HC Deb 27 March 1914 vol 60 cc707-11

Mr. Speaker, by request of the Prime Minister, I beg to put a question to him which I yesterday asked the Secretary of State for War, and although I do not see the Prime Minister in his place, I still wish to put it. We were given to understand that we should receive an answer to it on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House last night. The question is: "Whether it is the case that Field-Marshal Sir John French and Lieutenant-General Sir John Ewart have tendered their resignations"?

Mr. GULLAND (Lord of the Treasury)

I am asked to say that as the Cabinet is still sitting, the Prime Minister will not make his promised statement until five o'clock.


It is within your knowledge, Mr. Speaker, that a promise was given to answer this question at eleven o'clock last night, and again a promise was given that it would be answered at twelve o'clock to-day. I therefore put it to you, as a point of Order, whether it would be possible for me now to move that the House do adjourn for an hour, or whatever other time may be necessary, in order to enable the Cabinet to make up their minds?


It is not possible to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing an urgent matter on a Friday. The rule which deals with urgent matters does not provide for that. In so far as moving the Adjournment of the House is concerned, it is only open to the Government to move the Adjournment of the House in order to have an immediate discussion.


I understand from your decision, Mr. Speaker, which, of course, I accept, that the Rules of the House are of such a nature that it is impossible for it to deal with what is nothing less than a public scandal.


I beg to ask the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture in Ireland a question of which I have given him private notice: Whether he has received the Report of the Departmental Committee appointed to investigate the causes of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Ireland?

Mr. T. W. RUSSELL (Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, Ireland)

Yes, Sir, the Report has been received.


Will he lay it on the Table?


May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether if every Member was to leave the House now except one or two, who would draw your attention to the fact that a quorum was not present, the House would not stand adjourned until four o'clock, or until such time as a quorum was present. In these circumstances, would it be in order for the Opposition to agree to the proposition put forward and to withdraw until four o'clock?


If the House were depleted and there were less than forty Members present it would be my duty, if attention was called to the fact that less than forty Members were present, to leave the Chair until such time as forty Members were present, or until four o'clock, when the usual count would take place.


Is it not open to His Majesty's Government, or some representative of His Majesty's Government, to, move the Adjournment of the House for a short time? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, No !"] I am putting this to Mr. Speaker as a matter of order. I am not asking for any party decision. The question I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, is whether it is not open to some Member of His Majesty's Government to move the Adjournment of the House for a short time until the House can have the advantage of the presence of its leaders and those responsible?


There is no provision in our rules for a temporary adjournment of that kind. The only provision is for when, in my opinion, there is such a state of disorder that it became necessary to adjourn the House.


I wish to ask whether, having regard to the fact that Friday is a private Members' day, there is any precedence for trying to rob that private Member of his opportunity by-adjourning the House?


The word "rob" is rather a hard word to use in this connection. I think the intention of the rule is that Friday should be allotted to private Members. Of course there are sometimes exceptional circumstances arise which may for a short time deprive the private Member of the use of the whole of that time. That is in times of crises. It is the intention that Friday should be occupied by private Members.


I wish to ask whether it is not competent for a representative of the Government to make the same Motion on Friday as the Prime Minister made on Monday last?


It is competent for a Member of the Government to move the Adjournment of the House immediately at any time when an Order of the day is not under discussion.


Are the circumstances not quite similar to what they were last Friday, when Members of His Majesty's Opposition were not present to support the Adjournment on a matter which was equally a public scandal, namely, the imprisonment of the eleven Scottish cottars?


Is there anything in the rules which gives the House any security that the Prime Minister's promise will be any more observed at five o'clock than it was at twelve o'clock?


I will put a question to the hon. Member who represents the Government, and, with the permission of the House, I will preface it by a single sentence of explanation. I quite understand the desire of private Members that their limited opportunities should not be interfered with, but we stand in circumstances of very extraordinary gravity, and the strong and reasonable desire on this side of the House is that the statement promised by the Prime Minister for yesterday, and twice deferred, should be made at the earliest possible moment at which he can make it. The question which I, therefore, wish to ask is whether if the House proceeds now with private business, the hon. Member will give an undertaking on behalf of the Prime Minister that he will move the Adjournment of the House the moment the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to make his statement.


Of course I shall indicate to the Prime Minister what has passed, and I shall specially put to him the point that has been put by the right hon. Gentleman.


I have no objection at all, and I can quite understand—[Interruption]. To-day is ours by ballot, and if hon. Members opposite give us our Bill, then, so far as the rest of the time is concerned, we are quite willing to allow a Motion, "That the House do now adjourn," to be moved in order to discuss this matter. May I ask my hon. Friend to take into consideration that Friday is a private Members' day, and that he will ask the Prime Minister not to provide an opportunity to move the Adjournment of the Debate until it has become effective by allowing the House to pronounce a decision upon the Bill?


Would it be competent to adjourn the House until such time as we know what the Curragh Parliament is going to do?


On the point of taking away a Friday, may I state that two years ago during the disturbed circumstances of the coal strike, a Friday was taken away from a private Member, although he had got that day in the ballot, and a subsequent day was given? Cannot the same course be taken on the present occasion?


I do not recollect that case.


In regard to the second Bill on the Order Paper, the Underground Workrooms Bill, which I think will be supported on both sides of the House, and which is a very urgent matter, may I just say that I would like to put the same question as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, and make the same offer to the House?


May I be allowed to make a suggestion? As it happens, I do not know what the Bills are to which reference has been made, and I do not know what objection may be taken to them. I would, however, suggest that a Division should be taken upon them without discussion, so that time may be saved and the Division taken at once.


With regard to the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend, may I point out that there are several Bills on the Order Paper, and would it not be a very inconvenient course to take, that a Bill should be divided upon before hon. Members have heard the pros and cons?


It is not usual to take a decision prior to a discussion.