HC Deb 21 July 1915 vol 73 cc1507-12

16. "That a sum, not exceeding £44,754, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salaries of the Law Officers' Department; the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of the Solicitor for the Affairs of His Majesty's Treasury and King's Proctor, and the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions; for the Costs of Prosecutions, of other Legal Proceedings, and of Parliamentary Agency."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Vote be postponed."—[Mr. Walter Rea.]


I desire to ask a question on the postponement. On this Vote I gave notice yesterday that some Members of the House desired to raise a question, and I desire now to know whether the Government will so arrange the Votes to-day that there will be an opportunity, before the guillotine falls, of discussing this particular Vote? I do not wish to interfere with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Bonar Law)

May I say on that, that the Prime Minister understood that it was the wish of the House that the Colonial Office Vote should be taken first. It is not my wish by any means, and I shall be quite ready, if the House prefers it, that this Vote shall be taken first.


We understand that the right hon. Gentleman has a statement to make on the Colonies, and we are all anxious to allow the right hon. Gentleman to make that statement. I only desire that the Vote should be taken in such order that it can be discussed today. I do not wish to interfere with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. If the Government give an undertaking that this Vote will be taken immediately after it, I will not object.


On a point of Order, Sir. Have you not already stated that the Vote is postponed?


No, I have put the Question, "That the Vote be postponed," and it is for the House to decide whether it shall be postponed.


On a point of Order. I desire to ask you, Sir, whether the postponement of this Vote at this stage does enable the Government to call it later? Is it not in order upon this Motion to ask the Government if they do intend to propose this Vote later, and at what particular point they will propose it, or, in other words, will they take it immediately after the Colonial Office Vote?


In the ordinary course, what would happen would be that all the Votes would be postponed until we reach the Colonial Office Vote. After the discussion upon that Vote, we should go on calling out the names of the Votes, which, in each case, would have to be postponed until we came round the second time, and on coming round the second time, when we get to Class III. again, there will be an opportunity for discussing this Vote. Whether it will be reached or not I cannot say.


Can you take a Motion now to give the Colonial Office Vote precedence over this one in the list to-day?


No, we must postpone the Votes until we reach the Colonial Office Vote. There is no other way of picking it out of this lot, except by going through them all as rapidly as may be until we reach the one the House is anxious to discuss.


Failing a satisfactory answer—[HON. MEMDEES: "Speak up!"]—I will endeavour to make myself heard—I desire to oppose the postponement of this Vote. In the circumstances, we are entitled to draw the attention of the House to the charges contained in this Vote. We have been told that—


The hon. Member cannot discuss the Vote on the Question that it be postponed. When the hon. Member has persuaded the House not to postpone the Vote, we shall arrive at a point at which he can discuss it.


I intend to confine myself strictly to the question of postponement. I do not desire in any way to run counter to the general sense of the House on this question, but in these days it is especially difficult for the Government to ascertain what is the general sense of the House. The only method by which hon. Members have an opportunity of indicating to the Government what business is to be taken is by mentioning these matters to the Whips. As, however, apparently few Members have taken any action with reference to to-day's business to call attention to any particular business on this question that this particular Vote should be postponed, we should have an opportunity of testing the feeling of the House. I do not desire to enter into the merits of the particular question, but undoubtedly, when there is even a small number of Members who desire to call attention to expenditure under a particular head, with a view to the reduction of that expenditure—it is solely in the interests of the reduction of expenditure that this action is being taken—it is surely right that the House itself should indicate that an opportunity should be given to discuss whether the particular retrenchment is possible, and it is in order that the House may have an opportunity of making its voice heard on a particular question of economy, where economy is both desirable and possible, that I oppose the postponement of this Vote.


I desire to oppose the postponement of the Vote for this reason. The Prime Minister asked the House, and the House agreed, to shorten Supply to seventeen days. In agreeing to that postponement speeches were made, and the Prime Minister concurred, that points should be selected which Members wished to discuss. As far as we have been informed by the ordinary channels of communication there are two points to-day on which notice has been given for discussion, namely, the Colonial Vote and this Vote dealing with Law Officers' charges. I suggest that when these are the only two points of discussion which have been raised, it is the duty of the Whips of the Coalition Government to provide an opportunity for discussion of both. Those of us who want to discuss this do not want to hinder at all the discussion on the Colonial Vote. We want an assurance from the Prime Minister that the Votes will be so disposed, after the Colonial Vote is taken, that this opportunity will be afforded to us, and I think it will be breaking the spirit in which the Prime Minister got from the House permission to shorten Supply to seventeen days if that opportunity is not given.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

I am very sorry that this question should have been raised, and raised in such a manner. It is a very delicate and difficult duty for the Government to arrange the order in which, on the final night of Supply, different Votes should be put down. We have no interest in the matter. The order in which the Votes are taken does not matter to us. It is my business, as Leader of the House, and the business of the Chief Whip, to try and gather what is the general opinion of the House of Commons, and we act upon that. The information which came to us pointed to the fact that it was the general desire that the Colonial Office Vote should be taken first. I cannot allow that general wish to be set aside because two or three hon. Members desire to discuss a Vote which, according to the Order on the Paper, technically comes first. It is apparently a small minority seeking to override the majority. I want to make it clear to the House that the Government has no interest in the matter whatever. You may take my salary; I shall be delighted to discuss it with hon. Members; or you may take the salary of any other Minister. It does not make the least difference to us. In this matter we are guided only by the general sense of the House, and it is for that reason that we are asking that these Votes should be postponed. When the Colonial Vote has been discussed, and the postponed Votes come round in their turn, as they will do, if time allows, I am sure the Government will be only too happy to give my hon. Friends the opportunity they desire to discuss this particular Vote. I really cannot, in the interests of the House itself, allow an arrangement of that kind to be set aside.


I rise to support most heartily what has fallen from the Prime Minister. I happen to be, I think, perhaps the oldest Member of the House. I have sat in it longer than anyone else, and I am bound to say I never recollect an occasion where more uncalled-for opposition has been raised to the proposal that is now before us. The right hon. Gentleman has explained with perfect truth what has happened. The general sense of the House has been collected in the ordinary way. Mr. Speaker has also explained the position, and it has rested with two or three hon. Members alone, who have occupied more of the time of the House lately than anyone else, to take a course which is absolutely unprecedented in my recollection and which is most highly to be reprobated.


I will appeal to my hon. Friend, whilst sympathising with him, and ask him to take the advice of the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) and trust the Government.


The Prime Minister has entirely misconceived the request which has been made to him. My hon. Friend (Mr. Pringle) deliberately stated, in precise language, that he had no desire whatsoever that the Colonial Secretary should not make his statement first. What we want is an opportunity, when we have only seventeen days of Supply, of discussing the Law Charges, and we want particularly to discuss the payment of £21,000 to a Member of the Cabinet last year. If we do not get this opportunity now we shall not get it again during the whole of the financial year. For that reason we ask that these facilities should be given which otherwise we shall not get at all.

Question, "That the Vote be postponed," put, and agreed to.

Vote accordingly postponed.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

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