HC Deb 12 October 1916 vol 86 cc235-9

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he can give an early day for the discussion of the Motion with reference to the condition of Ireland which stands in my name on the Paper?


Yes, Sir. Perhaps I might in answer to that question answer the usual question as to the business for next week.

On Tuesday, we shall take the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill, and, with the consent of Mr. Speaker, the first topic of discussion will be Food Prices.

On Wednesday, we shall take the formal Committee stage of the Consolidated Fund Bill, and on that day give an opportunity to the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) to move his Resolution.

On Thursday, we shall take the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say what business he proposes to take this evening?


The first two Orders only.


Is there any possibility of giving two days to the discussion on food prices if there is a strong desire indicated in the House?


We must get the Second Reading of the Bill, but if there is a desire to continue the discussion we will provide a day for it.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the man-power discussion is likely to be taken? Will a day be given for it, and will it be soon?


It can be discussed, of course, on the Consolidated Fund Bill, but if there is a desire for further discussion I will try to arrange a day.

Ordered, 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 Prime Minister.] Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Tuesday next."—[The Prime Minister.]


I should like to take this opportunity of putting to the Prime Minister a few questions which I also raised when this procedure was first adopted. I should like to know whether we are to gather from the terms of the Motion that for the remainder of the present Session the intention is that the House should only sit three days a week, and, if so, will the right hon. Gentleman propose such an Amendment of the Standing Orders as may be necessary to enable Question Time to be prolonged for another quarter of an hour? The right hon. Gentleman will observe that on to-day's Order Paper there are close upon 180 questions. If the House is only to sit for three days a week, a great number of matters which various Members wish to bring before the Government are likely to appear on the Question Paper, as they do to-day. Considering that the House frequently rises before a late hour, it is not unreasonable to ask that Question Time should go on until four o'clock. That will enable us to get through a large number of questions. While, of course, I do not intend to oppose the proposal of the Prime Minister, I believe there is a great number of Members in the House who will join with me in rather regretting our sitting only three days a week. A great many Members of the House are doing valuable and important work in the country, but they cannot do that valuable work if they have to spend three days each week in London. To those Members it would be more agreeable, if it were possible, to get through the business of the House as quickly as possible and then continue adjourning for some weeks. That would enable them to go into the country. We all realise that sitting for three days a week only is for the advantage of Ministers and the different Departments. We also realise that there is no more important thing at the present time in the national interest than that Members of the Government should have sufficient relaxation from their duties in the House in order to carry out those other duties, but there is the point of view of the House as well as the point of view of the Government. I would ask the Prime Minister if it is possible, without interfering too much with the duties of Ministers, for us to get through the business of Parliament as quickly as possible and so enable us to get away to the country to do other work, rather than to prolong the Session unnecessarily by stretching it out by only sitting three days each week?

4.0 P.M.


I should like to urge upon the Prime Minister very strongly that the time has come to abandon this novel system of sitting for three days in the week. Throughout the period at the beginning of the War, when this system was first introduced, there was a great deal to be said for it, because the House desired to remain in more or less continuous session and had very little business to do—in fact, so little that we used to adjourn every night at about six o'clock—and there was manifestly something to be said for the new practice of sitting three days in the week. But now the whole situation has changed, and the House has got apparently a considerable amount of business on hand at each sitting that takes place, quite enough to keep it for a considerable period of time, and I fail utterly to see what argument now exists for a continuance of the system of sitting for only three days a week. It is a system which is extraordinarily inconvenient to Members of the House who live at a great distance from London, and particularly for those who have to cross the sea to attend to their Parliamentary duties. I could quite understand the argument, if it were put forward, that in a matter of this character the convenience of Ministers must override the convenience of private Members of the House; but is there any argument in the present circumstances to show that it is more advantageous to Ministers to have the business of the House prolonged over a considerable period by sitting only three days in the week? Would it not be very much more convenient for Ministers to get rid of the House altogether as soon as it can conclude its business? Ministers would rather have no House sitting at all. They are very hard-worked and take no vacation. Ministers can best attend their work when the House is not sitting at all, and therefore our business ought to be to address ourselves to the work we have to do, to conclude that work and then adjourn. The adjournment might only be for a brief period or it might be for a long period, according as Ministers think right, but I cannot now see that there is, under present circumstances, any argument in favour of the plan of extending our Session by sitting only three days a week so as to prolong it unnecessarily. It would be very convenient to some Members of the House if, in making his reply, the Prime Minister could give some general indication of what business is before the House during the present sitting, whether it is likely to be contentious or prolonged, and whether he contemplates a long sitting, or whether he thinks that a period of two, three, or four weeks will conclude the business.


I hope my right hon. Friend will not assume that there is only one opinion on this question. There are a great many Members who think the arrangement proposed by the Government is, on the whole, the best suited to the public convenience. I agree that that is a matter on which differences exist. The only caveat I wish to enter is that the two expressions of opinion we have beard do not represent the view which is generally held.


I desire to support the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Churchill). I do not think the argument of the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon), that if we sit four days a week we shall have a shorter Session, is justified. If we are once here, we shall probably stay on till very nearly Christmas, whatever happens. Above all things I put the convenience of Ministers. Ministers are extremely hard-worked, and if we are going to sit four days a week they will not be able to get away for week-ends. It is essential that they should get away for week-ends and have a little rest from their very hard work. They have probably had very little holiday while we have been away during September. Therefore I strongly urge the Prime Minister to stick to his plan and not to listen to my hon. Friend (Mr. McNeill) or the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon).


The Motion before the House does not commit the House to anything more than the particular adjournment this week, but it is our intention, as at present advised, to ask the House to sit for not more than three days a week. That plan is not put forward with any selfish desire. I do not think anyone knows the obligations which rest upon Ministers at this time. I can say that for myself and the whole of my colleagues, who are more hardly pressed than I am. Every day we sit on Committees—War Committees, Cabinet Committees, and a vast number of other Committees—and in addition to that, we have to discharge our departmental duties and to look after the general conduct of the War. I do not suppose at any time in our history Ministers have been more hard pressed. When my hon. Friend (Mr. Ashley) says it is desirable that Ministers should go away for week-ends, I can assure him that their work follows them, and the only real relaxation they have is that they are freed from the society, voluntary or involuntary, which they cannot escape so long as they remain in London. It is a matter in which the Government desire to consult the general convenience of the House, but in the interests of the public service and the proper prosecution of the War, I believe the plan we have proposed is the best. In answer to the hon. Member (Mr. McNeill), the fact that there are on the Paper to-day 177 Questions is very exceptional. It represents an accumulation of interrogative curiosity, and I do not think it can be regarded as a fair sample. I should rather deprecate the extension of Question Time.

Question put, and agreed to.