§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
I beg to move,That the proceedings set out in the second column of the table annexed to this Order shall be appointed for the day mentioned in the first column of that table, and those proceedings shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion at the time shown in the third column of that table.For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion at the time appointed in this Order the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall, at the time appointed in this Order for the conclusion of those proceedings, put forthwith the Question on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair, and shall then proceed successively to put forthwith any Question, or Questions, necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded. Provided that in order to dispose of the outstanding Supplementary Votes in the Civil Services and Revenue Departments Estimates in Committee of Supply the Question shall be put in respect of the total amount of the Supplementary Votes outstanding in respect of the Civil Services and Revenue "Departments Supplementary Estimates.Any Private Business which is set down for consideration at 8.15 p.m., and any Motion for adjournment under Standing Order No. 10 on the date on which any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion, shall, on that date, instead of being taken as provided by the Standing Orders, be taken after the conclusion of the proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order on that day, and any Private Business or Motion for Adjournment
|Day.||Proceedings.||Time for Proceedings to be brought to a conclusion.|
|Tuesday, 9th March||…||All outstanding Supplementary Estimates in Committee of Supply||7.45 p.m.|
|Wednesday, 10th March||…||Report of all outstanding Resolutions reported in respect of Supplementary Estimates, and of the Resolution of the Committee of Supply on the 23rd February with respect to the Army Vote on Account||8 p.m.|
|Thursday, 11th March||…||Motion, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair (on going into Committee of Supply on the Air Force Estimates).|
|Vote A and Votes 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the Air Force Estimates in Committee of Supply||11 p.m.|
|Monday, 15th March||…||Civil Services and Revenue Departments Vote on Account in Committee of Supply||—|
|Tuesday, 16th March||…||Report of the Civil Services and Revenue Departments Vote on Account||8.15 p.m.|
§ so taken may be proceeded with, though opposed, notwithstanding anything in any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House
§ On a day on which any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order proceedings for that purpose shall not be interrupted or suspended under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House, or of Standing Order No. 4.
§ On a day on which any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order no dilatory Motion with respect to those proceedings, nor Motion that the Chairman do report progress or do leave the Chair, shall be received unless moved by the Government, and the Question on such Motion, if moved by the Government, shall be put forthwith without any Debate.
§ Nothing in this Order shall—
- (a) prevent any proceedings which, under this Order, are to be brought to a conclusion on any particular day being concluded on any other day, or necessitate any particular day or part of a particular day being given to such proceedings if those proceedings have been otherwise disposed of; or
- (b) prevent any other business being proceeded with on any particular day, or part of a particular day, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House, after any proceedings to be concluded under this Order on that particular day, or part of a particular day, have been disposed of.
§ This Order shall have effect notwithstanding the practice of the House relating to the interval between the steges of any Bill ordered to be brought in upon a Resolution from the Committee of Ways and Means.
§ On Tuesdays, 23rd and 30th March, and Wednesdays, 24th and 31st March, Government Business shall have precedence."959
|Day.||Proceedings.||Time for Proceedings to be brought to a conclusion.|
|Wednesday, 17th March||…||Motion, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair (on going into Committee of Supply on the Navy Estimates)||8.15 p.m.|
|Thursday, 18th March||…||Vote A and Vote I of the Navy Estimates in Committee of Supply. Proceedings necessary for the House to resolve itself into Committee of Ways and Means and to dispose of Resolutions proposed in that Committee||11 p.m.|
|Monday, 22nd March||…||Motion, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair (on going into Committee of Supply on Army Estimates)||11 p.m.|
|Tuesday, 23rd March||…||Vote A of the Army Estimates in Committee of Supply||11 p.m.|
|Wednesday, 24th March||…||Report of outstanding Resolutions of Committee of Supply and of Resolutions of Committee of Ways and Moans||5 p.m.|
|Consolidated Fund Bill, Second Reading||11 p.m.|
|Thursday, 25th March||…||Consolidated Fund Bill, remaining stages||11 p.m.|
§ This is the first time that a Resolution of this kind has been necessary since the outbreak of war, and I may add that it is the first time that I have had anything to do with a Resolution of this kind from this Box, though I have had many opportunities of dealing with similar Resolutions when I sat on the other side of the Table, and the House will not be surprised to hear that in a discussion of this kind I should prefer the other position, the attack rather than the defence. In dealing with such a Resolution, there are two points of view, both relevant but both quite distinct, from which the House ought to consider it, the first being whether or not, without regard to the circumstances which have brought about such a situation, the Resolution is necessary, and, if so, whether that necessity is met in the best way. The second consideration is whether or not, by good management, the necessity might have been avoided, and I will deal with the second of these considerations first. If the House imagines that the Government were under the illusion that the 31st March was a movable date, and that we have simply drifted into the position without making any attempts to foresee and guard against it, that is a mistake. As a matter of fact, before the end of last Session, when we were considering at what date the House should meet this year, I went into the subject with my Noble Friend the Patronage Secretary, as fully as I could, in order to see what time was absolutely necessary to get through 960 the business before the 31st March, and there are, as it seems to me, three-different possibilities as to the methods by which we could have avoided this-necessity. The first is that it might have been done by a better arrangement of the business since the House met, but if anyone will consider what the subjects, are, apart from finance, which have been dealt with, I think he will be inclined to agree with me that none of these were avoidable. On the second day of the Session my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) put a question to me which enabled me to give the answer that, though we hoped that special precautions and special action would not be necessary, the time was so short that it might be necessary to do something such as I am proposing to-day.
§ Apart from financial business we have dealt only with three or four Bills, the necessity of which, I think, will be admitted. These were, so far as I remember them, the Coal Bill, the Bill for Unemployment Insurance—and if that had not been started, the House would quite understand it would have made a great delay in introducing a reform which the whole House considered necessary—but the subject which occupied most of the time was the War Emergency Laws (Continuance) Bill. I know there was a difference of opinion as to the details of that measure, and, unfortunately, it has taken five days instead of, as we hoped, two or, at the most, three. If that had not happened, 961 I think it is possible we might have escaped this resolution. I think the House, if they look at all the business on which we have been occupied, will, if they are inclined to consider the matter fairly, come to the conclusion that since the House met we have wasted no time in getting this business done. The second method by which it could have been avoided would have been by calling the House together earlier. We certainly carefully considered that before the time was fixed, but when I remind the House that Parliament met last year on, I think, the 4th February, that it sat right through till two days before Christmas, with only something like a week's vacation at Easter, and something like a fortnight at Whitsuntide, and three months for the Autumn recess, when they take that into account and realise also that not only was the House sitting for this long period, but that owing to the new method of procedure the amount of work done in Committee put a strain on the House which it had never known before, if they take that into account, and take into account also that we have not merely considered that, but that the constant sitting of the House makes it almost impossible for the departments to keep abreast of their work, if they take all that into account, I think they will agree with me that we could not have arranged for the House to have met earlier this year.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ There is a third way by which we might have avoided the necessity. We might have taken private Members' time right up to Easter for the purposes of the Government. We considered that, but we were all anxious that as quickly as it could be done we should get back to the pre-war practice in regard to the procedure of the House, and we came to the conclusion deliberately that it was better to face the risk of running short of time that to deprive hon. Members of a privilege which I, as an old Member of the House, know that they greatly value, and. so far as I am concerned, I say that even if I had known we should be forced to adopt this plan I should not have thought it right to have taken that course. The interest which has been shown in private Members' discussions proves conclusively the un-desirability of depriving the House of the opportunity which private Members' 962 time gives. These were the only three methods by which this difficulty could have been avoided. Let me say a word or two about the other side of the position in which we find ourselves to-day. In the first place, the amount of time which is given, of course, is much greater than that given to all the financial business when the War was going on. That is natural and is no satisfaction to the House. As a matter of fact, however, I have looked the matter up, and I find that the time is very nearly the same as that which was given in the last year before the War. Even that, however, is not a complete justification, because the Civil Service Supplementary Estimates were never so large on any previous occasion. I would ask hon. Members to consider this point. Immediately after the Armistice, or at all events near that time, when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer, I was asked whether we would introduce the Estimates in the ordinary way and get rid of the Votes of Credit which had applied during the War. I gave the pledge then that the Government would introduce ordinary Estimates, and that pledge was carried out by my successor. The House will understand that when these Estimates were prepared we were not in a normal position—we were passing from war to peace—and it was quite impossible, as I think I pointed out at the time, to give Estimates with anything like the accuracy possible in an ordinary year. In this connection I would remind the House that although the Estimates are much larger than the figure given in the Budget Speech they do not exceed, indeed they are below, the total amount which was given by my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the White Paper issued during October. These Supplementary Estimates bring the total expenditure nearly, but not quite, up to the figure which was given by my right hon. Friend in October.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Could my right hon. Friend say what has been the total amount of the Supplementary Estimates since October?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I have not the figure, but I think it is £28,000,000. I am certain that I am accurate in saying that the total amount does not exceed the estimate given by my hon. Friend in the White Paper in October, because I have looked into it.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It includes every expenditure. Let me say, in passing, that some of these Supplementary Estimates could have been avoided. There has been in many Departments an increase in expenditure which was not anticipated, but, on the other hand, there has been also an increase in receipts which was not anticipated, and there is no technical reason which would have prevented us putting the one against the other and so avoiding the necessity of producing a Supplementary Estimate. This course, however, was not only condemned, and rightly condemned, by a Select Committee, but we ourselves felt that it was a bad system of finance, and, although it was not absolutely necessary to produce Supplementary Estimates, we have not put the one against the other. That was the position, and I do not think that there is any Member of the House who doubts that the Resolution that I am now moving is necessary. It is necessary not merely to comply with what has always been the practice of the House, but it is necessary also that all these financial Votes should be passed in order to fulfil the law, and they have to be passed before March 31st. I am glad to say that the necessity seems to be recognised, to judge by the Amendments which appear on the Paper, Without discussing them in detail, I shall glance over these Amendments. An Amendment in the names of some of my hon. Friends suggests that a small select Committee should be appointed to decide in what way the time should be utilised. The words used in the Amendment are:To report…on the best method of securing, with general assent and the maximum of free discussion, the completion of the necessary financial business before 11 p.m. on Thursday, 25th March,That is precisely what, to the best of our-ability, we have tried to do, and I would point out that even if we assume that these hon. Members would be much more successful than we have been, the net result would be that at least one day, and probably two days, would be lost by adopting: their plan. I have nothing but commendation for the names of the hon. Members who are specially mentioned, but if hon. Members will look at them, they will see that there are two initial 964 difficulties which it might be rather difficult to overcome. In the first place, I think it extremely doubtful whether such a body, consisting of so many Members, would arrive at any agreement at all upon the subject, and, secondly, if by any chance they did arrive at any agreement it is exceedingly doubtful whether it would command the approval of the House any more than the recommendation made by the Government. The Government, therefore, could not accept the Amendment, and I think the House will agree with them. Then there are some other Amendments, as was to be anticipated, by my right hon. Friend, the Junior Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). So far as I understand them, if they were adopted, it would not be possible to end the business on the date that we have taken. The effect of them would be, not to give more discussion, but to enable the House or a certain number of Members to spend the necessary time in having a very large number of Divisions.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I should be surprised if anything would be gained by having a great number of Divisions. The next Amendment is that of the Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Adamson) and another hon. Member (Mr. Tyson Wilson), and, as far as I am able to understand it, its object is the same as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) who proposes to take away the time allotted to individual Members of the House who have had the luck to secure a place in the ballot for private Members' nights. I say at once that so far as the Government are concerned we have no objection to that proceeding, but, though I have sat on one or other of the Front Benches for a long time, I have still very much sympathy with the ordinary Member of the House, and it seems to me that it would be a great hardship, in a case where the ballot has taken place and a Member has actually secured a place, that he should be deprived of his opportunity.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
Might I explain what I intended? Of course, to-morrow is not included in this suggestion, but I thought it might be possible for the Government to use their good offices so that those three hon. Members who have 965 secured the other three dates and have therefore reduced their chances in the ballot to a certainty should have the first three Wednesdays, the only days after Easter, in order that those Debates on the subjects for which they have been fortunate enough to secure the ballot should take place.
I have no hesitation in saying that, not only from the point of view of the Government, but, so far as I can judge, from the point of view of the public interest of having a longer discussion on these Estimates, I should greatly prefer the an arrangement which my right hon. Friend has suggested. Perhaps the best plan would be for my right hon. Friend to put his Amendment upon the Paper in a form to include both proposals. I do not think that the Government have any power to select the subjects to be taken in private Members' time after Easter, but if the proposal be adopted and it be the wish of the House, the Government will gladly accept it, or, if there should be any doubt about it, I should be perfectly ready to have it decided by a vote of the House without putting on the Government Whips, so that we could feel that the House was expressing its view on the matter. This, so far as I can see, covers all the Amendments on the Paper. I know that the House realises that, whatever time is taken up in discussing this Resolution, by that amount of time the discussion on the Estimates is limited. It is therefore an advantage that we should come to a conclusion on this Resolution as soon as possible. It is inevitable, I suppose, that the Government should be properly rebuked for its mismanagement of the business, but it is not inevitable that the rebuke should take a long time.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Can my right hon. Friend say why it is necessary to close the business of Supply by March 25th?
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has called my attention to that matter. It would in any case have been necessary to terminate it on the following day or at the latest on the day after, because it must go to the House of Lords. But there is another reason. The Government have come to the conclusion that it is absolutely necessary that there should be a Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill before the House rises for Easter. I hear some hon. Members say 966 that nobody wants it. I recognise the cheers of my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Whatever may be the views of these two hon. Members, the Government have brought forward this Resolution and think it absolutely essential, and I shall be surprised if the House does not agree with me, in view of the position, that we should make it perfectly plain that so far as the Government are concerned we do mean to proceed with this Bill. I am certain that they would not be content if we were to rise before we took this Bill. Even from the point of view of those who think the Bill is no use I think it will be agreed that it is desirable that the House should have the earliest opportunity of saying what it thinks upon what is the most important Bill of this Session.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Can you inform us what course it is proposed to take? Will there be a Second Reading Debate on the first Amendment? Will it be moved at once without any general discussion?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Amendment in the name of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the Member for Durham (Major Hills), raises what is equivalent to a Second Reading discussion. When that is disposed of, I shall proceed with the Amendment, in the order in which they stand on the Paper.
§ Major HILLS
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsa Select Committee, representative of all opinion in the House, be appointed forthwith with instructions to report during to-morrow's Sitting on the best method of securing, with general assent and the maximum of free discussion, the completion of the necessary financial business before 11 p.m. on Thursday, 25th March.
§ [The following names appeared on the Paper for nomination as Members of the Committee: Sir F. Banbury, Mr. William Graham, Mr. Hogge, Mr. Murray Macdonald, Mr. W. Nicholson, and Colonel penry Williams.]
§ Major HILLS
This Amendment, which I have put down with my hon. Friend, 967 is not intended in any hostile sense against the Government proposal, I quite recognise that the finance of the year has got to be got through on the 25th March, but what I object to is that when the House has got to discuss finance this proposal has been, so to speak, cast at its head. We have got simply to accept the Government's terms. What is the general position in which the House finds itself? My right hon. Friend has just described the position of the Government. He has put that quite fairly before the House. I do not think he has said a word to which anybody objects. I do not think it is the fault of the Government that there is so short a time to deal with finance. It is possible that they might have curtailed the discussion on the War Emergency Laws (Continuance) Bill, but I agree that there was on all sides a general wish to debate that Bill at some length. Therefore I do not start by blaming the Government, but I would like the right hon. Gentleman to consider what is the position of private Members like myself. We have now before us for the first time since the War a compartment Closure Resolution moved on behalf of the Government, and that is the case before there has been even a shadow of obstruction. There has never been a House of Commons so considerate as this one to the Government, or one in which there has been so great a spirit of fair Debate without the least shadow of obstruction. I would only have to refer to the large number of Statutes passed last year in order to illustrate that. I do not think there has been any House of Commons in the whole of our history that has passed so many important measures, and they were all debated without any vexatious oposition. My experience in this House, which now extends over fourteen years, has led me to the conclusion that it is not obstruction that causes the Closure, but it is the Closure that causes obstruction. I am certain that many Members of the House will agree with me in that conclusion—that the Closure is the worst means of attempting to facilitate the business of the House. We know that we can speak only for a certain time, and the Minister who is in charge of the business has only to take up a certain amount of the time in which the House is allowed to talk, 968 and what happens is that at the end of that time he is safe and the Debate is closed. I think that that has been one of the causes of obstruction and of vexatious opposition in the House in the past. I am afraid that that sort of thing will continue if Governments continue in the course that has been followed in the past.
I would like to draw attention to the effect of the Closure upon the position of the House of Commons. I might say a good deal upon that point, but I will go on to deal with the effect upon the country. I do not think that everyone realises what has been the effect on the country and what will be the effect of this procedure. There are two questions in which the people generally are interested—high prices and Government extragance. What will the country think when after two days' discussion on the Estimates, which are enormous, we then cease to discuss them, and are asked to be silent? In these two days we have discussed £1,500,000 of the Votes, and now in about four hours we are asked to dispose o£ £27,000,000. Surely it is no use for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to preach economy to us when as soon as we try to produce economy we are told not to talk any more. Further, from the Government's own point of view, what must a Minister feel when ho knows that as soon as his Estimates have passed the Treasury there is no other barrier, and his Votes will go through without a single word of criticism? The Votes that we discussed in these two days were by no means important votes, but the discussions on them were very fair and reasonable, and showed that there was serious matter for criticism, but there are many far more important votes to come. I believe we all want to restore to this House the real power of checking the Government Departments. They really require to be checked, and the only time when we can check them most efficiently is in the discussion of their Estimates. It is about the only time that a Member of this House can say a word on them, and yet when we start checking them in that way we are told to stop. I want the Government to consider the effect of this procedure upon the reputation of Parliament. Representative government no longer stands in the same position as it did before the War. It has now a competitor outside, and unless we have free discussion the House of Commons cannot 969 hold its position. We are anxious to obtain some control of its own business by Parliament. I am sure that the Closure does not assist Parliament to hold its position. I do not want to put the case too high, but I do appeal to the House on that point.
Then again, there is the position of the private Member as against control by the Government, and that brings me to the subject of the Amendment which stands in my name. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law) said he considered the Government scheme was the more advisable one, but I think that my scheme has got great advantages even for the Government. It brings the House into consultation with regard to its business, and makes the House the master of its own fate. He also said that my proposal meant the waste of one day, and that time was precious. I agree it is precious, but I think it would be Well spent if we could start again with free discussion in this House, and put the Closure a degree further off. Then he criticised the names of those whom I suggest should be taken into consultation, but in reply to that I point out that we only received the notice of this Motion on Friday morning and we had to do what we could in the course of that day to meet it with another proposal. I submit that the names we have chosen are such as command generally the respect of the House, and I do not think that Members will agree with what the Leader of the House suggested, that these Members whose names have been given would not be likely to agree among themselves. I am certain that their discussions would do good. If we had this Committee set up it would take a question like this out of the hands of the Government and it would be brought into consultation with the House, and the effect will be to restore what my Noble Friend has called the "corporate respect of this House." I quite agree that the Government alone cannot re-introduce free discussion in this House such as there was in former days. They have to come to the House and the House ought to come and make a corporate bargain with them, and so bind itself to see that this bargain is carried out.
I repeat that I do not move this in any hostile spirit. I have been a long time a Member of this House, and I value its 970 tradition. We have had no closure such as this since the War. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman is the last man who would want to re-introduce the old system of which so much was heard some years ago. That would do harm to the Government, harm to the Opposition and harm to Parliament generally. I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman (the Leader of the House) to trust the House, and I think it has always trusted him, and I think he might rely upon it to help him out of this difficult position. It is for him to ask the House, when it makes objection, whether it cannot find a better way, and I think it can find a better way, and it is in the hope that a better way will be found that I move this Amendment.
§ Mr. EDWARD WOOD
I beg to Second the Amendment. My hon. and gallant Friend has drawn attention to the effect that must follow on the House itself from the Government Motion as it stands. I would also direct attention to what must be the effect, and what, according to all experience, is the effect on the business of a Motion of this kind. I believe that all those who have had experience in the House will support me in saying that, first of all, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, closure breeds obstruction, and it is also true that that follows because it at once becomes the automatic interest and advantage of every Opposition not to have as much discussion as possible, and not to get the time employed as well as may be, but to get as little discussion as possible in order that they may make the best case outside against the closure policy of the Government. Therefore, when my right hon. Friend says we should not gain under this suggestion, I venture to reply to him with great respect that he must not judge the matter purely in terms of time. The object of this House should be to secure the maximum of discussion on the points that matter, and the best employment of the available time, and that, I submit, would be assisted by some such scheme as this. I would emphasise what my hon. Friend said as to the effect on the country. I do not suppose there is any more trying vice in the case of individuals, and there is no vice against which we might all pray to be protected more earnestly, than that of taking ourselves as individuals seriously. We all hope our friends would warn us of it as soon as any sign became evident, but I think we would all agree that this 971 House would be lost if it did not take itself seriously, and that, unless it did take itself seriously, it could not feel surprised if it were not taken seriously by other people.
I would not have a word to say against this Resolution, however much one might dislike it, in ordinary days of party polemics. I recognise it very often has been, and very often may be, necessary, but I would point out with great respect that the times in which we live to-day are very different. There has been, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, no obstruction. There has been criticism, because we all have our differences of opinion; but there has been no obstruction. Really, the root of the trouble is inherent in our present situation. I do not blame the Government for it. While the Government is the victim and not the cause, I do suggest it is a matter in which all sections of opinion in the House are vitally concerned in finding the best way out, because the Government of today may be the Opposition of the day after to-morrow, and the Opposition of to-day may be the Government at some future time. Therefore, I would add, there is to my mind a wide difference in principle between a plan imposed upon the House by the Government and a plan devised by the House for its own greater advantage, and I do not think the Government would lose by it. I know of no assembly which is more reasonable, more fair-minded, and more generous than the House of Commons. I know of no Member of it who can act so persuasively upon it as my right hon. Friend, its Leader, and I do not think he really does sufficient credit to his own powers of persuasion in not being prepared to take the risk of making an appeal to it to find its own solution, and to abide by the common consent. I believe it would.
If some such attempt to make the House responsible for finding the best way out of its own difficulties were to be found acceptable, it would not, I think, be impossible for such a Committee to be established, and for it to win general assent, enabling us at once to get on with Supplementary Estimates to-day, for the Committee to report to-morrow, for the House to agree to abide by its general conclusions, and, so far from losing time, I think, we should gain more time to-day than we could possibly lose to-morrow.
972 And if it were done, it would afford a very valuable precedent for a great many other occasions. More and more we need in this House, as the way out of these routine difficulties, to develop co-operation, rather than to have a system of imposition by majority votes. I would welcome it, therefore, as establishing a precedent. My right hon. Friend drew attention to the names that have been suggested. If there are any other names which would commend more general acceptance, they would be perfectly acceptable to me. All I contend for is the principle that, if limitation is necessary, the House should decide it for itself. In so deciding we should besetting a precedent of great value, which would make for the much improved efficiency of this House and the more efficient conduct of its business.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
The two hon. Members who have just spoken, not for the first time, I think, have shown an independence of spirit and a regard for the financial position of this House which do them very much credit in the face of a somewhat difficult position, which speeches of that kind always develop. I should have been very glad indeed if my right hon. Friend had seen his way to accept their proposals, because I do not think, as it has been put to us, it need have taken away a single hour of the discussion. If such a Committee could be set up at once and get to work at once, and in the meantime we could go on with Supplementary Estimates, their scheme would be in the hands of the Government, I should say, certainly by nine o'clock to-night. I can see no reason why that should not be done. However, the Leader of the House has intimated that, in his view, it is not a practicable proposal. Has he still an open mind on the question?
§ Mr. BON AR LAW
I am sorry to say I have not. If I thought it were practicable I should be delighted to say so.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I will pass on to make one or two comments, as Mr. Speaker has allowed us to do, on what is called the Second Reading of the Government's Resolution. It is just as well I am making a speech at this Box today, instead of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who has not an entirely unblemished past. But I am certain everybody will agree, no matter what 973 his past has been, that Motions of this kind with regard to finance are of all kinds the most objectionable. Everybody has agreed, in season and out of season, in this House and out of it, during the past few months, in insisting on the duty of the House of Commons exercising its primary function, the control over finance. I notice that the Prime Minister, speaking at Sheffield, the other day, said:The place to examine public expenditure is primarily the House of Commons. I trust the House of Commons will not do it vaguely, not by levelling wild, indefinite charges of extravagance, but by examining where the money is spent, making suggestions where savings can be effected, and listening to what is to be said for and against the Government Departments concerned.What is the case for the Motion which is before the House? Primarily, I suppose, it is because of the ecclesiastical calendar.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
As regards the War Emergency Bill, I would say that it was not necessary to take that Bill, for this reason, that the measures comprised in that scheme need not have been renewed until after the declaration of peace. We are months off that yet, and if there were a chance of it coming on, nobody could blame the Government for dealing with it as an emergency matter. They would have had to press it through in a very short space of time supposing peace had come. There was no need to introduce so highly contentious a measure right in the midst of the time which, as they know, and we all know, was all too short for the finances which had to be got through before the House rose for the Easter Recess. As regards the time spent upon that measure, I am very glad to bear what the two hon. and gallant Gentlemen have said, and which has not been denied by any Member of the Government, that there has not been a shadow of obstruction in the proceedings of this House, either this Session or, indeed, I would say, last Session. It was a perfectly honest Debate all the way through.
It might really be useful to remind hon. Members as to what the Government's proposal really means. The Government propose, under this drastic scheme, to pass a huge sum of £28,432,000. That is on the top of Supplementary Estimates which the House granted before it rose of round about the figure of 974 £48,000,000. Those of use who have had any considerable experience of the House know that there is no more important Estimate laid before the House than a Supplementary Estimate. What does it imply? That there has been a miscalculation on the part of the Department concerned. There may be some good reason for it; some development may have rendered it utterly unexpected, but at any rate, it is a miscalculation. So far as I am able to observe in regard to the majority of those Estimates, the miscalculation is of a character which requires very close investigation. In addition, there are one or two Estimates which amount to new services. There is the Forestry Commission, an entirely new service, and a most important one. I do not think I should be wasting the time of the House if I remind hon. Members of one or two of the Votes.
There is Class 2, Vote 6, Colonial Office, and for oversea settlements. There is Vote 8, Board of Trade, special services arising out of the War, and including expenses of the Coal Controller, Export Credits Department and Reparation Claims Department. Then there is a very important matter, and, one that requires, I should have thought, very close investigation. I refer to the Investment in British Dyes, Limited, coming, as it does, on those Supplementary Estimates. There is the Department of Overseas Trade, which raises the question of temporary Vice-Consuls in Russia, another question of real importance. Take the Ministry of Agriculture. There is the Corn Production Act Expenses, a very great and justifiable measure, but it should be discussed. Then my right hon. Friend will understand with what sympathy I approach the next item, that is the law charges: increase of law officers' salaries and fees to bring them up to pre-War rate. This is a matter which ought to be discussed. I next come to Class 5, Vote 2, Colonial Services, Grants-in-Aid of Local Revenues.
This raises questions of Somaliland, East Africa, and Rhodesia. There is the emergency services in connection with the railway strike. I should hope we would not go very deeply into that. Then there is old age pensions. There is Class 7, Ministry of Health and the Scottish Board of Health; Grants-in-Aid and medical benefit. We had an announcement 975 the other day, and the country is entitled to know much more than you can get by means of question and answer. Vote 8A (Ministry of Transport), with £125,324 for salaries alone for three-fifths of the year, is an entirely new Estimate. I had a look this morning, in time I had at liberty, at some of these details, and I think some Votes require a whole evening to themselves to know what they mean and to have the Minister here to put questions to, so that we may get full and complete information on these most important topics. There is the bread subsidy, coal mines deficiency, export credits, and so on.
I have indicated, I think quite sufficiently to the House, and I hope to the country, as to the immensely important questions that lie immediately to hand. We all know that guillotine discussion unfortunately, to a very large extent, interferes with freedom of debate, and indeed anything like adequate expression and conduct of debate is paralysed by this machine. The whole thing deadens debate and reduces it to the level of commonplace interjections upon masters of high public importance. That has always been the case. I cannot imagine anything more unfortunate as to time or topic for the Government to introduce this most objectionable form of Parliamentary procedure. There are many questions where—I quite agree—the thing is very difficult indeed, and almost impossible to overcome. But I should indeed be glad if it were possible for the suggestion of my hon. and gallant Friend to be accepted; anyway, to prevent the guillotine on finance. I join heartily in what both my hon. Friends have said that it is of the deepest importance that we should get the House of Commons back again to its old position of regard and respect in the country. There is nothing the country hates so much, whatever be the reason for it internally, as closure of debate, especially on finance. I really think it would have been worth while trying if it could be done to set up the Committee suggested and by consent carry through this necessary financial business within the necessary limits of time; for a new start to be made. Really, after hearing what has been said I feel more strongly than ever we have got a question of principle. I appeal to the Government to give the House of Commons a chance, 976 trust us for this time. We will back you up right through, and I believe, a great step, a fresh departure will have been taken in our procedure which will bring back some of its former prestige to the House of Commons.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I am quite in sympathy with the argument of my two hon. Friends who put forward the Amendment. It is particularly unfortunate that circumstances compel the Government to bring in this drastic closure because whilst hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the front benches have the usual opportunity of expressing their views on the various Votes that come before us, the ordinary back bencher in this House, it must be recognised, is really practically altogether excluded from taking any part in the debate on these Votes I feel the matter particularly, because I am one of several who constantly in the country express the opinion that there is a great deal of unnecessary extravagance at the present time on the part of the Government. For my part I do not feel that any of us is justified in doing that unless, when the opportunity comes in this House, we are straightforward enough to tackle the Government on that opportunity. I do not quite follow how my hon. Friends think that their Amendment is going to help us at the present time. There is no Committee of the House that can possibly add to the number of days between now and March 25th. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, they can."] I do not know how it can be done. It seems to me that their only hope must be to submit a closure table which will be closure by private Members in place of closure by the Government.
What the House really wants to attain, if possible, in the short time that it is allotted to the various Votes, is that every Member who wishes to speak should take up the minimum time possible in putting his points, and so allow a larger number of Members to speak. Just one point before resuming my seat. If we look at facts in the face it is quite obvious that we are going to be in exactly the same position this time next year. The matter is one which ought not to rest where it is. The Government ought to take some steps at an early date to advise means by which in future we may be given a full and fair opportunity of bringing forward points of criticism and arguments against 977 the Government on each of the various items which we desire to discuss.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and deavours to prove that the Government were not to blame. I do not quite agree with him. Let us consider for a moment what has taken place since the House met on February 10th. I quite agree' that it would not have been wise to ask the House to meet earlier than February 10th in view of the great demand upon their labours which the Government made last year. I think there the Government did the right thing. Having met, however, how is it that we have got into this stated The Address, the House will remember, was finished within the week—a much shorter time than usual—I am speaking now, not of war-time but of pre-war days. It is not correct to say the discussion was limited on the Address. The Leader of the House referred to the War Emergency Kill. But whose fault was it that was dealt with? It was entirely the fault of the Government. Why did they introduce a complicated measure which was absolutely certain to raise considerable discussion in the House? Why could they not have brought a measure in in something like the form in which it was passed the other day? This measure was brought in as long ago as August Bank Holiday. It has taken all the time between last August and a few days ago to pass it. Why? It is entirely the fault of the Government. They brought in—if I may respectfully say so—an absurd measure, which no respecting House of Commons could possibly pass without very serious amendment.
It was an attempt to alter the general law of the land. Fortunately, there were a number of people who were cute enough to find that out, but it took a considerable amount of trouble to induce the Attorney-General to forego those alterations. It was quite absurd to suppose that, in a Bill of this sort, an alteration of the general law would be allowed, and therefore that point entirely falls to the ground. That being so, the Government must have known that there was to be a certain amount of discussion on this Bill. There was no obstruction this Session. What question is it that interests the country most at the present moment? It is undoubtedly the question of expenditure 978 I do not say whether the Government is extravagant or whether it is not, but the question of expenditure undoubtedly does interest the country above everything at the present moment. Now we have been asked to pass Supplementary Votes numbering—I endeavoured to count them just now—between 60 and 70, amounting to an expenditure of £28,000,000, on the top of an expenditure of £37,000,000. We are asked to pass all these Votes in how many days? We have had one whole day and two half days. That makes two whole days. During that time we have passed nine or eleven Votes, leaving 51 Votes amounting to over £27,000,000 to be passed now. How are those 61 Votes going to be passed? Supposing they are taken to-morrow; there will be something like four hours in which to pass those 51 Votes, involving an expenditure of something like £27,000, OCO. I think some little time ago that somebody said that I was rather suspicious by nature. I do not know if I am, but I cannot help being a little suspicious as to the real reason why this Motion has been brought forward. It was only brought forward all of a sudden last Friday. What took place on those two half days during which we discussed those supplementary estimates? The Government had to make alterations in their programme. Are the Government afraid that further alterations may be made in their programme if the House is allowed unlimited discussion on the remaining Votes, and is it in order to avoid that that they are bringing in this guillotine? So, is the Motion brought forward really on account of the shortness of time?
Now let us deal with the plea of shortness of time. The Government have left three private Members' evenings—Tuesday, Wednesday and one other. [HON. MEMBERS: "Four!"] Well, four. Why should that be? I do not know that the subjects that are to be brought forward are so much more important than the discussion of the expenditure of the nation that the House should give up these four evenings to avoid discussing the Estimates in order that these abstract Motions may be discussed. I was myself surprised, at the beginning of the session, in view of the fact that Easter comes early and that certain things had to be done before March 31st, that the Government did not take all the 979 time of the House, or, at any rate, all Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons and evenings. But they did not do it. Having made that mistake there is no earthly reason that I can see why they should not take the evenings on these four days that I have mentioned. This would give considerably more time. Then there is a question of the Friday and of my Bill. My answer is, that in view of what I consider to be the very great importance, at the present moment, of discussing finance, that I would give up my Bill without any hesitation. I should be sorry to do so, but I should do it because I think that the financial state of the nation is a more important matter. I do not doubt that other hon. Members would do the same thing if they were asked, but they have never been asked. Why not have a table? Why not say that on such-and-such a day all the remaining outstanding Votes shall be put? I do hot say that is a good thing to do, but it is far better than the way the Government propose.
Then there comes the question of whether or not it is a good thing that this Committee should be set up I think the Leader of the House said that all the Members who were suggested as being proper people to act on it had strong views. Weil, if you are going merely to put on an automaton who will act when the strings are pulled behind him, you do not gain much. I should have thought that if you put on this Committee men with strong opinions you would be likely to come quickly to a decision. I would point out to the Leader of the House that any of those names can be altered. It will be quite possible for him when each name is called out to divide on any name and to substitute another. There is another point which ought not to be forgotten, and that is, how is it that these Supplementary Estimates have arisen? During all the years that I have taken any interest in financial questions in this House the very first thing that was always said by all Oppositions—I am not at all sure that I have not heard the Leader of the House say himself that it was a wise thing to say—" How is it that there has been all this miscalculation?" If there is anything that shows the incompetency of a Department it is that they cannot estimate their expenditure properly, and if you have a 980 Department which exceeds its estimate of expenditure by 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. it only shows gross incompetency on the part of the Department. During the War, of course, we had no estimates. Things occurred and possibly direct calculations could not be made. But we are not at war now. It is nearly one and a half years since the Armistice was signed, and by now we ought to have had accurate estimates put before the House.
There is only one reason why there should be all this hurry. It must be remembered that the only thing that goes to the House of Lords is the Consolidated Fund Bill. A couple of days would be quite sufficient for that. Here I must disagree with the Amendment. I think the date should be the 31st March and not the 25th. [HON MEMBERS: "The 30th!"] If it went to the House of Lords on the 28th that would give them three days. We have not got the Motion yet, But why cannot we have until the 30th or 31st? Because we must give two days for the Home Rule Bill. I believe that the last Home Rule Bill is still on the Statute Book. I think it was put on the Statute Book on the celebrated occasion when my right hon. Friend (Mr. Bonar Law) lead us out of the House. I think I was sitting behind him on that occasion, when he denounced the whole practice and requested us to follow him out of the House. We walked out after him. The Liberal Party were then in power and were sitting on this side of the House. Six years have passed since then and it cannot make the slightest difference whether the second reading of the new Home Rule Bill is taken on the 28th or 29th of March or on the 8th or 9th of April. I think a week's holiday at Easter would be plenty. It would be much better to have a longer time at Whitsuntide. There was not so much importance attached to the first reading of this Home Rule Bill. I have seen three Home Rule Bills in this House. In 1893 on the first reading we had chairs all down the gangway. In these circumstances there appears to be an alliance between myself and the hon. Member for the Falls Division of Belfast (Mr. Devlin) for the first and only time, in agreeing that the Home Rule Bill is rather a bad Bill and that there is no hurry for it. I think there is no reason why it should not be postponed. Under these circumstances, unless the Government are prepared to make considerable 981 alterations in their time-table I shall have much pleasure in supporting the Amendment.
Mr. A DAMSON
By his Motion the Leader of the House seeks to curtail one of the most important privileges that hon. Members have. In putting forward such a Motion this afternoon the Government have not even the excuse of any undue obstruction having taken place so far as their time in concerned. I would point out to the Leader of the House that is is very little consolation to hon. Members for him to tell us that this is the first time that he has proposed such a Motion. This is a matter of such grave importance to the House that there is no consolation in any such statement being put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. Not only is the House itself interested in retaining the privilege of fully discussing Estimates, but the country expects that hon. Members will take advantage of their privilege to the fullest extent, with the view of seeing if the money is spent wisely and well. This Motion is, in my view, put forward by the Government at a very unfortunate time.
In many parts of the world Parliamentary government is on its trial. I do not think the House and the Government recognise to the full extent the manner in which it is on its trial. If it did so, I feel sure that the Government would not have come so lightly to the House and have asked, by the Motion tabled by the Leader, for this retrenchment of the privileges of hen. Members on the Estimate. The closuring of Supply in such a manner is, to my mind, a very dangerous thing. It could have been avoided, I think, if the Government had not been in such a hurry to introduce the War Emergency Laws (Continuance) Bill. That was a measure which many Members of the House thought there was no necessity for at all. As we have been reminded by the Leader of the House, five days were occupied in discussing it, and those five days could have been very profitably spent in debating Supply.
There was another way in which the Government could have avoided the difficulty in which they have placed Members of the House this afternoon. They could have called the House together earlier. The Leader of the House stated that Members were entitled to as lengthened a holiday as could be provided. That is 982 true, but I do not think Members of the House would have enjoyed the holiday to the extent they did had they known that the price to be paid for the extended holiday was the closuring of Debate on Supply. I think the Leader of the House will be well advised to give serious consideration to the Amendment moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. I do not moan to say that the Amendment should be accepted in its entirety. What I do suggest to the Leader of the House is that the principle of the Amendment should be accepted, on the understanding that the Members of the Committee be selected by the Whips of the various parties. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] At any rate I think that is the manner in which it ought to be done. I do not-think the Committee should be selected in the way provided for in the Amendment. I do not know whether what I have said meets the views of the Mover of the Amendment, but I do seriously suggest to the Leader of the House; that he accept the Amendment, with a proviso that the selection of the Committee be arranged between the Government and the Whips of the respective parties.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The prophecy to which I ventured to give utterance at the beginning of this Debate, that there would be inevitable rebukes of the Government for mismanagement, so far has only been fulfilled in the speech of my right hon. Friend behind me (Sir F. Banbury). I am not going to deal with the criticism directed against the Government, because I am about to make a proposal in an endeavour to meet the views which have been expressed by so may Members of the House in connection with this Amendment. Let me say at the outset I had not understood the purport of my hon. Friend's Amendment, until I had read it closely, and I did not realise that a part of his proposal was that there should be no Closure Divisions, but that a. Committee should allocate the time instead of the Government itself doing so. A proposal of this nature has everything to commend it, if only the House will agree to it. I agree with every word which has been said about the disadvantage of Closure Resolutions. The Closure is bad enough on a Bill, but it is very much worse when used on the Estimates. How is the proposal of my hon. Friend to be carried out? It assumes the complete acquiescence 983 of the House of Commons in the whole of the arrangement come to. Suppose this Committee meets and makes a report as to the way in which the time shall be allocated. It might be possible for some Member of the House to talk the business out, and that would throw over entirely the business arrangement for the day, as obviously it is inconceivable that I should ask Mr. Speaker for the closure on some Vote which has not been discussed at all. Therefore the House will see that this entirely depends on the complete acquiescence of the House as a whole with the arrangement made.
I have had much experience in this House and my right hon. Friend opposite has had still longer experience. I have seen many of these Parliamentary bargains and I have never known one to be broken in any way. I am therefore certain if all Members of the House agree to an arrangement of this kind we need not be afraid that it will not be carried out. But this is not like an ordinary suggestion. It must be remembered that if it is not carried out in the time fixed we shall break the law, and that is a risk which we cannot take. As there is a fairly large number of Members in the House at the moment I will state that the proposal is that a Committee, as far as possible representative of all sections of the House, should make arrangements with regard to the necessary financial business, so as to get it finished by the 25th March. That is really essential. It is further proposed that this Committee should set to work at once and, before11 o'clock, the time of adjournment to-night, its proposals should be available for the whole House, and the Parliamentary bargain now made should then be confirmed and a definite time stated at which the business is to be taken with the consent of the House, thereby carrying the arrangement right through. Speaking not as a Member of the Government, but as a Member of the House itself, I suggest that to adopt this course would set a precedent which will be of immense value to future Parliamentary procedure. It would make it more difficult for either this or any other Government to move the Closure again, and I really think the House would be well advised if it starts on this course. A procedure something like this was adopted on a previous occasion, which enabled financial 984 of a very pressing nature to be carried through in two days. What I ask the House to do is to adopt the principle of the Amendment. As regards the Committee my right hon. Friend (Mr. Adamson) says he would not like to take the names exactly as they stand. But I do not think that matters very much. I do not propose that there should be any formal resolution about setting up the Committee, but I do propose that a Committee should be set up right away in an informal way to carry out this informal but binding obligation on the part of the House. There are sections of the House of Commons which must be allowed to have some say in the matter. I propose that my hon. Friend who moved and seconded this Amendment should be consulted as to the selection of the Committee and, pending the Report of the Committee, we should go on with the Supplementary Estimates. It will be necessary to move a part of the Resolution standing in my name and also part of the Amendment of the right hon. Member for Peebles.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
If we are to have the additional time which the House obviously desires us to take in the shape of private Members' time, in the case of those who have secured their opportunities under the ballot, and to give them in exchange certain evenings after Easter, in substitution for those taken away now, we must have a Resolution to that effect.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is a formal Resolution. What I am proposing is that there should be no formal Resolution but that this Committee should be set up to carry out the wishes of the House, and that at 11 o'clock the House should confirm the parliamentary bargain by agreeing to the times suggested by the Committee.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
We need to be rather careful I think as to the way in which we are proceeding. It will be necessary before anything else is done that the present Amendment and Motion should be withdrawn. Then, in my view, it will be 985 in the power of the Leader of the House to move separate sections of the Motion, as for instance, the one about private Members' time. I would venture to suggest also that the third paragraph which deals with private business might be desirable in the interests of the House. Private, business at 8.15 should be dealt with after the conclusion of Government Business.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Surely the best plan would be to appoint the Committee immediately—I do not care whether it is done formally or informally—let them draw up their scheme and let it be moved formally at the beginning of to-morrow's Sitting and come immediately into operation. Then we shall know exactly what we are doing. To try to settle now exactly which part of his Motion he wants to move and which he does not, will almost certainly lead to ultimate confusion, and it will le better to do that to-morrow when we shall have an opportunity of considering the matter. I recognise that there is an atmosphere of agreement, and anyone who makes a further suggestion will not be regarded with great popularity, but I suggest that this informal Committee should also have the power to say whether or not these days before Easter are to be given to the Home Rule Bill [HON. MEMBERS "No!"] If the Government will not agree to it they will not, but I think that is a perfectly reasonable proposition. I can quite understand the difficulty of the Government in making a proposal of that kind, but it might be made by a Committee representing the whole House. I feel very strongly that, whether this is done by the Committee or by the Government, it will expose the whole House inevitably to grave criticism outside. I am not making any attack on the Government. I am not saying it is their fault or it is not that we are in this position, but in the state of feeling in the country the impression that large Estimates are going to be hurried through the House without discussion will undoubtedly produce a very unfortunate effect. That is a fact which everyone who has been about the country will confirm me in. It would be alleviated if the Government or the Committee could devise some plan by which those subjects which are excluded from discussion now could be discussed at a later period of the Session. If it could be understood that in some way or 986 other every subject of importance which would come before the House for discussion but for the difficulties of time, will, nevertheless, be discussed later on, that would be a complete answer to the proposition that the House of Commons. is conspiring with the Government in order to avoid discussion of the Estimates. That is a charge which will undoubtedly be made and will be believed by a large number of people.
I strongly urge on the Government that it should make some statement of that kind to show that there is no ground for the suggestion that this is an effort to avoid discussion. I adhere to my view that in the circumstances it is quite unreasonable to insist on taking the Home Rule Bill before Easter. In view of the cry about economy and the control of finance, to postpone the discussion of the Second Reading of the Home Rule Bill for ten days is a very small considration compared with the obtaining of two or three more days of careful discussion of these very important Estimates.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I ask the House to assent to what seems to me the very reasonable proposal which has been made on behalf of the Government. I have, I suppose, as black a record as any man now living as the prolific parent of guillotine Resolutions. When I read on the Paper to-day the terms of the right hon. Gentleman's Motion, I recognised it as, I will not say an improvement or a development, but as at any rate a well-grown specimen of the breed. It has this, I will not say peculiar or wholly novel or exceptional feature, that it is applied not to legislation, but to finance. I remember well, for I was a Member of the Government at the time, the incident which my right hon. Friend has referred to as far back as the end of 1893 or the beginning of 1914, and the then Leader of the Opposition, now Lord President of the Council, who was not sparing in those days in dialetical courage, or as some of us thought dialetical audacity, and therefore not disposed to extend anything in the nature of weak or exceptional indulgence to demands made by the Government, assented, and I think with the universal approbation of the House, to what was really a far more drastic dealing with finance than anything even that is now proposed. I have been responsible probably for more closure and guillotine Resolutions than any man now sitting 987 within these walls. I have always regretted it. I have always thought it was a necessity, when it was a necessity, to be faced with reluctance and to be repeated with economy. But it has to be done. The financial situation is such that a certain number of these Votes must be taken before the expiration of the financial year. What is novel to me, and I think to everyone, in the proposal now made is that the allocation of time, and I hope to some extent of subjects, because I agree that if we pass over in these block Votes a number of highly-important items of expenditure without adequate discussion or in some cases without discussion at all, it ought to be upon the under-standing and with the assurance, which I am sure the Government is prepared to give, that at a later period of the Session the subjects so passed over will have a reasonable opportunity of being presented for debate—the novelty of the proposal consists in its adoption of an expedient which in my very long Parliamentary experience I have become increasingly favourable to, that the responsibility in this matter should not rest exclusively and invidiously upon the shoulders of the Executive, but should be shared by the House of Commons.
After all, we are first and foremost here as Members of Parliament. We shift from time to time from side to side, and many of us say things in Opposition to which, when we are in office, we should perhaps be glad to apply the sponge of oblivion, and sometimes when we are in office we say things which, when we get into Opposition, we should be equally prepared, I will not say to recant, but not to repeat again. I regard as of very great importance the precedent which I am very glad to see set, that an independent Committee of the House should have the primary and, indeed, the determining voice in the allocation of our time in regard to matters of this kind, and in particular in regard to matters of finance. After all, among the many functions of this House it is impossible to allocate precisely their relative importance, but I believe we all ought to agree that the first and foremost duty of the House, as representing the people of the country, is to have the freest and fullest debates on financial matters. I am, therefore, very glad on my return here, in the very first week, to find this new precedent. I 988 believe it is capable of large and beneficial extension, and I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Hills) is entitled to gratitude for the effort which he has made and, what is to me as an old Parliamentarian, the surprising amount of general acceptance which it has met in every quarter of the House. It would be a very great pity if we were to boggle over technicalities of procedure in the matter. The Whips can be relied upon to constitute a Committee which would command general confidence. My right hon. Friend's suggestion is that the Parliamentary bargain—and, as he says, a Parliamentary bargain once made is never in his experience and never has been in mine violated—should be ratified as it can easily be on the Motion for the Adjournment at the close of our preceedings to-night, and in the meantime we shall have saved the whole of this evening for the discussion of the Supplementary Estimates. I very earnestly hope that the House, without perhaps any further expenditure of time, will agree to the proposal.
§ Major HILLS
In asking leave to withdraw my Motion, I think I ought first of all to congratulate our new Member on his maiden speech and express our great pleasure in contrast to some speeches we have heard on the same subject from him. Secondly, I want to thank my right hon. Friend most sincerely for what he has done. I am sure he has done a wise thing, and from the point of view of the Government one of very far-reaching benefit to the House, and now that he has discharged his part of the bargain it is up to the House of Commons to fulfil theirs.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
This guillotine closure Resolution differs from all previous ones which have been brought before the House. Previous Resolutions have been debated by the two parties representing the Government and the Opposition and have been a matter of Party conflict, but on this occasion the Government of the day, by its Closure Resolution and by the acceptance of this Amendment, is bringing Parliament up against the people of the country outside who are more moved than they have been at any time in the past at the extravagance that is going on. It is a question of this House against the people of the country. There is not a Member present 989 to-day who has not had countless communications from his constituents urging that he should restrain the extravagance of the Government. It is a question now of the House against the country, and the country has a perfect right to say that the £56,000,000 of additional expenditure should not be voted without sufficient discussion. There has never been Supplementary Estimates like these before. The paltry time that is to be allocated for the discussion of these enormous Votes is utterly unworthy of the expenditure and the waste that is going on.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Put him on the Committee!"]—It is not a question of the composition of the Committee. It is a question of sufficient time for discussion. There is nothing more important than that we should get sufficient time. The Noble Lord has proposed that we shall have these two extra days that are going to be allotted for Home Rule. The suggestion has also been made that we should reduce the holiday. Both these proposals could be combined by the House coming back two days earlier, and we could then have the Home Rule Bill and have two days for the discussion of extravagance. We have in these Estimates enormous grants to the canal companies, and enormous grants-in-aid to the different Colonics. Every sort of extravagance is embodied in these Estimates, and the Committee which is to be set up is to divide up two and a half days in order that £50,000,000 of expenditure can be scamped. I welcome the suggestion that it should be a Committee of this House that should in future draw up the question as to where the guillotine should fall. There is no harm in that. We should all gladly obey the ruling of that Committee, and assent to its views, provided that the time allowed was sufficient. The time under this scheme is insufficient. It would be ridiculous to discuss in two and a half days that which is moving the country more than anything else. In these Supplementary Estimates you get the bread subsidy, enormous grants to the Board of Agriculture, and you get the Forestry waste. You also get the grant to Rhodesia. I hope the Committee will give us an opportunity to discuss the grant to Rhodesia. All these subjects are lumped 990 together in these Estimates, and unless you take the opportunity of discussing this extravagance now we shall not only get no further opportunity this year, but we shall have forfeited the right to the confidence of our constituents.
This is all a matter of time, and I would suggest that we might sit on Saturday. I can see no reason why we should not sit on Saturday. We are sent here as representatives of our constituents, and this financial question is one in which they are deeply interested. Therefore, I see no reason why we should not sit on Saturday in order to get the extra time for discussion.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It will be necessary to negative the Amendment, in order that the Motion may be withdrawn.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It is necessary for me, formally to withdraw the Resolution which stands in my name, and I now ask leave to do so. I think the suggestion that has been put forward is a good one, and instead of moving the Motion now, the best course would be to put it down to be taken as the first Order whenever the Motion is necessary. In asking leave to withdraw the Motion, I should like to be allowed to say that I am greatly delighted that the House has come to this decision, and I hope it will have far-reaching effects on our future conduct in this House. I should like, also, to say something else, but there is naturally some delicacy in saying it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) mentioned that he had had something to do with such Resolutions in the past. In an attempt to be moderately prepared, I have here a very large list of quotations from him in case he had taken a different line. But that is not where the delicacy comes in. It is this. I did my best as a Member of the Government to prevent someone coming in here who was going to oppose us, but I hope my right hon. Friend and the House will feel that I am not insincere in saying that, in spite of having done what I considered to be my duty in taking that attitude, it is to me a great pleasure to hear my right hon. Friend again.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.