escaped from that Committee without being considered and, if necessary, voted upon. Perhaps I need hardly point out that that cannot be said of the proceedings of the Committee of the Whole House with regard to Part I. A very large number of serious points about which differences of opinion were legitimately held were passed through without any decision being taken upon them or any opportunity being 622 given for arguments which might have removed some of the objections which some Members might have had. For this reason, as well as others, I welcome the suggestion, and I am pleased, as other Members will be, that the Prime Minister has accepted the suggestion to appoint a Committee of Inquiry into the present system. I think there are other points which ought to be looked to, and we expected that the Noble Lord would bring in some other matters in the course of his speech. I, for one, wish to say deliberately that I think the authorities responsible to this House ought with the least possible delay to withdraw those privileges which I understand they have given for Divisions to be announced elsewhere than on those premises. I think it is a scandal that encouragement should be given to the rushing in of Members to vote upon points which they have never heard discussed in such a wholesale manner as we find has become possible to-day. Nobody for a moment could pretend that decisions so taken, when Members by the score are summoned from outside, the whole point being to register a defeat of the Government, are decisions that have any weight. The House of Commons, in my opinion, makes itself a laughing stock in the eyes of the world in permitting such occurrences without any protest and without an attempt at remedy. It is because I think that something in the nature of this proposal for a Grand Committee system, which will be considered by the Committee to be appointed, will work in the direction of securing the judgment of the House upon points of importance and increasing the effectiveness of the House of Commons that I heartily welcome the suggestion.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
Every private Member must feel grateful to the Noble Lord for coming to our assistance, and he himself must be gratified that the Prime Minister has promised a Committee of Inquiry into our disabilities. I only hope that this Committee, when it does meet, will have wide terms of reference and that private Members will have an opportunity of bringing before it every disability from which we suffer. During the last few years in the short holidays which were permitted, during which I have made rambles on the Continent, I have, as a great many other Members have done, visited the Houses of Parliament and places of assembly of other nations, and I confess I have come to the conclusion that they are 623 all far better off than we are so far as the chances of private Members go. I have sat through many debates in the French Chamber and I witnessed a riot which occurred in the Hungarian Chamber at Buda-Pesth some time ago. I have come to the conclusion, after going carefully into it, that we private Members are extremely unfairly treated. We are given very few chances of opportunities of taking part in debate or of using any real influence, and we even find that our petty ambitions and our few anxieties to distinguish ourselves are taken advantage of by the Front Benches of both sides to further increase those disabilities. I recollect standing at the Bar and listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer two years ago making the dramatic announcement that Members of the House were to be paid. The arguments he put forward were very ingenious. He held up two volumes, one very thin, which he said contained the Report of the Debates on the great Reform Bill of 1832, and the other a very big volume, which he said contained the Reports of the Debates on his great Budget of 1909. He said that in 1832 hon. Members were not wanted in the House, that they remained at their country seats, and that two or three times in the course of each Session the Whips sent for them, and they came up to vote; and he said that now Members were wanted here to vote continuously day by day and night by night, and, therefore, were to be paid for their services.
Towards the end of last Session the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in defending the Motion for the allocation of time on the Welsh Bill, again used very good arguments. He said that we have to use the Closure now because Members all want to speak, and that if we did not have the Closure we should never get through our debates at all. The Prime Minister to-day suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right. It is perfectly true. It is not that we on the back benches particularly want to speak. We have to speak, because our Constituents want us to speak. When I was addressing a meeting in the country the other day, a gentleman rose to second the vote of thanks to me, and spoke as intelligently as the average curate speaks when proposing a vote of thanks to one's wife for opening a bazaar. I asked who he was, and to my astonishment I was told that he was a Privy Councillor and a 624 man who had been in this House for certainly twenty-five years. I remarked that he never could have been a very great speaker, and my informant said, "Don't you know that he sat in the House for over twenty years and never once opened his mouth?" That is absolutely impossible to-day. Think of all we have to do to get here. We have to speak not only on the platform, but in the bar of the public-house, at pleasant Sunday afternoon meetings, from the tail of the cart and at the street corner. Our Constituents know that we come here because we are able to wag our tongues. What happens? We come here, and if we are absolutely silent our Constituents want to know why. One of two things happens to the average hon. Member in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred; either he becomes a loose end, and says he does not want to speak and will not take any part in debate, and the only person he takes an interest in is the official who stands outside the doors, who arranges friendly pairs for us at the dinner hour and at other times, for he feels that he is wasting time and would be better employed on his parish council; or he tries to specialise in three or four subjects. When they come along he has his speech ready, probably a very long speech, and delivers it, to the disgust of hon. Members behind him who also want to speak. Unless these special subjects are on, he avoids the House as if it were a plague spot. That cannot be the sort of man either Front Bench wants in this House. Many of us on both sides of the House suggested that something might be done by way of curtailing speeches. If that were done, Members would feel they had a chance of taking part in debate, and would not keep away from things altogether, only attending when their special subjects were on. Year after year we make our humble efforts to get something done in the direction of the limitation of speeches, but we are always snubbed by both Front Benches. One is just as bad as the other. Our efforts have been persistent. So far back as the year 1839 a Resolution was carried to limit speeches. Coming to later times in the year 1890, Sir Carne Rasch, who was then Member for the Chelmsford Division, carried a Motion in these terms:—That the duration of speeches has increased, is increasing, and should be curtailed.Two or three years later the then Member for the City of London, the late Sir 625 Frederick Dimsdale, also brought in a Resolution with regard to short speeches, but he was talked out.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
I am coming to the hon. Member. In 1908 the hon. Member, who then sat on the other side, was lucky enough to obtain an afternoon to bring forward a Motion for the curtailing of speeches. He made, as he always does, a speech full of witty things and Latin quotations. The only criticism I have to make upon it is that it was very long and occupied nearly an hour. At the end of an interesting debate he was talked out.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
But we still have long speeches. In 1910 a Committee from both sides of the House canvassed by postcard every Member of the House asking them if they were in favour of curtailing speeches and to make suggestions. You would be astonished at the support we got. I presume that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, signed a postcard in our favour. We got a clear majority of Members to say that they were in favour of speeches being curtailed. Of the three or four hundred postcards we received only two hon. Members really took the trouble to give reasons why they did not want speeches curtailed. One was the present Lord Crawford, then the Chief Whip of our party, who gave us the usual Front Bench reason. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) said he would not like to see such a thing. He took mo aside on one occasion and told me that if I persisted in this cause I was doing something very wrong and foolish from my own party point of view. He said I had not been in the Parliament of 1906–that is perfectly true, because I was defeated—and if I had been I should have known how impossible it was under my suggestion for the then Conservative party to have fought the great Government forces across the way. That is perfectly true, but I remember reminding him that, as a matter of fact, that particular mammoth majority did not represent the feeling of the country, that if we had had a fair method of election, such as proportional representation, the majority would have gone down to sixty or seventy, and that never again would any Government exist with such a majority. As things are, we have got no further. Year 626 after year we raised the complaint; year after year nothing has been done. There are hon. Members opposite who are as keen as I am. They want to see something done. The Noble Lord's speech dealt mainly with Committee. We deal with all speeches, not only in Committee, but on the First and Second Reading of Bills and on Estimates. We say if you could get speeches shortened in some way or other, more especially on the Estimates, you would have far more live interest in the House than at present. It is not for me to go into what might be done. There is the practical method and the artistic method. The practical method, I should say, was the method adopted by the American Congress. There a member writes out his speech or has it typewritten for him, and he hands it in, and he is only allowed to speak for a certain short time, but the speech is there, and it is handed to the Press. That would be an admirable way of shortening our discussions, especially on the Estimates, and giving the private Member, who really may be a great expert, a chance. For instance, I remember with horror the two and a-half hours' speech addressed to us by Lord Haldane, then Secretary of State for War. He took up all the time. The experts on this side had not a chance of intervening at all. Supposing Lord Haldane had merely handed in his speech written out for hon. Members to peruse it the day before, how much better would it have been? Then the experts could come along with short speeches and address questions to him which he and his Under-Secretary could have answered, and we could have had a far better and more live debate. Then there is the artistic system which is introduced in the Russian Duma. Every member has his own seat and desk, but he has something else—a small electric light attached to his desk, and when he rises to speak and catches the Speaker's eye the light by some method or other is switched on to his desk. When he has spoken as long as he is allowed to speak under the Rules of the House the light is switched off, and he is snuffed out.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
The light is a signal. You are officially snuffed out. Out goes the light, down you sit, and that is all about it. Every House of Assembly nearly has some means of regulating the length, of speeches, and I suggest that the Prime Minister should allow the question of the 627 limitation of speeches to be considered by that Committee. At any rate I have very great pleasure in supporting the Amendment and I trust this Committee will be a success.
§ Sir FREDERICK LOW
The Mover of the Resolution made some allusion to the course taken by myself yesterday. When I put the Motion down I had not in my mind at all the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Tryon). I do not think I knew of its existence. I certainly had no intention whatever of obstructing it and I had no notion at all that the effect of putting it down would be to prevent him from moving his Motion. But when I discovered that it would have that effect was yesterday and then it was too late to withdraw without losing the day altogether. I very much regret that the hon. and gallant Gentleman or any other Member of the House should have been put to any inconvenience whatever by any course taken by me. With regard to the Motion itself I think I may say on my own behalf and on behalf of a good many Members of this side of the House that we very much welcome the suggestion of the Noble Lord which has been accepted by the Prime Minister, and as the matter is to go to a Committee it strikes me as entirely unnecessary to discuss it further in the House at present. Therefore, I do not propose to offer any observation at all on the general Motion.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My hon. Friend (Mr. Newman) suggested, as far as I understood him, that we should all write out our speeches or have them typewritten, that we should then hand them in, I presume to you, Sir, or the Chairman of Committees if the House is in Committee, and that then they are to be published—I do not know how he will ensure that—and then we are all to have little lights in front of us that we may read so much of the particular speech as we can read before you turn out the light. Supposing the light is turned out in the middle of the most powerful argument in the speech, what will happen then?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
How about affecting the decision of the House which, after all, is the original object for which this House was instituted? No. With all due respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that his system would work, at any rate in this 628 Parliament. I quite appreciate what the hon. Gentleman (Sir F. Low) said just now. I never thought for a moment that he had put down that Motion deliberately. It was an unfortunate Motion, because it had the effect of blocking the Motion which the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Tyron) had intended to bring on. I never remember, in the twenty-one years in which I have been in this House, a similar instance. I do not think any Amendment to the Address has ever before been blocked by a Motion. There is this to be said for the action of the hon. Gentleman, that we shall have an opportunity of debating his Motion in about three weeks' time, and that therefore the opportunity is not lost. It is merely postponed. But, of course, there is this fact which arises out of the action of the hon. Gentleman, that supposing he had put down his Motion for some day not fixed, it would have had precisely the same effect as it has now, and it has, I think, perhaps, opened the eyes of a certain number of Members to the possibility of putting down a Motion after the ballot has been taken which shall have the effect of blocking an Amendment to the Address which they do not desire to have discussed. That is a possibility, and I think under these circumstances, though I am not against Blocking Motions, there ought to be something which shall provide that Blocking Motions shall not apply to the Address. I thought the ballot in the old days was not taken until after the Address, but I have asked the greatest authority in the House, Mr. Speaker, and he did not agree with me. He thought that was not so. But I think this new Committee which is going to be set up should, in some kind of way, if possible, arrange that Blocking Motions shall not affect Amendments to the Address. There can be no doubt, from the course of the Debate, that hon. Members on both sides are agreed that the present procedure in Parliament is not satisfactory. I do not agree with my hon. Friend who seconded the Amendment that that is because the old Rules were unsatisfactory. I do not pretend to have any special knowledge of the Rules of Procedure in this House beyond this, that the more I study them, and the more I know of them, the more difficult I find they are. That is to say, they require a considerable amount of study and a considerable amount of assiduous attendance in this House—not a bad thing, I think, and a thing that ought 629 to be encouraged other than discouraged. The more I know of the Rules, and the more I understand them, the more I am convinced that we owe a great deal to the wisdom of our ancestors—I am speaking now irrespective of party—and I believe the Rules were framed with the view of securing in the best possible manner the best solution in relation to the carrying on of business in this House. I do not mean to say that they are framed in order to get through in the least possible time the greatest amount of business, but I think they are framed to get through business in the best possible way. That is what we wish to arrive at.
We are not objecting to the Rules as they were prior to, say, 1880. We are objecting to the Rules as they are now. It is the modern practice and the modern innovation which all sides and parties in this House object to. The guillotine, of course, is the chief offender in modern procedure. It has, in my opinion, absolutely killed interest in all Debates. That has been challenged by the Prime Minister, and one or two hon. Members cheered the right hon. Gentleman when he said he thought that the interest in our Debates continued as great as ever. Only the day before yesterday I was reading the "Daily Express." I took it up by accident. That is a paper which represents my party. I could not find a single reference anywhere in it to any procedure in Parliament, and I am not sure if I had looked at the "Daily Mail" I should not have found the same result. The "Daily News," I believe, as a rule, gives a version more or less accurate of what has taken place. But it is not a statement of what has taken place. It is an impression of what has taken place—the impression which is caused by the speeches on the mind of the reporter. I do not know what political party the reporter belongs to, but it is his impression that is given and not what has really taken place. Before I came into Parliament nearly every great Debate was reported, though it may not have been fully reported. There were leading articles on the speeches, and the tendency of the Debate was always reported. I think I am correct in saying that the "Daily Express" and the "Daily Mail" are up-to-date papers, and yet they do not report the Debates as papers did formerly. The conductors of these papers know that the Debates in this House would not command a sale in the same way as other things which interest the country, and I think the fact that the Debates in this House do 630 not interest the public in the same way as they used to do arises from the use of the guillotine. My right hon. Friend drew attention to a speech in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he strolled into the House and listened to what was going on, and that he found each of those sitting here was consumed with the desire to speak himself, and was simply waiting until the hon. Member then in possession had finished his speech. I think that is very true, and it arises from the fact that everyone knows that at a fixed period discussion will come to an end. It does not matter what you say. You might have the eloquence of Bright and Gladstone rolled into one, but it would not affect the result. You would come in from the outside and ask which Lobby you should go into, and you would vote whatever way you were asked.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Well, you would come into the Lobby and ask how you were to vote. In the old days large numbers of people remained in the House, and their arguments had some effect. I have come down to the House to vote on some occasions, and although I did not hear the Debate, my Friends have told me that I must do so-and-so, quite apart from the party Whips. That had an effect on the Government. The Government knew that if a strong argument was brought forward that there was no time limit, and that if they moved the Closure the point might be brought up again on Report. They knew also that the arguments would be reported in the papers, and would have such a strong effect on Members of the House that they would not go against them. The right hon. Gentleman opposite and I were here during the Debates on the Home Rule Bill in 1893. During these Debates the House was crowded, and I would ask the House to consider the difference between the interest taken in the Home Rule Bill of 1893 and in the Home Rule Bill which was discussed last Session. The difference was extraordinary. In 1893 the whole House was interested.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It was equally important, and it ought to excite as much interest now. An hon. Friend reminds me that the Members of the House now are different. The change is due to the 631 knowledge that no matter what you do, you can by no manner of means affect the result. The interest in our Debates by the outside public has diminished. My Noble Friend (Lord Robert Cecil) has alluded to the kangaroo. I think he said he had no objection to it.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
What I said was that I had not the slightest desire to make any comment upon the way it was used at present.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do object to the kangaroo. I wish to join my Noble Friend in everything he said about the Chairman of Committees. It is impossible to exaggerate our sense of his very excellent services in the Chair, but whoever might be Chairman of Committees, it is impossible for him to know what will be the effect of any particular Amendment. I remember an Amendment which appeared on the Paper was moved, and it appeared to be a foolish and futile Amendment. My hon. Friends said it was a pity that it had been moved, but it turned out that, instead of being a futile Amendment, it was a most important Amendment, and a great discussion took place upon it with far-reaching consequences. I do not think anybody who has attended the Debates on either side will deny what I have said. How is it possible for the Chairman to know what the effect of an Amendment is to be until it is discussed? He can only choose Amendments which appear to him to be of the most general interest, and we get Second Reading Debates which really destroy the object for which the Committee is meant. I do not think that devolution is the remedy for the existing state of things. Devolution only deals with private Bills, and private Bills never cause any stoppage in the business of this House. There may have been a few occasions when private Bills took up a certain amount of time, but they are very rare, and I do not know anything else save private Bills that would be covered by devolution unless there were separate Parliaments altogether, and private Bills would not affect the congestion of business in this House one way or the other. My Noble Friend proposes reference to Grand Committees, and I think he said that there should be eight or ten of them. It is admitted that the Chairman should have much greater powers than he has now. Where are you going to get eight or ten Chairmen who will have 632 ability to conduct, with the powers of Chairman of Committee, the proceedings of Grand Committee, for apparently all would be sitting at once? It would be a most difficult thing. The position of Chairman of Committees is the most difficult position in this House. It is far and away more difficult than that of the Speaker. If the position of Chairman of Committees in this House is difficult, as it is, and requires such an extraordinary number of various qualities in order to fill it properly, how are you going to get Chairmen for the Grand Committees, where the position would be still more difficult? First, you must get men upon whose impartiality you can rely absolutely. I do not say that it cannot be done. In addition, they must understand the Rules and Procedure of this House. This is not so easy. You have also got to get men of firm character who are prepared to take a strong line; and that, again, is not so easy. The attendance of both sides in this House is not so good as it might be, but when we sit at 2 o'clock—
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
No, 4 o'clock. I explained that. One of the details I explained was that the House would not sit on the days the Grand Committees would sit.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Even then all the lawyers would probably be barred, because very often when I have asked lawyers to come down and speak here I was told that they cannot get down before 6 o'clock. I am not sure that my Noble Friend has not said so when I asked him to come down. That, again, is a very great difficulty. One of the objects of my Noble Friend, which is a very good object, is to revive the interest of the country in the House of Commons, but if we have got eight or ten Committees sitting, their proceedings would not be reported. Certainly the "Daily Express" or the "Daily Mail," if they published nothing else but the reports of eight or ten Committees, would not have enough paper. The effect which my Noble Friend desires would not take place, because such a large number of different Committees sitting on different subjects would render it absolutely impossible for a newspaper to report it, and as the House would not sit on that day, the only result would be that there would be more condensed reports of what had gone on in the various Committees. My hon. Friend said that it was untrue to 633 say that the Government reversed on the Report stage the decisions which had been come to in Grand Committee.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I will not say that any Noble Friend's statement is untrue, but I will say that I think it is incorrect. I think that nearly every important Amendment which was carried in the Grand Committee against the Government has been reversed on the Report stage in this House. I have not looked the matter up, but that is my recollection. I will not mention the name, but my mind carries me back to an Amendment moved in Grand Committee on which the Government was defeated, and I remember going to the Minister and saying to him, "Of course you will get that put back on the Report stage." He said, "No, he did not think that he would do it." I said, "You are bound to do it; you have spoken in favour of it;" and he said, "If you take that line, I will do so;" and that Amendment was reversed in this House, and I think that has been the invariable practice. My Noble Friend said that I did not attend Grand Committees. I am sorry again to have to say that that is incorrect.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I have been on a great number of Grand Committees, and my experience is that if a Bill is very important you will probably get about forty Members out of the eighty. If the Bill is not very important, you will be running all over the place to get a quorum, and you will find it extremely difficult to get men to attend. My Noble Friend stated that the Members hear the debate and do not vote until they have heard it. But it has been pointed out over and over again that on both sides when either of them found that they had but a few Members, some of them have gone out within five or ten minutes of the closing of the debate to get others to come in, and I am not sure that resort has not been had to the practice of putting somebody up to speak for four or five minutes until the others returned with whomsoever they could get; and two or three Members who come in in that way allay turn the Division. If there is such a great difficulty in getting a good attendance of Members on Grand Committees at present, will there not be a still greater difficulty if we had eight or ten Committees. It might be almost impossible.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That may make some little difference, but even at night it is often difficult to get Members to come down. There is another difficulty. The House of Commons consists of 670 Members. If you have got forty Members as a Committee, the Committee stage, which is the most important stage of a Bill, would be decided by an extremely small minority of this House. Is that what you desire?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not desire that. I think it against my interests at the moment that the Government are in such a large majority, but I do not want to take away the majority of the Government in order to get something through on which only a very small number of men have been able to express an opinion. What we really desire is that the voice of the country shall be heard on every Bill through the Members they return.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Theoretically, the Members of this House represent the views of the country, and they ought to be present in order to decide.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Then they ought to be present to decide what Amendments should or should not be made in the Bill. Then comes the question of obstruction. My Noble Friend proposes to set up a small Committee chosen by the Grand Committee itself, and that small Committee are to decide whether or not a certain Member is obstructive or is merely putting forward the views which he himself honestly entertains, and which his constituents also honestly entertain. That would be a very difficult thing indeed to decide. There may be some few Members who have gained a reputation for obstruction undeservedly, and it may be asked, "Who is it?" "Oh, so-and-so." Then it would be said, "Oh, of course he is obstructive." I am not saying in the least that they would not do so honestly, but there is a tendency, it will be admitted, not to decide in reference to what is done at the moment, but what has been done by the Member in the past. Look what great injustice might be inflicted upon an individual Member. It might deprive the Grand Committee of the services of a person who really understood the Bill, and it would 635 put in an extremely difficult and onerous position the Committee proposed to be set up. I should be very sorry to be a Member of that Committee, though I think the House will give me credit that I would decide impartially in whatever position I happened to be placed. If I was on that Committee I would decide impartially, whoever the Member was, or on whatever side of the House he sat. But it would be an extremely difficult and invidious thing to do. Mind you, there would be eight or ten Grand Committees sitting, and forty or fifty Members on each.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
There would be forty or fifty Members on each Grand Committee, and, out of each forty or fifty, a small Committee would be appointed to decide whether or not a certain Member was obstructive. I do not myself believe that the remedy proposed by my Noble Friend is at all possible or that it would have any effect if carried out. Then the question arises, What can be done? It is a very difficult proposition. I know what could be done, but whether it could be carried out under modern conditions is perhaps unlikely. First of all, what is really at the bottom of everything is the attempt on the part of the Government to do too much business in one Session. That is at the bottom of the whole thing. You cannot discuss things properly, because the Government are always endeavouring to do too much. They ask themselves, if a particular Bill is discussed at great length, what is to become of the next Bill, and would say that if that measure did not come on soon, there would have to be an Autumn Session, which would be very unpopular. There being a great many Bills to get through, they would say, "Let us get this Bill through quickly." The attempt to get a quart into a pint pot is at the bottom of the whole thing. The next thing which, I think, lies at the bottom of our present difficulties is the departure from old traditions in the House. Formerly, when a discussion had gone on for a sufficient length of time, the general desire of the House was strong enough to prevent anyone from daring to continue it. I should like to see that feeling revived. I depart from what I have been endeavouring to do, that is not to make a controversial speech, and I say that it seems impossible for the present 636 Government not to deal with too much business, though I believe it would be to their own interests if they did not follow that course. Still, I think that, while it might be difficult, though not so difficult as may be thought, it would be well for hon. Members to revert to the old feeling which used to prevail in the House. During the last five years, while the present Lord Murray was First Whip, I think there has been a difference in the relationship between the Whips on one side and the other, or between those people who take part in negotiations between the two sides. I sometimes have had to take part in negotiations, and I certainly found that it was the desire of Lord Murray to revert to the old system and to consult the Opposition. I think the House will agree with me that during the last four or five years a very considerable amount of friction has been avoided without doing any harm to the Government or the Opposition, merely because there has been an attempt made sometimes—not always with the approval of my hon. Friends on this side of the House—to come to some amicable and businesslike arrangement as to the course of business in the House. If the Opposition recognised that the Government are in a majority and can do certain things, and were prepared to meet them and sacrifice a great deal of what they thought ought to be done in view of the fact that the Government had that majority, and if the Government on their side were prepared to meet the Opposition, knowing that it is better to come to some terms with the Opposition, instead of forcing everything down their throats, I think much would be gained by thus reverting to a certain extent to the old traditions of the House.
I think the salvation of procedure in this Assembly lies in that direction alone, and it would restore the House to its old position. The ordinary Closure must remain, but I ask the Government to consider whether or not it is possible to come to an amicable arrangement by not endeavouring to do too much in one Session, and by reverting to the old traditions of the House of Commons, only using the ordinary Closure and not the guillotine. I do not know whether I ought to say so, but I am living in the hope that the Government would have asked the Opposition whether or not they would consent to the Supply which it is necessary to obtain before the 21st of March going through. We admit there are reasons 637 which has necessitated the curtailment of debate, but Supply has to be obtained, and cannot we come to some amicable arrangement by which we may agree to the Supply which is necessary going through without any Guillotine Motion? I am only a humble private Member, but if I had been approached I should have said that I should be glad to agree to such a course. I have not spoken to my right hon. Friends on this subject, but I believe we could have made some sort of arrangement, with a little give-and-take on both sides, which would have obviated the Resolution which it is proposed to move on Monday. I believe in that manner we might do something to restore the old confidence and the old interest in the Debates in the House of Commons which the country used to feel, and preserve the tradition which every hon. Member values, namely, that this is a great institution, its rules are good and have been the model for every constitution and every House of Commons in the world, and that it is our duty to preserve the honour of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
A great many hon. Members on this side of the House are grateful to the Noble Lord opposite for initiating this Debate, not only because he has succeeded in abstracting a promise from the Prime Minister to appoint a Committee, but because it gives us an opportunity of debating the matter apart from any particular Bill or controversial question. We all know that when these Resolutions come before the House with regard to some particular Bill the time is eaten up with discussions on the merits of that Bill, and very little regard is given to the evil of the increasing frequency of the guillotine. Personally, I have been interested in this subject ever since I have been in the House, and before I actually came on to the stage as a Member I was behind the scenes as a sort of dresser or scene shifter for some little time. Even then I thought it was a subject which as time went on would have to be dealt with by the House as a whole. I listened with great attention to the speech of the hon. Baronet who has just sat down (Sir F. Banbury), because I feel that I have not had the experience which he has had. I must say that I was, to a large extent, in agreement with a great deal of what he said, and the closing part of his speech really touched on what I considered to be the point, and it was an arrangement on which I have based a proposal which I hoped to 638 submit to the House. We have to face the fact that the two elements which have to be dealt with are, on the one hand, on the part of a Government, a desire to precipitate legislation and avoid discussion, and on the part of an Opposition the desire to prolong discussion and destroy legislation. We have to deal with these two elements, and, as in modern warfare, the more the aggressive weapons are augmented and strengthened the more you have to increase the defensive weapons. As obstruction increased, the guillotine increased as well.
A point which has not been noticed to-day so far is that what increased the power of obstruction to a large extent was the inauguration of the Eleven o'clock Rule which was formerly the Twelve o'clock Rule. That really was an invitation to obstruction. Without automatic Closures it was very little use obstructing and the discussion went on, but directly we had automatic Closure it was in the interest of the obstructor to prevent a decision being come to in the allotted time. I think old Members of this House, who have had long experience will bear out what I have said, that the inauguration of the Twelve o'clock Rule, which became the Eleven o'clock Rule, was really the beginning of the strengthening of obstruction. We cannot do away with that. I am afraid we cannot alter the Eleven o'clock Rule, because we have adjusted our habits to it. The Noble Lord opposite, from the time he first came into this House, has taken a great interest in this question. He has studied it, and on every occasion has endeavoured to have it debated it this House. I must say, however, that I heard with considerable disappointment the plan which he proposes. If, as is pretended, interest in the proceedings of this House have diminished, I think by the Noble Lord's scheme it would be completely extinguished. I do not admit that interest has diminished in our proceedings. In my experience, wherever I go there seems to be an increasingly keen interest in the proceedings of Parliament and a very great spread of political education. The very fact that platform speaking has so enormously increased points to the fact that the general population take a much keener interest in politics.
§ Mr. PONSONBY
I think amongst all sections of the community. I do not know 639 about the upper class, perhaps they are too busy to take any interest in politics, but among the professional and working classes there is not the smallest doubt that the interest in politics is far keener. I think the Noble Lord's proposal would probably have the effect of damping down that interest. If the whole 670 of us were divided up into Committees, I think there would be a good deal of overlapping and a certain amount of omission of some hon. Members altogether. The scheme suggested I think would be impracticable. I dispute that the Committee stage in this House need be an unreal and futile form of debate. In fact, in the time that I have been here I have noticed that the most interesting debates are in Committee on special points when there is no opportunity for obstruction and when the opposition find that their best method of attack is actual argument. Then the House is seen at its best, and I should be very sorry if the opportunity for debating Bills in Committee of the Whole House were abolished. But an evil does exist. Everybody admits that the guillotine method at present is an intolerable way of conducting our proceedings. For instance, one of the consequences is to increase the number of Divisions. I do not know if hon. Members realise the amount of time taken up by Divisions. Last year we had over 600 Divisions. I have calculated that the average time for a Division is twelve minutes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ten minutes."] I think twelve is about the average. That works out for 600 Divisions at fifteen days of eight hours each, or three Parliamentary weeks. That is an enormous waste of time. I doubt whether we can alter our Division system, but what we can do is to avoid those absurd periods, when I feel ashamed of myself, when there are twenty or thirty Divisions in one evening, and we walk through the Lobbies hour after hour. That is produced by the guillotine. Nobody cares for it, and I think it could be avoided.
The Noble Lord referred to what I desire respectfully to bring to the notice of the House as a method of dealing with the difficulty. He, however, dealt with it very contemptuously, and dismissed it with a single phrase. I refer to the impartial Committee of Business. I believe in it. The Noble Lord said that it is not a matter of altering a day here and a day there in a particular time-table, or of adjusting it so that it strikes a particular Amendment on a particular day: that would not make 640 any difference. I quite admit that. But the point is that under the guillotine the Opposition are always working with a sense of grievance and of resentment at being forced to work under it, and they therefore, do their best to make business as difficult as possible, to exclude from discussion as many Amendments as they can, and to show up to the House and to the country as best they are able how ill-arranged a particular time-table is. If they were working under a time-table to which they had agreed the whole spirit would be different, and they could quite well fit into it the fullest discussion possible. How is this impartial Committee to be worked? I suggest that the Committee should be composed of Members of all parties in the House in proportion to their numbers. I should like to see it composed entirely of private Members, because I think that the private Members are the most important section of the House. The Front Bench do not always realise what private Members go through. Members on the Front Bench have enormous privileges. We sometimes have to bob up for days together and not get called after all. They have only to go languidly to the box and they are called upon at once. I do not object to that; I am sure we act as an admirable audience; but I feel that we do not want to augment their power. The efficiency of the House of Commons itself is the matter in which we are primarily concerned. I do not want to see what I believe to be an evil, namely, an increase in the power of the Executive. The power ought to come from below, from the people through their representatives to the Executive, and not from the Executive through the representatives to the people.
To return to the Committee, the Whips would attend in order to convey the proposals of the Government and the views of the Front Opposition Bench. The Government would say, "We propose to introduce Bills A, B, and C," and the Committee would then decide that so much time should be allotted to the stages of those Bills. To begin with, I think it ought to become the practice that not more than one day should ever be given to the First Reading of a Bill. However important the Bill is, the First Reading is a purely formal proceeding. It is far more necessary that it should be discussed on Second Reading when the Bill is before the House, rather than on First Reading, when nobody knows what the Bill is about. The Committee having decided how much time 641 should be given to the Second Reading and how much to the Third Reading, we get to the difficulty of the Committee stage. For that purpose I would have a Sub-Committee, which would attend the Committee, and would include the Minister in charge of the Bill, and the Chairman of Committees, who would act as Chairman. The Amendments would be submitted to that Committee. I do not want to go into too great detail, but I believe that by the use, with the consent of both sides, of Closure by compartments and the Kangaroo Closure—which I think has proved to be really an improvement—you would be able to get through the business with full and adequate discussion. If the Government desired to introduce a large number of Bills the Committee would say, "Very well, you will have to prolong the Session. So many days must be given to these Bills, and if you desire to crowd so many into the Session the Session must be prolonged. The Bills must not be passed unless there is allowed for their discussion the time which we, as a Committee of the House, have sanctioned." What makes me hopeful that such a system would be really effective and is a practical suggestion is the fact that so many arrangements as to business are come to at present between the Front Benches and by the Whips on either side behind Mr. Speaker's Chair.
After all, it would be perfectly easy for an Opposition to make business perfectly impossible. We do not desire that, because the time may come when we shall have to cross the floor of the House. We do not want to do anything obviously unfair. My point is that at present a great many arrangements, very often of a critical nature, are come to amicably between the Whips and certain influential Members on either side of the House. I want to extend that system more formally, without so much assistance from the Front Benches, and with a great deal more voice from the private Members. On these lines believe that we should not find very great difficulty in arriving at a settlement. The Noble Lord and others have referred to the growth in the so-called party system. I do not believe the fact that the power of the party system has increased is due to anything that takes place in this House. It is due, amongst other things, to the fact that the country takes so close an interest in politics. But I think there is a great deal too much said of the tyranny of the party Whip. I really have had no trouble 642 myself on that matter since I came into the House, and I have voted frequently against the Government. I have never had anything said to me to make me feel that I was misbehaving myself, perhaps with one exception. On the first occasion, which was ten days after I came into the House, when I voted against the Government, I received a letter from the Chief Whip which began:—May I say with what pain—Except for that, and that was very mild, I have never had a single word of pressure or influence brought to bear upon me to drive me into the Lobby. There has been a great deal of exaggeration about the tyranny of the Whips. It is perfectly true that when we vote in the Lobby it is not on a single issue. That we cannot help. We have to remember, as we give each vote, that it is the life of the Government and their administration, as well as legislation, that is at stake, and that all sorts of side issues must come in. We must count the cost and analyse the particular risk at the moment we vote. Therefore it is very probable that we who desire in all essentials to keep the Government in power should turn up here frequently and vote for them. I have not been able to get statistics on this point, but I should say on the whole the attendance in this House has since 1906 been far higher than it was in the years previous. I should very much like to have a Return on that, and I think we should find it as I say. I fully admit that the question to-day has been discussed from a purely impartial point of view. If there is any difference of opinion between hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side of the House, it is based on our difference of creed, which is that we have a natural desire to do as much as we possibly can, and that they have also an inherent desire to do as little as they possibly can. That is really the difference between us. Outside that, I believe that it would be possible, on some such lines as I have indicated, to arrive at a plan by which we could prevent ourselves drifting into a state of affairs which is not creditable to the House, and which is injurious not only to its efficiency but to its honour.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
I am exceedingly glad to have heard the hon. Member, to whom I listened with pleasure. He says he has frequently voted against the Government, but he has so done on the lines of the rest of his party. If he had voted 643 against them by voting for us the expressions of deep pain from the Chief Whip would have been more frequent. However, that by the way. I most heartily welcome the statement of the Prime Minister that he will grant a Committee on this matter. I would ask that he would make the reference to that Committee as broad as possible, so as to include, not merely a change in the Standing Orders and formal Regulations, but that the Committee should have the power to consider the effect, not only of existing rules, but of the existing practice of Parliament, and, if possible, the working of the party system in Parliament. I think there is a very great deal more in the practice of Parliament as applied to the present state of things than actually in the rules. I do not think any Member can have been some years in this House upon either side, whether behind the Government or opposite, without feeling at times a sensation of irritation almost amounting to despair at the working of the despotism in which he is caught up. Of course, while party conditions prevail, the party game must be played, and if it is to be played at all it may as well be played thoroughly. If you feel it your duty to go into a bog and dirty your boots, you may as well go in up to the waist. At the same time there are solid difficulties in the matter. Those who play the party game and feel it their duty so to do with the greatest zeal and perseverance must feel occasionally that their part in life, the rôle in which they are cast, is not altogether a happy one.
Reform is very difficult. I do think we ought to bear this in mind in guiding our footsteps: that the business of the Government is to govern and the business of the Legislature is to legislate. Like all general principles, I do not want to run that one to death. But it ought to be the main guiding notion that we should have in view. I believe that a great deal of the present mischief has arisen from the fact that Governments have made it a point of honour, or at any rate a point of necessity, to carry their legislation, and have regarded defeat as fatal to their whole position. Surely that need not be so. If the business of the Government is to govern, what does it ask of Parliament? In the first place, for money to carry on the business of the Government; and, in the second place, it has to be assured that it has the confidence of the majority in Parliament. That does not mean that it should expect the majority to agree with 644 it on every particular Bill, much less on the details of every Bill. I do not see, though it is against the interests of my party at the present time, that it should be understood that a Government should necessarily resign even though it is beaten on one of its main measures, much less on some Clause. If the Government is beaten on Supply they must resign, because they have not the material means of carrying on the Government of the country. If they are beaten on a vote of confidence, clearly they must resign, because they have no longer the confidence of Parliament. But to suppose that a majority which has confidence in the Government's administration and would not wish to see them displaced is therefore bound to agree with any and every legislative proposal they make, is, I submit, entirely irrational, and not only so, but unhistorical.
If you will look back 110 or 120 years, and take the great Minister, Mr. Pitt, and his great Ministry from 1784 to 1801, you will see he never lost the confidence of Parliament. But he was beaten again and again, and not only on important Bills, but on questions of administration. He lost his great Irish Trade Bill. He had to withdraw proposals for offensive action against Russia. Some of his Bills during the revolutionary epoch had to be withdrawn, and again so had his great Poor Law Bill of 1797. Again and again his main measures were defeated or had to be withdrawn; yet he never lost the confidence of Parliament. The idea that the Government necessarily should go out because they fail in their legislation is surely absolutely improper. It is modern. I believe it was hardly known before the Reform Bill. I rather think, if my memory serves me aright, that the first sort of test case was at the time of Lord Grey, when he was beaten on the Malt Tax. He said if that occurred again he would have to withdraw. But the idea has developed enormously in recent years, and in the influence of Parliament on legislation—by reading ancient records I think you can see it—exhibits a perfectly steady decline. I looked up the history of the National Education Act of 1870 the other day. That Bill was brought in with general approval, but then criticism began to develop, and after the Second Reading it was adjourned for three months in order that the full weight of opinion in and out of the House might be brought to bear upon it, and in deference to opinion in the House it was completely changed in many 645 vital respects. I do not say it was a satisfactory measure. It left the seeds of future trouble behind it. It represented the opinion, not of the Government or of the Liberal party, but generally the opinion of the House of Commons at the time.
When you come to comparative recent years, I remember in 1901 Mr. Ritchie was beaten upon quite an important Clause in the Factory Act, but there was no talk of his resigning or withdrawing his Bill; and in the very controversial Education Act of 1902 the general opinion of the House, with reference specially to such questions as the cost of secondary education, did prevail upon the Government, and many modifications were made in that Bill because of the weight of argument brought to bear by the Opposition. That was a Bill which took seventy days to pass. Even in the last year or two we can notice the difference. Take the Budget of 1909. It was contentious in the last degree, but it was not subjected to any guillotine. Very material changes were made in that Budget because of arguments addressed to the House by the Opposition. It was an exceedingly difficult controversy, because it was carried on under almost insuperable physical conditions, but in many respects, like the question of valuation and of appeal, the sentiment of the House did enforce itself upon the Government. It certainly would not have done so if there was a Guillotine Resolution behind that measure. Of course I quite admit the Government will always have the power to say whether on this or that measure they shall resign. You cannot prevent them doing that, but I believe it ought to be understood, and I hope that the Committee, although it is not a technical matter, will address themselves to this point of the moral responsibility of a Government carrying on legislation. It cannot be put into a Statute, but the expression of a representative Committee afterwards endorsed by the House could not fail to have a great effect upon future Parliaments and Governments.
With regard to my hon. Friend's suggestion there are of course many great difficulties, as there is in the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, but I really do not think we should be afraid of the difficulties presented. I believe if they are thoroughly examined and grappled with, many of them, though they appear to be formidable now, will be found quite capable of solution, but I feel 646 most strongly that we could hardly be in a worse position than we are now. The present tendency is to destroy Parliamentary Government and to substitute plebiscitary Government. If we go on in this direction, what we are doing is that at a General Election we really give one man power to rule the country for the next four years without any checks or safeguards, such as those prevailing for instance in the United States. If you destroy Parliamentary Government, as far as we can foresee, there is nothing but this plebiscitary system, unchecked and unsafeguarded, to take its place, and it is with the earnest hope that the force and vitality of Parliamentary Government may be preserved that I do press that this Committee may direct its efforts, not merely to the formal changes which may be necessary in our procedure, but to the principal question thereby entailed.
§ Mr. HOLT
I should like to thank the Noble Lord for introducing this subject to the House, and I should like to thank the Prime Minister for the promise he has made of a Select Committee. Probably he has not forgotten that in 1909 a numerously signed petition was presented to him requesting him to take a step of a somewhat similar character, and on that occasion he went so far as actually to place a notice upon the Order Paper of the House, but it was not proceeded with further, because it had not at that time the unanimous support of the House, so that in giving his promise to-day he is only fulfilling a previous hope which he held out to us, but which for very good reasons at that time could not be fulfilled. I think everybody on this side of the House who occupies the position of a private Member must have felt the extreme misery of discussion under a guillotine time-table, and I think there are a very few people on this side of the House who ever voted for it except under the feeling that they were voting for a most hateful necessity. There is no doubt about it that it really destroys interest in the debate. You know exactly when the Division is to be taken, and you know very nearly for certain exactly which hon. Members will speak. You know that in no circumstances are you yourself likely to have an opportunity of explaining your views to the House, therefore you get into the habit of absenting yourself until the proper moment, when you arrive and do what is necessary. That is not really a 647 satisfactory way of carrying on discussions; and the Guillotine Closure has another particularly bad effect upon the House. Almost inevitably, because the time is limited, the view is held by the supporters of the Government that the time allowed for discussion properly belongs to the Opposition, and that it is for them to say what are to be the subjects of discussion. That, I think, is very unfair to the supporters of the Government. They, after all, may have faults to find with a Government measure, which are not the same as those entertained by the Opposition. They have Amendments which they would like to move from the point of view of educating opinion in their own direction, and the education of opinion is the legitimate object of debate, and these opportunities are entirely denied them.
Everybody who followed the progress of these great Bills discussed under the guillotine will see that the supporters of the Government hardly ever have had an opportunity of raising points upon which they might differ both from the Government and from the Opposition. All such opportunities are taken away from them. I do not think that is right, and I do not think the supporters of the Government should be so treated. My hon. Friend near me in speaking against the Noble Lord's proposal, seemed to me in one part of his speech to have contradicted himself, because while he rather approved of the Guillotine Closure, he told us that one of the causes of obstruction is the Eleven o'clock Rule, which is in many respects open to precisely the same objection in that it causes a definite decision to be taken at a definite time. It seems to me that the objection to the one is very similar to the objection to the other. Both produce precisely the same result—that of bringing the discussion to an end. Everyone must be aware that guillotine Closure obstructs discussion. Speeches are made by hon. Members in order to prevent the next Amendment from being discussed at all. Precisely the same point arises in connection with the Eleven o'clock Rule. I certainly do not complain in any way of the amount of time actually given for discussion under the Guillotine Closure. It seems to me to be more than enough if utilised in the proper spirit. But my contention is that directly you make a time limit you have practically taken a great deal out of the reality of debate. It is the time limit which is injurious and not the amount of time which is given to 648 discussion. There is one thing I should certainly deprecate, and that is leaving matters to the decision of the House or of the Committee as a whole without the guidance of the Whips. It does seem to me that to have Members who have not heard the discussion come in and vote without any control or guidance does not really lead to a sound decision. A certain number of Members listen and know the subject, but the great majority vote in consequence of some representation by Friends, or in response to the requests of some Gentleman who stands at the "Aye" or "No," Lobby. Therefore, I think there is no great advantage in leaving the matter to the unfettered decision of the House unless steps are taken to secure that those who attended the Division shall have heard the argument and know what they are voting about. That is the advantage which will accrue by transferring matters for discussion to the Grand Committees.
I had the advantage of sitting on the Grand Committee which discussed the unemployment portion of the Insurance Act, for I think six days. There was no. Closure of any sort or description and every proposition which hon. Members wished to put forward was discussed. I think a certain amount of changes were made in the Bill, and I know that on one occasion the Government were very nearly defeated. I believe that that part of the Bill was discussed in an infinitely better manner than the portion discussed downstairs, and, what is more, I believe that that part of the Act is the better part of the Act. I think that has been the experience of most of us of Grand Committees. My hon. Friend behind told us, quite candidly and truly, that in voting on certain questions in this House it was necessary to size up the whole position, and to consider whether the proposition was of sufficient importance to make it worth while to risk the defeat of the Government. That is exactly the point we want to get rid of. We do want in the Committee stage of a Bill to be in a position that we can defeat the Government if we think it right without producing a catastrophe, or what is regarded as a catastrophe. I mean that we want to be allowed to vote on a particular point without having to consider how it is going to affect some other question with which it has got nothing whatever to do. It is ridiculous that the House in discussing the details of the Insurance Act, for instance, should ask itself how will it affect Home Rule for Ireland. There is no necessary connection 649 between those two matters and it ought not to be forced on us if we can possibly avoid it. I do believe a very great advantage in the discussion in Committee upstairs arises from the fact that speeches are not very much reported. There are no doubt a certain number of Gentlemen whose speeches would be materially curtailed if they had satisfactory assurances that under no circumstances would those speeches be read by their constituents. I cannot help hoping that if the Grand Committee system is extended that the precedent set on the Unemployment Committee of having a report of speeches made upstairs will be discontinued, and that as far as possible the business of those Committees shall be conducted in as informal a manner as possible, so that Members shall endeavour to concentrate as strictly as they can on the business before them, and as little as possible on the important work of advertising themselves. I understand the Noble Lord will withdraw his Motion, as for technical reasons it would be impossible to adopt it, but I congratulate him on the success which he has achieved and express the obligation of hon. Members on this side to him for his action.
I think generally the present state of affairs arises from the Government having too much power and the private Members having too little power. The Government having so much power have to take more notice of any slight accident that may happen to them in the course of piloting through a Bill, and they seem to me to be less able because of their great power to take notice of the Amendments that are proposed. That power has been steadily growing, and in considering this question I tried to see from what date I could start in order to make a comparison between the present and the past. I went back to the coming into office of the present Government, and I found ready to my hand a statement of the Prime Minister, a complaint which he felt on taking office at the amount of power which was then exercised by the Government of that date. I quote it in no controversial spirit, but as a summary of the position made by a great Parliamentarian. He was pointing out the large sums that went through every year in the Estimates undiscussed, and speaking in October, 1905, he said:—What is the use of pretending that we live under a constitutional system and that the House of Commons has a real control over the finances of the country? I say this, and I want to impress this view on the public mind, that this is a most serious state of things for it 650 amounts to nothing more or less than a progressive paralysis of the Parliamentary organism.A little later on he said:—Another result, and an equally serious one, is that the Executive Government of the day by the joint operation of the guillotine and the block becomes every year, both as to legislation and policy, more and more emancipated from the control of Parliament. That may be convenient for the holders of office for the time being, but in the long run it is bad for the Executive, it is degrading to Parliament, and it is injurious and even perilous to the Empire. In my opinion, therefore, and this is the conclusion to which I wish this narrative to lead, one of the primary duties of a Liberal Government and of a Liberal party will be to supply a remedy, and to restore efficiency and dignity to our Legislature at Westminster.That was the state of things in 1905, and we are now in the year 1913, and no remedy has yet been found to restore efficiency and dignity to the Legislature at Westminster. What the Prime Minister said in October, 1905, shows what the feeling was of the Liberal party in 1905, and I ask the House to consider what changes have been made and whether that truly represents the position to-day or whether indeed the position is not now aggravated. The Estimates still go through with large amounts entirely undiscussed, just as they did in and previously to 1905. But something else has happened, something quite new, which has taken away still more of the liberty of the private Member and his power to make his influence felt upon the Government of the day. A means of legislating by the Estimates has been found. It will be remembered that last sittings a large Supplementary Estimate of some £1,800,000 was brought in, and a note at the end of that Estimate was intended to be used for the purpose of changing an Act of Parliament which had previously been put upon the Statute Book. It was maintained by the Government for some time that such a proceeding was perfectly regular. I believe ultimately the Prime Minister said that either legislation would be brought in or that he would consider whether he would bring in legislation. All the old grievance of large sums of money being voted without discussion is still with us, and we have the added danger of legislation by means of a note on the Estimate presented. There is one other case in which Estimates have been used to change an Act of Parliament. There is, under the Insurance Act, an actual declaration that old members of friendly societies are to receive medical treatment in the same way as those insured people who come in under the Act. By an Estimate of this House granting £1,800,000 to existing insured people, 651 those old members have been cheated of the benefit they were intended to get when the Act went through the House. There again an Estimate has been used for the purpose of altering an Act of Parliament. If we consider what little control we really have over finance, and then consider in addition this new method of using finance, I think hon. Members will agree that since 1905 more power has been given to the Government and less power reserved to the private Member. The Prime Minister, in a speech to which I have referred, said that by means of the guillotine and the Blocking Motion the Executive of the day was becoming free from the control of Parliament. The guillotine has certainly not been modified since 1905. I am not by any means sure the use of it has not been considerably increased. I know on one occasion it was used in a way which was very useful to the Government of the day and very distressing to many Members on both sides of the House who wished to have a discussion upon a particular point that arose. That point was put to the Government of the day, and an actual pledge was given, which I have not the slightest doubt it was intended to carry out, that a further discussion should take place upon that particular subject. But, as time went on, the guillotine operated, and the Government were unable to carry out their own pledge. Then the Blocking Motion exists to-day just as badly as in 1905. I am not at all sure that it is not even worse. Members on one side of the House and the other now object so much to the very principle of blocking that each man blocks the other to pay out the man who blocks him. So it is a mutual blocking game that goes on, and nearly all subjects towards the end of a Session are covered and no discussion can take place. In addition to those particular difficulties the Prime Minister mentioned, new and additional powers have been taken by the Government. There has been an enormous development of legislation by means of regulation. Now almost every Act of Parliament which goes through this House has a Clause which enables Government officials to issue regulations which are to have exactly the same force and effect as if they were incorporated in the Act itself. The House has sometimes a vestige of power left to it, the power of presenting an Address to His Majesty to disallow those regulations. That is supposed to be 652 a protection to the private Member. What happens? Last autumn the Government came down and took the whole of the time of the House by Resolution in October, and, when it was attempted to present an Address for the purpose of challenging one of those regulations, it was found impossible to get any time to discuss the Motion. A new and still stronger power has, therefore, been given to the Government. Instead of trying to pass a Bill with a number of detailed Clauses, they put in a general omnibus Clause giving some Government Department power to make regulations, the only safeguard being the Address to His Majesty, and that Address being nullified by the Government taking the time when the Motion would otherwise be considered whether that Address should be presented or not.
That is not the end of the category of additional powers the Government has gradually assumed. Formerly Governments of the day dictated policy, the House legislated, and the judicial authorities interpreted the various Acts of Parliament. There was in that way some sort of protection to the subject, but now almost every new Act of Parliament gives power to the various officials created to interpret the meaning of the requirements of the Act. Even where the aid of the Courts is invoked the Government can be very cavalier in the respect they pay to their decisions. It seems they need not, unless they like, take much notice of them, because, although in the Bowles case it has been decided that Income Tax is not to be deducted without the sanction of an Act of Parliament, it is understood that no Act of Parliament is going to be passed until after the time Income Tax would ordinarily be deducted. It is quite true that the Government do not deduct Income Tax; it is for the banks to do that; but the Government must be perfectly aware the banks illegally deduct Income Tax, because otherwise the Government are running great risks of confusion in connection with the tax. It is easy to criticise any proposal for remedying this state of things, and the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) did criticise my Noble Friend's proposal for sending Bills to Standing Committee, but I would submit that it is not sufficient merely to find difficulties in the way of the remedies proposed. The actual disease is so great that, if we are intending to save the House of Commons as a legislative body, we ought to combine for the purpose 653 of at least trying to find a remedy for the present state of things. I call upon the Liberal party to fulfil what the Prime Minister in 1905 said was their primary duty. They have perhaps, to use the Prime Minister's own phrase, found the present state of things convenient for the holders of office, but we have a definite promise, and I hope that which was said even then to be degrading to Parliament and injurious to the Empire may no longer be allowed to continue.
§ Mr. SPENCER LEIGH HUGHES
We have had a very interesting afternoon, spent for the greater part in a process of what I may call self-examination; and I have noticed on occasions when the House talks about itself there is a tendency, almost unconscious I dare say, on all sides among men to say that the old days were very much better than present days. I have noticed, even when Members form a group in one room to talk, that if one man knows that he has been here a great deal longer than anyone else he is always careful to say that things to-day are nothing like what they were in the great days. I do not know that it is absolutely true, that the House of Commons is so, much worse to-day than it was in the old days. The Noble Lord in his speech, listened to with so much interest, partly by reason of a sweet reasonableness which he showed and which he does not always show, said there was in our Debates a sense of the loss of reality and sincerity. Not always. I have seen and heard him exchange remarks with the Chancellor of the Exchequer sometimes, and whatever might be said about them on either side, this, at least, would be said that they did not lack reality or sincerity. They were sincere and heartfelt. There were many speeches in the debates during the last Session about which the same can be said. The Noble Lord said that one necessity of a deliberative assembly was that the result of a debate should sometimes be in doubt. We cannot conceal that from ourselves, to speak candidly, that it is many years since it has been otherwise; many years since there was an occasion when the result of a big debate on a political question in this House has been in doubt. If the Noble Lord's dictum about an assembly not being a deliberative assembly unless there is some doubt of the result is to hold good, I direct his attention to the other Chamber, where in our time the only occasion, I think, when there was an element of doubt 654 was during the discussion on the Deceased Wife's Sister's Bill. Of course she was not a party question.
§ Mr. HUGHES
I think the result was pretty well known, or the Leader of one of the parties would not have left England for the Continent at the time. If some had gone into the wrong Lobby an equal number would have gone into the other. Even if we give him the Parliament Act with the Deceased Wife's Sister's Bill, there are only these two instances in about a hundred years. Then we are blamed for not listening to debates more than we do in this House. I remember the Noble Lord not long ago was down in the country, and he told his constituents, I think, that in this House a great many men were paid £400 a year who would not stop in the House to listen to the speeches. He said that made a deep impression upon those to whom he made the remark. I had to speak to my own Constituents, and I took the same view, and I told them what the Noble Lord had said. But I added this, that when the £400 a year was given to us, if it was understood that by accepting it we gave a guarantee that we should sit still and listen to all the speeches from the other side, I should have said it "could not be done at the price." We would want a far larger remuneration than that to enter into such a bargain. Is this a new evil, if it be new, in the House of Commons? I think not. I have been reading lately some books about the House, one written by the first sketch writer who ever appeared in the Press Gallery, Mr. Whitty, a very able man, who wrote in the "fifties," and another book by a gentleman who was once a doorkeeper, and was also an able man, Mr. White. They both describe how it was customary to send men to the clubs in places like Pall Mall to bring Members down in cabs when the debate seemed to be getting near a close, and how they came roystering down in large crowds and voted. That was in the "good old days"—the serious, solemn days about which the Noble Lord has spoken. It has been very seldom that any speech has really turned the decision of the House from one side to another. It is one of the glories of Macaulay that he once did that. It was not a political issue. It was upon a Copyright Bill, and his knowledge was so great that he absolutely persuaded the 655 House to change what obviously had been its overwhelming view when he rose, and to vote in the opposite direction. These things have always been very rare. The Debates in this House are useful to a great extent for ventilating questions and letting the country see what their representatives are advocating, but they seldom change the opinions of men.
It has been said that another sign of the decadence of this House is to be found in the fact that if a great man makes a speech here, and the same great man makes a speech of the same length in the country, he gets a longer and better report in the Press when he speaks in the country than when he speaks here. The obvious reason for that is that when he speaks in the country he is practically the only performer. It is a practical question of space with the newspapers. Further, a man who makes a great speech here is not the only great man, although sometimes he may be tempted to think that he is. There must be some space for the other speakers in the papers. It is not the fault of the Press that all the speeches in this House are not reported in the papers. The Press has no spite at all against this House. The indifference of the Press to whoever is speaking, and to what he is saying approaches the sublime. I remember when I first became connected with the Parliamentary Press that there was a veteran who had been forty years in the Gallery. I am speaking of twenty years ago, so that would take us back sixty years. He had heard all the great men, Palmerston, Peel, and, of course, Gladstone and Disraeli. When I, as a beginner, wanted to show that I knew all about it, I said to him, "It must be a great bore to you that these big men make such long speeches." He looked at me with an air of serene detachment and said, "My dear fellow, what does it matter whether a man makes a long speech or a short speech? If one fool is not talking, another will be." There has not been any real change in the tone of the House from those days to this. The House of Commons never really changes its general tone. One of the difficulties—it is a very old difficulty—arises from the fact that when a Bill appears those who put down Amendments do not look at the Bill to see if they can in any way honestly amend it; they want to smother it, as was said, very candidly, by the Opposition in connection with the Home Rule Bill. I have no doubt that that is 656 the case with a Liberal Opposition, just as much as with a Conservative Opposition. Members exercise the utmost ingenuity and examine every line and syllable of a Bill to see if they cannot put down something which will be an excuse for talking. So long as that goes on, either a Committee stage will be an impossibility or else gagging or guillotining resolutions must be adopted. That leads me to the Noble Lord's suggestion. So far as I am able to say anything about it—I do not profess to be an expert on these matters—I think he has come as near a solution as anyone by his proposal to remove the Committee stage in almost every case upstairs to various Grand Committees. He thought he really touched the centre of the subject when he said that what we require here is a change of heart. Let us imagine—I do not say it is so—that the hon. Baronet, the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) were on some occasion tempted to obstruct. I dare say he is quite incapable of anything of that sort. Does the Noble Lord think his persuasive eloquence would change the heart of the hon. Baronet? I am sure that the Parliamentary heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked in these matters, and that any people seeing an opportunity of occupying time by putting down Amendments will always do so. So long as that goes on, so long as Bills appear before this House for the Committee stage, these guillotines, kangaroos, and gags are, and must be, necessary. Something has been said about the tyranny of the Whips and the misery of the private Member. I am as private a Member as could be. I have suffered no conscious misery in this House at all. I have voted against the Government sometimes, and I have never been reproached by the Whips. If I were I should retort. Indeed, the only official communications I have had from the Whips have been when they have approached me with great deference, almost with obsequiousness, asking me to go and speak at some by-election in the country. So that the tyranny of the Whips, as far as I am concerned, is a fiction altogether, and I do not believe it exists. The fact is that a good many of us here have not perhaps listened to as many speeches as we ought to have done, and a good many of us have abstained from speaking because there has been in some Debates an element of unreality. Many Members will remember 657 during the last Session that certain briefs or printed agenda or suggestions for speeches were discovered, and it struck some of us that if we could get what we might call the book of the words there was no particular reason why we should come here to hear them, perhaps not so perfectly recited. I think the Noble Lord puts us under a debt for the suggestion he has made, and particularly for the tone of the speech with which he opened the Debate. That, I think, has had a good deal to do with the pleasant tone that has been sustained throughout. I have not the least doubt that, after being congratulated on all sides of the House on the success he has achieved, he will see his way to withdraw the Amendment.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
I do not for a moment believe that this House of Commons has deteriorated in any way whatever. It is only this, that our Constituents expect much more of us than they did in bygone days. There are more men anxious to speak and capable of speaking, and it is almost a necessity in some way or another that the interests of their constituents should be made known here in order to let the voice of the people have some influence on legislation. I do not think the Government have acted with the tyranny which has been suggested in some quarters. What we are here for especially is this: We are here to tell the Government that the private Member's interest in this House of Commons is not what it is desired it should be. He comes here and listens to a great many Debates. He is anxious to take some part in the discussions on very great questions, such as the Army and Navy Estimates. He does not want to make a great Debate, but he wants to place one possible suggestion before the Minister in charge, and he wants to show his constituents also that he is here, and that he is endeavouring to take his share of the work. I think the private Member himself is very much to blame for what is taking place. A variety of suggestions have been made, with none of which I agree, naturally, seeing that I have a much better one of my own. The one for referring Bills to Grand Committees upstairs I think is absolutely absurd. I remember that in 1903 or 1904 a Bill was sent upstairs to a Grand Committee. The late Sir James Fergusson was in the Chair, and I think it took four days before he got a single line of the Bill. Only last Session my right hon. Friend the Member 658 for Clackmannan (Mr. Eugene Wason) was Chairman of a Committee on a Bill — I forget its name—of which only the word "Whereas" was got after the Committee had sat three or four days. My right hon. Friend protested against the tyranny of those who tried in that way to interfere with the rights of Members of the House. That is the kind of experience we might get if Bills were sent upstairs. What criticism would have been levelled against the Government if the Home Rule Bill or the Welsh Disestablishment Bill had been sent to Grand Committee? There would have been an indignant outcry on the part of every Member of the House. The late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman laid it down as a general principle that Bills of a controversial nature should not be sent to Grand Committees.
I come to a remedy which I think is practicable, namely, the curtailment of speeches in this House. The only difficulty from which we suffer at the present time is the length of speeches. We have in the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition excellent specimens of condensed oratory. They hardly ever repeat themselves, or say a word too much, or speak in any way simply to occupy unduly the time of the House. The trouble arises from the private Member who takes up far too much time; he is not content with laying his views shortly before the House or the Committee. He must needs repeat the arguments which have been given before on the subject. The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day pointed out that something might be done either by you, Mr. Speaker, or by the Chairman of Committees in preventing the reiteration of arguments time after time. The only way we can do that is by limiting the time of speeches. That is an exceedingly difficult problem. I have given the subject a great deal of attention, and I flatter myself that I have come to a conclusion that would entirely meet the case. The suggestion I have to make does not affect the Government, the Prime Minister, or the recognised orators of the House. There are certain men to whom we are accustomed to pay deference. We listen with great interest to their speeches. My suggestion would leave the procedure of the House very much as it is at the present time. We who have been making inquiries in this matter have a carefully compiled list showing the views of hon. Members with respect to the proposal. We sent out resolutions to every Member of the House, and we got a large 659 number of supporters among the Unionist party, the Liberal party, the Labour party, and the Nationalist party. There were only thirteen Members who signified opposition to the proposal, namely, that any individual who wishes to take part in Debate should send his name to Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees stating how long he desires to speak. It is always very difficult for a Member of this House who desires to take part in a debate to go either to you or the Chairman of Committees to express his desire to do so. We cannot help feeling that in doing so we are rather trying to catch your eye and to take some advantage of our colleagues. That is a feeling that is very generally held by hon. Members. Under the proposal I make those who wish to take part in a debate send in their names to you and say how long they wish to speak.
All I would ask you or the Chairman of Committees to do, would be in calling upon that hon. Member to state how long he proposed to speak, say, "Mr. Cathcart Wason, ten minutes." If at the end of the ten minutes the hon. Member chose to exceed that time, the House could signify in a very usual manner that it had had quite as much as it wanted, and then he would naturally sit down. On the other hand, if it desired him to go on, it would signify its desire. Doing this would add enormously to the interest taken in the House of Commons, and would give hon. Members who desire to take a short part in the debate a chance from which they are entirely debarred now, and we would not have the accusation levelled against us which is levelled constantly now that we come from one room to another to vote on questions of which we have not heard the merits discussed. We do so of necessity because it is common knowledge that there is no room even on those benches for all the Members of the House if they desire to be present. By some such proposal as I make I am quite satisfied that the existing Rules and procedure of this House would be in no way interferred with, but private Members would have a much better chance of ventilating any particular points which might be under discussion, and much greater interest would be taken in the procedure of this House, so that the accusation levelled against us now would cease entirely to have any weight. For those reasons I have been extremely anxious to lay this matter before you. I 660 am not at all sure that the proposal I make could be carried out by you, and you alone, but now that the Government, I am glad to say, have seen fit to appoint a special Committee before which the matter can be discussed fully before anything is done. I trust that it will receive full and satisfactory consideration.
§ Mr. A. F. WHYTE
I agree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that at certain times the speeches of hon. Members in this House are too long, and we lose a great deal of time always in the early part of a Session when those full-dress debates are taking place upon the Address and the Second Readings of Bills. But I am not sure, on the whole, that the average time occupied by Members in the Committee stage has worked out at a very long average. Passing out, one may notice by the Paper on the wall that the average time, apart from occupants of the two Front Benches, is surprisingly low. At the same time the question is one which deserves the attention of the Committee which we are all delighted to hear the Prime Minister agrees to appoint. One consideration struck me regarding a grievance which has been put forward. It is a grievance felt widely on both sides, and which some of us expressed with varying degrees of force during the Session which has just closed. I am reminded of the closing paragraph of the new chapter which Dr. Laurence Lowel has included in his "Government of England" on the new constitutional situation since the Parliament Act was passed. In his belief the most hopeful time for the reconstitution of the British Parliamentary machine would be a time when it arouses very little public interest. Be this as it may in regard to the subject on which the author advised, I think it is very eminently true in this case. We are all at this moment suffering from an excess of congestion, the blame of which, of course, each Member can apportion in his own mind. The undeniable fact is that we are suffering from that congestion, which has become so acute that all the ordinary avenues for the expression of grievances have been closed, and we have been driven to utilise odd corners, such as on the Adjournment, or between 11.0 p.m. and 11.30 p.m., with the result that there is a large body of pent-up grievance in this House which seeks to find expression in that particular way.
This moment, when the sense of grievance is so acute, is not perhaps the most 661 fitting to arrive at a conclusion of what is best to be done; at the same time, I think I should say that the main body of grievance undoubtedly always will exist until something is done to meet it. Even after the acuteness of the grievance at this moment has passed there will be a wrong to be put right, and I welcome the manner in which the Noble Lord opened the discussion, and also, to a limited extent, the particular proposals he put forward. Though I am comparatively a young Member of this House, I have this doubt about them, that they are so sharp and sudden a break of the traditional behaviour of this House, in regard especially to the greater measures of legislation, that probably it will be difficult to persuade the majority of Members to release their hold upon them. But if the proposals which my Noble Friend has put forward are fully threshed out in the Committee, I believe it will be found that a great alleviation of trouble will come through proposals, which, if not identical with, at least will closely resemble those which he has submitted. Then there is the question of the pressure of the party system. We have had remarks about the tyranny of the party Whips, and that tyranny has been denied. After all, it is not the tyranny of the party Whips as persons or even as representing the Governments; it is the fact that those representatives of the Government are able to work upon the minds of supporters of the Government in such a way as to suggest to them that certain action might endanger the Government. It is not tyranny coming from outside; it is the exploitation by the Whips of the feeling itself which is within the minds of supporters of the Government. I do not believe that feeling will be entirely removed by the proposals; it can only be removed by a change in the habits of the House and by a firm recognition of the principle that a vote for a minor change in a measure is not a vote—to change such a vital position, say, as the administration of the Foreign Office. I am perfectly certain that the chief source of our troubles is not mechanical, and therefore will never be thoroughly dealt with by mere changes of machinery, though they may alleviate the trouble. I am sure that the only way to finally remove the trouble is that this House as a House should resolve that in itself it is a national institution which is greater than the greatest of Governments, and that the decisions of this House in relation to legislation and even adminis- 662 tration are not to be taken as votes of confidence in or against any Government.
§ Mr. PIRIE
I rise to refer to an example of the grievance from which this House suffers under the present system—I allude to the creation of a Grand Committee for Scotland. It is now some years since, but it is the fact that this change, one of the greatest changes in the legislative history of Scotland, was carried out in this House under the Closure, without the chance of any Scottish Member taking part in the Debate. That was an enormous national change which took place under the Closure, and I regard it as one of the greatest grievances for which the present system has been responsible. I am glad, as everyone is, that a Committee is to be formed, and I trust they will take into consideration the fact I have just stated and investigate the way that wrong was carried out and the presence of fifteen added Members on that Scottish Grand Committee. I am sure, speaking for the Scottish Members, we welcome individually every English, Irish, or Welsh Member, but collectively we do not think their presence there is opportune or leads to the advancement or settlement of purely Scottish national questions. When you take into consideration that those Members were added under the Closure, without any Scottish Member having any voice, I do not think if you searched the annals of the House you could find a greater cause of grievance than that. The Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Cathcart Wason) made a suggestion, but the danger of his suggestion would seem to me to be that it might interfere with the possibility of free debate in the House. In a debate a speaker may be more or less guided by what has gone on previously. A suggestion I would make is, that in the OFFICIAL REPORT the time at which a Member commences his speech should be stated so that the next day his fellow Members could see how long the hon. Member occupied. Possibly it might have some effect on the shortening of speeches, which we desire, if Members could see how long the speakers inflicted themselves on the House. No one is a more sincere advocate of short speeches than I am.
§ Dr. CHAPPLE
The Prime Minister towards the close of his speech stated that only two great Parliaments were free from some method of restriction, and that those 663 Parliaments were those of the United States of America and of Canada. I believe that is correct, and that they do not use the Closure and why—because they do not require it, and they do not require it, because in the United States and in Canada they have legislative division of labour, and the burden which each of those central Parliaments has to bear is very light indeed compared with the burden that this Parliament has to bear. There is a very significant passage in a book by Dr. Woodrow Wilson in which a comparison is made between the work imposed upon the central Legislature in the United States and the work imposed upon the Legislature here. He says that during the nineteenth century only one of the twelve important measures passed by this Parliament would have come under review in the United States Parliament; the other eleven would have been dealt with by the State Parliaments. The twelve measures to which he refers are those dealing with Catholic Emancipation, Parliamentary Reform, the Abolition of Slavery, the amendment of the Poor Law, the Reform of Municipal Corporations, the Repeal of the Corn Laws, the admission of Jews to Parliament, the Disestablishment of the Irish Church, the alteration of the Irish Land Laws, the Establishment of National Education, the introduction of the Ballot, and the Reform of the Criminal Law. With the exception of the Repeal of the Corn Laws, all those measures would have been dealt with by the State Parliaments. There are forty-nine Parliaments in the United States and ten in Canada to do the legislative and administrative work of those countries. I have here our Order Paper for 10th February, containing no less than 121 Orders of the Day, nearly all consisting of Bills. The trouble is that we have an increasing amount of work to do. The relegating of our work to Grand Committees, the shortening of the time occupied by Divisions, and the shortening of speeches, are mere bagatelles compared with the enormous amount of work that we have to do. That work is not only increasing, but, with the extension of our Colonial Empire, the increasing complexity of foreign affairs, the pressure of social legislation, and the various industries looking to this House to arbitrate in their disputes, it is bound to increase. The question is how can we divide up, not the House of Commons, but the work which the House of Commons has to do. The Noble Lord suggests that 664 we should divide up the House of Commons, sending a few Members to one Committee, and a few to another. By that means we might do away with the Committee stage of our work, but we should certainly increase the work on the Report stage. Members who had not served on the Committee dealing with a particular measure would insist upon knowing the why and the wherefore on the Report stage. I think it is an admirable thing that Members insist upon knowing the arguments by which certain conclusions have been arrived at.
It is characteristic of incurable diseases that the remedies are very numerous. I do not believe that any of these palliative measures will do any real good. The solution of our difficulty is a legislative and administrative division of labour, by which we would retain in the central Government all those functions which are common to the constituent parts of the country, and relegate to the local Parliaments all those functions which are purely local. No doubt we may improve much of our procedure, and that may palliate, though it cannot entirely remove our difficulties. I believe it is possible to establish a time limit. In the New Zealand Parliament, of which I have had some experience, a time limit was introduced some years ago. Members who introduce Bills are allowed an hour, and other speakers half an hour, and shortly before the lapse of the allotted time a bell is rung. In committee a member is allowed ten minutes, but may speak four times provided another member has intervened. That arrangement has worked with great advantage, and has brought about the result that members, knowing that their time is limited, prepare their speeches and endeavour to concentrate their remarks. A man knows that he has in committee only ten minutes, and therefore that he must speak to the point. I am not saying that that system could be adopted here. I do not think it could be. It is not sufficiently elastic. There are experts here who might require a very much longer time, while there are other Members for whom a few minutes would do.
But I think it might be possible for Mr. Speaker, with advantage, to follow a suggestion that I made some time ago, and that is to call, not upon Members on alternative sides in succession, but according to the time they have occupied in their speeches. I remember on one occasion that a Member spoke for a solid hour. 665 He was followed by a Member of the opposite party who spoke for only fourteen minutes. Then another Member of the party to the original speaker was called. That gave an undue advantage, according to time, to the party of the long speaker. If a Member knew that he was encroaching on the time, not of an opponent, but of a colleague, the public opinion around him would induce him to sit down before he went to a great length. If, however, a Member knows that he is possibly encroaching on the time of an opponent he probably considers he is scoring a good party advantage. I do not, however, believe that ultimately in anything we can do to improve the procedure of this House there is going to be a radical cure for the disease of which so much complaint has been made this afternoon. Only when we arrive at the time that we are prepared to establish legislative division in this country, to relegate to localities those subjects which are peculiar to them, and retain in this central Parliament the functions peculiar to a central Parliament, will we find a remedy for our trouble.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I want to say a word on the subject of Blocking Motions, being one of the offenders. The Noble Lord had no good word to say for Blocking Motions. He poured upon them the vials of contempt and anger. But Blocking Motions do serve a very useful purpose. Though it may appear to the ordinary Member of the House that they are put down wantonly, and contrary to the feelings of the whole House, as a matter of fact that is not done. The public opinion of the House is too strong for the Member who desires to put down a Blocking Motion to do so unless there is good reason for it. They are generally applied in cases where there is particular reason to prevent discussion by Members who are sometimes described as cranks—although I do not myself use that expression—and who desire to discuss delicate questions of foreign policy or perhaps matters relating to sedition in India and matters of like character, in regard to which it is desirable, in the view of the majority of the House, that the matter should not be discussed at that particular time, and in respect of which, apart from a Blocking Motion, there is no possible means of preventing it. The Prime Minister, in his very admirable, genial, and conciliatory speech, I think was a little ungrateful in not having admitted this, because there is no Government that has 666 not benefited by Blocking Motions, and has not felt a little glad itself at the stoppage of an ill-timed discussion. I am aware it requires some little courage to defend this practice, but I think those whoever indulged in it should not be wanting in courage to get up and explain their position and to protest, as I do, that it is undesirable to abolish this power, which has never until now been abused, when this competition of Blocking Motions is indulged in as a mere passing fashion. Those who put down such Motions in the circumstances, and for the purposes I have described, act in the interests and for the benefit of the House. The House does not suffer from want of freedom of discussion but from licence of discussion, and I do not think that freedom of discussion has been interfered with by the use of this ancient practice, which the hon. Baronet has explained is an inheritance alike from the wisdom of our ancestors and our predecessors in this House. The hon. Member for Enfield, when he referred to me, did not mention that it was due to me that a Committee was offered by Government on this matter on a former occasion, but I let it drop, and the Committee that the Government promised never sat, because as time went on I felt convinced that nothing should stop discussion, and as discussion prevented legislation, and as I wished to see as little legislation as possible, because each measure was then a measure to which I objected. I am absolutely with the hon. Member who suggested that speeches ought to be limited, but I demur very much to the proposal that every Member who wants to speak should send up his name to the Chair. It seems to me that would be an improper practice, and that the considerations which guide the Chair in calling upon Members are reasons with which the House should feel satisfied. For my part I think sending up names and saying a certain Member wants to speak, would be an endeavour, if such a thing were possible, to bring pressure to bear upon the Chair and to ask the Chair to ignore proper reasons that may exist for calling upon other Members. It is extremely annoying when some subjects such as India come before the House, and when there may be in the House half a dozen military and civil Members who spent their lives in India, that the subject should be taken possession of by the Labour party, and that they should occupy the whole of the time available for the discussion of the subject to the 667 exclusion of experts whose business it is to know something about the subject, and who could hardly be expected to adopt the opinions of an hon. Member of the Labour party now in India, who considered as a qualification blank and abysmal ignorance of the matter under discussion. I think the rules of the House require some amendment, so that a subject like the government of our Indian Empire might be discussed without shutting out those who spent their lives in that country by a Motion put upon the Paper by those whose knowledge is purely academic and derived from some syndicate in India who want to ventilate their own grievances. In reference to what was said by the hon. Member for Stirling Burghs, I must say I never suffered from the tyranny of the party Whips when I sat on the benches opposite. I think they have always shown themselves, and I am sure will continue to be, kind and considerate to those who may be regarded as somewhat independent Members of the party. I never was reproved by the Prime Minister or by the Chief Whip, and I would like to add my tribute in that respect to that of hon. Members who have spoken. The Chief Whip then was the Master of Elibank, who was master also of his business. He knew how to bring the riotous Members of the pack to heel without cracking the whip. I think the author of "The Rejected Addresses" had him in mind with prophetic instinct when he wrote:—Persuasion tips his tongue whene'er he talks.I hope the case against the Blocking Motion will not be considered to be so strong as it is said to be by the Noble Lord. As to the guillotine, that hateful symbol of revolutionary government, it has worked nothing but harm. It has not led to concentration or shortening of speeches. Dr. Johnson said that "if a man is to be hung in a week that leads to great concentration." I have never seen that to be the effect of the guillotine, which has been baleful, odious, and injurious to this House.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
In view of the very courteous reception given to this Amendment by the Prime Minister, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.