HC Deb 22 August 1916 vol 85 cc2497-505

I beg to move, "That the Proceedings on Government Business be not interrupted this night under the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed."


I should like to ask the Prime Minister, in view of some of the questions we asked yesterday, and in view of the larger number of questions which have arisen since, and which Members desire to speak upon on the Adjournment, whether he cannot see his way to allow the House to sit to-day to the usual hour and utilise to-morrow also for the Adjournment Debate?


was understood to say "No."


The Prime Minister says "No." Perhaps he will wait until we have given our reasons. I know the right hon. Gentleman is always anxious that we should carry our views to him through the usual channels, and when we give him our views he always carefully considers them before he gives an answer. I am surprised he says "No" before he has heard the reasons why we want the extra time.

The reason why we want the extra time is twofold. The House meets now under extraordinary conditions. When the average Member of Parliament, in a general way, asks for time for any subject we are informed that if he communicates through the usual channels that that will, if possible, be arranged. I notice, in to-day's Paper, that a certain order has already been arranged for this Adjournment Debate. Certain subjects are to come on in a certain rotation. Every one of these are subjects in which, personally, I am interested. I do not for a moment object to these various subjects or to the order in which they will be taken. But these do not exhaust the subjects which hon. Members wish to raise. We have, for example, just been told, on the other side of the House, that they propose to debate the condition of Ireland, which, after all, is a matter which does not only concern Irish Members, but also very many of us who are in sympathy with the Irish Members. My hon. Friend in front of me has given notice that he is going to discuss the payment of the wages of women in the munitions works. That is a very large subject. I myself have given notice of an important subject, a topic which will take some time. We are meeting to-morrow to receive the Royal Assent to certain Bills. That means that hon. Members must come to the House of Commons. I do not see why we should come simply to give a technical adhesion to the Royal Assent. That time could be devoted to reasonable Debate. I do not see why we should be kept here to-night after twelve o'clock discussing matters of public importance, or, indeed, in keeping Ministers up to that time in view of the arduous work they have to perform in their respective offices, and which it is quite obvious they ought to have leisure to perform. We could debate these various matters very much better if we had tomorrow, and could finish to-morrow. To raise these matters before eleven o'clock to-night would certainly be better than a long Debate to-day. For these reasons I think the Prime Minister might agree to what I suggest, seeing that we have to come here to-morrow. After all, the Cabinet could not come here to-morrow and get the Royal Assent by themselves.


Oh, yes!


No, there are only twenty-three of theta, and you would require a quorum of the House. When we are asked to' be here there is no reason at all why it ought not to be possible to discuss the topics in which we are interested, and that a great many Members desire to do. I hope the Prime Minister will agree to make some arrangement such as I have suggested.


With reference to the suspension of the Eleven o'Clock Rule, I would like to know whether we can raise various questions, or have we to wait till a decision is arrived at on the matter? Is the Prime Minister likely to leave the House before the Irish question has been dealt with? I would like to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the importance of the situation in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, is one of those who are skilled in the use of euphonious words, and I am in no degree a match for the right hon. Gentleman in that. But I claim one virtue: I know my own mind, and I know exactly how to act to promote the object I have in view. I am sorry to say that in these various questions in connection with Ireland which have been raised during the War the Prime Minister has not given me that impression. He has given me an impression of vacillation which is one of the most painful, and that is the impression the people of Ireland have received as a result of his conduct.


I think the hon. Member has mistaken the Motion now before the House. The Question is, whether or not we shall sit beyond eleven o'clock.


On a point of Order. Am I not entitled now to discuss the question of the Prime Minister's action in Ireland?




I think it would be rather unreasonable for the Prime Minister to refuse absolutely the request of my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh. He must be aware that there are at this moment topics of really very great interest and urgent public importance that require to be discussed, and this is the only opportunity that the House will have of discussing these topics for six or seven weeks. It is a matter of simple calculation that it is quite impossible to finish before the small hours of the morning. There is the question of food prices; the question to be raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee; the question of Ireland; and the question some of us desire to raise of field punishment in the Army. All these are very important matters. The Government would not be prejudiced in any way that I can see by consenting to the proposal of my hon. Friend. It seems to me a very reasonable request. The matter is simple, and will be one of great convenience to the followers of the right hon. Gentleman if he will allow the suggestion of my hon. Friend to be carried into effect in order that the Adjournment Debate may be continued for two days instead of us going into the small hours of the morning.


I also join my views in asking the Prime Minister to accede to the very reasonable request of my hon. Friends opposite, and, in case of a refusal, I would invite them to proceed to a Division. I base that action on various grounds, one being the interests of Ministers themselves, for the most part well-meaning men, but completely overtaxed in their energies by the fact of it being a problem of men of mediocre ability trying to cope with almost superhuman powers. Moreover, this Debate is likely to be a long one, and I know of no spectacle more calculated to lessen the prestige of Parliament in the public eyes than the sight of those benches after twelve o'clock at night, when men sit like effigies of a past time, cudgelling their brains to follow the simplest proposition. The question, for instance, of Ireland is likely to lead to a very long Debate, and, in view of the importance of Ireland at the present crisis, that subject is surely one to which a whole day might be reasonably devoted—a whole day when the minds of Members are at their best point of energy, and when the whole subject can be thrashed out with candour and thoroughness by this House, so that by an interchange of opinions we may arrive at a better understanding than at present exists. I think that not only myself, but several Members on this side of the House, intend to pursue not merely the Irish question, but various Irish questions which arise out of it, each one of which is considered in Ireland itself of very considerable importance, and I think that, on that score alone, the Government would be well advised to devote a whole day to the consideration of the question of Ireland. Whereas now we may have a Debate, running to two, three, or four o'clock in the morning, and then perhaps it may be necessary at that hour, on a Motion to report Progress, to give us still another day. Therefore, I would invite the Prime Minister to reconsider this. It is not the first time he has reconsidered propositions which he has formed. I do not think that decision has been final in view of the general feeling that prevails in the House, and of the necessity at this hour of having a thorough understanding on these important and even vital questions. Finally, I would again invite my hon. Friends to proceed to a Division if the Government refuse this request.


I wish to join with the hon. Gentleman opposite in pressing the reconsideration of this matter upon the Government. I am surprised that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Ellis Griffith) was content with the answer he received to his reasonable request yesterday, and that he is not once more pressing the matter on the Government. After all, he has two grounds for expecting the Government to change their mind. We have to-day seen two obvious instances in which the Government have announced a change of mind, and in these circumstances we might perfectly well expect that, on a matter relating to the procedure of the House, the views expressed in different quarters will receive due consideration. We are being invited now to adjourn for a period of seven weeks, and I think this is the first occasion on which such a long Adjournment has been asked for on which there have not been protests from the House regarding the length of the Adjournment. In view of the long Adjournment, there are obviously many questions on which the minds of Members are exercised either in respect of decisions already taken or in respect of decisions which may be taken by the Government in the absence of the House during the Recess. In these circumstances, it is extremely probable that a large number of those questions can only be discussed either very late to-night or very early to-morrow morning. Announcements have been made in the Press as to the course of the Debate, and we gather that the right hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) is going to open the discussion, and that he is likely to make a speech of considerable importance, which will, of course, receive the attention which it deserves alike from His Majesty's Government and from the Press. Therefore it is probable that the speeches which are raised by less important Members will not receive the attention in the public Press which they deserve—[An HON. MEMBER: "In the Scottish papers!"]—even in the Scottish papers. Owing to the shortage of paper even the Scottish papers have had to give less space than they have been wont to do to the proceedings of Parliament. Consequently, in view of the fact that the House meets again to-morrow, and there are a number of Members who would be very glad to come here and to have an opportunity of interrogating Ministers and getting replies from them, I really do not see why the Government should resist the suggestion.

After all, it is in the interests of the Government themselves. We do not desire to see His Majesty's Ministers kept on the bench till midnight or one o'clock in the morning. We hope, indeed, that they may be better employed at those hours. There is no doubt that they will be in a far better position to deal with the subjects under discussion in the daylight hours of to-morrow than they will be in the early hours of the morning. I think all those important considerations should be in the minds of Members before they go to a Division. Certain subjects have been already mentioned as likely to be raised in discussion, but I understand there are far more than have yet been enumerated. I understand the hon. Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing) intends to deal with the question of the Air Services, and that the hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Mr. MacCallum Scott) has an important speech with regard to the general situation which he wishes to put before the House, and I have no doubt he will also refer to the important question of jam. All these matters should receive the attention of the House at a time when the House can give a fair consideration to them, and particularly in view of the long Recess for which the Government is now asking.


I am always rather alarmed when the Government is left to its own devices without the check and criticism of Parliament. It seems to me like leaving a bull in a field with the gate open.

4.0 P.M.


I am sorry if the Prime Minister does not feel disposed to make any reply to the suggestions that have been made from various quarters of the House on this matter of the suspension of the Eleven o'Clock Rule, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman's silence in this matter is not a gentle hint to the other right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench that, when many of these important topics are raised on the Adjournment Motion, they will be either silent or absent. If the Prime Minister is not going to give way in this matter, I hope at least before this discussion concludes he will give an assurance that his colleagues on the Front Bench will be here to answer the matters that may be put forward by hon. Members in various quarters of the House. He must bear in mind the fact that this appeal is not being, made for the first time to-day; it was made from the Front Opposition Bench very powerfully yesterday, although I am afraid that that appeal was treated with very scant consideration by the Prime Minister. In view of the fact that the Government now take up the whole time of the House, and that all the rights of private Members have been absolutely abrogated for the whole of this Session, I think we are entitled to take advantage of an occasion such as this to bring forward, for the consideration of the Government, the various topics that have been mentioned.


Can the Prime Minister tell us how much business it is proposed to take to-night?


Only the two Motions standing in my name.


The hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Pringle) said that the Prime Minister's answer to my question yesterday was very curt. No doubt the hon. Member may be an authority on that matter, but I have not noticed it myself. Yesterday the Prime Minister said there was nobody in the House in favour of two days' Debate on the Adjournment Motion, and that the opinion of the country was not in favour of it. We know perfectly well that the country has not been consulted upon this matter, and therefore nobody can say what the country thinks about it. With regard to the House itself, it is quite evident that there is a considerable amount of opinion in the House in favour of two days—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—or at any rate, in favour of a longer Debate upon these matters. Yesterday I mentioned three subjects, but I was not aware of the Irish question, and I submit to the Prime Minister that if he would give us something longer than the ordinary time for the Adjournment Motion it is well that he should give it. We are going to meet to-morrow, and I should have thought that the Prime Minister and his col-

leagues would have welcomed a discussion upon these matters. Discussion is one thing and decision is another, but at the same time I should have thought the Members of the Government might be pleased to have a discussion on these various subjects. If we cannot have a longer time, I hope we shall have an assurance that the Ministers will stay until the various subjects have been disposed of even if we sit after eleven o'clock. I think it would be well for the Prime Minister to give way in view of the opinion of the House. The Government have sacrificed the film already to-day and there is no reason why they should not do what we ask.


May I point out to the House that the Motion now before us is one to extend the time for debate? If the House likes to negative my Motion it can do so, and then we shall close at eleven o'clock. I am perfectly satisfied as to what the general opinion of the House is. I believe the overwhelming opinion of the House is that this Motion gives ample time to discuss all the matters which have been mentioned, and I believe the idea that the country is thirsting for the prolongation of the Debate to-morrow is quite unfounded. I take it that the country is perfectly satisfied that this prolonged and arduous part of the Session should come to an end to-morrow, and that we should put the shutters up for a few weeks. I do not believe there is any desire whatever outside this House for a prolongation of this Debate. There will be ample time to-day to discuss all the topics which have been suggested.

Question put, "That the Proceedings on Government Business be not interrupted this night under the Standing Order (Sittings of the House), and may be entered upon at any hour though opposed."

The House divided: Ayes, 118; Noes, 21.

Division No. 56.] AYES. [4.5 p.m.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Blake, Sir Francis Douglas Crooks, Rt. Hon. William
Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry Brace, William Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (City, London) Bridgeman, William Clive Duke, Rt. Hon. Henry Edward
Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G. Brunner, John F, L. Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)
Barnes, Rt. Hon. George N. Bull, Sir William James Essex, Sir Richard Walter
Barran, Sir J. N. (Hawick Burghs) Burdett-Coutts, William Forens, Rt. Hon, Thomas Robinson
Beauchamp, Sir Edward Byles, Sir William Pollard Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes
Beck, Arthur Cecil Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George Forster, Henry William
Beckett, Hon. Gervass Coats, Sir Stuart Geldar, Sir W. A.
Bellaire, Commander C. W. Cowan, W. H. George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd
Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth) Craig, Ernest (Crewe) Goddard, Rt. Hon. Sir Daniel Ford
Bird, Alfred Craik, Sir Henry Greet, James Augustus
Greenwood, Sir Hamar (Sunderland) Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Smith, Sir Swire (Keighley, Yorks)
Gretton, John Macpherson, James Ian Stanton, Charles Butt
Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight) Magnus, Sir Philip Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)
Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale) Mason, James F. (Windsor) Sutton, John E.
Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) Money, Sir L. G. Chiozza Sykes, Sir Mark (Hull, Central)
Haslam, Lewis Morgan, George Hay Taylor, John W. (Durham)
Henry, Sir Charles Morton, Alpheus Cleophas Tennant, Rt. Hon. Harold John
Hewins, William Albert Samuel Munre, Rt. Hon. Robert Thomas, J. H.
Higham, John Sharp Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield) Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Hill, James (Bradford, C.) Norton-Griffiths, John Thorne, William (West Ham)
Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy Pearce, Sir Robert (Staffs, Leek) Toulmin, Sir George
Holmes, Daniel Turner Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington) Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Ince)
Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham) Wardle, George J.
Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Pennefather, De Fonblanque Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay T.
Hume-Williams, William Ellis Phillips, Sir Owen (Chester) Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.
Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East) Pretyman, Ernest George Wiles, Thomas
Jones, Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe) Prothero, Rowland Edmund Williams, John (Glamorgan)
Kellaway, Frederick George Pryce-Jones, Colonel E. Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)
King, Joseph Radford, Sir George Heynes Williams, T. J. (Swansea)
Larmor, Sir J. Rea, Walter Russel (Scarborough) Wing, Thomas Edward
Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Bootle) Reid, Rt. Hon. Sir G. Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)
Lewis, Rt. Hon. John Herbert Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln) Yate, Colonel C. E.
Long, Rt. Hon. Walter Robertson Rt. Hon. J. M. (Tyneside) Yeo, Alfred William
Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston) Rowlands, James Young, William (Perthshire, East)
M'Curdy, Charles Albert Salter, Arthur Clavell
Macmaster, Donald Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
M'Micking, Major Gilbert Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton) Mr. Gulland and Lord E. Talbot.
Brady, Patrick Joseph Lynch, Arthur Alfred O'Grady, James
Condon, Thomas Joseph Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester) O'Malley, William
Finney, Samuel MacVeagh, Jeremiah Pringle, William M. R.
Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway) Morrell, Philip Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)
Hazlcton, Richard Nolan, Joseph Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Jowett, Frederick William O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Keating, Matthew O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade) O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool) Mr. Lundon and Mr. Hogge.

Question put, and agreed to.